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January, 2012 - Education - Site Home - MSDN Blogs
The Australian Education Blog
Ray Fleming's take on what's interesting in Education IT in Australia

January, 2012

  • Education

    Manage the student lifecycle in Higher Education with Dynamics CRM


    I’ve just been watching a video case study I thought was worth sharing, of Liberty University, in the US, who have been using the Dynamics CRM system to manage their student lifecycle - from recruitment, to their time on campus, and then through to alumni.

    It’s interesting to hear the university staff talk about the student lifecycle, for example - how they are able to manage students at-risk of dropping out - by tracking interactions and their academic progress, and to then intervene before there are issues that get worse. They also talk about how they are able to present the right profile of the university to students, to match their interests and goals.

  • Education

    Education pricing for Kinect for Windows


    I am one of the latest of the 18 million people who’ve bought a Kinect sensor for my Xbox (one of the Microsoft CES announcements - the 18m number, not the fact that I’m a user) 

    imageIt seems I’m a laggard when it comes to gaming and home entertainment technology, having only just setup my Xbox and bought a Kinect this Christmas. The two things I’ve discovered and never used before, is the voice control feature, and the ABC iView app on my Xbox, which means that we can now watch catch-up TV on our TV, rather than having to watch it on a laptop computer. So over the holiday the whole family have become re-addicted to Spooks. I feel silly not having set this up before, because I’d thought of it as a gaming box, rather than a home entertainment system.

    Anyway, just as I’m catching up with Kinect on the Xbox, the world has shifted again with the CES announcement of Kinect for Windows. From the outside, the sensor looks the same, and works in the same way, giving you control over your computer via your hand and body movements, but unlike the Xbox version, it’s now optimised for close-up use - from 50cm away rather than having to stand a couple of metres away. That means that it will allow people to use Kinect while they are sitting in front of a desktop setup.

    What we’ve announced is that this new Kinect sensor hardware and software will be available from the 1st February, and it’s been priced at AU$299. The even better news is that later this year there will also be special education pricing for Kinect for Windows, bringing the price down (I don't have an Australian price yet, but in the US it's planned to come down to $149). You can read all the details on the Kinect for Windows blog here.

    Because Kinect is able to do full body tracking, and now has it’s new ‘near’ mode, I can imagine a heap of scenarios that it will be useful for in education:

    • Replacing interactive whiteboards with a Kinect, to reduce the hardware cost and allow more to spent on teaching resources
    • Giving special needs students the ability to interact in new ways with IT, without needing to use the keyboard or a mouse
    • Creating simulations - eg science  experiments - where students are able to control virtual equipment and manipulate them

    imageWith the education pricing for Kinect around the corner, I guess the KinectEDucation community is going to get even busier in the near future, with teachers and developers collaborating on new teaching and learning ideas for Kinect.

  • Education

    Cutting out paper - Getting rid of paper forms


    Cutting Out Paper icon

    Continuing the month’s worth of ideas to support a New Year Resolution to cut paper use in education…

    Looking at other sources of paper use around the school, then there’s an obvious opportunity to get rid of paper forms used internally. The obvious benefits of this aren’t restricted to saving paper, time and money - it also can help you to make your internal processes and communication much smoother, and more accurate and efficient.

    Yesterday’s example from Alan Richards, of removing paper from the Academic Review process at West Hatch High School, was a first step in a longer set of steps that Alan took in his paperless school project. The next obvious candidate for moving off paper and onto the school’s SharePoint was what Alan calls the ‘Training form’ – a request by staff to go on a course.
    As Alan said at the time:

      You had to fill in the form, then somebody would read it and manually gave it the OK, then someone else manually filed it. Now it’s been redesigned and put online  

    The plan is to do the same for all commonly used forms. And as Alan points out, the whole “paperless school” initiative isn’t just about the cost of paper and printing. It makes for a more efficiently-run and cost-effective school. There’s improved collaboration both within the school and between home and school, together with better administration and easier access to useful data. As Alan explains:

      Once the documents and forms are on SharePoint, it’s easy to extract data from them. For example, under a manual system, if the head wanted to know how many people had been on training courses, somebody had pull out the forms and go through them. Now the data’s kept centrally, and it can be analysed quickly and easily.  

    And because the data is going into the school’s SharePoint system, it’s possible to use the workflow system to manage the way the form is handled once it’s been completed. For example, for a training request, you might route it through a departmental head for approval, then through the Finance team for budget allocation, and then finally route it to the manager responsible for allocating a cover teacher to cover the lessons the teacher might miss. The other thing that can be done is to automatically add it to different calendars once it’s been approved - maybe in the teacher’s calendar as well as a school-wide calendar.

    The intent of the idea was to remove the paper, but the end result goes much wider - removing  manual processes and improving communication. The process makes it easier for teachers, because they have much better visibility of what’s going on and where a request might be in the process, as well as being able to make an absence request online without needing to find the paper form.

    You can read more details on Alan’s project in an original blog post I wrote in late 2010, as well as on Alan's Edutechnow blog.

    Read more ideas to help cut out paper

  • Education

    Bring Your Own Device in schools - one school’s experience


    School IT budgets will come under pressure, as the DER programme reaches it’s zenith, and overall spending on education continues to be in flux. Although we’ve now reached the point of every Year 9-12 student having a laptop, there’s still plenty of schools where the teachers and students don’t have access to IT whenever they want.

    And yet students and teachers now have better and cheaper technology at home than ever before. A spot check of the average 15 year-old’s school bag is likely to reveal a heady mix of smartphones, laptops, games consoles, iPods, cameras, and more power packs and cables than your average branch of Harvey Norman.

    It’s therefore not surprising that schools are wondering whether these two trends can be combined. Is it really possible to allow students and staff to be productive in school, using technology they’ve brought in themselves? Can the school save money buying or replacing hardware, by utilising the devices which have often been banned from the network? Will staff and students actually work harder and be more engaged in their learning and teaching, if it’s all happening on a device which they enjoy using? Or is the idea of “Bring Your Own Device” nothing more than a headache for school IT staff, a massive security risk, and a fad based largely on the principal being in love with their new iPad?What devices do students carry around in their backpacks?

    Two of my UK-colleagues Mark Reynolds and Tim Bush have recently been talking about the issues/opportunities created when students have their own IT devices - and how one English school - - accommodates them through their school network. I’ll let them pick up the story from their original blog post:

  is a fantastic school down in Cornwall where head teacher Isobel Bryce has built a strong platform for her staff and students to succeed. Their most famous son is Dan Roberts, whose Recharge the Battery project won a Microsoft Innovative Teacher award in 2009. We spoke with Adam Ledger, the schools Network Manager. Adam explains their approach to Bring Your Own Device (BYOD):

    “Our network has about 300 fixed desktops and 300 netbooks. We also have about 100 teacher laptops, which are vanilla windows and 30 Macs in a suite for Media. So we’ve got about 700 school owned and managed devices, but in total have over 1,700 devices which have joined the network.”

    The 1,000+ “unmanaged” devices are a huge range of laptops, netbooks, smartphones, iPads, iPods, Kindles, Nintendos and anything else which staff or students want to bring in. To be honest, I nearly fell of my chair at this point, because although I’d been to many schools who allowed guest wireless access of some kind, I’d never come across anything on this scale. Adam explains that has always had this approach, ever since students started asking:

    “Trust always is the starting point. Trust the kids and they will reward you with good behaviour. We say yes to everything, as long as they come and ask us. I can only think of 3 or 4 instances of misuse of the system, and one of those was a member of staff. I know we are lucky with the kids and that it might not work in every school, but it works for us. We enable access on peoples on devices which they WANT to use, and so we have happy customers. They know we can block or remove access if we need to, but they value the trust we put on them and they’re glad to be learning in a way that suits them.”

    So from a technical point of view, how do they keep it secure and manage the process?

    “If you want to bring in your personal device, you bring it to see us (the IT team). We register their mac address, version of anti-virus, make and model, and the serial number of the device. We then use the software that comes with our wireless network to enable that mac address in a whitelist. The same software we use for whitelisting can also do the blocking by mac address (blacklisting) – which it does for any “unknown” mac address, or for any device that needs to be banned from the system. We also periodically then clean out the DHCP databases, and run a very short lease on the IP address given to a wireless device. We want people to have freedom of access, but also want to know what’s on our network.”

    And that, really, is that. They give wireless access to devices they know about and they block anything they don’t. It is then down to the teaching staff to manage the way students use those devices when they are in school. That is one for Dan Roberts to explain, which we’ll do in another blog post. Just walking round the school though, that feeling of trust and mutual respect is noticeable. I can only assume that the same respect students have for their teachers, they have for the freedom they are allowed when it comes to technology. They’re enjoying their learning, and feel able to use the technology that suits them.


    Microsoft is planning to make the management of BYOD networks much easier, with the launch of System Centre 2012. Not only will System Centre offer the best possible management of your existing Windows network, but it will also offer support for management of iOS and Android devices too. There is a public beta available already, which you can read about and download here.

    Learn More

    The UK team have created a Consumerisation of IT in Education whitepaper, which you can download from Slideshare
  • Education

    Cutting out paper - Get rid of school reports


    Cutting Out Paper icon

    Continuing the month’s worth of ideas to support a New Year Resolution to cut paper use in education…

    Get rid of school reports on paper, by providing electronic reports to parents

    Although many schools are already doing this, there are plenty that still provide parental reports on paper. And don’t want to change, because they feel that it’s key for parents to get a paper copy of their children’s report. As a parent, I still like getting the report on a piece of paper. However, I think my mind is changing, as plenty of other systems go online. For example, I now get all of my utility bills, my phone bill and my bank statements online. And the benefit to me is that I can quickly jump back and see any of the historically, rather than having to look for old paper copies (most of which, I haven’t kept filed neatly). Imagine if I could go back and read all of my children’s school reports, save my own copies, and print them out when I needed them.

    A school report is one of those documents that parents keep for a long time - but how about taking a step forward by providing a parent with a school report as a PDF document too? So that they can share the report with grandparents online (especially relevant in today’s non-nuclear society).

    And perhaps, if parents find the PDF version beneficial, you’ll be able to make the paper version optional?

    One school that’s making a determined run for “paperless” status is West Hatch High School in the UK. There, Alan Richards, Information Systems Manager, and his team have put the technology to work in a way that saves costs and improves efficiency right now, and opens up even more possibilities for the future.
    The key is to transform paper forms into truly interactive documents on the school’s SharePoint Learning Gateway. The starting point was to tackle the extensive paperwork supporting the school’s Academic Review Days.
    There are two Academic Review Days each year, for which staff collaboratively prepare two documents for each student– a Progress Review, and a Target Setting Document. Both are two pages long which makes four pages, twice a year, for each of 1,300 students. So moving the whole process online saves printing 10,400 sheets of paper each year.
    How it works is that the Target Setting document for each student is agreed by teachers, parents and students individually at the academic review day meetings. Previously a paper exercise, it’s now done on an interactive InfoPath form on SharePoint. Each student, with their parents and a teacher, works on a laptop to come up with a set of targets. When they’re all agreed, the teacher presses “submit” and the final version goes off by email to the parents and to the student.

    You don’t have to go all the way that Alan’s done at West Hatch. If you just simply emailed a copy of the finished report to parents when you send the paper copy home, you are starting the process of changing. Let’s face it, you’ve already got the electronic copy, and parents will value being able to have it electronically to share with relatives. So why not? (It’s a ten second operation to hit ‘Save to PDF’ in Word 2010, and most report-writing software already produces a finished email-able format).

    There’s a further benefit. As you start collecting up-to-date parental email addresses, you’ll also have them handy for every time you’re tempted to send out other pieces of paper.

    If you want to learn more about Alan’s Paperless School project, then you can read more on his Edutechnow blog, and I’d highly recommend listening to the recording of his Cost Cutting using SharePoint webinar.

    Read more ideas to help cut out paper

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