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

May, 2012

  • Education

    Reduce costs by virtualising Blackboard onto Hyper-V


    According to analysts, one of the drivers for IT changes in Australian universities services is the need to continue to drive down cost of delivering IT services. That’s not only for planned changes (eg new systems and services), but also for existing projects, where there is an opportunity to cut the cost of existing service delivery.

    One way to reduce the cost of your IT infrastructure is to replace technologies with lower cost options. It means you can make savings in your infrastructure, without users being impacted negatively.

    Let me share a surprising case study that illustrates what’s possible:

    Virtualising Linux servers on Microsoft systems

    In summary, Florida Atlantic University changed the platform their Linux-based Blackboard LMS ran on, and saved $600,000.

    imageThe scenario may sound familiar to you – the Florida Atlantic University was in the third round of externally imposed budget cuts, creating continuing pressure to reduce the costs of service delivery. One of their costs was in servers to run their Blackboard Learning Management System, which was running on a Linux platform. So they looked at how they could virtualise their servers, to reduce hardware costs and data centre space requirements, and improve their student experience.

    The stages of their Blackboard virtualisation journey

    The case study goes into detail of their journey, but in a nutshell, their stages were:

    1. Virtualise their servers in a pilot project using VMWare
      Gaining experience with virtualisation, but discovering that full-scale roll out may be prohibitively expensive
    2. Upgrade to Blackboard 9, moving from Oracle/Sun servers to HP/Dell servers running Linux
      Gaining flexibility and scalability, and more virtualisation flexibility, through Intel-based servers
    3. Implement Windows Server 2008 to virtualise their Exchange, SharePoint and other servers
      Reducing their hardware and service costs, whilst improving server management, and giving them a more cost-effective virtualisation solution
    4. Move their Blackboard system, still running on Linux, to Microsoft’s Hyper-V on the virtualised Windows servers
      Reducing the cost, improving manageability, and improving their user experience

    Savings through virtualisation

    The savings they have identified so far include:

    • Saving $500,000 on new server hardware, through virtualisation
    • Saving $100,000 maintenance costs by retiring existing Sun servers
    • No need to increase headcount, whilst rolling out new services

    And, in addition to saving money, the university have also improved the performance of their IT systems. As Mehran Basiratmand, the Director of Enterprise Computing Services and Chief Technical Officer, at the university says:

      Blackboard is running faster on Intel processor–based servers and Hyper-V than it did on Sun hardware and VMware. This has provided better response for our user community. Hyper-V is better in cost and performance than VMware ESX when managing non-Windows workloads. Our Linux virtual machines run better and scale better on Hyper-V. Plus, we can easily add additional virtual machines if needed. That’s the beauty of virtualization. If we hit a peak time, we can add horsepower in minutes; we didn’t have that before. It’s given us a new definition of capacity on demand.  

    The case study is very detailed, documenting each stage of the journey, so if you have similar scenarios in your campus, it is worth reading the full version from our global case studies website.

    Learn MoreRead the full Florida Atlantic University case study

  • Education

    Microsoft Office Accessibility Training Sessions for Australian Government employees - 24 May 2012


    Microsoft will be running two training sessions in Canberra on optimising the accessibility of Microsoft Office documents.

    These sessions will primarily focus on Word, however PowerPoint and Excel will also be covered. The sessions have been designed specifically for Australian Public Service personnel (yep, that includes any education employees)

    As the AGIMO blog says:

      As government agencies are obliged to make all online information accessible and authors are responsible for ensuring the accessibility of their documents, it is important that authors understand how to do this properly. Our initial National Transition Strategy (NTS) survey highlighted the need for better education around the creation of more accessible online documents. Creating an accessible Word document is often the first step to creating accessible PDFs and web pages. We are very keen to develop accessible document authoring skills across the APS, so if you are responsible for authoring web content or creating other documents, these sessions are for you.  

    In these sessions Microsoft will walk users through common techniques for creating accessible documents in Microsoft Office. The presentation will cover information about both the tools available for ensuring accessibility as well as how to effectively use styles and formatting. Users will also be given a basic understanding of how to correctly use graphics in a document. The sessions will be led by Daniel Hubbell. Daniel is the Technical Evangelist for Microsoft’s Accessibility team and is also the president of the board of directors for the Assistive Technology Industry Association. Daniel has a degree in communications from San Francisco State University and has been with Microsoft for more than 14 years.

    Two identical training sessions will run in the morning and afternoon of 24th May 2012 at the University of Canberra.

    Please note that attendance is free but places are limited.

    Learn MoreRegister for your free place online


    If you cannot attend on this date, don’t worry – we’re going to record the sessions and will make them available to be viewed after the event (I’ll pop the link up here when I get it).

    For more accessibility resources, there’s also:

  • Education

    Using Skype in the classroom


    image28,731 teachers, from 190 countries, are already part of the Skype in the Classroom project. It’s a way to connect Skype’s free video services to your curriculum and teaching – and connecting with teachers and learners right around the world. And the team at Skype have just announced a new wave of partnerships to help schools bring outside experts into their classroom:

    • Penguin Young Readers Group will connect authors with classrooms for discussions about books, reading and writing
    • The New York Philharmonic offers live interaction with musicians and educators, beginning with an exploration of Billy the Kid through the lens of Aaron Copland’s 1939 ballet
    • Peace One Day has a range of Global Education Resources which can help to inspire and educate students about the importance of peace in the modern world. Students can also connect with Peace One Day Founder, Jeremy Gilley and listen to his inspirational story.
    • Save the Children and the Science Museum, London will have individual projects on Skype in the classroom by the end of the year

    The Science Museum have already made some of their Punk Science resources available, in advance of their live activities later in the year. In the Penguin section, there are currently 6 different authors available to book class calls with. Here’s a typical profile for an author project page:

    Adam Gidwitz is on Skype in the Classroom

    Err, it may not actually be a typical profile – the rest don’t start with “Generally, in talking to kids, I try to scare the bejeezus out of them.”

    The beauty of these kinds of projects is that you already have the technology you need in the classroom to participate – because you just need some kind of webcam (even a simple laptop webcam will work), email and the Skype software. There’s no need for fancy video conferencing hardware or systems, or complicated booking systems.

    If you do have a full video conferencing system, then you should also take a look at the PolyCom in education projects too – they have connections to a wide range of Australian projects, museums and organisations.

    Learn MoreLearn more about Skype in the Classroom

  • Education

    Using a CRM system to support effective parental engagement


    From the articles I’ve previously written you’ll know I’m interested in CRM in education, so I thought you might be interested in this case study from the US, of the National Heritage Academies (NHA) – a group of charter schools – that is using CRM to support performance management and supporting parental communications. They run 71 schools, with 45,000 students and one of the parts of their projects has been to improve communications and engagement with prospective parents. (The other part, which you can read about in their case study is to use CRM for a new Employee Performance System for their schools)

    In total, they have nearly 250 employees, including the marketing group, parent relations specialists, registrars, and admissions representatives at every school, using Dynamics CRM to manage their relationships and communications with parents – with many remote users accessing it across the web or through their existing Outlook software.

    The goal was to ensure that there was an effective system in place to manage the lifecycle of prospective students, so that the school could improve the efficiency of student recruitment. As Andy Brownell, the NHA IT Manager says in the case study:

      Today, we can connect with parents in a highly focused way, incorporating best practices into our processes. We know where parents are in their decision making so that we can approach them effectively and at the right time. For our admissions representatives and outreach specialists, it has also become much easier to manage contact data, communications, and parent events and to seamlessly make records available to other NHA teams when parents enrol their children in our schools. That, in turn, results in more responsive, student-focused service delivery.  

    By using a CRM system to manage their student recruitment, they were able to cover the critical gaps in their existing Student Information System, which didn’t handle relationships and communications management. I’ve seen this many times before, where schools end up having to use a ‘send everything to everybody’ approach in their communications, because they don’t have the right data or the right systems to help them to focus their communications – for both prospective and existing parents and students.

    Learn MoreYou can read the full case study of NHA using CRM for student recruitment on the global Microsoft Case Studies website

  • Education

    Another Lync case study, at The University of the West of England


    After last week’s Lync case study, of the Open University saving $3m through implementing unified communications to replace their existing telephone system, here’s another university case study of doing the same thing – and this time it’s the University of the West of England (UWE) near Bristol in the UK*

    UWE has 30,000 students and 3,500 staff, and it’s under constant budget pressure as government funding drops. Their immediate challenge was to reduce operations cost by one quarter. Their project, to create a unified communications and collaboration system using Lync and SharePoint, saved them money and helped them to improve collaboration across their 19 departments and four sites.

    By deploying Lync, the university were able to replace their existing telephone system (which was based on an IP-PBX system) and add easy to use audio conferencing, video conferencing and desktop sharing – for both staff and students. As Alistair Sandford, the Senior Project Manager said:

      We recognise that students want increased contact time with their lecturers. Lync can help us achieve this, by allowing the lecturers to make themselves available outside of the classroom hours, via instant messaging and conferencing.  

    Teaching staff can now open a whiteboard to take notes or collaborate with students in real time, and they can record and save online class content as video files to share with students who missed classes or who need to review content for exams. The integration of SharePoint has involved redesigning their intranet portal with clearer navigation – creating a top-down centralised approach to creating and managing sites – to make life easier for all of their users.

    The cost savings target at the university is to save £250,000 (about $400,000) a year through the replacement of their telephone system, and the travel savings possible – which will be delivered at the same time as improving communications and collaboration within the university. And the system also makes it easier for them to collaborate with the 50+ international partner institutions.

    Learn MoreRead the full case study on the Microsoft global case studies website



    * The mention of the UK may be completely redundant, but when New England is in America, and the University of New England is in Australia, I thought it might be worth mentioning that the West of England is actually in England

  • Education

    My top education apps on Windows Phone


    Nokia Lumia 800The Nokia Lumia phone launch has given Windows Phone a much higher profile in Australia. In the state capitals, it’s been impossible to move around the city centre without seeing Lumia adverts jumping out at you. And around the Microsoft office, it seems impossible to avoid the fact that most of us have chosen the blue version of the Lumia.

    You’ll start to see more of them in the hands of your students – especially because of the integration of the main social media sites directly into the phone, without them needing extra apps. Of course, with Microsoft Office also built in, it means students can use their phone to send and receive homework assignments, carry out research using the web, and stay in touch with school classmates and friends. And the SkyDrive storage in the Cloud is accessible from Windows Phone, with an app to view and edit files, and if they are using OneNote they can sync their notebooks across almost all of their devices.

    Here’s my top 4 free Education apps for Windows Phone. The interesting thing to note is that the first two – Wordament and Numerix – are both games where players are playing against the whole of the rest of the world. And in both games the challenge is exactly the same as you might set in a classroom activity, but with added gamification of learning!


    imageSince I discovered Wordament, I have been completely addicted. Wordament is a word tournament where players are competing with the whole internet to be the best word searcher in every game. Every player is competing on the same board, in real-time, to get the highest score. Every board has over 100 possible words and there are also themed games, like Digrams, where it introduces a simple, fun secondary goal of using a two-letter tile in as many words as possible.

    Find out more about Wordament for Windows Phone


    imageNumerix is a fast paced and (from personal experience) highly addictive number game that will challenge students. The goal is simple, select as many numbers in sequence as you can. And that’s where the simplicity ends. As the numbers get bigger and bigger you will need to start using combinations of numbers to reach your goal.

    It is a great way to get the analytical side of brain warmed up and ready to go. I find that a couple of rounds of Numerix first thing in the morning wakes me up, and gives me some idea of how my brains working.

    Find out more about Numerix for Windows Phone


    This apps helps students to create and organise their timetable on their phone and make notes against lessons (eg homework assignments). Unlike a normal calendar, it allows for multiple week timetables with either 2 or 4 week rotations, and between 4 and 10 lessons per day.

    A timetable from the Schedule app

    Find out more about Schedule for Windows Phone

    Spelling Practice

    Spell 2 for Windows Phone

    Spelling Practice 2 can help students improve their spelling of popular 1,000 English words. It does that by announcing the word and showing just the letters that make it. As you touch the letters and spell the word correctly, the word begins to form at the top. When you complete the whole word, the word is spoken again.

    The app comes with 1,000 common words organised in increasing order of difficulty by word length, and supported by studio-recorded, broadcast quality voice. The app provides just the right feedback and encouragement to you as you spell. It gives a musical note when your touch the right letter and it gives a funny car horn sound when a wrong letter is touched. When you complete 50 words, you get a 'star' and a cheering sound. As you do more words correctly, the 'stars' add up and show prominently on the starting page.

    Find out more about Spelling Practice 2 for Windows Phone

    Learn More There are lots more Windows Phone apps in the Windows Phone marketplace for Australia.


    Two handy shortcuts for you:

    Free educational games for Windows Phone

    Free educational apps for Windows Phone

  • Education

    The Open University uses Lync 2010 to save $3m


    imageThe Open University (OU) is the UK’s largest university, and delivers its courses via distance learning to over 250,000 students. With 5,000 staff spread around the country, the OU decided to explore options to replace their existing PABX telephone system, as well as introduce new communications technology to reduce costs and reduce the university’s carbon footprint.

    There is a Lync case study on the university, from the UK team, which focuses on the cost savings that the OU are achieving. According to Adrian Wells, the OU Assistant Director of IT Infrastructure:

      We believe that the saving by deploying Microsoft Lync 2010 instead of buying a new PABX will be around £2 million over five years  

    The savings quoted, of over $3m in the next five years, come from :

    • Not replacing the hardware of their existing PABX, which was scheduled
    • Dropping the third-party maintenance for their existing PABX
    • Reducing travel by their staff to and from their headquarters by 5-10%

    And in addition to this they are starting to see that providing presence awareness (being able to see if colleagues are free or busy, and where they are) is helping them to reduce unnecessary phone calls and emails. And real-time collaboration (for example, desktop sharing or user to user video conferencing) improves the ability of remote colleagues to collaborate without having to be face to face.

    Learn MoreRead the full case study on the global Microsoft case studies site

  • Education

    Can your SharePoint become your Learning Management System?


    Over the last six months I’ve written about Learning Management Systems (LMS) quite a few times. I’ve asked questions like “Do you really need a Learning Management System?” and “Are SharePoint Composites the future of the Learning Management System?”, and shared some research, like “One third of colleges considering changing their Learning Management System” and “Emerging trends in Learning Management Systems”. And I’ve even provided overviews of some LMS options, like Desire2Learn and Hosting Moodle in the Cloud.

    If you’ve been following some of those stories, then you might also be interested in a presentation from the International SharePoint Conference 2012, presented by Dave Coleman, a SharePoint guru, and Alex Bradbeer of the Arts University College Bournemouth. It’s a well told story of migrating an institution from Blackboard to SharePoint, and some of the decisions that they took along the way to deliver the key functionality to their staff and students. I’m sure it would have been better to be there in person, but the slides are pretty self explanatory:

    Learn MoreLearn more about SharePoint in learning on Dave's SharePointEduTech blog

  • Education

    Entry tips for Australia Education Partner of the Year 2012


    Janison - Microsoft Australia Education Partner of the Year 2011Last year, Janison from NSW, were winner for Australian Education Partner of the Year 2011. And I’d like all of our education partners to get the chance to do well in this year’s competition – in whichever of the 24 Microsoft Australia Partner Awards categories you choose to enter. I recognise that entering means somebody has to put some time and effort in– even if it just means spending the time completing the online forms. And it’s not normally somebody’s day job.

    So I’m going to give you my advice in the form of a few handy steps focused on time saving when writing your winning entry:

    How to submit a winning entry for Microsoft Australia (Education) Partner of the Year, with the least effort and most impact

    1) You’ve got to be in it, to win it

    Entries close on 11th June 2012. So start now – don’t wait for a few weeks, because the deadline isn’t going to be extended just because you forgot. You can read the published info, and start your application, here

    The simple eligibility criteria is that you must have a PinPoint listing. If you don’t have one, or it needs updating, find out how to update PinPoint here. The reason is that many customers use PinPoint as the starting point to find Microsoft partners.

    It is also important to note that the competition is open to everybody that qualifies – whether or not you are attending the Australia Partner Conference. So you don’t have to commit to travel to be able to enter!

    2) Remember at school, when your teacher said “Read the question carefully”. Same applies

    Like an exam*, there’s a set of formal questions to answer, and the judges will have a marking scheme that’s linked to that.  So don’t skip a question, even if you think it’s irrelevant to you. Give the best answer you can in the context – just like a tender response, a blank answer gets no points, whereas you’ll get at least one point for attempting it! And an answer like “We’re considering it for the future” is better than '”No” Smile

    * Unlike an exam, you can actually see all of the questions in advance – there’s a downloadable copy of the questions, so that you can prepare before you even start to enter

    3) Try and work out what the judges give marks for

    Looking at the questions in the entry form, question 2 for '”Education Partner of the Year” is:

      3. Describe how using Microsoft technologies in your solution helped you win against the competition in a customer situation from a technical and customer benefit perspective.  

    My decoding of this is that the judges want you to tell them how Microsoft helped you win against our shared competitors, and they want you to explain this from a technical and benefit perspective.

    So “I beat ComputerSellerWarehouse on price” won’t cut it anywhere as much as:

      We helped Contoso University to implement Microsoft Dynamics CRM to replace their existing HokeyKokey CRM system, which helped them to recruit students more effectively, because using the Microsoft cloud services helped them to implement it fast enough for their new recruitment year, and integration to their SharePoint system gave staff more access to vital information. And that’s why the customer chose us instead of OldFashionedCRMSystems Inc.  

    Hopefully that answer is likely to match the judges marking scheme:

    • Microsoft technology – Dynamics CRM, Cloud, SharePoint - tick
    • Against the competition – HokeyKokey CRM; OldFashionedCRMSystems - tick
    • Technical perspective – Cloud, faster implementation - tick
    • Customer benefit perspective – Recruit students more effectively, access to vital information for staff - tick

    4) Look out for the gotchas

    When you get to Question Six (‘Was the solution developed and provided for a unique customer need or as a general use product or service?’) you might want to think about what the judges are looking for – which is generally the applicability of a solution to many customers, rather than a very specialised solution which can only solve one particular customer's problem.

    The other gotcha to look out for is to ensure you are entering the right categories. Education Partner of the Year is for partners working with education customers. Don’t confuse it with Learning Partner of the Year, which is for partners providing IT courses and associated resources for IT professionals.

    What are you waiting for?

    Find all resources to enter the Microsoft APC Awards here, including full information on categories, submission tips and the official rules.

  • Education

    Enter the Microsoft Australia Partner Awards to become Education Partner of the Year


    Microsoft Australia Partner Awards

    It’s that time again – your opportunity to gain fame and fortune for your business and for the great projects you have done in the Australian education market this year. Yep, we’ve opened entries for the 2012 Microsoft Australia Partner Awards, and yet again there’s an entry category for ‘Australian Education Partner of the Year’.

    Without a shadow of a doubt, winning any of the awards is a great way to raise your profile across the education marketplace, and you get a bonus of a snazzy logo to use in your marketing. But even just entering the awards raises your profile, as it means that your entries will be seen by key judges in the Microsoft Australia Education business. Last year the judges learned about some new projects that they were able to discuss with customers, and create some new business opportunities for our partners. We also ran a series of webinars with some of the entrants, to help to spread their stories out to other customers.

    The deadline for entries is 11th June*, and the winner will be announced at the Australia Partner Conference in Brisbane on the 4th September 2012.

    There are 24 categories that you can enter (although, obviously, your first priority should be Education Partner of the Year).

    Learn MoreYou can find out the categories, read the FAQ and submit your entry via the Microsoft Partner Network

    * The 11th June is important, because it’s the day after two important birthdays - mine and the
    Duke of Edinburgh, the world’s longest-serving consort (him, not me)
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