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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

    Trends Shaping Education 2010 and the Australian data

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    I've just been browsing the OECD report, Trends Shaping Education 2010, which takes a look at the international evidence about education progress across the globe, and how patterns are changing. The reports are based on data from the OECD, the World Bank and the UN.

    The report covers:

    • the dynamics of globalisation

    • evolving social challenges

    • the changing world of work

    • transformation of childhood

    • ICT: the next generation

    The final chapter, on ICT, contains a bunch of interesting statistics with international comparisons. Some of the statistics for Australia reported in the research include:

    • In 2008, 75% of households in Australia had access to a computer at home, which had increased from just over 50% in 2000 - putting Australia ahead of France and Italy, but behind the Nordics, UK, Germany and Japan.
    • 94% of Australian 15-year old students reported frequent home computer use in 2006, compared to 73% reporting frequent computer use at school.
    • On school computer access, Australia was second highest in the work, and well above the global average of 55%
    • In 2006, there was 1 computer per 3 students, compared to an OECD average of one computer per 5 students. Australia was second in the world, just behind the UK, but ahead of every other country, including the US.

    The report goes on to say:

      What is known about numbers of computers in schools and their use suggests that ICTs are not fundamentally transforming the environments or methods through which most young people learn. Research also shows that children learn ICT skills more through home use than school use, as well as spending more time using computers at home. There are continuing forms of the “digital divide” which are based not on access to technology but on the skills and capabilities to use it effectively.  

    You can actually download the data tables that the report was based on - and use that for your own analysis. For example, there appears to be no visible link between exam results (from the 2009 PISA Results) and Frequent Computer Use at School and Frequent Computer Use at Home. I think that's a statement about examinations and what we're testing (but I won't repeat it here - you can see what I think from my earlier blog post).

  • Education

    Calumo user group - an insight into Business Intelligence

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    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).

    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

    This lorry is invisible

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    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

    Danish schools use the web in exams

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    Last week I wrote about the call for more examinations to use IT - to more closely follow the style of learning and working today. At the back of my mind was the fact that in some Scandinavian countries this has been happening - and I've finally found the info.

    In Denmark, in 2009, the government started a pilot where they were delivering examinations online, and students had full access to the internet during them. Although they were forbidden from messaging or emailing each other or people outside of the room, they were allowed to use the internet to hunt down relevant information. You can read the full story on the BBC News website.

    Going back to the example of my daughter from the last post, this would be fascinating. If she had full access to the web in an exam, would she be able to focus on the task in hand, or would she be distracted off to other places and end up lost in Facebook? I think that would actually be a pretty good test for her future employers - because if she can't stay on task in an exam, what are the odds that she's going to be able to stay on task in the office. Quite a nice test of employability skills!

  • Education

    Marist College case study - moving to SharePoint for administration

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    CIO Australia featured a case study on Marist College in Canberra, which has completed their move over to SharePoint as a basis for their future development of their administration and teaching and learning systems. One of the difficulties I have always had when describing SharePoint is that it can do so much, it is almost impossible to put it in a brief paragraph. Ultimately, it's a platform upon which you can build other things - process flow, document management, social networking - which means that the same basic functions can be used for many different things. Think about document management and process handling - in a school, that's as relevant for enrolments, homework assignments or meeting minutes.

    So it is good to read about a College where they see that platform potential, and have a plan in place to extend the strategic use of SharePoint over time. Their first move was to use it as a way of bringing together isolated pockets of information. According to Michael Plenty, the ICT manager at Marist College who's quoted in the article:

      Being a school we started to look for learning management systems as a first port of call, but a couple of us had some knowledge of SharePoint...and we realised a lot of [what we wanted to do] would be covered off by SharePoint.  

    Learn MoreYou can read the full article on the CIO Australia website

  • Education

    Something for the weekend - free eBooks from Microsoft Press

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    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

    What are your hidden data centre costs?

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    Late last year, Microsoft in the US published "The Economics of the Cloud", which I've only just got around to reading. If you are running a data centre in education - either at university or state level - then this is a good read to understand where your costs are adding up, and where you could be making savings. The document has some data points which were surprises for me (I love data points, so this report made my day):

    • For low-efficiency data centres, spending on power and cooling already outstrips spend on server hardware over three years
    • Electricity cost is fast becoming the largest element of Total Cost of Ownership (and with another 25% price hike in electricity in Australia, I guess we'll be there first…)
    • Conventionally, the server:people ratio is 140:1 - one system administrator can service approximately 140 servers. In Cloud data centres it's  000's:1
    • Average daily data centre usage is typically 50% of the daily peak usage
    • The Tax industry has peak usage 10x greater than average usage, compared to 2x for the News industry
    • Storage has fallen from $120/GB in 2006, to under $20/GB today and is predicted to hit under $5/GB by 2014

    With so many Cloud projects happening in education in Australia, I wonder if anybody is yet collecting the statistics for what's being saved - in power, space or dollar terms?

    Learn MoreDownload your copy of The Economics of the Cloud

  • Education

    University of Canberra saves money and improves service delivery with virtualisation

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    There's a new case study out this week on the University of Canberra's use of virtualisation in their data centre. There's plenty of detail in the case study of what they did (and which products they used, basing it on the Hyper-V virtualisation system built into Windows Server 2008 R2). Rather than dive into that detail, I think the key thing to look at is the way that they have built a much more flexible IT infrastructure for the university, which along the way has virtualised 60% of their servers, including their Red Hat Linux ones. According to Tom Townsend, the IT Data Centre Manager at the University:

     

    We now have a flexible, responsive IT environment, which positions us to grow and change in line with the demands of today’s dynamic university environment. This makes us more agile. We can implement the technologies we want as soon as they become available. From a business perspective, being able to trial and commission new services quickly gives us a real advantage.

    We’re managing a much larger number of servers with fewer staff.

     

    They've also reduced the power and cooling running costs of their data centre by 20% - a significant contribution when electricity rates are continuing to go up.

    Learn MoreRead the full University of Canberra virtualisation case study

  • Education

    Learning Analytics at John Paul College in Brisbane

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    Last week I mentioned that The Horizon Report predicted that Learning Analytics was on the five year horizon for Higher Education. Whilst that timescale might be true for mass adoption (and some of the people management changes that will need to go with it), there are already pioneers using today's business intelligence technologies to help them to build Learning Analytics systems.

    John Paul College, a high school in Brisbane, is one of those - they've created a system (in partnership with their Microsoft partner Wardy IT) which allows them to forecast learning outcomes and behavioural outcomes, giving them the chance to apply early intervention with things like tailored teaching for students. Scott Carpenter at the College summarised where they were originally:

     

    We wanted to bring together the many dimensions of a student’s learning experience – measuring internal and external academic elements; tracking pastoral care and behavioural issues; and monitoring the other influences that may manifest themselves as behavioural change in and out of the classroom.

    We had made some progress towards delivering many of these components, but we discovered that the individual parts were creating a drain on resources. This generated operational versus strategic solution delivery decisions, and in many instances the operational side won. We needed a way to make better use of our information.

     

    Like most large schools, John Paul College had a number of heterogeneous systems from previous IT decisions. These systems created duplicated processes, inconsistent data and multiple views of the school’s information.

    What they have now is a master data repository that contains information about students, their results, behavioural traits, learning styles and many other individual attributes. And the intelligence in it allows them to cut through the data and provide insights and reports about future student performance, which teachers can access through Excel.

    The analysis capability allows JPC to query its information or make self-directed inquiries to extract more meaning from the data it holds. After four years of analysing the data flowing through the organisation and capturing that of value, JPC now has an affordable and integrated system that allows teachers and administrators to easily interpret relevant information, and make it accessible when decisions need to be made.

    Scott Carpenter says anyone can make decisions based on gut feel. But when such decisions can be supported by facts, teachers and educators can be more confident about their decisions.

     

    A teacher knows which students are performing poorly and which ones are doing well. We can pull together many dimensions to provide a fuller and more accurate picture of a student. That picture is part of a bigger puzzle. How a student behaves in class may reflect how they respond to a particular teacher’s style.

    We can recognise these behavioural patterns and identify the triggers for better learning. For example, some students don’t respond well to direct teacher pressure. Others are auditory learners. Getting this right for each student can have huge positive impacts on their performance over time.

    We have been entering this type of information into our systems for five years and we needed to bring it all together to create the full picture. This also helps teachers when they come into a new environment. They have some idea of what they are facing.

     

    One of the key assets that JPC had, like many other schools, is a database of observations, performance data, assessment results, behavioural logs etc. The key for them was their ability to link that all together, and draw conclusions and make active interventions using it.

    Learn MoreRead the full case study of the JPC Learning Analytics system

    You can also read more background in this IT Wire article

  • Education

    Windows MultiPoint Server 2011 Review version

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    Windows MultiPoint Server has been for a couple of years, and it's a very clever bit of technology.

    In a nutshell, Windows MultiPoint Server allows you to plug multiple screens into a single machine and gives each user their own virtual Windows 7 computer, with a full PC experience with multimedia, audio, USB ports etc - saving on hardware costs and power consumption. The technical phrase is 'Shared Resource Computing', but basically it means that as you come to replace computers in IT suites and your library, you may be able to save money.

    There's a dedicated Windows MultiPoint Server website, and you can find out what customers think about it on the Windows SBS blog, as they have a bunch of short videos, with customers sharing their experiences. It's particularly useful for schools, especially in IT suites and open access areas like libraries - you can have a little cluster of users, with just one computer serving each group.

    If you want to evaluate it, and review MultiPoint Server 2011 for your own situation, then you'll be interested to know that there is now a free evaluation download available, which gives you the complete installation, and can be set up on a spare machine.

    If you're a Microsoft education partner, then this is a key product to consider for your infrastructure strategy, as it allows you to reduce cost of an infrastructure refresh whilst delivering the full user experience.

    Learn MoreDownload the 180-day evaluation version of MultiPoint Server 2011

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