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

November, 2012

  • Education

    Free DevCamps for aspiring developers of Office apps



    If you are a software developer for education, then you'll already know about the app marketplaces for different devices – like the Windows Store for Windows 8 apps, the iTunes store for iPad/iPod apps and Google Play for Android apps. It's become another route to market for developers, and been a way to reach a wider group of potential individual customers. In the education market it's been a way to distribute apps to individual teachers and schools, and help them to discover software not available through their standard computer build - most education customers get given a device with a standard list of software pre-installed.

    So if the apps stores are a good route to market for education, then here's another app store that you should know about – and some free training events to get you started:

    The Office Store for Office and SharePoint apps

    The all new cloud app extensibility model for Office and SharePoint 2013 enables building a whole new class of productivity solutions for Office and SharePoint. And the new Office Store on provides the venue for these apps to be delivered to millions of Office and Office 365 SharePoint Online users worldwide. It's still in beta at the moment, but already it's being used by customers to buy and download Office apps.

    Learn how to develop apps for the Office Store

    Early next year, we will be running two DevCamps for software developers to learn all about the Office Store, and the app development model. It will be a very practical two day workshop, that covers the store, demonstrates what apps look like, and then will step you through the process of building code and even give you options for 1:1 discussions with the programme leads for the Office Store apps.


    In these DevCamps, developers will learn the concepts of the new app model and how to use it for building apps for Office and SharePoint. Topics for building apps for SharePoint range from how to read/write to SharePoint as a service using its rich APIs whether the JavaScript/managed code object model or via REST/oData, how events that happen on SharePoint can drive actions in your app, to using SharePoint search via the APIs.

    Topics for apps for Office include how to build task pane, content and mail apps that render in the Office client applications, use the JavaScript object model to interact with documents and mail items, and how to deploy apps for Office as standalone solutions or part of an app for SharePoint. Other topics will cover how to think about elasticity, scalability and reliability of your backend services and the steps for getting your app into the Office Store.


    There's plenty of information to get started on building Office apps available now, so that you can get started, and hopefully the DevCamp will help you zoom ahead further.

    Register for one of the free Australian DevCamps for Office apps

    Make a dateMake a date: Find out more about all the DevCamps (Australia, and beyond)

    DevCamp for Office apps in Sydney 4th and 5th February - Register Here

    DevCamp for Office apps in Melbourne  7th and 8th February - Register Here*

    * Today, this is still saying Sydney 6th Feb, but will shortly be corrected to Melbourne 7th Feb

  • Education

    How to succeed in Education Technology


    I've just finished reading an excellent article, "How to Succeed in Education Technology" written by the cofounders of Wikispaces, to provide advice and support for people running companies producing education technology products and services - or people thinking of starting one. It's clear, concise (even though it's lengthy!) and it contains some absolute gems of information.

    If you're a supplier to education this is a great read, full of good advice and valuable lessons. And if you're in a school, TAFE or University, it's a great read too, for the overview it provides of the context of change in education today, and for the ideas it might generate on how to enthuse colleagues, and leaders, to help change happen.

    And it hooks you with its first line:


    Most of today's education technology startups are doomed to fail.


    It then goes on to describe some of the challenges that young technology companies face in the education market, which are fundamentally different to those faced by consumer technology companies.

    Here in Australia, we've got some great examples of companies that have started small and become successful through providing services that schools want – like ClickView, who through sheer hard work now have been chosen by 7 out of 10 of Australian High Schools to provide their video services; and 3P Learning, who's Mathletics service has been chosen by huge numbers of schools in Australia, the US and the UK. Along their journeys they will have learnt some of the lessons that are shared in the article.

    The article defines what success looks like (for Wikispaces) and compares that to how success might be judged in a consumer-facing startup,

    There are a couple of points that really hit home for me. Like this not about the need to serve institutions, but in a different way to the past:


    Schools have lost their appetite for cold calls, long sales cycles, big-ticket software contracts, torturous implementations, and projects loaded with long-term risks. Without grass-roots adoption, salespeople can't show the one thing that institutions crave most: demonstrated success under their own roof.

    While customer quotes and whitepapers and research analysts can claim that a product will be successful, teachers who already use the product in their classrooms are the real proof. Bottom-up has replaced top-down. We're seeing more and more leaders of institutions large and small influenced by stories of products that work today for their own students and teachers.


    When talking about the need for companies to have "a burning passion to serve the educational market, and the determination to commit a decade or more of your life", they illustrate the reason by listing some of the difficult environmental barriers that face people providing services to the education market. They include:

    • Long and uncertain budget cycles
    • Purchasing bureaucracy
    • Limited outside funding sources
    • Micro and macro political pressures
    • Lack of and low upside for technology champions
    • Lack of resources for large-scale technology implementations
    • Resistance to change, especially when institutions have been burned before
    • An unprecedented level of competition for attention in the ed-tech space


    Learn MoreRead the full article "How to build a successful startup" on EdSurge

    There's also a couple of EdSurge newsletters that you can sign up for, including one specifically for teachers

  • Education

    Win prizes for building apps for Office and SharePoint


    image_thumb[7] We're in the middle of a competition for partners or individuals to build apps for the new Office and SharePoint. With the new model of creating, selling, distributing and running apps in Office, and the creation of the new Office Store to promote apps, there's plenty of potential for developers to create new apps that are available for the hundreds of millions of potential users. And the competition is open to Australian developers too.

    Ideas for Office app developers in education

    If you want ideas for education apps for Office, to get your creative ideas flowing, take a look at Building education applications for Office, Office 365 for education and SharePoint.


    Prizes for building Office and SharePoint apps

    The top app in the competition will win US$10,000, plus lots of promotional activities in partnership with the Office team, including getting to be a featured app on the Office Store and Office blog. And some support and consultation to help you with your next app!

    There are an additional 15 winners, who get a Kinect and Xbox, plus promotion for their apps. And then finally 100 further prizes of a Microsoft Mouse or equivalent (see the prizes here)

    The closing date is 20th December, so you've got a few weeks to get your act/app together and submit your entry.

    Learn MoreRead more about the competition, and find out how to enter

  • Education

    Analytics and Business Intelligence in US education–what are the lessons for Australian universities?


    Nearly two thirds of universities in the US reported in June 2012 that analytics (or business intelligence*) was a major priority for their institution, or some departments within their institution. And 84% reported that it was more important to them than two years ago. As a single fact, that doesn't seem significant – what's really useful to see from the report is the areas of the universities that are using analytics. Beyond the stalwart of finance and budgeting, the main focus appears to be on using analytics for student-centric processes – enrolments, student progress, instructional management. And relatively lower use of analytics in areas such as human resources, facilities, and staff management.

    One of the key findings of the report was that whilst analytics is widely viewed as important, data use at most institutions is still limited to reporting. They also found that programs were most successful when they involved partnership across teams – IT, functional leaders and organisational leaders. They also recommended that institutions should focus their investments on expertise, process, and policies before acquiring new tools or collecting additional data. Although, I think there is a real danger – observed across many analytics projects – of analysis paralysis, resulting in an ever-expanding project scope, and the resulting delays in project deliverables.

    Are analytics tools too expensive?

    The Executive Summary at the front of the report highlights two key questions:

    • Is data mainly collected to enable reporting, rather than to address strategic organisational issues?
    • Is cost a major barrier to widespread use of analytics?

    In fact, 'affordability' was the largest concern about the growing use of analytics in Higher Education (Fig 5, page 13) As the Executive Summary says on page 3:


    One of the major barriers to analytics in higher education is cost. Many institutions view analytics as an expensive endeavour rather than as an investment. Much of the concern around affordability centres on the perceived need for expensive tools or data collection methods. What is needed most, however, is investment in analytics professionals who can contribute to the entire process, from defining the key questions to developing data models to designing and delivering alerts, dashboards, recommendations, and reports.

    I've heard similar views expressed – but in a growing mindset of 'self service BI', where the end user is often going to be doing their own data analysis in the tools they are already familiar with – like Excel – I think the need for additional BI tools for everybody is fading. Given that in most Australian universities, all of the staff are already licensed for the common-place analytics tools like Excel, then cost should hopefully not be a barrier to widespread use, and perhaps the need is more of training to help users interpret standard sets of information, and how to analyse it together with their own local datasets.

    Which areas of universities are using analytics?

    The chart below comes from the 2012 ECAR Study of Analytics in Higher Education (the full infographic is a 13MB PDF file here). The area labelled 'student progress' also includes student retention, which I think is a key scenario for analytics with students.

    Departmental use of Analytics in Higher Education

    Given the report's view that a lot of the use of BI/analytics was for 'reporting' rather than true analytics, perhaps there's not a huge surprise here – but it's a timely reminder that reporting data is exploiting a small part of the potential of a analytics/business intelligence system.

    Learn MoreIf you, or colleagues, are involved in discussions or projects around business intelligence or analytics, then I'd recommend the full report, as it's written in a very approachable way, with many useful insights. You can view the full 2012 ECAR Study of "Analytics in Higher Education" on the EDUCAUSE website

    I think there appears to be a shift in language that's happened here. What's called 'analytics' in this report has traditionally been called 'business intelligence' more widely. I know that the phrase 'learning analytics' has become the norm for student-centric BI, but I wonder if the name change we see in this report has come because of the word 'business' in 'business intelligence' – and the perceived need to ensure that people don't apply the label 'business' to education (echoed by one of the response options under 'concerns' about the use of analytics which was "Another means of running higher education like a business")

  • Education

    The biggest factor affecting student retention happens before the student arrives


    I've been in a lot of discussions about CRM for student recruitment and student retention systems in the last month, and today I'm spending the day in a planning workshop, so I thought I'd share a controversial thought bouncing around my brain about higher education student attrition:

    There’s plenty of evidence to suggest that the biggest factor impacting student attrition is their preparation for university before they arrive. And if we were to ‘game’ student retention improvement, the most effective mechanism would be to alter the intake of students. But is that fair to do? Or, are we already doing it?

    One factor that impacts student retention is prior academic achievement. It appears that students with lower academic scores on entry are more likely to drop out, although that be covering up other factors such as parental engagement, preparation for the style of learning in universities.

    According to Steve Draper, from the University of Glasgow:

    “If a student’s parents both went to university, preferably the same university; if their school assumed they would go and pre-trained them e.g. to take notes, use the library, to write essays exhibiting critical thinking, etc., then this may make that student more likely to succeed. Furthermore there are associations, almost certainly causal, between wealth and family support on the one hand, and retention on the other. More accurately, different families demonstrate different amounts of commitment to keeping a student in education. Previous academic achievement is a measure of this because it measures their demonstrated commitment to date, and so selecting for achievement is also likely to select for continued support, and against students who may have to leave to support their families which is a common cause of dropout.”

    We already select students on their academic ability. Is it also okay to select student intake, based on their preparation for university (some already do)? And if so, do you draw the line at selecting according to the parent’s university history? Especially if you know that’s a real factor that drives student retention and attrition.

    Find MoreFind related articles on CRM in education, for student recruitment and retention

  • Education

    How education customers can use licence mobility with Dynamics CRM


    Icons_gears_blueLast year, I wrote about changes in our licensing, which introduced Licence Mobility, which arrived last July. This gave customers much more flexibility in their decisions about deploying applications on-premise, and in shared data centres in the cloud – both Microsoft datacentres and those run by our partners. For example, you can now use their licences to run key applications in a data centre which is shared between different customers (previously, a completely different licence type - called SPLA - was needed for shared data centres). For basic details of how the scheme works, take a look at my earlier blog post, but here's a couple of the key points:

    • Licence mobility applies when you buy your Microsoft server software with Software Assurance.
      For education customers, that's automatically included in our Subscription Agreements (EES, School Agreement and Campus Agreement), but if you buy your licences under Select or Open schemes, Software Assurance is an addition.
    • Licence mobility covers servers for Dynamics CRM, System Center, Lync, SharePoint, SQL and Exchange
    • There must be 90 days between each move to the cloud and back (so no moving your servers to the cloud just for the weekend Smile)

    There's a more detailed presentation that steps through the scenarios, and explains in detail what is now possible. For example, this slide demonstrates the gap filled by the new licence mobility, and differentiates between this and the SPLA licensing. Basically, licence mobility allows you to run a dedicated application on shared hardware, whereas SPLA works for shared applications on shared hardware.

    Licence mobility for Dynamics

    So here's how an education customer can use licensing mobility with Dynamics CRM:

    A university wants to run a student recruitment system with Dynamics CRM - and rather than having it setup on their own server, they want their partner to run the service in an hosted data centre. (This makes lots of sense, as the hoster is likely to provide 24x7 uptime support, a guaranteed SLA, and out of hours support).

    The partner is happy to host the Dynamics CRM, and will run it on virtualised servers (who wouldn't?) which means that the hardware is shared - there may be a bunch of other systems from other organisations running on the same physical server.

    Previously, the partner would have had to license this through SPLA licensing, and because this was complicated, it tended to put people off (both partners and customers).

    With Licence Mobility, what now happens is that the education customer simply moves their Academic licences to cover the hosted setup, avoiding the potential duplication of licences, or confusion of multiple licence types. The partner is responsible for licensing the Windows Server hosts - which isn't a change for them - but the customer now buys or provides the licences (in this case Dynamics CRM Server) for the applications.

    For the customer there's a bunch of benefits:

    • The licences for Dynamics CRM can be rolled into their existing subscription agreement with Microsoft (most education customers in Australia will have an existing subscription agreement they can add this too)
    • The customer can use Academic licences, which reduces the cost, and in many cases they will have a framework agreement in place that reduces the cost further (for example, universities can buy this through their CAUDIT agreement)
    • Because it's using subscription licences, it means that the customer automatically receives licences for the latest version, so there are no upgrade costs going forward as we release future versions
    • As the customer owns the licences, they can move them between their data centre, a partner shared data centre, or between different partner data centres, without having to re-licence their servers.

    Learn MoreDownload the full 'Licence Mobility' presentation for more information

    * Please bear in mind I'm not a licensing expert, so I'm basing everything above on my understanding of the way it works, and I've tried to simplify the vast amount of licensing information down to the basics.
  • Education

    Accessibility in Office 365 for education


    Office 365 logoThe Microsoft Accessibility team  run a wide range of initiatives, including a global network of Accessibility centres, an online Accessbility tutorial programme for Windows, Office and Office 365, which includes Office 365 for education. They also publish a comprehensive range of general guides for specific types of impairments:

    Accessibility in Office 365 for education

    The precise details of the accessibility features available to you will depend on which components of Office 365 for education that you use, and which web browsers your users select, but I've summarised the accessibility for the key components and features below:

    • Accessibility features in Office Web Apps
      Office Web Apps provide screen reader support, keyboard accessibility, and high contrast modes. Office Web Apps run in a web browser so you can also use your web browser's accessibility features to improve the readability and accessibility of Office Web Apps, such as screen zoom, colour and font controls.
    • Support for assistive technology products in Word and PowerPoint Web Apps
      The Word Web App and PowerPoint Web App have display modes that make them accessible to screen readers. If you use assistive technologies, such as a screen reader or speech recognition software, you will have the best experience in Office Web Apps if the assistive technology that you use supports WAI-ARIA.
    • Accessibility in Lync Online for instant messaging, calls, and meetings
      Lync provides many accessibility features including keyboard navigation, high contrast, keyboard shortcuts, sharing notification, and screen reader support. You can setup Lync to hear incoming messages read aloud, as well as using keyboard shortcuts to make it easier to navigate and move between active windows
    • Accessibility in SharePoint Online for team document collaboration and websites
      SharePoint Online includes More Accessible Mode, keyboard shortcuts, easy tab navigation, and help for web managers who want to ensure the webpages created are accessible.
    • Accessibility in Exchange Online for email and calendaring
      With Exchange Online, you can listen to email on your desk or mobile phone, manage your calendar, and use familiar keyboard shortcuts when you are managing email and your calendar online.

    Learn MoreThere's plenty of detailed information on the Microsoft Accessibility website but perhaps better still, a handy downloadable handout, "Accessibility in Microsoft Office 365" for education, to share with colleagues who are starting to use Office 365 for education.

  • Education

    A free course from Charles Sturt University on developing Windows Phone 8 apps


    To coincide with the release of Windows Phone 8, IT Masters are offering a free short course in developing Windows Phone 8 applications.  All facets of the course will be delivered online in 11/2 hour sessions, with live, after hours Workshops being run by one of the industry’s leading experts in Mobile Applications Development.  The course commences on this evening, at 7PM, the 21st November.


    Make a dateMake a date: Find out more, and register

    More details on the IT Masters Windows Phone 8 course

    The short course will be run over 4 weeks with lectures being delivered via weekly after-hours webinar presented by Nick Randolph (recordings of the Webinar will be available if you are unable to make the live event). In between the webinars, you will be asked to do 10-12 hours of study including doing practice Labs, reading reference materials and doing assessments.

    Week 1 Webinar 21st Nov -  Windows Phone Development: The Tools and Technologies

    Don’t be fooled! This is the opening session for this four part training series and there is plenty to cover. In this session you’ll experience the tools and technologies that you can leverage to build your first Windows Phone application.

    Week 2 Webinar 28 Nov - Windows Phone Lifecycle, Background Agents and Notifications

    Building on the overview you saw in session 1, in this session we’ll cover the lifecycle of a Windows Phone application. You’ll learn about the agent model that your application can use to run in the background and how you can use notifications to alert and inform the users of your Windows Phone application.

    Week 3 Webinar 5th Dec - Maps, Sensors, Audio and Video with Windows Phone

    By now you might be feeling a bit lost – never fear, we have enough maps and sensors to get you out of trouble. This session is all about integrating your Windows Phone application with the device capabilities around location, media and of course phone features such as contacts and sms.

    Week 4 Webinar 12th Dec - Beyond Windows Phone Development

    In the last session in this series we’ll highlight some of the unique aspects of the Windows Phone application. You’ll learn how you can leverage different pricing models, trial mode and much more in order to optimise your revenue from the Windows Phone store.

    Final Exam:         Wed, 7-8.30pm, 19/12 (optional, open book exam that you sit at your computer)

  • Education

    How to help students fly first class?


    I'm starting to see a number of Windows 8 apps that are creating a personal experience for their users. And the latest, for Emirates - one of the world's fastest growing airlines- made me think about the parallels to education.

    The Emirates KIS app for Windows 8

    Emirates have just announced that they are using a custom Windows 8 application, and touch slate, to personalise the journey for their passengers.

    They serve over 15 million passengers a year, on 125,000 flights to 74 countries. It's a pretty diverse customer base, and one of the challenges they will face is how to deliver a personal experience for their passengers – and to continue to improve already great experience for their First Class passengers. To help, the cabin staff will have a Windows 8 tablet, with the Knowledge-driven Inflight Service (KIS) app next year:

      The KIS app is a fully immersive crew and customer management solution that captures important passenger data around preferences and history. For example, details around previous trips, any issues a customer had during their travels, preferences (food, wine, seating, etc.) are stored in the app to help the crew better serve the needs of customers. Pursers use the app prior to each flight to brief the cabin crew, enabling them to provide an exceptional level of personalized service. The crew can also use the app to upgrade Emirates Skywards members while in flight to Business Class or First Class, as well as record customer feedback that is delivered straight to Emirates management once the flight lands.  

    Over the next year, they will roll out 1,000 devices, so that the purser on every flight will have access to the app, and the customer data that they need to enhance the customers' experiences. Their goal is to increase productivity, enhance teamwork, help with performance management and improve customer service. You can see it in action in this video below:

    So why do I think there are parallels to education?

    What I find interesting is that the scale of personalisation needed here is massive – 15 million passengers a year – and the data that they have on their customers is relative light (even their good customers are only going to be giving them a relatively small number of data sets a year) compared to every day student interactions.

    So with the depth and breadth of student data that is available to every principal, leader and teacher in education, what would the Knowledge-driven Learning Service app look like? What are the design principles that apply to make the right data available to the right teachers, at exactly the right time – and on the right device? I know that there are people working on this kind of problem right now – and some early models of what it looks like are around.

    But going forward, I think that there are some lessons from outside of education that might guide us into the future.

    We have the data across the education system, what we need are increasingly sophisticated – and simple – ways of making it immediately valuable for teaching staff.

    Learn MoreYou can read the full Emirates KIS case study on the global Microsoft case studies website

  • Education

    The Imagine Cup team that made it into Time's Best Inventions of the Year 2012


    In TIME magazine's Tech website, they've recently published the Best Inventions of the Year 2012, which includes indoor clouds, a drifting fish farm, the MakerBot Replicator 2, the Tesla Model S and Enable Talk gloves.

    Enable Talk gloves and the Imagine Cup

    The fact that the Enable Talk gloves are in TIME's Best Inventions of the Year 2012 list is amazing because of the back story.

    They were created by four Ukrainian university students as their entry to the Imagine Cup, to allow speech and hearing impaired people to communicate more easily. The gloves contain sensors that recognise sign language and translate it into text on a Windows Phone, and from that into spoken words. So they quite literally allow somebody with speech impairments to talk – without the listeners having to learn sign language.

    imageThe four students were the Ukrainian team that entered into the global Imagine Cup, which Microsoft run.

    The Imagine Cup 2011 provided me with one of my most inspiring days of 21011, so it was fantastic to see the global finals for the Imagine Cup come to Sydney in 2012 – with teams from 75 countries competing to win the Imagine Cup. And I was lucky enough to be there at Imagine Cup 2012 as a staff volunteer, watching these inspiring students pitch their ideas to a worldwide bank of judges, and to aim to beat the other 300,000 students who entered, to be crowned as winners of the Imagine Cup.

    The Ukrainian's eventually won the Software Design category with their project, and obviously impressed more than just the Imagine Cup judging panel.

    I've always been a fan of the Imagine Cup, and it's power to help students take the world stage of innovation – and to see a small group of dedicated students go from competitors to appearing on a TIME Magazine list of 'Best Of…' is just amazing!

    To see Enable Talk in action, watch their video from the Imagine Cup finals, below and find out more about the team at

    The Imagine Cup 2013

    The 2013 Imagine Cup is in Russia, and the wording on some of the advertising for it now makes absolute sense in the context of the story above!

    The Imagine Cup 2013

    The worldwide finals for the Imagine Cup 2013 are going to be held in St Petersburg, Russia. And they are open to teams of four students from high-schools, TAFEs and universities around the world (students must be 16+). Teams must register by March next year, and the Australian judging finals will take place by April 2013 – they'll pick the team to represent Australia in St Petersburg.

    Do you know any students who are ready to start their journey, and perhaps make it onto TIME's list of Best Innovations of 2013?

    Find MoreFind out more about the Imagine Cup 2013, and how to enter

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