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

July, 2011

  • Education

    The Windows Azure Marketplace for applications

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    Yesterday, I wrote about half of the Windows Azure Marketplace - the availability of global datasets. Today, I wanted to look at the other half - the Windows Azure Marketplace for Applications. This is the place where software publishers can promote their Cloud applications based on Windows Azure, and make them available worldwide.

    Currently there are 479 applications available, in a range of categories - weather, business, consumer goods, entertainment, reference, statistics -and the list has just had a big update. But I want to highlight just one today, an education management application from an Australian company, which was added to the Azure Marketplace last Friday:

    STRATA from Avaxa

    imageSTRATA is a management application for the Business of Education for tertiary and vocational education. It supports administration functions for the life cycle of a student. This includes: Enrolment, Fees, Timetables, Assessments, BI analytics and more. It is a client server application with support for both rich Windows user interface and comprehensive browser user interface. It can be deployed on Windows Azure or on-premises.

    The beauty of the Avaxa system is that by using the Windows Azure service, they offer TAFEs a way of running a student management system without having to install and run their own server hardware - instead they can just use the subscription service in the Microsoft datacentres, giving much more flexibility for peaks and troughs of usage (one of the huge advantages of the Cloud for education is that you only pay for the capacity to use - which means you don’t have to have lots of servers running during the holidays, and you can easily scale the system for peak demand - like enrolment periods).

    Learn MoreFind our more about the Avaxa STRATA education management system on the Avaxa website


    There are other education applications in the Windows Azure Marketplace from companies outside of Australia - including  KooDooZ (a cause-based social media application for students) and EurekaZing (which helps ‘explain hard to imagine science concepts using visualisation and interactivity’). Here’s a link to the Education list.
    I imagine we’re going to see a lot more applications appearing in the marketplace soon - there are other Australian education applications running on Windows Azure that aren’t listed, so hopefully they’ll be appearing shortly.

  • Education

    What would happen if your students and researchers had access to the world’s data?

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    Windows Azure Marketplace iconDid you know that there is a Windows Azure Marketplace for data? You can use it to get big datasets (some free, some paid for) to work with and integrate into your own analysis. You don’t have to be a Windows Azure user - you could just use it a source for data for a spreadsheet. It’s good for researchers and students, and also for the business-side of education (like student recruitment, or research grant applications).

    The Windows Azure Data Market

    There’s a list of 119 datasets currently available, which can be linked through to your own BI tools, Office applications, or your custom applications. Some of the 61 free datasets that are there include:

    • UN National Accounts Official Country Data statistics, for most countries of the world from 1970 onwards
    • UN Key Global Indicators, covering key economic, social, financial and development topics
    • UN Gender Info, containing gender statistics and indicators on a wide range of policy areas, including population, families, health, education, work, and political participation.
    • World Bank Development Indicators, from official statistics, including national, regional and global estimates
    • UN World Telecomms/ICT indicators, with over 100 data sets over 200 economies worldwide
    • UNESCO UIS Data - over 1,000 types of indicators and raw data on education, literacy, science and technology, culture and communication, collected from 200 countries.

    And the list of commercial data sets, available on subscription, is amazing - such as financial information from companies like Dun & Bradstreet, food ingredient and nutrition listings from Gregg London - but there isn’t yet a comprehensive data set for Australia.

    With the Data Market, you subscribe to a data set, and then can bring that data into your own work - for example, use PowerPivot in Excel to link UN Gender Data to other research data you may be working with.

    • If you’re a researcher working on a study of global economics, you can extend your research findings out by mixing your own data with official UN economy statistics.
    • Or if you are responsible for overseas student recruitment in a university or private school, you could use up to date economic or telecomms data to work out your strategy for identifying and reaching new target markets.

    We’re still in the early days of this kind of data marketplace, but you can see where things are likely to be heading - As we start to see the Australian governments increasingly sharing their data with the public, I can see there will be some fascinating applications being developed that mix your own private data together with public datasets to help you make more informed decisions.

    For an idea of how simple this is to use, then take a look at the 4 minute video below from Christian Liensberger, a programme manager in the Data Market team, who shows you an example of bringing national crime data into an Excel spreadsheet.

    Christian’s example of building a spreadsheet using US Crime Data
         

    Learn MoreLearn more in the Windows Azure Marketplace

  • Education

    Windows Intune gets a Tune Up

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    Windows Intune logoWindows Intune is a cloud-based PC management and security service, which is especially useful for IT support organisations to provide management for smaller customers (for example, where a small school outsources the support of their school’s computers to a local IT company, because it doesn’t have it’s own IT technican). As it’s a subscription service, it means that you can enrol computers on a month-to-month basis, and then manage them all from a central console. And IT support teams can support computers across multiple organisations - making it easy to support a number of different schools through the same team and a single console.

    Currently Windows InTune allows you to centrally:

    • Manage updates on your PCs
    • Protect PCs from malware
    • Track hardware and software inventory
    • Proactively monitor PCs, and receive alerts on threats and out-of-date PCs
    • Provide remote assistance
    • Set security policies
    • Create and run reports, to give you things such as installed software lists

    Windows InTune beta

    We’ve just announced that you can now try out the next beta version of Windows InTune, due for final release later this year, and there are some really interesting developments for education users. I think the most important one is the ability to remotely distribute and install software, even without having to get the computer on-site. This is going to be brilliant if you’re running things like 1:1 laptop schemes, or you want to deploy new software out to student and teacher laptops during the long holidays.

    The top improvements are:

    • Software distribution: With this release, administrators can deploy most Microsoft and third-party updates or software applications to PCs virtually anywhere, without the need for a server infrastructure or physically touching each PC to install the software or update.
    • Remote Tasks: This update allows IT to perform tasks, including full scan, quick scan, restart, and update malware definition all from the administration console. If there is an alert for a malware threat for example, administrators can run a scan on the affected PC by simply right-clicking on the PC from the administration console.
    • Read-only Access: IT pros and partners can grant select administrators read-only access to the administration console so that they can view PC information as needed, but not perform any tasks.

    With these changes, Windows Intune becomes much more interesting for education users, either as a tool for schools to run themselves (for larger schools), or for support partners to develop services to offer to smaller schools. Although it doesn’t have the full management capabilities of the Microsoft System Center suite, it’s a good option compared to not having any management tools at all!

    Learn MoreYou can find out about the full list of features and sign up for a beta account, on the Windows Intune site on Springboard

  • Education

    International students in Higher Education in Australia

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    There are three big sources of revenue for Australian universities - Australian students, international students and research. The balance between all of these revenue sources is interdependent:

    • Funding from students typically subsidises research work
    • Universities charge international students up to three times as much as Australian students (which can be used to subsidise research and local students)
    • Numbers of Australian students are limited by government targets and funding limits (although that changes next year)

    When you’re dealing with universities, it’s good to know what’s going on with each of these funding streams. About 22% of revenue comes from research grants, and a further 18% comes from international students (although in some universities, this can be up to 30%) - that’s over $4 billion.

    Deloitte have just finished a report, paid for by Universities Australia (the body representing 39 Australian universities) which looks at the effects of changes in international student numbers. Of course, it may not be entirely unbiased - with education being a major export (third largest) for Australia, there’s an agenda here about ensuring the government support increasing international students. But it does contain some interesting reference points:

    • In 2010 there was a slowing in the growth in international students, following tighter visa rules, the stronger Australian dollar, attacks on international students and more international competition for students.
    • The forecast for 2011 is a fall in new international students of 23%, resulting in a drop of 3.2% in overall international students
    • Further ahead, 2012 is forecast to be another weak year, and then growth returns after 2012
    • The impact of all of this is a reduction in revenue for universities of half a billion dollars a year

    Learn MoreRead the full Deloitte Report ‘Broader implications from a downturn in international students

    Read ‘Lost international student enrolments may cost Australia billions’ on The Conversation

  • Education

    Business Intelligence in Education - Visualising learning data

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    I’ve written before about the ways that data can be visualised to help teachers and leaders understand the story of learners within their own school. And one of the examples I have used is PivotViewer, which helps to focus on individual students - and groups of students - in a very visual one (see this Learning Analytics blog post).

    Chris Ballard, who is part of the Tribal Labs team in the UK, is doing a lot of work on using learning data to enhance learning - and how cutting edge technologies can help to bring data to life for people who don’t enjoy staring at spreadsheets all day. (That includes me - I can ‘get’ data really quickly when it’s visualised, and I know that it is much easier to explain to other people when they can see data, and especially see the impact of changing data.

    Visualising Learning Data

    Chris’s latest blog post, Analysing education data with Silverlight 5 Pivot Viewer, is a great way to understand the kind of work that they are doing to visualise data for schools. Much of their work focuses on using Microsoft’s Silverlight, which is described as “a powerful development platform for creating engaging, interactive user experiences for Web, desktop, and mobile applications when online or offline”. Which means you can develop a single version of a visual, interactive application, and it will run on a laptop, phone or other interactive device.

    The example Chris uses is a basic student reporting database, where you can easily start to dig down into your data, showing students by all kinds of different criteria - and showing each student as a picture, with colour coding for their performance. And because it is interactive, you can quickly change the display criteria (eg show students in a certain class, or those which have special needs), and the student images whizz around in real time. And this can be overlaid with colour codes (eg highlight everybody that’s not improved their NAPLAN scores in red).

    image

    And what Chris goes on to say is how this helps in education:

     

    As soon as I saw PivotViewer I realised that it had lots of potential in the education sector. For example, schools could create a collection of students, using photos to represent each student, and use it to help them understand student progress. In the UK education sector for example, schools are required to set targets for future student attainment. Estimates of likely future attainment are used to help them set these targets. PivotViewer can help schools to visualise these estimates, understand which students are most at risk of not making sufficient progress and put in place appropriate intervention programmes or corrective measures.

    What is fantastic about using PivotViewer for this purpose is that the data is immediately made much more relevant by showing each individual student, whilst still showing the overall picture and therefore all the data is in context. Rather than just looking at numbers we realise that there are real people who underlie the numbers.

     

    And he’srecorded a short video that shows what this might look like:

    Chris Ballard’s PivotViewer prototype for viewing student data

    Want to know more? Here’s a few options:

    Interested in learning more?

    Read Chris’s full blog post on the Tribal Labs blog

    A spreadsheet wizard, but not a programmer?

    Have a play with PivotViewer yourself - if you have some student data in Excel, then you’ve got what you need to get started - just add the PivotViewer Collection Tool for Microsoft Excel, and you can build your own collection (and show it off to colleagues)

    Got some programming skills?

    If you’ve got some programming skills, then you can take the same journey that Chris is taking - and start to link the PivotViewer to dynamic data. You can find all of the tools, and user guides, to do this on the PivotViewer pages on the Silverlight website

  • Education

    Can you move to the Cloud without training users? Pittsford Central School District think you can

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    Today’s case study is Pittsford Central School District in New York State, who upgraded their email system from an onsite Exchange system to the Cloud-based Live@edu email system, saving $40,000 a year. The savings come from reducing the need for hardware and software licences, and the associated maintenance. But the real benefits come from the services delivered to the teachers and students. As Jeff Cimmerer, the Director of Technology, said:

      File incompatibility, versioning conflicts, work left on the home computer or a misplaced Flash drive—Live@edu will put out all those fires.  

    The other interesting thing is the way that it is being rolled out to the students and staff - the implementation will involve no formal promotion or training, because student adoption of Live@edu will be entirely voluntary. According to Charles Profitt, the Systems Administrator:

      We are not mandating the use of Live@edu, because we’re confident we won’t need to. Based on the enthusiasm of staff members who participated in the pilot and of students whom we recently polled, we anticipate a 90% adoption rate by our third year of having implemented Live@edu, and following it, Office 365  

    Learn MoreRead their full case study on Microsoft.com

  • Education

    Office 365 - Curtin University moves first

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    In the last week of June, we launched Office 365. As the next wave of Cloud-based applications, it’s a service that will grow over time.

    The first university using Office 365?

    According to iTnews Curtin University were the first Australian customer to start to move to Office 365, and plan to move 10,000 staff onto the hosted service over the next four months. The first phase, started before the official launch, was for 100 pilot users with ‘complex variations’ of needs, with a goal of ironing out the different scenarios before moving the deployment across the campus. This move, for university staff, follows the decision a few years ago to move their 200,000 student and alumni email mailboxes to the Live@edu Cloud service.

    Switching from Lotus Notes to Office 365

    In the case of Curtin University, they are aiming to switch users from their on-premise Exchange servers, to the Cloud service - which will save them money and administration time. But other universities are using the opportunity to switch from Lotus Notes to Office 365:

    • In an even more ambitious switch, the Georgia State University are migrating to Office 365 from Lotus Notes for all of their staff - over a single weekend (they’ve wisely chosen the long 4th July holiday weekend, to get a 50% longer weekend!). You can follow news of their migration, and see some of the training resources they have created, on their website.

        • The University of Nebraska-Lincoln also announced last week that they’ll be switching from Lotus Notes to Office 365, with a move planned to complete over the next 12 to 18 months. You can read their press release here.

        Learn MoreLearn More about the Curtin University move to Office 365

      • Education

        South Korea to go ‘all digital’ for textbooks by 2015

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        The South Korean government have announced that by 2015, they will move from physical textbooks across to digital content, and will move their national academic tests online too. The plan is to digitise all primary school subjects by 2014, and high schools by 2015. That’s not the only disruptive activity planned - they also plan to encourage students to take the ‘University Level Program’, allowing students to take higher level courses, and also run after-school programmes using IP TV to teach foreign languages, multiculturalism and other subjects.

        It’s a big bold step - early research has shown that simply handing out ebooks and digital texts to students isn’t necessarily going to improve things - so it will be very interesting to watch what happens.

        Learn MoreRead the original story on eSchool News

         

        I’ve noticed my laptop backpack has been getting lighter recently (my new laptop gives me an all-day battery, so now all I need to carry is my laptop, wireless mouse, and paper notepad), but I’ve also noticed that my daughters’ backpacks are getting heavier. It’s because they now have a school laptop, alongside all of their exercise books and text books - as well as lunch, water and sports gear. Some days their load weighs more than 10 kilos. So perhaps what’s being proposed in South Korea is part of the answer - to replace some things with other things, rather than to merely keep adding things.

      • Education

        Free tools to create online courses

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        image

        Do you want to start creating your own learning packages for use in a Learning Management System? And want to find free tools to create online courses? I might be able to help…

        The Microsoft Learning team create and publish a wide range of online courses for IT professionals and developers using the free Learning Content Development System (LCDS). They have developed over 2,000 hours of e-learning courses themselves, and have built a series of 20 templates to allow you to quickly create e-learning content in a number of categories. And then allows content to be played through a browser (Internet Explorer, Firefox) using Silverlight for interactivity, including animations, demonstrations, videos and simulations. And you can also embed Flash content into your courses.

        The finished courses are packaged as SCORM objects, which mean that they can be played through a range of Learning Management Systems, and can also include SCORM assessments - including multiple choice, true/false and essay questions. Your finished courses can be uploaded and shared on your Learning Management System, or can simply be shared on a website or download link.

        There are no shortage of SCORM creation tools  (see this list on the Moodle site for example) but many of them are either basic convertors that simply take a PowerPoint presentation and put it into a SCORM package, or can be costly. If you want a simple tool set to create more interactive content, then LCDS is worth considering.

        Learn MoreLearn more about the Learning Content Development System

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