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

March, 2012

  • Education

    Hosting Moodle in the Cloud - why now?


    Moodle logoIt’s been a bit of a ‘big news week’ in the Moodle community this week. On Monday, it was announced that Blackboard had bought two of the world’s top 5 Moodle partners – MoodleRooms and NetSpot. NetSpot is Australia’s largest Moodle partner, and has been the partner of choice for many of the Australian universities who have chosen to stop using Blackboard and instead switch to using Moodle. So the acquisition news was a bit of a surprise to many. Hence why hosting Moodle in the Cloud is a interesting topic right now.

    I’ve written about Moodle quite a few times on this blog (you can see all the Moodle-related blog posts here), but a colleague was asked by a customer this week about other hosting options for Moodle – and asked me for a summary of the Microsoft integration with Moodle. After I’d written it for him, I thought it might actually be something everybody might be interested in. So here’s my short summary of options for integrating a Moodle LMS to the cloud with Microsoft, and existing integration between Moodle and Microsoft technologies:

    • Integrate Moodle to Microsoft’s cloud email services
    • Integrate Moodle with SharePoint
    • Save files directly to Moodle from Office
    • Host Moodle on Windows Server
    • Host Moodle on Microsoft’s Cloud servers, in Windows Azure

    And here’s the ‘How To’ info…

      Integrate Moodle to Microsoft’s cloud email services

      This can be done with Live@edu on Moodle 1.9 and Moodle 2.x 
      In the last few months, about a third of new Moodle installs have been 2.x, whereas over half of the installed base is Moodle 1.9

      There's more info here on this option

      Integrate Moodle with SharePoint

      This can be done with Moodle 1.9 currently, although I know some work is being done in the Moodle & SharePoint community to release the code for this on Moodle 2.x

      There’s more detail why in the article, ‘Why Moodle is better on SharePoint’, but the key reasons are:

      • Users can edit files directly within Moodle – rather than having to download, edit and re-upload
      • Document versions are possible – so you can work on drafts and ‘release’ courses and materials
      • You can search your Moodle and SharePoint datastores at the same time
      • Users can use Office Web Apps to edit, view and save files
      • Documents can be checked in and out by users
      • Using SharePoint Workspaces gives you offline access
      • SharePoint adds workflows to Moodle

      There's more info here on this

      Save files directly to Moodle from Microsoft Office

      If, like the majority of users, you are using Moodle 1.9 or before, you can use the Office Add-in for Moodle to allow your students and staff to open and save files directly into your Moodle system – rather than having to save to their local hard disk and then upload afterwards. You can find out more about the Office Add-in for Moodle here

      Host Moodle on Windows Server

      This can be done with both Moodle 1.9 and Moodle 2.x – and there’s a simple download pack that’s been created as part of the Microsoft Web App Gallery project. There's more info here on this

      Host Moodle on Microsoft’s Cloud servers, in Windows Azure

      The reason to do this is to allow you to setup and run a Moodle LMS without having to run your own servers (or commit any capital budget). It also means that you can scale up your project as required, rather than having to over-specify a system when you don’t know how much take-up to expect. It can be done for Moodle 1.9 and 2.x

      There’s more info on hosting Moodle in the cloud on Windows Azure here

      Learn MoreFind all Moodle posts on this blog

    • Education

      Using Kinect for Windows with students


      Kinect for WindowsRob Miles, from the University of Hull in the UK, has created a free pack of curriculum material for teachers or others who want to use the Kinect for Windows device within education. It might be for creating an educational application, or because you want to help your students to develop their own applications using the body tracking capabilities of Kinect. It is based on the XNA framework, which is widely used by students to develop their own gaming applications.

      Here’s the description from the site:


      The Kinect sensor adds a new dimension to Xbox 360 gameplay through its ability to read its environment and track the body movement of players. It is also a creative device that can be a great teaching tool.

      Rob Miles from University of Hull (UK) has created a set of curriculum materials that show how you can harness this creativity and get students enjoying themselves while writing programs that make use of the unique abilities of this sensor and Kinect for Windows software.

      This material contains information on the Microsoft Kinect sensor bar and the Microsoft Kinect SDK. It assumes a working knowledge of the C# programming language, the XNA framework and program development using Visual Studio


      The package includes introductory information on the Kinect sensor and SDK (Software Development Kit), and gives advice on writing Kinect programs – including using the video and depth camera, people tracking, using voice response and creating augmented reality scenarios.


      Learn MoreDownload 'Using Kinect for Windows with XNA' from Rob Miles

    • Education

      Free technical ebook for Kindle and PDF – Microsoft SQL Server 2012


      The Microsoft Press team have just released the full array of downloadable versions of their free Introducing Microsoft SQL Server 2012 ebook. This is a technical ebook – it’s not for the average user, but if you understand SQL already, it’s a good way of getting up to speed with the changes in 2012.

      It’s available in a variety of formats:

      This is a full Microsoft Press book, not just a summary (at 288 pages it’s a serious read), and includes an overview of the various editions of SQL Server 2012, and sections on performance, scalability, security and programmability.

      And the section that will really interest educational readers is Part 2, which dives into developing Business Intelligence capabilities. There are lots of new ways that SQL 2012 will help education users to display the masses of data they collect (especially PowerView) so I’d recommend taking some time to read that section of the book.

      Learn MoreFind out about other free technical ebooks from Microsoft Press

    • Education

      Authorised Education Reseller webinar for Microsoft partners – Wednesday 4th April


      Icons_globeAsia_blueWe are hosting a webinar for Authorised Education Resellers (AERs) on Wednesday next week. All Microsoft Partners working in the Education market in Australia are invited to attend. Microsoft experts will provide briefings on current promotions and offers, as well as ways to expand your businesses and education specific solutions and services. Amongst other bits, it will include information on changes to the Office 365 for education pricing announced earlier in the month.

      The team running it will be in the US and the UK – so they’ll be up in the middle of the night for us on 3rd April, but in Australia it will be on the 4th April at much more convenient times:

      • 11:00 AM on the East Coast (AEST)
      • 10:30AM in South Australia
      • 9AM in Western Australia

      Learn MoreRegister here for the Authorised Education Reseller Webinar on 4th April 
      (Registration open to all Microsoft Partners)

      With this meeting working across 6+ time zones, you’ll be relieved to know that when you register you’ll receive an email with a calendar invite, that will pop into your diary at the right local time for you!

    • Education

      Todays webinar on unified Communications with Polycom


      A reminder: Today Polycom and Microsoft are hosting a webinar at lunchtime that will look at the practical side of creating a unified communications system.

      From an education point of view, there’s two key reasons I keep coming across for buying unified communications systems:

      • Save money – by switching off their PBX and the associated service contracts, they can save a lot of money
      • Support different models of learning – allowing genuine anytime, anywhere learning with much more flexibility than conventional video conferencing based learning


      Although the webinar isn’t specifically for education customers only, it’s a good opportunity find out more about the way Lync is used and how it integrates with your Outlook email and calendar, and to listen in to a case study (in this case, it’s Andrew Pritchett, the CIO of Griffith Hack talking about what they’ve done with Lync), and to hear from Mario D’Silva of Microsoft and Nick Hawkins of Polycom:


      Join us on 28 March 2012 for a live webinar to learn how you can maximise your UC solutions for growth and productivity in your organisation. Real life applications and considerations for deploying UC networks will be covered by the keynote speakers to help you in your next stage of planning and implementation.

      Topics include:

      1. How Griffith Hack transformed their organisation into a true UC environment.

      2. Key considerations in developing a scalable and robust network and increasing user adoption.

      3. Creating the mobile, video-enabled organisation.

      4. Unifying your voice, IM, audio, video, and web conferencing with NEW Polycom UC Solutions for Microsoft Lync for a seamless user experience.

      Together, Polycom and Microsoft are transforming businesses around the world by driving increased teamwork and productivity, while reducing business costs through:

      • Highly productive interactions. Increase and improve interactions with colleagues, customers and partners through a unified collaboration experience that brings together IM, video, voice, and content-sharing.
      • Interoperable end-to-end solutions. Microsoft and Polycom deliver open standards-based, end-to-end unified communications optimised for Microsoft environments and integrated with the Polycom RealPresence platform.

      The webinar is running at 12PM Sydney/Melbourne time, 11AM Brisbane time, or 9AM Perth time.

      Learn MoreIt’s not too late to sign up for today’s Polcyom/Microsoft Unified Communications webinar

    • Education

      Total spend on ICT in education in Australia to reach $3.2 billion by 2015


      Icons_books_blueIDC have released a report on the Australian Education ICT market (you can buy it here, if you’ve got a spare $4,500), and a matching press release (which is free fortunately).

      The headline numbers are:

      • The Australian Education ICT market size is $2.8bn this year, expecting to grow to reach $3.2bn by 2015.
      • The Australian Education ICT market growth is quoted as 2.1% annually from 2010 to 2015
      • 42% of the spend is on hardware – meaning that education institutions in Australia spend just over $1bn a year on devices
      • Education ICT makes up 6% of the total spend on ICT in Australia

      And the reasons for this growth (and the size of the total spend) is spelt out by IDC as:

        Pervasive mobility, investment in the NBN and the promise of a new connected and engaged vision for education is placing ICT much more centrally within the delivery of education. These activities will open new opportunities in mobility, collaboration and video conferencing.  

      IDC have also looked at the top three ICT priorities for organisations in the Australian education market, and they are:

      1. Migrating to new hardware/software platforms
      2. Aligning IT/IS with business direction
      3. Developing effective business cases for IT investment

      These priorities reflect the focus across the sector on putting the right infrastructure and platforms in place to deliver a new kind of reality in the delivery of education. As Emilie Ditton, the Market Analyst at IDC says:

        A very significant investment has been made in infrastructure and hardware within and for the education sector. Education organisations are now required to build the application, platforms, services and solutions that will utilise that hardware and deliver the experiences, interactivity and outcomes this infrastructure investment promises. Video conferencing, collaboration technologies, mobility and storage will be particular areas of ongoing opportunity.  

      So what does that mean for organisations supplying and supporting education ICT in Australia?

      The IDC team provide a clear short summary:


      Vendors working to find opportunities within the education sector must work with their customers to build ICT strategies that deliver against the institution objectives, and particularly help them understand how key technologies — mobility, cloud, and business analytics, for example — can help to deliver improved educational outcomes and experiences.

    • Education

      Bring Your Own Device in education – will this workshop help with your planning?


      I know that there’s a lot of interest in Bring Your Own Device in education, especially in BYOD in schools. And whilst there’s plenty of buzz, the case studies I’m seeing at the moment appear to be driven by lots of enthusiasm and innovation – and with plenty of ‘learning experiences’ happening during the process (the equivalent of building airplanes in the sky).

      If you’re thinking of constructing a strategy for Bring Your Own Device in an education institution, then some advanced planning is critical. You might get some valuable insight from some IT Camps we’re hosting over the next few months, which are focused on Consumerisation of IT (typical technology – whatever acronym you choose, the next person will choose a different one to describe the same thing). So whether you’re thinking about BYOD, BYOT or COIT then these free one day workshops could be a day well invested. Although they are not specific to education, the issues faced by an education customer and a bank considering BYOD strategies have lots of parallels:


      Consumerisation of IT - or, as it's known, BYOD in educationEnabling Consumerisation of IT
      (One day workshop)

      The culture of work is changing. Tech-savvy and always-connected, people want faster, more intuitive technology, uninterrupted services, and freedom to work anywhere, anytime, on a variety of devices. It’s time to give people the freedom to get things done their way. In return, you’ll unleash passion and productivity like never before. Learn how our products offer experiences that your people will love. Whether they are using PCs, phones, tablets, or all of the above, Microsoft technologies are flexible to match the unique needs and styles of individuals. Best of all, our enterprise-grade solutions are designed to help you maintain security, streamline management, and cut costs.


      They’re being run in Brisbane, Sydney, Canberra, Melbourne, Adelaide and Perth during April, May and June:

      Learn MoreFind out about the BYOD workshops here

      Bonus info: There are also workshops for Private Cloud, Datacentre and Virtualisation planning on the same page

    • Education

      The Microsoft Digital Crimes Unit and PhotoDNA


      DCU LogoThe Microsoft Digital Crimes Unit are a team of lawyers, investigators, technical analysts and other specialists working in cooperation with the Trustworthy Computing and Global Corporate Affairs groups at Microsoft to combat digital crime, including crimes against children. They work in partnership with law enforcement agencies across the globe, and their latest announcement is aimed to help defeat one particularly hideous area of crime – the sexual abuse and exploitation of children online.

      Through a new partnership between Microsoft and NetClean, PhotoDNA technology developed by Microsoft will be made available to law enforcement at no charge. The technology will be incorporated in NetClean Analyze, the Child Exploitation Tracking System (already provided to and used by Australian authorities) and via direct licensing.

      PhotoDNA will help law enforcement more quickly identify and rescue victims and hopefully lead to the arrest and conviction of those who perpetrate crimes against children. PhotoDNA is a signature-based image-matching technology developed by Microsoft Research in partnership with Dartmouth College and is already used by Microsoft and Facebook to find child sexual abuse images uploaded to our services. The technology not only detects matches but enables reporting of suspect images to law enforcement agencies for investigation. It helps calculate the distinct characteristics of a digital image to match it to other copies of that same image and can match images that are not digitally identical, making it possible to match images accurately and rapidly across millions of files – even if photos have subtle differences such as being resized, etc.

      Originally designed for use by ISP’s, law enforcement globally voiced strong interest in the potential use of PhotoDNA in child sexual exploitation investigations, so the Digital Crimes Unit talked with many of the leading law enforcement agencies around the world and as a result, made PhotoDNA available to them – you can see how its being used in this YouTube video from the team.

      Learn MoreYou can read more about this project on our Australian GovTech blog

    • Education

      Is quick disaster recovery something that’s important for education customers?


      Whilst I know that there are many differences between education IT and commercial IT, there are still more similarities than differences. For example, when I was reading a Delimiter case study about Coles IT systems, and their decision to virtualise their store servers onto Microsoft’s Hyper-V, I couldn’t fail to spot similarities between their IT and an education IT system:

      • Quick disaster recovery: In the case of Coles, they wanted something that could get their stores ‘back up and running in a matter of minutes’ if a failure occurred. No difference there to a school, TAFE or university, where a failure could lead to a loss of a significant learning activity for students.
      • Central IT supporting 741 supermarkets: This is the equivalent of government schools supported through a central infrastructure, or faculty supported by a university central IT team
      • 12 million customer transactions a week: Well, once you consider the number of students, their transactions, and the data flying around for registration etc, then you’re easily going to hit that number in education

      The case study is significant, because it records how Coles have deployed Microsoft’s virtualisation and management technologies (Hyper-V and SystemCentre) across 300 stores, with a plan to finish them all during 2012. As the journalist says in the analysis:

        Wow. The virtualisation market has been completely dominated by VMWare for a number of years now, and while the company’s solution is technically excellent — causing a virtual overnight revolution in the way we think about enterprise IT — that dominance has also led to some unfavourable conditions being imposed on VMWare customers from time to time.  

      I often come across a mindset in IT in education which reflects a way of thinking along the lines of “We’ve always done it this way, because everybody does it this way”. As with the disruption created by cloud projects, I think there are lots of other IT projects being done differently, to improve agility or reduce cost. If that’s on your radar, I’d recommend reading the case study of Coles virtualisation, to see if there’s lessons for your education IT too.

      Learn MoreRead the Delimiter article "Microsoft Hyper-V win huge Coles rollout"

      And if you find that interesting, maybe you’d want to read their story about ING Direct rolling out a ‘Bank in a Box’ using the same technologies to create a private cloud solution.

    • Education

      Best practices for migration to the cloud


      Every week, I hear of a new education customer who’s moved some part of their IT provision onto a Windows Azure cloud service. Sometimes it’s been the move of a complete service – like cloud-based email or collaboration tools – and other times it’s a part of the core IT infrastructure that’s supporting a specific application or business system.

      The reasons that there are some many education users moving to the cloud seem to mainly be:

      • Save capital costs – reduce the need for on site hardware saves on capital costs in terms of servers and other capital equipment (cooling etc)
      • Save running costs – the basis of only activating cloud services when you need them means that for systems which have peak demand periods, followed by quieter periods, means that there’s cost savings easily available (for example, assessment systems, learning management systems, recruitment and registration systems)
      • Save support costs – the cloud datacentres which allow you to migrate your education services to the cloud are fully managed, allowing you to move your application and data, without having the responsibility to manage the datacentre or the server systems
      • Roll out projects more quickly – I’ve heard from plenty of education customers (especially in the business side of the organisation, rather than within IT) that it typically takes six weeks to get a server setup for a project, whereas it can be done in hours in the cloud – and scaled in the same way. So you can start a small project, and scale it as demand grows, rather than having to build for a million users on day one

      The conversation I’ve had with a few customers in education is not about the “Why?” of moving education services to the cloud, but the “How?”. What they want to know is how to practically plan and implement a cloud migration for a specific service, and what are the gotchas to be aware of. Until yesterday, I’d often refer them to other Windows Azure case studies, and recommend they have a chat with existing users here in Australia. But yesterday I came across a new set of resources that can help:

      imageOur Patterns & Practices team, have just published the third volume of their Cloud Development series - ‘Building Hybrid Applications in the Cloud on Windows Azure’, which looks at applications spanning cloud and on-premise systems, and how to architect applications that exist partly in the cloud, and partly within your corporate network. The three volumes in the series are:

      • Volume 1, Moving Applications to the Cloud,provides an introduction to Windows Azure, discusses the cost model and application life cycle management for cloud-based applications, and describes how to migrate an existing ASP.NET application to the cloud.
      • Volume 2, Developing Applications for the Cloud, demonstrates how you can create from scratch a multi-tenant, Software as a Service application to run in the cloud by using the latest versions of the Windows Azure tools and the features of Windows Azure.
      • Volume 3, Building Hybrid Applications in the Cloud on Windows Azure, focuses on applications that span the cloud and on-premises boundary, where some parts run in Windows Azure, while other parts are located inside the corporate network. It also describes how you can integrate these kinds of applications with external partners.

      The latest guide describes how a fictitious corporation named Trey Research migrated its on-premises Orders application to a hybrid application that interacts with external transport partners using many features and services available in Windows Azure and SQL Azure. It also includes a series of appendices that document the use cases and challenges typically encountered in hybrid applications, and provide guidance on the technologies for addressing these challenges. It does it in a clear structure (see below) that tackles the tricky questions up front, and then talks about how to architect the system to address them.

      Building Hybrid Applications on Windows Azure

      The Patterns & Practices team is responsible for delivering applied engineering guidance that helps software architects, developers, and their teams take full advantage of Microsoft’s platform technologies in their custom application development efforts. The documentation is primarily intended for architects, developers, and IT professionals who design, build, or operate hybrid applications that need to integrate cloud and on-premises.

      Learn MoreLearn more about moving education services to the Cloud

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