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March, 2011 - Education - Site Home - MSDN Blogs
The Australian Education Blog
Ray Fleming's take on what's interesting in Education IT in Australia

March, 2011

  • Education

    This lorry is invisible

    • 2 Comments

    image

    It doesn't look invisible. And the noise it makes as it comes down the school driveway every week isn't invisible. But it might as well be invisible - your mind tunes out things you see every day. Which means that school managers have got used to the paper delivery lorry turning up every week, and the tens of thousands of sheets of paper being delivered weekly for the school copiers and printers.

    imageIn the UK I did some research that showed an average high school was using over one million sheets of paper a year - with some up to two million. And since arriving in Australia, I have been deluged with so many sheets of paper from my children's school, that I reckon the numbers are going to be even higher here.

    For context, one million sheets of paper is almost twice the height of the Sydney Opera House - which you really would notice if it all came down the school driveway on one day!

    Obviously, using that volume of paper is a huge expense - and in many cases, schools are spending as much on paper, copying and printer toner as they are on their main ICT budget. So if there's a way of reducing paper usage, it would deliver a real cash saving as well as an environmental benefit. As an added thought, even just shifting the mix of where things are printed can save money, as printing on classroom inkjets or laser printers can cost up to 6x more than printing on large, shared, multi-function devices around the school. In my research I also came across a school that had as many printers as they had staff - with some staff having more than one each!

    There are plenty of things that can be done to save money on this:

    • Assigning course materials online, for students to access in school or at home
    • Change parental forms to an online-first option, reducing both paper and admin costs
    • Remove internal forms completely, and move them onto your intranet/SharePoint

    There are plenty of things that you can do - but first you have to build the momentum for change. Which means that you've got to make sure the lorry isn't invisible any more. And how do you do that? The easiest way is to find out how much paper you are using at your school (half an hour with the admin team and a quick scan of the last few invoices from your stationery provider), and then you've got a story to share with your principal about the invisible lorry.

  • Education

    Examinations need to use the skills that students develop, and employers need

    • 1 Comments

    I have a daughter who is 15-years old. Since the age of 11, my biggest recurring worry has been that she'll not achieve her full potential in life because of the exam system. Because she suffers from hay fever, which might drag her down on the day of her key exam. Because she might lose a boyfriend the day before her exams. And because she is living her life digitally - communicating and collaborating with friends and classmates using technology. Getting and giving help to her school friends by text, email, Facebook and instant messenger.

    But in the summers of 2012 and 2014, she'll suddenly have to give up that mode of learning. She'll be stuck in an exam hall with a pencil and paper. She'll be told to stop working with others. She'll be told not to refer to any external information. And she'll not be expected to use a computer.

    How fair is that? Not just on students, but also on teachers. And also, critically, on employers.

    As students, they've worked collaboratively, communicating constantly, and learning through that. And once students become employees, they'll be encouraged to work with others, communicating and collaborating constantly, and be able to research information, use reference sources, and use other people's work to build their own. She'll never be put in a room with a blank sheet of paper and a pencil and told to solve a business problem alone.

    We know employers need students with skills of communication and collaboration. They are looking for people who can manage projects, keep to deadlines, work well with teams etc.

    So it's about time we saw more passionate pleas from people, like the one from Isabel Nisbet (retiring head of the UK's education qualifications quango Ofqual) to change the exam system:

    "My generation and the next have a lot to learn from today's pupils about the centrality of technology. They use IT as their natural medium. Yet we are even now accrediting new GCSEs, due to run for several years, still taken largely on paper. This cannot go on. Our school exams are running the risk of becoming invalid, as the medium of pen and ink increasingly differs from the way in which young people learn."

    Judging by the comments on this TES article from last week, my views aren't likely to be popular, but I strongly believe the exam system has to change, because today the principal use of a high school exam is to get into university, and the principal use for a degree for many students is to get into the job interview. (I don't mean the courses, or the learning journey - purely the exam process at the end of it). But not many employers spend much interview time looking at exam results - instead they focus on exploring experiences, skills and attitudes to make the right decision.

    Last year one of my colleagues was quoted saying "We are witnessing the death of teaching and the dawn of learning". I wonder what the epitaph should be for paper-based exams?

    All of this is just my personal opinion, not a reflection of anybody else's. You can add your opinion in the Comments section

  • Education

    Ready-made IT user documentation

    • 1 Comments

    When I started working at Microsoft, I hadn’t been in such an open, technology rich culture before. And with so many IT systems around, and so many different software resources, my head was buzzing. In fact, I remember that at the end of the first week, the number of links in my Favourites was massive – just to internal websites.

    I’d never used internet telephony, encryption, instant messaging, live meeting or SharePoint before, so I was all at sea until I could play around and work out how they were supposed to operate. Meanwhile, people who’d been at Microsoft for a while were metaphorically whizzing past me, as they collaborated, shared, published and distributed information. Whilst I was trying to work out how to answer my desk phone.

    imageOne of the godsends for me was a set of documents called Work Smart Guides, which walked me through the basics of some of the new technology I was encountering.

    As our IT team describe it, Work Smart Guides bridge the gap between technology and users. Work Smart guides provide employees with scenario-based, best-use productivity aids on Microsoft products and technologies.

    We produce them because we expect to see more consistent, productive, and cost-effective use of products and technologies across the company – which helps the business ROI on IT investments, as well as helping people to understand the benefit the IT team deliver to users.

    Ready-made IT guides

    I found out today that we have also published them for customers to modify and use. This seems a great step – because I’m guessing that lots of schools are either producing user documentation for staff, or want to. And I bet that 80-90% of the content of some of them is identical. So these guides would make a good starter for 10, either for the format, or the instructions, or simply the screenshots. As an example, here’s the Email Basics one.

    The subjects covered in the step-by-step guides for users include:

    • Environmental sustainability (hints like using Balanced power settings on your laptop)
    • Protecting data with BitLocker
    • Getting started with email
    • Transfer files and settings to a new computer
    • Collaborating with SharePoint
    • An overview of collaboration tools
    • Customising SharePoint sites
    • Integrating Outlook with SharePoint
    • Basics of managing email (Are you a stacker or a filer?)
    • Office tips
    • Outlook email signatures
    • New features for users in Windows 7

    Download the Work Smart Guides

    You can download the customisable versions of Work Smart materials from TechNet. There are 23 of them, and they come in one big Zip file for you to play with.

    Bonus: You should also be looking at the Windows 7 Problem Steps Recorder, described by Long Zheng as a miracle tool. It does what it says on the tin, and the best bit is that the document it creates is brilliant for creating user guides, with screen shots and step-by-step instructions. Just stick “problem steps” into the search box of your Windows 7 Start menu. It would be fantastic when you’ve got to start from scratch, and especially for curriculum materials and lesson plans.

  • Education

    One in six schools block Wikipedia - the real reason

    • 1 Comments

    Two weeks ago, when I wrote the "One in six schools block Wikipedia" blog post, I was obviously not thinking outside the box. I was thinking that it was a bad thing, and that it denied students access to valid and valuable information. But then somebody added a comment on the post that turned my thoughts upside down:

      On the flip side you could say that banning Wikipedia in schools is the best publicity that it could get... What better way to get kids to want to go home and illicitly read an encyclopedia, learning secretly hoping they don't get caught! I think you can put blocking Wikipedia up there with banning rock & roll and abstinence-only sex education as effective strategies, they only cause the opposite to occur.  

    So perhaps that's what's really going on - that by making learning seem somehow illicit, it makes it more attractive?

  • Education

    Looking at data in different ways helps create Learning Analytics

    • 1 Comments

    I was talking with a Microsoft partner this morning about how you turn education data into actionable information. It's not that we don't have the data - normally the challenge is turning data into a form that other people can appreciate it. Student management systems are a great example - they are chock-full of student data - but often it's trapped into dull reports and spreadsheets. How about unlocking it? I showed an example of a student data set visualised in Microsoft's Pivot Viewer, which is a way of seeing your data in a new way. It's ideal for student data, because what you are able to do is to see every single student in your data set, and what data is influencing their position and performance.

    The video below gives you a short example of what it is and what it does - and is a great way of sparking ideas for education use, and how it can help you to create a Learning Analytics system.

    Microsoft's Pivot Viewer - what could you do with student data?

    If you want an idea of how it might be useful in curriculum teaching, then take a look at the World Leaders pivot. One simple click allows you to demonstrate the difference between 'data' and 'information':


    World Leaders in Pivot View

    imageimage

    On the left - World Leaders
    That's Data.

    On the right - World Leaders sorted by Gender.
    Now that's Information!



    How do I use Pivot?

    If after seeing this, your question is 'How do I use Pivot', then there a group of weblinks below that you'll need - and either a friendly developer or the ear of your suppliers.

    Pivot Viewer is available as an online service, through a Silverlight interface, which means that it is much easier to create browseable data sets. It does mean that you’ll need somebody with a slight programming bent to turn out a custom data set.

    The Pivot overview website contains a couple of excellent videos that are great for sharing with colleagues, to help them to visualise what it can do – and to stimulate the conversation about how it could help present education data, such as student attainment.

    There are also a range of web pages which are designed to help technical people with developing Pivot Collections, and to link to pre-existing data sets and databases.

    Collection Design
    http://www.silverlight.net/learn/pivotviewer/collection-design/

    Collection Tools
    http://www.silverlight.net/learn/pivotviewer/collection-tools/
    This includes the Microsoft Excel add-in which is one way to create a collection

    And there are a bunch of technical discussion forums, linked off the PivotViewer home page

  • Education

    MIS Magazine's Cloud Computing special

    • 1 Comments

    My Cloudy morning routineI have a few spare copies of the March edition of Australian MIS magazine, which is a Cloud computing special.

    You can see my morning routine perfectly in this picture - get into the office early, then set to on coffee, email and filling my brain with interesting reading before the day shift arrives at 9am.

    Alongside all of the articles about the opportunities of the shift to the Cloud, it also highlights (on the front cover) the challenges it creates, and calls it 'a shadow over the IT department'. What it means by that is the changing nature of IT jobs, as it goes on to say:

      Dark side of the cloud
    The global shift towards utility computing promises big capital savings for business and government. But will they come at the expense of jobs?
     

    And Julian Bajowski even goes on to list the kind of jobs under threat - Storage Managers, Exchange Deployment Specialists; Infrastructure Managers.

    Given that education appears to be moving to the cloud faster than many other business areas, maybe you should have a read!

    Learn MoreEmail me, and I'll stick one of my spare copies in the post to you *

    * Doesn't seem right to not have any small print. So let's make some up: I have a small pile of magazines, and I'm happy to put one in an envelope if you send me your address. But once they're gone, they're gone.

  • Education

    Kinect, augmented reality, and education

    • 1 Comments

    Last week I wrote about the world record that had been set by Microsoft Kinect, for the fastest selling consumer electronics product.

    In it, I said "Perhaps we're going to see ideas where technology supports teaching and learning in a more immersive way - and will make standing in front of an interactive whiteboard look very old fashioned."

    Well, how about this video, where a group of researchers and developers have integrated a number of different imagery sets into a system that allows students to explore the inner workings of the human body - with a very natural interface, and a display that gives an augmented reality experience.

    Now, how could you use this in the classroom?

  • Education

    Universities moving to Cloud services - more case studies

    • 0 Comments

    Hot on the heels of the recent Australian case studies of universities moving to Cloud services with Microsoft, there are some new international case studies available. I'll summarise them here, but for a better insight into what's going on, download the full case studies below.

    Brno University

    The Business School at Brno University of Technology, in the Czech Republic, is one of the universities moving to Cloud services, to enable 4,000 students to connect to their learning whilst they are away from campus. They're using the Microsoft BPOS (Business Productivity Online Services) system to connect e-learning to their students in employment, and in other countries including the UK and the US. What they've found is that it gives their students more opportunities for learning, at the same time as helping them deliver a more flexible service within their limited IT budget. And a significant result for them is that they are able to do this with no more staff resources - leaving them to focus on the quality of teaching and learning.
    Download the Brno University case study

    The Economics University

    The School of International Relations at the Economics University in Prague is another of the universities moving to Cloud services, as they have moved students studying IT management to the BPOS Cloud services. As Tomáš Kubálek's, the Associate Professor of Engineering, put it:

      Our task is to prepare students for real situations they will encounter in their future employment as managers, and, in many cases, members of international teams. Effective communication within a company is an essential element for its success, so we wanted to expose students to technologies that have widespread adoption - such as those offered by Microsoft.  

    By choosing to move to the Cloud, they have said that they speeded up their deployment, which in turns speeds up access to educational resources for their students. They've also reduced their cost of ownership, by not having to rely on the existing university infrastructure.
    Download the Economics University Case Study

    Find more case studies of universities moving to Cloud services

    Learn MoreFind more Education Cloud Case Studies on this blog

  • Education

    Protecting your users from hackers

    • 0 Comments

    Have you ever wondered why Office 2010 provides more active protection for documents than previous versions? And why it has started giving you warnings about files? Like this one, which I see on a regular basis:

    image

    Basically, it's about providing enhanced malware protection for students and staff. Experienced IT users can sometimes think that these kind of messages are annoying (after all, I know I've opened a file from an Internet site I trust), but your users - teaching staff and students - can sometimes take actions which potentially harm their computer. Only yesterday I read the story of Virginia Tech being compromised by a data-stealing virus, but they are just one example of the daily battle between you, your users, and the criminal organisations looking to get at your IT systems. (And when you have multiple users using the same computer, as you do in a computer lab or library, you can quickly compound the problem).

    Anyway, back to the message bar. Would you like to know more about why you see these messages, and what Office is doing in the background? It's helpful in understanding how and why it is giving malware protection for students.

    The Office Engineering team (the ones who design and build Word, Excel, PowerPoint etc) have just published a white paper called Keeping Enterprise Data Safe with Office 2010 , which explains the various security features (and hacker challenges they have to tackle, like 'fuzzing'), and it's a good background read to some of the security and data protection that's in place - and provides an insight that might help you to protect your data and users more effectively.

    Learn MoreDownload the 'Keeping Enterprise Data Safe with Office 2010' White Paper

  • Education

    Office 2010 Accessibility Improvements

    • 0 Comments

    imageAmongst your user base you are very likely to have students and staff with hearing, sight, or reading disabilities. Although accessibility has taken huge leaps in the last few years, there's plenty of other work still going on.

    We have just announced the public beta for two add-ins that help make Office documents more accessible: STAMP and DAISY: 

    STAMP, the Subtitling Add-In for Microsoft PowerPoint, lets you add closed captions to the video and audio files in your PowerPoint presentations, so no one misses a word of what you have to say.

    Save as DAISY for Office 2010 helps you convert Word Open XML files to the Digital Accessible Information System (DAISY) format. DAISY powers digital talking books and compatible software and Braille readers for people with print disabilities or limited vision. This beta supports Office 2003, 2007 and 2010.

    Learn MoreRead more on the Microsoft Office blog

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