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July, 2009 - Microsoft UK Schools blog - Site Home - MSDN Blogs
The UK Schools Blog
News and views from the Microsoft UK Education Team
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July, 2009

  • Microsoft UK Schools blog

    A week in Atlanta – Technology, Cheese and Soda


    Last week, as Twitter followers will already know, I spent the week in Atlanta, at our internal conference called MGX (Microsoft Global Exchange). As usual it was an amazing week, with astonishing organisation and conference content (could you imagine organising a 12,000 person, 4 day conference, for global delegates?). Of course, we learnt a huge amount, but sadly it’s an internal event which gives us an insight into the direction ahead. Of course, all the secrets are safely locked away in my head!

    Normally everything that happens in the conference centre is away from public view, but at this year’s event a short video was released, of just a few minutes, when Steve Ballmer signed the Windows 7 Gold disk as it was finally released. And yes, I was one of the 12,000 people applauding and cheering it (in a very British way, of course!)

    So if I can’t share anything from the conference, what can I share? Well, I’ve already said too much about the week’s cheese diet elsewhere, so how about fizzy drinks?

    The World of Coke

    imageWell, I though that perhaps I could do a professional job on my visit to Atlanta’s World of Coke – with the “64 soda challenge”.

    Here’s the scenario – they’ve assembled a big pile of drinks machines, containing 64 of the company’s drinks around the room – grouped by continent. I, and Mike (my Government counterpart, and photographer on this occasion) started on Europe, and worked our way through Asia, Latin America and North America. One cup. 64 fizzy drinks. And a burning desire to do this properly!

    Not only did I have Mike with me to record the challenge, but I also took along my notepad, so that I can share with you some of the country highlights!

    imageBut before I tell you about the best, how about some of the highlights!

    • Delaware Punch from the Honduras
      Which tasted just like water from a fish tank (the bit I get every week when I’m trying to syphon it off to clean it)
    • Simba from Paraguay
      Which tasted identical to Irn Bru
    • Inca Kola from Peru
      Which was actually okay, but didn't taste like Cola, and it was lime green.
    • Vegitabeta from Japan
      The label had a picture of a carrot, and a taste to match – like the water you’ve just washed the carrots in it
    • Bargs from North America
      Which tasted like a combination of the stuff you wash your mouth out with at the dentist, with a piquancy of deep heat
    • Fanta Birch Beer from North America
      According to Mike, this smells exactly like the cesspit in the Jorvik Viking Centre. I have no doubt of the accuracy of this, as he was a full time Viking for 6 months - except for weekends, when he had to play a Saxon
    • Mello Yello from North America
      This tastes like it should if you remember the slogan of the 1976 drought ("If it's yellow, let it mellow; if it's brown, flush it down")
    • Fanta Strawberry from North America
      Exactly like watered down Calpol
    • Vault from North America
      Had the full depth of Lemon Fairy Liquid, and the full taste of cold, fizzy Lemsip
    • Beverly from Italy
      This was odd, as it had almost no taste, apart from a hint that it's arrived through a long garden hose pipe.
    • Fanta Pineapple from Greece
      I think you can make this at home if you drop 5 pineapple chunks in a glass of sugar
    • Fanta Exotic from Uganda
      Like fizzy Umbongo, but the blinding colour of a red traffic light
    • Stoney Tangawizi from Tanzania
      Which not only got a prize for great naming, but had a great taste like Ginger Beer used to taste when you grew it yourself on the windowsill
    • Sunfill Menthe from Djibouti
      Was sweet and fizzy but it had the taste of watered down chewing gum
    • Bibo Candy Pine-Nut from South Africa
      It even had a picture of Pine-Nut on the label, but all it tasted of was desiccated coconut

    imageimage The drink from England was ‘Kinley Bitter Lemon’, which was a bit bizarre, because none of us had heard of it. And similarly, Beverly, from Italy wasn’t familiar to the half-dozen Italians that were with us. There must be a soft-drinks parallel-universe where people sit drinking Kinley all day, and eating Tunnocks Caramel Wafers (‘a million sold every week’) 


    And The Winner Is…

    imageAnyway, back to the important stuff. The most pleasing drink of all, and a clear winner for both Mike and I was the French one – Nestea white peach. I am a big fan of iced tea when abroad, so I think it’s time we campaigned for more availability in the UK too.

    The Soda Effect

    You may be wondering what drinking 60 sweet, fizzy drinks does for you? Well, compare the photo below (the ‘after’ shot) with the photo at the top of the article (the ‘before’ shot).


    It may not surprise you to hear that I found it difficult to sleep that night!

    A quick ps on the linking ability of Twitter
    On Saturday morning I tweetedLast night managed all 60 soda flavours in World of Coke. Made careful tasting notes for blogging tomorrow (too much time on my hands)”. A bit later I got a reply via Twitter from their WorldofColaCola account saying “@RayFleming glad you enjoyed it! Be sure to pass on your blog post, I'd love to read your review! :)”. Let’s hope they feel the same now it’s written :-)

  • Microsoft UK Schools blog

    Free classroom posters for Office 2007 to brighten up the IT suite


    It’s now less than 3 weeks until the end of term for most schools, and I know that your thoughts will be turning to summer projects (unless you’re a teacher, in which case you are probably thinking about the blessed relief after 3 o’clock on the last day of term)

    In case you’ve got any IT suite work going on, or even if you just want to get on the right side of a teacher, you may be interested to know we have just one hundred of our big Office 2007 free classroom poster sets left. If you’d like a set just email Mir directly, and he will get them in the post straight away.

    Poster-Excel Poster-PowerPoint

    He has a pile of poster tubes, read to go, containing 8 of these posters (2 of each for Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Outlook).

    Poster-Word Poster-Outlook


    If you’d like to get a set, just email Mir with your name, school name and address.

    (If you just can’t wait, and you want to download the PDFs, then click here to get them from my SkyDrive)

  • Microsoft UK Schools blog

    Monkseaton High School's story of innovation


    During BETT week in January quite a few colleagues from the worldwide education team visited the UK. After BETT was over, whilst some came on a roadtrip with us (see the stories from the trip), others headed off to individual schools.

    image Jeff Daniels, who’s our ‘Worldwide Industry Manager for Schools’, went north to visit Monkseaton High School just above Newcastle, and spent some time catching up on their epic journey of educational transformation. I’ve previously mentioned their Spaced Learning project, and the media have relayed plenty of others (remember Laura not getting into Oxford?).

    One of the things that Jeff heard was about their use of data to build a holistic picture of each of their students, and the way that is used to engage with all areas of their learning, as well as to add specific interventions.

    As Paul Kelley, the Headteacher said:


    We can use technology to collect data quickly and intervene early to personalize education for students. Then we can actually bring the technology into the learning environment, the administration, and the business of running the school, and bring it all together to support the whole student, the whole child. Endquotes

    He came away deeply impressed by what he had seen, and wanted to capture their story for other schools outside of the UK to read, and so he commissioned an American writing team to interview them and document some of their work.

    The resulting article looks at the story from the perspective of Paul Kelley, the head, as well as individual classroom teachers.

    It’s been structured under 5 headings, making it easier to dip into the bit you might be interested in:

    • Collecting the data
    • Deploying the technology
    • Personalising the learning
    • Engaging the parents
    • Improving the outcomes

    You can read the full Monkseaton story on our worldwide case studies website

  • Microsoft UK Schools blog

    Common reasons why Learning Platforms fail – Mike Herrity's view


    At the Learning Gateway Conference today, I listened to Mike Herrity talking about the Twynham School’s Learning Gateway, and specifically about how they got people in their school community using it.

    On one of his first slides, there was a statistic that proved they have been doing things right:


    During the two February snow days, 94% of our staff and 86% of our students logged in to their Learning GatewayEndquotes

    Five common reasons for poor adoption

    Then Mike gave his view of the common reasons why Learning Platforms fail to be used widely (and perhaps, why they often don’t meet expectations). And as these are from the perspective of somebody who’d made this successful, they’re worth repeating:

    1. Schools use the term VLE excessively and indiscriminately
    2. The school thinks that the purchase of a Learning Platform will cure world famine and global pandemic
    3. The school spends hundreds of hours deciding which VLE to buy and no hours asking the end user how they would like to use it
    4. Lack of ambition (typified by “we’re going to start small”)
    5. Ignoring the positives and focusing on the negatives

    Whilst I know that there are some excellent examples of Learning Platform use in schools, I’m willing to bet that a large proportion of the Learning Platforms aren’t yet realising their full potential.

    Mike talked about many aspects of their Learning Gateway - such as its use for the Options process, parental engagement and revision. One of his comments was about the improvement in their exam results - from 61% to 72% to 78% - and how their 'Revision Gateway' had been used most by the C/D borderline boys, and as Mike put it "their CVA is now through the roof".

    Mike has published on his blog so much about the journey that Twynham School have been on, the changes that they have made, and the lessons that they have learnt, as well as spending a lot of time touring the country to share them with other schools. Whether you’re interested in the technology side of a Learning Platform, or the lessons on getting people to successfully use a one, then Mike’s blog has something there for you.


    As soon as Mike’s presentation is available online, I’ll post a link too

  • Microsoft UK Schools blog

    Information Security presentation from the Learning Gateway Conference


    At today’s Learning Gateway Conference, I talked about the Becta Information Security guidelines. My perspective was “here’s the Becta official advice, and here’s my take on an action plan for you”. Even though the subject was Information Security, and it was after lunch, the hour seemed to whizz by (and nobody fell asleep!).

    I promised to make my slides available, so here’s the Information Security presentation download.

    If you weren’t there (and where were you?) then this set of slides may not be the clearest way to understand the issues without the associated talk, so I’m going to turn some of the presentation, and the story I told, into some blog posts here over the next week. (Of course, if you can’t wait, rush straight over to

    If it would help, I can also see if I can get hold of a copy of the audio recording, and pop the two together. Would that be useful?

    The slides from Steve Beswick's keynote are here

  • Microsoft UK Schools blog

    Licensing parents for SharePoint – what’s free and what isn’t


    I got a question from Mike Herrity yesterday, asking me about the ways that parents can be given access to SharePoint/Learning Gateway, and explicitly whether they needed their own SharePoint licences.

    As an aside: Mike Herrity is a deputy head at Twynham School down in Dorset, and is a great SharePoint user. And what I like about Mike is that he’s a prolific sharer – both his SharePoint in Education blog, and his new Netbooks in Education blog are required reading if you’d like to get ideas about what you can do in the future to support your school to build a connected learning community. Mike’s also one of the people I follow from my Twitter account

    So back to the question:

    “Do I need extra licences for parents to login to SharePoint for online reporting?”


    Obviously, because it’s a licensing question, there’s a bit more to it, but hopefully easy to understand:

    If your students are licensed for your Learning Gateway/SharePoint - eg you have bought Client Access Licences (CALs) - then we automatically extend the rights to their parents too (and the parents will normally have their own logon).

    You won’t be surprised to learn that we have a document called “Licensing – Parental Access” that lays all of this out (but perhaps not quite as clearly as above!), and an additional document which you can download to keep with your licensing records:

    Additionally, if you have a School Agreement and have licensed all your students and all of your staff with CALs, then you can also automatically be granted rights for prospective students, alumni & students/staff at collaborating academic or government institutions.

  • Microsoft UK Schools blog

    Steve Beswick’s keynote from the Learning Gateway conference


    At last week’s Learning Gateway Conference, organised by Alex Pearce and Richard Willis, Steve Beswick, gave the opening keynote where he talked about a general overview of the Microsoft UK Education business, and some of the strategies for our engagement with education, and considerations for the future.

    If you were there, you might want to download his slides, which are now available.

    My slides,on Information Security, are already available through this page

    If you weren’t there, it won’t be the same to just read the slides, but you might be interested in some of the statistics on slide 22, about the scale of data services that we’re currently running, with:

    • 2 billion Live Search queries/month
    • 10 billion MSN page views/month
    • 30 billion Live ID authentications/month
    • 240 billion Messenger messages/month

    Now I know that my teenager isn’t the only one that seems to talk to her friends more through technology than face-to-face.

    Many of these services tend to be used by students significantly more than by schools – for example, Exchange 2010, which will be launched next year, is already used by almost 10 million students on our Live@edu hosted email service. And I think that trend will accelerate – that students will adopt new technology faster and faster, challenging the rest of us to keep up.

  • Microsoft UK Schools blog

    Monkseaton High School making news again – pupils learning at home


    Two weeks ago, I wrote about their new case study that Monkseaton High School had produced with us, and yesterday I opened up the Sunday Times and saw them again, on page 5, under the headline


    School’s out as pupils learn at home on ‘Facebook’ siteEndquotes

    It’s got to be the most unusual way I’ve heard OneNote being described recently, but then one of the challenges we have is that OneNote is so flexible it can be used in so many different ways – making it almost impossible to describe easily. (We have exactly the same problem with SharePoint – if you can almost anything with it, how do you describe it succinctly?)

    image The article is describing the way that students and teachers at Monkseaton used shared notebooks in OneNote to learn within and outside of the classroom, and how it appeals to students because it is as naturally multimedia as they are outside of school.

    Paul Kelley, the Head Teacher at Monkseaton, is quoted in the article as saying:


    Because the pupils use Facebook and MySpace at home, they are familiar with this technology. They take to it like a duck to water and seem to feel more comfortable learning in this Endquotesway

    The article is a very simplified version of their story – we’re producing a video, which should be published very shortly, which shows some of the ideas the article mentions. I’ll post it as soon as it’s ready.

    In the meantime, you can read the article on the Sunday Times website (or in the paper, if like me, it takes you until mid-week to get through it all!)


    If you want to get a feel of what kind of school Monkseaton is, then take a look at their Prospectus or their website – it' definitely demonstrates an image which is radically different from many others.

  • Microsoft UK Schools blog

    Windows 7 availability date announced – 7th August for many


    The Windows Team have announced, via The Windows Blog, more information on the various availability dates for Windows 7. Whilst the consumer product launches on 22nd October, it will actually be available earlier for customers using our ‘volume licensing’ schemes – like the School Agreement and Select Licensing.

    The very good news in their blog post is that customers who have bought their existing Windows licences with Software Assurance – which includes every school with a School Agreement – will be able to get the full released version on 7th August.

    This ‘thank you’ to School Agreement customers means that some schools can roll out Windows 7 this summer, whilst the rest will have to wait until Christmas or beyond, when the classrooms are quiet enough.

    Full details of all of the dates are on the Windows 7 team blog

    It may seem adventurous for a school to roll out a brand new operating system very early, but this time things are very different – over 2m downloads of the Windows 7 beta, and millions of people running it means that we’re releasing a pretty mature product which has already had significant amounts of real-life testing. The old adage of “Wait for Service Pack 1” doesn’t seem to apply in the new release model, where the Beta and the Release Candidate are both widely available for public use.

  • Microsoft UK Schools blog

    Information Security in Education and Two-Factor Authentication


    This is just a quick one for Monday morning. Last week, when I talked about Information Security, and Becta’s guidance, at the Learning Gateway Conference, there was quite a bit of interest in the two-factor authentication that would be required for all teacher access to sensitive data from outside the school (eg if they are accessing your MIS and Learning Platform from home).


    It’s a subject that’s way beyond my technical abilities, so I went to see what information I could find (that was intelligible to me!) and found an article on our TechNet site about our use of Smart Cards.

    The way it works for me (as a user) is that when I login via our VPN connection from home, I have to also put my Smart Card into my laptop. So it means that even if somebody had my username and password, and even my laptop, they couldn’t access our internal systems without also having my Smart Card (and of course, this works because I don’t keep my Smart Card in my laptop bag. Ever. Honest.)

    The article is all about the use of Smart Cards by Microsoft IT (the people that keep our network running and secure). It includes information about the problem, solution design, the deployment and shares the lessons we learned along the way. So if you are in a school or Local Authority, and thinking about how you improve your Information Security, then it makes a relevant and fascinating read.

    Read the full story online, or download it.

    It is also based on the previous, rather than the next, versions of our products, which makes it much more likely to match your own current IT environment!

    If you want to read more, there’s a whole section devoted to sharing our stories of how Microsoft IT implements security

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