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

  • Education

    Wired: Pens are making a high-tech comeback


    Last week, Wired ran a story on the research team working on next generation of digital pens and software experiences at Microsoft. It's a great read, because it raises some thoughtful questions about the way that we use computers, and the impact on learning and retention of information in our brains.

    We've had a stubborn focus on pen interfaces for computers for decades - my first pen-equipped tablet was a PC running Windows that our family took on a one year backpacking trip around the world with our 3 & 7 year-old daughters. And we chose a pen-equipped tablet because it was exactly the right thing to help our kids continue their learning whilst travelling, in as many ways as possible.

    The Wired article says:

    Study after study shows we remember things better when we write them—our brain stores the letter-writing motion, which is much more memorable than just the mashing of a key that feels like every other key. We think in fragments, too, in shapes and colors and ideas that just don’t come through on a keyboard. “Think about how many things that are built start as a drawing,” Bathiche says. “Most things, right? Everything you’re wearing probably started as a drawing.”

    You can’t type out the folds of a dress, or the gentle curves of a skyscraper. Drawing with your stubby finger on a touchscreen isn’t much better. Humans are tool-based creatures: Our fingers can do amazingly intricate things with a pen, a brush, or a scalpel, that we can’t replicate with a mouse or the pads of our fingers. Our computers are giving back that kind of detailed control. In turn, the pen is opening up new ways of digital expression, new tools for communication, new ways to interact with our tech.

    As well as talking about recording and recalling information, and the visual aspects of idea creation, the article also covers the research that's going into ideas like being able to search the web by drawing what you're looking for, and also the need to create a digital pen experience that is as simple and authentic as holding an actual every day pen - although you might well be writing on an 84" digital display, as well as on your personal tablet screen.

    Read the full article here: Wired - Pens are making a high-tech comeback

  • Education

    Uses for Hololens in education


    Less than 100 days ago, we revealed Hololens during the Windows 10 announcement, and since then we’ve all been waiting for a second chance to see it…

    Hololens in Education

    Well, last night, that finally happened at the \\Build\ conference as the team revealed what they have been working on, and especially focused on Hololens in education, with teaching and learning scenarios.

    imageThey started with Prof Mark Griswold from Case Western Reserve University, talking about, and demonstrating live, the way that Hololens could be used to study anatomy, something traditionally done with a combination of textbooks, models and cadavers.


    After that demo, they switched gears to demonstrate the use of Hololens to interact with, and programme, a Maker Kit based on the Raspberry Pi 2. That was a fascinating demonstration, as it showed how an object in real life – in this case a Maker kit robot – could be paired with an associated hologram to create a single object.


    During the broadcast of the keynote, what the team effectively setup was a camera with a Hololens on, so that you see through the video what a user would see wearing a Hololens.

    Without a shadow of doubt, there are going to be some amazing things done with Hololens in education – classrooms, learning spaces, lecture theatres and research labs - over the next few years, helping students to learn by doing as much as by watching.

    You can watch the keynote, and download it (eg as a teaching resource) from the Channel 9 website.

    Learn MoreWatch the keynote on the Channel 9 website, and fast forward to 2 1/2 hours for the Hololens section!
    Bonus info:

  • Education

    Uses for Office 365 Video in education


    A few months ago we announced the Office 365 Video service, which is an internal video publishing service on Office 365, and we recently confirmed that it is now rolling out to all of our Office 365 Enterprise customers (that automatically includes Office 365 Education services, with plan E1 and E3). What the service allows you to do is create a video portal within your Office 365 Education service, and create channels (eg for specific curriculum subjects or special interest groups) for users to watch.

    Office 365 Video begins worldwide rollout and gets mobile 2

    The Office 365 Video service uses a group of cloud services in Azure Media Services, to make it easier for your users to publish their videos in easily accessible formats, so that they can watch on a PC, Mac, tablet or phone. We’ve also announced an Office 365 Video for iPhone app, so that staff or students can record and watch videos on their iPhone. And because the service runs on top of Office 365 and Azure cloud services, it means that the security that applies to all of your other information also applies to the videos – for example, the videos are stored and transmitted with secure encryption, to keep them private.

    It’s also running as a service within your Office 365 setup, so there are no additional charges for the service (for example, the media transcoding is included within the Office 365 Video service, and the video storage uses your existing SharePoint team allocation in Office 365)

    There are two key ways that you could use this service in a school, TAFE or university:

    • Simply start to publish videos using the standard Office 365 Video services and mobile apps, and start to create channels for your different content. Your teaching staff could also upload recordings of lessons, presentations, screen recordings etc directly from Office Mix into your Office 365 Video portal. The process is easy for users – they can just drag and drop an existing video onto the portal (recorded in heaps of formats), and it handles all of the transcoding needed to make the video available on different devices. And you can setup multiple channels, and select different users as admins for the channels.
    • You could use develop a customised service for your users using the developer APIs available for Office 365 Video. For example, if you wanted to use this to deliver a lecture capture and streaming service, a developer can build a service to upload from your lecture capture hardware into your Office 365 Video portal and publish automatically in the correct channels. All the documentation for the Office 365 Video APIs are previewed here.

    Learn MoreVisit the Office 365 Video website

    I’d also recommend taking a look at the
    Office 365 Video Uservoice site – this is where the team are collecting feedback and requests for future features – so if there’s something you’d like to see added to the service, this is where you can go and vote for it, or suggest it!

  • Education

    Sway for publishing curriculum resources–helpful updates for teachers in April


    When the Office team launched Sway, the newest member of the Microsoft Office family, I wrote about how helpful it would be for teachers and students.

    imageThe simplest way I can describe Sway is that it lets you publish visually attractive materials, including multimedia elements, that will look good on a PC browser or a student’s smartphone, without you having to know too much about design or the device the reader will see it on. It’s very different to PDFs, which might look great on a big screen, but become unreadable on a phone as you’ll be constantly zooming in and out on text and diagrams.

    Since it was launched last October, I’ve been experimenting with it for different kinds of online publications. For example a white paper on student attrition, a travel diary and for trialling conversion of PDF/paper publications. None of these are amazing productions, as they’re the result of me playing with Sway’s features.

    Since the first version of Sway was rolled out, there have been a huge number of updates announced on the Sway blog, so here’s a run down of key Sway features for teachers and students announced so far this month:

    Collaborative creation and editing of Sways

    • You can add additional authors by simply inviting them with a link
    • Keep track of who has access and who is editing from the My Sways page
    • Whilst you’re editing a sway, you can see who else is editing at the same time

    These features are great to allow a teacher or student to start off a piece of work, and then amend it collaboratively. Eg a teacher creates a framework, and then students add their own text and pictures into their piece, creating one single Sway at the end. Or students could work collaboratively on a Sway on different devices – from a browser, or in the iPad or iPhone app – making it easier to add their own photos from their device.

    • Make a copy of a Sway

    This is handy for a teacher to create a template for a homework assignment, or a reporting template, or a lesson plan, and then make a copy each time they want to use it, or share it with students.

    More about the collaborative features in Sway

    Interactive Charts and embedded objects

    • You can now create a chart in Sway that users can click on items to refine the view (eg to remove datasets, or focus on specific lines in a line chart)
    • Since January you have been able to embed other objects from the web (like YouTube videos), and now the team have simplified the process of embedding Word documents, Excel spreadsheets, PDF documents and PowerPoint slides – making drag and drop.

    This would be useful where you have a pre-existing curriculum resource, like a PowerPoint or worksheet, and you want to provide it to students alongside a multimedia lesson plan.

    More about the interactive and embedded objects in Sway

    All on top of what Sway already had…

    All of this is in addition to the new features added to Sway since launch, like the iPhone apps, the import from PDF/Word/PowerPoint documents.

    Learn More

    You can dive into using Sway straight away at,

    or take a look at the Sway team’s examples of use cases for teachers,

    or read some of the stories of what other people have done with Sway:
  • Education

    2015 Microsoft NSW Schools Roadshow - Next Level Learning


    Each year we've worked with other partners to run a regional Microsoft NSW schools roadshow right around the state. And it's back again...the team road trip, just in time for winter!

    Basically, we're running quality, free, relevant and hands-on education technology workshops, which don't happen often. This May and June, Microsoft will be offering hands-on workshops across NSW with the latest technology including Windows 8.1, apps, Office 365 and devices, including the latest Surface 3.

    Want to make the most of your students’ love of mobile technology? This half-day hands-on workshop presents five tried and trusted ways to implement a successful 1:1 program involving BYOD. Plus we’ll introduce new Microsoft stuff that could help you get started in your school.

    For example, did you know…

    • Office 365 is available to students at no charge:
      Schools that license Microsoft Office for all staff can now also provide access to Office 365 ProPlus for all students, teachers and staff at no extra  cost. Office 365 ProPlus (Word, Excel, PowerPoint and more) can be downloaded on 5 PCs or Macs, 5 tablets and unlimited mobile devices - go straight to
    • Office 365 runs on iPad, Android and Windows devices
    • The technology you already have does more than you think

    Our Microsoft Education Master Trainers aren’t just going to inspire you to take learning to new places, they’ll step you through actually doing it.

    Who will get the most from this session?

    Teachers, ICT leads and curriculum leads. Devices will be provided.

    Dates & Venues

    Parramatta – Friday May 29th 2015 – UNE Future Campus - Register Here

    Tamworth – Monday June 1st 2015 – Tamworth Golf Club -  Register Here

    Batemans Bay – Wednesday June 3rd 2015 – NRMA, Murramarang Beach Resort - Register Here

    Dubbo – Friday June 5th 2015 – Macquarie Inn - Register Here

    Newcastle – Wednesday June 10th 2015 – Register Here

    Lismore – Friday June 12th 2015 – Register Here

    Surry Hills – Wednesday June 17th 2015 – Register Here


    12.00 - Registration & receive your device
    12.15 - Changing the way we teach & learn – Discover the learning potential of Windows devices
    13.00 - Meeting the needs of 21st Century Learners – Learn how to use OneNote, Class Notebook & Staff Notebook for classroom management, research, collaboration & problem solving
    14.00 - Afternoon tea
    14.20 - Anytime, anywhere learning – See how Office 365, Sway and Office Mix can flip your classroom, provide distance learning solutions, share resources and transform your classes
    15.20 - Sneak Preview – See how Microsoft’s Surface 3 device can fire up new learning experiences
    16.00 - Close

     If you want to share the invitation with colleagues, there's a PDF version attached

  • Education

    How to write a NSW School plan using the 5P strategic planning template


    Here’s a question: If you’ve got a deadline just around the corner for creating a strategic school plan, what’s the best way to do it in a way that is still collaborative and inclusive – and hits the deadline? It’s a conversation we had with the Goal Huddle team about school planning templates for NSW schools.

    imageGoal Huddle, based in Sydney, work with national and global organisations to help them with their strategic planning processes, through their innovative SharePoint app. It is a dashboard and reminder-driven planning system that enables and encourages team collaboration whilst you create, run and tweak your multi-year strategic plan. It’s a great piece of work, and in our conversations with them we realised it would be a great tool to help schools with their strategic planning. After all, many schools have impending deadlines to create strategic plans, use SharePoint and/or Office 365 , and have a senior leadership team who want to enable more collaboration amongst staff.

    So it was great to see the team go off, start talking to schools and work out how they can help them develop actionable strategic plans - as opposed to WIFI Plans (Write-It & File-It). The first tool that they have created is a specific version of Goal Huddle for NSW Schools, to help them create their 2015-2017 Strategic School Plans, using the NSW DEC’s 5P process.

    When you start ‘Goal Huddle for 5P School Planning’ it’s setup directly for the NSW 5P planning process, with sections for Purpose, People, Processes, Products & Practices. And the process of planning, using a set of simple web forms, encourages input from individuals and groups responsible for elements of the plan – and an ongoing process to track status and remind individuals of the need for updates or deadlines throughout the lifetime of the plan.

    As each NSW school is expected to produce a plan by the end of March this year, and then review the plan going forward, this tool’s arrived just at the right time, and gives schools a collaborative alternative to an Excel spreadsheet for planning (and avoiding the complexity of some of the alternate enterprise planning tools!)

    Despite the extra customisation that’s gone into creating this strategic planning template for NSW schools, Goal Huddle for School Planning is significantly cheaper than the normal price for Goal Huddle. And a lot more effective than WIFI Plans that get dumped in a file and forgotten.

    You can find out more, and get instructions for activating Goal Huddle in your SharePoint site, in the Office Store:

    Learn MoreGet Goal Huddle for NSW School planning, set up for the 5P template

    Question: Now that they’ve got the work done for NSW Schools, which school planning process should they look at next?

  • Education

    5.5m students in Australia can get Office 365 ProPlus free


    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 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

    Why the pen is mightier than the keyboard: The evidence


    When I wrote about “How to help students to remember more” towards the end of last year, I shared a video of my colleague Travis Smith talking about the power of pen-based input for students, over a simple keyboard interface, for key tasks such as note taking. (I recommend either the 15-minute or 60-minute version of his talks).

    You’ll see that we strongly believe in the need for digital paper and pen in the way that our products have evolved. Things like the improvements in the natural feel of the stylus in Surface Pro 3, the powerful inking in OneNote and the rest of Office, and the brand new support for hand writing in OneNote on the iPad.

    There is a weight of evidence for pen-based interfaces improving learning, and Sharon Oviatt talks about much of it in her book The Design of Future Educational Interfaces from Routledge.

    And there’s also an overview by Sharon Oviatt of the work, which you can download from the link below.


    It opens with a bang:

    “For too long and with too little forethought we have handed our students technology to help them learn. New evidence reveals that certain types of technology actually create barriers to thinking, creating and problem-solving. While other types can enhance these same skills”

    And it continues on the theme:

    “Computers can either enhance a student’s ability to think, communicate and learn  – or seriously undermine it”

    And then it warms up with insight into the research into some key questions:

    • How do keyboards and digital pens stimulate or undermine students’ ability to think?
    • How do interfaces influence language learning?
    • Why do pen interfaces have cognitive advantages?
    • Do these research results apply across different students and subjects?
    • Are all pen interfaces equally effective?

    And it then gives detail advice about the kind of interfaces to help students with different learning tasks – when they are exploring, thinking, expressing themselves, collaborating and recording information.

    Learn More

    Download the Oviatt paper "Computer interfaces and their impact on learning"

  • Education

    Supporting BYOD in education– Outlook everywhere for students and staff


    There’s no doubt that the trend towards BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) in education for students is gathering pace. According to The Australian yesterday, 30% of schools have moved to BYOD, and for universities we’re pretty much at 100% already. And it’s happening rapidly for staff too – even if it’s not always BYOD, it’s certainly CYOD (Choose Your Own Device from a pre-approved list).

    But that comes with challenges for IT departments in schools, TAFEs and universities across Australia. Because in the good ole days, you could control the device and the environment that your users had and you could build a Standard Operating Environment that left you in control.

    The good news is that we’re working phenomenally hard to ensure that the apps you want for your users are available on the devices your users are walking around with. We announced another step change last night as we released Office for Android tablets and Outlook for iOS and a preview of Outlook for Android.


    Here’s where to go for the official announcements:

    Office Blog: The Office you love is now on your Android tablet

    Office Blog: A deeper look at Outlook for iOS and Android

    And just in case you need some motivation to combat the inertia of “Oh no, I can’t cope with more change”, maybe what others are saying might help:

    Business Insider saidMicrosoft's new email app for iPhone convinced me to delete Gmail after 5 minutes”.

    Lifehacker saidMicrosoft dropped some excellent news overnight: Outlook has finally arrived on Android and iOS

    And as ZDNet reportedthere were 250,000 downloads of the preview versions of the Office for Android apps. There also have been 80 million downloads of Office on iPad and Office on iPhone apps combined as of this week

    The Office you love is now on your Android tablet 1
  • Education

    Free - Teacher Dashboard for Office 365 Education


    Teacher Dashboard header graphic (shows teacher at whiteboard)

    Teacher Dashboard is an app for Office 365 Education that lets you easily share files and assignments with your students, and then allows you to grade them and provide feedback. It’s a web-based classroom manager tool for Office 365 that customises your school’s system to support the teaching and learning process, and gives your teachers tools for the most common processes they need to do.

    Teacher Dasboard logo

    It’s designed to allow your teaching staff to:

    • Share a homework assignment to an unlimited number of students with one click.
    • Teachers get a high level view, in real-time, of their student’s OneDrives
    • Create teacher-defined groups for each subject, ability and year group with just 1 click
    • Upload files to your OneDrive and share directly to students through the dashboard.
    • Simple multi-class management tools allow teachers to quickly and efficiently assign and track documents between classes
    • Mobile device ready - able to be used on all devices including tablets and smartphones

    Students can easily submit their assignments online, and Teacher Dashboard creates a folder structure that helps them keep their work organised, and automatically gives teachers the correct access to the correct folders.

    You can read more about the teaching and learning value of Teacher Dashboard on the Australian Teachers blog


    Teacher Dashboard is now free for your first 100 teachers

    imageThe news that’s just been announced by Axis12, the developers of Teacher Dashboard, is that it is now free for schools to use with up to 100 teachers (after that, there’s a subscription fee for additional licences).

    The team have also added a bulk importer, to allow you to import classes directly from your school’s SMS/SIS system.

    How to download Teacher Dashboard

    Teacher Dashboard is available through Microsoft’s Office Online store – installing it on your Office 365 tenant is something that your school’s site administrator does – and there’s a simple 3-step process to install it. Once that’s done, it’s then available to all the teachers to start using.


    Learn MoreFind out more about Teacher Dashboard for Office 365

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