Outside the Box

This week’s theme was just that… outside the box. We started in the classroom this week with a kick off exercise of “connecting 9 dots by only using 4 straight lines and not picking up your pencil”. Out of my 165-ish student, I believe only one genuinely got it! Some admitted they’ve seen this exercise before. Can you do it? It’s a 3 x 3 block of dots… connect ALL dots with 4 straight lines. (Here’s the answer)

Yes, my students LOVE to groan at me! “Mr. Urban!!! Ugh!!” This was to make the point of being or thinking outside of the box. With that, we kicked off our week with their “About Me” presentations. With everything in society that’s happened in the past few years, I’m REALLY working hard to hone their communication skills (i.e., digital, written and oral). They took my PowerPoint template and their assignment was:

  1. Insert a picture of themselves (it could be just them, with family, friends or even a pet)
  2. Change their name from “About Mr. Urban” to About their name (yes I modeled the expected outputs)
  3. Change the minimum bullet points (3) to details about themselves. I called it “stub data” because they were sentence starters and good computer science terms to get used to.

Two out of three communication skills conquered! (digital and written) Then they need to step “outside of their comfort zone box” and present back to the class. This is building on their oral presentation skills, team building and the likes. Most gave feedback that they were nervous but once it was completed, they felt is was a fairly easy assignment. I DID give the option for those who felt anxious to use Flip. Not one student took me up on it !

My next block days consisted of Unit 1: Problem Solving. I’m taking in several content / technical considerations and blending them together.

  1. The first resource I’m using is Code.org. They’ve got a good set of lessons to introduce problem solving. The introduction for this block was building an aluminum boat to carry as many pennies as possible. It steps a learner through the design to prototype process with accompanying worksheets to document design, findings and group project work.
  2. I’ve introduced Microsoft Teams and more specifically the Class Notebook. Within Code.org’s lesson, the first 5 or so minutes of class is journaling. Where’s the PERFECT place to practices notes and journaling? Microsoft OneNote! So, I have a class for each one of the sections which I am teaching. I’ve used student ID’s and assigned them to each class. This allowed me to provision a notebook for each student. As the teacher, I have access to view and or comment on their work within the space yet no other student can see another’s work.


Another GREAT feature I’m using is Reflect which allows me to ask a question to understand how a student is doing. I’ve started out with basic questions however this will progress as time goes on. In the example below, it allows me to proactively engage students to make sure their basic needs are being met. Otherwise, as stated by Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs in Education, how can a student move into learning mode if their basic needs have not been met? (Thanks Dr. Dugan!)



The aluminum boat lesson, if I were to perform it “by the book”, students are broken into small teams that design a boat using a 5×5 inch piece of aluminum foil with the goal of floating as many pennies (dropping one at a time) as possible before capsizing or sinking. They document the process of how many pennies they were able to float, what were the strengths and weaknesses and then move into the innovate phase where they build upon the strengths and shore up the weaknesses. Once they have the new design, they then build, float and finalize the process.

However, not EXACTLY this way in Mr. Urban’s class! I, of course, need to put my own personal thumbprint on the lesson. I had everyone hold off on the 2nd float. I made it a BIG deal that they were going to have a class “float off’”! To the victor, is fame, knowledge and a laptop / water bottle sticker! What they DIDN’T know is that I was going to float their boat and I was going to be doing the penny placement! “Awww…. come on Mr. Urban! You’re cheating!” I assured them that I was playing by the established rules. Drop the boat, don’t touch it while in the water and drop one penny at a time. However, what actually happened is that I would drop the boat and proceed to drop one penny at a time in the “worst” corner or side. My results went from 77 pennies to 10, for example. They claimed I wasn’t playing fair and moaned all the way back to their seats as I asked them the final questions before the bell rang.

Why would be float aluminum boats in water in a computer science course??!! Great feedback during the discussion. Teamwork, communication, and building something better in the process. All good and fair points. However, WHY would we be doing, what may seem as a classic science lab project, in computer science? I then would turn to the team which had the highest count during the first run and rib them a little bit. I’d ask them what happened? Did they not use the process? I mean, after all, the assignment was to learn from their first float, identify strengths / weaknesses, and improve. Why didn’t they improve?! Did they not follow the process which I taught them?! Some caved others told me I was the problem. I would correct and mold their words… I wasn’t the PROBLEM, I was the VARIABLE! Smile In computer science, as in math, we use variables. I used that to reference future work as I pointed to the poster which covers coding variables in my room. I then asked them who they were designing the boat for? I explained to them that they ALL had solid plans for float #2. They described how and where they’d place their pennies… how the whole thing would play out. However, just as in the world of software, BEST design principals are that you design FOR the users, not YOURSELF. When we are in a communications class or giving a speech, it’s FOR the audience, not themselves. When they are writing in their English class, they are writing for the reader NOT themselves. As in computer science, I did a “social hack” to their boats to exploit their weakness. Sometimes we need different team perspectives and think “outside the box”! We’ll be covering this in the weeks to come… BING. End of class!

First Days of Being a Teacher

The summer “ramp up” course to help “teachers in training” coming from industry is over. It’s full on teaching mode now. I’ve just finished my 3rd full day of classes. Granted, the first 2 were more about getting to know my students on a Thursday and Friday. Today was the kick off to the first full week in school as I look at what’s in store for my with block schedules (90 min classes).

I have to say that my first few days have been GREAT! I come home with my feet a little sore and lots of stories to tell my wife. You see, I have my students out of their seats probably half of the time right now. I started out the first day with “This or That”. It was a PowerPoint I put together with just product images and company logos. I figured the easiest way to slide into this exercise was to ask PlayStation vs. Xbox. Yep, that woke them up! I split the room in half as they picked the side which corresponded with their images. I did several iterations such as Apple Mac vs. Microsoft Surface, and then Apple Mac vs. Dell XPS.

The last one sort of threw them for a loop but I walked them through, “Are we talking about Dell or Windows?” My typical non-response is “You tell me!” It was a guided journey of corporations, brands (and brand awareness), products, logos and reputations. (Yes we covered many more such as cost, reliability, cool factor, etc.)

This allowed me to have fun discussions with my students as well as between themselves. My three rules:

  1. Be an active listener
  2. Make eye contact with your audience
  3. Be respectful (either making the point or counterpoint)

This was all on the journey to each class coming up with a class name and logo. I thought it’d make for a good “buy in process” for it being THEIR class. WOW the discussions! A lot of insightful naming, which at face value I was like “what the heck are you talking about and why??!!”. For example, a simple one when students weren’t talking and I was trying to draw out some feedback, a student looked to the front of class and said “door”. I was like, okay! I’ll take that! However, when I asked each student why, that’s when the depth of conversation kicked in. “Why a door?” The obvious answer was “…that’s what I was looking at” however it went deeper; it was a play on words with Windows. Sweet! The whole class laughed and that broke the ice! They weren’t afraid to throw out ideas! “How about the Walnuts, Mr. Urban?” as they throw out an “odd idea”. Why? “Well, when you crack them open they look like a big brain”. Heck yeah I’ll take that answer! There were SO many insightful answers!

Then the voting process. “Out of your seats! You’re voting with your bodies!” Those who weren’t engaged are now “part of the process” again. The room starts to buzz with debate and politicking to join “their group” so they get their name. Perfect.

Onto logos! I first start by asking for their ideas as I’m scribing them on the PowerPoint slide in ink. They’re seeing, in real time, the ideation process again. This time in a more creative form. They first start telling me attributes of a given logo… and then, bam! One student says, “…can I just draw it up there for you”. Heck yea! All of a sudden, I have a line of students wanting to draw their ideas and share with the class. I just fade away from the ClearTouch and let them go with their creative and engaged learning. One of the group names as “Tree”. Again, not a convincing name at first. However, the student started to explain that trees have branches (representing students” which grow leaves (growing and learning). They also have roots which spread into different facets of a community high school. As the student grabs the pen for this logo… he’s thought about this one over the weekend! You can tell he can’t wait to get it off his chest! In fact, it’s already down on paper! Then one student points out that the roots should be cables because, of course, this is a tech course! Ideas building on top of ideas! They are having fun with it. That one logo went through several iterations alone! Again, they vote with their body! Boom. Done!

I ask them… why did we do such a crazy and somewhat time consuming exercise? Some share the insights and perhaps what I want to hear. Team building, getting to know one another, and having fun. All great points! However, I ask the harder question of how does this DIRECTLY related to computer science? I mean, that’s what we’re in here for, right? They look at me with blank stares. I explain to them that software is about teams and building on ideas. However, it takes teams sharing ideas no matter how “crazy” they may be because that may spark another idea in someone else. I then point out to them “the Tree”. Version 1.0 You see, in computer science, code has versions. We ideate, share ideas, prototype, and then take a whack at it. 1.0 Then, we may get feedback from out customers or peers. Walnut Tree. 2.0. All of a sudden, this interactive game of naming the class is full circle showing them how versioning and code check ins (with comments) works. Ah, Mr. Urban!! Until our next topic…

Start to School Year 2022/23

Can you believe it’s “that time” already? I know I cannot! A lot has happened since my last post. Where do I begin? It’s been a rough year for EVERYONE during this pandemic. At Microsoft, we’ve been heads down, attempting to provide the best school experience and working elbow to elbow (virtually) with school districts, MOE’s (Ministries of Education), and nation states around the world. I’ve lost count of how many devices I’ve helped enrolled for the sole purpose to enable student learning. I know, for me personally, it’s probably over a million devices?!

Student learning… let’s talk about that. That’s ALWAYS been my core “why”. Why I work in the Product Group within Microsoft that I do. Why I’ve held other positions in within Microsoft. Why I’ve been a Microsoft Certified Trainer (MCT) for over 20 years. Why I enjoy going to education conferences and speaking. Why I create content. The list can go on and on. I’m a techie at heart but have a passion for sharing and creating learning experiences.

After 16 years at Microsoft, I’m humbled that I am able to retire, from my professional technical career, assisting institutions and administrators from around the world. This was a planned strategy which my wife and I have been planning towards for quite some time. School year 2022/23 was going to be MY year to retire! My wife is a school counselor at our local school district and will remain to be for the foreseeable future. For me? I thought I’d be asking the different, strategic business questions such as, “…will it be paper or plastic?” as a part time retirement gig. However, I’ve learned a GREAT deal from my friends, colleagues and customers. For that, I am grateful.

As my wife and I spoke about the “things that I could do”, I was able to reflect upon “the things I was able to observe and see”. Two things jumped out to me over the two decades that I’ve worked in education:

  • I’ve seen some GREAT teaching and some things to build upon
  • There’s a HUGE skills gap in the United States for technical skills

To that end, you’ll see my blog shift focus from “…this is how you might be able to do it into the classroom” to “this is how I’m doing it in MY classroom”.

I will be teaching Computer Science at Denmark High School in Alpharetta, GA. I believe that I’ve been fortunate enough to have some great educators in my life, learned presentation of technical content to adult learners and even co-taught/interacted with high school students through the years. I believe it’s my time to return back to my local community!

What does that mean for my blog? Well, I just spent the past week and a half, starting my professional educator journey, in GaTAPP training. This is an alternate route which helps industry professionals become certified teachers. I’m part of a cohort which will be teaching full time while engaging in professional learning and pedagogy seminars, gaining mentors inside and outside of our school and having a rockin’ clinical supervisor to help us on our 18 month certification journey. Since this process is new to me, I thought I’d share my journey and resources as I learn.

I am SO honored to be selected to be a part of this community program! If you would have asked me two weeks ago what I was going to do? I would have told you that I was going to depart my industry knowledge in the classroom to help students be successful in their journey to college or career. Wow… I was SO wrong! Just in this short amount of time, my eyes have been opened up to a whole new world!

All I can say is that I can’t wait to meet my students, learn who they are, and how I can help them. I’ve got an incredible task ahead of me! I’ve been dreaming each night of the lessons I can put together to engage them, learning from them and growing in our learnings together! I’ve already got my first week’s activities planned… hopefully they’ll have fun with it as we get to know one another. Until then…

Back to School 2021-22 – Intune for Education

Senior PM- Intune for Education (originally published: https://techcommunity.microsoft.com/t5/intune-customer-success/back-to-school-2021-22-intune-for-education/ba-p/2712622)

Another school year is upon us, after what could be said was the most challenging school year of our careers as IT professionals. In school year 2019-2020, device management was thrust to the forefront of school systems around the world as many went remote or hybrid learning. Those who we’ve worked with previously were positioned well to manage their fleet of devices from the cloud. We took on new institutions from around the world to ease the burden of remote device management as they struggled with on-premises solutions or carving out new strategies.

As we worked with these institutions, we’ve learned a lot about what our customers are currently leveraging in Intune for Education and what they are still struggling with. Our developers have a never-ending list of features that we’d like to deliver based off great customer feedback! One benefit of a cloud strategy is that you can more easily consume and implement new Microsoft features and improvements in your institution. Upgrading on-premises infrastructure to accommodate new features is a thing of the past. Instead, technologists now have time to focus on what’s important; keeping learners engaged and learning with managed devices and apps.

With that in mind, we want to highlight several key features that we delivered and that you might not be familiar with. We maintain the entire list of features we’re working on at What’s new in Intune for Education. Additionally, we maintain our weekly What’s new in Microsoft Intune to give you information on new features and fixes with Microsoft Intune as well as In development for Microsoft Intune for upcoming features and updates.

Intune for Education console

The Intune for Education Team has been working on overall accessibility and performance improvements, as noted in June 2020. However, one great improvement that has received a lot of positive customer feedback is that we made settings easier to find. Within the Settings blades, there is a search bar that makes finding settings incredibly quick. Take advantage of this specific improvement throughout this article as we highlight new settings and features!

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							Back to School 2021-22 - Intune for Education

Figure 1 – Screenshot of the Intune for Education portal. The Windows device settings are expanded under on the All Students Devices Group. Highlighting new Search box.

Configure time zone on devices

Time zones are a straightforward setting, and yet they have been complex to implement. Historically, you could configure time zones via a provisioning package, custom CSP, or script. However, now you can easily set time zones for your devices in the Intune for Education console.

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							Back to School 2021-22 - Intune for Education

Figure 2 – Screenshot of the Intune for Education portal. The Windows device settings are expanded under on the All Students Devices Group. Using new search box using time zone to highlight Configure time zone setting.

Microsoft Edge browser

Microsoft Edge browser is great for teachers and students, as well as the best option for IT professionals managing educational institutions. We’ve worked with many institutions from around the world, which historically were Google Chrome or Internet Explorer shops, that have adopted Microsoft Edge. You might wonder whether this Chrome-based browser can meet your educational needs. That’s why we’ve put into place two deployment and configuration programs: FastTrack and App Assure assistance. Simply put, if your school or district has 150 or more paid seats of eligible Window 10 or Microsoft 365 services, you can receive remote deployment guidance from FastTrack and site compatibility assistance from App Assure. For more information, please visit the Install Microsoft Edge document from our Microsoft 365 documentation and resource site.

Microsoft Edge is a cornerstone for a managed web browsing experience on managed devices (i.e., Windows 10, macOS, iOS and Android). As of April 2020, Intune for Education has supported a streamlined deployment of the Microsoft Edge browser which should already be available in your app inventory within the console. Once installed, Microsoft Edge settings can be configured within the Intune for Education console (pictured below) as well as the Microsoft Endpoint Manager (MEM) console. Configuring Microsoft Edge policy settings with Microsoft Intune includes hundreds of settings to manage the institutional browsing experience.

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							Back to School 2021-22 - Intune for Education
Figure 3 – Screenshot of the Intune for Education portal. The Windows device settings are expanded under on the All Students Devices Group. Expanded on Edge Browser Settings.

As of May 2021, we’ve included the ability to deploy websites and web apps as desktop shortcuts within the Intune for Education console. One trick, as noted by the reference link article, is that Edge must run one time before this policy can take effect on a device. To get around this, you can enable the Enable faster start-up with Microsoft Edge setting.

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							Back to School 2021-22 - Intune for Education

Figure 4 – Screenshot of the Intune for Education portal. The Windows device settings are expanded under on the All Users Group. Windows device settings blade expanded highlighting Configure desktop shortcuts for websites and web apps setting.

iOS Custom Home Screen Layout

It’s critical that students can find the applications they need for school, and key to this is a device that offers a consistent experience from lock screen to wallpaper to home screen layout. Intune for Education allows administrators to organize and preview how apps (including web apps) and icons will appear on iOS devices.

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							Back to School 2021-22 - Intune for Education

Figure 5 – Screenshot of the Intune for Education portal. The iOS device settings are expanded under on the All Users Group showing the Edit iOS Home Screen layout.

Locate lost or stolen devices

Customers implementing Intune across large districts or even country-wide have expressed a need to locate a lost or stolen device. You can now use the Intune for Education console to locate Windows and iOS devices. Select a device and the new Locate icon, and a notification will appear to any logged in user to show that the device locate action has been activated. Once the device is located, the location map will display a pin of the device’s current location. (Note: Location services must be enabled to leverage this feature. By default, location is turned off.)

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Figure 6 – Screenshot of the Intune for Education portal. A device properties is selected and Locate Device location shown on map.

OneDrive and storage

As institutions move towards 1:1 devices and adopt Microsoft 365 Education, the movement to the cloud is a natural progression. Your cloud deployment journey starts with Azure Active Directory in either a native or hybrid deployment, reducing the on-premises footprint of physical or virtual servers as domain controllers. Most institutions we work with have already started or completed this step.

However, many institutions struggle with user data. Often, teachers are comfortable working with data on their desktop or in their local network share. This increases the friction of cloud adoption and the reliance on on-premises file servers—sometimes in each individual school! We see customers who have the desire to adopt OneDrive, but they don’t know how to get there.

In Intune for Education, we’ve taken steps to help reduce that friction with settings such as Silently move Windows Known Folders to OneDrive (i.e., Desktops, Documents and Pictures), Silently sign-in users to OneDrive sync, and Prevent users from redirecting their Known Folders to their PC.

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							Back to School 2021-22 - Intune for Education

Figure 7 – Screenshot of the Intune for Education portal. The All Teachers Devices Group selected with the Windows device settings blade expanded highlighting OneDrive and storage settings.

As always, the Intune for Education console provides quick and simple ways to manage settings. If there’s need to further configure your OneDrive adoption settings, you can hop on over to the Microsoft Endpoint Manager admin center to use administrative templates.


The features in this post are just a sampling of what the team has delivered and continues to deliver to support institutions around the world with their device-management needs. These, as well as upcoming features, are driven by our customer feedback and engagements. If you have feedback or ideas for Intune for Education or Microsoft Endpoint Manager, please leave a comment below, share product ideas with our engineering team on UserVoiceforums and file your support cases. If you have questions or comments for the Intune team, reply to this post or reach out to @IntuneSuppTeam on Twitter. Stay tuned this semester as we deliver some exciting education driven, feature requests!

Preparing devices for Back-To-School in a Remote Learning World: Part 1

By: Chris Urban | PM- Intune for Education, Ele Ocholi | PM- Intune for Education & Scott Breen | PM- Intune for Education (Originally published: https://techcommunity.microsoft.com/t5/intune-customer-success/preparing-devices-for-back-to-school-in-a-remote-learning-world/ba-p/1581372)

Hi, it’s Chris Urban (Atlanta, USA), Ele Ocholi (London, UK) and Scott Breen (Brisbane, Australia) from the Intune for Education team. Thanks for joining us on our series of posts about preparing for Back-to-School! Since we’re on a team which works with school districts and institutions around the world, we’d like to share a few frequently asked questions and answers our customers have about device management in an educational setting as well as a few of the lessons learned as we all navigate Back-to-School 2020.

Preparing for a new school year is always a lot of work. For most of you, one of your tasks involves readying devices, whether they be new or existing as well as one-to-one or shared. With COVID-19, this year brings a significant set of new challenges. Some schools will return to in-person classes, others must embrace complete remote learning, and some are combining both approaches. We’ve learnt the best approach to these scenarios is flexibility and having a solution that allows you to pivot as your circumstances change.

We’re all working with customers to support their management and distribution processes of devices. All in order to empower educators and to give students engaging ways to learn.

Our experience with customers pivoting to remote learning has taught us that some of the biggest challenges have been:

  • Distributing devices safely and quickly
  • Repurposing existing shared devices to distribute to students, shifting to a 1:1 model
  • Lack of management when devices are disconnected from school network when using on-premises management
  • Password mismatch on domain-joined devices after a password change when logging on with cached credentials
  • Insufficient capacity for Virtual Private Network (VPN)
  • Windows Activation for Windows 10 devices that rely on an on-premises Key Management Service (KMS)
  • Connectivity to on-premises resources (without a VPN)
  • Internet access

Your solutions to these problems may vary depending on your situation, but we thought we would start off with the Top 5 things you can do to prepare for device management for remote learning using Intune for Education and Microsoft Endpoint Manager:

 1.      Get your devices managed

  • For new PCs or those moving to Azure Active Directory:
  • For existing computers connected to Active Directory or Configuration Manager:
    • For devices joined to Active Directory:
      1. Get your devices hybrid Azure AD joined.
      2. Enroll in Intune using Group Policy.
    • For customers with Configuration Manager:
      • Configure co-management so you can use Intune to manage devices while they aren’t connected to the school network, and/or;
      • Configure a cloud management gateway so you can continue to approve software update, deploy software and retrieve inventory from devices that are not connected to the school network.
    • For iPadOS devices, setup device management for Apple School Manager devices and enroll.

 2.      Re-purpose existing devices

A key scenario we’ve seen is schools repurposing devices previously used as shared devices for use in a 1:1 scenario. If you previously used Set Up School PCs, you might have configured the device for Shared PC mode which prevents the student from performing certain actions like configuring OneDrive or keeping files locally.

For these devices you could choose to:

  • Reset the PC and use a new provisioning package that is catered more to 1:1 usage.
  • Configure user-driven Autopilot, reset the PC and have the student log on during the Out-of-Box Experience.
  • Leave the devices configured as a shared device and distribute to students.

 3.      Configure settings for the devices

Intune for Education allows a device administrator to manage features on devices and define how your users can work with their devices. These Windows and iOS/iPadOS settings can be assigned to a user and/or a device through the use of Azure Active Directory groups.

  • When assigned to users in a group, the settings will follow the user no matter what device they are using.
  • When assigned to devices in a group, the settings will apply to the device no matter who signs into the device.

Examples of settings which are common in school districts we’ve worked with include:

  • Accounts and sign-in: Configure preferred Azure Active Directory tenant domain – targeting devices using this setting, students no longer need to type in “user@school.edu” but type in just “user”. This reduces keystrokes and mistakes, allowing students to log in quickly.
  • Apps: for Windows devices, block access to administrative apps – when targeting non-administrator accounts, this will prevent users from running the Command Prompt, PowerShell and Registry Tools.
  • Power and sleep: when targeting devices, this configures turning off device display, putting device to sleep, putting device in hibernation as well as blocking users from changing the administrative settings.

Intune for Education is a curated experience of the settings which have been requested from institutions around the world. It has Express configuration which is a quick way to enable the recommended common settings  on a device. With that being said, the Microsoft Endpoint Manager admin center has additional built in settings, as well as the ability to create custom settings.

4.      Deploy and Manage Apps, Microsoft Office, and Microsoft Edge

As outlined above, apps are deployed via group assignment. If an app is assigned to a user group, the app will not start the evaluation, downloading and installation until after the user logs in, so the app may not be available for a user to interact with immediately  Depending on your needs, you may choose to target apps to device groups rather than user groups.  Also consider the size of the app as well as potential connectivity the end user may or may not have. This will affect installation times. Another way to speed up deployments is to assign the core items that all users need to the “All devices” group.

Intune for Education supports deploying and managing these types of apps:

  • Microsoft Office and Microsoft Edge desktop apps
  • Microsoft Store apps
  • Web apps
  • Windows desktop apps (.msi)
  • iOS VPP and Store apps

If you have additional app or platform needs, the Microsoft Endpoint Manager admin center includes Android store apps, managed Google Play apps, macOS, Microsoft Edge, Defender ATP (macOS) as well as Win32 apps (.exe). If there is a need to install apps in a certain order, Intune offers the ability to set up app dependencies.

5.      Distribute your devices

With our larger device deployments, some lessons were:

  • Deployment times should include disinfecting the device and associated peripherals.
  • If possible, your plan should include distributing from multiple sites. This allows for granular contact tracing logs as well as redundancy if one site gets closed due to infection.
  • Multiple sites allow for less traffic into a single, physical distribution site.

Looking for more info?

Microsoft has a lot of detailed sets of documentation on the Microsoft Docs page; our goal is to pull together sets of documentation so you have a single jump off point into those various areas.

The first area we would like to introduce on that page is the Microsoft Education area. In the IT Admins area of that microsite, we break down a workflow of steps grouped into phases. Our main focus, initially, will be in Phase 2 – Device Management.  (See image below for site navigation.)

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							Preparing devices for Back-To-School in a Remote Learning World: Part 1

As we’ve engaged with customers around the world, it’s driven us to these Top 5 lessons learned.

Additional guidance has been published for M365 EDU deployment during COVID-19 which revolves around remote learning and Microsoft Teams.

If you are new to device management with Microsoft Endpoint Manager and Intune, we won’t be covering the fundamentals here but please start by checking out how to get started with Intune for Education.

Many of you may work with a partner or vendor for handling your IT needs. If your vendor needs to be introduced to Intune for Education and learn more, there’s a great set of intro videos online created by Joe from our team on the Intune Partner channel here.

We’re going to go technically deeper into the topics mentioned in the Top 5 and more so join us for our next post on enrolling Windows devices with provisioning packages and/or Set Up School PCs in the next few days.

End of the school year, now what?

Well, most school districts are at the end of the tunnel or seeing the light at the end of the tunnel as it relates to the end of the school year. This time of year is ALWAYS emotional; whether it be seeing students we’ve known through the years moving onto their next journey in life, looking forward to an epic summer vacation or gearing up for all the projects over the summer!

Yep, I’ve said it. This is the time of year that IT Departments hunker down, pull in all the old equipment and clean it up, order and process new equipment coming in, or taking on new projects to further their district goals and strategies. I’m working with SEVERAL districts across the US on their device management strategy.

Historically, the past few months (January – April) is the time of year where I have the conversation of re-imaging machines in order to get them ready for the next school year; this year was no different. However, one of the fundamental shifts in the conversation was to focus the conversation on provisioning rather than imaging. At this point, you may be asking yourself a couple of things: 1. What’s the difference? 2. We’ve always imaged our machines so why change a well defined process? 3. What’s in it for me?

For the shops who are familiar with imaging, the first part is creation of the “gold image”. In the “best” case scenario, they have one single image. However, most imaging shops have multiple gold images based off of machine / model or different user role applications (i.e. student image vs. teacher image). Those images are usually 2 to 4 GB in size (depending on the installed applications, they can be much larger). The next step in the process is to take that image and deploy it via media (i.e. USB, network, etc.). In the best case scenario, it can be multicasted on the network. However, that’s still gigabytes of data traversing the network. Once the image is deployed, each individual machine goes through the OOBE (Out of Box Experience) setup experience. As the graphic below depicts, the “traditional deployment method” can be a costly proposition including time, network and infrastructure to support the effort.


When Windows 10 was introduced, it was fundamentally different in many aspects. One of those aspects is the deployment method, or “modern deployment method”. Think of Windows 10 like your cell phone. You have one, right? When is the last time you re-imaged your cell phone? Unless it’s unlocked or jail broken, you just don’t do that. If things start acting up, you do a reset. You can elect to retain or wipe your personal data (i.e. contacts, pictures, etc.) but the phone OS is all local. Windows 10 is no different.

With Windows 10, you receive your device from your device re-seller (for a new device) or update it (depending on what version you’re currently on, there may be similar or different paths), answer a couple of questions such as language, keyboard layout and network and the device is provisioned. It may not even have the IT staff’s involvement. That’s it, seriously.


Allow me to open that provisioning “black box” to explain some terms mentioned in the image above; specifically “transform”. With Microsoft Set Up School PCs app, this allows a school IT Admin to create a Provisioning Package to answer questions such as:

  • Which Azure Active Directory tenant do you want the device to join
  • Which wireless network you’d like the device to use
  • Is there an automated naming convention to use
  • Which timezone
  • Product Key
  • Which applications to install during the OOBE / Provisioning process
  • Is there a specific wallpaper or lock screen background to use

This app will give you the ability to create one or more USB drives to copy the provisioning package to. A basic provisioning package is approximately 93MB (without any applications included). When provisioning a device, as depicted in the graphic above, all the traffic is localized to the device (disk and USB I/O). This greatly reduces the time that an IT Department can get a device into a faculty / staff /student hand for teaching and learning. The ‘magic’ is that not only is this process provisioning the device but it also is enrolling it into Microsoft Intune. You now have a fully managed device!

Generally, the initial feedback / push-back I’ve received when speaking to customers is “…great Chris however I don’t want to walk around with a USB stick to provision every device.” Fair. Very fair statement! That’s why we switch gears and start to speak about a cloud driven process to pre-register devices called Windows AutoPilot. Devices can be completely configured with no IT intervention required.  Devices pre-registered with Windows AutoPilot are ensured the best set-up experience when the device is received by the end user.

So what does an organization need to do to use Windows AutoPilot?  There are three simple steps.  First, each new device needs to be registered with the Windows AutoPilot deployment service.  Then, a profile of settings needs to be assigned to each device, controlling how the device is configured prior to when Intune can complete the setup.  Once those steps are done, the device can be shipped to the user. For existing devices already enrolled in Intune, there is a setting enabled by default to Enable AutoPilot Reset (see image below).


To this point, there’s a a LOT written! However, did I mention that this is a one time thing? Once a device is provisioned, enrolled and Intune settings have been applied, the following school year becomes a matter of doing an AutoPilot Reset! In the example in the image below, I have a classroom cart of Windows devices which I’d like to target AutoPilot Reset on. This cart can have apps and settings which are specific to the class or grade level it’s assigned to. Thus, when the AutoPilot Reset is triggered, the device will remove all personalization (user data) and return to the login screen ready for use again!

I hope this has been insightful and will free up some of your time, network bandwidth and ultimately lower your costs of device distribution / usage.


Microsoft 365 Education – Licensing

*DISCLAIMER* I know, the title of this entry is deceiving but bear with me! I’m stating up front that I am NOT a licensing person at Microsoft but within a product group. Along with that, we (Microsoft employees) understand that our licensing is challenging to understand, at best! We’re actively attempting to find a simple way to license and consume our solutions within a classroom. (If reading NOTHING else, jump to the end paragraph for the HUGE nugget you should know!)

This post comes from a couple of districts, which came up to me after a session I did at a conference I spoke at: which most of the audience are Google Classroom customers. There were two questions which stuck out in my mind that I wanted to share:

  1. This question was VERY pointed. I’ll paraphrase but it went something like, “Why do I have 2 admins administering all of my Chromebooks and 7-8 for Windows?” If I recall correctly, there was also a sidebar conversation of how Windows devices are more expensive than a Chromebook.
  2. I want to adopt Intune for Education (that was the topic I presented) but Microsoft’s licensing is SO complex. I also don’t know what I need to make the Modern Classroom a reality. Please help!

Let’s start with the device question first. In my opinion, it’s a race to the bottom (lowest price) as it concerns hardware. Both platforms have entry level hardware (Chromebook and Windows PCs). So, I want to push pricing aside for a moment; not that it’s unimportant but I believe there to be additional context around that device. When this question was posed to me at the conference, I stepped back to ask a few questions. I asked what goals, curriculum and educational uses they needed technology to support? I received a typical IT response (which is what the audience was) which was to surf the web and do productivity. My answer was very concise and clear; Microsoft has an answer for that which is a $200-$300 device, with touchscreen, along with Office 365 A1 (our first confusion on solution names! I’ll cover that below) which is free to educational intuitions (faculty/staff/students).

The conversation pivoted, at that point, that the Windows PC’s needed to run the Office desktop apps. My counter to that was that the criteria just changed. A Chromebook cannot do that, so why is the bar changing for a PC? We went around a few times and then the lightbulb went on! There IS a direct comparison of a Chromebook to a Windows PC. However, with that same Windows PC, you CAN do more things with it! You can install additional software (desktop AND store apps) as well as educational hardware (think USB microscopes and such). Would I suggest running Office desktop applications and USB microscopes on minimal hardware? Heck no! However, the Windows ecosystem allows an institution to meet their curricular and educational goals. It’s not about the “specs” of the hardware.

Now onto “Question 2” of licensing. I’ve been working with a district who wants to adopt Intune for Education. The conversation started in that same circle of questions from above. To make matters ‘worse’, Microsoft has almost every permeation of licensing spanning our 44 years in the software business. It’s like a mindmap; if you have this and then want that, you’ll need to go down this path. We try and help and bridge our customers from where there at and where our current software is. However, it makes it VERY complex and confusing. Along with that, we have ‘challenging’ names and worse yet.. TONS of acronyms! Allow me to throw two of them into the mix: O365 and M365. Did you know those are a ‘thing’? They’re actually two different things which you should know about!

Office 365 (O365) is Microsoft’s subscription of productivity tools and services. There are 3 different educational variants to choose from; A1, which is a FREE subscription, A3 and A5 which are paid subsciptions. All the details can be found here of price and features for O365.

Microsoft 365 (M365) is a new device license including Windows, Intune for Education, and Office 365 Education. (There’s QUITE a bit more but that will give you the basics!) Just like it’s O365 counterpart, there are A1, A3 and A5 tiers. I’m going to focus on the paid versions (A3 and A5) because the thought behind the pricing was to make it SIMPLE! Yes, that’s right! Everything you need for your devices in the classroom from identity, productivity and management (see graphic below).


Now, if you’ve made it this far (I sure hope you have!), the biggest thing to know when purchasing A3/A5 is that you count up your Faculty / Staff and pick one. All your students are included in that price! That includes student home use rights for Office on their home machines (iOS, PC, Mac or Android). Seriously, it’s that simple! Reference that image below or click the link here to go to the Microsoft site! Enjoy!


Cloud Deployment Video Series – Trial Tenant

As part of the I4ESnacks (Intune 4 Education Video Snacks) series at http://aka.ms/I4ESnacks, I’m starting at square one (highlighted in yellow below)! This means setting up a demo Office 365 for Education tenant and getting it populated with Fac/Staff and Students. First video is posted at https://youtu.be/22crDXOIdDE . School Data Sync is coming up next!