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The FE Blog
News and views from the Microsoft UK Education Team
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April, 2012

  • FE blog

    DreamSpark for students – here’s what you can do


    Imagine you want to build your own house; you’ve managed to acquire your piece of land, got your planning permission and grabbed a few raw materials. Now, do you grab your trowel and bricks cementing away with just a vague idea of what you want your finished house to look like? Of course you wouldn’t. Or at least I hope you wouldn’t. A similar concept applies to creating websites, applications and software, although there is obviously a much better chance of your website development succeeding that your house building endeavours without design. There is a distinct reason that my university lecturer created an entire module around design patterns and why Facebook considers designers the ‘key to the company’s long-term strategic success’.

    Design is important.

    expression studio 4

    Good applications, websites and software start at the design stage. We understand how important design is in the process of creating something that is going to lead the market by being beautiful, user-friendly, ground-breaking and unique, so we’ll tell you about something that may lead you in that direction. But firstly, let me ask you the same question that I ask at all of the presentations that I give, to all of the audiences that I encounter; have you heard of DreamSpark?

    DreamSpark is a comprehensive selection of the tools that professionals use to build real apps, real games and real solutions and it is absolutely FREE for students. If you’re a budding designer or you’re an avid software developer then download the Microsoft Expression Studio 4 Ultimate suite which gives you access to:

    · Expression Web 4 for creating compelling websites visually

    · Expression Blend 4 for creating rich web experiences, games, desktop apps and more

    · Expression Design 4 for creating sophisticated vector graphics

    · Expression Encoder 4 Pro for your video production needs

    If you need a little inspiration or help in getting started and using these tools there are lots of resources available for you.

    To learn how to use Expression Studio there are courses and tutorials available for you to get stuck into once you’ve downloaded the tools.

    Windows Phone is an amazing technology to start developing with if you’ve not done much development before or even if you’re a seasoned developer. Expression Blend is a great accompaniment to developing for Windows Phone as it enables you to do most of the design easily in an intuitive and simple user interface, especially using tools such as SketchFlow which comes included in the Expression suite. To learn how to use the Expression suite to design Windows Phone apps take a look at this video featuring Celso Gomes and Peter Blois.

    If it’s a bit of inspiration you’re after then have a look at ubelly’s interviews with designers who’ve worked on our top phone apps including IMDB, Twitter, Facebook and Shazam. There’s plenty more where that came from if that’s not enough here.

    Start designing some amazing stuff today!

  • FE blog

    Thoughts on European JRC report on Future Learning


    Guest post from Gerald Haigh, freelance writer. Gerald writes regularly for the Microsoft blog(s).

    Do you think all the attention being given to systems, types of schools, local authorities, inspection regimes, exam structures and the rest, is a distraction from what really matters, which is what our young people are learning in and beyond the classroom?

    When I suggested as much to a friend, he directed me to this paper, published towards the end of last year by the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre (JRC) . As my friend pointed out, the fact that it attracted relatively little notice in this country when it came out actually makes my point.  ‘We’ve all been far too busy arguing about academies and free schools to read a paper about learning,’ he said.


    And sure enough, this really is a solid read, 80 pages plus, on the urgent need for patterns of learning to change if young people across Europe are to survive, and more importantly to thrive, in a largely unpredictable and scary future .

    ‘This report,’ it says, ‘Aims to identify, understand and visualise major changes to learning in the future.’

    The key, say the report’s authors, lies with personalisation, collaboration and informalisation. It’s acknowledged that these aren’t new ideas, but now they have to move centre-stage, and become guiding principles for the whole of life-wide and lifelong learning – ‘A central learning paradigm…shaped by the ubiquity of Information and Communication Technology (ICT)’

    The aim is to produce citizens who are, ‘..lifelong learners who flexibly respond to change, are able to pro-actively develop their competences and thrive in collaborative learning and working environment.’

    And so, ‘Problem-solving, reflection, creativity, critical thinking, learning to learn, risk-taking, collaboration and entrepreneurship will become key competencies for a successful life in the European society of the future.’

    Again, we’ve heard that before. What’s new here is the sense of urgency. Educators at every level are called on to respond both to individual learners’ needs and to fast changing requirements from the labour market. The inevitable conclusion that almost everything we assume about schools -- which skills are important, how they’re learned and taught, where, when and by whom, and how they’re assessed – will have to change. Along the way, there are big challenges which include tackling multicultural integration, reducing early dropout, fostering individual talent, promoting fluent transition from education to work, helping re-entrance to the labour market for the long-term unemployed, and providing career-long opportunities for updating skills and competencies.

    That’s just a taste of a paper which puts up a wide-ranging, cogently argued case for a Europe-wide rethink not just of what future education might look like, but of what it will necessarily have to become. And, of course, at the heart of it as a driver, facilitator, motivator, there’s ICT.

    The Report specifically mentions some ICT applications and possibilities, including targeted online courses, recognition of informal learning, flexible time schedules, online networks and collaborative tools (including peer to peer and intergenerational models), virtual learning environments, games and simulations.

    So after I’d read the paper once, I went through it again, thinking this time about the technologies that we have available in today’s schools and other learning institutions here in UK, and wondering whether we’re anywhere near being ready to surf this particular zeitgeist.

    The quick answer is that the major global and national technology developers and suppliers, of which Microsoft is a prime example, are entirely in tune with the JRC message. The growth of cloud services, ‘anytime, anywhere learning’, personal devices, games-based learning, advanced tools for communication and collaboration all ensure that UK education ought to be well equipped to step up to the plate.

    All that’s necessary is the right mindset. And there, as Hamlet said when his own train of thought hit the buffers, is the rub.

    Because for a long time, perhaps understandably, all of us, from government to lecture theatre to classroom, have stayed in our comfort zones, working the way we know so well, and regarding ICT as teacher’s little helper. That’s how we were taught to use it after all, when computers first arrived in school.

    ‘Think of it as just another tool,’ our new IT advisers said, ‘Like a blackboard or the library.’

    So that’s what we did, and technology became absorbed into a style of working that had, in all essentials, been around for a century. We believed ourselves to be at the cutting edge through discovering that, for example –

    Electronic registration is a lot better than paper registers for tracking attendance and catching truants.

    Online pupil data improves on traditional reports.

    Whiteboards are an improvement on blackboards.

    Management information systems improve, well, er, management information.

    Learning platforms are more convenient to handle than textbooks and folders of work.

    Games enliven lessons.

    Personal devices ease the pressure on the computer suite.

    ‘Anytime/anywhere’ learning means an overlap between homework and schoolwork.

    In other words, we treated ICT as one useful tool of choice in appropriate circumstances, and failing to notice that it had the potential to become the very environment in which we live and work.

    Well, maybe that’s unjust, and you will hasten to say I’m describing the Eighties and Nineties, and you’re way ahead. And of course there really are exciting things happening, as Microsoft’s Innovative Teachers’ Network shows us, to say nothing of the schools we showcase here on these blogs. Here, we’ve seen Oldham College rejigging its whole management structure to take advantage of the collaborative possibilities offered by SharePoint and Project Manager, http://blogs.msdn.com/b/ukfe/archive/2011/05/24/the-oldham-college-improves-its-efficiency-with-microsoft-sharepoint.aspx ,universities using Lync 2010 to transform the way they engage with students, and, very recently Cadoxton primary realising that its new MultiPoint Server network implies a rethink of the whole curriculum.

    The JRC report, though, sees quite a lot further than that. Its emphasis on ‘lifelong’ and ‘life-wide’ learning actually challenges the very notion of what we mean by words like ‘classroom’, and ‘lesson’, even ‘school’ itself. In fact the Report suggests that currently emerging technologies – including ‘cloud’ – imply

    ‘a seamless education continuum that is centred on the student not the institution.’

    Is any of this even on the radar for other than a far sighted few? Do the schools that embrace cloud technology see it as a good and cost-effective way of receiving an efficient ICT service, or are they looking to a time not so far off when the technology will enable them to become something entirely new and different – ‘flexible, open and adaptive infrastructures , which engage all citizens….’?

    And if not, then why not? Is it because, as I suggested at the start, we’re thinking too hard about top-down structures and not hard enough about what learning is, what it’s for, where it’s going?

    The great thing about these blogs, mind you, is that if I’m wrong about this, you’ll be pretty quick to let us know.

  • FE blog

    DreamSpark – your questions answered


    Since its introduction in 2001, students and educators around the world have utilised DreamSpark to support and advance their learning and skills through technical design, technology, maths, science and engineering activities. This software equips them with the tools they need to succeed during their academic experience and the skills they will need after graduation.

    DreamSpark can also be used by educators  as they have access to the top technical development and design products on the market just like their students. Teachers can teach classes on web development using Expression Studio.

    Students today get excited about seeing technology in action, and not just simply learning the fundamentals. With access to products like XNA and Visual Studio, educators can build exciting applications that demonstrate the power of technology.

    Here’s a helpful Q & A for you to learn about what DreamSpark is and how it can be used.  

    Q. What is Microsoft DreamSpark™?

    A. Microsoft DreamSpark ™ is a program that provides no-cost access to Microsoft designer and development tools for verified students around the world, to support and advance their learning and skills through technical design, technology, maths, science and engineering activities. This program equips tomorrow’s developers with the professional tools to inspire and create today.

    The program has two primary goals:

    1. Give no-cost access to Microsoft products and platforms: DreamSpark subscriptions give students access to virtually every Microsoft product and technology, helping ensure they have the right technology choices for all current and future educational opportunities.
    2. Deliver outstanding value: These subscriptions give outstanding value through inexpensive cost of membership, and convenient management of licenses on a per-user basis, removing the complexity of licenses across multiple environments.


    Q. What is DreamSpark Premium?

    A. Advanced software applications can take years to develop, a costly investment that is often reflected in the purchase price. Microsoft makes these highly desired, advanced programs available to students far below the retail cost of any one program in the list. With this subscription, students can access a free online portal through e-academy that provides them with instant and easy access to all DreamSpark titles while also ensuring that institutions will not need to add internal resources or overhead to manage the DreamSpark software program.

    Q: What are the benefits of the DreamSpark program?

    A: Much more than a software subscription, membership includes:

    1. DreamSpark software subscription that includes Microsoft platform, server and developer tools software as well as betas, new releases and tech support.
    2. Special license rights allowing a department to install DreamSpark software on any number of departmental lab machines for instructional and research purposes.
    3. The ability for students taking at least one credit course offered by the member department to install the software on their personal machines for use in coursework and personal development projects.
    4. Instant online access to all DreamSpark content.
    5. No-charge access to e-academy’s License Management System (ELMS) for automated distribution of software and product keys to eligible users via the Web.

    Q: What happened to Developer AA?

    A: Developer AA isn’t gone—it’s simply been renamed to DreamSpark Premium. All of the titles that were previously available to you are still available. If your school had a Developer AA subscription through MSDNAA, you’ll continue to access software titles as you did before.

    Q: What happened to Designer AA?

    A: Helping students who want to be designers is critical, but we wanted to find a way to make this easier for institutions, so we have changed up the program. Instead of Designer AA membership, institutions can purchase a new DreamSpark membership that gives them access to all of Microsoft’s development and designer tools. If you currently have a Designer AA membership, don’t worry. You can continue to enjoy those benefits until your membership expires. When it’s time for you to renew, we’ll work with you to get you set up with a new DreamSpark membership.

    Product Mapping


    Q: What software will be included in the DreamSpark program?

    Software for Production Use


    DreamSpark Premium

    Operating Systems

    Windows Client


    Windows Server



    Developer & Design Tools

    Visual Studio Professional



    Visual Studio Premium


    Visual Studio Ultimate





    Windows Embedded













    SQL Server



    BizTalk Server


    SharePoint Server


    Q: What is the benefit of the DreamSpark program for educators?

    A: DreamSpark will give educators a chance to learn new technologies and develop courses that will excite students in the classroom. It will also help educators expand their personal and professional portfolios and enhance classroom objectives.

    Q: Why do educators need free developer and design tools?

    A: By providing the latest professional developer, design, and gaming software to educators at no charge, educators will have a unique opportunity to motivate and engage students and support those that wish to pursue a career in programming or design after graduation

    Q: What will students be able to do with this software?

    A: Students using these tools will be limited only by their own imaginations and time.  Use of developer tools in engineering, maths, science and technology activities allow students to program everything from a cell phone to a robot or to create their own Web page. Students will also be able to invent compelling new gaming content and make their dream game a reality by porting their creations to their Xbox 360 console. Design tools allow students to vividly bring their creative visions to life in vibrant new Web site designs and more effective digital content, including animation, imagery and photography. And platform offerings deliver a security-enhanced and reliable environment, reliable and manageable environment for students to more quickly turn ideas into reality.


    Q. When and where will Microsoft DreamSpark be available?
    A. Today, Microsoft DreamSpark is available to university students in 137 countries.

    Q: How do students download software?

    A: Visit www.dreamspark.com and follow the three steps to get verified located on the home page.

    Q. Is this program available to ALL students? What are the limitations?

    A. Yes. The focus of the program is technical students, but it is open to anyone looking to explore the possibilities of Microsoft’s development and design tools. The only limitation is students are only licensed for learning and research.

    Q: Why don’t you provide physical copies of software? 

    A: Providing software by download does not involve the production costs of creating physical copies, so it works well with software being provided at no charge. 

    Q. How many students total will this offer be available to eventually and how did you come up with this number?

    A. According to UNESCO, there are more than one billion university and high school students in the world today.

    Q: Why don’t you provide physical copies of software?  Are you trying to prevent non-broadband students from receiving the software?

    A: Providing software by download does not involve the production costs of creating physical copies, so it works well with software being provided at no charge.  Microsoft is not trying to prevent non-broadband students from receiving the software.  On the contrary, we hope to eventually provide this no-charge software benefit to all students, in all countries.  It will take a concerted, cooperative effort on the part of both Microsoft and academic institutions to connect to areas without existing infrastructure of student databases and server technologies.


    Q: Why are you giving software away?

    A: In giving tech tools away without charge to students around the world, Microsoft is providing future developers and designers with professional-grade tools to create and expand their skills.  We believe that it is very important to equip students with tools that will help to foster their education in technology.  Such tools would typically be beyond the reach of these students even at very low prices. 

    Q. What is the commercial value of this software?

    A. This software is being provided to students for non-commercial use in particular academic activities.  Pricing for commercial uses varies by channel and the associated rights, but products for non-academic use by non-students would typically be hundreds of dollars or more. 

    Student Identity Verification

    Q:  How do you ensure that a student is really a student?

    A:  Microsoft verifies students by using various reputable student databases to confirm student identities.  Students will choose the identity provider that maintains the database (i.e. their school, organization, or other academic-based group) that will confirm their student status.  The Microsoft system will connect with the identity provider, and the student will supply his or her credentials to the identity provider for verification.  Microsoft will then receive confirmation from the identity provider as to whether the student is a current student.

    Q:  If students are receiving the full professional software versions, then can’t professionals just find a college student to obtain the software license from?

    A:  All students receiving free software through this program will need to accept an end user license agreement (EULA) that specifies that the software will only be used by the student for non-commercial use to support and advance their STEM-D learning and skills.  Students will only have rights to one single-user license per verified identity.  If a student were to obtain a valid single-user license and give that license to a non-student that would be in violation of the EULA and the student would no longer be eligible to continue to use the software or to obtain other software under the program. 

    Q:  Why do students need to sign-in?

    A:  The sign-in process allows students to get verified initially once and bypass the verification step for future visits to DreamSpark.  Once verification is completed and if they are signed in, students will be brought directly to the download page.  All students will keep their eligibility for 12 months and will have the option to renew after 12 months. 

    Q: Will you be collecting student information, and using it for other purposes?

    A: Microsoft is not collecting any student information from third-party identity provider databases, other than binary notification of whether the person is a student or not.  When students seek to download the software, they will be asked to verify their student status with a verification source of their choice, and the verification source will request the student’s credentials in order to verify their student status.  The credentials students provide to the verification source are not viewed or tracked by Microsoft – that is, the student is verified externally by their chosen verification method and not by Microsoft, and any exchange of sensitive credentials with the verification source will be between the student and the verification source.  Microsoft will store the general location of students, which assists with download bandwidth efficiencies.

    Q: Is there an approved list of universities? Are only students enrolled in brick and mortar universities included or are online students as well? (i.e. what about 2-year or community colleges)

    A: As this is a cooperative effort with local communities, we are working with local entities within each country to determine who the universities are.

    Q: Are only undergraduates qualified or can graduate students download DreamSpark?

    A: Graduate students are welcome to participate.

    Q:  Why are university administrators being asked to share their student database?

    A:  This program is designed to give students Microsoft technology tools at no charge as long as their student status can be verified.  University administrators hold the keys to enable verification.  If administrators are willing to cooperate and enable their students to verify themselves against the university database, universities will be able to equip them with free professional-level tools. 

    Q:  How can univeristy administrators offer this benefit to the students in their school/country?

    A:  This benefit is available to all students around the world.  However, this program requires all students to have their status verified by an authorized verification source.  Academic institutions or governments may already have all the requirements necessary to verify their students.  Microsoft can help prepare student databases to use the program.  Once institutions determine they have a reliable database of student information, we can help them become an identity provider (IDP). 

    Verification Technology

    Q: Why is Microsoft using Open Source Software (OSS) as part of the student verification process?

    A: Microsoft is pleased to be able to use Shibboleth, an open source authentication and authorization infrastructure product, as one solution for verifying students so they can receive Microsoft DreamSpark program benefits.  Shibboleth is an existing middleware solution that is widely used by universities, and federations using Shibboleth software exist in many countries.  Its use provides access to a network of institutions and students, enabling immediate connection to over 10 million students, with a path for other academic institutions to sign up.  Shibboleth also enables sites to manage the authorization decisions permitting the sharing of specific information between an identity provider database and an external party (such as Microsoft) – such as binary notification of whether the site user is a student or not, without releasing other student information. 


    Q:  Are you trying to flood the market with developer tools?

    A:  Microsoft is putting developer and design software in the hands of verified students to support and advance their learning and skills through technical design, technology, math, science and engineering activities. The student developer population has been growing recently, with many developers coming from fields of study other than computer science.  Even non-technical majors can benefit from using these products.  We want students to grow their capabilities by providing them with developer and designer tools that expand the limits of their imagination.  We’re putting tools in the hands of students that they would typically not be able to afford. 

    Q:  Are you trying to put other developer software companies out of business?

    A:  This program targets students and educators, who represent a fraction of all software developers and designers. Software under this program is only available for non-commercial use to support and advance students’ academic work involving science, technology, engineering, math and technical design activities.

    Q:  Are you embracing the “free software” model by offering development and design tools to students at no cost? Will you make it free for all?

    A: Our design, development and platform tools offer significant benefits for developers, customers and partners alike. Our goal with Microsoft DreamSpark is to ensure that today’s students have even greater access to the tools they need to succeed in their studies and prepare themselves for today’s increasingly competitive business world.

    Q: Is this just a ploy to keep up/compete with open source proliferation in education?

    A: No, Microsoft is not offering students free access to developer and design tools to compete against open source software. This program is targeted specifically at students to provide them with access to the software tools used in business today and help extend the skills of the next generation of developers and designers.  The company has and will continue to make strategic bets on the Windows platform while continuing to support interop and other open source initiatives and partnerships.

    Microsoft products offer tremendous value that is perceived by the marketplace and by our customers. 

    Microsoft is a platform company committed to building technologies that empower communities of developers and partners to deliver compelling software solutions to customers. This approach is reflected in the size and health of the technology ecosystem in which Microsoft participates, including millions of developers around the world who have created a vast array of applications using Microsoft platform technologies such as Microsoft Windows, Windows Live, Microsoft Office, .NET platform, Microsoft Windows Server, and Microsoft Xbox.  Microsoft’s open source strategy is focused on helping customers and partners be successful in today's heterogeneous technology world. This includes increasing opportunities for developers to learn and create across both community-oriented open source and traditional commercial approaches to software development.

    Q: Is this the first step in Microsoft lowering its prices (possibly even free) to compete against open source?  What are the next products that might be included in this program?

    A: Microsoft products offer tremendous value that is recognized by the marketplace and by our customers.  This program is targeted specifically at students in connection with their academic studies to help prepare them as the next generation of developers and designers.  DreamSpark is the latest in a series of offerings for students just as MSDNAA (Microsoft Developer Network Academic Alliance), Imagine Cup, and other offerings Microsoft provides to academia.  Additional developer tools may be made available to students in the future under this same program, but we do not foresee that other major customer groups or products will be significantly impacted by this program.

    Q:  Do any other companies offer a free software package like this?
    Yes, other software vendors like Adobe and IBM have offers in market to make software available to students at low costs or no charge. However, we believe that Microsoft is leading the way in providing such a comprehensive offering available to the student market at no charge.

  • FE blog

    What is DreamSpark?


    DreamSpark is a platform that offers free software and tools to support students - it’s the place to get all our developer and designer tools for free. In this video, students, lecturers and IT Professionals explain what DreamSpark is and how it can be used.


    What is DreamSpark?


  • FE blog

    Open University Makes Major Saving over Five Years with Unified Communications


    The Open University (OU)—which specialises in distance learning—is the biggest university in the United Kingdom (U.K.). It needed to reduce costs and improve communication among its 5,000 office-based academic and administrative staff, giving them access to features such as instant messaging and presence awareness. The OU is deploying Microsoft Lync 2010, which will save the university around £2 million over the next five years, as well as substantially cutting travel and subsistence costs.

    To learn more about how The OU embraced Lync 2010 to reduce costs and improve communication, download/view the full case study below.

  • FE blog

    The Digital Revolution, and what it means for Education - 5 core points


    I have been invited to speak on a panel at the Education Investor Summit 2012 next week. The panel session is titled ‘The Digital Revolution, and what it means for education’. Should be fun!

    I have spent the morning sketching out some core points to discuss during my slot on the panel. Its a bit of a brain dump, but would appreciate your thoughts. There are many angles I could address during this session, many of which are not covered in the points below. Its a start, though.

    Is there anything you think I should prioritise or leave out? What do you consider to be the biggest impact that the digital revolution has had/will have on the education sector?

    5 Core Points

    A mix of economic, social and technological trends and developments have created the perfect storm to drive change in the education system. Digital sits at the heart of this.

    5 core points to discuss during my panel session slot include the following:

    • Economic pressures are forcing institutions to do more with less, while at the same time the global economy is rapidly changing and requires more from the education system. Education needs to become more relevant. This point is supported with the IDC stating that in the next decade 77% of all jobs will require technical skills, yet there are many countries that are not producing STEM graduates at a rate to fill those jobs. All this at a time when unemployment rates are at staggeringly high levels. Mind blowing!


    • The use of social media and technological developments such as the Cloud and devices that are both light weight and offer great battery life is evolving how teaching and learning could, and arguably should, be delivered. Ubiquitous broadband and eBook readers are facilitating this trend further. Blending formal and informal learning is now the becoming the norm. We still have a long way to go, though. Embracing the digital revolution can enhance this further.

    While the use of technology in education is improving, when you look at its use in more detail, it actually shows us how far we still have to go. Outside of the classroom, students use a variety of digital devices and services. Technology and the internet is a core part of how they live their lives. Within some institutions, though, it’s like getting on an airplane. Devices are turned off for the 'duration of the flight' and its only when you get into the terminal building that you can access the outside world. A cultural change needs to take place in order to change this mind-set within education. This is vital!

    • Much of the advances in technology in education have been around automating age old ways of learning. Devices such as the iPad, and how they are used in the classroom, are a perfect reflection of this. Simply digitising content is not enough and as a result eBooks are not necessarily the 'future of technology in education‘. They are definitely powerful devices, and I personally love my Kindle, but the future of tech in education needs to be less about automation and more about engagement and facilitating an emotional connection with learning. 1-2-1 devices, big data and the cloud offers unique opportunities to achieve this and provide a more meaningful and personalised learning experience.


    • Young learners are attending class already prewired with content that they have discovered online (and if they haven't, they easily could)! The Khan Academy, Code Academy and MIT Open Courseware is a prime example of this. So with great content now freely available online, what about the role of the teacher?

    The digital revolution is definitely bringing about a need for the role of the teacher to change. As a result, the role of the teacher in the digital revolution is now more important than ever. They need to act as a content curator, guide and develop opportunities for young learners to generate that emotional connection with their learning that was discussed earlier. Ultimately, tech and bad teachers has no impact and little scale, whereas tech and great teachers have the ability to both scale and help learners achieve their full potential. An exciting concept!

    • So if creating emotional and personalized experiences using that technology rather than simply digitizing traditional methods is going to be key, what can the digital revolution offer to help achieve this? Data and interacting with this data to visualise problems and challenges is one aspect, but gaming in education has a massive opportunity to create the emotional and personalised experiences needed in education moving forward.

    Gaming focuses on emotion - funny games, scary games etc - I believe that we need to get to this same place with the use of tech in education. Games offer challenge, progression, reward and personalised real-time experiences. From an educational perspective, what's not to like about this mix!

    Furthermore, within gaming, failure is seen as a positive thing. Within a new game you die/fail often and improve with time until you become an expert. Why not the same in education assessment? Some changes within the way that learners are assessed definitely needs to follow to support the changes opened up by the digital revolution.

    These are some pretty rough and provisional ideas, and will be fine tuning them prior to the event next week. In the meantime, though, it would be great to get your feedback.

    Thanks in advance!


  • FE blog

    Windows 8 Consumer Preview


    Its now been a month since the Windows 8 Consumer Preview was made available (time flies!). Since its launch, it has been great to see all the feedback from members of the education community and beyond about their experience of the new OS to date.

    David Pogue's comments, from the New York Times, are a personal favourite with these words “Microsoft has sweated the details, embraced beauty and simplicity, and created something new and delightful. Get psyched.”

    From a more personal perspective, I am loving the new OS. Windows 8, with its fast and fluid start screen and the flexibility to work how I choose across touch, mouse and keyboard is a match made in OS heaven. It really is Windows Reimagined, in my opinion, and I can't wait to get my hands on the final version when available.


    If you haven't tried Windows 8, you can download the consumer preview for free today at http://preview.windows.com. Any machine built for Windows 7 will run the consumer preview. Could be a good project for those still off for the Easter holidays :)

    As you would expect, we will be posting lots of content and information about Windows 8 leading up to launch and beyond, so watch this space.

    In the meantime, we would love to hear what you think about the consumer preview. Leave your thoughts in the comments below.

    With over 100,000 code changes since the developer preview, I think you are going to love it!


  • FE blog

    University of West England deploys Microsoft Lync to boost productivity


    Originally posted on computing.co.uk

    The University of West England (UWE) has deployed Microsoft Lync to boost staff and student productivity as part of its £10m plans to overhaul its IT infrastructure.


    The university has partnered with a consortium of partners that includes HP, Microsoft, video conferencing provider Polycom and electrical systems provider Schneider, for its IT transformation project.

    Steve Grive, IT director at UWE told Computing that one of the key introductions to its transformation project was unified communications.

    "One of the key things we wanted to introduce was unified communication and collaboration tools because we found that we needed the infrastructure to be able to collaborate in meetings and in other situations.

    "From our perspective, the Microsoft suite which included SharePoint 2010 and the Lync Server 2010, seemed to offer us a functionality that we wanted and also built on the Microsoft products that the university already had," he said.

    Grive said that UWE completed a BETA trial of Microsoft Lync at the end of 2010 and then started implementation of Lync last summer.

    "We wanted to use the desk video conferencing and the voice telephony side of things because like many other large organisations we have a mixture of telephony platforms.

    "We still have a Siemens PBX which is coming to the end of its life in 2016 so we knew we had to do something with our analogue technology. We already started to replace it with voice over internet protocol (VoIP) from Alcatel Lucent but because UWE uses a lot of Microsoft software, Lync made the most sense," he said.

    Grive said that the university has now implemented several hundred Lync handsets and staff can now choose to use Polycom CX600 IP desktop phones, Polycom CX300 handsets or HP notebooks which are all optimised to work with the Lync Server.

    He said that getting Lync live took three months but that the university hasn't completely changed its telephony systems because it would be too costly and so there is still a reliance on old technology.

    "The long-term solution is to migrate over time to Lync, and there is some potential to simplify telephony infrastructure. This will help us reduce costs by eliminating the use of other products over time," he said.

    According to Grive, Lync will boost the productivity of staff and of students in the university.

    "The rollout of these technologies means that staff can access desk video conferencing and online meetings which can boost the staff productivity. In addition it can allow students to have meetings with their tutor online instead of walking between one of our four campuses," he said.

    He said that the biggest challenge for the university was for staff to change from an analogue phone to some form of unified communications.

    "It's a very cultural change, it is very straight forward but it is different," he said.

  • FE blog

    SharePoint 2010 – An Overview for Education


    Watch this recording presented by Dave Coleman, SharePoint MVP, as he gives an overview of SharePoint 2010. During this recording, Dave explores how SharePoint can address key needs within education institutions and by making use of existing licensing agreements, SharePoint can also help to remove cost from your organisation.

  • FE blog

    Student Windows Phone developer Q & A


    Questions answered by Windows Phone expert Ben Lower

    Originally posted by Microsoft Student

    A big shout out to Ben Lower and all the student developers that participated in the exciting chat this morning on the Microsoft Student Facebook page! If you missed it or want to read the advice that Ben gave your peers, we have recapped the conversation below, everything from one of Ben’s colleagues cheering him on to Ben’s Aunt Susan wishing him good luck and all of the awesome student dev questions in between. Thanks again for asking such wonderful questions about your experience with developing with Windows Phone. Ben was excited that so many of you participated!

    From Ben, “Thanks to everyone for all the great questions & for your interest in learning more about Windows Phone. I highly encourage you to utilize the Find My Champ application (http://www.windowsphone.com/en-US/apps/a84f1740-0047-4408-b317-c2db01a70fb4) to find Microsoft experts in your area who can help you with your developing questions on Windows Phone. You can also get the full source code for this app at http://findmychamp.codeplex.com/

    Ben Lower

    Full recap below:

    Q: How would you define a scope for students as WP developers? Also is channel9's Absolute Beginner tutorial sufficient for developing Pro apps?

    Ben: Thanks for the questions. The scope could be whatever you want it to be. It depends on what you are trying to do – build ur skills as a dev, build experience, make money, etc. Absolute beginner is a good start. Also check the Windows Phone Jumpstarts (http://channel9.msdn.com/Series/Mango-Jump-Start/Mango-Jump-Start-01-Building-Windows-Phone-Apps-with-Visual-Studio-2010)

    Q: What are the basic fields that I should be an expert in to be a Windows Phone developer?

    Ben: You need to be able to understand the context of mobile applications: you have a small screen, limited computing power, and all those sensors (GPS, accelerometer, etc.). Then, it really depends on what type of experiences/apps you want to create. You might need lots of design expertise, lots of data expertise. If you can build Windows Phone apps using C# and learn VB.NET languages, that will help. It really depends, but you also need to be able to code and to be good at learning as you go since you'll likely be forging new ground.

    Q: Is there any way to use Native Code coming to Windows Phone?

    Ben: We have received this request many, many times from developers and it's something that we are definitely investigating for possible future release. What is your specific need for native code use on Windows Phone?

    Q: I am wondering because I know that would be a very good push to the platform. By the way, I'm a last year student of computer engineering and I also have some experience (limited) developing in Android's platform, but since I got my Windows Phone I'm totally in love with it. So I was thinking to start developing some apps for WP. I'm also interested in an internship with Microsoft. Do you think starting to develop for the platform is a good beginning that could help me with my internship request?

    Ben: Cool and good luck in your final year. Getting some good apps or other project experience on your resume will definitely help your internship/job search. For Microsoft, check out https://careers.microsoft.com/careers/en/gbl/student.aspx

    Q: What kind of laptop are you using? It looks stunning!

    Ben: Thanks! I'm using Samsung series 9 with a custom, I ♥ WP ASCII art skin that I made.

    Q: Thanks for the live chat session! Any idea when AppHub will be available in more countries? It is quite expensive to use third party publishers to publish our apps.

    Ben: You are welcome! Thanks for joining us and for the question. We are always working hard to expand the number of countries for developers. In fact we just added 13 new markets for consumers yesterday (http://windowsteamblog.com/windows_phone/b/wpdev/archive/2012/03/28/marketplace-now-open-in-13-new-markets-are-your-apps-available.aspx). Our goal is to make App Hub available in as many places as possible, but it's very complicated and so takes more time than we (and you :-)) would like. Where are you running into high expenses with a third party publishers?

    Q: Thanks for the answer Ben. Because I live in Macedonia, I need to go through http://appamarket.com/ . And if you look at the pricing page, it is simply too much for a student to pay :(

    Ben: I understand. I know that some of our global publishing partners have reduced pricing for students. Did you ask them? Also, try looking at http://www.yallaapps.com/ who I know help students with lower pricing.

    Q: Thanks for yallaapps.com Ben. Much better rates there. Could you tell us what is the ONE feature you like the most on the WP7? :)

    Ben: I love the People Hub the most because it brings all my contacts from Hotmail, Gmail and Outlook into one place and also merges with Facebook & Twitter status for my friends. I use it all the time!

    Q: I know C and C++ very well. I am interested in app developing for Windows 8 apps, so what other technical knowledge do I need? Is it possible with these skills or should I learn C# for XAML,XML. Can you please tell me all the possible combinations.

    Ben: If you want to build Windows 8 apps and Windows Phone apps today, then you'd likely be best served to focus on C# and XAML as those skills are pretty transferrable across both platforms.

    Q: Expression Blend for VS 11 is very buggy, sometime can't even copy and paste, it is laggy compared to developing in Windows 7.

    Ben: VS 11 is still in preview release and will be slow and have bugs :-) performance improvements usually come as we finish up the product for release.

    Q: Why doesn’t Microsoft make Windows OS in phone an open source, so that it can become widely used by everyone?

    Ben: Microsoft invests a lot in open source in various ways: Codeplex, ASP.NET MVC (http://weblogs.asp.net/scottgu/archive/2012/03/27/asp-net-mvc-web-api-razor-and-open-source.aspx), and others. It's not part of our strategy to open source the entire Windows Phone OS.

    Q: I have basic knowledge of C# and ASP.NET, but don’t know anything about windows phone development. Where do I start?

    Ben: Best starting point is our Getting Started Guide (http://on.fb.me/HlayBU) which will link you to great free tutorials and online resources.

    Q: Is this possible to make Android apps using .NET framework.

    Ben: Yes, you can use Mono (http://xamarin.com/monoforandroid) to build Android apps using C# and .NET...but why would you want to put yourself through that pain & suffering ;-)

    Q: Would you recommend making a custom local search app (for offline use) for the windows phone 7.1 device for a beginner?

    Ben: That sounds like a very good project that will cover different aspects of the phone: GPS, maps, offline data storage, sync to web, etc. I'd always encourage you to focus on a project that you care about, as your passion will help you stick it out and really learn.

    Q: Many people think WP7 is not a good market to invest in. What is your view on the market compared to Android and iPhone?

    Ben: Windows Phone is a unique experience compared to our competitors. We offer developers and designers a unique canvas upon which to create engaging experiences. Most developers tell us they can get their apps built for us faster and easier than on other platforms. We provide free tools and students can join App Hub free of charge. Plus, you can still standout in our marketplace which isn't overrun with hundreds of thousands of apps. Nokia has essentially bet their company on Windows Phone and they are getting great traction with their first devices they have released. Not to mention that you have people like me and our Phone Champs (http://www.windowsphone.com/en-US/apps/a84f1740-0047-4408-b317-c2db01a70fb4) who truly care about the success of our developers and will help you be successful.

    Q: I want to work on the Windows Phone application with database support. Does 7.1 SDK support SQL lite for apps or only7.5 supports? Are there links to resources where I can refer about how to work with local databases for Windows Phone apps. Also, can I write into the resource XML sheet of my app from input fields presented in the app? Can I use the XML as a storage resource?

    Ben: We added SQL CE support in 7.5. You can save your data locally to the device in many ways including XML. Watch this video for some amazing tips on how to manage local data storage and sync. http://research.microsoft.com/apps/video/dl.aspx?id=158954

    Q: Hi Ben! Do you see the windows market as more of a niche market for business related applications? What other visual studio add-ons/plugins do you use for WPD?

    Ben: I don't see it as a niche market at all. We are seeing all sorts of apps & games. I use Telerik controls and the Silverlight Toolkit, but I spend most of my time in VS & Blend.

    Q: Hello Ben, I am creating a simple note taking application called Sribbble, and I only have two bugs that I have yet to find a fix. One is the textbox which seems to have a limited height. I have checked it's properties and max height, which is set to infinity, but when you type over 45 lines you are still able to type, but the text is not visible. You can scroll past that point, but the text just is not visible past about 45 lines. I checked other note taking applications and many of them have the same bug. Do you know of a way to work around for this? Thank you.

    Ben: Sorry that you're running into that issue with the textbox in Scribbble. I'm not sure on this, but you can ping @JeffWilcox on twitter who should be able to answer.

    Q: Thank you, Ben for this initiative! I'm wondering is there any news about Native Arabic Language Support in the next update of Windows Phone? I've been creating workarounds and Custom Silverilght Controls to let the text display correctly from right to left, I've also created a new Arabic Keyboard Layout to be able to develop apps in Arabic. The web browser used to display Arabic letters, but in reversed order and after the Mango update, the web browser acts really weird when it tries to render a page that contains Arabic content, not even in reversed order, sometimes you'll not be able to see the page contents at all.
    *If anyone needs help in displaying Arabic content in their windows phone 7 or any general help in building WP7 apps or Silverlight Apps feel free to contact me, I'll be happy to help! :)

    Ben: I've seen your work and give you props! Very cool that you implemented Arabic support. We understand the importance of supporting RTL and Arabic and are investigating possibility of that at some point in future.

    Q: I encounter a problem when using a map inside a pivot. It works on emulator without any problem but crashes on the phone. I found many developers have similar problems. Is there any simple way to overcome it?

    Ben: We don't recommend that you put a map control inside a pivot. There are workarounds mentioned in this MSDN article: http://msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/library/hh202919(v=vs.92).aspx

    Q: When manipulating sounds in the Silverlight, is it possible to create a global instance of the sound to be able to change its properties independently from what page is being navigated inside the applications?

    Ben: I believe this is possible, but I would need to look up on MSDN to be sure. Contact your local Phone Champ for more help on this question.

    Q: Hi Ben. I am from Macedonia, and this country is not supported by the App Hub, so we cannot do a developer unlock on a WP device. Before, there was Chevron, but they sold out all the tokens and I don’t know any other option. Is there any other option to unlock a device for development, or is there any option to get unlocked developer device?

    Ben: Sorry that we don't yet, support Macedonia, but you can check out our global publishing partners such as http://www.yallaapps.com/

    Q: Hi Ben. Is there any way to exit the application?

    Ben: You can exit apps on the phone by hitting the back button repeatedly until you exit

    Q: Hi Ben, I was wondering if in the future we'd have more control on how the keyboard is displayed and on how our app is scrolled (or not) when the keyboard appears. Dealing with this really was a pain.

    Ben: Not sure, but you can raise this and any other requests on http://wpdev.uservoice.com/. We use this site all the time to get feedback from our devs and help us plan and prioritize our work.

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