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

August, 2011

  • Education

    Ten of the best - Australian education websites built on SharePoint


    Following on from my previous blog posts, ‘Ten of the best SharePoint School websites’ and ‘Ten of the best SharePoint University websites’, then it’s time to get closer to home with Ten of the best Australian school websites built on SharePoint (or best TAFE websites or best University websites).

    The reason I’m focusing on ‘built on SharePoint’ is because most Australian education institutions have SharePoint, and have it integrated into their identity management system and their security model. So extending that same system to run your public-facing website means that you can easily create a website that allows students to access their course materials from home, and staff to be able to use the document storage and workflow, without having to setup yet-another login or user list on yet-another system. Anyway, back to the best school websites list…

    I’ve had help from colleagues tracking some of these down, and recommendations from customers and partners. But ultimately I take total responsibility for the completely subjective Top Ten list and their rankings!

    So here’s my top ten of the best education websites built on SharePoint in Australia

    It’s my take on 10 School/TAFE/University websites, built on SharePoint, that are worth looking at for design ideas and inspiration for functional ideas - or simply because you want to nudge another colleague towards seeing that SharePoint can deliver a beautiful experience for staff, students and prospective students.

    Click on any of them to link to the live website

    1. Gordon Institute of TAFE, Victoria

      This was easy for me to pick as Australia’s best education website built on SharePoint. I’m sure this website must inspire potential students - it gives off the impression of a vibrant learning community, with a fun attitude to the serious subject of learning. And the design makes it easier to navigate to the key information - and encourages you to explore more.

       Gordon Institute of TAFE

    2. Victoria Department of Education - FUSE

      An amazing interactive experience which puts access to learning materials right at the front of the site. And let’s be honest, it breaks the mould for ‘policy-type’ websites, because it’s putting the ‘fun’ into ‘functional’.

      Victoria Department of Education - FUSE

    3. Abbotsleigh School, New South Wales

      You can tell from the very first page that this is a school that takes learning seriously - and the strong photography shows how it puts students at the centre of the experience. With many private and Catholic schools, you can see the increased importance of needing to ‘sell’ the school to prospective students and parents, as well as keeping in touch with the parents of existing students.

      Abbotsleigh School

    4. Trinity Grammar School, New South Wales

      Another design-centric site, but with a clear navigation structure that means students & parents can easily find the section that’s relevant for them. (Pipped by Abbotsleigh for #3 position because it didn’t have Search on the home page)

      Trinity Grammar School

    5. The Learning Place, Queensland

      Another government site, which are often some of the trickiest to design and run, because they are trying to meet the needs of so many stakeholders. Although the SharePoint portion of the website sits behind the login screens, there’s an excellent video here that shows what Stage 2 is delivering.

      The Learning Place

    6. Brisbane Catholic Education, Queensland

      Although this doesn’t have the high graphic design of some of the previous sites, the navigation here is clear - with the tabs at the top helping users find their way quickly to the section that is right for them - students & parents; schools & curriculum; employment etc.

      Brisbane Catholic Education

    7. Bendigo Tafe, Victoria

      Another great TAFE site in Victoria (is there a secret recipe they have there?). I particularly liked the 3D box design, which was very simply to create, and added to, rather than confused, the navigation.

      Bendigo Tafe, Victoria

    8. John Paul College, Queensland

      A nice looking site that crams a lot of information onto the home page - but without making it too busy. A slow rotation of the main picture adds interest, but without detracting from the content and links.

      John Paul College, Queensland

    9. Hale School, Western Australia

      A slightly more traditional design, which puts details on the front page, rather than just short links. As with the others, it’s often the photography that makes the first impression.

      Hale School, Western Australia

    10. Australian School of Business, New South Wales

      Okay, this may be 10th out of my list of 10 - but there’s hundreds of sites that didn’t make it to the Top Ten, so it’s still good going. I like the way this page is easy to read, and has all the vital components - news, events and search - right there.
      What would have given it a higher rating? Less ‘stock’ images and more good photos from the School of Business itself would have helped me, as a parent, to imagine my daughter going to study there.

      Australian School of Business, New South Wales

    Learn MoreDownload the PowerPoint Top 10 Australian Education websites on SharePoint

  • Education

    A pile of Microsoft technical e-books now free for Kindle and iPad


    Book cover - Programming Windows Phone 7One of the most-read blog posts from the last six months was “Something for the weekend - free ebooks from Microsoft Press”, listing 9 free e-books available in PDF format. The bonus news is that the Microsoft Press team have now made five of them available free in two additional formats, DRM-free EPUB and MOBI.

    Which means you can now read them more easily on a wide range of ereaders, notably Kindles and iPads - as well as the Nook, Sony Reader and Kobo eReader. As the MS Press team point out on their blog:

      Of course these files can also be read with ereading apps for the various devices on netbooks, laptops, and desktop PCs. The key difference between these formats and the previously-offered PDF and XPS files is that the text is “reflowable,” meaning that it recomposes depending on the width of the screen (or as you resize a Window).  

    Hint: Choose MOBI format for Kindles, and ePUB for most others

    Here are the links to the free ebooks for Kindle and other readers

    • Charles Petzold’s Programming Windows Phone 7 is available here as EPUB and here as MOBI.
    • To get Moving to Microsoft Visual Studio 2010 by Patrice Pelland, Pascal Paré, and Ken Haines download here as EPUB and here as MOBI.
    • Introducing Microsoft SQL Server 2008 R2 by Ross Mistry and Stacia Misner is here as EPUB and here as MOBI.
    • Introducing Windows Server 2008 R2 by Charlie Russel and Craig Zacker with the Windows Server Team at Microsoft is here as EPUB and here as MOBI.
    • And finally, Katherine Murray’s Own Your Future, Update Your Skills with Resources and Career Ideas from Microsoft is here as EPUB and here as MOBI.

    Go get em…

  • Education

    SharePoint Governance and Lifecycle Management in education


    As you’d expect, we run a massive internal SharePoint system at Microsoft. It contains 250,000 site collections and 36 terabytes of data - growing at the rate of 1 terabyte every three months (yup, that’s the equivalent of 300,000 extra 1MB documents every month). The impact of that growth was not just storage cost - it is also search speed and search relevance (if you’re searching a gazillion out-of-date documents, it makes it harder to find the one you really want).

    The Microsoft IT Team, who keep it all running, have implemented a SharePoint governance and lifecycle management system, to help meet the information standards for the business, as well as reduce cost and improve the search experience. And then written a great Technical Case Study to share their experiences. I thought it worth sharing because I know that education users of SharePoint are grappling with similar issues, as they develop SharePoint usage out from an IT department to institution-wide.

    Policies for SharePoint site lifecycle management

    There were four key policies implemented, which helped bring the system under better control:

    • Site classification. Sites must assign and maintain site information classification, information security classification, and ownership. Eg Team sites must have one full-time employee site owner and two administrators at all times.

    • Site lifecycle management of expired/abandoned sites. Sites expire one year after creation and must be renewed annually. Sites that have no activity over a period of six months are considered abandoned and are subject to decommission.

    • Site storage and quota management. Depending on the hosting environment, storage quota limits range from 2 gigabytes (GB) to 100 GB, depending on the type of sites and hosting options. SharePoint libraries and lists are not to exceed 5,000 items. Sites are backed up daily and recoverable up to 14 days.

    • Customization and server-side access. For most of the standard SharePoint-hosted services offerings, MSIT neither allows server-side access or server-side configuration changes by users, nor does it allow most third-party plug-ins, site customizations, new features, or additions.

    Information Security Classification tabsAlthough our IT environment is very different to an average education user, there is some really useful implementation advice in the IT Showcase case study - for example, in the way that we’ve tagged all SharePoint sites with an Information Classification - something that could be ideal for categorising sets of data in an education SharePoint system (see right).

    There’s also interesting insight into the way that sites are categorised for traffic - with ‘heavy hitters’ categorised when they reach more than 100,000 hits a day, or consuming more than 10GB of memory.

    Learn MoreRead the full Microsoft IT Showcase case study on SharePoint Site Governance and Lifecycle Management

  • Education

    Thinking about BI in Education? Want to know more about Business Intelligence programming in Microsoft SQL Server?


    If you’d describe yourself as an ‘end user’ of data, then this isn’t for you. But if you’re the kind of person that is wondering how to bring your different sets of data together to get real insight into some aspect of your school/TAFE/university, then read on. Especially if you’re job title includes the word ‘data’ or ‘developer’, or you think of yourself as a ‘power user’.

    The case for using Business Intelligence (BI) in education is growing stronger all the time, as massive amounts of data that could enable individual students to achieve of their potential is being collected and made available from external sources. As it’s in its infancy here in Australia, then the leading edge users are going to need to understand more about the technical intricacies, so that they know what’s possible so that they can become demanding users & buyers.

    Book coverThe free ebook ‘Introducing Microsoft SQL Server 2008 R2’ (wow, mouthful) is aimed at database administrators, data analysts and data programmers - and I think they are the kind of people that are going to start on page 1 and work their way through to page 213.

    However, the whole of the second part of the book is specifically about the Business Intelligence -BI - capabilities that are built into the system (really important point here: You get Business Intelligence as part of your Microsoft SQL Server 2008 R2 - you don’t have to buy an additional BI system from us).

    I’ve read across these BI sections to understand what’s valuable reading if you are thinking about BI in education contexts - such as performing complex mixing of school data and learning analysis reports. And I’m wondering if the book is the wrong way around for people like you and I - because the most useful, and technically least challenging, part is Chapter 10.

    Where to start from a “BI in Education” point of view

    My recommendation is that you take a look at Chapter 10 - about PowerPivot - to understand how you can give self-service BI for principals, senior leaders and teachers/lecturers. And instead of producing reams of reports that tell them things they may want to know, you see if it could help you produce simple spreadsheets that they can manipulate easily, so that they can answer their own questions - and be inspired by being able to dig into their data.

    If Chapter 10 is good for you, then perhaps work your way back through Chapter 9 and 7, looking at some of the other facilities added (and stop when it starts to get too complex).

    Here’s the full detail on Part 2 of the book - Business Intelligence Development

    I’ve listed the chapters in Part 2 in reverse order, because that’s the order you might want to read it.

    • Chapter 10
      Self-Service Analysis with PowerPivot
      PowerPivot is without doubt the unsung hero of the business intelligence system. The reason is that it keeps control of the data in a central place - where it can be secured, cleaned and managed - and it devolves analysis out to users, by giving them a toolset that means that they can dig into data, understanding reports, patterns, and performing ad-hoc analyses in Excel. It means that you can link together multiple data sources, and analyse them simply from one spreadsheet - through the PowerPivot Excel add-in. If you are used to working with any of the usual reporting tools, to create reports and datasets for other users, then PowerPivot will make things much easier - for both you and your users. And because it can bring together data from lots of different sources, it is ideal for the massively fragmented data challenge that exists in education. (For example, it can bring data together from SQL, Oracle, Access, Informix, Sybase and other ODBC databases, as well as from Excel spreadsheets, plain text files, SharePoint lists, and commercial datasets online.
      To the end user, it simply looks like you’ve created a friendly-spreadsheet, with the ability to filter and select different information. In some ways, a bit like a pivot table, but drawn from many sources.
    • Chapter 9
      Reporting Services Enhancements
      This chapter, with Chapter 10, are probably the two that are the most widely useful, as they look at the less technical services available - and help you to understand how you could link the multiple data sources within your institution together. Although these are still written for programmer/IT Services level readers, they do a good job of explaining the kinds of scenarios that the reporting systems in SQL Server 2008 R2 allow - such as having a single reporting system that can collect data from its own SQL database, as well as users’ Excel spreadsheets and SharePoint lists. And report them in tabular, chart or map format.
    • Chapter 8
      Complex Event Processing with StreamInsight
      This is all about aggregating and handling rapid streams of complex data, and acting upon triggers. Although this might be a feature that is used extensively already in university research projects, there are likely to be more scenarios where school education systems are coping with rapid streams of data, as we move to fully online, real-time assessment
    • Chapter 7
      Master Data Services
      This chapter is about the maintenance and organisation of ‘master data’ - the things which tend to be more static (eg students/academics/places) as opposed to transactional data (eg attendance records for each lesson/lecture; assessment marks). Master Data Services is all about creating a Single Point of Truth - the one student identity record or one authoritative source of a student’s address(es)and then sharing that across the applications that need it.
    • Chapter 6
      Scalable Data Warehousing
      Probably not the place to start, as this is principally about massive data appliances, which would only be used at the top-end projects for BI in education (such as university research, or massive scale analysis)

    How to get the free ebook

    The good news is that the ebook is free, and available in a number of different formats

    I guarantee, you’re either going to learn something that you can use yourself, or some important questions to ask potential BI suppliers.


    * Mike Henegan, at Calumo (one of our BI partners in education here in Australia), has weighed in with his thoughts on this too - take a look over on his blog.

  • Education

    CRM in Education - University of Teesside video case study


    When I think about CRM in education, my first reaction tends towards managing the student relationship - a version of a super Student Management System. But the more case studies I come across, the more I realise that there is a very broad spread of uses for a CRM system in education (like Kiel’s and Curtin’s examples)

    The University of Teesside are using their Microsoft Dynamics CRM system for managing their employer engagements - to expand their relationship local businesses, and to increase their revenues from business sources. In the case study they talk about the benefits of helping colleagues to collaborate in their activities, as well as improving the targeting of their activities - and improve the ability to be able to use the data to build reports for business intelligence - for example, to see which industry areas they are most actively working in, and where future target projects should be focused.\

    The University of Teesside case study of CRM in education

    Learn MoreFind all 'CRM in Education' articles on this blog

  • Education

    The Australian Government’s ICT strategy for Education


    There are all kinds of interesting documents that describe the Australian Government’s ICT strategy for Education, so here’s a summary of some of the key resources you can use to research the market.

    If you’re from outside of Australia, it’s important to know that there is a Federal strategy - which applies to all states, and then State strategies for each individual state. They normally mesh together, but it’s common for a federal strategy to be implemented in different ways in different states (in fact, it’s sometimes the strategy for some states to ensure that they implement things differently to their neighbouring states)

    What I’ve linked to below are the strategic plans for education ICT for the three largest states and the Federal government.

    The Australian Federal Government Education ICT Strategy- ‘Digital Education Revolution’

    New South Wales Government Education ICT Strategy

    Queensland Government Education ICT Strategy - ‘Smart Classrooms’

    Victoria Government Education ICT Strategy - ‘Digital Learning Statement’

    If you have links to the plans for smaller states, please add a comment below with a link, and I can put them into the list.

  • Education

    The Education Sessions at Australia Partner Conference - Part One


    This week the entire education team has been up in the Gold Coast at the Microsoft Australia Partner Conference 2011 (APC). It was a packed week - hundreds of our partners from right around the country, along with a sizeable chunk of the Microsoft team - which was a busy mix of keynotes, breakout presentations, group meetings, one-to-one meetings, and a healthy dose of socialising.

    As part of the agenda, we took a two hour dive into the education business, and talked about many different aspects of the marketplace, our future strategy, and what we’re doing to help our partners. As this is a public blog, I can’t publish all of the information here, but over the next couple of days I’m going to share as much as I can, and provide links to the resources we referenced.

    And for the benefit of those partners who were at APC, I’m going to try and stick to the order we used on the day. There was so much information packed into the session, it’s going to take me quite a few blog posts…

    Where possible, I’ve included the original slide info, so you can click on any of the slide thumbnails to see the enlarge image.

    Meet the Microsoft Australia Education Team

    We kicked off with George Stavrakakis, the new Microsoft Australia Education Director, introducing his team. All of the people on the first slide were in the room - our Account Management teams for the three main states:

    • Microsoft Australia Education Team - NSW - QLD - VICMark Kenny for Queensland
    • Claire Jorgensen for New South Wales
    • Trudi Grant for Victoria.
    • Each of them is supported by their Account Technology Specialist - Lance Baldwin, Andy Reay and Emilio Parente.

    Next George introduced the broader team across the rest of the country, including:

    • Microsoft Australia Education Team - other states and segmentsEducation Account Managers for the other states (Graham Lawrence for NT, Savvas Neophytou for Western Australia, Rob Santucci for South Australia, Michael Bennet for Tasmania and Brian Senior for ACT)
    • Our account team for Catholic and Independent Schools - Ken Rankins, Mark Caldwell and Vanessa Gage
    • Our Higher Education team - Lucy Segal and Mark Tigwell

    And finally, just some of the other members of the education team:

    • Microsoft Australia Education Team - the hangers-onme, looking after partners
    • Clive Dillen who is the Education focused person in Microsoft Services
    • Jane Mackarell, our Academic Programmes Manager - who runs the Partners in Learning programme in Australia

    And that was just the core group covered. There’s a large group of others that George mentioned who didn’t get their smiley faces onto the slides, including our Education licensing specialists, the marketing team, the Academic team in DPE and our colleagues from Microsoft Research.

    Want to know more about the team? More reading here

    Learn MorePart Two - The Australian Education Market Overview

  • Education

    Collaboration with Microsoft Office 365 - free ebook from MS Press


    The Microsoft Press team have announced that their new book - Microsoft Office 365: Connect and Collaborate Virtually Anywhere, Anytime - is now available as a free ebook in PDF format.

    Office 365 ebook coverThe chapters of the book are:

    1. What’s happening in the world of work
    2. Getting started with Office 365
    3. Administering an Office 365 Account
    4. What your team can do with Office 365
    5. Creating your team site with SharePoint online
    6. Posting, sharing and managing files
    7. Adding and managing workflows
    8. Working with Office 2010 Web Apps
    9. Going mobile with Office 365
    10. Email and organise with Office 365
    11. Talking it over with Microsoft Lync
    12. Designing your public website
    13. Integrating all parts of Office 365

    One of the chapters I’m looking forward to reading is 12 - Designing your public website. I’ve been writing about using SharePoint to create education websites recently (see ‘Ten of the Best - Australian education websites built on SharePoint’ ) and the idea of using the hosted Office 365 service to create a public website might well be something that’s really useful for smaller schools and colleges. It will mean that you can create a fully managed website, with ownership across a broad team, but without needing to buy lots of hardware or bandwidth, or maintain a complex webserver.

    Learn MoreDownload the free Office 365 ebook  in PDF (Right-Click and Save As...)

    * For nine other Microsoft Press ebooks free, then take a look at my earlier blog post

  • Education

    Emerging trends in Learning Management Systems


    Icons_globeAsia_blueI’ve been keeping an eye on trends in Learning Management Systems for the last few years, and especially in the last few months as potentially big changes have been happening - such as the sale of Blackboard.

    If you’re interested in the LMS marketplace, and views on the future direction, then there’s a brilliant and very insightful blog post on Michael Feldstein’s e-Literate blog, from Phil Hill. Whilst the first half of the article focuses on today’s marketplace for LMS systems in North America, and how it got here, the second half is fascinating for the thoughtful commentary on ‘Trends for the Future’, especially on:

    • LMS solutions are trending strongly towards Software as a Service, removing the big up-front capital costs
    • Usability improvements are continuing to arrive
    • There’s a blurring between big (monolithic?) LMS systems and content delivery systems
    • Analytics and data reporting need to be much more than ‘aspirational goals’

    Learn MoreRead the full blog post about the Emerging Trends in LMS on the e-Literate blog

  • Education

    Case Study - Redlands School integrates Moodle and Live@edu


    The official worldwide Microsoft education case studies of education customers are really useful ways of keeping in touch with what people are doing around the world. In recent months they have become much clearer in identifying specific details about improvements in learning or costs savings that education users have made through implementation of new technologies. And the nice thing for Australia is that some of the leading edge projects featured are in Australian institutions. Like the Redlands School Moodle/Live@edu case study recently published.


    What Redlands did was to mix together a range of Microsoft and Open Source technologies to build a ‘strategic education platform’, combining cloud-based email and a school-based learning management system. For their email they are using the Live@edu service, and integrating that with their on-site Moodle learning management system. This was made possible through a plug-in that Microsoft developed. According to Christian Sellies the Director of ICT:

      At Redlands, students and staff use Moodle as an increasingly important resource in their online learning. One of the key reasons we chose Microsoft as our hosted mail provider was the availability of the plug-in for Moodle to bring the students’ Live@edu mailbox into their Moodle homepage. Since rolling out Live@Edu, we find that the majority of students access their mailbox through their Moodle lessons.  

    The benefit to the IT team at the school is that now spend less time managing servers and troubleshooting - and the school is now spending 50% less on new software licences, through the new licensing scheme that they are using (the EES scheme).

      Student email was the cornerstone of our planned online platform for learning. We wanted to create a portal that would allow students to access and upload work from home, collaborate with each other, communicate with the school and access everything they needed to learn effectively – anywhere, anytime.  

    The end result is that coordinators are using group email more extensively to keep various groups informed on school activities, events and requirements because of the mailing system’s improved standardisation. Many faculties have set up live forums for debate on different academic topics. Teachers are using email more to contact and update students, and students are using it to communicate with each other and to learn collaboratively – a trend the school wants to promote.

    Learn MoreRead the full Redlands School case study (or watch the video)

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