About Sam McNeill

#MSFT employee, love technology & education; part time blogger!

Microsoft Release New Surface Pro

Overnight Microsoft announced the new Surface Pro device, replacing the previous model Surface Pro 4. With this new model it appears that the numbering has gone, i.e. this is not a Surface Pro 5, rather it is simply known as a Surface Pro.

These are available for pre-order today from as low as NZ$1214,10 including GST for the entry level unit with student/educational pricing and this gets you an Intel Core M3 CPU, 4GB RAM and 128GB SSD. Here are some details from the ordering website:

Description

• Transforms from PC to tablet to Studio Mode

• Powerful Intel Core processor

• Create, study, work, and play virtually anywhere

• High-resolution PixelSense Display touchscreen

• Up to 13.5 hours of battery life²

• Ships by 15/6/2017

I know that a lot of schools were looking to replace the aging Surface 3 device and the above could be a great option for that. I’m particularly excited to see the 13.5hr battery life as that is something that students/teachers are demanding now in any device – all day battery life.

There has also been a focus on getting the device even flatter with the kick stand going to a “Surface Studio-like” degree for easier writing/drawing on the Surface Pro’s screen.

You can read the full release from Microsoft here

New Surface Pro Pen Video

Additional announcements relating to Office365 and tight integration with digital inking and touch, especially the Surface Pro range of devices, were announced in a separate blog that you can read here.

Hack The Classroom Is Back

hacktheclassroom.PNGMicrosoft run an annual “Hack the Classroom” event designed to engage teachers and inspire them with the teaching of computational thinking in their curriculum areas. You can learn more about this online event on June 27th at the following link:

Hack The Classroom 2017

By attending this session you will:

  • Learn from teachers by taking a glimpse into their classrooms to see how new tools are creating new possibilities
  • Engage, interact, and pose questions with speakers, product team members, and other educators
  • Gain access to professional development resources and tools to get started

You can calculate your local time zone for this event by clicking here.

This session will also include further information about the recently released Code Builder functionality for Minecraft Education Edition. Talking with educators, this is one of the most requested features for Minecraft EE and is a perfect way to teach computational thinking within a gamified environment like Minecraft.

If you are a teacher that has been wondering how you can include STEM/STEAM related content into your classes this is a great opportunity for you to be connected and inspired.

Using Power Query in Excel 2016 To Ready CSV Files for Student Data Sync (SDS)

Student Data Sync, or SDS, is a core tool from Microsoft that helps schools prepare their student, teacher and class data ready for use in great platforms such as Teams for Education (formerly Microsoft Classroom) and Intune for Education.

In countries outside of the USA (where API exist), schools need to prepare six CSV files containing the relevant information from their Student Management System (SMS). Fortunately, Microsoft has provided some sample scripts and files (along with a toolkit to verify your data integrity) to help.

SDS

Student Data Sync is the starting point to creating a correlation or framework that connects your students, teachers and classes together in a meaningful way, allowing you to leverage cloud based tools more efficiently.

However, often the challenge lies in the format of the exported data from the school’s SMS. This is where Grant Saul, the Director of ICT from Westlake Boys High School has powerquerystepped in and provided a fantastic tutorial on how to use Power Query, a tool that comes in Excel 2016, to tidy up the format of your source data and prepare it for import with Student Data Sync.

In Grant’s example, he takes a standard export from Kamar (a very popular New Zealand SMS) and shows how it can be transformed using Power Query into the correct format for importing into SDS. You can read his original post here (and I encourage you to do so) whilst watching his screencast below:

The great feature of Power Query is it records each step in the data transformation, allowing you to easily replicate / replay the changes when the source data is refreshed, creating a super efficient method of managing your data.

For schools that want to use Microsoft SDS this is a very helpful guide.

OneDrive Files On Demand – Perfect for BYOD

ssd-vs-hdd

Credit: TechoFAQ

Over the last couple of years it has been evident that increasing numbers of BYOD laptops have transitioned to Solid State Disks (SSD) which is terrific since they are significantly faster than traditional Hard Disk Drives (HDD), have lower failure rates and also improve battery life.

However, due to their higher price point, the actual available storage volume of SSD is often markedly lower than equivalently priced HDD.  This means students are faced with the difficult decision around what content do they store locally on the their device versus using selective sync in the OneDrive cloud and/or storing on an external USB drive.

Selective Sync effectively allows you to upload content into OneDrive that you don’t access frequently, and then download it when you do need it. Critically, however, this content will not appear in your local File Explorer browser so you can’t “see” it unless you log into OneDrive via a web browser and choose to sync it locally to your device.

OneDrive Files On Demand Coming In Windows 10 Fall Creators Update

This is why the announcement last Friday at the Build 2017 conference was so exciting. A new feature will allow you to see all of your content in OneDrive in your File Explorer, irrespective of whether it is stored locally on your device, or only in OneDrive in the Microsoft Cloud. Then, if you want to access any content that is only in OneDrive it will automatically be downloaded “on demand” when you click to open the file/folder.

You can optionally choose to then “always keep on this device” if you are going to be requiring regular or off-line access to this file.

Read the full blog post about this here.

Here are some images from the original blog post to show you how this works:

1

Note that the selected folder takes up 1.37TB of storage in the OneDrive cloud, but that locally in File Explorer it shows 0 bytes on the local device.

2

The various status of each file and folder is shown in the “Status” column, indicating whether it is in the OneDrive Cloud only or stored locally on the device. Right mouse clicking allows you to choose to “Always keep on this device”

3

If a file is not stored locally, simply double clicking on it as you normally would to open a file will immediately trigger a download to open the requested file.

My Point of View:

I see this as being a massive aid for schools, helping both teachers and students maximize the performance of their devices. Getting more SSD into teacher and student devices will drive longer battery life, lower failure rates and faster accessing of content. However, by being able to seamlessly see what is in the Cloud and what is stored locally removes any barrier or confusion around the location of content for end users.

With many BYOD devices starting with 64GB of storage, this opens up the vast OneDrive storage capacity to students and teachers in an easier, more seamless way, meaning there is even less reason to use USB hard drives for storing content.

This feature will be available in the Windows 10 Fall Creators Update as well as new OneDrive features for iOS/Android devices.

From The Garage: Presentation Translator

Presentation Translator

The annual Microsoft Build conference is running at the moment and amongst other announcements I saw this one from the Microsoft Garage called “Presentation Translator”

This looks to be a plugin for PowerPoint that will offer some pretty neat features and is described on the website as:

As you speak, the add-in allows you to display subtitles directly on your PowerPoint presentation in any one of more than 60 supported text languages.

Additionally, up to 100 audience members in the room can follow along the presentation in their own language, and on their own phone, tablet, or computer.

There is some obvious scenarios where this functionality will be awesome when you have a multi-lingual audience you’re presenting to, however I can see a lot of value for this within Education as well. One situation would be for students who prefer to be able to read content to deepen their understanding. Having real time transcription (and translation) will certainly be an amazing demonstration of technology that will add real value to students and teachers alike.

This is not an official release yet but you can sign up for the preview here.

 

PowerBI – Major Licensing Changes

powerbi-getting-startedPowerBI is a fantastic visualisation and reporting tool that I’ve written about extensively on this blog already, as well as having created numerous screencasts and blogs in an educational context from my time at St Andrew’s College.

Last week, Microsoft announced some major changes to the licensing of PowerBI which will come into effect on June 1st 2017 with some potential ramifications for schools that are currently exploring the functionality in the free version. If you’re unfamiliar with the product in general, then PowerBI.com is the best place to start for an overview, and the key changes from the announcement on 3rd of May can be found on this blog post from PowerBI.com.

My take on these changes is as follows:

  • PowerBI Free = still available, you can download the free PowerBI Desktop app here, and you can still publish reports/dashboards to PowerBI.com in the cloud but you can no longer share these with other users in the free version (this will require a Pro license – see below). Perhaps a better way of looking at this would be “PowerBI Personal” – i.e. for your own data explorations and visualizations in situations where you have no intention to share or collaborate with others. The update is there is some increased functionality around frequency of data refresh rates using the Data Gateway, along with increased volumes of data.
  • PowerBI Pro = Very similar to what was previously being delivered with this paid for license (academic pricing is generally available in most countries) but it appears this is increasingly becoming the “default” license if you’re wanting to share or collaborate on reports, or have your data automatically refreshing using the Personal Data Gateways from a wider range of data sources. The best link to understand what constitutes content requiring a PowerBI Pro license can be found here and I would encourage you to check this out. From my quick scan, the features which have moved out of the “free” and into the “Pro” license appear to be:
    • Data from a dataset that connects to on-premises data using the Power BI Gateway – Personal or the On-premises Data Gateway, and for which a scheduled refresh is set.
    • A dashboard or report that’s installed from an app or an organizational content pack.
    • Export to CSV/Excel
    • Peer to Peer dashboard sharing
  • PowerBI Premium = The newest feature, all details can be seen here, this is intended for large scale deployment of dashboards and reports across your organisation, including the ability to share content with users who are not necessarily licensed in the traditional way as an individual user. It has a higher financial entry point, with a fixed monthly cost and I don’t see much application at a K-12 level (outside of a school investing in sharing PowerBI reporting with parents too). However this could be a game changer at HighEd / Tertiary institutions that are wanting to enable their entire staff and students to make better data-driven decision making.
    • Importantly, it appears that the embedding of dashboards into web apps and web pages is now a feature reserved for Premium usage, so this will have consequences for third party developers / ISVs wanting to use PowerBI as the reporting engine in their software.
PowerBI Dashboard.png

Example K-12 Education dashboard made in PowerBI

It is going to take a bit for for me to fully understand how these changes will ultimately affect schools. For those that have invested in PowerBI Pro licenses for staff/students, not much will change I suspect and it will be business as usual. For those schools that have been experimenting with PowerBI and the free licenses I think the major implications are likely to be:

  • No ability to share content that has been refreshed automatically using the Personal Data Gateway, or has come from any sort of database / web source.
  • Restricted to sharing content that has been manually populated into PowerBI.com from limited data sources such as either PowerBI Desktop, Excel or CSV.

Given most schools want to move towards a “set and forget” approach when it comes to data configuration, it would appear that using PowerBI Pro licenses is the way forward for most schools.

For an external view of these changes have a read of this interesting summary from Matt Allington in Australia where he highlights five different user scenarios and identifies how the changes benefit them. He picks up on the value add for large organisations and the ability to deploy easily across users, splitting users between content creators (who will still need a PowerBI Pro license) and consumers (who will be covered by organisational PowerBI Premium consumption licenses).

 

Digital Inking – Improves Teaching & Learning

Inking.PNG

I have visited a number of schools recently and demonstrated many of the natural hand gestures for editing and Ink Replay available in Office365 and the response is always very positive from teachers and students alike.

I have recently found the above infographic showing independent research from Sharon Oviatt, an expert in human centered and multi-modal interfaces and use of pen inputs on computers. I find that the numbers in the infographic resonate with teachers that I’ve been working with who are using Digital Inking to prepare student work, provide feedback and mark assessment.

When I was still at St Andrew’s College I recorded an interview with the Head of English and she explained how she marks English assignments using her Surface Pro 3 and digital ink:

DigitalPenUsageThere are many and varied compelling reasons to try Digital Inking and with a wider range of devices now supporting this, from entry level OEM offerings through to the newly announced Surface Laptop,  there is bound to be a device that meets your budget and requirements.

If you are interested in further research and information from Sharon Oviatt on the “power of the pen” then I encourage you to check out this blog from the Microsoft In Education team where it goes into more depth about the impact of computer interfaces on learning.

You can read the full blog post here.