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May, 2012 - 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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May, 2012

  • Microsoft UK Schools blog

    Quality learning environments with computer games in education


    Taken from our Playful Learning: Computer Games in Education ebook (available to view and download below)

    Quality learning in schools occurs where you have good pedagogy combined with activities that are either interesting or engaging. Gaming is hugely popular in the UK with over 85% of young people between the age of 5-15 owning some type of electronic gaming device. This means that if used in the right way, computer games, due to their cultural relevance, are an example of an appropriate technology for engagement.

    But games in themselves also make great metaphors for learning. As a child my favourite board game was Mouse Trap7. If you think about Mouse Trap (or any board game) the best games offered a number of things. This included challenge, progression and reward. Reward was often in the form of ‘the feeling of satisfaction’ rather than a physical prize.


    Are these not the same three things that we want from our learning spaces? Don’t we want to create classrooms that are full of challenge, progression and the feeling of satisfaction? All good games offer us this and computer games offer at least two other important pedagogical qualities. The ability to personalise and the ability to collaborate. This collaboration can often occur in real time, through technologies such as Xbox LIVE®.

    A competitive but non-threatening stimulus

    As well as providing many components that help create a quality-learning environment, computer games also offer a stimulus for learning through non-threatening competition. At my own school I observed a group of children playing an online maths game on the PC. The game involved completing simple sums against a timer and an online opponent. What amazed me is when the children lost they would go to the practice area and practice their sums again and again and again.

    They never gave up, they helped each other and they weren’t frightened of failure. The interesting thing is that I had seen the same group of children struggling with an almost identical set of 20 maths problems through the medium of pencil and paper. When they didn’t do as well as they could, it was difficult to motivate them to try again – some just accepted failure, they were scared of exposing their lack of understanding of the subject matter.  

    I think that there are a few reasons for why this occurred. The first is that PC games and games consoles are culturally relevant for children. They feel comfortable using them and because they feel comfortable they feel safe. The second and most important reason is one of relationships. In the same way that young people build up relationships with inanimate objects such as cuddly toys. They can also build up a relationship with the character in the game. It’s the character that is not very good at maths and it becomes the child’s job to get their character better – the game de-personalises the experience. It removes the fear.



    You can view and download the full ebook below.

  • Microsoft UK Schools blog

    New online safety features coming in Windows 8


    Originally posted on Anthony Salcito’s Education Insights Blog.

    It’s a fact of life that students increasingly are looking to the Web to consume information about their world, connect with friends, to gather information and research for school work and more. As students' digital appetite continues to grow, parents and schools need to be much more mindful of the potential dangers with regards to online safety, and provide the necessary guidance and instruction to students so they can have a safe online experience. As a technology vendor and industry leader, Microsoft has a responsibility to help make the Internet safer for everyone.

    That’s why I’m excited about the new Family Safety features coming in Windows 8. You can read more details about the new features in Building Windows 8 blog here. With Windows 8, you can monitor what your kids are doing, no matter where they use their PC. Windows 8 gives you a “monitor first” approach, which provides informative activity reports for each child that summarizes their computer activities, including a list of websites they are visiting, latest search terms, what they are downloading and the amount of time spent on the PC and most used apps and games.

    The Web is obviously a great learning tool both in and outside the classroom to help students build 21st century skills such as collaboration, problem solving, global awareness, knowledge building, and skilled communication. Microsoft has a lot of existing resources you can use to help provide kids with a safer experience online. Here is a site with some great resources.

  • Microsoft UK Schools blog

    Microsoft Kinect SDK 1.5



    We are pleased to announce that we have released version 1.5 of the Kinect for Windows runtime and SDK.

    Additionally, Kinect for Windows hardware is now available in Hong Kong, South Korea, Singapore, and Taiwan. Starting next month, Kinect for Windows hardware will be available in 15 additional countries: Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Denmark, Finland, India, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Arab Emirates. When this wave of expansion is complete, Kinect for Windows will be available in 31 countries around the world.

    Go to our Kinect for Windows website to find a reseller in your region.

    We have added more capabilities to help developers build amazing applications, including:

    • Kinect Studio, our new tool which allows developers to record and play back Kinect data, dramatically shortening and simplifying the development lifecycle of a Kinect application. Now a developer writing a Kinect for Windows application can record clips of users in the application’s target environment and then replay those clips at a later time for testing and further development.
    • A set of Human Interface Guidelines (HIG) to guide developers on best practices for the creation of Natural User Interfaces using Kinect.
    • The Face Tracking SDK, which provides a real-time 3D mesh of facial features—tracking the head position, location of eyebrows, shape of the mouth, etc.
    • Significant sample code additions and improvements. There are many new samples in both C++ and C#, plus a “Basics” series of samples with language coverage in C++, C#, and Visual Basic.
    • SDK documentation improvements, including new resources as well as migration of documentation to MSDN for easier discoverability and real-time updates.

    We have continued to expand and improve our skeletal tracking capabilities in this release:

    Kinect for Windows SDK v1.5 offers 10-joint head/shoulders/arms skeletal tracking

    Seated Skeletal Tracking is now available. This tracks a 10-joint head/shoulders/arms skeleton, ignoring the leg and hip joints. It is not restricted to seated positions; it also tracks head/shoulders/arms when a person is standing. This makes it possible to create applications that are optimized for seated scenarios (such as office work with productivity software or interacting with 3D data) or standing scenarios in which the lower body isn’t visible to the sensor (such as interacting with a kiosk or when navigating through MRI data in an operating room).

    • Skeletal Tracking is supported in Near Mode, including both Default and Seated tracking modes. This allows businesses and developers to create applications that track skeletal movement at closer proximity, like when the end user is sitting at a desk or needs to stand close to an interactive display.

    We have made performance and data quality enhancements, which improve the experience of all Kinect for Windows applications using the RGB camera or needing RGB and depth data to be mapped together (“green screen” applications are a common example):

    • Performance for the mapping of a depth frame to a color frame has been significantly improved, with an average speed increase of 5x.
    • Depth and color frames will now be kept in sync with each other. The Kinect for Windows runtime continuously monitors the depth and color streams and corrects any drift.
    • RGB Image quality has been improved in the RGB 640x480 @30fps and YUV 640x480 @15fps video modes. The image quality is now sharper and more color-accurate in high and low lighting conditions.

    New capabilities to enable avatar animation scenarios, which makes it easier for developers to build applications that control a 3D avatar, such as Kinect Sports.

    Kinect for Windows skeletal tracking is supported in near mode, including both default and seated tracking modes

    • Kinect for Windows runtime provides Joint Orientation information for the skeletons tracked by the Skeletal Tracking pipeline.
    • The Joint Orientation is provided in two forms: A Hierarchical Rotation based on a bone relationship defined on the Skeletal Tracking joint structure, and an Absolute Orientation in Kinect camera coordinates.


    A video introduction to v1.5 is live on Channel 9

    The Kinect for windows website has been significantly updated, including new and updated developer resources:

    Updated docs which are now 100% on MSDN

    Human Interface Guidelines which helps developers get started with NUI interaction design

    Video how-to’s for an easy introduction to the SDK capabilities

    Download the SDK here

    Thank you all for your interest, enthusiasm, questions, and feedback – your contributions are a key part of making the product great.

    Originally posted on Microsoft UK Faculty Connection

  • Microsoft UK Schools blog

    University of Southampton sends a Nokia Lumia 800 to 105,000 feet


    Originally posted by Microsoft UK Faculty Connection


    We have been working closely with Steven Johnston and András Sóbester members of the Astra Research team from Southampton University over the past year, since last April when the team ASTRA team launched the first Windows Phone device with huge success.

    Over the past year, the ASTRA Atmospheric Science Through Robotic Aircraft research team, are now using a number of Microsoft technologies including, Microsoft .Net Gadgeteer, Windows Embedded, Windows Azure and Windows Phone.

    The Astra team recently launched a new project which included Windows Azure and a Nokia Lumia 800 device, the device was mounted onto a weather balloon to carry out some experiments whilst in flight. The balloon and device reached a height of 105,000 feet, with a temperatures of -61C and maintained data connectivity at 8km above Earth with the Windows Azure cloud completing data capture and analysis of the flight, the results will be used to help create balloon flight trajectory prediction software that can then be used to guide other missions, like weather balloons.


    The experiments completed by ASTRA (Atmospheric Science Through Robotic Aircraft) project investigates new technologies for making low cost observations of the parameters of the atmosphere and their latest experiment, further details of the project can be found at Nokia Conversations blog,

    The balloon and payload travelled for 2 hours and 22 minutes on a journey over South Wales en route to Cornwall. It took some quite pretty pictures along the way too.





    A small selection of the 2GB image set is available to download.

  • Microsoft UK Schools blog

    “We must stop seeing education as a competitive process; between schools, communities and nations, and realize that the most successful systems are founded on collaboration.” – UK


    Originally posted on the Daily Edventures Blog.



    Richard Gerver may have started his working life as an actor, but it was through teaching that he found his calling. Gerver began teaching in 1992, and by 2003, he was working with Tony Blair’s government as an advisor on education policy. He later won the prestigious “School Head Teacher of the Year Award” at the British National Teaching Awards for his work in leading a failing school to become one of the most innovative in the world.


    These days, Gerver shares his expertise with teachers, business leaders and the broader public as a speaker, author, BBC media commentator and a regular contributor to The Times of London and The Daily Telegraph. Today, he shares his insights with us, noting what’s getting in the way of fixing education, and his own vision for improving it for the future.

    Can you describe how your professional achievements have advanced innovation in education?

    The work I led as Head at Grange Primary School in Long Eaton has led to schools all over the world exploring new approaches to curriculum, I was honoured to write a book that followed up on that journey which has sold around the world and again has led to challenging, motivating and inspiring colleagues to think and act differently. I now spend most of my time speaking at events about education, leadership, change and human capacity; which I hope continues to have an impact on children, teachers, parents and wider audiences.

    What has changed as a result of your efforts?

    A large number of schools practice [these principles], particularly in the UK, Spain, Australia, Sweden and the US. The way that some governments are thinking about curriculum has also changed.

    How can others facing similar challenges implement what you’ve learned through your work?

    With vision, conviction and professionalism… the key is to develop the confidence to implement what is right for children first and to be eloquent in the way you communicate what you are doing, why it is the right way for your students and what impact it is having… I have a mantra; three words: Communication, Empowerment, Impact.

    How have you applied technology in innovative ways to support your work?

    Remembering that I left my headship in 2007, we led the way in demonstrating that technology was about PCs in classrooms. We were one of the first primary schools in the UK to have a wireless network (2001); we had a fully functioning TV and radio studio (2002) and also allowed students to use their own digital devices.

    What conditions must change to better support education?

    We need to break down the conflicts between politicians, media and teachers and act more collaboratively in the interests of our children. We must reconfigure education and understand that schools are the hubs of education, but also that whole communities must be more involved in the process: businesses, parents, social enterprises, etc. We must create a better vision for the future of education and start to prepare for a more entrepreneurial and diverse future for our kids. We must move away from the conflict of ideology and be better informed about future models. We must stop seeing education as a competitive process; between schools, communities and nations, and realise that the most successful systems are founded on collaboration.

    What is the best opportunity for innovation in education?

    To invest much more time in understanding how the digital revolution can add to the collaborative power of great learning. How can we use what our children do instinctively with social networks and use it as a powerful learning tool? We can invest far more time and energy in connecting educators with people in worlds beyond the classroom (businesses, etc.) and develop greater pathways of connection.

    What advice would you give a new teacher (or to anyone wanting to make a difference in education)?

    Never lose sight of what really matters: our moral imperative to play a role in preparing our children for THEIR future and strive to do so in an exciting, rich and dynamic way! On the tough days, remember the magic in a child’s eyes when they discover something new because of you!

    What educational “trend” do you think is helping students? Is there a trend that is getting in the way of learning?

    All trends get in the way… we have become obsessed with searching out the “silver bullet” and as a result we have confused so much around education, which in principle is a fairly simple process. It is about human beings; about developing their aspirations and values, their skills, abilities and competencies; it is about living, learning and laughing. Education must be about evolution, not trends!

    If you could give one educational tool to every child in the world, what would it be? Why?

    The ability to take risks and the understanding that the moment you get something wrong is the moment you learn something new!


    About Richard Gerver
    Former Head Teacher, Speaker, Author, Broadcaster
    Derbyshire, UK

    Richard Gerver is a former head teacher who has devoted his career to creating transformation – in schools, businesses and in the lives of individuals.
    In 2009, Gerver wrote the best-selling book, Creating Tomorrow’s Schools Today, which deals with education transformation, and his second, due by the end of 2012, deals with human capacity and leading change.

    Gerver discusses the Future of Education here
    Gerver’s blog:
    Follow him on Twitter:

  • Microsoft UK Schools blog

    Virtualisation in your school: deciding on your technology


    Taken from our Virtualisation with Microsoft® Hyper-V eBook (available to view and download below).

    We recently posted about deciding on hardware for a virtualisation scenario in your school. So now you’ve done the planning, answered the key questions, and settled on the structure of your new virtualised environment.

    The next question is which virtualisation technology you are going to choose and install. There are a number of players in the market but the two key ones in education are:

    • VMware
    • Microsoft® Hyper-V

    Either product will fulfil your needs when it comes to virtualising your servers. However, there are two key factors to consider before deciding between them .


    VMware naturally comes at a cost, and it isn’t cheap. If you’re already a Microsoft establishment, however, with a Windows® environment, you’ll find that Microsoft Hyper-V is built into versions of Windows Server at no extra cost of licensing.

    There is also a free standalone version of Hyper-V Server 2008 R2 which can be downloaded using the link below. This version is purely for use as a Hyper-V server and does not have the same management GUI as the Hyper-V version in Windows Server 2008 R2.


    Licensing can be expensive, Microsoft has taken steps to reduce the licensing burden on Schools by introducing the new Enrolment for Education Solutions licensing scheme but when undertaking virtualisation you need to consider how you are going to license both your hosts and your virtual servers.

    Your hosts will need a version of Windows Server 2008 R2 installed to run Hyper-V, which version you install can have a dramatic effect on how you license your virtual servers. The table below illustrates a typical large School and how the version of Windows installed on the hosts affects their licensing requirements.


    As you can see paying a little bit extra for the Datacentre version of Windows Server can help save you money by reducing the number of server licenses you have to purchase. This may not fit for every implementation but for large Hyper-V implementations, licensing can play a huge part in both making the decision on technology provider and your on-going costs. Of course with VMware, as well as paying for the actual software there’s no provision for ‘included’ Windows licences and so you will have to license every copy of Windows you install, whether it is physical or virtual.

    The general point here is that you need to spend time fully researching the costs involved in each of the virtualisation solutions you consider.


    An institution which uses Microsoft technologies will find that the installation, development and management of Hyper-V involves the use and deployment of familiar tools and interfaces. This makes for substantial savings of time – and therefore costs – in the areas of training, management and leadership. If VMware is chosen, the extra demands on training and the development of skills and knowledge will need to be taken into account.


    We believe, based on customer feedback, that Microsoft technologies perform best with Hyper-V. So if you’re virtualising, for example, SharePoint, Exchange, SQL and other Microsoft technologies, we strongly believe that Hyper-V offers the better performance option.


    You can view and download our Virtualisation with Microsoft® Hyper-V eBook below.


  • Microsoft UK Schools blog

    Moodle 2.0/2.2 OpenSource Solution for Azure


    Originally posted on the Microsoft UK Faculty Connection blog.

    The Microsoft CodePlex site is host to a wide range of open source projects and were pleased to announce the first beta release to allow hosting of Moodle 2.0 or Moodle 2.2 on the Windows Azure cloud service.


    As the project notes says, The MoodleBuild toolchain patches and packages a Moodle source code directory into a Windows Azure Package using the Azure SDK directly, instead of relying on third-party tools. This allows an easier way to update and customize Moodle, components and the Windows Azure SDK without the hassle of using outdated and incompatible versions.

    The advantages of using Azure is that it means you can avoid the hassle of having to deploy in-house servers and complex infrastructure, and instead deploy Moodle in the cloud. This is ideal for agile projects, or where you expect the demand for the system to be variable, as a huge benefit of the Azure platform is that ability to scale it up and down as you want, rather than having to build a system.

    Download the Moodle 2.0 resources for Windows Azure from CodePlex

  • Microsoft UK Schools blog

    RM Technical Seminar, Birmingham


    Guest post from freelance writer, Gerald Haigh. Gerald writes regularly for the Microsoft blogs.

    Towards the end of April I went to Birmingham, to one of the nine Technical Seminars which RM ran in venues around the country this Spring. They were primarily dealing with the technical challenges schools face and how their ICT management product ‘Community Connect 4’, can help network managers solve them.

    RM have been holding these seminars for twenty years now, covering successive generations of RM schools networks. At first they were small affairs, held in informal venues (yes, it’s true that some pubs were involved). Now they’re major events for over a hundred people at a time, and are often oversubscribed. So, you’d guess, they’re probably getting something right.


    That’s certainly the opinion of the people I met in Birmingham, many of whom attend the seminars regularly.

    (‘They’re not just about knowledge, I find them inspiring, ‘was the verdict of one network manager who’s been attending for ten years.)

    Gill Rhodes, who manages the networks for three neighbouring primary schools in Oxfordshire puts it like this.

    ‘In effect they give cut down versions of their courses – the kind of brief overview which is what you often need. They bring you up to date, and add some of the latest tips. I always pick something up – and then there’s meeting people of course, and speaking to experts face to face.’

    They’re also, it must be said, very friendly gatherings. As they’ve developed over the years, RM organisers and presenters have done a quite remarkable job of hitting and keeping just the right balance of information, informality and expertise.

    Unsurprisingly, the people I met were all convinced of the advantage of using RM’s Community Connect to manage their networks. Ian Wilson, Assistant Head at Manor High School in Leicester says,

    ‘We know that a plain vanilla Microsoft network will deliver a lot of what’s required, but in my view Community Connect adds a set of education-specific tools which allow the network team to concentrate on high value education activities and not so much on lower value network activities.’

    The case becomes even clearer when the network team is small and overstretched.

    ‘If you have a small network team, Community Connect makes life much easier,’ says David Greengrass, Network Manager at Uppingham Community College.

    Gill Rhodes agrees.

    ‘I do a lot of my work remotely when I’m in one school and another has a problem. I couldn’t do what I do without Community Connect.’

    The partnership with RM is also worth a great deal – everyone spoke well of the quality and promptness of their support.

    The optional seminar sessions themselves – nine in all – covered a range of issues. Some, like the one on ‘Troubleshooting: Drivers’ were no-nonsense technical sessions obviously responding to specific needs. By no means all were like that, though. ‘Developing an Effective AV and Classroom Technology Strategy’ was very much about senior leaders and network teams picking their way through the forest of available technologies towards a position where effective classroom AV is at the core of teaching and learning. And in ‘Negotiation Techniques’, Gethin Nichols dealt with what can sometimes be an elephant in the room – the importance of building an effective relationship between the network team and the leaders of learning in a school.

    I was particularly interested in two sessions that dealt particularly with CC4. One, ‘CC4 Management Tasks’, run by Matt Edwards, might have been a bit technical for me in parts, but I thought it a very clear statement of what Community Connect, and particularly CC4, is all about, which is making the network team’s life easier.

    Matt started by listing eighteen basic network management tasks, common to virtually all schools, ranging from ‘checking backups have worked, through ‘resetting passwords’ and ‘fault diagnosing computers’ to ‘creating and supporting package installation’.

    He then set about methodically looking at teach task to see how, with CC4, it can be made easier, or automated, or are effectively administration tasks that someone else could be doing. Talk to any seasoned CC4 enthusiast and they’ll soon tell you that the ease with which they can manage routine tasks is in fact one of the main attractions. At BETT this year, I shot a short video clip showing Darren Williams, of the Abbey School, Reading, making exactly that point. In the clip, Darren, who has his own school’s Management Console open on his laptop as he speaks, uses the same phrase that was the main theme of Matt’s presentation. ‘It’s made my life much easier’.

    (You can see the video on Merlin Johns ‘Agent4Change’ site at

    The other CC4 session I was interested in was ‘CC4 The Future’, also run by Matt Edwards. Here, Matt was keen to emphasise the ‘future-proofed’ nature of CC4,

    ‘The focus of CC4 is very much in line with what’s going on in the industry,’ he said. -- To support BYOD (bring your own devices). To support remote access to services. To support use of new software and hardware technologies.’

    Part of this approach, he explained, is to offer a subscription model for users, whereby licenses are paid for annually rather than up front.

    As well as reducing the up-front expenditure, Community Connect Subscription customers will be entitled to future product enhancements, new server and client operating systems when available, CC4 updates, maintenance fixes and future Community Connect versions. They will also be able to add clients or servers to their network without having to increase their subscription.’ (Quite like Microsoft’s own subscription licensing models in fact, was the thought that crossed my mind as Matt spoke.)

    For me, though, what was most exciting about Matt’s look into the immediate future was the prospect of CC4 working with Windows 8. Matt has clearly made himself very familiar with Windows 8 and spent some time showing its features to his audience. Developments are still going on in this area at RM, but there’s a clear determination to make sure that all of the innovative features of Windows 8 including the Start Screen, Metro Apps, ‘Swipe, Slide and Zoom’, are exploited to the full. And just to comfort those in the audience whose brows were furrowing by the second, he said,

    ‘The key to using Windows 8 in my opinion is to get your head around the concept that the Start screen (Metro look) has simply replaced your old fashioned Start button.’

    As Matt went on with his description of Windows 8, a question was forming in my mind, and just as I’d decided to tackle him with later, he answered it like this.

    ‘Although I do not currently have a great deal of detail on how the new Start screen will work with CC4 policies and security, I can reveal at least one little Windows 8 CC4 secret - we are currently developing CC4 specific Metro apps that can give you fast, direct access to management areas of your CC4 network.’

    In other words, as network manager you’ll find specific CC4 functions accessible via individually labelled CC4 apps on the start screen.

    He was able to show one example – an app called ‘RM Users’ which will come up on the Start Screen and allow direct access, without going to the management console, to all CC4 user groups.

    As you’d expect, there was quite a buzz about this afterwards, and some network managers were clearly worried about what they saw as a big change from the Windows environments that they’d lived in harmony with for so long.

    But thus has it ever been.

    I guess the very fact that these questioners take the trouble to attend RM Seminars in order to keep up with trends and provide the best possible service to their learners shows that they’ll be quickly won over.

    I have no doubt that there’ll be much more on Windows 8 in the Autumn Technical Seminars.

    Frankly, I can’t wait.

  • Microsoft UK Schools blog

    Collaborate and communicate from anywhere with Lync Server 2010


    In response to today’s changing work styles and the need for real-time collaboration, organisations are looking for integrated productivity tools that enable users to communicate from anywhere in a cost-effective and secure manner. Microsoft Lync™ Server 2010 delivers a fresh, intuitive user experience that brings together the different ways people communicate in a single interface.


    This unified experience facilitates rapid user adoption, while the ability to support a full range of communications from a single platform reduces both capital and operational costs.

    We’ve got a helpful datasheet that you can download below that tells you all about Lync Server 2010, including the integration with Microsoft Office and simpler deployment.

  • Microsoft UK Schools blog

    The Sunday Papers Edition: 27th May


    A round-up of this weeks posts!

    Have a brilliant Sunday!


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