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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

    Something for the weekend - free eBooks from Microsoft Press


    A colleague shared with me a list of other free ebooks from Microsoft Press, that you may find useful too. Many of them are quite technical, so they won't be for everybody. I bet there are some colleagues around you that would appreciate this list:

    imagePersonally, I haven't read them all - but I have read the Understanding Microsoft Virtualization Solutions book - mainly to make sure that I can keep up with some of my more technical colleagues and customers, and to understand what the true potential can be in different scenarios.

    Learn MoreFind all the other 'Free Download' posts on this Education blog

  • Education

    Kinect sets the Guinness World Record for fastest selling consumer-electronic device


    imageI read this morning that Kinect, for the Xbox 360, is now officially the Fastest-Selling Consumer Electronics Device, according to the  Guinness World Records team. 8 million Kinects were sold in the first two months - an average of 130,000 a day. If new consumer technologies are going to habitually be adopted that fast, then we're going to need a different scale on diagrams that show how technology makes its way into homes, like the one below:

    Although Kinect has been developed and released as a gaming technology, it has potential in other areas, and there are already 3 pages of videos on YouTube of Kinect hacks - where people have hooked it up to PCs and are using it to invent completely new ways of interfacing to computers. 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.

    And if you fancy being one of those to make it happen, then you might want to keep an eye out for the Kinect Software Development Kit - which will be free for use within education.

  • Education

    Moving to the Cloud - the Microsoft experience


    I have a huge respect from the Microsoft IT team - the people who have to keep our IT systems up and running, in the face of tens of thousands of highly capable internal users (yes, 'highly capable' also means disruptive!) and millions of users externally (including some with evil intent).

    Podcast imageSo when they make big changes to our IT - as they have been doing recently by moving many of our internal systems to the cloud - they learn lessons I want to hear about, because education customers and partners are doing similar projects - and many of the lessons learnt are as relevant to a school or university as they are to our own business.

    The TechNet team have just collected some of those stories together into TechNet Radio downloads, including interviews with Tony Scott, the Microsoft CIO. You can either listen online via the TechNet Edge website , or download the file for your MP3 player/phone/car etc


    Online version
    TechNet Edge


    What Does the Cloud Mean to the CIO
    Tony Scott, Microsoft CIO is leading the Microsoft IT organization to invest in the cloud. Listen to this interview to find out how it will bring new possibilities and benefits to the business.



    What Customers are telling Microsoft IT about Cloud Computing
    Bob Anderson and Mike Olsson share what the cloud means to senior business leaders from around the globe. Listen in as they discuss how Microsoft IT is gaining valuable insight into future cloud solutions, best practices and how they are implementing these new ideas on the Windows Azure platform.



    Microsoft´s Chief Information Security Officer on Cloud Security
    Hear from Joe Lindstrom and Microsoft’s Chief Information Security Officer, Bret Arsenault as he shares with us his thoughts on Cloud Security. Listen in as they discuss privacy and security implications for the cloud as well as some of the current challenges and solutions for this new computing paradigm.



    Moving Applications to the Cloud
    Bob Anderson and Mike Olsson discuss how Microsoft IT is migrating their applications to the Windows Azure platform. Listen in as they discuss lessons learned and best practices as well as how organisations can better prepare for their own move to Windows Azure



    Using SQL Azure to Enable Self-Service Business Intelligence
    Sanjay Soni and Rajesh Padmanabhan discuss how Microsoft IT is delivering Data as a Service to various Microsoft business and IT User Groups. Listen in as they discuss unified, enterprise level, agile data distribution systems that are possible through SQL Azure and how Microsoft IT has created a world where business users have the power to access all of their data in one central location



    Integrating Day-to-Day Operations with the Cloud
    Celia Morant-Kraus and Gayle Mateer from Microsoft’s HR IT Department discuss the Windows Azure platform and how it helps capacity management and service level agreements, as well as how it provides a flawless computing experience for employees.



    Developing Applications on Windows Azure
    Abe Ray and Bart Robertson discuss how Microsoft IT is developing applications on the Windows Azure platform. Listen in as they go in depth into the three main business benefits for developing applications in the Cloud as well as how Windows Azure is optimising the online social and digital media experience at Microsoft.



    Application Migration Strategies for the Cloud
    Scott Richardson and Tom Woods discuss how Microsoft IT implemented Windows Azure migration strategies for over 1500 internal lines of business applications. Listen in as they discuss the how-to’s and lessons learned for this project.



    In Australian Education, the shift to the cloud has been rapid too - either to shared private data centres here within Australia, or to regional data centres (such as our Cloud services data centre in Singapore). Although many of the initial moves have been about cost-saving, there's now a growing trend of moving to the Cloud to improve service delivery. And that's the trend that will probably accelerate things more - because if the alternative you face is a high capital investment and long project implementation times, or a quick project in the cloud, then you can afford to be much more user-demand led. There are two ways that you're likely to end up using the cloud:

    • The most visible for you is when you move one of your own applications to the cloud - like your student portal or a collaboration service that you run in your own network today
    • The less visible way is when one of your service providers (for example, the people that provide your student management system or your learning management system) moves the application to the cloud. This might be completely invisible to you, or you may simply see it as switching off your own servers (saving money, power etc). A good case study is the Janison system that allowed NSW to avoid putting in 60 servers, and instead delivered an exam system from the cloud, saving tens of thousands of dollars.

    Learn MoreLearn More about Windows Azure

  • Education

    Saving money with the Core CAL suite


    Computers or users which access Microsoft servers often need a specific licence called a CAL (stands for Client Access Licence). Most education customers buy these licences in a package called the Microsoft Core CAL suite - basically, a package of licences that they need for their computers to allow them to access their key server systems in the school/TAFE/University. The Core CAL Suite includes licences for Windows Server, Exchange Server and SharePoint Server. Customers who do more advanced things with their networks often choose the Enterprise CAL Suite, which gives them more advanced collaboration etc.

    We've just announced that from August, the Core CAL Suite will have additional licences within it, as we'll be adding the Lync Server Standard CAL and Forefront Endpoint Protection CAL.

    The changes reflect the way that technology use is changing in business and education. For example, by adding Lync (previously known as Office Communications Server), it means that you can be ahead of the curve of the deployment and use of Instant Messaging (IM) and presence across your network. Gartner say:

      By 2013, 95% of workers in Global 100 organisations will use the IM client as their primary interface for computer-based, real-time communications.  

    So these changes make it easier for education customers to adopt these technologies within your existing ICT infrastructure (this is particularly important in schools, where it is unlikely that a public Instant Messaging system would meet all of the e-safety requirements for all users).

    Adding Forefront Endpoint Protection means that you will have a highly-rated malware and virus protection licence included with your CAL Suite. (Forefront provides advanced antivirus, behavioural threat detection and Windows Firewall management).

    Cost Saving with Core CAL in Education

    By buying the Core CAL suite, customers save money on the cost of individual licences. By adding Forefront Endpoint Protection, it is likely to mean that there are additional cost savings possible, for example if you're currently spending money on alternative protection software for your network - in many cases, this could be a significant amount.

    You can see what is in which CAL suite on the Microsoft website, including the August changes (marked with a * in the table below)

    CAL Suite table

    Learn More

    Find out more about Lync on the Microsoft Lync website

    Find out more about Forefront on the Microsoft Forefront website
    (quick links: Overview and FAQ)

  • Education

    Ready-made IT user documentation


    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

    Kinect, augmented reality, and education


    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

    Calumo user group - an insight into Business Intelligence


    Last Thursday evening I spent the evening at Calumo's offices in North Sydney, at their Club Calumo user group meeting. After a period of relaxed conversation over pizza and drinks, we got down to the serious side of the evening - hearing some of the users talking about how they are using the Calumo systems to get a better insight into the finances of their organisations. In the case of last week, it was two not-for-profit organisations - the National Trust and the University of New South Wales (UNSW).


    The UNSW team called their presentation "Dollars and Sense", and was all about the way that they used the business intelligence system to manage the finances across a distributed university finance system - where in some universities the faculties hold more power than the central teams. What they have done is to create a nimble way of users being able to get hold of data, manipulate it, perform what-if experiments - and all from the comfort of Excel. For them, it was about giving users a way to see their data from the tools they were already using, rather than forcing them to learn a new system.

    The UNSW team also shared some quick stats of their business - with a revenue of over $1bn, 40,000 students and over 5,000 staff, it makes them a very significant business in Sydney.

    On one of the pieces of paper handed out, Gary McLennan the CFO at UNSW, is quoted as saying:

      Our team, with Calumo's expert guidance, is delivering a platform that enables us to maximise the financial resources available to support our teaching and research priorities more effectively and at speed. The time frame from commencement to yielding real business value has been astonishingly short. Our environment is very demanding and complex; the flexibility and performance of Calumo has been excellent.  

    And an example given on the day by Alister Cairns, who's the MIS Systems Manager at UNSW, showed exactly what that meant - now they can produce a completely new report in a few days when it previously took 3-6 months to get a new financial report specified, created and running. I get the impression that we're changing into a new way of doing things, when it is quicker to build systems, than it used to be to even just write the specification for it.

    I've now heard a few different universities talking about how they've started to use business intelligence systems to give them a better view of what's going on. And the recurring theme is that they've had to resort to mild guerrilla tactics - to start by building a system outside of their normal systems and processes - because the existing monolithic systems have proved to be difficult to work with. It almost appears as if users and departments are trying to fly under the radar of the IT team, in case they get stopped.

    As we need more and more data sources glued together, in order to manage complex, fast moving scenarios (like student load planning) then the tension - between existing monolithic data systems, and users who need to analyse data - is going to increase.

    National Trust

    William Holmes À Court, the CEO of the National Trust talked about "Doing More With Less", and especially about how they have built their whole system to be used by volunteers around the state, which means using the tools they were already familiar with, like email and Excel, rather than creating a completely new system. He told lots of entertaining stories, but the one statistic that stuck in my head was that weeds cost Australia $6 billion a year. That stuck in my head, because I realised if you can stick a cost on weeds, then you should be able to put a cost on anything!

  • Education

    Universities using Lync - Marquette University


    Marquette University LogoLast week I wrote about Marquette University switching from a traditional PBX to using Microsoft's Lync, which had been featured in CIO magazine. Pretty soon after I realised that perhaps that original article had been prompted by an official Microsoft case study of universities using Lync, focusing on the Marquette University implementation.

    The official case study includes a lot of detail about their implementation, and what caught my eye was the quote from Dan Smith, the Senior Director of IT Services at Marquette, talking about the choice they had between Microsoft's Lync and the Cisco solution they also considered:

      At the time, with the Cisco solution, all we got was the phone. What opened our eyes was that with the Microsoft solution on the desktop and the interoperation with Outlook, we got so much more.  

    After creating a one-stop shop for students, using Lync's Instant Messaging and presence to make it more effective, they are now looking at creating a 'Help Desk Bot' that will enable students, faculty, and staff to send an instant message through Outlook Web App or the Lync client to the help desk when they experience technical issues. The instant message is automatically routed to an available help-desk agent.

    Learn MoreRead the full Marquette University case study on

  • Education

    Is the technology driving learning, or learning driving the technology?


    You can tell that we're in a period of potential technology confusion. Over the weekend I read three articles which went in different directions.

    First I read "Australia: Day of the iPad arrives" in University World News, and saw that it was (yet another) article about the University of Adelaide handing out iPads to 700 of their first year science students.

    And then I read an article in The Chronicle of Higher Education which carried a story heading in the opposite direction, "iPads could hinder teaching, professors say", which starts with the views of Chatham University:

    "When Paul Steinhaus, chief information officer at Chatham University, met with his colleagues last summer to discus getting iPads for incoming students, they knew the move could raise the profile of the small institution in Pittsburgh. Across the country, institutions had grabbed headlines for adopting Apple's tablet computing device.

    But Mr. Steinhaus and other administrators soon realized that the iPad, with the slow finger-typing it requires, actually makes written course work more difficult, and that the devices wouldn't run all of the university's applications. 'I'd hate to charge students and have them only be able to use it for e-mail and Facebook,' says Mr. Steinhaus. Chatham charges a $700 annual technology fee, which now pays for standard laptops."

    Reading the pair of articles together made me wonder if we're moving into an academic world where a measure of success is about generating PR headlines?

    And there also appears to be some confusion in the press about the difference between different devices - for example, the Sydney Morning Herald ran a story, "Tablets emerge as new uni tool", which left me confused about the different kinds of tablets (in my world, a tablet has a pen). In the article, which starts with the 'iPad for students' stories, it then goes into a lot more detail about the way that Australian universities are using Tablet PCs to enhance teaching and learning. It includes this story from Monash University in Melbourne:

    "At Monash University, associate director of e-learning Nathan Bailey says the screen-sensitive tablet PCs are preferred to iPads by staff in their lectures. The university now has 1000 of them on loan to staff and, if they wish, to students.

    'For students to learn from other students and for the teacher to intervene if the students aren't learning effectively, you need devices that allow the lecturer and students to interact, to ask questions and respond to questions, to get a lot more discussion happening rather than the lecturer standing out the front talking,' Mr Bailey says."

    By the end of reading these, what I'd concluded was that there are some high profile stories of different device pilots going on (which also happened at the time of the first ebook readers), and that the story to read is the one that's written at the end of the pilots - once the technology has been in use - rather than the ones which announce what is going to happen. And perhaps the outcomes will be the ones that help reduce the confusion.

    NB: I'm a Tablet PC fan, and have been for the last decade. And I'm writing this on my Lenovo X61 Tablet

  • Education

    MIS Magazine's Cloud Computing special


    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.

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