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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

    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

    If I can track my pizza order on my phone, how about my children’s learning?


    Pizza Hut Windows Phone appI can track my pizza order in real time…

    Pizza Hut have announced the availability of a new app in Australia to allow you to order your custom-made pizza from your Windows Phone, and in some countries, I can do the same for a Domino’s Pizza. Currently a quarter of all Pizza Hut’s online sales come from smartphones.

    So I can sit at home, design my own pizza, specify the delivery time, and then wait for the goodies to turn up. Or with Domino’s, you can track the pizza live as it goes through production (see how it works here)

    Screen shot of Pizza TrackerAnd one enterprising app developer developed a Domino’s Pizza Tracker web app, which ran on a range of smartphones. This allowed you to track the full progress of your pizza order – so you could see progress as it was being assembled, baked, and sent out for delivery. This app used Domino’s XML system, which gave the opportunity for developers to access the production data and build clever apps on it (sadly, Domino’s then decided to block the app from accessing the data, so the excitement of watching your pizza order go through production was removed)

    …so why can’t I track my children’s learning progress

    I know that for some people their pizza is a high priority in their life (@bennuk, I’m thinking of you), but surely if we’ve got that level of fine detail about the production of our dinner, then we should really have the same kind of information on our children’s learning progress. Where’s the app that tells us how students are performing in school? How can we help parents to connect to their children’s learning? After all, if parental engagement is critical to a child’s success in learning, then engaging them in new ways could be key. At the moment, as a parent I get a report school only twice a year. But could we be doing better?

    The things we’d have to change could be pretty small – like making sure that teachers record marks in a consistent way across the school, and record them into a system. And find a way for parents to be able to see the information for just their children (which is solved in many schools already through parental logins to the website, or student logins to their learning management system).

    Professor John Hattie, in Visible Learning, says that his children had to put up with the same question after school every day “What feedback did you receive about your learning today?”. If it’s that critical a question to ask, then perhaps we should be using technology to make it easier to answer. And pizza companies give us a simple, powerful example of what’s possible.

    Sometimes we get bogged down in fancy language and technical concepts – learning analytics; education business intelligence; parental engagement. But perhaps we can simplify it by comparing and contrasting with good practice outside of education, to unlock a different approach.

    What do you think? Comment below

  • Education

    What are the jobs of the future? Careers in decline and those growing


    Five years ago, I was in the UK when I created a version of Shift Happens for the education system - less about globalisation, more about the challenges for the education system in the UK and worldwide) – which became ‘the video’ of the moment at education conferences etc.

    You can read more about how Shift Happens UK came about, based on the work of Karl Fisch here, download Shift Happens UK here, or watch it on YouTube here.

    Even now I sit in audiences where people quote/show these three images from the video (it happened again last week):

    We are currently preparing students for jobs that don't yet exist...using technologies that haven't been order to solve problems we don't even know are problems yet.

    And as a result, I’m always on the lookout for information on what’s actually happening in the workplace. There was a good article in The Atlantic last week about the key declining and growing occupations over the last two decades. The research was done in America, and was part of a look at de-unionisation of the workforce (the hypothesis it supported was that the jobs in decline were historically more unionised, and the jobs in ascendancy are typically not; and that one of key correlations for changes in union membership was the use of technology within occupations).

    The key occupations in decline

    What it showed is that the key occupations in decline between 1983-2002 were:

    1. Brick & stonemason apprentices (falling by over 90%)
    2. Show machine operators
    3. Railroad brake, signal and switch operators
    4. Housekeepers and butlers
    5. Drilling and boring machine operators
    6. Helpers, mechanics and labourers (falling by over 80%)

    The key occupations that are growing

    Whilst the key occupations that grew were:

    1. Numerical control machine operators (growing by over 1500%)
    2. Helpers, construction trades
    3. Managers – medicine and health
    4. Health diagnosing practitioners
    5. Marine engineers
    6. Computer systems analyst and scientists (growing by nearly 500%)

    You should look at the charts in The Atlantic for the fuller list – and the full report is available free for education users. But what struck me about the lists are that the ‘physical’ jobs are declining rapidly whilst the ‘mental’ jobs are the ones growing. (Except one bizarre exception, which shows that sociologists have shrunk by nearly two-thirds in that time)

  • 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

    Are you going to Microsoft WPC in Toronto? You should know about the Education Summit pre-day



    Are you going to the Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference (WPC) in Toronto in July? If so, then you may also want to consider attending the Microsoft Global Education Partner Summit, run as a pre-day to the main WPC event, on the 8th July.

    In a nutshell it’s a pre-day for partners who are active in the education market, to look at some of our future strategies and plans. There will be over 100 education partners there from around the world, and the content at these briefings is designed to help partners to understand how their area of education business fits into the wider picture of both Microsoft’s strategy and the future direction of education customers and policies. It’s also a great way to connect up with people in the worldwide Microsoft Education business.

    Unfortunately, I won’t be able to make it over there this year, but my colleague Jason Trump from our APAC education team, will be there to help make some connections for you.

    The agenda includes:

    • Anthony Salcito, Microsoft Vice President for Worldwide Education, talking about our future direction
    • Michael Moe, a market investor in education technology companies, sharing insight into where investors are betting in education IT
    • Kirk Gregerson, from Microsoft’s Office team, explaining the key partner opportunities created by Office 365 in Education
    • Bernard Caldas, from the Windows team, talking about Windows 8 in education, and the context of application development
    • And a series of breakout roundtable discussions about cloud services, phone, devices and building education solutions

    And the good news is that it’s free to attend for any partners going to WPC.

    Learn MoreFind our more about GEPS @ WPC


    This is run as a single day, attached to WPC, for partners who aren’t able to get to the full Microsoft Global Education Partner Summit in February each year, which is held at our corporate headquarters in Seattle. If you want to get info on that when it’s published, let me know

  • Education

    WorkSmart Guides - Updated ready-made IT user documentation


    When I started working at Microsoft, I hadn’t been in such an open, technology rich culture before. And with so many IT systems around, and so many different software resources, my head was buzzing. In fact, I remember that at the end of the first week, the number of links in my Favourites was massive – just to internal websites.

    I’d never used internet telephony, encryption, instant messaging, live meeting or SharePoint before, so I was all at sea until I could play around and work out how they were supposed to operate. Meanwhile, people who’d been at Microsoft for a while were metaphorically whizzing past me, as they collaborated, shared, published and distributed information. Whilst I was trying to work out how to answer my desk phone.

    imageOne of the godsends for me was a set of documents called Work Smart Guides, which walked me through the basics of some of the new technology I was encountering.

    As our IT team describe it, Work Smart Guides bridge the gap between technology and users. Work Smart guides provide employees with scenario-based, best-use productivity aids on Microsoft products and technologies.

    We produce them because we expect to see more consistent, productive, and cost-effective use of products and technologies across the company – which helps the business ROI on IT investments, as well as helping people to understand the benefit the IT team deliver to users.

    Updated ready-made IT guides

    The Microsoft IT Team have just updated the published versions that you could modify and publish for your users. This is a great step – I’m guessing that lots of schools, TAFEs and Universities are either producing user documentation for staff, or want to. And I bet that 80-90% of the content is identical in each institution. So these guides would make a good starter for 10, either for the format, or the instructions, or simply the screenshots. As an example, here’s the Email Basics one.

    The subjects covered in the step-by-step guides for users include:

    • Protecting data with BitLocker
    • Getting started with email
    • Transfer files and settings to a new computer
    • Collaborating with SharePoint
    • An overview of collaboration tools
    • Customising SharePoint sites
    • SharePoint workspaces
    • Integrating Outlook with SharePoint
    • Basics of managing email (Are you a stacker or a filer?)
    • Office tips for Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote and Word
    • Outlook email signatures
    • New features for users in Windows 7
    • Securing Windows Phone
    • Get started with Outlook Web Access
    • Successful meetings with Lync

    Download the Work Smart Guides

    There are 36 of them, and they come in one big Zip file for you to play with:

    Learn MoreDownload the customisable versions of Work Smart materials.

  • 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

    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

    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

    Lessons learned from DER Student Devices


    A few weeks ago, the Inter-American Development Bank released a report on the roll out of the One Laptop Per Child programme in Peru, where the government has put 850,000 laptops into the hands of school students. It created some controversy, especially as The Economist took a negative view on the outcomes (See “Great idea. Shame about the mediocre computer” from The Economist). When I mentioned it on my Posterous stream, I asked the question “Does anybody know if similar research is being undertaken for the Digital Education Revolution (DER) programmes in Australia?

    imageAnd so thanks are due to Derek Knox at Dell, who pointed me towards a new report “Student devices and the Digital Education Revolution: Lessons Learned” produced by IBRS (a research agency), with sponsorship from Intel and Dell.

    Lessons from the DER

    I recommend reading the report – it’s especially useful if your responsible for IT strategy in schools, and especially if you’re thinking about Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) in education – as it contains some really useful information on the implementation model for student devices (whether that’s student owned devices, or school devices)

    Here’s the highlights I pulled out of the report (in my own words, so blame me, not the report if I’ve mis-interpreted it)

    In the Introduction the report talks about the future for the Digital Education Revolution (page 4):


    The bar has been raised in terms of student and public perception for education. The public now expect that all year 9 to 12 students will have access to computing devices, and that not having a device will somehow put a student at a disadvantage.

    The additional infrastructure required to support the existing number of devices has seen “business as usual” IT costs grow by at least 30%, and, in some cases observed, by over 200%. Over the past three years, at least some of these additional IT costs have been covered by the Building Education Revolution funds. With the BER completed, these on-going costs are coming home to roost.

    Either the DER funding needs to become a permanent fixture of Australia, or we need to find new ways to get computing power into students hands, in a way that will not eventually cripple school budgets.



    Chapter 2 then looks through a series of ‘lessons learned’ under a range of options. This is where there are some really key points that are applicable to anybody who’s responsible for a device strategy in a school, TAFE, and possibly even a university.

    Lesson 1: Fit for purpose

    Much of the procurement decision making focused on either the lowest cost device or the need for a device that continued the differentiation between a technologically advanced school and others (ie fee-charging schools needing to look ahead of government schools). The point is that little of the decision making focused on intended educational use and outcomes. There’s a good chart in this table which shows, from a 2009 DEEWR report, what students are actually using classroom computers for.

    Lesson 2: Warranty and Maintenance

    The IT industry runs to a maximum 3 year lifecycle (eg availability of spare parts for devices), so having a four year lifecycle turns out to be difficult (and therefore expensive?) to deliver in terms of maintenance, warranty and support.

    Lesson 3: Downtime is unacceptable

    You only deliver a lesson once – so if your students laptop isn’t working at the time they need, you disrupt their education. So processes for effective management of this need to be in place – even down to flat batteries. If you don’t do this effectively, it can lead teachers to only exploiting the IT in homework assignments, rather than relying on them in real-time in the classroom

    Lesson 4: Management

    Many of the devices were deployed without effective and efficient device management – meaning students often had to return their devices to IT to have things sorted out. And it became difficult for schools to manage them effectively because of the high cost of the skilled staff needed to implement effective management (a quote: The skills required to run a well –managed fleet are unaffordable for most schools, and not just for purely financial reasons. A quality IT desktop manager has an annual salary around $90,000 to $120,000. A school principal has a salary of $80,000 to $130,000)

    Lesson 5: Professional Development

    Without an effective programme of professional development for teachers, there’s a danger of a wasted opportunity to support the change in teaching and learning that programmes like the DER provide. The recommendation of the report is to ensure that PD is part of the requirement, and the procurement, rather than assuming it will happen some other way.


    Chapter 3 – Digital Revolutionary Ideas

    The first section in this chapter makes a very powerful argument – that the idea of giving personal ownership of a device to students from Year 9 for 4 years is fatally flawed. This is because the student needs ramp up over those 4 years, and the critical year in which students will need the full power of their devices (ie Year 12, when they are producing their major works) is exactly the point at which their devices are becoming obsolete, will be unable the run the latest software, and will have the least reliability).

    The diagram below, from the report, summarises it really well: 

    DER student laptop lifecycle diagram



    Chapter Four: Bring Your Own Device

    I’m not going to summarise this chapter in detail, but instead recommend that you read the detail in the report.

    The story that is told within this section is that the DER model of 1:1 devices for Years 9-12 is unlikely to be sustainable in the future, for a variety of reasons, and that therefore other models need to be also explored. For example, the virtualisation of the desktop for students, so that they can log on to any device to work. This removes the need for every student to have a dedicated personal device, and means that they can have different devices for different tasks (eg in Year 12 they may be using advanced computers to handle complex graphics or video editing needs, and small and light laptops for writing projects in a flexible learning space). The report continues this theme through to the final fifth chapter, and suggests alternative implementation models which are designed to reduce cost, provide better support for learning scenarios, and make IT management easier for schools.

    If you’re responsible

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