The Microsoft Educator Community – Get Trained

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This week celebrates #MECWeek so it only seems right to write a blog entry about the training aspect of the Microsoft Educator Community.   When your asked to access training resources online, and then sit a short exam, you always think the worst,  a  boring text and multiple choice questions set to catch you out!  The ‘Get Trained’ section on the MEC makes the learning enjoyable and is aimed at educators and teachers so you don’t have to have a degree in computing to understand what your reading.

The training and professional development is split into three sections – “Quick Tip Videos”, “Courses” and “Learning Paths”. The “Quick Tip Videos” are exactly that, short ‘how to’ video clips that have been uploaded to the MEC.    If you want to know how to add audio to ‘Windows Movie Maker’ or how to use ‘One Drive’ to collaborate, this is the place to visit.

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“Courses” offers that immediate training that you might need. There are a number of courses available with each one offering you a quiz so you can test yourself with what you have just learnt.   Each course is very simple to follow with a lot of the content being as video clips.    For me this was a better way of learning as you could pause the video, or rewind it if you weren’t sure what you were being shown. This is what makes it different from classroom training.   With classroom training you are set at one pace and I know I often find myself lost, or wanting to hear what was said again.   Once you’ve completed the course you have the option to put what you’ve learnt to the test.   The tests offers multiple choice questions and all the answers to these questions are in the course you have just completed.

“Learning Paths”   is the final section within ‘Get Trained’.   This offers a more in-depth course, along with resources to help you develop a strong knowledge base of a product or a topic.   Each ‘Learning Path’ is split into different courses so it gives you the ability to complete one section and then work on the rest at another time.   Once you have completed all the courses within the ‘Learning Path’ then you will be ready to take the exam.

Microsoft have added the fun factor to all this with their badge reward scheme.  When ever you pass an exam you are rewarded with a badge.   You can then show this badge off to everyone else by sharing it on social media.    For me, it brings the same excitement as it did when I was younger, collecting football cards.

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The Power of The Pen

I recently had this blog post featured on Microsoft UK School Blogs.

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I have been a keen user of a Microsoft Surface for a while and I think they are great devices. The style and design are far superior to its competitors and Microsoft keeps improving the Surface with every release. It is only very recently that I have realised how good the Surface Pen is. On my Surface Pro, I used the pen a handful of times but it was used as a replacement for using my finger. Over the past few weeks, I’ve been using a Surface 3 and the pen has massively impressed me, from the free handwriting to the quick screen grabs and app launches.

In this blog post, I thought I would share with you the great things that I have been using the Surface Pen to do.

Handwriting

I was highly impressed with the precision of the pen when I was writing with it. There was no delay and what I was writing was accurate, appearing exactly the same as writing on paper. Not only does writing feel great on the Surface but with the use of OneNote you can convert your writing into text format. Only the other day I did this by scribbling down notes quickly and then clicking on ink to text within OneNote (desktop app) and was able to convert my messy handwriting to text. I could then copy that text to an email to send on. This is a satisfying way for children to get the experience of handwriting then promptly convert their work into a printed text for that professional presentation.

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Screen Capturing

I often find while working that I want to quickly take a screenshot of something that I’m looking at but only of a certain section of the screen. I would normally press print screen and then paste it into MS Paint and edit the picture and save it. When I discovered you could screen grab using the Surface Pen I thought, “I bet it’s fiddly to do?”  It couldn’t be easier!  A double press of the top of the pen will take a screen grab and then dump it into OneNote. From here you can snip it to what you want and either leave it in your OneNote or you can export it to use in whatever way you want.

Customising the pen

The Surface Pen comes with its own app where you can customise some of the settings of the pen. You can alter the pressure settings of the pen to make it best suit you.  You can also set it  to facilitate whether you are right or left handed. Being left handed myself, this made me very happy to see as usually us lefties get stuck having to adapt to the right handed way of things.

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The rubber

Like all pencils, the Surface Pen comes with its very own rubber. If you make a mistake it’s really simple to rub out that mistake. Pressing the bottom button activates the rubber and then you can touch the pen on anything you’ve drawn or written that you want to rub out. Instead of having to rub the pen constantly to rub something out you just press on that one letter or line and it will erase it.

Quick launch

The final speciality of  the Surface Pen is the quick launch of either the OneNote app or the desktop version of OneNote with one simple press of the top button. This gives you an even quicker way to jot down your notes.

The Linx 1010

Today I was able to get my hands on a new Linx 1010 thanks to Simon de Senlis Primary School. This is a 10″ tablet, which is the company’s second release. The first edition of the Linx 10 seemed like a great tablet with great specs. The thing that let it down was the origami keyboard design and the cheap feel of it’s case.

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The Device:

So have they overcome this and made the Linx 1010 better than its predecessor? The first thing I noticed is the two full sized USB sockets on the tablet. This offers better connectivity than most tablets as quite a few will only come with one USB socket. The tablet feels robust and the design of it has improved from the Linx 10.

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Specifications:

The Linx 1010 comes with Windows 10 Home edition pre-installed and boasts its Quad-Core Intel Atom processor and 2GB RAM, so the performance of the device is great for it’s price. The camera is still very under spec with it only being 2MP but it does have a front and rear-facing camera so you are able to take snaps while walking around with the device.

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The Keyboard:

Now for the deal breaker…. Is the keyboard any better? Straight away the keyboard feels 100 times better than the original origami version. Its a solid case with an adjustable dock so you can move the tablet to an angle that best suits you. The keys feel a lot better to type on and the mouse seems to actually work. It hasn’t got the same feel as a high-end tablet like a Surface Pro but for it’s price you wouldn’t expect that.

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Battery Life:

The Linx 1010 states it’s battery life should last around 5-7 hours. I wasn’t able to test this today but I did have it running on battery for a good few hours and it didn’t drop below 50% charge. The tablet charges using a micro USB so it no longer uses a specific charger like the Linx 10 did.

Overall:

For the price I would say they are very good value for your money. They aren’t going to compete with the likes of the Surface Pro but they will definitely compete at the lower end of the market. The device has come a long way since the Linx 10 and it seems the company has listened to what people have said and improved their product.

 

A Quick Update

In just over a month things have taken an exciting turn in my IT career. On the 15th of October I was involved in a Microsoft Redefine Learn event at Simon de Senlis Primary School, which involved me talking about how the school has implemented Office 365 and Windows 10. This was my first time speaking in front of a big audience so saying I was nervous is an understatement. Since this event I have been involved in other events at schools providing training and an insight into Office 365.

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After the event at Simon de Senlis I was asked to be a part of a short film that Microsoft were making. I have never done anything like this before so didn’t know what to expect. The camera crew were great and made me feel at ease with everything. The film was released a few days ago and it shows the school so well and tells the story of how well Windows 10 is working.

You can watch the video here.

I’ve also had my first blog post published by the Microsoft Education Schools blogs site. This blog was about how EasiPC successfully deployed Windows 10 at Simon de Senlis and any issues we had along the way.

The blog can be found here.

With all the work I’ve been doing with Simon de Senlis is was so nice to have some positive feedback from the Headteacher there, Tom Rees. We have both been working hard to make things work within the school.

Paul and EasiPC have supported Simon de Senlis for around 4 years and during this time have helped transform Simon de Senlis from being outdated and poorly equipped to a technology rich learning environment which is now recognised as a Microsoft Global Showcase School.  Paul’s knowledge of key educational and cloud technologies such as Windows 10 and Office 365 is first class and has enabled us to implement a bold Digital Strategy with one to one deployments of tablets and devices play a key role in making learning richer.  Through his diligent and high level support across the Northampton Primary Academy Trust Partnership,  Paul is helping us to achieve the great ideas and big vision that our teachers and school leaders have.  As a key player in the Microsoft Education Community, Paul is able to ensure that we benefit from the latest ideas and technologies, many of which are free.

To put the icing on the cake I received an email a couple of days ago congratulating me on being accepted as a Microsoft Innovative Educator Expert (MIEExpert). For me this is a massive achievement and I feel so privileged to have been successful in my application. The next year is sure to be a very exciting one and will bring in so many possibilities for myself.

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Blogging about a blog

As some of you might be aware I have recently been doing some work with Microsoft Education UK, which gave me the opportunity to talk at the #RedefineLearn event at Simon de Senlis. After the event, I was asked by Microsoft if I could write a blog about the deployment of Windows 10 and the schools story.

Yesterday saw my blog go live on the Microsoft UK Schools Blog.

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To see my full blog post please visit the Microsoft UK Schools blog page here.

Is The Surface Book The Ultimate Laptop?

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Ultra-thin, meticulously crafted, with incredible screen resolution. This is the ultimate laptop.

The quote above is taken from Microsoft’s website and as you can see they are calling it the ‘Ultimate Laptop’. But is it really as good as they say?

On the 9th October, I was invited to London for Microsoft’s #RedefineLearn conference. It was here that I was shown just how good Microsoft are saying the Surface Book will be. I was privileged by seeing the only Surface Book in the country at the event and it caused much excitement between the attendees.

I’m sat here typing this blog post on my beloved Macbook Pro to which I have thought about replacing many a time with a Windows device, but I am yet to see or find one that has the same build quality and classy look as the Macbook. Since seeing the Surface Book, I am excited to get my hands on one and I’m feeling ready to ditch the MacBook once and for all.

The brushed magnesium design of the Surface Book definitely gives it that stand out look. The glass laminated trackpad is said to be Microsoft’s best yet, this is always something that concerns me with a Windows devices as let’s face it Apple have always got that right on their devices. It comes in with a sharp 13.5″ touchscreen which produces 3000 x 2000 pixels at 226 ppi, this is definitely a selling point on its own.

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The Surface Book brings you a whole new hinge fitment for laptops which allows more movement. Yes, the screen doesn’t close completely flat but this is what makes the device stand out from the crowd even more with its sleek look design.

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The laptop comes in at a high spec with you deciding on either an Intel i5 or i7 processor and an SSD ranging from 128GB right up to 1TB. It also fitted with an SD card slot giving you the option to add more storage space if needed. Not only does it come with the high spec processor it’s also packing a 1GB Nvidia GeForce graphics card and either 8GB or 16GB of RAM.

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When looking at new devices I’m always asked about battery life and most laptops or tablets seem to produce around 9 hours of battery life. Well, the Surface Book is boasting a whopping 12 hours video playback battery life.

Verdict

The new Surface Book appears to have all the specifications to be a high-end laptop and is beautifully designed to make it really stand out. To me, this laptop-tablet combo is screaming out to be the new must-have device.

So is this going to be ‘The Ultimate Laptop’? I think yes…. yes it is.

Why Office 365?

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When talking about moving over to the cloud and using cloud services I usually get ask “But WHY?”

You may be sitting there thinking “the way I use IT in my school works and meets the needs for the curriculum so why should I move over to using the cloud and Office 365?” Really the question you should be asking yourself is “why am I not using Office 365 and the cloud?”

There are many advantages of using Office 365 and it opens your school up to so many new possibilities that you probably haven’t even thought of. Recently I’ve been working with a number of schools and helping them move to Office 365. Instantly they are wondering how they ever managed before the world of O365.
I’m going to talk about some of the main features within Office 365 and how your school might benefit from using them.

E-Mail

When people think of Office365 they think its solely an email system. The Email app within O365 will more than likely be your most used app. It will transform the way your school works, no longer will you have to quickly nip down to the office to ask if little Timmy is having hot dinners today or have someone run round with that late afternoon school notice. A simple email will get you that information you need. It will change the way your students can interact with each other and the class teacher. You’ll be able to send out that homework quickly and your students will be able to ask you a question if they are stuck on that piece of work.

Calendar

Wouldn’t it be great to get rid of that scribbled in diary or move away from the restrictiveness of the school diary within your MIS system. Office 365 will provide you with a great way of creating and sharing calendars.  The calendar app within Office 365 has been what some schools have benefitted most from when initially setting up O365. Being able to have the ability to create a school diary and having it accessible anywhere, anytime and by whoever you want makes school scheduling so much easier. It’s also a great way to keep track of school resources, such as seeing if a classroom is in use or if anyone is scheduled in to use a piece of equipment. Even working as an individual, you can share your calendar with colleagues in your domain so they can see when you’re free and send you an invitation to an appointment or meeting.

Collaboration and Sharing

Once you start using Office 365 you will come to realise how great it is for sharing and collaborating with other users. You can share pretty much everything within Office 365. Sharing a document couldn’t be easier, you simply click on the share button and type in a person’s email address or a group’s email address then select if you want them to view or be an editor of that file. Simple things like school reports or lesson planning become so much easier by simply inviting a co-worker to view and edit the document with you. O365 gives you the ability to have more than one person working on a document at any one time. No longer will you have to have that document that’s emailed out stating “version 1, please check.” Then that document flying around 4 or 5 times when it finally says final version 256. A simple click on share and inviting someone to edit it then you can both edit it in real time and you’ll both see the changes.

This will change the way your children work and communicate with each other in the classroom; group work will never be the same again. Instead of having a document where one student is writing down notes about the discussion, you can have multiple students working on the same document. No longer will you have to make sure they are saving their work to the right location so it’s accessible by everyone else involved. A simple click on share and then an invitation to the appropriate people to view or edit will allow your students to work together. You are also able to track the history of the document so you’re able to see how effectively the students are working.

Ease of use

Even people within your school who are a “technophobe” will soon learn how easy Office 365 is to use. I’ve seen members of staff get excited about discovering new things within O365 and feeling proud when they’ve surpassed their boundaries.
You’ll be bringing that excitement back into the classroom by using other tools like Sway and Office Mix. Both tools are easy to use and can produce a professional result with very little effort needed.

OneDrive and cloud storage

We all dream about not having to worry about our work being backed up and being able to access it anywhere at any time. Office 365gives you that peace of mind where you don’t have to worry about backups or where your data is saved. One Drive does exactly as the name states, it gives you that one drive, that one space where you can store all your data. With Office 365 you get 1TB of space per user, this is an incredible amount of personal cloud space. As mentioned before, anything you save in your OneDrive you can share with anyone on the internet.

Office Applications

Included in Office 365 is an online version of your usual Office applications such as Word, Excel and PowerPoint. They are broken down versions but will do most things that you need the applications to do. It brings a fast and ‘on the fly’ way of working.

Another App included in Office 365 is OneNote. Some will argue that OneNote is Microsoft’s strongest asset. Just imagine being able to take your bookshelf and all the folders on it and being able to digitalise it without losing your great organisation of it. OneNote makes that possible. You can create that one file that recreates your whole bookshelf. You’re able to setup different sections, like your folders and then within those sections you can create different tabs, like your documents within your folders.

Conclusion

Overall, I think Office 365 is the perfect solution for any school. It works on any device no matter what operating system it is running. It will change the way your school is run and will also change the way your students learn.