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Ray Fleming's take on what's interesting in Education IT in Australia

  • Education

    Integrating Moodle and Office 365 for Education

    • 22 Comments

    Please note that this information has now been superseded by further announcements and code releases. More information here

    http://blogs.msdn.com/b/education/archive/2015/01/20/moodle-integration-with-office-365-how-to-get-it.aspx

     

     

    We’re continuing to build the list of integration resources that we provide for Moodle, so that schools, TAFEs and universities can integrate their Moodle platforms more securely with the rest of their existing infrastructure. This is a common goal for central IT teams, where they want to ensure their users (both staff and students) are able to move seamlessly between their different systems, and their data isn’t locked into a single platform. For example, rather than having learning resources locked away within their Learning Management System it’s possible to use the content management of SharePoint, and storage space of OneDrive (the new name for SkyDrive), to ensure that users have access even when they are not using Moodle directly, or to provide content management such as version control for staff. In the past I’ve written about the SkyDrive/OneDrive plugin for Moodle and the Moodle kit for Windows Azure.

    imageThe latest plugin from Microsoft integrates Moodle with Office 365 and OneDrive. This allows teachers to create courses and assignments in Moodle that can be read, edited, and submitted by students in SharePoint.

    The download package incudes:

    • Moodle and Office 365 Step-by-Step Guide: Federation using Active Directory Federation Services
      This guide walks you through the setup of a basic lab deployment of Moodle, Active Directory Federation Services (AD FS) 2.0, and Windows Azure Active Directory to perform cross-product, browser-based identity federation.  Once you have the single-sign (SSO) experience setup, you can automate user provisioning and user enrolment in Moodle through your Office 365 system.
    • Moodle-Office 365 User Installation Guide
      This document provides step-by-step instructions to configure and install the Microsoft provided plugin for integration with Moodle. It also describes the new features that are enabled by this plugin.
    • Moodle Release Package
      This installation package contains PHP files and related resources that a developer can use to create the plugin.

    Learn MoreDownload the Moodle and Office 365 integration resources and guidance

    Related Moodle Stories

    You can see all related Moodle blog articles here

  • Education

    The 5 factors which affect school performance

    • 19 Comments

    imageAs I mentioned on Friday, I’m currently reading “School performance in Australia: results from analyses of school effectiveness”, a research report published in 2004.

    When the report starts to take a look at the comparisons between secondary schools, using the main data sets that they have available for school-level analysis, there are five factors which they isolate as being key ones. In the statistical analysis, they call these the ‘control variables’, but they key message is that these are the five things external which have a big impact on the attainment of students. If you remove the influence of these from school-level analysis, you can then analyse the difference in performance between secondary schools more effectively.

    The 5 factors which affect school performance

    1. Previous student attainment (through GAT scores)
    2. Socio Economic Status of the student intake
    3. School size, based on number of students
    4. Rural/Urban location
    5. School sector - Public, Private or Catholic

    Why are these the key underlying 5 factors which affect school performance?

    1. Previous student attainment (in Victoria they use GAT scores to measure this)
      This is used to ensure that you are measuring the ‘value added’ to students’ performance, not just their final achievement
    2. Socio Economic Status of the student intake
      This is used to remove bias from a school being in a particular area which may affect it’s student intake. For example, if a school is located in an area with a higher proportion of social housing, statistically the students are likely to be less engaged with education (eg higher absence rates), with less well educated parents.
    3. School size, based on number of students
      OECD research quoted in the report shows that as school size falls below 1,000 students, average student attainment falls too
    4. Rural/Urban location
      Research shows that this is an important influencer of school performance within Australia
    5. School sector - Public, Private or Catholic
      When you don’t take this factor into account, then the analysis of school performance tends to show schools grouping into three bands, representing the different sectors.

    By taking these factors into account when looking at school performance, you are able to get a better idea of how each school is performing compared to other schools, and a better idea of the ‘value added’ to individual students. (You can read much more about this from page 28 of the report. You’ll also see on Page 29, that they used a different set of factors for primary schools, which included density of indigenous students and transient families).

    The question I have in my mind now is:

    If you are a school leader in Australia, do you have the right performance data available, in your analysis systems, to allow for these 5 key factors? Do the reports that you receive help you to allow for these factors?

    Learn MoreRead the full 'School Performance in Australia' report

     

    NB I know that there will be readers who will see this as an over-simplification of the analysis. My aim isn’t to reinterpret it, but simply to share what I’m understanding as I’m reading it. And I’m sure you’ll correct me if I’m wrong - either by adding a comment below or hitting the ‘Email Blog Author’ link at the top right.

  • Education

    Ten of the best - SharePoint University websites

    • 10 Comments

    After the list of school websites built on SharePoint from earlier in the week, here’s another handy (and subjective!) list of Ten University SharePoint websites. These websites are all public facing, and by building them on SharePoint, it means the universities can manage the content in exactly the same way as they manage their other resources - and use SharePoint’s workflow to manage the publishing process. But enough of the SharePoint Content Management story - let’s get down to the pictures:

    Click on any of the images to link to the live website

    1. Northern State University, USA
      Northern State University website

    2. Saïd Business School – University of Oxford, UK 
      Saïd Business School – University of Oxford

    3. Coventry University, UK 
      Coventry University

    4. University College London Hospitals, UK 
      University College London Hospitals

    5. Harvard Business School Executive Education, USA 
      Harvard Business School Executive Education

    6. Furman University, USA 
      Furman University

    7. University of Wales, Newport, UK
      University of Wales

    8. The University of Colorado Denver Business School, USA 
      University of Colorado

    9. Chalmers University, Sweden
      Chalmers University

    10. Washington University in St. Louis - Olin Business School, USA
      image

    Learn MoreDownload the PowerPoint versions of Top 10 University SharePoint websites

  • Education

    One in six schools block Wikipedia

    • 10 Comments

    This morning's Sydney Morning Herald ran an education story "Teaching the Facebook Generation". The overall piece looks at how social media impacts on the relationship between students and teachers, and is worth a read to understand some of the issues faced in today's school environment, where Web 2.0 has both upsides and downsides.

    What caught me eye was some numbers on the proportion of Australian schools which block various websites:

    • 86% of schools block Facebook
    • 57% of schools block YouTube
    • 14% of schools block Wikipedia

    These stats are from the 2009 report "Web 2.0 site blocking in schools" from the Strategic ICT Advisory Service, which is funded by the Australian Government’s Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations.

    I understand the block on facebook in schools (although it's a little futile, because most students who want to can get to it any time that they want from their phone), and I kind of understand the YouTube block (although, some of best educational learning resources, like the 2,000+ videos Khan Academy for maths, get swept up into the all-encompassing ban, depriving students in the classroom of the chance to learn alongside the students who have taken 40 million free lessons on Khan Academy).

    What surprised me was that 1 in 6 schools block Wikipedia. Okay, not everything in it is 100% accurate, but researchers have demonstrated it is as accurate as conventional encyclopaedia's (and Wikipedia itself has an excellent self-reflective article on it's own accuracy). My daughter came home from school with a project on Antartica exploration, with specific instructions from her teacher that she must not use Wikipedia for her research.

    What worries me is that we're already falling behind with testing students for the skills needed for the 21st Century workplace - but are the technology restrictions meaning that we are also failing to teach the skills they need? For example, if so much of modern business involves integrating the web (eg a marketing agency with no skills in social networking will soon be an ex-marketing agency), how do we teach the skills the students will need as they move into the workplace? As businesses create their own internal social networks, wikis and information marketplaces, what's the correct way for a school to keep up with the skills and technology needed, whilst fulfilling their duty of care to their students.

    Most IT managers I've met in schools focus on the systems and processes (for example, they think about SharePoint as a way of controlling information flow and processes), whereas exactly the same systems could be turned upside down - put the user in control, and enable social networking and wikis within the safe environment of a school community. Is that what's happening in most schools? Or is it easy to ban something, but tricky to enable an alternative?

  • Education

    Update 3: Microsoft Surface RT Education offer in Australia

    • 9 Comments

    One of the most frequent questions that we’ve been asked about the Microsoft Surface RT offer for education customers in Australia (the offer is for education institutions to be able to order the Microsoft Surface RT from AU$219) is “can I get the Surface RT Education offer in stores, rather than ordering online from Microsoft?”

    Well, up until now the answer has been ‘no’, but we’ve realised that we could be a little be more flexible…

    So now the answer is ‘Yes’!

    Here’s how it works:

    • Education institutions are able to go to their local Harvey Norman or JB Hi-Fi and place an order, referencing the Limited Time Education Offer
    • The institution and retailer agree on method of payment and delivery details
    • Retailer forwards the order to Microsoft for validation that they are a valid education institution that meets the criteria
    • Once the order’s been validated, the retailer can supply the devices

    This retail option means that you can get a faster and more efficient purchase route, and supply from a local business.

    Just in case you’ve missed it before, here’s a quick summary of the Surface RT Education offer in Australia: Education institutions qualify for the offer to buy Microsoft Surface RT, starting at AU$219, until the end of September 2013.

    Learn MoreHere’s where you can get all the details on the Surface RT education offer in Australia, and here’s my previous updates – Update 1 and Update 2.

  • Education

    PhotoMath: Should you ban Windows Phone in the Maths classroom?

    • 7 Comments

    Remember when calculators were banned in the classroom, because it made calculation too easy? Well, in the same spirit there’s going to be a maths teacher somewhere that will decide to ban their students from having a Windows Phone in their maths classroom. And all because of PhotoMath and how it makes it too easy to solve mathematical expressions.

    It’s really simple to use….

    Point your phone at a maths equation:

    Photomath (1)

    PhotoMath shows you the solution:

     

    Photomath (2)

    ..and the steps to solve it:

    PhotoMath (3)

    OneNote and stylus to the rescue for creating complex equations!

    Thanks to OneNote, I’ve also found it can solve complex equations…

    First, I hand wrote the complex equation that I wanted straight into OneNote (with my Surface Pro 3 stylus)…

    image

    …then I used the OneNote “Ink to Math” function:

    image

    ..and OneNote inserted it into my document as text:

    image

    …which I then (maybe bizarrely) scanned and solved with PhotoMath

    Apparently, X = 5 over 2, with 11 steps to a solution:

    PhotoMath (4)

    There are three thoughts running through my head now:

    1. I’m actually going to be able to help my daughter with her HSC maths homework (but I’m never going to reveal how!)
    2. We’re hitting Arthur C Clarke’s Third Law:  “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic”
    3. If you’re a maths teacher and your students discover the app, what are you going to give them to do as homework? Maybe you’ll ask them to create mathematical expressions that they can solve, but PhotoMath can’t?

    Learn MoreLearn more about PhotoMath or just download it straight to your Windows Phone here

    Footnote: The microblink team behind PhotoMath have also released an SDK for Maths Equation Solving, so I can imagine we might see this functionality being built into other apps too!

  • Education

    5.5m students in Australia can get Office 365 ProPlus free

    • 7 Comments

    In 2013 we announced that students can download Office 365 ProPlus free (that’s the suite of Office apps including Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote, Publisher etc) onto their personal devices – Windows PCs, Macs, phones, tablets etc. We called this programme “Student Advantage”, and it applied to every education institution which had licensed Office for their staff. But because each customer had to enable the service for their students, and order the free licences from us, it meant that some students who qualified couldn’t get it, and every school/TAFE/university had a different sign-up page for students. It was more complicated than it could have been, and every time students/staff asked me how they could get Office free, I had to point them back to their IT department to find out how to do it in their school.

    So, it’s good news that we’ve simplified the whole process, and made it really easy for the more than 5m students in Australia that qualify.

    Office 365 for students and staff

    Now, if you are a student or a staff member, you simply go to the sign up page, and sign in with your educational email address (in Australia, that means it’s going to end in .edu.au). You’ll then get access to the Office 365 ProPlus software suite free to download and install on up to five PCs or Macs, 5 tablets and other mobile devices – including iPad, iPhone and Android devices. You will also get 1TB of storage on OneDrive for Business in the cloud.

    This is great news for the 5.5 million students in Australia that qualify (yep, that’s nearly every single one), and especially 30% of students who are using a BYOD device, as well as for the IT Department who now have less to do.*

    You can read the announcement from Fiona Sims, our Office 365 Education Product Manager in Australia, or the official global announcement of Office 365 ProPlus for students and staff, or even better, just go to the site below and sign up and get started: 

    Learn MoreGo to the Office 365 site and sign in with your Education email address


    * This may be a contentious comment to make, but there’s actually work for the IT Department to do if they want to block access to Office for their students or staff, but none if they’re happy for everybody to get it!

  • Education

    Creating surveys with the Excel Web App in Office 365 for education

    • 6 Comments

    The free version of Office 365 for education includes web versions of the main Office software – Word, Excel and PowerPoint – in addition to the email, collaboration and communication capabilities included within the online Exchange, SharePoint and Lync services. Of course, that's great for editing and working on documents, spreadsheets and presentations, and the beauty of the web service is that we can keep updating them for you as we add new features – you don't have to take on the responsibility for updating software across a pile of machines.

    You can see the new features being added in the future to Office 365 through the preview versions. And we've just released the preview for Office 365 Enterprise (which is the version that Office 365 for education is based on).

    Here's an idea that you can use them for, that might save you bucket-loads of time.

    Using the Excel Web App for surveys and questionnaires

    Thanks to  my colleague James Marshall in the UK, there's a good explanation of how you can easily create online surveys and questionnaires, and get the answers into a neat Excel spreadsheet. It's great for a range of scenarios, like:

    • A lecturer wanting to get opinion and feedback about a lecture immediately after it finishes.
    • A group of students doing a data collection exercise with their classmates.
    • A senior leader wanting to get feedback from parents about a school event (i.e. sports day, school theatre production)
    • A teacher running a competition.

    The beauty of forms in the new Excel Web App is that they can be shared in a few clicks, and accessed on a variety of devices, making it easy for users with laptops, tablet devices, smart phones or pretty much any device with a browser to contribute. And you can make them public, so you can use them for parental surveys etc

    Here's a screenshot from a survey that James published as an example (you can try it out on this link: http://aka.ms/vumdyw)

    Excel Web App Survey

     

    Learn MoreYou can read James' post on how to create a survey in the Excel Web App over on his excellent UK Education Cloud Blog (plus loads of other useful Office 365 for education information)

  • Education

    Is there academic pricing for Windows Azure? No, but there's something better…free Azure

    • 5 Comments

    image

    For many of our products and services, there's special education pricing – these typically give education customers up to an 80% discount on normal prices, or even go so far as providing some services (like Office 365) free for education customers.

    It doesn't apply to Windows Azure, as there isn't a specific Windows Azure Academic licensing price list. The basic Azure service is pretty low-cost already (renting a virtual machine on Windows Azure costs $2c an hour!), and some parts of the service are free to everybody – for example, with Windows Azure Web Sites you can run 10 basic websites for nothing in the cloud.

    So when you're looking to move some of your IT to the cloud – for example, to host a learning management system like Moodle on Windows Azure – you would just use our standard Windows Azure pricing.

    What could be better than Windows Azure academic pricing?

    So if there isn't special academic pricing for Windows Azure, why did I say that there's "something better"?

    Well, it turns out that if you want to use Windows Azure for teaching purposes, you can apply for a "Windows Azure Educator Grant", which will give you a 12 month free subscription to Windows Azure for faculty, and a 6 month free subscription for your students!

      Grant applications are designated for faculty who are teaching Windows Azure in their curricula as well as faculty preparing to integrate Windows Azure into their curricula. Educator Grant awards are subject to demand and availability.  Educators will receive a special 12-month pass for their exclusive use, and may request 6-month non-renewable passes for distribution to their students.  Each pass is valid from the date of redemption. Educators may apply for passes for each of the courses they are teaching, and may only distribute these passes to students registered as part of their educational institution.  

    What does the free Windows Azure Educators Grant include?

    There's a ton of different services and resources included within the free subscription for both staff and students, including:

    • 2 small compute instances for Cloud Services or Virtual Machines
    • 10 Shared Web Sites
    • 10 Shared Mobile Services
    • 35GB of Azure storage
    • 50,000,000 storage transactions
    • 750 Service Bus Relay Hours
    • Two 1GB SQL Web Edition databases
    • 8GB of data transfers in and out

    Azure was expanded last month, when we announced the availability of Windows Azure Infrastructure Services.  This new service now makes it possible for you to move whole applications into the cloud, and puts us in the position of being the only global cloud provider with fully supported infrastructure and platform service offerings.

    How to apply for the Windows Azure Educators grant

    To get more information, and apply for a Windows Azure Educator Grant go to the Windows Azure Educators site. After receiving your application and verification of your faculty status, we will send you a grant letter to sign and send back to us to get passcodes for your Azure accounts. Neither you nor your students will pay for access to Windows Azure. Accounts are valid for 12 months for faculty and 6 months for students and can be extended if needed.

    Learn MoreFind out more on the Windows Azure Educators site


    To help you get started with Windows Azure in the classroom, there are plenty of resources, and course and lab material, at Windows Azure Resource Kit and on Faculty Connection Web Site. It includes an Introduction to Cloud Computing, Software & Tools and Course 50466B: Windows Azure Solutions with Microsoft Visual Studio 2010.

  • Education

    Ten of the best - Australian education websites built on SharePoint

    • 5 Comments

    Following on from my previous blog posts, ‘Ten of the best SharePoint School websites’ and ‘Ten of the best SharePoint University websites’, then it’s time to get closer to home with Ten of the best Australian school websites built on SharePoint (or best TAFE websites or best University websites).

    The reason I’m focusing on ‘built on SharePoint’ is because most Australian education institutions have SharePoint, and have it integrated into their identity management system and their security model. So extending that same system to run your public-facing website means that you can easily create a website that allows students to access their course materials from home, and staff to be able to use the document storage and workflow, without having to setup yet-another login or user list on yet-another system. Anyway, back to the best school websites list…

    I’ve had help from colleagues tracking some of these down, and recommendations from customers and partners. But ultimately I take total responsibility for the completely subjective Top Ten list and their rankings!

    So here’s my top ten of the best education websites built on SharePoint in Australia

    It’s my take on 10 School/TAFE/University websites, built on SharePoint, that are worth looking at for design ideas and inspiration for functional ideas - or simply because you want to nudge another colleague towards seeing that SharePoint can deliver a beautiful experience for staff, students and prospective students.

    Click on any of them to link to the live website

    1. Gordon Institute of TAFE, Victoria

      This was easy for me to pick as Australia’s best education website built on SharePoint. I’m sure this website must inspire potential students - it gives off the impression of a vibrant learning community, with a fun attitude to the serious subject of learning. And the design makes it easier to navigate to the key information - and encourages you to explore more.

       Gordon Institute of TAFE

    2. Victoria Department of Education - FUSE

      An amazing interactive experience which puts access to learning materials right at the front of the site. And let’s be honest, it breaks the mould for ‘policy-type’ websites, because it’s putting the ‘fun’ into ‘functional’.

      Victoria Department of Education - FUSE

    3. Abbotsleigh School, New South Wales

      You can tell from the very first page that this is a school that takes learning seriously - and the strong photography shows how it puts students at the centre of the experience. With many private and Catholic schools, you can see the increased importance of needing to ‘sell’ the school to prospective students and parents, as well as keeping in touch with the parents of existing students.

      Abbotsleigh School

    4. Trinity Grammar School, New South Wales

      Another design-centric site, but with a clear navigation structure that means students & parents can easily find the section that’s relevant for them. (Pipped by Abbotsleigh for #3 position because it didn’t have Search on the home page)

      Trinity Grammar School

    5. The Learning Place, Queensland

      Another government site, which are often some of the trickiest to design and run, because they are trying to meet the needs of so many stakeholders. Although the SharePoint portion of the website sits behind the login screens, there’s an excellent video here that shows what Stage 2 is delivering.

      The Learning Place

    6. Brisbane Catholic Education, Queensland

      Although this doesn’t have the high graphic design of some of the previous sites, the navigation here is clear - with the tabs at the top helping users find their way quickly to the section that is right for them - students & parents; schools & curriculum; employment etc.

      Brisbane Catholic Education

    7. Bendigo Tafe, Victoria

      Another great TAFE site in Victoria (is there a secret recipe they have there?). I particularly liked the 3D box design, which was very simply to create, and added to, rather than confused, the navigation.

      Bendigo Tafe, Victoria

    8. John Paul College, Queensland

      A nice looking site that crams a lot of information onto the home page - but without making it too busy. A slow rotation of the main picture adds interest, but without detracting from the content and links.

      John Paul College, Queensland

    9. Hale School, Western Australia

      A slightly more traditional design, which puts details on the front page, rather than just short links. As with the others, it’s often the photography that makes the first impression.

      Hale School, Western Australia

    10. Australian School of Business, New South Wales

      Okay, this may be 10th out of my list of 10 - but there’s hundreds of sites that didn’t make it to the Top Ten, so it’s still good going. I like the way this page is easy to read, and has all the vital components - news, events and search - right there.
      What would have given it a higher rating? Less ‘stock’ images and more good photos from the School of Business itself would have helped me, as a parent, to imagine my daughter going to study there.


      Australian School of Business, New South Wales

    Learn MoreDownload the PowerPoint Top 10 Australian Education websites on SharePoint

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