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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

    New online safety features coming in Windows 8

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    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

    Cost Savings in Education

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    As part of the government’s drive to control the nation’s finances, public sector spending is being significantly reduced across the board. Funding for ICT is no longer ring-fenced. Yet schools express a belief in the importance of ICT, and are determined to ensure that students have the quality of access to technology that they need in the 21st Century.

    In October 2011 a briefing by the Institute for Fiscal Studies said that after a decade of growth, ‘Public spending on education in the UK will fall by 3.5% per year in real terms between 2010-11 and 2004-15.’ http://www.ifs.org.uk/publications/5732

    The impact of spending cuts on schools will not be even, and current school-level spending will be the least affected. However, there will be, and are already, visible school budget reductions.

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    At the same time, by contrast, we’re told by the latest annual research on ICT in schools from the British Educational Suppliers Association (BESA) http://www.besa.org.uk/research that schools are anxious to keep ahead of the game with technology, with more and more pupil-time engaged with ICT.

    To support this, schools want better digital content, better training and better broadband. Demand grows across all fronts. The conclusion for school leaders and ICT managers is clear. If ICT is to work within reduced school budgets, while at the same time supporting rapidly increased use of technology for learning, then decisions must be driven by cost-effectiveness and value for money.

    Our mission here is to help you make those good decisions, and reap benefits from the extensive efforts being made by Microsoft® to provide products for education which are both affordable in themselves, and also capable of contributing to across-the board spending.

    To assist with this, and as part of our on-going series of eBooks, we have partnered with the Guardian to make our new 'Cost Saving in Education' eBook exclusively available within their Teacher Network until the end of September 2012. The eBook can be viewed/downloaded directly via the Guardian's Teacher Network download centre.

    We would love to hear what you think!

  • Microsoft UK Schools blog

    The Sunday Papers Edition: 27th May

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    A round-up of this weeks posts!

    Have a brilliant Sunday!

    Tim

  • Microsoft UK Schools blog

    Cloud for education: Microsoft Private Cloud Infrastructure and Office Web Apps

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    To follow on from our recent post Windows Azure and Microsoft Dynamics CRM post, the next post in this series includes a summary of Microsoft Private Cloud Infrastructure and Office Web Apps

    Originally posted by Ray Fleming
    Microsoft Online Services and Education

    imageWe’ve made a public big shift in our emphasis towards cloud-based services; but behind the scenes there have been very big changes going on for years to get ready for the day that cloud takes off right across the world.

    I’m going to use ‘Cloud’ to represent all of the Internet services that users and institutions might be using. It might be a mix of desktop and web-based software, or an entirely web-based service. Either way, it’s something that involves a web-service as part of the IT delivery.

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    So here’s my summary of the cloud-based services that Microsoft do that may be directly relevant to education, and the essential differences. .

    Microsoft Private Cloud Infrastructure

    This is a set of resources, products, and management tools that allows you to run your own private cloud (or contract another organisation to do it for you), using the best practice techniques that we have developed for our cloud infrastructure. It enables you to dynamically pool, allocate, and manage resources to deliver flexible/agile Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS). Capabilities like self-service portals let your end-users rapidly consume IT services by self-provisioning (and decommissioning) infrastructure on a shared server fabric, virtualised by Windows Server Hyper-V and managed by System Center. Departments are thus able to deploy their applications with a lot more speed and agility. This allows your own IT team to focus their time on solving business problems rather than worrying about keeping the basic infrastructure running. It provides a less complex, more agile and more efficient infrastructure, in-house. And there’s also a hybrid model, where you contract a service hoster to provider a ‘virtual private cloud’, perhaps as a top-up to your in-house infrastructure.

    How do you buy it?

    Well, because it is based on a set of best practice advice, you’ll find that the key components are being built into the products you already have – like Windows Server 2008 and Hyper-V – and the Systems Management Server products. And in addition, we’re releasing free toolkits – like the Dynamic Infrastructure Toolkit for System Center and the Dynamic Data Centre Toolkit for Hosters.

    Where to find out more

    http://www.microsoft.com/en-us/server-cloud/private-cloud/default.aspx


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    Office Web Apps

    The Office Web Apps are online companions for Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote. Office Web Apps provide quick viewing of Office documents and basic editing capabilities. There are three methods of accessing Office Web Apps.

    • Individuals (eg your students off campus) can use the Web Apps in Windows Live, and the files are stored online in their webspace on their SkyDrive.
    • For institutional use, they can be hosted on premise on your SharePoint 2010 or they can be hosted with Microsoft Online. In this mode, files are stored within your infrastructure. It is mainly intended as a companion to the full Office suite, but available over the web when you don’t have Office installed, or when it speeds up sharing and collaboration.
    • Office Web Apps is included within the Live@edu and the Office 365 for education services (see above)
    How do you buy it?

    Individuals can access it on Windows Live using their Windows Live ID. For institutional use, every licence for Office 2010 under a volume licence scheme (such as a Select licence) includes an additional licence for Office Web Apps.

    Where to find out more

    http://www.microsoft.com/office/2010/en/office-web-apps/default.aspx


  • Microsoft UK Schools blog

    Collaborate and communicate from anywhere with Lync Server 2010

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    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.

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    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

    Queens Park Rangers Football Club Community Study Centre

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    Guest post from Gerald Haigh, Freelance Writer. Gerald writes regularly for the Microsoft Education Blogs.

    Towards the end of April, I was invited to the home of Queens Park Rangers Football Club, Loftus Road. The event was the re-launch of the Club’s on-site Community Study Centre which forms part of the wide-ranging work across West London of the ‘QPR in the Community Trust’ . Microsoft, together with other friends of the QPR Trust, including Lenovo UK, now support the Centre with technology, software, expertise and a large amount of goodwill, hence the re-launch.

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    I didn’t know what to expect in advance, but it was a really excellent event – positive, relaxed, leavened by the presence of schoolchildren and other young people. It was also good to be reminded that Microsoft, a global organisation and very much a premiership player in its own field, can also be a responsive and relatively low-key friend and supporter of an urban community project that makes a real difference to the lives of some good and deserving people.

    There was food, and some good speeches, and a video that underlined the sheer extent of the Trust’s work which includes classes and activities for the elderly, and a range of football-related coaching and recreational sessions. There’s a strong emphasis on inclusion, whether defined by age, mobility, ability or gender. Within that broad picture, the Study Centre itself is a compact classroom, under the stands, with space and laptops for about fifteen learners. As well as running catch-up and enrichment sessions for children from local schools, the Centre is home to an over-55 IT Learning Course and an employability course for 18 to 24 year olds that’s having success in getting people into jobs. That’s only part of the story, though, because the the Centre is very much a learning hub and a driver of outreach programmes that extend its reach many times over.

    The Centre and its programmes are managed by a teacher, Jesse Foyle, who’s supported by a number of sessional tutors. Jesse points out that the link with football, and with the QPR brand in particular, is a strong motivator for bringing people to the various programmes.

    ‘It’s a major drawing point for people who might might not be motivated towards other programmes,’ says Jesse Foyle. ‘They’re more comfortable here.’

    On the evening of the launch the Learning Centre was being used by children from Greenside Primary in the nearby heart of Shepherd’s Bush, who were exercising their literacy and ICT skills to research the lives and careers of their favourite QPR players. (One girl, looking into the background of Argentinian midfielder Alejandro Faurlin, found herself being prompted from behind by the amiable Alejandro himself – a great first hand lesson in the reliability or otherwise of internet resources.)

    Greenside’s head, Julian Morant, was on hand with some of his staff and though he was busy with the children, he was keen to be supportive of the Study Centre’s work, and I talked to him on the phone a day or two later, when he explained that the work at the Centre is part of a general before and after school curriculum enrichment programme.

    ‘The Centre is one of our key partners. We use it with our Year Six children with the aim of maximizing the impact on their literacy, numeracy and ICT in their final year. It plays a part in our transition programme as we prepare the children for moving on to secondary school.’

    All Year Six children, he says, have the opportunity to take part.

    ‘We’re a very inclusive school, and our work with the Centre is accessible to all children whatever their physical or learning needs.’

    Everything the children do at the Centre, he says, is curriculum related.

    ‘So in terms of maths work it’s an opportunity to use and apply their key number skills – measuring, data handling. And in literacy there’s writing for purpose and writing for an audience, which are very important skills at the upper end of Key Stage 2.’

    And always, he emphasises,

    ‘Underpinning everything is the use of ICT as a tool for extending and applying knowledge and skills.’

    The children, he says, enjoy their sessions very much – something that was easy to see on the evening I was there.

    ‘They’re keen on going, and attend regularly. They respond to the structure and the high expectations and clear learning objectives. They like to engage with each other and other members of the wider community. It’s part of their lifelong learning.’

    The impact, he says, is clearly visible in the school.

    ‘It does make a real difference. The children are more confident, they can see the links between the skills and the application.’

    The world of professional football attracts its share of criticism, and there are those who are quick to see the community projects run by the big clubs as little more than window-dressing.

    All I can say is I’ve been to a few of these projects in recent years and always been impressed. In every case I’ve admired the serious intentions of the staff and seen how it’s possible to leverage the power of the football brand to the benefit of young people who are not always easily engaged by other programmes and initiatives. All of that is particularly in evidence at QPR, where there’s clear professionalism and genuine commitment. Much of that, undoubtedly, is down to the leadership – from Jesse Foyle at the Learning Centre, and importantly from the Club’s CEO Philip Beard and also from Andy Evans, CEO of the QPR in the Community Trust.

    Philip Beard spoke at the launch about the Community Trust’s ‘Vision and mission’ and of his belief in the the importance of football as a motivator for young people. That kind of support from the top of the club is obviously highly significant.

    Equally, the enthusiasm and dedication of Andy Evans, CEO of the Community Trust, is transparent. For him, the fact that the Stadium is in a deprived area of West London just adds to his sense of mission and determination to ensure that The Study Centre, and the many other Trust programmes can reach out into the City, taking learning, coaching, recreation and the sheer fun of sport to people who are more than ready to learn and take part.

    ‘We are willing and passionate,’ says Andy. ‘And we want to make a difference to the quality of life of the people in our immediate community, whether old or young. If we can contribute to their life experience then that’s something we should be doing,’

    As I wrote at the start, Microsoft is a global player, involved in some huge and far-reaching endeavours. It would be difficult, though, to find something more worthwhile and rewarding than its participation in this life-enhancing enterprise in West London.

  • Microsoft UK Schools blog

    Group Projects Made Easier with SkyDrive–A Students Perspective

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    Originally posted on the Windows Blog.

    Ela Nguyen is an upcoming graduate of New York University and founder of Surviving College, a blog dedicated to helping students navigate the ins and outs of college. She is constantly on the lookout for nifty tools that will make a busy (and poor) college student's life much easier. A self-proclaimed interior design junkie, Pamela also runs the interior design blog, Redesign Revolution.

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    I can hear a collective groan throughout campus when a professor utters the phrase "group projects." You might recall the graphics and memes depicting the expectations versus reality when faced with a group project that is worth 50 percent of your grade.

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    Image 1: Snapshot of one of my marketing classes at NYU.

    As a business student at New York University, I have had more than my fair share of group projects. Last semester alone, I had three back-to-back group presentations that followed up with group papers all in the span of two weeks. No fun. What I've learned is that doing collaborative projects where formatting is incredibly important - the combined power of Google Docs and Dropbox just wasn't cutting it. Attempting to create Microsoft PowerPoint presentations, budgeting reports, or 50-page-long papers via these avenues always ends up failing for me.

    What are the problems I have with Google Docs?

    • Formatting is compromised whenever you switch between Google Docs and to the desktop version of Microsoft Word and Microsoft PowerPoint.
    • Google Docs is essentially a bare bones version of any Microsoft Office app, with little capability to deal with flashy things (sometimes you need flashy things in your PowerPoint presentation!).
    • You never knew what was edited when you opened up a collaborative document.

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    Image 2: One of my PowerPoint slides on the desktop application vs. Google Docs conversion.

    What are the problems I have with Dropbox?

    • It is so easy to use up the 2GB limit, though I have a 4GB limit from referring my friends.
    • The problematic number of conflicting files your group can generate from working on the same document simultaneously.
    • You can't collaborate on a project live.

    Typically the way my group project collaborations have gone in the past has been like this:

    1. Create a barebones PowerPoint presentation on Google Docs.
    2. Fill out the basic information on Google Docs.
    3. Download the file.
    4. Format the file on the desktop version of Microsoft PowerPoint.
    5. Share file on Dropbox.
    6. Get multiple conflicting files when everyone decides to edit and save at once.
    7. Sigh collectively.
    8. Resort to editing and emailing back and forth for the subsequent hours right before the PowerPoint presentation is due.

    And when you have to resort to emailing back in forth in groups of 4-8, you can't help but wonder if there's another option out there that can override these issues. Lo and behold: this is where Microsoft SkyDrive comes in.

    Why I couldn’t resist signing up for SkyDrive:

    • With 7GB of free storage space in the SkyDrive, I wouldn't have to be careful about moving around other files to make room for my multiple group projects.
    • SkyDrive has Microsoft Office fully integrated online through the Office Web Apps (Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote), so I wouldn't have to worry about formatting issues when switching between the cloud and my desktop.
    • People can work on papers simultaneously, no conflicting files involved.
    • On the Microsoft PowerPoint Office Web App, there aren’t those annoying formatting errors that you get with Google Docs.
    • When someone makes an edit, you are notified of that edit the next time you save/update your document.
    • You don’t have to make a new account when signing up for SkyDrive – just register your Gmail or Yahoo account, no problem!
    • You don’t have to have the latest version of Microsoft Office, and you won’t have to save your files in other formats for others who have older versions of Microsoft Office - now they can use the Office Web Apps in SkyDrive!

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    Image 3: My same presentation on Skydrive’s PowerPoint Web App.

    Frustrations, be gone! I can only rejoice about the hours saved with my latest PowerPoint presentation, now that I no longer have to format and re-format between Google Docs and Microsoft Office. Now, if only I can get my group project peers to make the switch…

  • Microsoft UK Schools blog

    Quality learning environments with computer games in education

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    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.

    image

    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.

    image

     

    You can view and download the full ebook below.

  • Microsoft UK Schools blog

    Microsoft Kinect SDK 1.5

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    k4w-sensorangle

    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.

    Resources

    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

    New Cost Savings in Education eBook

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    Running until the end of September 2012, we have partnered with the Guardian to offer access to a range of great value-add assets via their vibrant Teacher Network communities.

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    We will be blogging about the work we are doing with the Guardian more extensively over the coming weeks, but one of the core elements of the work we are doing with them as part of this project is focused around launching an update to the cost savings eBook we produced a while back.

    The new eBook will be exclusively available via the Guardian until the end of September and is packed full of great stories and advice from institutions across the sector. We are delighted with the outcome, especially when there's genuine impact not only on school budgets but on the learning experience of children and students, also.

    The eBook can be viewed/downloaded directly from the Guardian's Teacher Network. We hope you like it and would love to hear your thoughts and feedback in the comments below.

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