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Rural UK students connect virtually to learn through cloud
By: Lisa Boch-Andersen, Senior Director for Communications Europe
20 June 2011

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In this case study, you can read about the Lincoln Specialists Schools Group (LSSG) which is making advanced and specialised school courses available to students in Lincoln through cloud computing, and fighting the decline in student population in rural UK – with the help of an innovative SME - F1 Group.

The area around the city of Lincoln is rural, and it is one of the few areas in the United Kingdom where pockets of the student population are in decline. This decline makes it increasingly difficult for individual secondary schools to offer advanced and specialized courses—such as law or advanced mathematics - in a traditional classroom setting. Within a given school perhaps only five or six students would want to take these specialized courses, and that made it impossible to justify the cost a tutor for each school.

For this reason, seven schools in the Lincoln area formed a soft federation called the Lincoln Specialist Schools Group (LSSG). The main objective of the federation is to share educational experiences that would be enhanced by the seven schools working together.

In July 2008 LSSG received funding to develop a virtual education environment that would span all seven schools. Each school installed high definition video conferencing hardware that would enable a single tutor to teach a course in which students could participate from their separate schools. Each school also began to install software that would enable students in the different locations to collaborate in real time.

To avoid delays and complications in the creation of the virtual learning environment that LSSG officials had envisioned, officials of LSSG contacted the F1 Group in Lincoln, which has a strong reputation in the area of being both technically competent and understanding the needs of the education community. LSSG gained access to a full range of enterprise-class messaging and collaboration services through  Business Productivity Online Suite from Microsoft Online Services, on a per-user, per-month basis. Microsoft Online Services enables access to collaboration tools and shared workspaces, workflow, desktop and mobile email, calendaring and contacts, instant messaging, presence, audio/video conferencing, and web conferencing. 

Using the collaboration features of Business Productivity Online Suite, LSSG is now able to deliver advanced and specialty courses to students at seven different schools, courses that none of the individual schools in the group could otherwise have justified delivering. A single tutor can deliver a class in law or advanced math, and interested students at each school can participate from their own school facilities. With the high definition video cameras set up in the different schools, the students and the tutor can see one another—so the tutor can always see the expressions on the students’ faces and see whether they appear to be understanding the lesson. Course materials and assignments are available in a SharePoint Online library, as are recorded copies of the lessons delivered over the videoconferencing link—so students at all seven schools have instant access to all the information. 

“F1 introduced us to the Business Productivity Online Suite,” says Keith Elms, Head of LSSG. “We were unaware of it beforehand. Once we realized that we could add the Business Productivity Online Suite without causing problems for seven existing IT infrastructures, it became obvious that this was the solution we needed.”During a class, Office Live Meeting connects the electronic white boards in each classroom so that whatever a tutor writes on the whiteboard in his or her location shows up on the whiteboard in the connected classrooms in each of the seven schools for the students working in those locations. Students can interact with the instructor using Live Meeting too, to sketch an idea on the white board for an instructor to review or to deliver a presentation for all the class to see.

Read the full case study here.

Small & Medium Enterprises are the backbone of Europe’s economy. We work hard with governments and industry to ensure that SMEs get the most out of technology. Thanks to cloud computing that has pervasive benefits throughout the economy, SMEs can now exploit economies of scale, to rapidly expand their business and offer innovative solutions with less risk. This space on our website is dedicated to innovative European SMEs and the added-value of cloud computing to their businesses.

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