It is highly likely you will be contacted in the near future by one of the leading software vendors such as Microsoft. In fact, Steve Beswick, Snr Director – Education/Social Enterprises and Charities at Microsoft had already been addressing Eduserv about helping the education sector in connection with software licencing compliance.
Microsoft and Phoenix Software (Microsoft’s UK SAM Partner) are hosting a joint webinar and as a UCISA member we would like to invite you to this informative event, tackling the importance of Software Asset Management (SAM) and compliance in education institutions.
The webinar will cover Microsoft’s latest stance around SAM, their new Microsoft SAM & Licensing Certification Programme (MSCLP) and the tools that are available to help you attain the Certificate. UCISA members will also learn more about how to implement a comprehensive SAM programme, helping reduce costs and ensuring your estate remains compliant.
Through the MSLCP Phoenix Software can help you adopt best practise, explore better technologies and proactively have the assurance that you are maximising your investment responsibly.
Customers have an obligation to manage their software estates. Now is the time to be positively proactive and ensure you are prepared should Microsoft decide to exercise their contractual right to audit.
The webinar will take place on Monday 28th April at 2:30pm. Please email email@example.com to register or call Ben Stamp on 0845 265 1220 – you will then be sent the joining instructions.
Following on from our recent blog post on Power BI within Office 365 Education, we have had a number of questions via both the blog and Twitter seeking some additional information on how Power BI can help you take advantage of the data within your institution, big and small.
For those that missed our previous post, Power BI for Office 365 is a collection of features and services that enable you to visualise data, share discoveries and collaborate in intuitive new ways. Power BI works seamlessly with Excel and allows you to create compelling content, data models and visualisations and then share and collaborate around those insights with your colleagues, teams and study groups.
More specifically, features within Power BI that extend the data-specific capabilities of Excel 2013 include the following:
Analyse data with Excel: Easily discover and access public and corporate data
Power Query, a feature of Excel, enables you to more easily discover, combine, and transform data from multiple data sources with the familiarity of Excel
Visualize and explore
Power View and Power Map, features of Excel, allow you to create interactive data visualizations to explore and uncover insights and present findings.
Create powerful data models
Power Pivot, a feature of Excel, provides powerful analytical modelling. Data is processed in-memory allowing you to work quickly with data volumes in excess of 100 million rows, in split second times.
Share and Collaborate with Power BI for Office 365
Enable anyone to quickly create a collaborative BI site to share data and insights with Power BI.
Keep reports up to date with data refresh
Keep your reports up to date by scheduling when the data should refresh. The Data Management Gateway allows reports that have been saved to the cloud to connect back to on-premises data sources to refresh data.
Manage data queries for the team
With Power BI people can share not only workbooks but also the queries they create using Power Query in Excel. This allows members of the team to build and manage data queries for others to use when creating their own reports.
Maintain a Data Catalog of searchable data
Your IT departments can now use the Data Catalog feature of Power BI to make it easier for everyone to find and connect to corporate data. Searching for data with Power Query in Excel will return accessible corporate data.
Ask questions of your data in natural language
With the Q&A feature of Power BI people can type questions they have of the data in natural language. The system will interpret the question and present answers in the form of interactive visualizations.
Stay connected with mobile access to your reports
Mobile access to reports in Power BI is provided through new HTML5 support and through the Power BI mobile app.
To learn more, and request a free trial, visit out Power BI microsite for more information.
Additionally, if you are looking to get up and running our 'Getting Started Guide' can be viewed/downloaded below.
Based North of Darlington in County Durham, Bishop Auckland College is a further education college with over 5,000 full and part time students.
The college initially approached Phoenix Software to tender for the renewal of its Microsoft campus licences. However, once Phoenix demonstrated how the college could take advantage of a new Microsoft licensing scheme to give every student a copy of Microsoft Office without having to spend any more on its software licensing, the scope of the project soon expanded to include a server migration and Office 365 deployment.
Challenge With its Microsoft licence agreements due to expire, Bishop Auckland College issued a formal tender to three local companies to bid for the renewal contract. Phoenix Software differentiated itself by recommending that the college leverage Microsoft’s new Student Advantage programme, which had launched just nine days prior to Phoenix Software’s proposal.During further consultation with the college, Phoenix Software also determined that the college’s three ageing email servers (which were running Microsoft Exchange 2003) were not only causing considerable disruption to the college, but would also prevent it from taking full advantage of the comprehensive feature sets available in the new Microsoft software that the college was looking to purchase.
Solution As per its initial response to the tender, Phoenix recommended that the college make full use of the Student Advantage licensing scheme when renewing its core Microsoft licences. This would allow the college to provide every student with a subscription to Office 365 at no extra cost. Phoenix Software also recommended upgrading the college’s three onsite email servers so as to take full advantage of the Office cloud and the new features available with its new Microsoft licensing agreements. Phoenix proposed a hybrid cloud/on-premise solution whereby the student email server would be decommissioned entirely and all email accounts migrated to the Office 365 cloud (since cloud email is a feature included within the Office 365 licence), while the two remaining onsite servers would be upgraded to Microsoft Exchange 2010 so that the college could take full advantage of the features available with the latest versions of Office. It was determined that upgrading all three servers could be completed within the college’s existing licensing agreements, so no additional licence purchase was necessary.
Wayne Longton-Worley, IT Services Manager at Bishop Auckland College commented, “We chose Phoenix because of their highly consultative approach at every stage of the tender process. They asked us more questions than anyone else in order to find the best solutions for us. What’s more, of all the companies we spoke to, they were the only ones to suggest the Student Advantage programme and server improvements, which proved to deliver so much more additional value.”
The college wished to deploy the upgrades during the Christmas holidays to allow for testing and decommissioning of the old systems. By conducting both projects in parallel over the Christmas holidays, the college would also save itself considerable disruption. Phoenix delivered the project on time. “Phoenix were realistic but ambitious with their timescales. But they delivered as promised. They said it would take 10 days and it took 10 days,” said Longton-Worley.
Benefits Enrolling the college in the Student Advantage programme immediately extended the scope of the college’s new licensing agreements by providing every student with a copy of Office via the Office 365 subscription, for no extra charge to the college. Over 1,000 students took advantage of the Office 365 subscription in the first eight weeks alone and the college continues to receive daily enquiries. In addition to providing all students with Office 365, the introduction of a common software standard also solved a problem that had been plaguing the college for some time – that of software incompatibility. Since students no longer had to resort to using bootleg or free software that was invariably incompatible with the official Microsoft software used on campus, students could now take full advantage of the features of Office applications knowing that the same results could be replicated at home, and that staff would view their assignments in the exact same way that they were conceived.
Due to Phoenix Software’s quick thinking, Bishop Auckland College is also one of the first colleges to have benefitted from the Student Advantage programme in the UK, providing it with a significant differentiation for attracting more students over its nearby rivals. Looking beyond the benefits of Student Advantage, the new hybrid cloud/on-premise server configuration has yielded numerous enhancements too. With the students’ email services now managed entirely by Microsoft, the college has one less email server to power, upgrade and maintain, while upgrading the college’s two remaining onsite servers to Exchange 2010 has enabled it to take advantage of a more sophisticated and reliable email service for its staff . What’s more, the seamless compatibility between the on-premise solution and the cloud services has enabled the college to experiment with moving selective groups of staff over to the Microsoft cloud too, helping to prepare the college for a potentially server-free future.
Wayne concludes “What started out as a simple licensing conversation has resulted in so much additional value for Bishop Auckland College. This was much more than a simple licensing renewal - it has brought the college thoroughly up-to-date! Most importantly of all, we have gained without having to spend any more money on licences. This is a credit to Phoenix Software’s deep understanding of our needs and the broader software market, and its professional approach to matching the two.”
Accelerate your Insights
How data and insights are driving innovation
In order to achieve these goals, employees require powerful and easy to use tools to enable them to discover and use insights to make effective decisions, customers want to use personalised, high performance and convenient online services and IT requires a secure, scalable and comprehensive information platform.
Want to learn more? Join us to see how to drive real-time business, from apps to insights, through a deeper look into the comprehensive in-memory technologies in Microsoft SQL Server 2014, Power BI for Office 365, SQL Server Parallel Data Warehouse, and Windows Azure HDInsight.
Attending this one-day event will allow you to get a running start on understanding the extensive innovations we’re delivering around data that will empower your business with the tools you need to quickly uncover business insights and make smarter business decisions.
Morning Agenda 9:00 – 12:30
9:00 – 9:45 Registration and Breakfast
9:45 – 10:45 Keynote, Quentin Clark CVP Data Platform Group Rafal Lukawiecki – Project Botteceli Dan Sommer – Gartner Research Director 11:15 – 12:30, Customer Case Study Sessions Jabil – Self Service BI in Manufacturing
Afternoon Agenda 1:00 – 5:00
The ultimate student challenge
For most lucky people, the beginning of April normally brings a bit of a bounce to the step with the prospect of a chocolate-filled Easter break, and just further round the corner, hazy scents of mown Summer lawns and barbeques wafting in the warm air. However, for poor students all over the UK, this time of year is about as welcoming as a cold cup of tea. April only means one thing: dissertation deadline!
With my year at Microsoft now approaching its last leg, daunting emails from my academic tutor have been creeping into my inbox regarding dissertation topics for next year. What to write about? How to make a thorough analysis? How to find and analyse my own original primary data?
Well, the answers, certainly for the last two questions on my mind, became apparent last week when I was introduced to Power BI for Office 365 in Education.
The answer is Power BI
Power BI is a sensational tool which is used by academic institutions to unlock useful data to help, for example, improve student retention through better engaging with students. Essentially, institutions like businesses use Power BI in education to find trends in data to better their processes. However, I think Power BI could equally be of incredible value to students, particularly in carrying out data research and interpretation for a thesis, dissertation or school project. For those of you who are unfamiliar with Power BI, in a nut shell, it runs on Office 365 apps Excel and SharePoint, offering a familiar environment for educators and students to find data, track and illustrate trends, which can then easily be shared.
The gooey centre
Plunging into the core features of Power BI, I'll illustrate those which I think would make Power BI an invaluable student tool. First of all, Power Query is a feature which allows students to find data sources both internally and externally which can then be manipulated. One of the most challenging things for students is gathering good primary and secondary data for serious reports, which is why Power Query bedazzled me when it was demoed to me.
STEP 1) Source data - To illustrate, if a student was researching trends in eating habits amongst teenagers in the UK, they would type their request in the 'Search box' and Power Query would enable them to gather data from anywhere, for example external government websites, whereupon the data would automatically be slotted into Excel. This would save students oodles of laborious data entry time!
STEP 2) Manipulate data - with the data safely slotted in Excel, the student can then go on to edit the categories and filters, moulding the data in line with their dissertation aims.
STEP 3) Analyse data - Once categorised appropriately, the student can figure out trends for their analysis. They can use another Power BI feature Power Q&A to type in a natural language query against the data to explore trends. To highlight, the student could type "what percentage of 13-15 year olds prefer fast food?" and the data would reveal an answer: ex it was found that 62% of teenagers in the UK between the ages of 13 and 15 prefer eating fast food.
STEP 4) Illustrate data - Once the student has found some interesting trends, they can use Power View to illustrate their data with charts and visual graphs. The beauty of Power View is that once graphs or charts have been drawn, say the student wants to pinpoint the trends of one demographic against another, they can click on one demographic within an illustration, for example the orange demographic of the pie chart below (see Image 1), which will then filter the data specification in all the other illustrations (see Image 2).
Power View Image 1
Power View Image 2
I want to flag one final feature, Power Map which would light up any presentation or report with a geographic data illustration. Power Map beautifully plots your data on an interactive 3D global map, perfect for presenting 3D tours of your location-based data. I can imagine this being a really useful feature for students who have found geographical trends on data. Returning to our UK food example, a power map would clearly illustrate which cities in the UK have the highest percentage of fast-food consumption amongst 13-15 year olds in the UK.
Make your students more employable!
What's more, being proficient in Power BI would set up students with highly desirable analytical skills for the increasingly competitive job market. Anything to get them ahead of the game in my opinion would set your institution apart. A recent survey has disclosed that this year alone, there is a 33% increase in applications for graduate schemes, with hundreds of thousands of students applying for jobs each year. This is highly competitive and students are thus looking to differentiate themselves from their peers in as many ways as possible.
To help you understand how useful skills in Power BI could be for graduating students to employers, I'll give you a glimpse into how it is used in business. Power BI is used by organisations in a business context to find and manipulate data to improve the way they run their business through spotting trends. To illustrate, online clothes retailers would use Power BI to calculate trends in their cavernous pool of user data, such as what styles individuals are prone to purchasing, and then use that information to flag each individual browser with targeted shopping suggestions which would hopefully increase their revenues.
Just imagine how impressed an employer (particularly for analytical roles) would be if the candidate was able to talk in an interview about their own practical experience and understanding of analytical enterprise-grade software, Power BI!
Last week Microsoft staged BUILD event in the tech epicentre of the earth, San Francisco, where all Microsoft developers congregated to talk about the future of the Windows platform.
At the very heart of the announcements was one exciting piece of news, the Windows phone update to Windows Phone 8.1! Those of you who have previously been using a Windows phone will know that its beauty lies in its malleable personal design, which enables you to choose your favourite apps and tiles, colour schemes, layout and photos for your start screen. This has been great for educational purposes, as teachers and students have been able to pin any important Office 365 documents to their start screen for easy access, to edit or check work on the go. For example, students might want to access notes on the way to an exam, for that final revision push.
So what's different about the new Windows Phone 8.1 update?
It's all about being even more customizable to your personal preferences. There are many new features but I'm going to pick out a selection for you today. For more info, take a look at the Windows Phone blog.
1. Third Column
The Windows phone now has a third column, enabling all Windows phone users, no matter the size of your phone, to have even more personalised tiles on your start screen. This could be really useful for educators and students who want to be able to quickly access a larger variety of apps for working and having fun on the go. Just think, in an instant touch a student could be Skyping their friends, to reading their maths notes, to calling mum, to checking out their Asos app for that dress they need for Saturday's party!
2. Start Background
I love the new Start Background feature - it enables you to choose your favourite picture which runs through all of your tiles. A nice little feature for educators during a stressful class or exam time, to quickly glance at their phone and take themselves back to that peaceful Summer afternoon sipping an aromatic red on the beach in South of France.
3. Lock screen
The lock screen can now ingeniously be personalised. You can download an app which will enable you to choose between a wide range of interesting "Lock Screen Themes" which will instantly differentiate your phone from anyone else's. Just think how useful this could be for helping students to avoid losing their expensive phones. How many times have you heard students whimpering "Miss/Sir, I left my phone on the bus"? As the Windows phone 8.1 enables you to instantly differentiate your phone lock screen, they would easily be able to inform the bus driver of their phone's personalised distinguishing feature, helping them to retrieve it. Likewise, on a school trip, there would be no problem with students going home with the right phone.
You're probably asking yourself, what on earth is Cortana? Well the real question is Who is Cortana. Cortana is "the world's first truly personal assistant" who was inspired by the breath-taking digital assistant of Master Chief on Halo. Who knew the Microsoft Windows developers had such a romantic side!
Powered by Bing, Cortana is the only digital assistant that gets to know you, builds a relationship that you can trust, and gets better over time by asking questions based on your behaviour and checking in with you before she assumes you’re interested in something. She detects and monitors the stuff you care about, looks out for you throughout the day, and helps filter out the noise so you can focus on what matters to you.
When will Cortana reveal herself?
The second half of 2014! So hold tight to get yourself your very own personal teacher's/student’s assistant.
Let's take a closer look at Cortana
In Windows Phone 8.1, you get to Cortana by either a Live Tile on your Start screen or by pressing the search button on your device. This will take you to Cortana Home. To interact with Cortana, you can either speak or type—if you’re in a school meeting, just type and Cortana won’t talk out loud, embarrassing you in front of your head teacher and colleagues. But if you ask her a spoken question, she’ll answer verbally and even carry on a natural conversation. Fabulous for that lonely drive home :)
Once she’s learned a bit about you, Cortana’s home populates with information that is curated just for you. You’ll see things like flight information she’s found from your email confirmations, weather, the latest news, and even traffic information once she learns your commute routine, such as from work and home.
What’s more, because Cortana is powered by Bing, some of the interests in Cortana’s Notebook will light up on Bing.com when you sign in on the web. Bing.com will give you and your students access to the things Cortana tracks for you, like students' UCAS application status - a nail-biting time!
The Windows developers have also designed Cortana to be able to interact with 3rd Party Apps installed on your phone. You can ask Cortana to help you or your entire class make a video call in Skype in the Classroom, help students look up relevant news articles to research for an essay, look up a news feed on Facebook when you're driving or send a tweet using the Twitter app.
And finally, Cortana isn’t just a dry computer returning search results. Just as she has in the game Halo, Windows Phone’s Cortana has a bit of personality. But you and your students will have to talk to her yourself to see what I mean by that. Or… I bet you’ll be able to find some videos on the web pretty soon to see what I mean.
Tibshelf invited suppliers to tender for the school’s ICT requirements, at the centre of which was the notion of ‘infrastructure first’. Priorities were:
Brian explains: “For us it was all about the infrastructure. Our consultation ignited this vision of a single consistent user experience, delivered anytime and anywhere regardless of device. We knew the foundation for this utopia was the network and the wireless. We were not at all concerned initially with what hangs off the end of that. We wanted it to work like a tap. You just turn it on and it works. In fact, due to the strong BYOD element, and with an uncertain view of future budgets, our tender was written around not providing any devices at all.
“Our priorities also involved a level of future-proofing, providing a scalable platform on which to adapt to future curriculum requirements and changes in technology.”
Mark explains: “Audio visual was a big area for us. Ten year old interactive whiteboards do not move premises easily and our projectors were all due for replacement as they had been stretched beyond use.”
Once interested parties had sent back their tender responses, as Mark points out responses were varied:
“At one end of the scale, we had an education ICT business recommending we did it the same way every other school they supplied did it. On the other end of the spectrum, we had another organisation claiming if we adopted their cloud only ICT infrastructure model we could be up and running within 10 minutes.
“Stone Group sat nicely in the middle with a good blend of innovative cloud technologies with proven on-premise solutions. It was all underpinned by a healthy dose of innovation, while still giving us comfort that it was not so far on the cutting edge that support would be impacted.
“Stone Group’s people also proved themselves committed to what we wanted to do from the very outset. Some competitors were new in the education market and this presented unnecessary risk to the project as a whole as Stone were proven specialists in the UK education field.”
With tight construction deadlines, Stone as the ICT partner had to begin work before construction on the school had finished.
Once budget was in place, things moved extremely quickly. Between the £14.9m funding being confirmed from Derbyshire County Council and the school opening to pupils was only 20 months.
Once Stone had been appointed, to ensure that pedagogy would be at the heart of the new ICT solution, the school once again engaged relevant stakeholders – governors, teachers, admin staff and pupils.
Brian explains: “During the second consultation, some of our faculty used it as an opportunity to introduce new techniques in the classroom. For example, one of our ICT teachers rotated his class around so that desks were facing away from the teacher. Chairs swivelled to front-of-room lecture style delivery, then when working on-task the pupils would turn 180 degrees – giving the teacher full visibility of each individual learner’s grasp of the subject matter. Double projection boards also allowed students to see lesson content regardless of their orientation.”
In PE, there are two C-Touch interactive large format displays. These are used in conjunction with touch screen devices to allow GCSE students to critically analyse performance and technique as conducive with Active Participant research.
Eight Digital signage screens adorn the walls throughout the school. Equipped with the latest Smart Signage Platform, the Samsung screens are powered by system-on-chip – meaning no PC players are required to power the screens. Management and administration is again undertaken from both within the school and anywhere with an internet connection using the cloud-based SignageLive solution.
Interactivity came in the form of interactive touch boards in each classroom, with eBeam Edges providing touch screen functionality for over 40 interactive white boards. Classes are inherently interactive while helping to keep costs down when compared with native touch-screen displays.
All teachers are equipped with the latest convertible Lenovo Ultrabooks, adding to the touch screen interactive capabilities. Access to the projectors powering the interactive touchscreens are all wireless, using the very latest Intel Wireless Delivery (WiDi) technology. Using this technology, we hope to see teachers presenting from anywhere in the room, giving students the ability to interact directly with the boards without moving from their seats.
The school’s server infrastructure is based on the latest Microsoft technology and includes:
Mark explains: “With the Microsoft backbone, we now have resilience in the infrastructure that we’ve never had before. We now have high availability as standard, with failover in case of an issue. Crucially this means our pupils, teachers and admin staff are non-the-wiser in the event of a malfunction on one of our physical servers.”
“The benefits for Tibshelf are tangible and have been far reaching.” Mark explains: “We knew we had it nailed when we looked at the network logs and saw we had pupils logged into the school’s systems on Christmas Day!”
Consultation on the school’s BYOD scheme illustrates that in excess of 95% of the school’s students will use the BYOD provision.
Bearing in mind the school’s desire to future proof and ensure the latest technology was underpinning academic ambition, Windows 8.1 was standardised across all PC technology. Likewise, the VDI solution ensures that a consistent Windows 8.1 experience is available even on other tablet and smartphone operating systems.
Training and engagement
Putting in a new ICT infrastructure has required a change in behaviours for many teachers and staff, in order to mirror the innovation in the classroom.
End-user training sessions delivered by Stone started before the school’s move and continue to be part of the school’s commitment to CPD. For end users, sessions are focused on helping to familiarise all the faculty with Windows 8.1 and ensure that the nuances between each teacher’s pedagogical approaches can be accommodated. From a technical perspective, Tibshelf’s internal ICT support staff engage with Stone’s infrastructure specialists to ensure that they are fully abreast of the latest technology developments. This enables their staff to get the most out of the systems for the whole school’s benefit.
Formal end user training has been supplemented by peer-led learning. Mark explains: “Functionality such as the ability to add custom tiles pointing to specific folders and creating a bespoke user interface, is something that has spread from teacher-to-teacher. Word of mouth has enabled best practice to spread quicker than that of our formal training.”
Tibshelf is an early adopter of Microsoft’s Student Advantage programme, and will be giving all pupils within the school and up to 5 members of their family a free copy of Office 365 ProPlus to use on both BYOD devices and those used in the home.
ICT within the school has gone from being difficult to introduce into lessons at all, due to a lack of provision, to now being integral to the vast majority of curriculum delivery. Mark explains: “As a network manager, during lessons I used to be able to wander freely around the building undertaking administration tasks. Now I get accosted on every corner as learning has truly gone beyond the four walls of the classroom at Tibshelf. Pupils are outside lessons, capturing content on digital devices and using the core infrastructure we have provided to further their personal development.”
Already offering a supreme level of support to the school, Mark’s network management team has benefited from new network management tools. Microsoft System Centre Service Manager 2012 R2 monitors the network and provides alerts, meaning the school’s internal helpdesk offers ITIL compliant processes.
Impero Classroom Management is deployed across the school’s estate, combining network management, desktop management and classroom management in one single consolidated solution.
Server infrastructure & storage
End User Devices
In response to our blogs this week reviewing Office 365 for iPads in Education, we’d like to share with you a nifty video which captures the features in a nutshell!
See for yourself how familiar apps, Word, PowerPoint and Excel look and function on an iPad to enable students and teachers to work together, collaboratively editing and creating documents at college.
For more information on the full Office 365 Education experience and associated licensing requirements of Office 365 for iPads in Education, have a look at the flyer below.
By Aimee Riordan, March 20, 2014
Imagine a school without walls, textbooks or teachers, where children are inspired to learn by their own sense of wonder. That’s what Sugata Mitra dreamt when he first placed a computer into a hole in a wall in a Kalkaji, Delhi slum.
In doing so, Mitra, now a professor of Educational Technology at Newcastle University, discovered something extraordinary: Without any outside instruction, the students used the computer, and its connection to the Internet, to teach themselves about the world around them.
What’s more, they taught each other.
Fifteen years later, Mitra is embarking on an ambitious mission to bring the School in the Cloud and the Self Organized Learning Environment (SOLE) to students around the world. And he’s using Microsoft technology to make it happen.
Mitra won the 2013 TED Prize, from the nonprofit devoted to cultivating ideas about Technology, Education and Design. This week, at a TED conference in Vancouver, B.C., he’s announcing the opening of five School in the Cloud labs in India and the United Kingdom and launching the accompanying digital platform, made possible by Microsoft, which enables anyone anywhere to host cloud-based learning.
The man behind the social cloud watches Sugata Mitra, watches a self organised learning environment on Skype.
Mitra calls self-organized education “learning at the edge of chaos.”
“There is a space in between the complete order and the complete chaos, where something strange happens, the kind of environment that causes dust devils to form,” he says. “When you look at children learning by themselves, it’s so non-intuitive. It struck me that if you create a chaotic learning environment with children, a situation with just the right amount of chaos, you get spontaneous order.”
Mitra recalls a SOLE session in the UK where he wrote a quadratic equation on the board and asked the students, none of whom had ever been exposed to algebra, to answer this: What is the value of “x”?
“They came back 15 minutes later and said, ‘That is algebra. That’s a quadratic equation. And x doesn’t have one value. It has two.’ That coming from 12-year-olds was too much for me.”
While we think of traditional learning happening over months or years, in self-organized learning, it happens in minutes, Mitra explains. “When children work in groups in the presence of the Internet, SOLE acts as a lens, a magnifier of intellect.”
The School in the Cloud is a unique Microsoft effort, not only because of its groundbreaking philosophy, but also because of its reach. With Skype, Office, Azure, Bing, Xbox, Surface and OEM partners, the project touches nearly every corner of the company.
Wendy Norman, director of social good at Skype, calls it an unprecedented cross collaboration.
“Many areas of the company are reaching out as they hear about this and wanting to be a part of it,” she says. “This is truly one of the largest One Microsoft deployments around social good.”
Students use Skype to connect with each other and with retired teacher volunteers the children call “Skype Grannies.” They employ Bing for search and Office products like PowerPoint to help them distill and present what they learn. Ultimately, Xbox or Surface, with Skype built in, may house the entire experience.
Mitra says he uses Windows because students like the operating system and find it intuitively easy to learn. He adds that Skype was a natural fit because of its video presentation capabilities.
School in the Cloud fits squarely within the mission of YouthSpark, Microsoft’s corporate citizenship initiative, says Akhtar Badshah, senior director, citizenship and public affairs at Microsoft.
It’s another example of how technology can transform lives.
“This is a great partnership that allows us to bring our resources and our technology to a platform that may have global impact,” Badshah says, adding that the School in the Cloud will likely evolve in ways we can’t yet imagine.
It could become a tool to teach children the basics of programming, for example. “Not about just writing code, but fundamentally changing the way people learn,” he says.
Microsoft funded construction of the platform: a website intended to connect and extend the community. It features information about how to get started and guidance for asking the big questions while searching the Internet. “This is what children want,” says Skype’s Norman. “They want to solve big problems. They don’t want to be talked to. They want to be a part of it.”
School in the Cloud is a great equalizer, she adds. “It doesn’t matter if you’re in the richest area of the world or the poorest. Children can still gain value.”
Cloud-based learning may be the only classroom for a student in rural India. While, in an American city, it might enable an after-school program to offer more than just playtime in an open gym.
“This is taking the simplest thing about children, that insatiable curiosity, and bringing it to life,” Norman says.
Amy Dickinson has seen this happen first hand. She’s head of design, technology and art at the UK’s George Stephenson High School, home to the first School in the Cloud lab.
There, the children “have the opportunity to use SOLE to develop their collaboration skills, independent learning styles and give them the love of learning and curiosity they need to be successful in school and beyond,” she says.
Dickinson adds that students are much more engaged when they are allowed to be in control.
“It’s unique. It’s simple. It’s for the kids by the kids,” she says. “It allows them to explore, share information, and there is no threat of failure. They motivate each other.”
Suneeta Kulkarni, the India-based research director for the School in the Cloud Project, agrees that allowing children to discover an idea and arrive at their own conclusions is a “tremendous motivating factor.”
Kulkarni says the broader impact of the School in the Cloud initiative will likely be seen 5, 10 or 15 years down the road, but she notes that there is already anecdotal evidence of the approach’s success.
One student, who participated in a 2008-2009 SOLE in Hyderabad, India and continued to be mentored by a Skype Granny, is now studying medicine in the Philippines.
“And it’s not just a question of what he’s studying,” Kulkari says, “But the way it has impacted his orientation, the way he learned to see life and the acceptance he now has for many different cultures and ways of thinking.”
Sugata Mitra in front of one of the newest School in the Cloud labs in Korakati, India.
The UK- and India-based schools in the cloud are part of a three-year research project during which data will be collected on reading comprehension, ability to search the Internet and overall problem-solving skills.
As the results become known, Mitra hopes governments will be inspired to fund more of these brick-and-mortar extensions that bring self-organized learning to remote areas of the world.
In the meantime, anyone with an Internet connection can conduct a SOLE using the platform released this week. Its availability is uniquely in step with an evolving theory of how children learn.
“As we continue to drive education forward, we're going to see the learning environment evolve from a physical location to an anywhere, anytime experience,” says Anthony Salcito, vice president of worldwide education at Microsoft. “A cloud-based school is one example of how we're taking that step beyond the classroom, into an environment where students can learn the 21st-century skills that will be critical to their success."
Written by Mark Yorke, Managing Director, Tablet Academy
It's just over a week now since the NAACE Conference at East Midlands Conference Centre where myself and my colleagues from the Tablet Academy had the pleasure of supporting Microsoft on their exhibition stand, plus the opportunity to lead a workshop on the benefits on Windows 8 tablets in education.
The event was a great opportunity to catch up with colleagues, share ideas and meet teachers making use of technology in new and innovative ways. After a slow start and a few discussions I began to realise many people dismissed the Microsoft stand due to pre-conceived opinions like "It's Microsoft, I know what they do, they're all about the infrastructure and office..."
I found this frustrating until we ran our hands-on workshop around 'Using Windows 8 tablets in the classroom'. For me these hands-on workshops make people realise that Windows 8 tablets do offer a complete solution for education, enabling teachers to use existing IT practices, software and resources whilst offering access to new Apps enabling changes in pedagogy.
Within the interactive workshop we only had time to cover the operating system, CreateBook (for producing eBooks) and Kodu (teaching the computing curriculum), but after the workshop and a keynote presentation from my business partner Steve Molyneux people could see why we were confident to recommend Windows 8 Tablets to schools.
(Images:Screen shots from ebook creator CreateBook)
A number of delegates taking part in the workshop introduced themselves afterwards as IT consultants supporting schools to embed the use of IT into the curriculum. Many confessed they had dismissed the Windows 8 Tablets but the workshop had now convinced them that actually there is more than one tablet solution on the market. One delegate even ordered a Toshiba Encore online as they walked out of the workshop, if that's not a result I don't know what is.
Like many others I admit if you had asked me about using Windows 8 tablets in the classroom eight months ago I would have dismissed the idea, but since the new generation of tablets have entered the market including the Dell Venue Pro, or the Toshiba Encore, the market has definitely changed for the better. Schools should be sure they make an informed decision when purchasing tablets, it's now a competitive market.
Thanks again to Graham, Anthony and the Microsoft team for the support and opportunity to be part of NAACE 2014. I'd also like to pass on a special thanks to Promethean for their support over the two days at the event, I enjoyed the ClassFlow demo and am looking forward to getting involved more in the future.
Find out more about the Tablet Academy and their teacher training.