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!


Internalizing Feedback

As you’ve seen in some previous posts, I’ve been traveling around the world to listen and interact with our customers or potential customers. One thing (possibly two) became VERY clear to me!

  1. How do I use “your stuff”?
  2. How do we continue the dialog throughout the year (in addition to conferences and meet ups)

I’ve been a little bit quiet doing some research and sharing this feedback with our team. To that end, I’ve been looking at documentation, PowerPoint decks, YouTube content and anything else I can get my hands on! (Leave a comment if you’ve got a secret “go to” place) The next step is to do a classic gap analysis of core assets and what are customers asking for; is there a gap? In the end, I’ve come up with the consultative answer! It depends! 🙂

In all seriousness, it depends where you’re at on the spectrum of adoption and deployment. Our mission on the Microsoft Intune for Education CxE Customer Pursuit Team, is to accelerate adoption / deployment as well as improve our product. So, think of our team as prior to adoption or right at the point of making that decision. That’s the lens we’re looking through.

As I look through our collateral, I’ve found some good stuff out of the gate! I’d love to get feedback on who’s seen or used this site on Microsoft Education Documentation and Resources. For me, it captured the essence of the first point above. As seen below, there’s the “Why Microsoft 365 Education” as well as the Deployment Overview. Then we have the following steps:

  1. Cloud Deployment
  2. Device Management
  3. Tools for Teachers


However, in our typical fashion, I found these to be lengthy articles or “how to’s”. Granted, we’ve broken it down into five or so steps in each section. However, I’d like to take it one step further and create “workshop” based materials with corresponding videos breaking the steps down further. (Based off of the “tasked-based video” concept of I4ESnacks / http://aka.ms/I4ESnacks.) I believe this will further visualize and bring to life the docs which are out there.

Please leave feedback, thoughts or questions! There will be more regarding the second reflection point later!

Returning From BETT 2019

I attended my first BETT conference in London this past January. It was unlike any conference I had been to before from two perspectives:

  1. The sheer size and volume of vendors / booths which were there! My goodness!
  2. I was surprised that it was just one big vendor fair! Sure, there were sessions happening but it was inside each vendor’s booth. I can honestly say I’ve never been to a ‘conference’ where it’s really just a vendor fair!

As I stated in my previous post, I’ve started a Grid on FlipGrid. More specifically, I’ve thrown a question out there just WAITING for your response!! Let’s hear your feedback!

Click on this link and let us know! Lessons Learned fromBETT 2019


Foundational Curriculum

I live in the Chicagoland area (actually, I grew up in the Chicagoland area and live right over the border in WI; however, it’s close enough!) and Chicago Public Schools (CPS) announced in December 2013 that they’ll be teaming up with Code.org which provides free computer science curriculum and professional development for teachers (Please see the announcement and video here: http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/local/ct-cps-computer-science-plan-met-1210-20131210,0,1134596.story). I believe Mayor Rahm Emanuel stated it fairly simply: just as “we” learned the basics of reading, writing, and arithmetic, our children need to learn foundational computer skills and core STEM fundamentals regardless of the field which they choose to go into.

I know there are some of you who do not embrace this thought and I’m okay with that. However, I believe we live in a different day and age. Such that, most children have access to technology in their home or within a community resource such as a public library. I’ve seen it first hand with my own children, when attending school they literally had to “unplug” their lives and learn as I did as a child. Some would argue, “…what’s wrong with that? The way I learned was good enough for me and it’ll be good enough for them””.” Well, I’m not going to fight the argument of “good enough”. There’s PLENTY of articles on how the US educational system if failing our future generation and we’re falling behind our peers worldwide.

Children, by nature, are inquisitive. Some have more motivation than others (i.e. using my own children as a reflection point). However, children today have ubiquitous access to knowledge far beyond to what I had to as a child. Case in point, my son is a Minecraft wizard! He LOVES it! So I gave him a challenge for the next six months. Learn to program Java. Simple enough and I gave him two resources; 1. Code.org and 2. Programming Tutorials (a Windows 8 app: http://apps.microsoft.com/windows/en-us/app/informatik-tutorials/4632a265-4d8c-416f-b718-085aca0f9322) The goal is to learn coding so he can create his own mod for Minecraft. If he achieves that, we’ll discuss sending him to a summer camp for Minecraft programming.

Two skills I’m attempting to engrain in him is ubiquitous access and self-guided learning. Just knowing that you have the potential to have access to anything really does nothing. Having access to a select set of resources however not having the ability to leverage those resources in a meaningful way is useless as well. Coupling those two disparate concepts become quite powerful when combined. Hopefully CPS will embrace these same changes ahead!

STEM: It’s not just about computers but holistic, engaged learning

For those in the technology and education fields (combined), STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) is an acronym you may be familiar with. For those of you who maybe be hit by a new TLA (three letter acronym), a good first step is to review what the U.S. Department of Education has to say about it. Now, allow me to go on the record to state that I am NOT a certified educator. My wife is certified as a classroom teacher and school counselor so you can only imagine the types of discussions we have at our dinner table! However, I believe being a technologist in the education field, as well as my background, has given me some insights which I wanted to articulate in this posting.

For those of you which trudged through my “A little about me” post, you know that for most of my lifetime have not been engaged in my own personal education. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve learned a LOT! However, I can still recall doing the ole “book report” about the galaxy back in elementary school. If you were to ask me what I retained from doing that, I would tell you that it was the scribble picture of Saturn. On the flip side, my son was given an assignment for science on reporting on a specific oil spill which had happened. Each student had a different one and they were to present back to the class the facts which were learned according to the rubric. (I don’t even remember having rubrics when I was a student!!) My son was SO engaged in learning, modeling, and cramming all the facts which he had found regarding his spill that I had to draw the line and say he’d done enough. He would have easily put in another 8 to 10 hours into it willingly!

Why is his learning so different? Well, it could have easily been a book report and probably would have been in his previous school had we not open enrolled him to another school in the area (all public schools). However, this educator gave them a topic, outcomes, and said to get it done. (I was looking for her rubric to use as an example however this was last year.) The students knew that they had to present the facts back to the class (with structure such as the how, where, and when sort of things) but they could use whatever mode they were comfortable with. Such that, they could elect to write a paper, do a PowerPoint, or in the case of my son; model it out in Minecraft.

So, how is this one isolated science project lead to holistic learning? For starters, it required the discipline that we all practiced of researching the topic, having proper citable sources, and the likes (a language arts skill typically). However, he then needed to map out where the spill took place (a social studies topic, if you will) so that he could map it. Upon his choice of Minecraft, the obvious computer skills to create the world. In addition, he had enough forethought to know he didn’t like presenting and speaking in front of a group. Thus, he created a narrated video which he could play for the class. I could keep pining and droning about his work; the different areas of the traditional studies which it drew from however I’m confident you understand my point. In the end, he made a quality project which he took ownership in that learning experience. (By the way, his video can be viewed here. Barge Cibro Savannah Oil Spill)

The difference in experience of when I went to school versus my son, is all about the approach to learning, in my opinion. In the 70’s and 80’s (1900’s, just for the record!) when I was in primary education, it was all about the vessel of knowledge (educator) and imparting that knowledge to the students. Most of the time is was dry. That’s probably why there’s the phrase, “…you need to have a THIRST for knowledge!” My son, on the other hand, has ubiquitous access to probably any topic he’d want in a few key strokes. Want to know how to program? Go to Code.org. Want to learn a new language? Fire up Rosetta Stone! In my opinion, it’s now become a collection of knowledge which we need to guide our children through.

The next piece of the puzzle is how do we motivate and keep our children engaged? There’s a school of thought (no pun intended) called gamification. Taking a task (sometimes mundane) and turn it into a contest or game. Come on now, we’ve had spelling bees forever! This, if done correctly, personalizes the experience based off of the learner. I had the pleasure of hearing Jan McGonigal speak when Microsoft brought her in as a speaker for us. She did a WONDERFUL presentation which really got me thinking about this. In fact, she did a TedTalk titled, “Gaming can make a better world” which was fairly similar to the talk we heard.

In the end, powering learners with the current tools necessary to achieve the task at hand as well as making it relevant to connect with them at a personal level are key factors in engaged learning. In my personal opinion, teaching “subjects” (i.e. math, social studies, etc.) is or should be a thing of the past. Being able to grasp from different disciplines in order to accomplish a task in a holistic manner is far more effective than isolating out a singular concept. Thus, I believe the concept of STEM being able to bridge and pull different concepts together into an engaged learning model.