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

May, 2011

  • Education

    More Moodle advice – The Moodle on SharePoint white paper


    Following on from the Office Add-In for Moodle earlier in the week, there’s some further advice and support from the Education Labs team for Moodle that may be useful to you - Moodle on SharePoint. If you’re either using Moodle, or considering it, then you may want to consider how you set it up. Because Moodle is an open source product, it’s often assumed that it should be installed on an open source server – like a Linux box. But the challenge with doing that for many schools is that it doesn’t therefore easily integrate with their existing ICT systems – for example, managing users and files on your existing school file servers.

    However, there’s a more positive way to deploy Moodle, which is to install it on your existing infrastructure, rather than having to add additional complications. The most powerful bit of your infrastructure to add it to is your SharePoint – because Moodle on SharePoint fills in some of the gaps of a conventional Moodle system. First, it helps prevent data loss. For example, if a teacher deletes a file by mistake and wants to get it back, you’ll easily be able to go into SharePoint and restore it from the recycling bin – rather than it being lost forever. Secondly, you can take advantage of versioning in SharePoint. If a teacher or student overwrites a file by mistake, it can be restored to a previous version from SharePoint. Finally you can use SharePoint’s search capabilities to search across all of your content, whether it is in your SharePoint file storage, or in your Moodle system (currently there is no equivalent file search capability in Moodle). Perhaps most importantly, teachers can get these benefits while continuing to use the Moodle user interface they are accustomed to, meaning no new training.

    How do you install Moodle on SharePoint?

    So if it makes so much sense to run your Moodle on SharePoint, how do you do it? Well, we’ve published a white paper that explains how to set up SharePoint as the file system for Moodle. It doesn’t need any special code – if you have SharePoint and Moodle, it is a matter of configuration.

    You can download the full white paper here (click on the Read It link) which can help you plan your strategy.

    image  Quickly find all the other Moodle posts on this blog

  • Education

    Why Moodle is better on SharePoint


    Earlier today I wrote about installing Moodle on SharePoint, in order to improve the capabilities of the system, and improving the experience for your staff and students. Although I summarised some of the benefits of doing this, I thought it was worth expanding the list out (with the help of my friend and SharePoint MVP Alex Pearce in the UK) to describe some of the things your users will notice. So, when you install Moodle on top of SharePoint, here's the kind of capabilities you add:

    File editing directly in Moodle

    Normally, once you have uploaded your file into Moodle the file is stored in a folder on the Moodle server. This is great but it doesn’t allow you to edit the file. By storing the file in a SharePoint document library you can easily find the file, change it and not have to worry about re-uploading the file again.

    Versioning documents in Moodle

    SharePoint allows you to keep versions of the document you are editing. Over the academic years you may change the file several times, add and delete content but one day you’ll want to go back and view something you deleted. SharePoint will allow you to revert back or just browse previous version. (And this also great for team working, where you can track team changes)

    Search Moodle at the same time as your SharePoint

    As the files are now being stored in SharePoint, SharePoint will index the files and their content automatically. Using SharePoint as your central place to search you all your academic resources is a great learning tool for the learner to find what they are looking for. And it also means that your central search index on your SharePoint is enhanced - because you can search for documents within and outside of your learning management system with a single search.

    Office Web Apps in Moodle

    With the Office Web Applications available for Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote in SharePoint 2010 it allows documents to be opened in the browser using the web apps. Teachers or students can open documents in the browser, simply make their quick change and save it back to the site without having to upload and download again.

    Check-In/Check-Out Documents in Moodle

    All these are great but you wouldn’t want your students to see the changes to documents they are using in a course while you making changes. You can check the files out to make changes, make changes over a few minutes, hours, months but until you check the file back in the users will see the original file you want them to see until you are ready to release those changes. (Which means you can start creating next year's course files without changing this year's)

    SharePoint 2010 Workspaces integrated to Moodle

    SharePoint Workspaces allows you to download a document library and make changes from a machine that doesn’t have access to that SharePoint site at the time. In other words you can now make changes to your Moodle course documents offline.

    Workflows in Moodle

    If you have a process for releasing learning resources to students, you can take advantage of the approval process in SharePoint that will allow another colleague to check the files before you release them to all students. This is pretty important where you have sensitive projects that need some oversight or compliance processes.

    Which hopefully convinces you of the value that installing Moodle on SharePoint gives you. And is your next question:

    How do you install Moodle on SharePoint?

    I'd recommend Alex Pearce's work again here - he's written a three part guide to Integrating SharePoint and Moodle, which steps through the specific steps.

    Learn MoreQuickly find all the other Moodle posts on this blog

  • Education

    The Top 10 Education blog posts


    I've been writing this Education Blog for the last four months - since February 2011 - and so I thought it would be a good point to look back over what's been said, and find out what's useful/popular.

    In total, there have been over 125,000 readers of the 112 education blog posts that I've written. And it's probably not a surprise to see that some are more popular than others! Just in case you missed some of the popular ones, here's the Top 10 by readership:

    Top 10 Education blog posts

    1. Something for the weekend - free eBooks from Microsoft Press
    2. Windows 7 SP1 Releases
    3. Business Intelligence for Universities
    4. Moving to the Cloud - the Microsoft experience
    5. One in six schools block Wikipedia
    6. How to deploy Windows 7 to 200,000 computers
    7. Ready-made IT user documentation
    8. Calumo user group - an insight into Business Intelligence
    9. The Lower Cost Cloud - Part Three (or should that be Part Free)
    10. Kinect, augmented reality, and education

    Why are these the top education blog posts?

    It's not always possible to know why some blog posts attract more attention than others - and if I did, I could write more of them more regularly! But here's some explanations for the Top 5:

    Number 1, on free Microsoft eBooks, went viral on Facebook, and attracted almost 3 times as many readers as the next in the list.

    Number 2, happened to be the top search result on MSDN when Windows 7 SP1 released.

    Number 3, on Business Intelligence for universities, is only 6 days old today, but hit the big time because it was featured on the LinkedIn IT News page.

    Number 4, Moving to the Cloud, got noticed on Twitter, and was unique in that it had a lot of audio interviews of Microsoft's IT team.

    Number 5, about Australian schools blocking Wikipedia, got noticed on Wikipedia's discussion pages and generated some debate.

    And looking at the most popular types of blog posts, it's the education case studies which come out on top - with about half of total readership (my inference from that - you like to hear stories about what other people are doing in the real world).

    I wanted to share this info with you, in case you too are interested in starting/growing an education ICT blog for Australia.

  • Education

    Is Glow the world's largest education SharePoint?


    imageAlmost at the other end of the world (well, for those of us in Australia), there's a massive SharePoint in education project providing a learning environment for students and teachers in Scotland. 80% of Scotland's 70,000 teachers are using the system, with a total of 425,000 users. The project is called Glow, and is run as a nationwide project funded by the Scottish Government through Learning and Teaching Scotland (LTS).

    Less than four years on, Glow has just celebrated the 20 millionth login - a pretty staggering story of long-term growth and development. (Probably also staggering for the unsuspecting primary school pupil who's in line for RM's goodie bag!)

    The project started with the design and build of the Glow system in 2005, when RM won the tender to provide a national learning intranet for all primary and secondary schools in Scotland. Two years later, the system went live, and has since attracted worldwide recognition. The George Lucas Foundation honoured LTS with the Global Six award and presented Glow to the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions as an example of exemplary use of IT in education.

    At the time these kind of big systems are launched, there's always a lot of fanfare and triumphal celebration. But even more important is the result a few years down the road, when the attention has moved on to newer projects, and the students are the ones who are seeing it every day. 20,000,000 logins show that good things are still happening five years on.

    It's one of the largest SharePoint projects anywhere in the world - and certainly the largest one involving a SharePoint learning management system, so it is a great case study for mass student engagement.

    Learn MoreThere are some great ideas for classroom projects in the Glow Cookbooks

  • Education

    Moving to the Cloud saves four schools $20,000 in the first year


    imageThere's no shortage of interesting case studies of schools, colleges and universities moving to the Cloud, to save money and improve the service to students and staff. The one I've just read, of Mendon-Upton Regional School District in Massachusetts (yep, I had to get the spelling checker going!), is interesting because they did the detailed work to identify the cost savings they made. Unlike the big Education departments in the states in Australia, this School District is pretty small - just 4 schools, including one high school. But even so they've saved $20,000 in the first year of switching, and forecast they will save another $10,000 every future year.

    What they did was move their students and staff onto the Live@edu email service, so that they could provide better support for their users - for example, by giving staff access to email on their smartphones. They also encouraged greater collaboration with the use of Office Web Apps and SkyDrive - allowing teachers to easily transfer lesson plans and presentations between home and school, and also for sharing photo and videos with students and other staff.

    Why did they move to the Cloud now? Well, cost pressures were huge, and as Joe Leacu, the Director of Technology, said:

      With the savings enabled by our move to Live@edu, we are able to preserve other IT initiatives that had been considered for cancellation….  

    Learn MoreRead the full Mendon-Upton Live@edu case study

  • Education

    How many Australian students have Internet at home?


    Most digital learning resources, and learning management systems, are designed for students to be able to use them at home as well as at school. But does that mean that every student can access them? Well, that depends on their access to the Internet.

    So, how many Australian students have access to the Internet at home?

    Each year the Australian Bureau of Statistics undertakes a national survey of school students, called CensusAtSchool. The results, published in aggregate form, provide a useful insight into the lives of students, and of their use of technology.

    19 out of 20 Australian school students have Internet access at home

    In the 2010 survey, completed by 22,000 students, 94% of Australian school students reported that they had access to the Internet at home (up from 86% in 2006).

    They also asked students what they did with their Internet connection:

    What do Australian students use the Internet for?

    % who do this sometimes

    % who do this often

    Social Networking



    Research for school work



    Emailing friends and family



    Searching/Browsing for information



    Uploading/Downloading (eg music, photos)



    Playing games



    Video sharing sites (eg YouTube)



    Buying/Selling things (eg eBay)



    You can see the full survey, along with breakdowns by State and Year Level, and historical data, on the ABS CensusAtSchool website.

  • Education

    Learning Management Systems - Desire2Learn


    There's plenty of change happening with Learning Management Systems at the moment in Australia. Some universities are faced with migrating from WebCT, and others are working out their future strategy to support a much more dynamic learning environment than their current existing learning management system can support. A fortnight ago I wrote a series of blog posts about all of the integration points between Moodle and Microsoft technology, so now I'm going to turn my focus to alternatives to Moodle.

    Desire2Learn logo

    One of the alternatives to Moodle is Desire2Learn, a cloud-based learning suite with over 5 million users, across 500 institutions, including a growing band of Australian universities and schools. In Australia*, Deakin University have chosen Desire2Learn's Learning Suite to replace their existing Blackboard system.

    When they made the choice for Desire2Learn, part of the reason was the Deakin team felt they needed something that went well beyond simply replacing an existing Learning Management System (LMS), but created a genuine virtual learning environment, that would support their future growth. As Deakin's Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Academic), Professor Philip Clarke said at the time:

      At Deakin we place great emphasis on our flexible learning programs and with over 30% of our students studying from home, work, regional or remote areas, we needed a solution partner who can deliver a smooth and rapid transition, with little or no 'culture shock' for academic staff and students.  

    The Desire2Learn system comprises a series of 6 key platforms:

    • Desire2Learn Learning Environment - which enables you to develop and deliver content, manage collaboration and manage course workflow.This also provides capabilities for data import and export - one of the key benefits from a content point of view is that course materials can be transferred to and from other learning management systems (If you're using a different LMS, that's an important consideration, and one of the first questions you learn to ask any potential supplier - Can I bring my data with me? And if I want move away in the future, can I export my data?).

        • Desire2Learn Learning Repository - allowing you to store, search and share a library of learning resources, including course materials, assessments, quizzes and lesson plans. The search system can also be linked to other learning resources - for example your library system - to bring together all of the resources that you have available for your students and staff.

            • Desire2Learn ePortfolio - allowing students to create their own online portfolio, integrating features of social networking to create a more social learning experience, as well as track progress.

                • Desire2Learn Analytics - from simple every day reports on usage and experiences, and also allowing staff to create their own reports to uncover hidden information such as how students are performing in their courses, and highlighting learning opportunities.

                    • Desire2Learn Mobile - providing access to courses and learning resources through student's own smartphones, as well as managing news and information feeds.

                        • Desire2Learn Capture - a new solution, which allows you to automate the process of capturing lectures and tutorials on video, and make them available to students on their computer, phone or over the web.

                        Underneath the Desire2Learn system, the whole solution runs on the Microsoft SQL Server 2008, as a hosted service. In the middle of last year they announced integration with the Live@edu service, so that students can access their email inbox directly within the Desire2Learn portal. It will also integrate to SharePoint, so that students and staff can use the process and document management capabilities of SharePoint in your own institution, as well as to their Cloud services.

                        Learn MoreLearn more about Desire2Learn

                        * This list of Desire2Learn University customers shows the large number of international users already using the system - some with over 200,000 users

                      • Education

                        What the future holds - The Horizon Report 2011 Schools Edition


                        Horizon Report front coverAfter the publication of the Horizon report in March, the new 2011 Schools Edition (or 'K-12 Edition' as it's really called, as it originates in the US) has just been published, and provides a really useful insight into emerging technologies likely to have a large impact on teaching, learning, research or creative expression. The report is produced by three respected organisations - the New Media Consortium, the Consortium for School Networking (CoSN), and the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) - and the advisory panel that contributes to the report is global, so the research isn't just covering a north American perspective -

                        The Horizon Report

                        The Key Trends, Critical Challenges and Technologies to Watch identified in this year's report make interesting reading, and there's plenty of detail in the report for more information:

                        Key Trends

                        The report identifies a series of key trends, from interviews, articles, papers and new research - and these are then used to analyse the future changes. You can see the commentary behind each of the these key trends in the report, but the headlines alone tell a key story:

                        • The abundance of resources and relationships made easily accessible via the Internet is increasingly challenging us to revisit our roles as educators in sense-making, coaching, and credentialing.
                        • As IT support becomes more and more decentralised, the technologies we use are  increasingly based not on school servers, but in the cloud.
                        • Technology continues to profoundly affect the way we work, collaborate, communicate, and succeed.
                        • People expect to be able to work, learn, and study whenever and wherever they want to.
                        • The perceived value of innovation and creativity is increasing.

                        The message from this list is that change is constant - and we cannot expect change to be rolled back - even if we haven't yet adapted to them. We'll need to react to the increasingly anytime-anywhere learning model - because students are moving there (as are employees) whether or not the institution allows for it.

                        Critical Challenges

                        The report then goes on to identify the challenges that schools face, and are prioritised in their impact on teaching and learning:

                        • Digital media literacy continues its rise in importance as a key skill in every discipline and profession.
                        • Economic pressures and new models of education are presenting unprecedented competition to traditional models of schools
                        • The demand for personalized learning is not adequately supported by current technology or practices.
                        • A key challenge is the fundamental structure of the K-12 education establishment — aka “the system.”
                        • Many activities related to learning and education take place outside the walls of the classroom and thus are not part of our learning metrics

                        What this says to me is that there is a growing tension between 'systems' and 'people' - and that the old rules that kept users locked into a system aren't in play anymore. We're seeing this regularly in higher education, where the learners and the teachers are exploiting technology to get around the 'system rules' - and there are plenty of examples of this in schools too (eg look at the use of Twitter by teachers to create their own Personal Learning Networks, replacing structured professional development courses)

                        Technologies to watch

                        The crystal-ball gazing ends with a look at the technology changes that the report sees as 'ones to watch' in the near future. It's interesting that education, criticised by some as slow to change, is one of the earliest adopters of Cloud Computing - and that it's sitting in the 'near-term horizon' category, as impacting all schools - and that Learning Analytics and Personal Learning Environments are seen as 'far-term horizon' - although there has been plenty of discussion about both of these for many years.

                        On the near-term horizon - within the next 12 months

                        • Cloud Computing
                        • Mobiles

                        On the second adoption horizon - within two to three years

                        • Game-based learning
                        • Open content

                        On the far-term horizon - within four to five years

                        • Learning analytics
                        • Personal learning environments (PLEs)

                        Learn MoreDownload the Horizon Report 2011 for Schools (PDF)

                      • Education

                        One third of colleges considering changing their Learning Management System


                        imageReading the Distance Education Survey 2010 (from the Instructional Technology Council) is fascinating. Although the report is only based American community colleges, I think there are lots of parallels to TAFEs here in Australia. First, before I dive into the information on colleges changing Learning Management Systems (LMS), some of key contexts:

                        • Enrolment in online courses in the US community colleges, is growing faster than enrolment overall (9% v 7/8%)
                        • Having run out of on-campus teaching capacity, 40% of colleges use off-campus instructors to teach online courses. Many of them don't live in the area of the college
                        • 65% offer some classes as completely online courses
                        • The proportion of colleges offering blended-learning courses increased by 50% last year, to 21%
                        • 4% offer live interactive video courses

                        All of which means that the mode of learning is changing (quite rapidly), and presumably colleges are becoming increasingly reliant on their Learning Management Systems to deliver online and blended courses. So LMS goes up the priority list for mission-critical IT for a college or university.

                        One third of US colleges considering changing their LMS

                        Which makes it odd that a third of colleges say that they are considering switching their LMS platform in the next few years - and that proportion has been roughly similar for all of the past five years. Because if it's mission critical, surely you wouldn't expect to see such massive change being considered so consistently?

                        On Page 10 of the report, there's more detail about the key LMS systems being used by colleges in the US:

                        Table 1, Page 10, LMS Usage

                        • Blackboard - their combined products make up almost half the market, because Blackboard, WebCT & Angel are now all owned by Blackboard
                        • Moodle - with a fairly static 10% of the market
                        • Desire2Learn - with a growing 7%

                        I think the change we're seeing in the chart is a reflection of the way that teaching style is evolving in tertiary education, and the changes in blended/online courses that are going to impact upon the way that learners learn and teachers teach - and the systems that are needed to support that.

                        Why do you think that so many institutions would consistently say that they are considering changing their underlying learning management system?

                      • Education

                        Five ways Microsoft OneNote can help students with dyslexia stay organised


                        There was a time when students with special needs faced a choice (made for them by their school!) of either using a standard computer, and struggling, or spending large amounts on specific special needs software. These days, accessibility has been built into so many areas of standard software (eg all of the accessibility in Windows 7) that much, much better support is provided for students with special needs.

                        imageOne of the unsung heroes of helping students with special needs is OneNote (part of Office 2010) which allows you to use so many different types of media, it readily provides ways for students to take notes, collate information, and store information, in audio, video, image and conventional note format. For example, for students with dyslexia, OneNote has many features that can help students take notes faster and in different ways, stay organised, and meet literacy challenges, such as spelling and grammar.

                        Here are five ways that OneNote can help students with dyslexia take better notes:

                        1. Take notes faster
                        2. Record audio and video notes
                        3. Use visual cues to help you organise and remember information
                        4. Use outlines and templates
                        5. Use the spellchecker, dictionaries, and thesaurus

                        Learn MoreYou can see the full detail, and the specific notes on how to use these features, on the main Microsoft education site, along with a short video demonstration of the features.

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