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

December, 2012

  • Education

    Free training for Office app developers in Sydney and Melbourne


    Pretty sure the future belongs to people who write apps, not people who just use apps.


    These words are from a tweet by Alfred Thompson, an ex-colleague who used run the academic developer programmes for Microsoft in the US. He's worth following on Twitter for all things computer-science related.

    It got me thinking about the fact that we're going through a cycle where apps have come down from being massive enterprise-wide systems to being things that individuals and small groups can write. There are three factors which are driving it:

    • App stores popping up all over the place, with low app prices
    • The ability for an individual to write an app and publish it to a global marketplace
    • Users' changing mindset of buying an app and just 'giving it a go' to see if it helps them

    Before I first started in the IT industry, I was a part-time developer. I wrote a business graphics software suite that worked with spreadsheets (before they could do charts themselves), and then sold it to a multinational. It got me started into an IT career. But when I have talked to students over the last twenty years, I've always emphasised that route would be really tricky to do.

    But now, I think things are changing back. Suddenly, anybody with the right skills can develop an app and start to sell it or give it away – and any of those people could be the next app developer who's hit 100,000 downloads. That change is going to challenge the conventional software houses and educational publishers, and we're all going to have to get more agile.

    Why Education is becoming an 'apps' market

    The changes are going to be especially profound in education. With the consumerisation of IT happening, teachers are feeling that they can choose the apps, the systems and the devices that they want to use in the classroom – and if their IT teams don't give them what they want, then they're going to bring along their own device and use that. Even when IT think that isn't happening, I see it happening all the time – it started with phones and apps, then moved to tablets and apps, and I've even heard of teachers bringing in their own servers to be able to do what they need to teach their students!

    An action plan to deal with consumerisation of IT in education

    So, if BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) and consumerisation of apps, data and devices is ramping up, what should developers be doing?

    1. Create Apps for teachers
      Start with the app model – producing apps that teachers can use to make a part of their teaching more effective or efficient. Perhaps it could be an app for students to use, or perhaps an app for teachers themselves.
    2. Make them widely available
      There's all kinds of marketplaces for apps – some are for a personal device (like an iPhone, Windows Phone or Android Phone); others are for hybrid or institution-owned devices (like laptops, iPads, Windows tablets etc); and some are marketplaces for add-ins (like the Office Store, for distributing apps as add-ins for Office or SharePoint)
    3. Let teachers connect your apps to their data
      The reality for teachers is that have big pools of data – if only they were a single pool of data. But in many cases they have lots of disconnected puddles of data – a bit of attendance info here; a marksheet there; some official stats somewhere else; high-stakes testing data in another system. Helping teachers bring that info together, without simply hoovering it up and creating another pool of out-of-date data, is going to be a valuable bonus for teachers. (And if you start creating new data, make sure that teachers can export it out from your app to their data system)

    Want to know where to start on building education apps?

    I've written before about building Windows 8 education apps:

    Apps for Office icon in Office 2013But how about the new idea of developing apps for Office and SharePoint? Given that Microsoft Office is installed on pretty much every teacher's computer in Australia, then there's a potentially huge market going to appear over the next six months, as teachers are upgraded to the latest release of Office – and discover the 'Apps for Office' button. The Office Store has only been live for short a while, and has a reasonably long list of apps from recognisable brands like Britannica, LinkedIn, Kodak, Avery and Hertz. But the small number of apps in the Office Store Education category (which is promoted on the Office Store home page) means that there's a greater opportunity to get discovered and recommended in the early days. And small apps that save time for teachers are likely to get widely shared and talked about (even simple apps like a 'class list creator' or a 'marksheet maker' will save teachers loads of time).

    Even more helpfully, we've got two free 2-day events coming to Sydney and Melbourne, where experts in developing Office and SharePoint apps are coming over from the Seattle to share their experience. If you're a developer, and you've got an itch to get a foothold in the new Office apps market, then this is the best investment of two days you can make:

    Learn how to develop and sell apps for Office and SharePoint at our two Office DevCamps in Australia:

    • 4-5 February in Sydney

    • 7-8 February in Melbourne

    Make a dateMake a date: Find out more, and register for the Office DevCamps

  • Education

    Top 10 Education blog posts of 2012


    Hey, everybody else is at it, so I thought I should join the bandwagon. So here's my top ten Education blog posts, all from this Education blog from Australia. It's a top ten by number of readers, and although quantity is no judge of quality hopefully there'll be something here that you find useful, and might have missed during the year.

    Top 10 Education blog posts of 2012

    1. Final version of the free Windows 8 programming ebook
      Yep, that magic word 'free' seemed to make this the most shared blog post of 2012
    2. The 5 factors which affect school performance
      Although it's over a year old, this blog post is still regularly read by people searching for this info on Bing & Google, and comes up as the #1 search result for 'factors affecting education'
    3. Windows 8 Education Apps
      There's obviously plenty of people looking for info on recommended Windows 8 apps for education
    4. Free technical ebook for Kindle and PDF – Microsoft SQL Server 2012
      I hadn't realised I had such a geeky audience! Two technical books in the top 5
    5. Microsoft Australia Partner Conference dates and venue
      This is for the 2012 conference, but each year I've noticed that my APC blog posts end up high on the search results page on the web, and attract web traffic for people looking for more info
    6. Bring Your Own Device in schools - one school’s experience
      A case study from the UK of a high school that has been rolling out a school BYOD programme and now has 1,000+ unmanaged devices connected
    7. One in six schools block Wikipedia
      Nearly 18 months old, and still getting read
    8. Microsoft and the Cloud – what it means for education
      Because I couldn't find it elsewhere, I had a crack at describing all of the Microsoft cloud services that are relevant to education. 1,800 words later, I bet I still missed a lot!
    9. Songsmith - free software for teachers in February
      The most popular of 28 free education software downloads I featured in my February Freebies list
    10. New lower prices for Office 365 for education
      In March we reduced the price of Office 365 for education – to make the basic service free – and that caught people's interest

    My 600th Education Blog post!

    It's still less than two years since I started writing this blog, and in that time I've written 599 blog posts (the most popular of all time is 'Something for the weekend - free eBooks from Microsoft Press') and hopefully I've managed to share some useful education blog posts beyond this top ten, and helped one or two of you to discover something new and help you to enhance teaching and learning for your students (or yourself!) along the way!

    After writing more than one blog every single working day, it's perhaps suitable to publish this 600th blog post on my very last working day on 2012.

    Happy New Year!

  • Education

    Wednesday's Webinar–Tablets in schools


    This week's webinar "Tablets in Schools" is on Wednesday 5th December from 1 – 2pm.

    Cooper Wearne, the host, promises:

      Everything your school needs to know about Windows 8 hardware. We will be looking at the emerging role tablets are playing in schools and we will highlight our recommended devices!  

    I'm hoping that Cooper can tell us all a bit more about some of these very cool Windows 8 devices for next academic year

    Make a dateMake a date: Register by emailing Cooper, who will send you the joining instructions

  • Education

    Impacting student retention–the hundred million dollar question


    Student attritionAcross Australia, tens of thousands of students start courses in universities that they never finish. Sometimes it’s because they find their course isn’t quite what they expected, and switch to a more suitable course. And sometimes they find that the university or course doesn’t meet their needs, and they switch university. Other times they end up leaving higher education.

    In the past, whilst this has been an issue for universities, it hasn’t been seen as a critical business issue. But, with the new competitive marketplace that’s been created by the lifting of the cap on student enrolments, there’s a new atmosphere on most campuses. Senior leaders are looking at their institutions, courses and teaching, and asking “What more can we do to keep our students?”.

    When recruiting a student costs many thousands of dollars, and losing a student costs tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars in future revenue, and some Australian universities teeter on the brink of financial instability, then attitudes are changing rapidly.

    In 2011 university student attrition stood at nearly 20%, with some universities losing over a third of their students.

    We’re talking about a loss of tens of millions of dollars to a university – hundreds of millions across Australian universities.

    So, what do we know about the factors which affect student retention? In reality, less than Coles or Woolworths know about our grocery buying habits. There are projects across many universities, within Australia and internationally. There are factors being examined and tested. And broad agreement on some key factors. But until we can develop at least the same kind of smart approach to this that the grocers take, we’re in the foothills.

    Learn MoreRead more about Student Retention

  • Education

    Microsoft Partner Update - 12th December in Melbourne



    Next Wednesday, on 12th December, Patrick Pathinathan - the Microsoft Partner Director for Australia - is hosting a briefing event for local Microsoft partners at our Melbourne office. It’s an opportunity to hear about our plans and strategies, as well as to meet up with members of the local Microsoft team from a number of different areas. Although I’m not going to be there, there will be my equivalents from the other public sector teams there – Brad Coughlan, the Government IMDM, and Brian McLaughlin, the Health IMDM. There’s also a chance to meet others in the local team.

    If you’re in Melbourne on Wednesday, can I recommend it as a good use of a morning. In addition to the content sessions planned, it’s often the conversations you can have during the breaks that delivers great value from connecting with Microsoft and other partners.

    Patrick’s description of the briefing is:

      As Microsoft enters a new era , the demands of consumers and the pressure that this places on the Consumerisation of IT across organisations is going to be magnified to a greater level.  You are invited to attend a partner update aimed at equipping you with the insight you need to compete and win in the enterprise. We will share perspectives on the industry as well as the themes that are shaping the buying behaviours of CxO’s across the enterprise. The update will also include insights on industry growth areas,  as well as a deep dive into how Microsoft,  together with our industry partners can position solutions designed to amplify the impact of our platform through industry solutions.  

    The details…

    You will need to register in advance, as we'll need to make sure we've got a place reserved for you:

    • Registration: 8:30am – 9am
    • Briefing: 9am – 11:30am
    • Date: 12th December 2012
    • Venue: Microsoft Melbourne (Level 5, 4 Freshwater Place, Southbank)

    Please register by email here

  • Education

    Another amazing day for students in Australia, and around the world


    Team StethCloudThis time last year, a group of four students from the University of Melbourne, got together as Team StethoCloud to enter the Imagine Cup – a Microsoft competition for students to innovate with technology to solve real-world problems. StethoCloud set out to solve a big real-world problem – the fact that pneumonia kills more children under five than any other disease, and is responsible for 1.5 million deaths a year, mostly in the developing world.

    They entered the Australian competition of the Imagine Cup, with their idea: a cloud-powered, mobile-hybrid stethoscope for early detection of pneumonia. By connecting a custom stethoscope to a mobile phone, the user is able to transmit diagnostic information into a cloud service, reproducing the diagnostic capability of a trained medical doctor.

    Their supporting video was:

    After some pretty intensive judging rounds, they won the Australian final and got to go to the world finals (sadly for them, the 2012 worldwide finals of the Imagine Cup was in Sydney). Sadly, they didn't make it to the awards at the worldwide Imagine Cup, but the story was never going to end there – they were already working with clinical researchers to see whether their idea could make it into production. And they got noticed along the way by people like TechCrunch, Bloomberg BusinessWeek, Mashable, Wired and Gizmodo.

    Well it's just taken another amazing turn. Team StethoCloud have just been given an Imagine Cup Grant, of $75,000 to take their project further. In addition to the cash, they've been give grants of software, cloud computing services and access to further Microsoft resources.

    This time last year, they were a group of students entering a technology competition. Now, they're continuing to solve a problem that's challenged the world for centuries.

    Could it be somebody you know who could be the catalyst for that kind of change this year? It's not too late to enter the Imagine Cup 2013 – and get the chance to represent Australia at the worldwide finals in Russia next year. Student teams need four members, and have to be aged 16 or over. Entry deadline is 15th January 2013.

    Find MoreFind out how to enter the 2013 Imagine Cup

  • Education

    Australia's most innovative company (and our most innovative sector?)


    imageClickView – who provide a brilliant video streaming and library service used by loads of schools in Australia - has just been labelled "Australia's Most Innovative Company" by BRW.

    ClickView's digital video solution for schools, is designed to support learning the classroom by providing a simple and complete solution for watching digital video and other digital media (and if you're not yet using it, then give it a run with their ClickView free trial)

    They've been having a run of success with us at the moment too, as they won the award as Microsoft Education Partner of the Year 2012 in September. And they were also the first education partner from Australia to get a Windows 8 education application into the new Windows Store.

    There will be lots of schools already using ClickView's service, and it's great to know that their innovation is also being recognised outside of education.

    I'm tempted to believe that education ICT developers are one of the most innovative sectors in Australia at the moment, because the finalist list also included Janison, who have been at the forefront of innovation for online assessment for the last couple of years in Australia too. And obviously we judges for Microsoft's Education Partner of the Year aren't a shabby bunch either, as both Janison and ClickView have been previous winners of Education Partner of the Year for Australia.


    Find MoreRead about ClickView's award as Microsoft Education Partner of the Year 2012

    Read about ClickView's Windows 8 app

  • Education

    Win a limited edition Xbox package for trying out Windows Server 2012 and System Center 2012


    At last, after a long semester, the summer holidays are just around the corner for many Australian education institutions (or may even have started if you're lucky). In my experience, the last couple of days before the students finish, and the first couple of weeks of the holiday tend to be manic – lots of last minute projects, plus a bunch of new projects that absolutely have to be kicked off in time to deliver for when the students return next year.

    But then things start to ease up, and you get the chance to have a go at side projects. With no students and staff constantly asking for support, you often get a chance to geek out for a half day. And so here's my suggestion for a great little project:

    See what Windows Server 2012 and System Center 2012 have to offer, and enter to win an Xbox Halo 4 limited edition package

    Limited edition Halo 4 Xbox 360The server team in Australia are running a simple competition – download a free evaluation copy of one or both of their new shiny products, and they'll enter you into the draw to win a customised Xbox 360 package, with Halo 4 branding all over it, and customised controllers.

    The details of how to enter are over on the competition home page, which is open to Australian residents (and, sadly, not Microsoft staff or our geeky spouses/children). All you need to do it download either (or both) and then send in a screenshot of the completed download. Both gets you two entries.

    And to make your experience even better, you could download the free Microsoft Press 'Introducing Windows Server 2012' ebook for PDF or Kindle too, so that you can have some guidance as you run up your new Windows Server 2012 evaluation

    Find MoreFind out more about the competition, and get the download links

  • Education

    Using the cloud as a supercomputer: How to analyse 63 billion genetic data points in three days


    In the good old days (you know, like five years ago) you needed a supercomputer to do massive data analysis jobs. University research departments either had to build their own, or buy precious schedule time on somebody else's supercomputer. You had to be pretty sure that your research was important, and going to deliver a valuable result, before you could contemplate committing such a major investment of computing time.

    These days, you can often replace a supercomputer with cloud services – meaning supercomputers are all around and anybody with a credit card can rent them by the hour as a simple cloud service. My colleague Steve Clayton has just written about a series of projects from Microsoft Research where they are using the Microsoft Windows Azure cloud to analyse massive volumes of data as they research deep medical problems, such as diabetes, Crohn's disease and coronary artery disease:


    Research in these areas is notoriously tricky due to the requirement for a large amount of data and the potential for false positives arising from data sourced from related individuals. A technique and algorithm known as linear mixed models (LMMs) can eliminate this issue but they take an enormous amount of compute time and memory to run. To avoid this computational roadblock, Microsoft Research developed the Factored Spectrally Transformed Linear Mixed Model (better known as FaST-LMM), an algorithm that extends the ability to detect new biological relations by using data that is several orders of magnitude larger. It allows much larger datasets to be processed and can, therefore, detect more subtle signals in the data. Utilizing Windows Azure, MSR ran FaST-LMM on data from the Wellcome Trust, analyzing 63,524,915,020 pairs of genetic markers for the conditions mentioned above.

    27,000 CPU’s were used over a period of 72 hours. 1 million tasks were consumed —the equivalent of approximately 1.9 million compute hours. If the same computation had been run on an 8-core system, it would have taken 25 years to complete.

    That’s supercomputing on demand and it’s available to everyone – as is the result of this job in Epistasis GWAS for 7 common diseases in the Windows Azure Marketplace.


    There's a short video case study on YouTube (and with possibly the most intelligent set of comments on a YouTube video I've ever seen!).

    Learn MoreRead more…
    The Microsoft Research Connections blog has more detailed information on this and other research projects where projects are able to replace a supercomputer with cloud services.

  • Education

    Windows 8 for education–a look at Windows To Go


    One of the clever additions to Windows is the Windows To Go, which is really helpful if you're considering using Windows 8 in education. It gives you a fully manageable corporate Windows 8 desktop on a bootable external USB stick. This could allow support for “Bring Your Own PC” and give access to your IT environment for users’ own devices without compromising security.

    In education, there's a couple of scenarios that are particularly relevant:

    • Giving your students access to your standard Windows build and applications from their home computer temporarily
    • Letting students (or even staff) use their own PC in school, but making sure they use your standard Windows build, so that your school data doesn't end up on their device, and you don't risk them bringing in virus-infected computers that are connected onto your network.

    Mark Reynolds, from the Microsoft UK Education team, has just recorded a short video showing you how Windows To Go works, and it's a masterpiece of summary, at only 2 1/2 minutes long.

    Find MoreClick here for more on what features are in which versions of Windows 8

    Find more videos from the Microsoft UK Education team, on their ITHeadsUp channel

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