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News and views from the Microsoft UK Education Team
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  • Microsoft UK Schools blog

    OneNote – Part II


    Earlier today , I wrote about OneNote, and I got an email shortly afterwards drawing my attention to the video on the Tips page above the one I mentioned, which was about a group of pupils from a Norwegian Primary School. I had a look, and I can’t believe I missed it – not only for the fact that the students were so relaxed and confident with the technology, but also for the whole style of teaching and learning happening at the school.

    Video: OneNote Usage in Norwegian Schools

    How does that compare to the teaching and learning in your school?

  • Microsoft UK Schools blog



    Not sure if I can get away with such a corny title but, hey, I’m trying to unleash my creativity for the summer holidays

    OneNote I’m a fan of OneNote, but I know that it’s relatively undiscovered by teachers and students. It is included in the version of Office Home & Student that’s sold through retailers, and also in the Office Enterprise version that many schools use. It’s a good organisational tool for students, because it allows them to drop their thinking onto a page, without having to think about structure or fitting into a pre-conceived idea of whether a spreadsheet, word processor or presentation tool is the right thing to start with.

    As well as allowing handwriting, it is also good to drop text, photos etc into. And if you want to clip a bit of info from a website, it also makes a note of the URL it came from – which means that a month later, when you want to find the source of the pretty chart/clever quote, you can find your way back easily. Which makes it especially useful for students as they prepare for projects, or revise for tests.

    The only problem I find with OneNote is that it is difficult to get started with, because you start with a blank piece of lined paper, and can start typing/drawing/pasting anywhere on the page (which for me, brought up in the word processor generation, is a bit odd – I like things to start in the top left-hand corner!).

    So it was relief to come across Mike Tholfsen’s blog – he’s one of the Test Managers on the OneNote team, and has an infectious enthusiasm for everything OneNotey.

    The OneNote and Education blog has some really useful pointers – to sample student notebooks, the teacher toolkits and training videos. Mike’s got an infectious style, and spends a lot of time with searching out OneNote stories from schools around the world, including IslayIan from the UK.

    And if you wanted an incentive to see how OneNote could be used, then take a look at the video below, from the OneNote Tips page on

    Video: Collaboration using OneNote
  • Microsoft UK Schools blog

    Saving your students’ money


    After a few weeks of non-blogging, caused by a combination of travelling and lots of internal meetings, it’s nice to be back and write for you again. I’ve got a big backlog of interesting things to tell you about, so hopefully we’ll be able to catch up again!

    I read some research recently that said that one of the big times for selling PCs is what is known as the “Back to School” period, between the beginning of August and the middle of September. This came as a surprise to me, because I always used to think that Christmas was the peak time. I’d never imagined parents saying “well, now you’re going up to secondary school, it’s time to buy you a bigger computer”. Perhaps that research was swayed by students going on to college or university (that would make sense to me), but even so, a statistically significant group of students from your school will start next academic year with a new PC.

    The research told us a little bit about how they choose their new PCs – and the role of the advice of others. It was most easily (and perhaps most confusingly) summarised as:


    When it comes to technology, students typically don’t know what they want other than someone to tell them what they want, without telling them that they told them Endquotes

    Which came from the fact that they don’t have the confidence to make their own choices, nor the confidence to admit that they want the help of someone with more knowledge. Aargh, to be a parent of a teenager!

    Anyway, the research also said

    FirstquotesStudents are overwhelmed and crave organisational tools – mechanisms that help them perform more efficiently.Endquotes

    and then went on to talk about their perceptions of Office as an indispensable assistant for them. BUT there was a big barrier to their use of Office – they simple perceived it to be more expensive than it actually is. Ask a group of students how much they’d have to pay for Office, the average answer will be over £100. (Which is odd, because you can open any Saturday newspaper and see the Home & Student version advertised for under £90). Which means that this summer, some of your students will buy a PC without Office, because they think that it’s more expensive than it really is.

    However, students can pay much less than normal retail price. Through a range of education partners in the UK, students are able to buy Office through online student sales sites. It’s something that’s only been happening this academic year – mainly because we had to get a national agreement in place to let our partners sell to school students directly. (Previously, each school had to sign an agreement with a specific partner, and then promote the offer to their students).

    Which means that your students (or their parents) can go online to any of our partner sites and order full Academic versions of Office 2007 or other software, for home use. And save more than 50% on the normal shop price.

    Prices for Office 2007 start from under £40 for the Office Standard suite – and other versions are available which include Publisher, which is often expensive or impossible to buy in stores.

    The four online stores available are:

    Pugh Computers




  • Microsoft UK Schools blog

    Computer Weekly Blog Awards – I’m shortlisted



    My mum would be proud…I’ve made it into the shortlist in Computer Weekly’s Blog Awards, in the “Public Sector IT Blogs” category. Three of the eight are education blogs, and I’m in good educational company with Ewan McIntosh and Ian Usher.

    You can cast your own vote (no pressure, hint hint) for the blog of your choice at:

  • Microsoft UK Schools blog

    Information Security – a week on


    DatasecurityIt wasn't a slow news week last week - which must have delighted those people who weren't looking forward to the reaction from publication of the reports on Wednesday into data losses at HMRC, MOD etc. It being a fast news week (is that what a non-slow news week is?) the reports didn't make it onto the front pages of the newspapers. You can more about it all on the BBC website, but broadly the conclusion is that the losses were entirely avoidable.

    What is more significant from a schools perspective is the publication of the Cabinet Office final “Data Handing Procedures in Government” report. This is the report that had been eagerly awaited by Becta in their updating of Information Security Guidance for education (aka “the Hannigan letters”). As well as the press rushing to judge, Becta rushed to update their advice for you. We’re still in the early days – there’s plenty of guidance still to come, but here’s the line that heralds the change that you’re facing:

    FirstquotesSchool leaders should ask their support providers or technical staff to ensure that their institutions are fully adopting and using the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO), Data Handling Procedures in Government procedures and minimum measures, and international best practice standards. Endquotes

    To find out how the ‘Government is improving its arrangements around information and data security, by putting in place core protective measures, getting the working culture right, improving accountability and scrutiny of performance’, then you’ll need to read the full Cabinet Office report, but here’s my quick summary of the headlines in it:

    • The report calls for technical measures to protect personal data, as well as a change in the culture that properly values, protects and uses data; and finally more accountability for data and it’s protection and use.
    • Core measures to protect information will include better specification of what personal data needs higher levels of protection, controls over data transfer, and minimising the use of data on media or laptops, as well as appropriate encryption; and finally logging and monitoring of data use.
    • There’s a new category of “protected personal information”, which is either a single record which, if released, could put an individual at risk or distress, or alternatively 1,000 records or more containing information that is not in the public domain.
      For a school, that could mean a class list, where one child is identified as “In Care”. Or where medical information is associated with a pupil. Or a secondary school’s register.
      For this “protected personal information”, the guidance is that data should be kept within secure premises and systems, and that efforts are made to minimise storage of this data on laptops, disks and memory sticks. Where the use of removable media (including laptops) is unavoidable, encryption must be used (or “physical protection using similar risk assessments processes as for large amounts of public money”)
    • The culture of data security is important, and the report mandates “Privacy Impact Assessments”, and mandatory training for all data users & managers.
    • Stronger accountability and scrutiny sets out that “information assets” (data to you and me?) are allocated a responsible owner, and there is an annual assessment process

    Although we’re going to need to wait a bit longer to hear the guidance on what “protected personal information” really means to a school, there are probably some things you can start doing now to get ready:

    • Start looking around school, to see who’s using what data where. Do teachers have lists of pupils that might contain protected data? Are you able to provide secure remote access to that instead? Remember too that this isn’t just about data on a computer – it would also affect information on paper!
    • If you’re purchasing laptops or desktop computers that are for staff use, then opt for Windows Vista Enterprise licences, because that has full-drive encryption built-in through BitLocker.

      If you have a School Agreement covering your school, then you’re already automatically licensed for this. If you are using Select licensing, then buy a standard version of Vista with your new computers, and buy the upgrade to “Windows Vista Enterprise with Software Assurance” from your Microsoft partner.
      It is likely that you’re going to need encryption on all of your staff computers, because most teachers have some data on their laptops that should be protected.
    • If you’ve got existing computers with Windows on them, then you’ll either need to plan to upgrade them to Windows Vista Enterprise (or Ultimate), or buy an alternative encryption package (there’s some listed on this page, referenced by Becta)

    For more background on this story, read my previous blog posts

  • Microsoft UK Schools blog

    Free Podcasting Kit for SharePoint 2007


    A few days ago, the Podcasting Kit for SharePoint was released on CodePlex (our open source project hosting web site). For schools, it’s an opportunity to move into a multimedia, web 2.0 world, without losing control of either information, or users.

    Up until now, many of the ways that people have used podcasting, and many other web 2.0 technologies, has led to a fragmentation of information – with podcasts being hosted on external sites, and made available to anybody. But what do you do if you only want your podcasts available to your own students or their parents, or only to a specific class group. Not everybody wants to publish all of their materials straight onto the Internet for anybody else to download/distribute!

    PKSBigThe Podcasting Kit for SharePoint is a solution which allows you to retain control over information, and still make it widely available to those who have the right to it. By basing your podcasting system on SharePoint, you link it to your school’s user management through Active Directory – which means that you’re not creating yet another data store/identity list, and users can be given access to resources according to their role etc

    You can provide a facility for all of the school staff and students to distribute audio and video podcasts within the school, and directly integrate that into the rest of your ICT infrastructure painlessly. Most schools in the UK either have, or are deploying, a learning platform, and by deploying it on SharePoint, you not only have single identity and access management, you can also integrate solutions such as these within the same environment.

    The features of the Podcasting Kit for SharePoint are:

  • Listen and watch audio/video podcasts, anywhere on your PC or mobile device or MP3 player
  • Share content by allowing staff and/or students to produce their own audio/video podcasts and publish them themselves.
  • Easily find the most relevant content using the five star rating system, tag cloud, search engine and comments
  • Get automatic podcast updates by subscribing to RSS feeds fully compatible with podcasting devices
    • Simple RSS feed based on a defined podcast series
    • Simple RSS feed based on a person
    • Dynamic RSS feed based on search results
  • Play podcasts in real-time using Silverlight
  • Retrieve instant usage metrics with the ability to track the number of podcasts downloaded and/or viewed, instant feedback via rating system and comments, and subscribers via the RSS feed
  • Access the richness of SharePoint to extend the solution: workflow, community sub-sites, access rights, editorial etc
  • Customize the look and feel to match your own university’s style

    This release is the beta, which we don’t recommend deploying it to production systems, and the full release is in September.

    You can find out more, and download the kit from CodePlex. There’s also a short presentation which runs through the kit, available as a download.

    We’ve been using it within Microsoft for the last 9 months, and it has demonstrated (1) how robust it is and (2) how much it improves communication between a community of 150,000+ people! I use the RSS feature on my mobile phone to keep up to date with any new podcasts published with the “education” tag.

    And because it’s all on CodePlex, the community is already working on other projects to enhance it – like a very smart-looking mobile phone client to enhance the user experience. I can imagine that might be a hit with my eldest – because she seem to have her eyes glued to the tiny phone screen most of the time!

  • Microsoft UK Schools blog

    What does next decade’s PC look like?


    NapkinPCYou may recall me blogging the ‘Next-Gen PC’ competition last year, aimed at getting people to think outside of the (beige/black/silver) box for computer design. Well, the winners have been announced, and the amazing Napkin PC is the winner. It uses the metaphor of a paper napkin (“great ideas often start on a napkin…”), which is the US cultural equivalent of our “back of the envelope”. The blurb says “The Napkin PC is a multi-user, multi-interface, modular computer designed for creative professionals to collaborate and bring their greatest ideas to life.”

    The design comes to life with the use of e-paper to allow you to interact with, and then retain images - imagine, you get an image/idea you like, you just pin that on the wall, and grab a new piece of e-paper to carry on.

    NapkinPCCollaborateThere were 20 finalists, and all of them are on the site to browse. I think that there’s plenty of good lessons in here – from the designs and different challenges being addressed, to the professional presentation styles. For example, take a look at the 10 slides for the winning design, to see how they move from idea to concept, through to addressing specific issues such as environmental sustainability.

    I was led onto thinking about how something like this could be used in education. Ever since I saw (and played with) the Microsoft Surface PC, I’ve wondered how we can use a different computer interface to more effectively share, discuss and analyse data and information. How can we make it easier for people to sit around a table and discuss issues face-to-face, without having to resort to all facing a screen or whiteboard. If the Napkin PC comes to life, then it’s definitely something I’d want at home, to sit down and work together with my children on a piece of paper, rather than leaning over a desk to point at a screen. And maybe I’ll be able to spend less time sitting staring into one.

    I’m sure you’ll find your own light bulb moment too, amongst the winners and finalists on the competition’s web site.

  • Microsoft UK Schools blog

    Information Security - it's all go now...


    DatasecurityYesterday I pointed out that the updated Becta advice appeared to ban schools from removing student data from the school, but that the advice wasn't very clear. Since yesterday, they have updated their advice to schools, and now give much clearer, and much stronger, guidance.

    Firstly, they have been clearer on what "personal data" is (ie that which cannot leave school), it "is defined as any combination of data items that identifies an individual and provides specific information about them, their families or circumstances. This includes names, contact details, gender, dates of birth, unique pupil number (UPN) and so on, as well as other sensitive information such as academic achievements, other skills and abilities, and progress in school. It may also include behaviour and attendance records."

    Secondly, they have said that they will publish full guidance in August 2008, including best practice on encryption, audit logging and acceptable use.

    Thirdly, they have said, about protection and encryption "The Information Commissioner’s Office recommends that data controllers ensure that any solution meets the current standard of FIPS 140-2 approved encryption products". Wikipedia is useful on FIPS 140-2, although it raises a few more questions, and BitLocker built into Windows Vista is FIPS 140-2 certified (according to Michael Howard, a self-described "simple software security guy at Microsoft").

    They've also said that the requirements of the Cabinet Office's Hannigan letters haven't yet been published, but they'll publish the link when they know.

    And finally, they say "There are many changes forthcoming on information security and data protection as both the DCSF and Becta guidance is currently being updated."

    All of this might be good advice, and technically accurate, but I'm not sure it's going to mean much to a primary school data controller (ie the bursar/secretary). The directive is clear - if teachers take home their laptops containing pupil data, then there's a problem. But I guess we're all going to have to wait for further information until we can give you advice about how to meet the guidelines, and keep your data safe and secure.

    If you want to find out a little more, then take a look at the replay of the Live Meeting hosted by Bill Orme in January - it was for central and local government IT people, but has become relevant to us all now! It's the first link on this page. There is sound, but it doesn't arrive until 2 minutes in!

    This is looking like a very thorny, and potentially complex issue. I'll keep watching the Becta advice, and see if I can bring you more down-to-earth interpretations


  • Microsoft UK Schools blog

    Information Security – information so secret, nobody’s heard of it…


    Datasecurity Last week I wrote that the Becta advice on “Information Security Guidance for Schools”  had been updated, effectively banning schools from taking student data out of the school. A few readers commented on the news –‘impossible’ and ‘worried’ came up – and so I’ve been looking for a little more information. Nobody seems to have heard much more about what’s going on, and what the eventual final advice for schools is going to be, so I’ve been stalking the web for info…and that’s drawing blanks too!

    The Becta advice urges schools to “review their existing data security policies and update them to include the specific requirements of the Cabinet Office’s Hannigan letters”, and they also refer to meeting “the July 2008 Hannigan timeline”,  so I’ve been looking at what that means.

    Well, they’ve really got me now – there appears to be no such thing as the Hannigan letters – the only reference on Live Search and Google is back to the same Becta page. It’s pretty rare to find a web search that only turns up two pages!

    However, the Becta reference to the “July 2008 Hannigan timeline” also produces the same trick!

    There is an interim Hannigan report of December 2007, from the Cabinet Office, which barely mentions education: “The Department for Children, Schools and Families has reminded all staff about their data and information security responsibilities” (page 7), and err, that’s it. The interim report promises a further Hannigan Report in “Spring 2008”, so I guess it is just around the corner.

    So, if anybody from Becta is reading, help! Let us all into the secret info we need to be able to manage information security in schools!

    I’ll keep you updated – sometime in the next 14 days it looks like there’s a stringent set of data protection rules coming. Ever since I wrote the blog item last week, there's been a daily story in the news of government data and information being lost, so I guess it'll be on quite a few priority lists now!

    Update One: Alan Richards has been asking Becta too, and he's had a partial answer - which he shares on his blog. In a nutshell, the Hannigan letters that you're asked to comply with haven't yet been published, but Becta will provide a link when they are.

  • Microsoft UK Schools blog

    Free Office 2007 classroom posters


    I bet you can’t wait until the end of term…because either you’ll be getting a well earned rest, or because you’re itching to get your next IT project started, once all of the teachers and students have stopped using your network.

    I’ve been working in education ICT for 20-odd years (yes, some of them very odd), and can still remember the days when closing down the system for a few days in term-time was still allowed. Now that 24x7 computing is a reality in schools, I know that it’s almost impossible to perform major system changes even during the weekends or summer holidays. But still, the summer break is still the key time for the networks to be upgraded, expanded and generally polished up.

    And this summer, I know that there are lots of schools planning to upgrade to Office 2007 – and some have been asking for posters to go up in the ICT and Business Studies rooms. The good news is, they’ve just arrived!

    Poster-Excel Poster-PowerPoint

    I have a pile of poster tubes, just around the corner, containing 8 of these posters (2 of each for Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Outlook).

    Poster-Word Poster-Outlook


    If you’d like me to send you a set, just email Mir with your name, school name and address. Let me know if you’re already using Office 2007 in the classroom, or if you’re rolling it out this summer, and then I’ll get them in the post ASAP.

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

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