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  • The UK Higher Education Blog

    Creating my first Photosynth


    Today, I’m in London, and inspired by Mike’s Aberdeen Photosynth yesterday, I thought I’d have a go. And I am astounded at how easy it turned out to be.


    I took my photos of Westminster Cathedral, which is right outside of our office. Just before you say “But that’s not Westminster”, then re-read the last sentence. It’s the Roman Catholic Westminster Cathedral, not Westminster Abbey.

    Before I first worked in Victoria Street, I had no idea that this impressive building was a few hundreds yards from the Abbey. It is well described on its website: “Westminster Cathedral is one of the greatest secrets of London; people heading down Victoria Street on the well-trodden route to more famous sites are astonished to come across a piazza opening up the view to an extraordinary facade of towers, balconies and domes.”

    Anyway, I stood in front of it, and kept taking photos – 103 of them – including close ups of the statuary, and the left hand-side of the building, and then loaded them into the Photosynth software. I didn’t have to tag them, or arrange them, or shoot in any particular order – it did all of the work. And after about an hour (analysis, upload and display time, I guess) that was it – a 3D model of the cathedral was made.

    You can see a snapshot of a part of it on the right, and you can see my whole synth here.

    I tried a few tricks, to see how they would work:

    • Walking in the left-hand door, and you can too, but the lighting made it impossible to take photos inside - LINK
    • A close up of the notice board by the door – LINK spot the bargain!
    • And a view around the side, with a close up of the mosaic over the door – LINK

    I was astounded at the “3D dot” model it created, as it is an amazing trick from a few photos!

    Have a go at Photosynth yourself. I think this whole model took less than 30 minutes of my time (plus the background uploading)!

  • The UK Higher Education Blog

    Ultimate Steal offer for OU students


    When I wrote about the Ultimate Steal, I said it was for university students and staff with a email address. There’s also a requirement that if you’re a Higher Education student, you must be enrolled in an undergraduate or postgraduate level course. And although that was straightforward for most students, it turned out to be quite tricky for Open University students. With the nature of their studies, it sometimes turned out to be difficult to work out whether somebody was actually doing a degree or not!


    So this year, after some negotiations with our dear lawyerly-friends, we have made a leap and extended the offer out to ANY registered Open University student who has one of their ‘’ email addresses and also to all OU staff.

    Which means that, if you’re an OU student, regardless of which course you are on, and how many modules you’re currently studying, you’re eligible for the Ultimate Steal

  • The UK Higher Education Blog

    Aberdeen gets busy with Photosynth



    Mike Whyment from the University of Aberdeen has had a go at entering my amateur Photosynth competiton, with an amazing synth of the Elphinstone Hall, during the open day recently. He was not only very busy with it – 498 photos! – but also very comprehensive – pointing the camera towards the ceiling as well as at eye level.

    The synth gives a great view of the impressive building, and also gives an idea of the buzz in the room – so many students and stalls – that you get a real impression of what it must have been like.

    Well done Mike - I shall send you a goody bag for you efforts – and still have another one ready for distribution to another winner by the end of the month.

  • The UK Higher Education Blog

    Letting your students know about the Ultimate Steal


    Last year, quite a few universities asked us for materials that they could use to let their students know about the Ultimate Steal offer (Office Ultimate 2007 for £38.95). And universities and colleges including Bristol, Kent, Stirling, Queens University Belfast, Salford, QMU Edinburgh, Bradford, Middlesex, Loughborough, Homerton College and Derby put up announcements last year on their student portal, or on their VLEs. This year, with staff also being eligible, we’ve already started to get queries from people asking for materials.

    Promoting on your university’s student website(s)


    To make it easier for you, we’ve created a range of graphics banners (all looking like the above) which you can download and use. They are all on my SkyDrive folder, or you can download them using the links below – the numbers represent the width x height:

    160 x 600 - Right click to download

    250 x 250 - Right click to download

    300 x 250 - Right click to download

    468 x 60 - Right click to download

    728 x 90 - Right click to download


    And if white’s really not your colour, then how about the “Grab It” banner above?

    640 x 164 “Grab It” banner - Right click to download

    Promoting by email to your students

    Many universities didn’t want their students to miss out on the offer and emailed them to let them know about it. If you want to take this option, there’s a standard email template to get you started

    Email template - Right click to download

    Flyers and Door HangersDoor_Hanger

    We have some packs of flyers and ‘door hangers’ available – just like the one on the right – that some universities have used. The door hangers were used in student accommodation, and the flyers have been placed either around campus, or specifically around the IT departments.

    If you'd like a pack of flyers etc, drop me an email with an address I can send it to.

    “But, why would we want to promote Microsoft’s offer?”

    And that’s a good question (Of course, I would say that, because I just wrote it!).

    Here are some of the reasons that universities have told me that they’ve wanted to tell their students:

    • Save their students money (because the “Home and Student” version in the shops costs more, and does less)
    • Being seen to be offering their students a better service
    • Make their life easier (eg if you have students with older, ropey copies of Office coming to you for support)
    • Improve the service from their Student Helpdesk
    • Help students improve the quality of their work, and collaborate with things like Groove
    • Reduce the number of dodgey DVD copies of software circulating on campus, which brings with it virus risks etc

    Last year, the buzz about The Ultimate Steal made its way around universities pretty quickly, but it’s fair to say that it was in an uneven way. This year, perhaps we can work better with you to make sure that none of your students pay too much for their copy of Office when they buy it.

  • The UK Higher Education Blog

    The Ultimate Steal is back


    The moment you’ve been waiting for? Last year we ran a promotion called “The Ultimate Steal”, which offered a full copy of Office 2007 Ultimate Edition to students for £38.95. And, finally, it’s back!


    In a nutshell, The Ultimate Steal is:

    • A time-limited offer available to your university students with a email address (ends at the end of June next summer)
    • For Office Ultimate 2007, which can cost up to £500 to buy the retail version, as a digital download, with the option to buy a backup on DVD for £9.95
    • Also available to your university staff, if they have a email address

    Most students arrive on your campus with a laptop computer, but don’t always have the right software on it to help them with their studies. And our research said that they typically think that Office costs £100-£150 for a basic version. So instead of spending the money, most of them “borrow” a copy from a friend or parent.

    We’ve always made lower cost Academic licences available, but very few students know about them, or how to buy them. So that’s why we run The Ultimate Steal – it’s a way of helping students buy the right software, at the right price, as they come back onto campus.

    Like last year, we're not going to spend lots of money advertising this - for one thing, it is only available to students with a email address, and so putting adverts all over the media isn't going to work. Most students found out about the offer from a friend, or from their university – many universities emailed their students to let them know about the offer, or put links up onto their intranets & VLEs

    Buying on is easy – register with your student/staff email address, and then login and go.

    Shortly, I’ll post up a standard email that you could use to let your students & staff know about the offer.

  • The UK Higher Education Blog

    Microsoft live@edu - new technology focused blog


    One of my colleagues, Jonny Chambers (pictured), started a new blog recently which takes more of a technical look at Microsoft’s hosted student services live@edu.  He’s unashamedly using Microsoft’s live services to do this and there are already some great articles.  He’s given it the imaginatively ;-) titled live@edu blog and you’ll find it here:

    One posting that is immediately interesting is the silverlight streamed presentation on Microsoft Exchange Live Labs:!C76EAE4D4A509FBD!245.entry

    Thanks Jonny.

  • The UK Higher Education Blog

    University of Leeds – Mobile Learning – Techworld 2008 award


    TW_awards08-winner-on-white I’m going to be blamed for showing some favouritism because here’s another post about the University of Leeds.   However, I’m unashamed to promote the great work and the prestigious TechWorld.COM ��mobility project of the year” award achieved by Gareth Frith and his colleagues within the medical school and the partnership with the Assessment in Learning and Practice Settings (ALPS).  ALPS is a collaborative Centre for Excellence in Teaching and Learning (CETL) with an impressive collection of Yorkshire universities.

    Enough scene setting, what was the award for?  Here is an extract from the project award notice which Gareth has kindly given me permission to reproduce.




    Computing Awards 2008


    Public Sector Project of the Year


    ALPS: Yorkshire’s universities health and social care students benefit from mobile learning and assessment programme



    The award winning Assessment and Learning in Practice Settings (ALPS), was created as a collaborative programme between five higher education institutions in the north of England. Its aim was to implement an innovative new method of mobile learning and assessment by providing 900 students from the health and social care faculties at the universities of Leeds, Leeds Metropolitan, Bradford, Huddersfield and York St John, with T-Mobile MDA Vario devices to support their learning and assessment whilst on work placements. 


    Practice placements for students’ training in health and social care careers, such as medicine, nursing, or social work are essential for the development of students’ skills and confidence in a practice work environment. ALPS recognised that these health and social care students need access to their university’s learning systems anywhere and at anytime to enable them to work efficiently with all of the information they need.



    The technological aims of the £1 million ALPS programme were hugely ambitious and on a different scale to any other of its kind in the UK. Connecting such a large volume of mobile devices to five establishments with different IT systems and management, while ensuring both secure access to the systems and complete mobile network coverage across many work placement locations in the Yorkshire region, meant that ALPS had to pick the best mobile learning solution possible. There was also the added pressure from the strategic health authority, who were understandably concerned that, with the wrong solution, patient confidentiality could be compromised in such a project.


    After a thorough procurement exercise in early 2007 to decide who would provide ALPS with the best mobile solution possible, T-Mobile was picked as provider of choice. Its partnership with MyKnowledgeMap and ecommnet provided ALPS with a cohesive team that was dedicated to help it achieve its ambitious objectives. T-Mobile was also transparent about technology costs and offered the best fixed-monthly price for unlimited Mobile Broadband usage.


    ALPS began the implementation with a three-month pilot scheme, once this was successful, each of the participating universities, all of which had different email platforms,  Virtual Learning Environments and Active Directories, were fully connected within a six-month time period. 


    Initially, ALPS invested in 900 MDA Vario handhelds, a PDA style device that offers high-speed Mobile Broadband connections, and an in-built web browser that ensures users can surf the internet like they would on a PC.  Each of these devices was encrypted to make sure that all data, including that of the patient, was confidential and secure.




    Improved teaching assessments:

    University tutors have been able to upload assessment forms to the T-Mobile MDA Vario for their students to complete while taking part in their work placements.  Each assessment is customised to the individual student so that they are relevant to courses and learning styles.  Tutors are able to access the student questionnaires which cover core competences such as team work and communication, reflecting on these skills as they practice them in a work placement environment, rather than having to wait for these assessments when the students are back at the University campus. Finally, they can use the MDA Vario to log in to a secure area, connected to the university’s teaching systems, to record and store the student’s assessment.


    Enhanced learning methods:

    Using the Vario’s Mobile Broadband speed connection, students can access learning resources from a central virtual learning repository at high-speed, and can reflect on their work placement on a live blog built into the assessment programme.


    The multimedia capabilities of the T-Mobile MDA Vario has also enabled users to upload their e-portfolios (including video and sound files) online, giving tutors real-time access to their students’ achievements. The e-portfolio records all of the student’s own educational and professional experience, acting as mobile curriculum vitae that can be accessed at anytime.


    Return on investment and future growth

    Within one year of the programme, T-Mobile and its partners have successfully enabled ALPS to role out the mobile learning and assessment programme to over 1,000 students. ALPS plans to add more e-learning material and roll out more mobile learning devices to additional  health and social care students in West Yorkshire over the next three years. It also has immediate plans to implement newer devices, such as the Vario II and MDA Touch Plus.


    Gareth Frith, Technology Enhanced Learning Manager for ALPS, comments: “The success of this implementation provides clear indication of the advantages mobile technologies can bring to all sectors where using a mobile device is far more practical than using a desktop PC. ALPS has been approached by other university Centres for Excellence in Teaching & Learning about its pioneering implementation, increasing interest across many different departments. Our partnership with T-Mobile has been a key part of this success, and we intend to continue to work closely with them to develop our plans for the future. ”










  • The UK Higher Education Blog

    University of Leeds and Photosynth


    This is the first example I’ve seen of a university taking advantage of Photosynth to show of its wonderful buildings.  I’ve been a big fan of Leeds University for more than 20 years and have been a frequent visitor and admirer of the Baines wing and doesn’t it look good in Photosynth?



    I must get my camera out and go and do the same with the University of Sheffield and Firth Hall and Sheffield Hallam University’s student union.


  • The UK Higher Education Blog

    Check out the beach


    Yes, it’s summer and I’m looking for content to blog about and thankfully, I can make a tenuous link between beaches and Higher Education with this web site and, I hope, help you to enjoy one last trip to the sea before the students comes back and the next academic year begins in earnest.

    The European Environment Agency (EEA) has launched a new web site which profiles European beaches on a map and provides EEA water quality rating information.  I checked out the beaches I visited this year to see how they all faired and, luckily, they all scored extremely well.

    Eye on Earth is the result of a partnership between Microsoft and the EEA and shows information on water quality at around 21,000 sites in Europe.  As a portal, it brings 7 years of historical data to users and should become a “global observatory for environmental challenges”.  It uses state of the art mapping from Microsoft Live Earth as well as environmental headlines from the MSN news feeds.

    Just to prove that this is about work - where’s the link to Higher Education?  Peer Review.  Ok I did say it was tenuous but here’s a Web 2.0 site that allows users to search for and access relevant data, view it in multiple ways and provide input to a wider community.  The site encourages users to rate bathing sites and comment on them too.  This will add to the data and should help make European bathing sites a safer and more pleasant place to visit.

    Just for interest, here’s one of the beaches I went to over the summer to illustrate how the site functions.  There’s also a handy Vista gadget with direct access to the sites data.


  • The UK Higher Education Blog

    Exploring photos in 3D


    How do you keep one step ahead of your students? When they are used to living in a multimedia rich world, are you finding it increasingly difficult to grab them and engage them? I know that I find my own children don’t want to sit through a 300 photograph slide show any more...but I’ve found a way to fool them. Read on…

    imageclip_image002First there was the holiday snapshot, and then my parents bought a slide projector. Well, it all went downhill from there for a while. But then things brightened up with video cameras. For a little while things seemed to get better. And then I started to get tired of some of the boring holiday videos (How much ‘BuffetCam’ can you stand?)

    So here’s a way to get students to (a) view a 300 photo slideshow and (b) become immersed in creating their own. Faculty all over the campus will be interested in this - archaeology, architecture, geology, design, art...

    It’s Photosynth, which allows you to build a 3D model of a place or object from static photographs. I’ve found I can while away half an hour easily, exploring somebody else’s model of St Marks Square, Stonehenge or even a Ferrari 575 Superamerica.

    While writing this, I discovered that the website had tripped up, simply through getting too much traffic, so if the same happens again, then watch this video of Blaise Aguera demonstrating it whilst you’re waiting for service to be resumed!

    And now Photosynth has been fully released, it gets better. You can use Photosynth to turn regular digital photos into a three-dimensional, 360-degree model. And you can then share your synth with others – who can walk in your shoes through the same place. The technology does the hard work – reconstructing the scene or object from your flat photos – by looking for similarities between images, and using it to estimate the shape of the space/object, and work out the original camera position.

    To create your own synth sign in to, download the synther application and viewer. And start building.


    Which must be what Rick did – he’s obviously proud of his shed, as he’s built a complete model of the outside, and you can walk into the inside and look around. Take a look at the Rick’s Shed synth to see what I mean!

    And so, here’s my challenge

    I know that many of you will have been busy changing things in your IT systems this summer, and some of you will be the proud owners of new servers, networks and equipment. I’ve also been busy over the summer – building up my stocks of goodies. And I’m prepared to give away a bag of goodies – including a handful of 4GB memory sticks and a little pile of software boxes, for the best synth of either the room you spend your day in or a building on campus that you’re proud of (inside or out)*. Grab your cameras, build the synth, and then post the URL as a comment (and email me too).

    You can even embed a Photosynth object onto a web page – so you could introduce potential students to your university or college on your website.

    * Oh, I bet there should be some small print here about the rules. So here goes. I decide. I send the goody bag. Humour gets bonus points. Unlike with my kids, my decision is final.

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