Helping Students Become Global Citizens

SkypeaThon-1024x423.jpgTechnology is disrupting education in ways that students and educators could not have conceived, as recently as 10-15years ago. Increasingly, schools are exploring ways to enable their students to become Global Citizens and I love the vision statement from Shirley Boys High School:

Kiwi Soul. Global Vision.

Technology enables schools to facilitate global connections for students and one of those is the annual Microsoft Skype-a-thon which this year saw more than 10 million miles “traveled” by schools as they connected with each other through the powers of the internet and Skype. Anthony Salcito, the Vice President of World Wide Education, helped lead the charge with 24 hours of non-stop Skype calls to schools:

As an educator, I think this is a fantastic initiative for schools and classroom teachers to engage with and Microsoft have made it super easy to get started through the Skype in the Classroom resource page. One of the most enjoyable experiences I’ve shared with students is playing “Mystery Skype” – for the uninitiated this is:

Mystery Skype is an educational game, invented by teachers, played by two classrooms on Skype. The aim of the game is to guess the location of the other classroom by asking each other questions.

As the former Director of ICT at St Andrew’s College I helped facilitate a number of these, with a great in-depth write up available here. A couple of the highlights for me was this Year 6 class talking with a school in Alabama, USA:

Another hugely successful chat was with an International School in Russia:

In terms of getting students engaged in learning, these Mystery Skype sessions were a verified success. Beyond that, however, there is other application for the use of Skype. In the past, it was often reasonably simple to arrange a field trip and take students to visit experts and enjoy quality place-based learning. This has become increasingly difficult with health and safety regulations improving, along with schools trying to reduce the costs associated with field trips and minimize time out of class.

It is here that Skype comes into it’s own, becoming the perfect vehicle for connecting students with subject matter experts. In my experience, inviting experts into schools to physically present to students is often logistically difficult. In a secondary school with timetables, asking a guest to come at a certain time on a certain day often makes it too complex and the students miss out on their expertise. However, I’ve found that outside experts are usually more than happy to sit down at their desk for 15-20 minutes to Skype with a class from the comfort of their home or office.

One of the best examples of this was when young science students connected with Dr Michelle Dickinson a.k.a. “Nano Girl”:

It was a great success in motivating students through their virtual engagement with a subject matter expert. I certainly encourage schools, teachers and even students to try and leverage the power of Skype to enable students to become Global Citizens.

Case Study: Migrating School Infrastructure To The Azure Cloud

windows-azure-png-pagespeed-ce-h-kvdp25kjFor schools that are considering a “move to the cloud” with their server infrastructure, here is an interesting case study from PCMedia and Marlborough Boys College of moving their on-premise servers to Azure.

You can read the full case study by clicking here.

There are some interesting quotes in the case study from the Deputy Principal Michael Heath, including this reflection on the costs:

Switching to the cloud has saved our school in the vicinity of $70,000 to $100,000 in the first year. After realising we had this budget spare, we decided to buy 100 new computers for students. That’s been the most obvious and immediate benefit of this change. Rather than spending money sorting out our server, we’ve spent money on devices for students

Costs and mileage are going to vary from school to school in terms of the savings of going cloud, however there is an increasing number of partners who can assist schools in making this happen. I’m aware of a couple of new schools that are going cloud-first with all infrastructure in 2017 and I will hopefully be able to share some success stories on these in the near future.

If you’re interested in exploring moves to Azure then get in touch and I can connect you to experts who can assist and also provide some possible indicative costs.

Get The Most From Office365 With PowerBI Usage Reports

Many schools are using Office365 to drive learning outcomes and effectively enable faculty and students to communicate and collaborate more efficiently. Increasingly, organisations are asking “how do we know this investment is working?” and, with the recent preview release of Office365 adoption content pack for PowerBI, schools are able to accurately measure usage and uptake.

Even though this is still in limited preview release, schools can sign up to trial this free content pack for PowerBI by emailing and getting access to the rich visualisations on usage within their organisation:


Sample dashboard of the new Office365 Adoption content pack for PowerBI

From my perspective, these reports now enable schools to actively ask questions of how is Office365 being used within their organisation and then see if the data assists in providing valuable insights for action e.g.

  • Are staff using OneDrive to store and share resources as they have been trained to do?
  • Are students using Skype for instant messaging and video chats for after-school revision sessions?
  • Are staff and students using the desktop application of OneNote or are most still using the web browser version?
  • Are we getting swamped by email and is the volume increasing or decreasing?

The last question is particularly pertinent as email can be one of the biggest time consumers for staff as they read/reply to emails from fellow staff, students or parents:

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The Communication Report showing email and and yammer posts

This new level of analysis also provides schools with focused, actionable insights such as:

  • Areas identified which clearly need further training to increase adoption e.g. if a school is trying to push all non-urgent communications onto an internal Yammer site, these reports will show if adoption is happening through the volume of posts.
  • Return on the investment: with Office Pro Plus available for faculty and students providing a rich desktop environment with deeply integrated cloud storage and connectivity in the back end, are users downloading and activating this on their devices?
  • If the mobile platform is showing as the predominant client for reading emails or other communications, is the school ensuring all emails (and websites for that matter) are mobile friendly to read with responsive designed layouts?

The full range of reports available in this adoption pack can be seen on this link, but the main ones are:

  • Yammer Usage report—Useful for organizations that are in the process of rolling out Yammer or are focused on increasing usage. The report provides helpful information about how various parts of your organization adopt Yammer as a form or communication including how many people post messages, how many consume content by liking or reading a message and how new user activation has changed over time.
  • Skype for Business Usage report—Provides a consolidated view of Skype activity as well as with details about how many users leverage Skype to connect with others through peer-to-peer messages and how many communicate their ideas by participating or organizing video conferences.
  • OneDrive for Business Usage report—Shows admins how users leverage OneDrive to collaborate with others in new ways. They can easily see how many users use OneDrive to share files and how many utilize it mostly for file storage. The report also includes information about how many OneDrive accounts are actively being used, and how many files are stored on average.
  • SharePoint Usage report—Shows how SharePoint team sites and groups sites are being used to store files and for collaboration. The report also includes information about how many SharePoint sites are actively being used, and how many files are stored on average.
  • Office 365 Top User report—Enables admins to identify Office 365 power users and the individual products they are using. Power users can often help to drive product usage by sharing their experience about how they use the products to get their work done faster and more efficiently.

In an earlier post I wrote about how professional development in Office365 for teachers can be tracked and measured using the MIE Educator Platform, and this new content pack for Office365 administrators seems like a similarly useful tool for schools to utilize. One of the many strengths of PowerBI is that the reports are easy to comprehend and digest meaning these could, and should, be shared with school leaders and not just be reviewed by the ICT administrators from a technical perspective. All schools want to know and prove that their investments into technology are paying off through adoption by staff and students. This new reporting tool is a great asset for schools to start that analysis and sharpen their focus and expectations around the usage of ICT in education.

Tips & Tricks: PowerBI Slicer Settings

This is the first of what I hope to be many quick and easy tips and tricks with various technologies I learn along the way.

I’ve been working my way through the free edX Analyzing and Visualizing Data with PowerBI Course  and I learnt something new about PowerBI Slicers (something I thought I was pretty familiar with already). The trainer described slicers as “on canvas visualization filters” which I thought was quite apt and he then showed how you can change them from being vertical to horizontal.

This is how I would typically have used a slicer:

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Slicer with the default vertical configuration

In the above, you can see the circled tick boxes and the default vertical configuration on the right hand side. By changing this to horizontal, the visual looks far more like a button than it does a check box:

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The same slicer, this time with a horizontal configuration

Clearly, the second option takes up more space in the above example, however on some reports it would be far more likely to work visually as buttons rather than check boxes.

Reminder: to get in and change this you need to select the slicer on the canvas, go to the visualizations menu on the right and then click the paintbrush / rollerbrush and look under ‘General’ settings for this visualization.

Happy visualizing!

OneNote Class Notebook Updates – Easily Review Student Work

OneNote-class-notebooks.pngOneNote continues to be the leading light in the Office365 suite for schools and the Class Notebook is a big reason for this. It’s pleasing to see that constant development is happening in this product and Microsoft released new features this week. Pleasingly, these include some of the most requested features from teachers such as:

  • Easily see when students have started their work in a distributed page or assignment.
  • Quickly see which pages you, the teacher, have already reviewed.
  • See if a student added any new content after a teacher has already reviewed or graded a page

You can read the full release here

You may also be unaware that there is increased support for OneNote Class Notebooks and a range of Learning Management Systems (LMS). This video has a good intro:

If you have a compatible LMS then you can now run tightly integrated assessment through OneNote which is an attractive feature for most teachers.

Free Upgrade From Win10 Pro to Win10 Pro Education @ Windows Store For Business


Schools can now upgrade all their Win10 Pro devices to Win10 Pro Education version with minimal fuss via the Windows Store for Business –full details are available here.

ICT Admin staff don’t need to manage any reboots or keys, instead they simply assign licenses and when a user signs in to their device with Azure AD credentials their OS will automatically be updated to Win10 Pro Education. The key differences in Win10 Pro Education are:

  • Cortana is removed
  • Options to manage Windows Tips & Tricks and Windows Store Suggestions

Previously, Win10 Pro Education was only available on devices that were purchased through the Shape The Future Education programme. With this announcement any device managed by the school can be upgraded an this provides a consistent OS platform for ICT administrators to manage.

K-12 Education Leadership Courses To Drive Systemic Change

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An example course from the edX Leadership Series from Microsoft

I’ve posted recently about the MIE Platform that helps train educators to use the Office365 toolsets more effectively in their classrooms and this is another post about professional development, aimed at school leaders wanting to drive change.

This time, Microsoft has partnered with edX member universities to deliver a range of courses to support K-12 leaders transition their schools to becoming innovative and effective digital schools.

These courses are absolutely free for school leaders to participate in and, as usual with edX courses, a $49 fee will get a completion certificate to prove the PD was completed if a teacher wishes to have this.

The range of courses available look hugely exciting and right in line with supporting schools to prepare to handle the disruptive effect that technology is having across the sector. Here is the titles of the courses so far:

  • Deep learning through transformative pedagogy
  • Leading change: go beyond gamification with gameful learning
  • Design thinking for leading and learning
  • Launching innovation in schools
  • Leading ambitious teaching and learning
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The various courses available on the edX course – free from Microsoft and partner universities

Unlike other online courses, these are not sign up and complete at a convenient time, as these will be run over a series of weeks, with the first one starting on January 17th 2017 and the final course starting March 21st 2017. All courses run for between 4-8 weeks with a time commitment of approximately 2-4 hours per week.

I will be signing up to complete at least one of these courses in the new year and would consider leaders, or those that aspire to lead change in school, to sign up and complete some of these as well.

Happy learning!