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.

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.

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.

End Of Support for Dir Sync & Azure AD Sync Approaching

DirSync & Azure AD Sync will reach end of Support on April 13, 2017.

Azure AD will stop accepting connections from DirSync and Azure AD Sync after December 31, 2017. For more information about the DirSync and AAD Sync upgrade, please see the DirSync and Azure AD Sync deprecation documentation. If you have questions or feedback about this change, you can leave the team a comment on the blog linked below or reach on Twitter using the #AzureAD hashtag.

https://blogs.technet.microsoft.com/enterprisemobility/2017/04/10/end-of-support-for-dirsync-and-azure-ad-sync-is-rapidly-approaching-time-to-upgrade-to-aad-connect/

So now, it’s time to get cracking and move to Azure AD Connect if you’ve not done so already:

AD Connect.png

Azure AD Connect – keeping your identity synchronized in the cloud.

Microsoft’s May Education Event – Overview

As many readers will have caught up on, Microsoft had a major education event yesterday with the key announcements of a new member of the Surface device family, Surface Laptop, and a new variation on Windows 10, called Windows 10 S.

Keen readers can watch the entire launch event here however the 101 second summary is below:

At this stage, I’ve not got my head across all of the implications for schools from these announcements so I’ll just refer you to the official blog posts here:

For an independent view you can read Dr Joe Sweeney’s initial thoughts on his LinkedIn post here. Joe is an industry analyst for mobility, education and digital innovation and offers an outsiders view of these latest announcements from Microsoft.

If you’re a real device nut and want to see some very cool animations of the internals of the Surface Laptop then this video is for you:

If you’re an ICT Admin in a school and interested in how you can easily manage Win10 devices (including Win10 S) then this might be more for you:

Microsoft is clearly also pushing for affordable STEM resources to support teachers in preparing students for the jobs that “don’t exist yet” – lots of stats about this but some suggestions are that as many as 65% of students will be working in jobs not yet created … interesting stuff! Here’s a video around STEM engagement from Microsoft:

Related to this, of course, is Minecraft Education Edition and with a new release allowing you to integrate third party coding tools (such as Scratch by MIT and Tynker  to teach computational thinking for students, this is a powerful addition to an already great product:

Whilst many schools in New Zealand and elsewhere around the world have already jumped into using the public preview of Microsoft Classroom, we learnt yesterday that this is now going to be discontinued and replaced with Teams for Education:

If you’re a school using Microsoft Classroom and wondering how you will be affected it’s worth reading the below:

1). End-of-support for the Northern Hemisphere school closing July 31, 2017 and for the Southern Hemisphere school closing January 31, 2018.
2). Class structures themselves will not showup in MS Teams. Various data component – files, calendars, OneNotes will be accessible through Office Groups.
3). Classroom experience in MS Teams is expected to be available before the dates mentioned in item#1 above in the respective regions.

Lastly, Mixed Reality gets a boost and focus in education with Pearson Education investing big in this area – have a look at the video below that shows Canberra Grammar School using HoloLens and Pearson Education immersive content:

With more affordable mixed reality devices coming from OEM partners such as Acer and others, schools will be able to utilize this more readily than being required to purchase the more expensive HoloLens.

Clearly a lot to process – exciting times for Microsoft and as I start to get hands on with some of these technologies I’ll be sure to post back thoughts here.

Device Based Activation for Office365 ProPlus – Great For Education

UPDATE:  a reader of this blog pointed out the following step by step guide to using Device Based Activation  that I would encourage you to read as well in conjunction with the Microsoft guide below. The above link also contains additional details for SCCM and GPO if that is relevant for your environment too.

I wrote a recent blog post with the best practice guide to how to deploy Office365 ProPlus in various scenarios. Some of the feedback on that post was how would this work in a shared device environment such as a school computer lap or shared laptops in a COW (Computers on Wheels).

Activate OfficeThe guide does have a link specifically referencing shared environments, however a number of schools did raise the downside that a student would still need to activate the Office365 ProPlus installation from time to time when they say this prompt on the right.

After asking around internally I have now been shared an alternative method of installation for Office365 ProPlus licensing that was build specifically with schools in mind and you can read the entire guide, along with step by step video tutorials by clicking the following link:

Office365 ProPlus Device Based Activation

What I see from this resource is there are a few main benefits for schools taking this approach:

  • The student never sees the Office activation prompt because the device has activated Office365 ProPlus and not the individual user
  • There is an included tool to automatically un-install the MSI Office2016 version that may have been installed with Volume Licensing
  • This Device Based Activation method can be automated using MS SCCM or Group Policy.
DBA1

An Office Mix video showing the requirements and advantages of Device Based Activation

DBA2

The different components in the Device Based Activation process

From an education perspective, this will help keep school/staff devices running the same version of Office365 as the students who typically download their own copy from a network share or the Office Portal. Given that updates and new features come to the subscription based ProPlus version much faster it is worth having a consistent user experience across all devices / users in your school.

This is a useful link outlining the differences between Office365 and Office 2016 and I’ve highlighted the key differences here in terms of updates/functionality:

compare.PNG

The other major benefit of Office365 ProPlus is that it can be installed on up to five other devices.

It’s time to recognise that there is a wide range of options when it comes to deploying Office365 in education. To maximize the value of the subscription based approach, along with the regular updates and new features, using something like Device Based Activation, or one of the other methods from the best practice guide, will ensure that you’re always using the latest and greatest of Office.