Rapidly Deploying Windows 10 Devices Via Modern Deployment Methods

One of the cool things in my job is that I get to see a lot of new devices and over the last few months I’ve been spending quite a bit of time figuring out the best way to deploy these in an educational context. I shared the guest blog around Modern Deployment Methods a few weeks back and I thought in this post I would outline some of my learnings from using some of the new Microsoft Education Solutions.

Devices I’ve Been Testing On:

The main devices I have been testing on are:

What is really pleasing about all of the above “hero” spec devices is that they all run a minimum of 4GB RAM and 64GB SSD storage making them powerful enough for most classroom uses and with new features coming like OneDrive Files on Demand, cloud storage will make them even more useful.

I’ve also had a look at the new Surface Laptop running Windows 10S but have not been able to do any extensive testing or resetting on with this device.

Modern Deployment Tools:

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Intune for Education dashboard.

Firstly, if you’re interested in setting up the full Microsoft Cloud Education Solutions then you really need to read this blog post first, where I’ve collated the key videos and “how to” articles. I’m going to outline the two key tools that make the deployment of Windows 10 super easy and these are:

Through my testing I’ve been using a few temporary demo tenants (check here to set one up if you’re a partner) and I’ve sometimes used Student Data Sync, and other times not. I have reset my above test devices numerous times using the Recovery Options in Windows 10 – if you’re not confident doing this, then the LaptopMag have created a pretty helpful guide here.

The idea behind the above tools is to take a cloud-first mentality in terms of pushing applications to devices and leveraging AzureAD as the key cloud identity platform.

Sequence For Setup:

This is the key sequence for setup in a simple list format:

  1. Reset Windows 10 to factory (see above) or use a brand new device.
  2. Insert a USB key with the Set Up School PCs App configured on it. This will:
    1. Install the initial provisioning package
    2. Install a selection of pre-selected applications
    3. Join the device to AzureAD of the pre-selected Office 365 Tenant.
    4. Enroll the device into Intune of the pre-selected Office 365 Tenant.
  3. Sign in as an Office365 user (this could be a student, teacher or ICT administrator)
  4. Intune (or Intune for Education) will start to push the remaining required apps and settings to the device immediately.
    1. In my testing I’ve settled on pushing apps to the device rather than to the user to ensure the fastest possible login times for students/staff i.e. once the application has been installed on the device it will be available to all users.
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The Set Up School PC App (SUSPC App) start screen.

In my testing, with the above mentioned test devices, I have found that steps 2-3 above typically takes under 5minutes. The initial login for a new user takes around 20-30seconds, and then subsequent logins of the same user is consistently under 4 seconds.

Step 4 above depends on how many applications you wish to push to the device, how fast the wireless network is etc. I am very confident that I could use the above sequence and deploy brand new devices to playing Minecraft:Education Edition on multiple devices in under 15 minutes.

Guides & Resources:

Learning more about the Set Up School PCs App can be done here but if you watch the below video you will see how easy it is:

The SUSPC App makes it super simple and fast to quickly deploy new (or restored Windows 10) devices and have them connected to your cloud first environment. It also means that the user experience for signing into these devices is fast and remains fast over time.

The second component to complete the deployment of apps and settings (sometimes referred to as policy) is using Intune For Education and you should look here for the full guide or watch the 5 minute video below:

As I mentioned in the sequence for setup at stage 4.1 above, I’ve settled on pushing apps directly to the device rather than to individual users, based on my preference that the apps are available to all users immediately when they sign in. This will, of course, vary from school to school based on how many apps they want on the devices (and available storage space) as well as app licensing considerations or suitability. The good news is that Student Data Sync will give you the granular control of which students (or classes, or year levels) you want to push certain apps or settings to.

If you’re after help or support directly from Microsoft around configuring Student Data Sync (SDS) for your school then complete the request form for personalised support HERE.

Conclusion:

These new tools, combined with new education focused devices from hardware partners, showcases just how far Microsoft has come in terms of delivering smarter and more efficient ways for schools to manage their ICT infrastructure. This is, of course, enabled through the power of the cloud and if your school is not leveraging a cloud identity platform like AzureAD it’s definitely time to explore this as an option.

Pleasingly, the above set up makes it easy for schools to have quick and reliable Windows 10 to focus on promoting great teaching and learning outcomes for students and teachers alike. Technology is a great servant to pedagogy, and with modern deployment methods like the above, less time is required to get the ICT equipment up and running, allowing more time for quality teaching and that has to be a good thing.

Using AzureAD Groups To Quickly Populate Microsoft Teams

Microsoft Teams is the new digital classroom platform from Microsoft and I’ve already reviewed the key features recently here, but if you’re unfamiliar with it here is the official overview video:

I have recently been asked by a few secondary schools and tertiary institutes what is the quickest way to populate students into a Team. You can, of course, use the official Student Data Sync tool which will take information from your Student Management System (SMS) and populate the relationship between teachers, students and classes in a very tidy way (full guide available here)

However, if you’re after a super quick way and you’re already using AzureAD Security Groups then it’s a 5 second job to add all your students into a class. Follow the instructions below to learn just how easy it is!

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You need to start by looking at your existing Groups in the Admin Portal and making sure that you have one that reflects the students/teachers that you want to add to your Team. In the above example this is a mail enabled security group called “Demo Students” with an alias of demos@educationgate.school.nz

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Next. go to your Team in question and by clicking on the Team name (in the above example, 11 History) you will see in the above example there are only three members of the team: 1 owner and two members.  You will also see the “Add Member” option on the right

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Once you have clicked “Add Member” will have the chance to add either individual students/teachers by searching for their name directly OR you search for your AzureAD Group name – in this case “demos”. You need to select this and hit “Add”

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Note that it automatically recognises that there is four members of the group and that it will add each of these members to your Team in one go.

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Confirmation that all four members from the AzureAD Group “demos” have been added to the team.

This is a real time saver for situations where schools are already using AzureAD to populate Groups with their students/teachers. In these examples, you can add an entire class of students as easily as adding a single student.

UPDATE: A keen reader reminded me that the above method is a one time import of the Members of the AzureAD Group – it will not keep them in sync if the membership changes dynamically (to achieve this, SDS is the better option). So the above is certainly a time saver in situations where you want to do a one off import and are prepared to add/remove additional members manually at a later date.

Nayland College Case Study: $150,000 Savings Moving To Microsoft Cloud Platforms

This blog is re-posted content from the original Microsoft Case Study that you can read by clicking here.

Nayland College was using Google Apps for Education to reduce the need for on-premises servers and software, but the solution was not meeting its needs. So the school chose to migrate to Microsoft Office 365. The new software was so well received by staff and students that the migration finished well ahead of schedule. The school now has access to a powerful suite of teaching and learning tools, and it saved $150,000 (NZD) on hardware. Microsoft partner pcMedia facilitated the migration with its cloud and education expertise.

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Taking first steps into the cloud

Nayland College in Nelson, New Zealand, offers its 1,000 students a curriculum of inspirational learning programs designed to prepare them for scholastic and professional success in the modern information economy. The school takes pride in its state-of-the-art educational facilities and its talented, dedicated teachers. Nayland has a leading-edge cabled and wireless IT infrastructure designed to provide the school community with easy access to the its technology resources.

Nayland wants to make sure that those resources include the tools that both teachers and students need to succeed. “We want our students to develop the twenty-first-century skills they need to excel,” says Daniel Wilson, Principal at Nayland College. “And we want our teachers to have strong professional development programs so they can provide students with the learning opportunities that will cultivate those skills. We also want to make sure that our infrastructure is able to keep up with technological changes so it continues to meet our requirements.”

In 2015, Nayland decided that its existing IT systems were not meeting those requirements. The school had on-premises software and servers that were costly to maintain and update, and they could not provide features like remote access to files and lessons. To address these concerns, Nayland adopted the cloud-based Google Apps for Education (GAFE) suite, while still maintaining an on-premises student management system (SMS). However, the solution proved to have some drawbacks. “The online tools weren’t meeting the needs of our teachers,” says Wilson. “The functionality of Google Docs at the time was limited, and it couldn’t integrate with our SMS, which was a problem for us.”

Finding a better solution for the school

Because of the drawbacks of GAFE, Nayland put out a request for proposals seeking a better solution. The school chose to work with Microsoft partner and education expert pcMedia on a plan to migrate from GAFE to the Microsoft Office 365 Pro Plus hosted suite of productivity applications. The initial goal was to finish the migration in 18 months, but once the school started using the solution, the timeline became shorter.

“Our teachers were extremely enthusiastic about Office 365, and they were eager to learn more about how to use new tools like Microsoft OneNote to enhance teaching and learning,” explains Wilson. “The initial rate of adoption exceeded expectations, so we were able to complete the migration more quickly than we originally anticipated.”

Within 6 months, all staff members were using Office 365 as their primary teaching and learning tool. Nayland helped streamline the adoption process by putting an emphasis on comprehensive professional development for faculty and staff. “pcMedia provided us with a Microsoft Teacher Ambassador who conducted individual and group training,” says Wilson. “We also offered video tutorials and a OneNote staff handbook, and we set up lead teachers within departments as a peer resource.”

pcMedia also made the transition easier by providing a hybrid strategy that enabled staff and students to move from GAFE to Office 365 at their own pace. To do this, pcMedia modified the Office 365 application launcher so that all of the school’s key systems were accessible from a single place, giving users time to become familiar and comfortable with the Office 365 interface. The pcMedia solution also made things easier by using Microsoft Azure Active Directory to provide single sign-on (SSO) capabilities so that users could access multiple online tools and systems without the need to log in separately to each one. This enabled Nayland to eliminate a third-party SSO software package it had been using, saving both money and administration time. The school’s applications and devices now all rely on Azure Active Directory for authentication.

Nayland is using the Microsoft Azure cloud platform to store off-site backups of the on-premises SMS. Between Azure and Office 365, the school now has 90 percent of its data and services in the Microsoft cloud with only legacy applications and some large graphics files on a single server at the school. “We have a Windows Server 2012 with ShadowProtect Image Control on it and Azure blob storage
for the back-up. We chose Azure because it provides better cost and uptime than other alternatives,” says Lee Harper, Education Specialist at pcMedia. “Microsoft is also a brand that we trust, and one that the school trusts with its sensitive information.”

Providing benefits for the entire school community

Now that Nayland has completed its Office 365 migration, the school has access to a wide range of tools that enhance communication and collaboration capabilities, including Skype for Business, OneDrive for Business, and SharePoint Online. Staff and students are able to access course content and files at any time from anywhere that they have an Internet connection. Communication between students and teachers have increased, and teachers can more easily enhance and customize class materials.

“Our teachers can create more dynamic lessons through the use of video, which they can easily record directly into OneNote,” says Wilson. “They can also create more personalized and differentiated learning programs and choose from multiple modes of assessment to best meet the needs of each student. Teachers are also finding innovative ways to use tools like OneNote to support dyslexic students and to integrate field and classroom studies.”

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Because Nayland is using Office 365 ProPlus, students have the option to install the software on their own devices, so they have access to the same tools at home that they do at school.  Wilson has also noticed that students are increasingly using educational apps on their own devices. Parents are now able to be more involved in learning because they can see student work at home.

Nayland has also streamlined IT management with Office 365, by reducing the need for on-site administration and maintenance of servers and software—updates to the Office 365 tools happen automatically in the background. By eliminating all but one of its on-premises servers, the school estimates that it is saving $150,000 (NZD) in hardware over two years, and it has been able to redirect that money into classrooms for new computers and wireless projectors. Office 365 also works smoothly with the school’s SMS.

With its Office 365 project, Nayland has taken important steps on the pathway to a digital transformation of the school. Teachers are excited about the technology and exploring its many available options, and there is greater collaboration and sharing of expertise across the entire organization. The project has been a success, and its benefits are spread across the whole school community. “Working alongside pcMedia and Microsoft, we have been able to implement a robust, extremely cost effective, and innovative solution that meets and responds to the learning needs of our students and the professional needs of our staff,” says Wilson.