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

June, 2012

  • Education

    Who’s office. Ours. In Austria


    Darn, I moved to the wrong country. How nice would it be to work in the Microsoft Austria office?

    Our office in Sydney is a very, very nice place to work – the open plan, activity based working layout setup is brilliant (It’s about what you do, not where you do it). But I will admit to a hint of envy when I saw the slideshow on the Innocad website, when I saw what they’d done at our Vienna offices. An open plan meeting area with a slide. Meeting rooms with personality.

    Microsoft Austria's slide in the office

    Click on the image below for a look around


    Probably a good time to mention that we’ve just been named Australia’s Best Employer 2012?

  • Education

    Windows Azure DevCamp–learn to build for the Cloud


    imageIf you’re in Sydney, and you are (or would like think of yourself as) a developer, then you might want to devote a day to discovering how the Cloud could make a difference to your projects. I’m losing count of the number of projects I’m hearing about where developers are using the Microsoft Windows Azure cloud services in education projects to allow them to build an application, and deploy to an unlimited amount of users. The reason is obvious – it allows developers to get on with development of applications, without having the hassle of worrying about building a big backend datacentre to run it on. It’s especially important in education, where the job of getting an application setup on somebody’s education network can be painful, whereas deploying an application in the cloud can be straightforward – and something that users (teachers, students) can do themselves.

    That might explain one of the reasons why education applications that use the Windows Azure cloud – like ClickView or the Janison Assessment portals – are growing rapidly. (Windows Azure is basically our public cloud, running in global data centres, where you can deploy applications, databases, websites or even complete virtual servers)

    To help more people discover the tricks, we’re running a free Windows Azure DevCamp in Sydney on Tuesday 19th June at the University of NSW for developers that want to get under the covers of Azure. And the hosts are three people that really know their stuff:

    • Ori Amiga is the Principal Group Program Manager on the Windows Azure team responsible for the Developer Platform efforts, and he’s flying over from Seattle for this session
    • Nick Harris is a Technical Evangelist for Windows Azure working on the Windows Azure Toolkit, and he too is hopping on a pan-Pacific flight to be here
    • Andrew Coates is a Developer Evangelist with a diverse background in Civil Engineering, Geographic Information Systems, Databases and Software development. Luckily for him, he’s only got to hop in a car, as he’s Sydney based

    The agenda for the day is going to help you learn how to:

    • Build and quickly deploy web sites to Windows Azure
    • Migrate, integrate, and extend existing code and apps with Windows Azure
    • Build flexible, multi-tier applications
    • Consume Windows Azure services within your apps, such as Windows Azure Storage, SQL Azure, and the Service Bus
    • Architect highly scalable and fast applications using cloud services
    • Build Web APIs that power mobile devices
    • Use the latest Visual Studio tools and SDKs for the cloud

    The day runs from 9-5 at the Randwick Campus of UNSW on 19th June, and it’s free. And it’s open to all developers, whether you currently work for a Microsoft partner, or you work in a university, TAFE, school or government department.

    Learn MoreLearn more, and register, for the Sydney Windows Azure DevCamp

  • Education

    Another free technical ebook for Kindle and PDF – Windows Server 2012


    Introducing Windows Server 2012 Front CoverThe Microsoft Press team have just released another free ebook, with downloadable versions of Introducing Windows Server 2012 ebook. This is a technical ebook – it’s not for the average user, but if you want to understand what’s new in Windows Server 2012, it’s a good way of getting up to speed.

    It’s available in a variety of formats:

    This is a full Microsoft Press book, not just a summary (at 235 pages, it’s a serious read), and includes an overview of the changing business needs that Windows Server 2012 is responding to (such as the widespread use of private and public cloud services), and sections on building a foundation for private cloud, high-availability services, deploying web applications and enabling a modern workstyle.

    I think one of the key sections that will really interest educational readers is Chapter 5, which dives into the ‘modern workstyle’, which directly addresses some of the key trends in education - such as access to corporate systems from virtually anywhere as well as the trend to allowing BYOD in education (whether that’s students or staff bringing their own devices).

    On page 188 onwards, there’s a lot of detail on Direct Access, which has many applications within education, such as the ability to allow access to your network whilst users are away from campus, without adding expensive or intrusive VPN systems. And some education users have used it to reroute students’ Internet traffic through their school’s filtered internet connection even when they are off campus (again, without adding expensive third party systems). Here’s some info on what it can do, taken straight from the book:


    Simplified DirectAccess
    If remote client devices can be always connected, users can work more productively. Devices that are always connected are also more easily managed, which helps improve compliance  and reduce support costs. DirectAccess, first introduced in Windows Server 2008 R2 and supported by client devices running Windows 7, helps address these needs by giving users  the experience of being seamlessly connected to their corporate network whenever they have  Internet access. DirectAccess does this by allowing users to access corpnet resources such as  shared folders, websites, and applications remotely, in a secure manner, without the need  of first establishing a VPN connection. DirectAccess does this by automatically establishing bidirectional connectivity between the user’s device and the corporate network every time  the user’s device connects to the Internet.

    DirectAccess alleviates the frustration that remote users often experience when using traditional VPNs. For example, connecting to a VPN usually takes several steps, during which the user needs to wait for authentication to occur. And if the corporate network has Network Access Protection (NAP) implemented for checking the health of computers before allowing them to connect to the corporate network, establishing a VPN connection could sometimes take several minutes or longer depending on the remediation require, or the length of time of the user’s last established the VPN connection. VPN connections can also be problematic for environments that filter out VPN traffic, and Internet performance can be slow for the user if both intranet and Internet traffic route through the VPN connection. Finally, any time users lose their Internet connection, they have to re-establish the connection from scratch.

    DirectAccess solves all these problems. For example, unlike a traditional VPN connection, DirectAccess connectivity is established even before users log on so that they never have to think about connecting resources on the corporate network or waiting for a health check to complete. DirectAccess can also separate intranet traffic from Internet traffic to reduce unnecessary traffic on the corporate network. Because communications to the Internet do not have to travel to the corporate network and back to the Internet, as they typically do when using a traditional VPN connection, DirectAccess does not slow down Internet access for users.

    Finally, DirectAccess allows administrators to manage remote computers outside the office even when the computers are not connected via a VPN. This also means that remote computers are always fully managed by Group Policy, which helps ensure that they are secure at all times.


    The chapter goes on to describe the enhancements to DirectAccess in Windows Server 2012, such as the ability to have DirectAccess servers and clients on different domains, which will be useful for many education users (especially universities with peripatetic staff) and the enhanced support for two-factor authentication when you’re using third-party security vendors.

    Learn MoreFind out about other free technical ebooks from Microsoft Press

  • Education

    Integrating a learning platform with Office 365–LP+


    I just got an embargoed press release from the UK Learning Possibilities team for 15th June – and luckily for us, I can write about it already as we’re half a day ahead of the UK Smile

    LP+ logoIn a nutshell, LP+ is a rich Virtual Learning Environment for schools built on SharePoint 2010, which is run as a hosted service in the cloud – meaning that schools don’t need to spend on servers etc to run it on, and can provide seamless access at school and from home. What they have now done is to link this through to Office 365, so that students can access their email, file storage and the web versions of Microsoft Office applications, like Word, Excel and PowerPoint – making it much easier to create a single seamless learning environment in school and at home.

    First of all, here’s an extract from the Press Release:


    Learning Possibilities announces full integration of its new LP+4 learning platform with Microsoft Office365

    Learning Possibilities, the leading learning platform provider, announces today that its new LP+4 learning platform now offers full integration and single sign-on with Microsoft Office 365. This means that LP+4 users can have access to Outlook Live, Lync and Office Web Applications from within the LP+4 learning platform and without need to login again. 

    Together with Office365, LP+4 delivers a whole new suite of online tools to improve collaboration and productivity where students and teachers are able to create, upload, edit  and share Office documents and access emails, instant message and access calendars online from any device with a browser and internet access - even if schools do not have Microsoft Office installed on their computers.  


    One of the interesting aspects of LP+ is that they have built a system which can be designed around the individual schools and student cohorts – for example, the screen shots below show designs for a primary school and a high school – with different styles, sophistication and features showing up.

    LP+ for Primary SchoolsLP+ for High Schools

    Today LP+ is mainly used with the UK, although there are plans to make it available in Australia, so for Australian readers I think the real interest is in the idea of linking a learning management system to the cloud, and how it helps to make a single coherent learning journey available at home and within the school – regardless of whether your students have 1:1 laptops or not. If they are using their own home computer, they can still have their learning resources, and tools like Microsoft Office available, in the same way.

    I’m going to see if the LP+ team have a video demo available of the Office 365 integration, as that should give a good idea of how the students move between the different cloud services (and how students and teachers can move between using LP+, Office Web Apps, email and online real-time communications like Lync).

    Learn MoreVisit the LP+ website for more information

  • Education

    What does the Cloud do in education, as well as create jobs?


    According to an IDC study “Cloud Computing & Worldwide Job Creation”, it’s forecast that nearly 14 million new jobs will have been created worldwide by cloud services around the world. In Australia, it’s forecast that cloud-related jobs are going to grow 129% between 2012 and 2015. And education is one of the fastest growing markets for jobs created by Cloud services (see Table 1 in the report) – with a compound annual growth rate of 29% to 2015.Windows Azure in Education

    Maybe that’s why, in a new Windows Azure infographic above, it’s an example from the use of Cloud in education that’s put front and centre. The three examples it gives of game-changing use of the Cloud infrastructure are:

    • Harvey Norman, using Windows Azure to scale to almost instantly cope with a 1,850% spike in web traffic
    • Curtin University, using Windows Azure to perform complex genome sequencing in hours, not weeks
    • Pixel Pandemic, using Windows Azure to support 10 million monthly page views, and 300,000 global gamers

    I had two thoughts from reading this:

    1. Education continues to lead the world in innovative use of new technologies
    2. It’s a good example of today’s technology students needing new skills for tomorrow’s world
  • Education

    Comparing Google Apps and Office 365 in Education


    I’ve noticed that they do things differently over in the US compared to Australia, and one of the areas I’ve always noticed is product comparisons. I’m always surprised by comparative advertising on TV whenever I’m in the States, with adverts comparing features and prices for products side by side. The Microsoft team in Seattle run a ‘Why Microsoft’ blog that talks about Microsoft’s strategic and technical differentiation to other products and services.

    They’ve just written a blog post ‘A Day in the Life of a Teacher’, comparing the use of Office 365 (which includes Office Web Apps, SharePoint, Exchange and Lync) and Google Apps, and they’ve done a careful job of providing links through to all of the different comparisons they make.

    If you want to click on the links, you’ll need to download the full infographic in PDF form

    The comparison that caught my eye especially was the comparison of employer demand for Microsoft Office and Google Apps skills. This becomes pretty important as you get to the later years in the education system.

    imageimageThe links send you to CareerBuilder, a US jobs website and shows today that if you search for jobs looking for ‘Google Apps’ skills, you’ll get 56 jobs listed – and 600 times more job opportunities looking for Microsoft Office skills (33,730 jobs listed as of  this morning). This situation is pretty similar in Australia – see my blog post from last year “What skills do employers look for in interviews

    Learn MoreRead the full 'A day in the life of a Teacher' blog post

  • Education

    Building Windows 8 apps to run on all the new shiny devices coming…



    Yesterday I wrote about Generation App, a guide to creating Windows Phone apps in 30 days. But I missed a rather obvious addition – what about Windows 8 Metro style apps?

    ‘Metro style’ apps are built for the new Metro touch interface for Windows 8, and will be able to run on any Windows 8 device, whether that’s full function PCs and laptops, or the different kind of Windows 8 slate devices running Intel or ARM chips. If you’re already testing the Windows 8 Release Preview, you’ll know that an Intel-based computer running Windows 8 can run all of your existing Windows software, plus the new Metro style apps.

    So here’s some really useful resources to building Windows 8 Metro Style apps:

    Learn MoreVisit the Windows Dev Center for Metro style apps

  • Education

    What would your crystal ball show for education's future?


    I have just read a deeply profound, and shocking, blog post, written by the leader of a significant Australian business.

    Written after the news that major Australian media organisations Fairfax and News Ltd are dramatically downsizing, and in the year that Encyclopaedia Britannica stopped producing encyclopaedias, Kodak stopped producing cameras and EMI stopped producing music, it takes a look at the changing dynamics of the business marketplace – where Borders, Blockbuster and Yellow Pages all lose out to their online competitors.

    Here’s an extract, from the blog post in question (modified to hide the business it discusses):


    There is little or no standardization and only minimal attempts to collect evidence that could be used to improve [the business]. New developments are slow and costs go up every year.

    New online providers will challenge the model, developing standard [products], high quality delivery and more effective [metrics]. The online mantra – better, faster, cheaper – is coming to [this industry] and no one knows where it will end. One thing is certain, [businesses] had better start preparing now.


    48x48-gray-questionWhy do I think that this so significant?

    And who’s it from – one of the big retail CEOs (Harvey Norman? Myers? David Jones? Dymocks?) or a manufacturing business, or a publisher?

    It’s important because of who’s saying it, and what they are talking about

    I think it is significant because the author in question is Professor Steven Schwartz, Vice-Chancellor at Macquarie University.

    And the business in question is the business of higher education. Here’s the quote in full:


    Higher education is next. Stuck in the 19th Century, higher education in many places is a craft in which an artisan-academic prepares bespoke courses. The academic decides on the course content, delivers it and assesses the student’s learning.

    There is little or no standardization and only minimal attempts to collect evidence that could be used to improve delivery and assessment. New developments are slow and costs go up every year.

    New online providers will challenge the craft model, developing standard courses, high quality delivery and more effective assessment. The online mantra – better, faster, cheaper – is coming to academe and no one knows where it will end. One thing is certain, universities had better start preparing now.


    If you’re thinking about the future of education, then you should read Professor Schwartz’s thoughts:

    Better, faster, cheaper: the online mantra coming soon to a university near you

    If you’re in the education business – whether that’s delivering education, or delivering to the education system - reading this will help you get ready for your future.

  • Education

    Microsoft Surface


    Just in case you missed it, something happened in LA yesterday:

    Microsoft Surface

    Learn MoreVisit the Microsoft Surface website

  • Education

    Busylight for Lync–Good Idea or Evil Genius?


    If you’re using Microsoft Lync today, for example for instant messaging or phone calls, you’ll know one of it’s great features is the way that you can instantly see whether other people free and busy information (something we call ‘presence’) . When you receive an email from somebody, you can easily see if they are online and free, so that you can give them a call instead of creating yet another email. Or if you see a document on your SharePoint, you see the author’s name alongside it, and a little bubble that tells you when they are available.

    imageThe little presence ‘jelly bean’ icon (the green icon beside my name on the left) shows up in email, SharePoint, Lync, Office documents – all over the place. And it changes colour – green for available; red for in the meeting or on the phone; deep-red for ‘do not disturb’.

    imageThe image on the right is my current Lync window – I can quickly scan it to see who’s online, who’s available, who’s busy, if they are on the phone etc.

    • David and Richard are both in conference calls
    • Lucy is in a meeting
    • Jon’s free
      And in the North Ryde office
    • Andy’s offline
      But seeing ‘mobile’ means that, if I’m desperate, I can also reach him by IM via Lync on his phone.

    It means that I’m much more likely to quickly pick up a casual conversation with one them, using Lync for a phone call, IM chat, or even a video call.

    The only challenge is that means we’re often wearing headphones or Bluetooth headsets. Which means that sometimes you don’t know if somebody’s on the phone and uninterruptible, or can be interrupted because they’re just using the headset to block out noise. And what makes it slightly more confusing is that sometimes people are using a Bluetooth headset on the phone, but I’ve not seen it and started talking to them anyway.

    Busylight for LyncSo when a colleague sent me an email about Busylight, it seemed like an interesting idea. Basically it takes that little ‘presence’ jelly bean status icon, and turns into something physical – a little signal light for your desk.

    I mentioned it on Twitter (asking the question, “Good idea or Evil Genius"?”) and the next thing that happened was the people at kuando, who make Busylight sent me one to play with.

    Now anybody walking up to my desk can see whether I’m free, or busy – either on the phone, or involved in a meeting, or simply trying to get stuff done.

    It also doubles up as the phone ringer – so it trills away when I’ve got an incoming call on Lync, which is handy if the ringing is only happening through your headset, and you’re not wearing it…

    Busylight -  Good Idea or Evil Genius?

    It’s good for open plan offices, or the kind of office where you’re always being interrupted. If you need half an hour each morning to update a record system, you can set your status to Busy, and get everybody to leave you uninterrupted – online or with a tap on the shoulder. It might also be useful as an accessibility device (eg in scenarios like the Vicdeaf Lync use)

    On the Evil Genius side, I’m tempted to think that the IT techs will grab these with glee, set themselves to ‘Do Not Disturb’, and use the glowing bubble to ward off visitors like a light sabre (the USB cord’s long enough).

    Find out more about Busylight

    You can find out more on the Busylight website (it costs around $35)

    I’m going to offer this as a competition prize on the blog, but I’m going to wait until schools are back before I run it. So keep an eye on the blog if you want to win your very own Busylight Smile

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