First experience of Xbox Kinect in the classroom

As a techie I’m usually involved in the backend services such as email and web filtering, but recently I’ve become more interested in technology in the classroom.   I’ve been an avid gamer for many years and have owned most of the consoles produced.  This has lead to an interest in Games Based Learning. 

Recently I had the opportunity to take my Xbox 360 Kinect into a year 4 class and what an afternoon it was.  It was the end of term and the school where having a play afternoon and the year 4 class where bringing their Nintendo DS’s in.  As an alternative I asked if I could take my Kinect in.  I’ve wanted to try it for a long time and the chance to use it in a fun sense was ideal.  

The Xbox 360 Kinect is a Microsoft motion sensing alternative to the Nintendo Wii that doesn’t require controllers.  It utilises a number of cameras to track movements of the whole body and allows for a full immersive experience.  Its still quite early in the Kinect development and has limitations such as only allowing a maximum of 2 players at one time, but I was sure it would go down well in the classroom.

Once I got over the initial excitement of me going into a classroom full of kids, I began to think about what I could actually do.  I’ve read a few articles on Kinect in the classroom  and the feedback has been its best used in small groups.  Potentially depending on how many wanted to play, I could have had up to 30 pupils.   Another problem I had was year 4 pupils are aged 8-9 years old and many games I first thought would be good had an age rating of 12.  I managed to narrow it down to Dr Kawashima’s Brain and Body Exercises, Kinect Sports and Kinect Adventures.  I knew I could get requests for dance games but games such as Dance Central where inappropriate due to the song contents.  Even Kinect Sports has a 12 rating due to the boxing element.  What I found interesting is Wii Sports for the Nintendo Wii has boxing but only has a 7 rating.  Having played both I believe the lack of controller in Kinect Sports makes it more realistic and therefore requires the higher rating. 

After much dilemma I  decided I would split the class into either 4 or 6 teams and play the track and field element of kinect sports.  The individual game selection part of the game allows you to select the following track and field events:-

Time sprint – This allows up to 4 players with each player having one attempt

100m Sprint - This allows up to 4 players but with 2 players running at a time

Javelin - This allows up to 4 players with each player taking turns and each having 3 attempts

Long Jump - This allows up to 4 players with each player taking turns and each having 3 attempts

Discuss - This allows up to 4 players with each player taking turns and each having 3 attempts

Hurdles - This allows up to 4 players but with 2 players running at a time

The plan if their where 6 teams was to play each event with a player from 2 teams at a time.  If 4 teams I would play each event with the 4 teams. 

My concern was each team would have 6 players and I wasn’t sure how the other pupils would react when they where not playing.  Initially I thought they could just play with their Nintendo DS’s if they didn’t want to cheer for their team member.  But an enthusiastic teacher gave me the idea to ask the pupils to write notes on the use of Kinect and the games that where being played. 

Armed with my plan I nervously entered the classroom and was introduced by the teacher.  I explained what we where going to do and asked who would like to play.  A few pupils where not allowed to or preferred to play on their DS’s, which lead to the perfect number of 24 who wanted to play.  This meant I could split them into 4 teams of 6 and each pupil would play one game.  The teaching assistant in the class (who just happened to be my wife :) ) would keep the scores and there would be a prize for the winning team (Easter eggs, losers got cream eggs).  On the advice of another teacher I gave each member a random number from 1-6, which corresponded to the event they would play. 

As the afternoon went on it was great to see how the pupils responded.  As soon as the first pupils stepped up, there was an excitement and competitiveness around the room.  In their teams they discussed how best to complete the events and cheered their team mates on.  It turned out 2 teams tied for the lead at the end so we had to play a tie breaker.  I then picked a random player from each team who competed in a single event, which then determined who won.  Although it was mainly a fun session the pupils where given pen and paper asked to write comments about the games and kinect in general.  The overall feedback was fantastic, but there where comments about the difficulty of some games and the fact they only got to play one game.

Summary of thoughts;-

  • Overall I thought it was a positive experience all round.
  • Although playing track and field with teams was good, the limitation of only 2 players able to play at one time did hamper the enthusiasm.  I and am hoping Kinect will support 4 players in the near future.
  • Technology in the classroom can be powerful, it generates excitement at the very least.  Which could then be channelled into a more curriculum context.  But with creative thinking, can be used for various parts of the curriculum.
  • Having had the opportunity to use the Xbox Kinect used in a fun context I would like to see it used in a curriculum way.  Fortunately, I have an enthusiastic teacher  in another school that would like to do just that.  I just need to wait for SAT’s to finish and hopefully I will see it used in an actual lesson. 

Filed under: Games Based Learning | Posted on May 13th, 2011 by Ian | No Comments »

Microsoft’s EES licensing in Primary Schools

Microsoft licensing can be confusing even for the IT professional, but the new Enrolment for Education Solutions (EES) from Microsoft will save secondary schools £1000′s and may help primaries save also.  The yearly subscription based license comes in 2 flavours and  includes:-

Professional Desktop Platform

  • Windows 7 Enterprise upgrade
  • Microsoft Office Professional Plus 2010
  • Microsoft Core Client Access License (CAL) Suite

Enterprise Desktop Platform

  • Windows 7 Enterprise upgrade
  • Microsoft Office Professional Plus 2010
  • Microsoft Enterprise Client Access License (CAL) Suite

The Windows 7 Enterprise upgrade is valid for all desktops in school and also includes a free upgrade to any future Windows releases, as long as you remain in the agreement.

Microsoft Office Professional Plus 2010 is valid for all desktops in school and all staff computers at home.  It also includes a  free upgrade to any future Office products, as long as you remain in the agreement.

The Client Access License suites are what make EES licensing so attractive to secondary schools.  They effectively license various Microsoft products such as Windows server, Exchange Email, SharePoint, various System Centre (support) products and Forefront protection (content, virus and spam protection) for staff, pupils and parents.

The licensing model is based around the number of staff in school that has access to a computer.  In general this is around 20-30 depending on the intake.  The cost of EES varies depending on the following:-

  • Whether you take the Professional or Enterprise Desktop Platform
  • If you sign up as a single, multiple school or local authority.  There are discounts based upon the number of staff that signs up to the one subscription
  • Where you purchase it from, the cost does vary from supplier to supplier

It’s the Windows upgrade, office package and the server CAL available in both licensing platforms that could save money in primary schools.  It’s all dependent upon the number of desktops schools will replace in a year and if you have a Windows Server (most I have dealt with do).  Hopefully the maths below will give you the idea.
Typical cost of the Professional Desktop Platform = £36
Typical number of staff in a school = 25
Per year cost = £900

Purchasing EES allows you to save on the following for each new desktop purchased.
No need to purchase Office, typical saving = £40
No need to purchase a Windows Server CAL (required for each PC that connects to a server), typical saving = £3
Ability to purchase a cheaper Windows operating system, typical saving = £20
Total possible saving approximately £63 per desktop

(Please note the prices are rough figures and you should contact your supplier for actual prices)

Dividing the cost of EES (£900) by the saving per new desktop (£63) means you could save money using EES if you purchase more than 14 desktop’s per year.  Plus each member of staff has a copy of Office for their home desktop computer.

As you can see for specific conditions schools can save money without even considering the client access licenses that will save money in the secondary schools.  I also feel there is real potential for companies who support schools to build their services around the new licensing models, to offer a more cost effective and improved support service.

The video below explains the licensing in a really good way.

Further details of EES can be found here

There is a lot more to the EES licensing than I have covered and I strongly recommend schools discuss the new EES licensing with their support or equipment providers.  If you do require any advice or assistance please get in touch.

Filed under: Saving Money | Posted on May 7th, 2011 by Ian | No Comments »

Microsoft Support Scam on the Increase

My wife recently had a call from a company called Windows PC Support, claiming she had a virus on her computer.  She responded with “My husband deals with the computers”, at which point they said they would phone back.  A few days later I got the call, again explaining that their tech support had informed him there was a virus on my Windows PC.  At the time I thought this was entertaining and kept him on the phone for 10-15 minutes.  When I told him I had Linux machines and there were no Windows machines in the house he got quite aggressive.  He accused me of wasting his time if I didn’t have any Windows machines, at which point I told him it was a scam and requested he not phone again.

After the call I began to think I knew quite a few people that could fall for this scam.  Researching the scams I learned there where quite a few variations to it, but the basics are still the same.

  • They phone pretending to be a company and imply (or sometimes state) they are part of Microsoft.
  • They state there is a virus or problem with your computer.
  • They get you to check your event viewer and one of the event logs (usually the application log).  Its normal for this to contain errors, but they make it out that this is very serious and they can fix it.
  • They get you to visit a website, at which point they take over your computer and do one or more of the following.
    • Install some anti-virus software and charge you a fortune for it
    • Install software which allows them to obtain usernames and passwords to sensitive accounts, such as banks.
    • Install a virus which allows them to freely connect to your pc at a later date.
    • Use your computer for other malicious activities.

There are various articles and website about these scams, some say you should record the conversation or string them along to increase their phone bill.  This is fine for those who are computer savvy.  But my concern is for those that don’t really know much about computers, the longer they stay on the phone the more likely they may fall for it.  Especially if they are experiencing problems with their computer.

My advice is to simply state you know it’s a scam and request they don’t phone you again.  If you are reading this, spend a moment to think about who you think would fall for this and let them know this simple advice.   These scams are on the increase recently so let’s make sure they don’t succeed.

If you are more aware of these calls and do get the name of the company, you could report the scam on the Consumer Direct site here

There are a number of articles on this in the guardian, links are below if you want to read more:-

http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2010/jul/19/police-crackdown-phone-scam-computer

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2010/jul/18/phone-scam-india-call-centres

Filed under: Security | Posted on March 7th, 2011 by Ian | No Comments »

Savings through Virtualisation Part 1

A typical desktop computer purchased from a major company with a well specked system and a 3 year warranty ranges between £450 and £550.  A typical primary school may have between 50-100 desktop computers, often replacing them on a 3 year cycle.

The performance of a computer in school has increased considerably over the years, yet the use and price hasn’t changed a great deal.  With the likelihood of IT budgets being reduced, schools will have less purchasing power, therefore being forced to make better use of what they already have.

There are a number of ways in which budget savings can be made such as not replacing desktop computers when they run out of warranty or purchasing second hand or less well specked equipment.  This is often false economy as there is usually less warranty and schools run the risk of more expense when they break down.

Therefore, I have set myself a challenge!

Is it possible to implement a desktop computer that will do everything a school would need  with 3 years warranty, all for £200?

Before we look at the options let’s look into detail about typical desktop computers in schools.

Below are a couple of examples of desktop computers found in schools:

  • Dell Optiplex 780, Pentium E5800 processor with 2 Gig of Ram, 19” monitor – £595 with 3 year warranty.
  • HP 6000p, Pentium E5500 processor with 2 Gig of Ram and 17” monitor – £511 with 3 year warranty or £536 with 5 year warranty.

Taking the above HP computer – a school could get better value by increasing the Warranty to 5 years for a total cost of £536.  This has the effect of reducing the 3 year cost to £326, which is significantly cheaper than the original 3 year warranty.

Some would argue that keeping a PC this length of time would cause problems but the power available in current desktops is more than enough to last the duration of 5 years.

In Part 2 we will look if it is possible, using the latest technology, to complete my challenge of a sub £200 desktop computer with 3 years warranty.

Filed under: Saving Money, Virtualisation | Posted on March 7th, 2011 by Ian | No Comments »

Welcome to my Blog

This Blog is all about technology in schools,
primarily focussing on:-

  • Saving money through virtualisation
  • Saving money through free/low cost cloud services
  • Saving money through technology
  • Using technology for education

Check out my Play Blog for information on mobile
phone apps, games consoles and more.

Filed under: Uncategorized | Posted on March 7th, 2011 by Ian | No Comments »

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