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

  • Education

    Student drop out in Australian schools


    Yesterday media around the country reported that one in four Australian school students drop out without completing Year 12. The stories were based on a report from the Mitchell Institute, who published the report “Educational opportunity in Australia 2015: Who succeeds and who misses out”, and a detailed factsheet about completion in senior schools. There were some key demographic factors that drove the differences in drop out rates - location, indigenous status, language background and socio economic status, and they also identified a number of key other factors - “poor grades in core subjects, low attendance, and disengagement in the classroom, including behavioural problems”. These are key predictors of the likelihood of individual students dropping out.

    The principal actionable finding that they identify is summarised in a single sentence:

      What is needed for all students is more personalised teaching and learning approaches  

    Which fits exactly with the theme of so much of the work that we do in education - whether it is through our broad events like the Next Level Learning workshops around the country next month, or the individual activities that my colleagues participate in with individual schools - like being student mentors, or hosting school career-planning days at our offices.

    The other thing that is critical is the ability for a school, or school system, to be able to accurately predict which students are at risk of dropping out, to enable better intervention strategies. The work that we’re doing with advanced predictive analytics is core here, because it is possible to identify the key indicators, and easily analyse a student cohort in real time for their likelihood to drop out. Assuming that you are collecting the relevant data points.

    imageI wrote about this back in July, as we’ve been working with Tacoma Public School District as part of their ongoing initiative to prevent student dropout for school students. The district has delivered a dramatic turnaround - eight years ago five of the high schools were described as “dropout factories”, and five years ago just 55% of students graduated on time, compared to 81% nationally. But last year that had been boosted to 78%, ensuring that the district is recognised nationally for its educational achievements. The district is now developing the next level of data-driven improvement with the help of Azure Machine Learning. As Shaun Taylor, the CIO for Tacoma Public Schools puts it:

      With Azure Machine Learning, we proved that we have the right tool to get us where we want to go in terms of predicting student success. It’s a tool our educators will be able to use to start tackling the problem of student disengagement.

    Learn MoreRead more about using Azure Machine Learning to reduce student dropout

  • Education

    Partner Training - Building a Learning Analytics business


    One of the key things that I’ve been focusing on over the last few months has been helping Microsoft’s partners to develop solutions that help education customers use data better - whether that’s for learning analytics, or looking at their management data in new ways. There are two key focus areas - one is making it more accessible to more people using better and simpler visualisation with Power BI; and the other is the power of the cloud to perform advanced analytics easily - for example, to deal with high volumes of data and provide easily interpreted answers to critical questions.

    If you’re a Microsoft Education Partner, and you’re on this journey, or just about to start it, then there are two key training opportunities coming up in November that I’d recommend. Both of these Boot Camps are coming to Sydney and Melbourne, and are designed for teams needing to move from traditional business intelligence to advanced analytics.

    Microsoft Power BI Practice Enablement Boot Camp

    In this one-day boot camp you will learn about the potential and power of Microsoft Power BI and how it is a new generation cloud service that can transform data into rich visuals. The training course is designed to introduce Power BI, and to specifically empower partners with the technical knowledge required to transform their businesses to sell and implement Power BI solutions. The training course provides hands-on lab opportunities designed to reinforce key capabilities. Additionally, the training course provides partners with ideas to identify opportunities, and also with resources to help them take the next steps on their path to mastering Power BI.

    Topics Covered

    • Microsoft Power BI Overview
    • Working with the Power BI Service
    • Connecting to Power BI Data Sources
    • Creating Power BI Desktop Solutions
    • Power BI for the Developer
    • Summary

    Where and When

    To be re-arranged :(

    Azure Machine Learning & Azure Stream Analytics Practice Enablement Boot Camp

    For the first ¾ of the day you will spend learning how to use Azure Machine Learning, a fully managed cloud service that enables data scientists and developers to efficiently embed predictive analytics into their applications. With this capability, organisations can better benefit from massive data sets. The last quarter of the day will be spent on Azure Stream Analytics were you will learn how to analyse data as it streams in real time from applications and devices. You'll also work with data streams to analyse patterns, compare current conditions to historical information, or transform incoming streams before storing events.

    Topics Covered

    • Introduction to Machine Learning and Azure Machine Learning Studio
    • Designing a Predictive Analytics Solution with Azure Machine Learning
    • Monetizing your Machine Learning application with Azure Marketplace
    • Azure Machine Learning API services and extensibility Scenarios

    Where and When

    Sydney 3rd November 2015

    Melbourne 6th November 2015

  • Education

    Learn how to do Single Sign On with Office 365, and more: Office DevCamps in Australia



    Developers: We've got a series of (free!) DevCamps coming up in the next few weeks, for software developers who want to develop apps that integrate to Office 365 (for web, Windows, iOS or Android) and/or that want to integrate to the Office 365 identity using Azure Active Directory. This course is relevant for both commercial developers, working for ISVs, as well as developers within schools, TAFEs and universities, who are developing services for their users.

    If you're developing apps or web services for education then there are three critical reasons why you should sign up:

    • By adding the 'Sign in with Office 365' to your service, you create a really simple Single-Sign-On experience for students and staff that connects with their existing identity through the school/TAFE/university’s Azure Active Directory (not just for Australian students - there are over 140m users of Office 365 Education globally)
    • Integrating to OneDrive allows users to work with their own documents easily, whilst saving you money through having user documents\videos\photos etc stored on OneDrive, not your servers
    • You can get your app listed in the global Office Store, as well as the Educational App catalogue, opening a much wider market for you

    Build Productivity Apps

    Learn how to build apps using standard web technologies that extend the familiar Office and Office 365 experience and potentially sell them to over 1 billion Office users in 147 international markets. 

    At this DevCamp, you will learn the concepts of the new Office 365 API model and go deep into building out an end-to-end example on the Office 365 environment. Microsoft Office 365 DevCamps are free and fun events for developers, by developers.  You do not want to miss this unique event presented by Microsoft technical expert – Andrew Coates.

    Gear up and get building!

    This is a jam-packed 1-day training course where you will get deep into the code after we gear you up with the tools and environment. There 6 session topics, and all the coding ones are paired with a hands-on lab to put the theory into practice:

    • Intro to day (40 mins)
    • Standing up the environment (40 mins)
      Hands on lab (40 mins)
    • Hooking into Apps for SharePoint (40 mins)
      Hands on lab (40mins)
    • Hook into Office 365 APIs via Standalone web application (40 mins)
      Hands on lab (40 mins)
    • Hooking into Apps for Office (40 mins)
      Hands on lab (40 mind)
    • Building native Android App (40 mins)
      Hands on lab (40mins)

    Dates and Venues

    The DevCamps are free - you just need to bring your dev skills and your laptop. They are in our offices in:
    Sydney - 9th October
    Perth - 12th October
    Adelaide - 14th October
    Brisbane - 16th October
    Melbourne - 30th October

  • Education

    Learn Data Science and Machine Learning Essentials on edX


    At one stage in my career, working for fifteen years in marketing, I realised that it wasn't just enough to understand what the data told me about my customers, but to also understand how to extract stories from the data. And to do that, I had to understand the techniques for analysing data - not just look at reports that other people gave me. I’m definitely not a data scientist, and my knowledge of statistical techniques is wafer-thin. But I knew enough to be able to understand the meaning of the data.

    Roll forward 10 years, and we’re in a world that’s increasingly revolving around data and analysis. Where people talk about applying Machine Learning to a problem, and assume we all know what that means. And where doing ‘learning analytics’ is as simple as breathing. So how do you keep up to speed with changing techniques?

    imageIf you’re a little technical, then you might like to know that EdX are running a “Data Science and Machine Learning Essentials” course that’s free to join. I’ve just signed up alongside a few of the graduates who’ve recently joined our education team, and we’re going to see if we can create some kind of education analysis during it. Why not join us (you don’t have to be an aspiring Data Scientist to find this useful!). Here’s the details from the EdX team:


    edX: Data Science and Machine Learning Essentials

    ​Are you enterprising, tenacious, and creative? And maybe you have some experience with statistics, programming, and business analytics. You may well be ready to develop your career as a Data Scientist, and the demand for data science talent is exploding! Learn key concepts of data science and machine learning, and explore how to build a cloud data science solution with R, Python, and Azure Machine Learning from the Cortana Analytics Suite.

    Join experts from MIT and the industry, partnering with Microsoft, for this one-module-per-week, five-week edX course, starting on September 24. Learn about wrangling, munging, and visualizing, along with clustering, regression, and classification. See demos and participate in labs to find outliers, cleanse data, and build predictive models, based on real-world datasets. Don’t miss this chance to skill up on key concepts in data acquisition, preparation, exploration, and visualization, as you develop your career as a Data Scientist. And take advantage of the faculty-hosted office hour to address your specific questions.


    This course is organised into 5 weekly modules each concluding with a quiz. By achieving a passing grade in the final course assessment you will receive a certificate demonstrating that you have acquired data science skills and knowledge. Apart from answering your questions on the forum, faculty (Cynthia Rudin, Professor of Statistics at MIT, and Dr Steve Elston, a self professed ‘big data geek’) will host an office hour to address questions you may have while undertaking this course.

    What you'll learn
    • The data science process
    • Overview of data science theory
    • Data acquisition, ingestion, sampling, quantization, cleaning and transformation
    • Building data science workflows with Azure ML
    • Data science tools including R, Python and SQL
    • Data exploration and visualization
    • Building and evaluating machine learning models
    • Publishing machine learning models with the Azure ML

    The level of this course may be above my current skills, but I’m hoping I’ll find people around me that can fill any gaps. I’m sure you’ll find the same somewhere around your organisation. So, go on, sign up for something a bit different this month and geek out with me…

    Make a dateFind out more, and register free for the "Data Science and Machine Learning Essentials" course

  • Education

    edX and Microsoft Office integration - Office Mix and Office 365


    Last year I wrote about the Microsoft partnership with edX to develop services to help teachers, including integration between edX and Office Mix - to allow teachers to quickly and easily create multimedia content using PowerPoint. Open edX is an open source platform teaching and learning, and is used by many universities to publish MOOCs, as well as being used by education and professional learning organisations (including Microsoft) to deliver courses online to the public. The latest Microsoft-edX integrations have been released into the latest release of Open edX.


    The Microsoft Open Tech team have provided details on their blog post, but here’s a quick summary of what’s now possible:

    edX Single Sign-On with Office 365

    The July Open edX release allows users to sign in to edX using their Office 365 identity, which makes life easier for students and teachers. If they are already logged into Office 365 in their browser, then they won’t need to use their username and password to login again as they switch between edX and Office 365.

    Office Mix XBlock

    This allows teachers to very quickly embed an Office Mix into an Open edX course. There are two immediate benefits:

    • Teachers can create interactive recordings inside PowerPoint, including PowerPoint slides, audio recording, video, interactive activities and quizzes and assessments, and upload with a single click
    • Teachers can use the Office Mix analytics to see which students have viewed the Mix, how long they viewed each slide\section, and what how they answered assessment questions.

    Technical info on the Office Mix XBlock

    Insert/Embed files easily into edX courses

    The Microsoft Open Tech team have contributed a new feature to edX that allows files from other cloud services to be easily embedded into courses. The Microsoft team created it originally to make it easy for users to add files that they store in OneDrive (either the consumer version, or the Office 365 version), but they realised they could expand it easily, so it will also allow users to embed files from, Dropbox, Google docs, SlideShare, Soundcloud, TED, Vimeo and YouTube!!

    Technical info on the File Storage XBlock

    Learn MoreRead more about these integrations on the Microsoft Open Technologies blog

  • Education

    Ten communication technology trends shaping education


    Today, after a colleague finished reading the article “10 communication technology trends shaping education”, they challenged me to come up with answers of which Microsoft products were relevant to the list. And they gave me two minutes to come up with the answers. It felt like I was sitting a very rushed exam!!

    I thought I’d share the list and my quick homework here. I’ve no idea how the original list of trends was created - it could easily have been somebody saying “quick, I need a listicle for my website”, or it could be grounded on deep academic research, although there’s no source links. But let’s assume that the list (or lists like it) are relevant, how are Microsoft’s solutions relevant to trends shaping education? I’ve tried to take on the extension exam, and link every single one to an article that talks about it in the learning context, thanks to our Teachers blog

    Australian Teachers blog header

    Here's the article’s Top 10 trends, and one or more examples of which Microsoft products schools can use to stay on trend! And then I’ve linked every single one to an article on our Australian Teachers Blog, that talks about how schools are already making a difference to teaching and learning using these products and services:

    Trend: Gamification
    Microsoft Product: Minecraft 

    Trend: Flipped Learning
    Microsoft Product: Office Mix, Sway, Skype

    Trend: Distance Education
    Microsoft Product: Office Mix, Sway, Class Dashboard, Skype

    Trend: Mind Mapping
    Microsoft Product: OneNote 

    Trend: Social Media
    Microsoft Product: Yammer 

    Trend: Digital Textbooks
    Microsoft Product: OneNote 

    Trend: Just Google It
    Microsoft Product: Bing!

    Trend: Augmented Reality
    Microsoft Product: Hololens

    Trend: User-generated content
    Microsoft Product: Delve

    Trend: Big Data
    Microsoft Product: Power BI

    Learn MoreIf you want a better list of ideas for the future, I'd recommend reading this "32 Engaging Ways to use Microsoft in your classroom" for teachers

  • Education

    Free Azure Machine Learning in education - trials and credits


    A couple of weeks ago I wrote a couple of articles about using Azure Machine Learning in education. Two ways to use Azure Machine Learning in education and Making machine learning in education easier for every day users. It covered scenarios like using Azure Machine Learning for education problems like student retention models, as well as things like face recognition to catch exam cheats, or text analysis of documents and research.

    But I should also have covered one get thing - that for education customers there are some ways to use Azure Machine Learning that aren’t available to everybody else Smile

    Azure Machine Learning Banner

    There are three easy ways you can get started with Azure ML for education:

    • There is a free tier that includes 10GB of Azure storage for our datasets, and the ability to build Azure ML experiments for an hour with up to 100 modules. Get started with this here.
      This is available to anybody, not just education customers.
    • Azure for Education is for teachers/lecturers running courses using Azure, including Azure ML. Each student receives $100 of Azure credit per month, for 6 months. The Faculty member receives $250 per month, for 12 months. You can apply anytime at
    • Azure Machine Learning for Research is for university or TAFE teaching staff running data science courses who may need greater amounts of Azure storage and additional services such as HDInsight (Hadoop and Spark) or DocumentDB (NoSQL). Proposals are accepted every two months, you can find out more and apply at
  • Education

    OneNote, SmartBoard and students with autism


    Autism activities K-5Our global Office blog recently published an excellent article from a teacher in the US, sharing their experiences of using OneNote for students with autism. They found it supported their use of tablets and interactive whiteboards in the classroom, with the OneNote notebook allowing students with autism to engage in interactive exercises, and bringing together the learning journey for students and teachers across the different devices.

    Alexis Parker, the teacher from Florida, introduces her students briefly before sharing her professional practice:

      I am a special education teacher for kindergarten through 5th-grade students who are highly impacted with autism. While every person with autism has a variety of talents and challenges, many of the students in my classroom face similar challenges—specifically in the areas of behaviour, communication and fine motor skills. Six of my students exhibit behavioural challenges when presented with tasks they don’t want to do. Seven are either non-verbal or have limited verbal skills. A few of my students are beginning to use alternative communication devices. Two of my students are able to reproduce letters of the alphabet, two can copy letters given an example, and three can trace letters.  

    By connecting together their specialist software and their SmartBoard resources through OneNote, they were able to help classroom teachers and assistants, their students and also to strengthen the connection with parents:

      In December, I decided to create student portfolios in OneNote. Now all the work my students completed on the interactive whiteboard could be saved in the student portfolio. This solved two problems: it reduced the number of worksheets I was printing and it gave the students the ability to complete the task independently. After the student completes the interactive assignment, we write a grade with the interactive whiteboard’s ink feature, which lets you write in the Internet browser. Next, we screen clip it and send it to a OneNote page pre-named with the assignment name. At the end of the week, I move all the assignments into OneNote folder sections labelled by quarter, then by subject. I share each student notebook with the student, and parents have instructions on how to access their student’s OneNote notebook. Now my students’ parents can see what their students are doing in the classroom.  

    In her blog post, Alexis shares some of the classroom activities that her students are now doing, as well as the process that she’s put in place for teachers and classroom assistants to make planning and learning delivery easier.

    If you want any more reasons to read the full blog post, then here’s her final paragraph:

      Microsoft OneNote and Windows tablets have had a huge impact on learning and instruction in my classroom. They have given my students a way to demonstrate their knowledge that was previously unavailable to them. They have provided me a way to plan effectively and efficiently. They have also given me the ability to save students work and share it with their parents, so they can see on a daily basis what their child is doing in the classroom and how they are progressing toward their IEP goals.  

    Learn MoreRead Alexis Parker's full blog post on the Microsoft Office blog

  • Education

    What a 21st Century career looks like in the UK


    Want to inspire students with their career options (and also demonstrate how pervasive technology is going to be in their future lives?)

    This video, from the UK Surface team, is very different from what you’d expect from a Careers guidance session at school. In fact, there’s a bunch of things in here that I hadn’t even thought of as a career choice, and so it’s eye opening to see what today’s students could leave school to do:

  • Education

    OneNote for Learning - Microsoft Hackathon 2015 winner


    During the last week of July Microsoft employees around the world participated in our //oneweek Hackathon, where teams create projects with technology to solve small and big problems. Some of the ideas are just fun things that go nowhere, and others end up being built into products that you then end up using. It’s volunteering at its best because people get to forget their day job for a week, and do something they are truly passionate about. And many of the teams go all out - working for weeks in advance of the Hackathon, and then virtually living with their Hackathon team for the week whilst they code, test, sleep and eat pizza. Some teams, like the OneNote for Learning team, actually got started weeks before the Hackathon, but worked in different countries. For the //OneWeek Hackathon, the OneNote for Learning team all then came together in Seattle.

    From 3,300 projects, built by 13,000 hackers, one team gets crowned champions of Microsoft Hackathon 2015.


    This year’s winners were a project team that created OneNote for Learning, an extension to OneNote to help students succeed in reading and writing, and to support every student, including those with learning disabilities like dyslexia, or language barriers. What they produced - with the help of coders, education researchers and designers - will very quickly be turned into a complete product and be rolled out to pilot schools this year.

    You can read the story about OneNote for Learning here - and if you want to keep up to date with their progress, and how you can get your hands on it (or lobby to pilot it too!) then maybe connect with Mike Tholfsen on Twitter - he’s the guy in the purple OneNote t-shirt in the middle of the photo.

    Learn MoreRead more about the Microsoft Hackathon winner - OneNote for Learning

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