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News and views from the Microsoft UK Education Team
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December, 2011

  • FE blog

    Microsoft Virtual Academy: Investing in your Future


    With so much buzz around cloud services and architecting your business for the cloud, it’s easy to feel left behind. Don’t fret; there are plenty of ways to keep up with the latest and greatest news, information and training.

    If you’ve not heard about the Microsoft Virtual Academy before then you’re in for a treat! Quite simply, it’s free on demand training on a range of IT Professional topics. Furthermore, the content is in the cloud and you can access it as and when you need it!

    Topics covered include:

    • Clustering
    • Hyper-V
    • Private Cloud
    • Public Cloud
    • Security
    • SQL Azure
    • System Center Virtual Machine Manager
    • Virtualisation
    • Windows Azure

    Everyone has their own learning style. So with this in mind, there are a range of different learning materials on offer, such as whitepapers, webcasts, training videos and access to experts. The site has been set up in a game based learning style with points for modules. As you pass each module you gain points which are then ranked both globally and locally.

    Alongside the training materials, there are some great opportunities to gain assistance from Microsoft through events such as the 6 Weeks of Azure programme of events. The sign up for this is available now!

    All in all, this is a NO cost approach to learning, which in the current economic climate means that you can still get trained up on the latest technologies no matter what your departments budget is.

    Learning is something that every good IT professional does throughout their career, so this is a great opportunity to hone those skills and be at the very top of your game.

  • FE blog

    SharePoint Search for education


    Continuing on from recent posts around Data Management and How many ways you can use SharePoint 2010, Alex Pearce, Most Valuable Professional (MVP), has written a guest post on his thoughts around using SharePoint Search and how this can benefit you in keeping your information and documents stored and then again easily found.


    For me, Search is a great tool. I use it all the time when I’m on my computer. From finding that e-mail in a folder, the document sat a folder to, how to fix that issue that is troubling my network.

    The ability of search in SharePoint 2010 is endless.  There are 3 different versions available in SharePoint 2010 including Enterprise Search and FAST Search.

    But most schools I have visited are not likely to understand the real benefits of having their own custom search within their school. So what are the benefits within your school and how can they help the school, teachers and students to find data?

    What SharePoint Search can do?

    clip_image002SharePoint Search isn’t just searching your own SharePoint environment for documents. It can search external environments such as your old legacy intranet websites, network file shares, personal documents and internet websites bring the accessibility of all your environments into one.


    Schools can have a lot of data stored across a network ranging from anything from 300GB to 5TB of data meaning there are a lot files and folders.  To look for an individual file is just too time consuming.  So why not search for it using a search engine which is SharePoint Search.

    SharePoint Search

    Any bit of data that is entered in SharePoint can be searched for, including the file name and the content of the file, each page of text including wikis and blogs and the discussion forums. If you are implementing any of the social network features you can also search profiles to find the best teacher to talk to about Romeo and Juliet or that tricky bit of homework.

    Internal websites and VLEs

    You may still be running that old intranet website that you or a member of staff created using Microsoft FrontPage but only a single member of staff is using it and they can’t let it go because of all the great amount of work they put into creating it. There must also be some web pages on there that has content that could be useful to teachers who have started at the school since it was implemented and don’t know that these great resources are available as they can’t find them. SharePoint Search can be used to find data on this intranet website so when searching the content is available to the user.

    Or maybe you have a VLE in your school which is great, being used to it’s extreme and not wanting to move away from it,  why not just use SharePoint for its search facilities and have your own search engine for the whole school?

    School website and the Internet

    Before visiting a school, I always visit their website to see what the school is about as it gives me a good impression of the kind of people I meet and the characteristics of the school. Some school websites include curriculum information so parents can see homework, worksheets to help their children and what they are studying at that time.

    If you have a number of websites you use across the school, these too can be searched by SharePoint and search from a single location. These may include the history blog or the wiki page on an external website however pupils can only find this information if it has a high search engine result or if they know how to get to the website. SharePoint Search allows them to find it within their school environment.

    If you are going to implement this feature, I would advise that you only let it search websites that you need it too, otherwise you will need some big drivers to store every bit of information from the internet!

    Network or Personal Share

    Many schools are making the shift of moving their documents from their shared drive to SharePoint so they can be meta-tagged and file away in a website that is easy for students to find. With SharePoint Search you can search your network and personal shares to find documents. No more looking through endless folders to find that file. Just open a web page and type in what you are looking for. If you are worried about security on those folders and students accessing them, don’t as SharePoint is clever and knows the folder and file permissions so when the user searches they only see the files they have permission to see.


    SharePoint Search is just one feature and if you only use SharePoint as part of your EES license for Search you will feel the difference is the accessibility and findability of the files and information from other websites, VLEs and your internal data.

    Useful Links

    Here are a few blog posts I have created in the past that might help you to configure and understand this more.

    Using SharePoint Search in Education and Schools: Part 1

    SharePoint Search for Education: Part 2 Search Centre

    Configure SharePoint 2010 Search to crawl internet sites

    Configure SharePoint 2010 Search to crawl file servers

  • FE blog

    7 ways frequent online assessments keep student learning on-track


    Guest blogger John Kleeman, Chairman of Microsoft Partner, Questionmark, describes the advantages of frequent online assessments.

    What are the advantages of giving your students frequent quizzes and tests, instead of waiting until the end of a module or course? At first sight, this might sound like more work for you as instructor, not to mention less popularity with your students!

    Here are seven reasons why it helps:

    1. By looking at assessment results, instructors know whether students have learned -- and what action to take if they haven’t. If the whole cohort achieves low scores on a topic, you know you need to improve or redo some teaching, and if individuals score low, there is an opportunity for remediation or other intervention, preventing a drop-out or eventual failure.
    2. Students can also gauge their progress and know what areas they do well or less well in and where to focus study. Especially if you include feedback with your assessment, they can learn where they went wrong and recover from misconceptions.
    3. Early tests require students to study earlier, not just wait to cram before the final exam. There is solid psychological evidence (see for example this excellent report by Dr Will Thalheimer) that spacing out learning is a powerful learning aid. By spreading out studying time, you increase learning.
    4. You have more data points to give fairer final grades and if learners are ill and miss some exams, you have evidence of achievement to help provide a grade.
    5. Cheating is harder if tests are frequent. For example, a student might impersonate another in one exam, but this is much harder to do so in weekly tests.
    6. As I shared in my earlier guest blog here, taking each test gives retrieval practice, which helps students retain information for the long term. Whenever students take a quiz or test, it directly helps them learn.
    7. There is increasing peer-reviewed, research evidence (see for example here, here, here, here and here) that in courses with frequent quizzes or tests, results and learning are better.

    With widespread Windows PCs and other devices, and increasingly reliable Internet connectivity, technology now allows universities and colleges to give online assessments to students frequently and routinely not just at end of courses. Setting up tests and quizzes as an instructor is relatively easy in most institutions with institution provided assessment systems. User interfaces are simple and don’t need much computer knowledge, like for instance the question type selection page shown below.


    If you’re interested in delivering online assessments in this way, Questionmark (www.questionmark.com) offers an easy-to-use OnDemand service (using Microsoft technology) to create, deliver and report on assessments.

  • FE blog

    Consumerisation of IT in Education: Security Considerations


    As part of our on-going series of posts dedicated to the consumerisation of IT in education, we now turn our attention to the security considerations that institutions need to take on board when planning their strategy.

    When considering security we need to think about the devices themselves, the data and the network.

    Device Encryption

    Is any data going to be stored on the device, or is it all in the data centre or cloud. If there will be sensitive data, on a member of staff laptop, for example – would you consider enforcing encryption policies with a   technology such as BitLocker Drive Encryption. BitLocker Drive Encryption is integrated into Windows 7 Enterprise and Ultimate Editions and encrypts the hard disk at volume level. Thus, if a staff laptop goes missing, you will have the peace of mind that any sensitive data is unreadable.

    BitLocker To Go extends encryption protection to USB memory sticks. Policies can also be enforced to ensure only encrypted memory sticks be used on campus. 

    Providing Network Access

    With the potential introduction of “untrusted” devices onto your network there are many points to consider, including network segmentation (physical or logical) and user authentication.

    A typical student might require a school PC one day to access internal systems, while the next day she might bring in her own device. What level of access will you give your student when using an untrusted device?

    Will you limit her access to external access only? Will she be able to use the same username and password regardless of which device she uses?

    You will likely want to limit the access level based on the level of trust you have in the device they are connecting from.

    Microsoft Forefront Unified Access Gateway is a solution that can provide secure access (both internal and remote) based on a number of criteria. For example a student logging on from a School PC will be able to access applications 1-5, the same student logging on from an untrusted device might be limited to one application – or have no access at all.

    Will you enforce a security policy to ensure devices meet minimum security levels, local firewall, antivirus protection etc. Network Access Protection (NAP) a technology introduced with Windows Server 2008, checks policy compliance of Windows clients and enforces security before allowing access to the network.

    Is it likely that you will have students visiting from other schools, colleges or universities? If so, how will you manage their authentication? You might consider using a service such as the JANET(UK) federation service eduroam. The eduroam service provided by JANET(UK) is a federated service that enables JANET connected institutions to offer secure network services for visitors from other eduroam-enabled institutions – without the need for guest account management.

    Alternatively, running a commercial offering, such as BT OpenZone, alongside your JANET(UK) provision could be a good option for allowing network access to non-approved devices.

    For more information on our thoughts around the consumerisation of IT in education, download our paper or view in full below.

  • FE blog

    Learning Suite: Microsoft’s new suite of education apps now available!


    After months of hard work across the education team, Learning Suite is now available as a free download via the UK Partners in Learning Network.

    What is Learning Suite?

    Learning Suite is a free set of innovative applications that, when combined with the power of Microsoft Windows and Office, creates a robust, flexible and collaborative learning environment for students and teachers.


    More specifically, Learning Suite offers a fantastic range of apps that will surprise and amaze educators and learners, alike. These include:

    • AutoCollage
    • Photosynth
    • Songsmith
    • Mouse Mischief 

    Learning Suite in Action

    Learning Suite allows educators and learners to create and collaborate across a full range of media tools, including text, audio, photography, music, and video. These media assets can then be integrated into documents, presentations, movies, or web sites therefore creating the perfect formula for today’s classroom. Additionally, the teacher resources and tools included in Learning Suite empower educators to effectively integrate technology directly into their curriculum.

    The video below give a more detailed overview of Learning Suite.

    Download Today

    As mentioned in the opening to this post, Learning Suite is now available as a free download via the UK Partners in Network.

    Registration to the Partners in Learning Network with a Live ID is a pre-requisite.

    In addition to offering access to Learning Suite, registration to the network provides access to a dynamic and passionate worldwide community of educators who are all focused on one thing: improving the delivery of teaching and learning!

    Furthermore, Learning Suites availability in MSI format makes it easy to roll out the full suite of apps across your institution. Alternatively, the apps can be downloaded on an individual basis.

    More information about Learning Suite will be available over the coming weeks and we look forward to hearing about your experiences. Leave your feedback in the comments below.

  • FE blog

    Lync, Office Communications Server, and Live Meeting at Nottingham Trent University


    We’re hearing more and more about the way Microsoft Lync Server 2010 is set to change the nature of working life in universities. At Nottingham Trent University, for example, with 24,000 students on three campuses across the City, Unified Communications Team Leader Thomas Farrand, has made great strides in building links and promoting collaboration with Office Communications Server.


    Now he’s busy hatching plans for making use of Lync’s extended functionality, increasing efficiency, reducing carbon emissions and saving time and money for the institution.

    Thomas and his team, in fact, are a great example of how an energetic and imaginative IT team can make a real difference to the way things happen within their institution. Not only that, the solutions they come up with can reduce costs both directly, but also in terms of improved efficiency.

    One of his examples of what Lync can do shows how important it is to watch for opportunities in every corner of the institution’s work. In this case, it’s all about keeping the University’s basic services up and running with the aid of Lync’s “Location Information” feature.

    “When we have a problem on City Campus, for example, and we need a plumber or electrician, we’ll be able to see who is close by, perhaps working in the same building.”

    That, of course, is just one example of how adding location to contact details can streamline communication.

    Much of Thomas’s enthusiasm for the extra features in Lync comes from the way he and his team have found creative ways of using Office Communication Server since he introduced it during 2009.

    For example one university course requires students from around the country each to do a live presentation. Live Meeting makes it possible for them to do this remotely, and also adds the necessary authentication for examination purposes, because the presentation is recorded and time stamped.

    “This provides proof of when it was done, and the webcam means we can verify the identity of the student.”

    Another project that captured attention across the university was the use of NTU’s Live Meeting equipment and expertise to make a conference at neighbouring University of Nottingham available to NTU undergraduates and staff. The potential savings in travel and conference attendance of this one event alone were considerable.

    Lecturer Emily Burton reported afterwards, “We broadcast two major talks which were held during the conference and the feedback was amazing. If we hadn’t done this using Live Meeting, we would have to have sent a coach for the students at a cost of £80 per person not including travel for which the funds were not available. “

    At the same time, the NTU environmental team estimate that because 75 people didn’t have to make the trip to the conference, NTU saved the emission of 900kg of CO2.

    Showing the potential of IT, and demonstrating the supportive role of the team, is obviously high on Thomas Farrand’s agenda. So, for example, when he wanted to encourage the use of video conferencing with Live Meeting, he set out showcase it to as many people as possible, from all departments.

    “Call me annoying or what,” he says. “We used three big lecture theatres in the three campuses. We invited everyone to them, and put on a three way video conference using Live Meeting, a fictitious scenario as if there were three different countries.”

    There were questions from the audience, Thomas kept it all together, (“Like Jerry Springer”) and members of his team circulated, asking people how they worked, and how this kind of approach might benefit them, “By doing it this way,” he says, “We reached people from all levels not just senior management.”

    Among the most enthusiastic early adopters was the student placement office. Many NTU courses require students to spend a year out on placement, often abroad, with visits from university staff.

    “Originally, they were required to have one visit a year,” says Thomas, “But then it changed so that every student had to have three visits.”

    Fortunately, only one of the visits is required to be face to face. The others can be remote and so Live Meeting is called into play which is infinitely better than relying on a phone call.

    “Quite often it’s not just the student who’s involved; it’s the employer as well. And it’s possible to share documents of course.”

    Generating enthusiasm, of course, then raises the question of how much help to provide.

    “There’s a fine line between hand-holding and leaving people to work it out,” says Thomas, pointing out that Tesco didn’t run training in online shopping.

    What is important, though, is to make sure that a new adopter is using appropriate hardware in the right environment, because failure can be permanently off-putting.

    To help with this, Thomas and his team have put together a portable Live Meeting kit, packed in a flight case. It has everything from robot camera, tripod and microphones, to extension leads, gaffer tape and cable ties, all designed to ensure that the planned video experience actually works. “It allows Live Meeting to be used in any location from small meeting rooms to full size lecture theatres.”

    Moving to Lync

    Thomas Farrand and the team have already made considerable strides with OCU and LiveMeeting. Lync is going to build on that. For example, the announcement of Lync for Mac is particularly welcome.

    That’s because the Art and Design department, who are Mac users, are keen to develop new courses which include distance learning, and they’ve been pressing for a solution that supports Mac. So Lync for Mac saves both the cost and complication of having to buy in another product. Thomas describes it as “A big win for us.”

    Lync web apps will also make life easier for many users who are in other institutions or simply don’t want to install the client on their machines.

    The general theme here is one of reducing complication. It’s something of a mission for Thomas Farrand to make the user’s experience as simple as possible.

    ‘The aim is for the user to have that single hub of communication with easy access to Messenger, phone calls, email and video. It’s the whole ethos of unified communication where you just want to contact a person without having to know how to do it. Let the system worry about that.” Lync is a significant step towards achieving that.

    Conclusion: Painless Evolution

    At NTU the move first to OCU and then to Lync was, and continues to be, evolutionary. The position at NTU is probably repeated in other institutions across the country in that their existing communications system was installed at considerable expense relatively recently. So the move to Lync, though it will save money and improve efficiency, has to be done gradually and opportunistically.

    For example Thomas is looking at technical ways to ‘dual fork’ phone calls between both systems, perhaps using a border controller. It’s typical of his positive approach that, instead of simply deciding that the move to Lync wasn’t currently possible, he set about finding ways of doing it, by what calls “A staged approach, implementing Lync side by side with the existing environment.”

    More information about Lync can be found on our Microsoft Lync microsite.

  • FE blog

    Migrate your virtualisation solution from VMware to Hyper-V and save money


    Did you miss our Hyper-V webcast?

    With Microsoft now being considered a virtualisation leader (Gartner  2011), many organisations are starting to consider switching to Hyper-V and saving money.

    Carmel College have done just that, and discuss in this webcast, the rationale behind their migration from Vmware and give an overview of their migration project.  The session starts with an overview of Microsoft Hyper-V Private Cloud Solution.

  • FE blog

    Microsoft Lync - Transforming Communications and Collaboration in Education and Reducing Costs


    Did you miss our recent Lync in Education webcast? The recording is now available below.

    Watch this webcast to hear how Stratford College managed their Lync project starting with the initial business case, through implementation to benefits realisation. Whether you are looking to introduce instant messaging with presence, web conferencing or fully replace your telephone PBX, Lync has something to offer your institution.

    If you are new to Lync the session starts with an overview and demo to give you an idea of the functionality.

    This Lync in education webcast is one in a series of sessions we are running over the coming months that illustrate how our technologies can help institutions save money and enhance the learning experience.

    An overview of these sessions are shown below:

    Manage your IT Infrastructure from the Cloud with Windows Intune

    Tuesday December 13th, 11am-12pm

    Windows Intune is a comprehensive cloud based PC management and security solution that enables you to manage your schools remotely with no on-premise servers. In addition to remote control, policy management, malware protection and software updates the latest release now includes application deployment. Join this webcast to get an overview of the latest release and see a demo of the solution.


    The Microsoft Education Desktop

    Tuesday January 17th, 11am-12pm

    Join this webcast to understand what makes a modern education desktop from Microsoft

    We will look at how technologies such as Windows 7, Office 2010 and the Microsoft Learning Suite can really enhance the teaching and learning experience. We also explain how you can remove cost from the management of your IT infrastructure and improve security through technologies including MDOP 2011 (Microsoft Desktop Optimisation Pack) and the CAL Suites.


    Free Software for Schools - Introducing the Microsoft Learning Suite

    Tuesday January 24th, 11am-12:30pm

    Did you know that Microsoft have a wide range of software and resources that support teaching and learning? Join this webcast for some fast paced demos which should be both fun and informative. The solution, collectively known as the Microsoft Learning Suite is also able to be installed and deployed with ease. Join this webcast to find out more.


  • FE blog

    Slides from the Microsoft in Education Forum (#msedf)


    Sean O’Shea, James Marshall and I recently ran the first in a series of Microsoft in Education Forum sessions at our offices in Reading.

    With over 700+ tweets about the event and some lively debate throughout the day, the session offered a unique opportunity for us to share some of the latest projects we are working on within the education team while also hearing about how we can best support the sector as a whole. A great day and we all look forward to planning the next session early in the New Year.

    In the meantime, though, we have BETT 2012 to look forward too, but that is another blog post all together!

    While its not possible to share all the slides from the event, we thought it might be useful to post a couple of the decks to the blog. The Skype session, in particular, proved to be very popular! A link to the Tweet archive and an overview of the top tweeters has also been included.




    Skype in the Classroom
    View more presentations from Microsoft Education UK

    We look forward to hosting the second Microsoft in Education Forum event post BETT 2012 and will be sharing more information about this series of events on the blog when available.


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