Originally posted by Ray Fleming
A month ago I wrote about a dozen new Windows 8 devices – laptops, tablets and All-In-Ones running Windows 8 and Windows RT – that were being previewed before the big day on 26th October when Windows 8 is officially released. It means that as a education user thinking about what devices teachers and students could be using for next academic year, there's a huge range of possible choices that are popping up. It means that you can choose your priorities based on each student groups' specific needs – for example, for younger students you might want tablets with great touch interfaces, and for older students you may want a traditional laptop design, and then for high-school and university students, perhaps you're looking for a convertible that's equally capable as both a touch tablet and a keyboard-driven laptop. And there's also choices available depending on what software choice you need for your users – for example, do you need to run all of your existing Windows software, or would your choice be to have a device that will only need to run the new Windows 8 software?
Well since last month the news has continued to trickle out from other manufacturers about what's coming, and overnight it was Lenovo's turn to take to the stage with panache.
They've announced a quartet of 'convertibles' – where the screens can flip around 360 degrees, so that you can run them in tablet mode, laptop mode, 'stand' mode and 'tent' mode. In a classroom, that would give lots of different ways of using them for individual students at a desk, on a table, or on their lap; collaborative learning tasks; or teaching small groups.
And the other big news for education users is that battery life has taken a big jump – up to 16 hours on some of these new devices!
The Lenovo IdeaPad Yoga has two different versions:
Yoga 13 - a 13.3" screen, with Intel i7 processors, and which runs full Windows 8. This has got a battery life of up to 8 hours.
Yoga 11 – an 11.6" screen, and an ARM-based processor, which runs Windows RT. The battery life on this one is up to 13 hours.
And then there's the IdeaTab Lynx, which is a tablet and a laptop together – as a tablet, you have an 11.6" screen and an Intel processor, running full Windows 8. In this mode, you'd basically run in full touch mode. But if you add the keyboard dock, you've then got up to 16 hours battery life (because the dock contains an extra hidden battery) and a full keyboard – so you can run it as you would any normal laptop too.
You can read the Lenovo press release here, but for more product details, I'd recommend reading the product info on the Lenovo website, where they show the product features side-by-side, so that you can see all four models together on a single page.
Read more about other new Windows 8 devices, from my previous blog post
With the release of Windows 8 now only a matter of weeks away, we have some exciting education specific activities planned for launch day and beyond. BETT 2013, in particular, is going to be a great opportunity to learn more about the exciting new capabilities within Windows 8 and take some of the innovative new devices for a test drive. There are quite a few that we can't wait to get our hands on :)
Focusing on Windows 8 launch day (26th October), we are hosting a Windows 8 in education event with our friends from Lenovo and QPR. The event will be held at Loftus Road, QPR's iconic stadium in West London, and will offer a unique insight into how our new OS can excite students and help them realise their full potential. Lenovo will also be on hand to discuss how their new range of Windows 8 devices can provide unique, flexible and cost effective learning experiences across both touch and keyboard and mouse.
Microsoft and Lenovo senior executives will also be presenting their views on the key trends currently impacting the education sector, such as BYOD, 1:1 computer programmes and how to embrace a new era in digital learning. Should be a great afternoon!
Furthermore, for those football fans, no trip to Loftus Road is complete without a tour of the ground. With this in mind, we are planning to round off the afternoon with a tour of the ground, and more specifically, a visit to the clubs education centre (sponsored by Microsoft and Lenovo). During this element of the tour, we will see students from local schools putting Windows 8 through its paces. The kids don’t know it yet, but there will be a surprise visit from a first team player where one or two of the kids attending will be presented with a Windows 8 device.
The day will end with a few drinks and nibbles where you can connect with colleagues, play with some of the devices or ask some of the Microsoft or Lenovo staff more specific questions about Windows 8 in education.
We are just fine tuning the afternoon, but the current details are as follows:
Date: 26th October, 2012
Venue: Loftus Road Stadium, London, W12 7PJ
This event is aimed at Head Teachers, Teachers, Lecturers and IT professionals working within education. With only 70 places, tickets are going to go quickly. To secure yours, sign up today via the our EventBrite page.
More information will be shared, both via the blog and email (to those who have registered), over the next week. We look forward to seeing you on the 26th!
I originally wrote about Windows 8 apps for education a few weeks ago.
And since last time, that I've installed some more apps, so here's my additional recommended education apps for Windows 8:
Windows Store link for Mathrathon It's a simple maths game – you're shown two numbers along with a simple addition or subtraction sign, and the answer. All you need to do is to click Correct or Wrong. Mathrathon creates 60 random questions (and the most difficult I got was 143-87=22). Sounds simple? Well, turns out it's a lot trickier than you imagine, and it's actually turned into quite a competitive challenge amongst a group at the office. As this is listed in Games, not in Education, it's also a reminder to check that category too for great learning games.
Windows Store link for SAS Flash Cards This is a flash card app with a great list of additional things that are good for teachers as well as students. Probably the best one is that you can create your own flash cards by uploading a spreadsheet. I could imagine that would make it much easier for a teacher to create flash cards to match their lesson plans. And the second handy addition is that, in Quiz mode, the results can be emailed – so that students could send their results back to a teacher, which would be great for assessment of/for learning.
Windows Store link for QuickMath QuickMath is a simple app for improving your calculation knowledge. It presents you with a calculation of two numbers from 0 to 99 which you have to multiply. After you submit the result the app shows if your answer was correct or wrong. To be honest, this turned out to be quite tricky for me to do, but made me think quite hard for the mental maths tricks I could use to get the answer more quickly.
Windows Store link for Viewer for Khan Academy This is an independently developed video player for educational videos from Khan Academy, which was developed by Joel Martinez as a Coding4Fun Community Project.
Read my previous list for additional recommended education apps for Windows 8
Original post by Ray Fleming
Charteris Microsoft technologies case study
The Edinburgh Academy may be nearly 200 years old, but its use of technology is completely up-to-date. With support from Charteris, this prestigious independent school for boys and girls has implemented the latest Microsoft desktop and server operating systems. This leading edge ICT infrastructure is enriching the learning experience for pupils, while also reducing costs and improving efficiency.
Edinburgh Academy faced two distinct challenges. Firstly, the school needed to update its aging IT infrastructure, to enable it to offer the very best facilities for its current and future pupils. “The independent schools market is very competitive on the IT front,” explains William Paris, head of information technology at Edinburgh Academy. “Families are attracted to schools that can offer excellence in ICT. It is therefore very important for us to offer modern and current technologies that capture the interest and imaginations of pupils and give them the desire to learn.”
Secondly, the school wanted to relieve the workload on its internal IT team. At the time, there were over 1,000 pupils and 175 members of staff, spread across two separate campuses, and the IT department of three and a half people was struggling to support these IT users. Paris explains: “There were a lot of manual processes that completely consumed our time. We were just treading water.”
To address both these challenges, the school decided to migrate to current technologies for its operating server platform and its desktop operating system. This move, it believed, would then pave the way for it to bring in some of the brand new applications that teachers and pupils would benefit from using. At the same time, it would provide an opportunity for the IT department to eliminate as many manual processes as possible and improve its efficiency.
Because its IT team was already working at full capacity, Edinburgh Academy decided to bring in a firm of external consultants for the project. It evaluated three different organisations before selecting Charteris. “I wanted a firm that I could trust and that would offer value for money,” says Paris. “Charteris stood out from the other firms I met because of the strength and breadth of its Microsoft technical skills.”
Delivered on schedule
At the time, Edinburgh Academy was using Microsoft Windows XP as its desktop operating system, and its server platform was primarily based on Microsoft Windows Server 2003. Every system had its own physical server, so consequently the school had more servers than was absolutely necessary.
Paris decided to migrate to a virtualised environment and asked Charteris to review and validate the architecture that he had designed. Charteris also helped him to create a high-level technology plan that covered the entire school estate, and this then provided the framework for the whole project, as well as other future IT initiatives.
Next, Charteris implemented Microsoft HyperV Server 2008 R2 as the base platform for the school’s new IT infrastructure. The consultants then layered on Microsoft Windows 7 to provide a new desktop operating system, Microsoft SQL Server 2008 R2 for database management and Microsoft System Center Configuration Manager (SCCM) 2007 R3 for systems management. Throughout this process, the consultants demonstrated their expert understanding and experience of working with Microsoft technology.
The entire IT project was carried out by Charteris during the school summer holidays to minimise disruption to pupils and teaching staff. “The project went live on schedule,” recalls Paris. “The Charteris consultants worked very well with everyone in the IT team and were good at passing on their Microsoft knowledge to us. As a Microsoft Gold Partner, Charteris has the ability to go direct to Microsoft with any queries, and this was hugely advantageous to us.”
A complete transformation
The IT upgrade that Charteris undertook has completely transformed the ICT environment at Edinburgh Academy. The school can now boast that its systems are thoroughly up-to-date and provide its pupils with access to the very best IT facilities in support of their studies. “Our new ICT infrastructure has put us in a position to be able to leap-frog some of the other independent schools in terms of technology,” Paris says.
With its new IT platform, Edinburgh Academy can now, very easily, introduce any new applications that teachers believe will add value to pupils’ education. “It is now very easy to add additional new technologies that will keep us in the game,” Paris says. “The systems that Charteris have helped to set up are 100% scalable – and will continue to meet our needs into the future.”
The deployment of Microsoft SCCM has given the IT team greater control of its network and desktops and eliminated almost all manual processes. Now, the IT team can deal with user issues and reload desktops remotely, without having to visit individual offices and classrooms, which has freed up, on average, 10-15 hours of IT team time per week. “We are able to do 90% of our work from our desks,” Paris says. “I can even allow staff in the IT team to work from home in adverse weather conditions, and in a school environment that’s pretty much unheard of.”
By migrating to a virtualised IT environment, Edinburgh Academy has been able to reduce the number of servers in the school by 50% from sixteen to eight. “This helps me reduce my power bills and improves my ‘green’ credentials greatly,” notes Paris.
Since the project went live, the Charteris consultants have contacted Edinburgh Academy regularly to make sure that the system is continuing to perform as expected. Paris concludes, “The follow-up has been spectacular.”
Posted on behalf of Mike Morris, Business Manager – FE, Microsoft UK.
The Association of Colleges Technology Portfolio Group has just released the result of their recent survey on the use of technology in Colleges. The research suggests that where there are barriers to the implementation of policy, and the achievement of specific outcomes, the issues are less about particular technologies but relate more to effective management and planning processes. At Microsoft we see this all this time. New technology adoption has to be a whole college activity.
Where Colleges are effective and confident in the use of technology, the following attributes are common:
Interestingly the Survey also found that Technology had the least impact in the following areas:
This was a surprise to the AoC and is also at odds with our experience at Microsoft, where we regularly deliver solutions or run programmes specifically to address these areas. What do you think of these findings?
When the Coventry University IT team was asked to cut £1 million from its budget as part of a strategic initiative, it re-evaluated virtualisation technologies. A previous foray into virtualisation had proved to be expensive, with the team finding it a challenge to make the most of the technology. After comparing several solutions, it chose to deploy Windows Server 2008 R2 Datacentre because the licensing model immediately saved the university £129,000.
The IT team is now using Hyper-V technology—included in the solution—to virtualise as many virtual machines onto one server as it needs, without requiring licences for each virtual machine. The team has also reduced staffing needs by one full-time staff member through the consolidation of platforms. With the new environment, the university saves £1 million of its allocated budget.
To learn more about this project, the case study can be downloaded from our SlideShare account. Alternatively, you can view the full document below.
With technology becoming ever-more important for the economy’s progression, it is imperative that students gain the necessary skills to obtain those jobs which are essential to the new, technological economy of the 21st century. Microsoft's investments into education offer the opportunity to deliver this change, and ensure that Further Education students continue to graduate with the relevant skills to help develop the economy.
In order for Microsoft to deliver the best experience of its technologies, it needs employees with the right skills and understanding of those technologies. While these can be applied user skills, the skills to support our implementations, and to develop creative and relevant new applications, are also important.
The main role of Further Education is to deliver relevant educational skills into the economy. As most students go to college in order to learn skills that will give them a better future, they rely on FE, Microsoft, and other businesses to work together to provide the necessary skills. This partnership has worked well in the past, but changes need to be made in order to deliver the necessary 21st century skills to ensure continued success. This means that there is an opportunity to change what we do together to be even more successful both now and in the future.
Right now, colleges are good at delivering a set of skills that was in demand in the past, but jobs are emerging in new areas. Microsoft can help to make these new areas of the economy a success, but we can’t do it without the help of Further Education, which is why we invest in helping you make the necessary changes to be successful. In the past, Further Education has done a great job of delivering application user skills into the Microsoft Economy, but today’s students are digital natives and come into college with these skills already in place. It is the skills of collaboration, remote communication, web design and app development that are now needed by employers, and so should be delivered by colleges. Only focusing on traditional application user skills will not deliver graduate success.
Infrastructure skills are in demand now, and we estimate that there are 60,000 job vacancies in the Microsoft Economy right now for colleges to focus on. The problem is that courses teaching these skills struggle to attract students, as they can seem difficult or boring. Up until now, the Microsoft economy has created little demand for gaming and application developers, but Xbox has recently become the number one by units platform both in the UK and worldwide. Furthermore, Windows 8, a single operating platform for PCs, tablets, phones and gaming boxes, will be launched in October, with the biggest application marketplace the world has ever known at its core. The economic opportunity for graduates with the right skills that will emerge from the Windows 8 launch is incredibly large, and by focusing on delivering the IT creativity skills needed, not just in IT but across all curriculums, FE can really take advantage of this opportunity!
As the main provider of vocational skills into the UK economy, Further Education should be accessing the many investments made available to education by Microsoft in the form of academic programmes, free software, competitions and other activities, which are all designed to make IT relevant and interesting to students.
Free Faculty and Student programmes of interest
Each of the following programmes can help to make academic staff, IT support and students themselves more informed, supported and motivated about acquiring the skills for the economy of the future.
So as you can see, in order to make sure the workers for the Microsoft Economy are available to meet demand, and to help our customer to realise their vision of the future, we invest heavily in education. The challenge that faces us all is how to put these investments together to deliver a meaningful outcome. That’s where you can help!
If you decide that you want to try and use these investments please contact the Further Education Business Manager for the UK, Mike Morris, (email@example.com)
Eastleigh College’s Computer Sciences lecturing team wanted to provide an up-to-date and highly vocational experience to their students, whilst having an easy solution for sharing notes and PowerPoint slides to the class. Microsoft OneNote and the Microsoft Interactive Classroom add-in for PowerPoint were found to be a very beneficial system for the staffand students to easily collaborate on work. A combination of Office Web Apps and SkyDrive, a set of services and software that enables users to manage their files online in a simple yet secure repository for resources, was chosen for its level of integration with other Microsoft products.
Eastleigh College, based in Hampshire on the south coast of England, is a Further Education (FE) college which provides post school education in a wide range of vocational areas.
In 2010, the Computer Science department were using Moodle, a Virtual Learning Environment (VLE), which is used throughout the college. Moodle provided a system that enabled resources to be shared with learners both in college and from home, a facility the college makes great use of. However, the Computer Science staff found Moodle 1.9 to be limited in some respects and in particular the work flows for assessment were causing problems for staff and students. Under the old department system, a learner would submit written assessments by uploading them into Moodle. The lecturer would assess, mark and provide feedback via a form on Moodle, which the learner could then read to gain feedback. If, however, the lecturer asked for changes or additional evidence to be submitted, the student had to upload a completely new document and the lecturer had to complete the feedback form again. In some cases this destroyed the previous still relevant valuable feedback.
So although many of the features of Moodle are valuable to Eastleigh College, the Computer Science department were looking for an easy solution to improve the ease of use and comprehensiveness of assessing, allowing the Lecturers to share notes and PowerPoint slides to the class.
Microsoft OneNote was chosen by the department as an electronic portfolio system. OneNote 2010 notebooks, shared via SkyDrive, enabled learners to organise their notes, embed evidence files, including video and other formats, all in one central location. When this was shared with the lecturer, comments and feedback could be written directly onto the OneNote document adjacent to the evidence. The learner would then see these comments as soon as they opened their OneNote portfolio, and the feedback would be in context with their supplied evidence. Students could therefore adjust their work immediately as directed, without having to re-share or upload a new submission.
The Computer Science department trialled a number of systems with students, including Google Docs, SkyDrive, iCloud and Ubuntu One, but ultimately made the decision to go with SkyDrive due to its level of integration with a range of Microsoft products. The college found that SkyDrive provided a simple yet secure repository for resources that could be shared to both individual students and whole groups with ease. The students could share their documents with one or more lecturers or even other students when group work was required.
OneNote provided Eastleigh College with the ability to submit evidence in an electronic portfolio, as is required by the new level 2 BTEC Diplomas. This made the process of OFSTED easier for the department, with the college recently receiving an outstanding from the authority. On occasion, outside authorities like examination bodies ask for samples of student’s work which has been assessed. This national sampling criterion can also be easily met by simply sharing the One-Note document with the examiner. SkyDrive automatically synchronises files and documents between the shared parties, which made group collaboration possible, and enabled the department to operateteam projects with ease. With the addition of the new SkyDrive desktop application, this movement of files has proved easier still.
The combination of SkyDrive and OneNote also enabled the department to share calendars, which were used to record the timetables of all learner groups and lecturers in the department. As SkyDrive can be accessed anywhere in the world and using any internet enabled device, such as Windows Phone 7, iOS devices and Windows 8 tablets, learners had no excuse of not being aware of any timetable changes. Microsoft Interactive Classroom add-in allowed Lecturers to create PowerPoint Decks, start a session in the add-in, and allow students to join the session from the academic tab. All the slides from the deck are visible to the student in separate OneNote pages and the students are able to take notes directly onto the OneNote page containing the current slide in the presentation.
If a Lecturer writes on the interactive whiteboard, this text is also visible on the OneNote page, meaning students get a copy of all the notes available during a lecture. This is then available to the student in his/her OneNote portfolio for later revision while writing assignments or uploading evidence.
Lecturers are able to create Question slides in PowerPoint through the add-in. Lecturers can start a poll during the session and get students to answer questions live. When the poll is stopped, the answers are shown in graph format on screen and are saved in the student’s version of OneNote for future use.
Using this electronic portfolio system and the Interactive Classroom add-on, Eastleigh College’s Computer Science department has seen a greater uptake of note taking during lectures, plus overall work submitted has improved, as students do not lose notes taken in class. Students enjoy the fact that marked work is immediately available to them through SkyDrive and students are happy to use Messenger to contact Lecturers with questions about their work. This means that time is not wasted trying to locate a lecturer and the students can work on their assignments when they want to.
Lecturers are not limited to marking work while sat in front of college systems and are able to view, comment and mark work wherever there is a connection to the Internet. Planning and lesson preparation can take place at a time and location best suited to the job at hand.
The combination of Moodle 2.0, OneNote, SkyDrive, Office Web Apps and the Microsoft interactive Classroom delivers an intuitive and easy to use learning environment that joins great teaching with robust assessment and digital search. This has not only improved the student experience but made demonstrating outcomes to Ofsted quick and easy. In fact Craig Chambers, Course Manager at Eastleigh College observed;
“I genuinely think that Microsoft Technologies have contributed to the improved completion rates achieved in our BTEC ‘Computer Science’ courses”.
Guest post by Dave Coplin, Director for Bing UK, Microsoft.
We live in incredible times. Today, many of us walk around with more computing power in our pockets than used to sit on our desks just a few short years ago. We are more connected, more engaged and more in control of our lives than ever before and yet, incredible though it is to believe, we are still right at the very beginning of our society’s journey with technology.
We have learned to love (or in some cases, tolerate) the power of social media and the increasingly real-time nature of our world. The power of the internet and mobile technology has enabled us to live with and access an incredible range of data, information and services that offer us the capability of augmenting all of our real-world experiences, joining the digital and analogue worlds together, in order to help us to become greater than the sum of our own parts.
There has been much discussion in the UK recently about the importance of getting the right approach to the role of technology in schools. Many have used this as the opportunity to reinforce the need for greater emphasis on the STEM fields (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) with further focus being given to the need to create a new generation of “kids who code”. Whilst this on its own is an incredibly important initiative, it is vitally important to continue to remind ourselves that it is still just a subset of the overall duty of care we have as technologists to ensure that every single aspect of society is empowered by technology. Yes that means having great software, and as such brilliant computer scientists, but more importantly it means ensuring that every single member of society knows how to make the best use of technology whatever their societal role – this is our modern equivalent of a “PC on every desk”.
Over the next twenty years, the increasingly connected nature of every action and every “thing”, combined with technological developments like the incredible prevalence of screens, e-ink and display surfaces and natural interfaces (those that use a range of human interaction from typing and mechanical devices like the mouse through to more natural methods involving gestures, speech and even thought), will take us to a new level of reliance and integration of technology. However, there are still some crucial obstacles that remain in our way, blocking our ability to take advantage of the advances on offer.
Some of these challenges exist at a cultural level, with privacy being perhaps the most fundamental of all such sociological debates. However, often hidden beyond such issues are significant barriers pertaining to the spread of knowledge and literacy that, if left unheeded, weaken the very foundations of our society (and economy).
None of these challenges are new, in fact a great deal can be learnt from our past. As such, the four key challenges we face should be familiar:
Within our brave new digital world, one of the most important skills we must learn is “critical thinking” a concept that rather incredibly, dates back to Socrates over 2000 years ago, but after being “recently” updated in the 20th century for a modern society by many great scholars, it provides a powerful framework for our internet age as every single day we are bombarded by millions of signals of data, information and content, and the quantity of information we are exposed to grows exponentially. These days we are still looking for the needle, it’s just that now it’s in one of a billion haystacks.
Most of us use critical thinking every day and for most of the time, we are barely aware of it. Every time we read a newspaper article, watch a documentary or look something up on Wikipedia we are aware of a whole range of biases, influences and emotions that may interfere with the validity, accuracy and overall conclusion of the content and, if we’re doing our job properly, we take all of that into account as we parse the information, reflect on it drawing in a range of other context and ultimately use it to draw conclusions and make decisions.
Fortunately for many of us, we’ve had years of practice and experimentation to get this right but in this new digital age, where children and young people have so much access to an incredible world of information but have yet to develop the skills to know how to deal with it becomes something we simply cannot take for granted.
From an early age, we need to ensure that anyone using the internet are able draw upon critical thinking skills to:
Where we need help now is not in the squabbling on the frontline of the digital/analogue boundary debating about which tools we should be teaching but is instead around the core principles of extending knowledge and literacy in a modern society, ensuring that, like our ancestors before us, our greatest knowledge assets (both digital and analogue) do not succumb to the ravages of time; that people can find relevant information in a vast ocean of content – ultimately finding a needle in a billion haystacks; ensuring that our children and every other member of our society are equipped with the cognitive capability and skills that enable them to harness the incredible potential that technology brings us. It should not just be a case of feeding them with the basic tools that will become obsolete tomorrow, but instead teaching them to “fish” in a growing digital pool and ensuring that every single member of our society, regardless of location, background, skills and wealth, can benefit from all that is on offer.
Working with Microsoft and a leading Microsoft Partner, a large regional Further Education College deploys Microsoft technologies to bring about significant improvements in its services to staff and students that amount to a “College in the Cloud”
We’re increasingly reporting stories of enterprising Microsoft Partners working with Microsoft to provide creative, competitive, effective and replicable solutions for customers – which, in education, means learners and staff. As Microsoft UK Strategic Partner Lead Mark Stewart explained at a recent conference, “We’re a technology provider and we couldn’t do anything without partners, who make what we do relevant”.
A great example of this – remarkable for a number of reasons – is just coming to fruition at Blackpool and The Fylde College, in a project involving the College, Microsoft and Microsoft Partner ‘Collabco’.
What’s happened – and is happening – at Blackpool and The Fylde can best be described by the London 2012 slogan ‘Bringing it all together’. This is a College where, as in all HE and FE institutions, students habitually use a range of technologies, logging in and out of them as required. But as Deputy Head of IT Services Simon Bailey explains, fragmentation of experience between a range of IT products produces obstacles that today’s students, arriving with high expectations of their IT experience, aren’t always willing to tackle.
“More and more they’re looking for a single click straight into what they want,’ he says. ‘For at least five years, I’ve wanted to provide an easy entry into a collection of IT services that would enhance the learner experience…”
Now, with Collabco’s ‘Hub Metro’, branded ‘My Hub’ within the College, that ‘single click’ offering is coming to life.
Collabco’s product is a ‘Hub’ in two related senses. Firstly, it’s a ‘gathering together’ hub that provides access to the various education technologies that students and staff want to use day-to-day, making all necessary and useful data and information easy to reach anytime, anywhere. Secondly, it acts as an active management hub from which users can organise their time, keep on top of coursework, communicate and collaborate with others. All this is handled from a single sign-on ‘My Hub’ landing page which is a gateway to everything the user needs, including the College’s Moodle VLE, email, documents, assignments, calendar, and library services. This aligns with our aspiration to offer a Complete ‘College in the Cloud’, delivering the improved user experience and reduced costs associated with a cloud approach.
Two key Microsoft technologies in particular make this one-stop offering possible. One is SharePoint 2010, which is at the heart of Hub Metro. As Collabco’s Sales Manager Max Holden puts it, “We effectively take the SharePoint product and make it more visually appealing than SharePoint out of the box – customising it for a specific purpose.” (Exactly in line, of course, with Mark Stewart’s earlier remark.)
The other significant element is Office365, which brings to the mix a comprehensive cloud offering with email and Office web apps.
The whole Hub Metro package, retaining the established Moodle VLE, and adding globally recognised Microsoft tools for collaboration and communication through Office365, was irresistible to Simon Bailey when he was first introduced to it by Microsoft UK FE Business Manager Mike Morris and key people from Collabco. “It was a consolidated approach that I couldn’t ignore.” he says,
The significance of that ‘couldn’t ignore’ statement lies in the fact that on the day that Mike Morris introduced Simon to the Collabco/Microsoft package, 7th June 2012, the College was on the verge of signing off on nearly a year’s preparation for the rollout in early August of a Google cloud package with document sharing and student email (staff were to stay with on-site Microsoft Exchange). Starting over with a different product and hitting the same end date was a daunting task but as Simon says, once they’d seen the Microsoft alternative, the comparison was too striking to put aside. What Collabco and Microsoft offered was a fully integrated environment all available from within ‘My Hub’. With Office365, students would have a cloud email system, and would be using the Office technologies they’d meet in their working lives. Simon describes his train of thought on that day in June like this,
“We use Moodle as a VLE. It’s incredibly successful as a learning environment, but the student experience would be so much better if they had email, calendar appointments and assignments in the same place at the same time on a single page. That, in essence is the sell that was presented to us with Office 365 embedded. The deadline was tight, but I couldn’t walk away from that.”
The actual rollout of ‘My Hub’ at Blackpool and The Fylde College is in two phases. To begin with, there is the embedding of Office365 with email and Office Web Apps, and the strong internal communication features of ‘My Hub’. Moodle will also be firmly present in the mix, with a Moodle summary on the ‘My Hub’ landing page.
The second phase, later in the Autumn, will include more features. Some are still under discussion, which underlines just how well the product can be customised and extended beyond its initial remit. There’s likely to be, for example, actual course timetables available to students. As Simon explains – “They’ll be able to log on with a mobile device or a PC to see what classes they have that day, and we can let them know of any last minute room changes.”
Another feature that’s likely to be there in Phase Two is one that will pick up the necessary data from Moodle enabling individual students to go to their personal ‘My Hub’ site and quickly check their progress against course overall targets.
“I know how popular that will be,” says Simon. “Students like stuff in a browser and on a single button – a ‘skim’ summary.”
That phrase – ‘in a browser and on a single button’ is essentially what Hub Metro is all about, and what pleases Simon Bailey is that it chimes so well with his own idea of what kind of IT environment a college should be providing for its students. It’s possible, he says, that given time his team could have created their own integrated offering, but, he goes on,
“This one was there already, Collabco has a good vision that matches ours, and there’s no point in reinventing the wheel.”
At the start, I suggested that this project displays some remarkable features. More than anything, I suppose, I had in mind the way that it was developed in two months from the moment that Simon Bailey saw it for the very first time.
Many lessons were learned along the way in this extremely tight design and implementation schedule. To launch such a big project from scratch in just two months, which is not normal best practice for a project of this size and complexity, is an achievement that speaks volumes for the technical and management skills at work between the College and Collabco, and also about the resilience and quality of the product itself.
And the benefits? As the system beds down there’ll be a gradual, but ever-increasing, return in terms of ease of communication and collaboration. Students will be better informed, more likely to collaborate and communicate, less likely to miss deadlines or lectures. Perhaps most importantly, students will have the kind of comfortable, flexible and responsive IT experience that lives up to their expectations. It’s reasonable to assume that this will have its effect not only on student achievement and overall College performance, but on the ever-present issues of recruitment and retention in a highly competitive environment.
Pauline Waterhouse OBE, Principal and Chief Executive says - “We see the potential for the My Hub/SharePoint/Moodle and Office 365 solution to contribute to making learners more autonomous and responsible for their own learning – by virtue of, for example, their ability to check progress against their individual targets. In this way, the facility will be contributing to our quality improvement agenda and really helping to support high levels of attendance and retention”.
In the Future when SharePoint 13 comes out we will be able to add Enterprise Social Networking into our solution, making it even more compelling for students and the College
The College. http://www.blackpool.ac.uk/
‘Blackpool and The Fylde College is recognised as one of the top colleges in the country. A Beacon College, we are also a member of the prestigious 157 Group, which aims to drive forward standards in further education. Our provision is extensive, allowing learners from a variety of backgrounds to access a growing range of vocational and academic programmes at the appropriate level. We are also the UK's third largest FE provider of HE, offering degree courses that are validated by Lancaster University, ranked in the top 1% of universities globally. We work extensively with employers both in a training provider capacity and to ensure the vocational relevance of our programmes. The College is currently undergoing an extensive programme of refurbishment that will create a state-of-the-art learning environment for years to come.’
The Partner. www.collabco.co.uk
‘Collabco is a specialist Microsoft Partner focused on SharePoint, Dynamics CRM, Lync, UAG and Mobility delivering a portfolio of services including:
Technology and consultancy,
IT strategy consultancy and development,
support and training.
Our mission is to build products and deliver projects that are of the highest quality and best user experience.’