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

  • Education

    How many ways can you use SharePoint in education?

    • 3 Comments
    Alex Pearce, is a SharePoint Most Valuable Professional (MVP) in the UK who works with education customers, and writes extensively about SharePoint in Education on his blog at BFC Networks. In this guest blog post, Alex gives some thoughts on the many ways SharePoint can make for productive learning in the classroom:
     

    There are many ways to get SharePoint 2010 in your school, whether you’re using it as part of a package from a supplier, using a hosting company to host your own SharePoint or using your EES licence to host your SharePoint internally.

    All of the successful SharePoint implementations I have seen are those that have integrated SharePoint into their daily school lives and don’t use it as just another web page that student and teachers use if they want to. There are loads of great examples of how schools use SharePoint in their school and have a 100% adoption rate but how can this be done for your environment?

    I often talk to different schools about this very subject and I split the conversation into three different sections - management, learning and social. These three can be tackled by the school one at a time or all at the same time, but each of these can help you integrate SharePoint into your school.

    Whether you are looking at going with a third party hosting solution or building your own SharePoint, consider the following and ensure you can achieve these with the solution being provided.

    Management

    Any process in your school, whether it’s the approval of staff external training, hiring of equipment from IT or keeping the staff calendar up to date it, has a process from the request to information staff of the change/approval. SharePoint can help in any of these and any other process that comes to mind. Let’s take a look at how two of these processes can be used within in SharePoint.

    • Example - A member of staff requested some Maths training
      Navigate to the CPD site on their SharePoint and click on ‘’new request’’ which opens up Microsoft Word. They fill in the request and click ‘’save’’ which saves the document back to the CPD site. In the background, SharePoint is doing its thing and has emailed a copy of CPD Request to your manager for approval. They then open their email and get a link to the document which opens up in Internet Explorer using Office Web Applications and shows them the request you have made. They are happy and so they click ‘’approve’’ in SharePoint. This sends off the email to the finance department letting them know to send a purchase order to the training provider. During this time, two other emails have also been sent, letting the Timetable Manager know that you will not be in school on that training day and therefore need to arrange cover. The other email is to let you know that your course has been approved and you can attend.

        • Example - You want to borrow some digital cameras from the ICT Support department
          Navigate to the SharePoint page they have setup. You click on ‘’digital cameras’’ which loads a page that looks similar to your Outlook calendar and look for you the time you want. You can see that another member of staff has them already booked at that time, so you decide to use them the next lesson. You have to fill out an online form that includes the date and time and the room you require them in. When you have submitted the request, an email is sent to the ICT support team who approve the request. The day arrives for you to use the cameras but you are worried you don’t know how to use them. Help is at hand. Go to the same SharePoint page the ICT Support department use to book the cameras, see that they are still booked and there is a help wiki that’s been setup on the cameras which shows you everything you need to know.

        imageLearning

        Pupils are given out worksheets all the time in class which, 9 times out of 10, are generated in Word or printed off the internet. Why give them something that can be lost, screwed up in the bottom of the bag or used as an excuse for not doing their homework?
        SharePoint is a great tool for document storage and management. You can store any type of document and even edit Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote in your Internet browser without having to have these installed on your computer or smart phone.

        Documents can be tagged allowing you to easily find content with a same relevant name. As the English teacher, you can upload content for your Romeo and Juliet topic and tag all the documents with Romeo and Juliet included. With the right setup, it will automatically tag the documents with English and Shakespeare.

        Social

        There is always an interesting question about where to use social networking in a school. Personally I believe that students use it every day out of school, so we should be doing the same within the school and integrate into their education. SharePoint can help in many ways with an educational angle.

        During the learning section of the post we talked about the ability to tag documents. In SharePoint 2010 we can use these tags within the User Profile services.

        imageA student can subscribe to one of these tags allowing them to see content as it is uploaded. As a student, I am working on Romeo and Juliet in English and I see Romeo and Juliet in a Tag Cloud. This then allows me to see all updates made to this tag, giving me more information on each of my subjects as other use it in the school.

        Each user has their own ‘’profile’’, allowing them to upload an image and give some general information about themselves. (SharePoint allows us to manage this, so you can do things like block photos). One of the features is the ability to say you are an expert in a subject. Link this to your tagging (like Romeo and Juliet) and a student can then use SharePoint Search to find the most relevant documents, the ability to filter and the most relevant member of staff who can help them on that subject.

        SharePoint for All

        Whatever the learning asset, document or process, it can be done in SharePoint, don’t be afraid to ask someone on twitter or on an education community forum such as Edugeek.

         

        Learn MoreRead more about SharePoint in education on Alex Pearce's blog

      • Education

        Microsoft Bring Your Own Device in Schools whitepaper

        • 3 Comments

        BYOD in schools whitepaperThere's been a lot said about Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) in schools, and plenty of commentary on blogs and the Twittersphere. It's a fast-moving subject, almost like 'building airplanes in the sky' – it sometimes feels like BYOD strategies and vision are being created as we go along.

        And the debate has been joined by two pedagogical leaders who have produced a Microsoft BYOD whitepaper for schools. Bruce Dixon (from the Anytime, Anywhere Learning Foundation) and Sean Tierney (from the worldwide Microsoft Partners in Learning programme) have both been passionate advocates for 1:1 learning programmes for many years, and have just published their first 'Bring Your Own Device for schools' whitepaper. The aim is to examine the potential deployment models from teaching, learning and IT management perspectives.

        As their introduction says:

         

        The ongoing debate regarding the Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) model in schools warrants deeper analysis to help educators and institutions understand this provisioning model and its potential benefits and pitfalls for learning. This discussion paper sets out to investigate the myths and understand which questions should be addressed when considering allowing students to bring their own devices, and which option might be best suited to a school or system’s culture. It is intended to stimulate discussion around what constitutes best practice 1-to-1 learning.

         

        As well as plenty of detailed analysis and debate within the white paper, there's also a handy table that helps to describe the different capabilities of the various devices that are available for a BYOD scenario:

        BYOD Capability Taxonomy - from page 5

        It's a great way to classify the differing capabilities across a range of current and future devices.

        I think that one of the best aspects of the white paper is that it talks about the alternative models – presenting five potential models, and discussed the benefits and considerations of each. It also goes into five key questions to ask to help you decide whether a BYOD model is right for your school. And then talks through consideration for planning and implementation procedures.

        The conclusion section starts:

         

        BYOD is a trend that needs to be carefully examined in an education context to ensure that the models we deploy are successful. At the heart of good 1-to-1 learning is equity to ensure that all students have equal access to technology-rich experiences, and simplicity to ensure that it is easy to manage and sustain.

         

        and finishes with an absolutely key point:

         

        Schools need to be vigilant and protective of the foundations of equity of access on which all of our education systems are firmly founded. With this in mind, all stakeholders – teachers, parents, students and principals – need to work through the tough decisions early to drive home the best outcomes for all students at all times.

         

        Learn MoreYou can either download the BYOD for schools whitepaper, or if you're in Australia, drop Richard Ryan an email and he'll pop a couple of printed copies in the post

        For more info on Bring Your Own Device, here's a link to related BYOD articles

      • Education

        My current computer–why I've switched to a Samsung slate

        • 3 Comments

        Each working day I spend between 5 and 8 hours working with my current computer. And it was only last week I realised my setup was quite different to everybody else, as I looked around the meeting table. Almost everybody else was using a laptop, whereas I've made the leap from laptop PC to slate PC permanently. So I thought I'd share it with you:

        My regular computer: Samsung Series 7 slate PC

        Samsung Series 7 slateUp until May I was using an HP laptop – which I was very happy with. Good performance, nice graphics, and plenty of storage etc. And because I thought of myself as a power-user, I didn't think I'd be able to cope with a less powerful computer – and that seemed to include all the early slate PCs, which were good to demo with, but not something I'd considered as my every day PC.

        But then I got my hands on a Samsung Series 7 Slate PC with all the bells and whistles I needed, and I'm running it with the released version of Windows 8. The one I've got (the sexily named XE700T1A-A05AU) has all the key ingredients I wanted:

        • A touch display: You know, I never imagined I'd be making this the No. 1 requirement, but ever since I moved to Windows 8, it's a must have – especially when I'm sitting at home on the sofa, or taking it into meetings
        • A pen: just like touch, it's now a 'must have', as I take it to meetings and use it as a slate, and am using OneNote more and more for notes, as well as using handwriting recognition instead of an on-screen keyboard
        • Plenty of storage: this one's got a 128GB SSD drive
          I've found that for me 100GB is the minimum drive, because I cart a lot of videos and presentations around with me, and whilst I've got them backed up in the cloud, I have that synced to my computer so that I can always get to them when I'm offline.
        • Decent graphics: this one has got onboard Intel graphics which are good enough for me for everything but games.
        • TPM chip: which means my drive is fully encrypted, so that all of the professional and personal data is secure if I lose it or somebody else gets their hand on it
        • Plenty of RAM: this one's got 4GB of RAM, which I'm finding is more than enough with Windows 8
        • A small dock: Whenever I'm standing or sitting at a desk, then I plug it into a dock. Which gives turns it completely into a laptop – with keyboard, mouse, second monitor and wired network connection
        • It's light: weighing in at under a kilogram
        • It's got a SIM slot, for internet on the go: Although I haven't actually used it, as I tend to just use the Internet sharing of my Lumia 800 – it means I use the data included with my normal phone subscription, rather than to have a second mobile subscription for my computer. Which means I'm always using the WiFi connection, whether that's at the office, at home, or out and about.

        Here's my typical desktop setup, with a second monitor plugged into the docking station, and a normal desktop keyboard and mouse. So it means that whenever I'm at my desk, I've got the perfect setup with a big screen, and then I can just grab it from the docking station and walk to a meeting just carrying the PC and a pen, without all the other stuff. So my bag is a lot lighter than it used to be.

        Samsung Series 7 slate in a desktop setup

        With this setup, I've got something that works as a great desktop computer, and then is good for carrying to meetings. And if I'm using it at home in the evenings, then I tend to use it with touch and the new Windows 8 apps (for things like reading Twitter and blogs). The portability is a big bonus in our Sydney offices, where every desk is setup as a hot desk – I can sit at any desk in the building, and there's already a large monitor, keyboard and mouse ready to go.

      • Education

        Linking SkyDrive and Moodle together

        • 3 Comments

        imageMoodle, a popular Learning Management System, is widely used across education. And Microsoft's SkyDrive is also widely used by both teachers and students (although in some government systems, the access is blocked to SkyDrive when in school) as a cloud-based storage drive.

        So you may be interested to know that the Moodle community has developed and released a plugin for Moodle 2.3 which allows students and teachers to save their files into SkyDrive, directly in the cloud, from Moodle.

        You can find out more, and download the SkyDrive plugin from the Moodle website

        I can quickly think of three reasons why this is a good idea:

        • Let your students access work from home or school, on multiple computers, and even phones
        • Reduce the amount of storage capacity you need on your own servers
        • Give teachers more storage capacity (SkyDrive gives 7GB of storage per user in the Cloud), for all of those videos, fancy PowerPoints etc that are eating up your drive space!

        Note, this plugin doesn't come from Microsoft, but from the Moodle open-source community. There are lots of other resources to integrate Moodle with Microsoft technology on this list

      • Education

        New lower prices for Office 365 for education

        • 3 Comments

        Yesterday Kirk Koenigsbauer, Corporate Vice President of the Microsoft Office Division product management group, made an announcement about some changes we’ve made to the pricing for Office 365 for enterprises, and Office 365 for education.

         

        As we rapidly add customers, the cost to run Office 365 becomes more efficient.  This is the beauty of the cloud where we can deliver economies of scale through our worldwide data centres and economies of skill with our engineers, administrators, and support teams operating the service.  

        With these efficiencies, we're able pass on savings to make it even more affordable for customers of all sizes to move to Office 365.

        In line with our longstanding commitment to education, we will make our "A2" service plan free to not only students, but also to faculty and staff.  A2 includes the core capabilities of Exchange, SharePoint, and Lync and the Office Web Applications.  Exchange Online and Lync Online are available today for academic institutions, and we'll launch the full Office 365 for education service starting this summer.   You can get more information on our Office 365 for education offering here.

         

        When Kirk said “this summer” he was thinking about the Northern Hemisphere.
        So you’ll need to translate that to “this winter” for Australia.

        The information on the new pricing for the various Office 365 for education options is available on the Office 365 for education webpage. Here’s the key table from that page:

        image

        The prices listed are the US prices currently
        I’ll provide an updated link as soon as Australian prices are available.

        Find out more

        You can sign up via email to get updates and to find out more information about Office 365 for education over at the product website.

        Oh, and if you want to know more about what Office 365 could do for you, there's always the free Microsoft Press digital book on Office 365 - grab it here

      • Education

        Do you really need a Learning Management System?

        • 3 Comments

        I was reading a blog post from Jonathan Rees earlier – a Professor of History at Colorado State University – where he discusses briefly the usage of the Learning Management System (LMS) (‘An uncharacteristically subtle post for me’). It was accompanied by a chart showing the use of different components of their Learning Management System (I suspect this could be many LMSs, in many, many other institutions).

        LMS Usage

        The point I inferred from his blog post is that, most of the time, the data show that users are using their Learning Management System to do things that are basic features (like document sharing) and these are the things you don’t really need an LMS for, because you could achieve it on almost any web platform.

        So if your staff are using a Learning Management System as a place to share documents, make announcements, and publish student marks, would you actually be better off just using the standard platform your institution probably has in place already and linked to your existing IT systems and identity system (like SharePoint or Office 365), rather than having a completely separate IT system dedicated to it?

        Is this pattern created by a procurement mindset of “Let’s list all of the things we could possibly do, and they buy the thing that meets all of those needs”? The risk is that the focus becomes the delivery of the features, and not the use of them.

        In the example above, if only 1% of your users actually use wikis within their course, does that justify the need for everybody to have it?

        I believe that in the future we’re going to see people choosing systems that give them the core functionality as a platform to build on, and then adding the parts they need for specific groups of users; not specifying an all-singing, all-dancing system from day one which has absolutely everything you need built from the ground up before any users have started using the system and experimenting. We’re going to see the shift to more agile systems, and more agile developments to support the way that users use their enterprise-wide systems.

        So, does that mean you don’t need an LMS? And if not, what do you need?

      • Education

        The 2013 Innovative Teacher Awards for Australia are now open

        • 3 Comments

        When I was in the UK, I had a couple of years as a judge on the UK Innovative Teacher Awards, run as part of the Partners in Learning programme. It was a definite highlight of each year, as we saw some fabulous examples of inspiring and motivational classroom practice. Although it was always Pretty sure he's not really smug...difficult to choose a winner, it was great to see one of our teachers going on to regional, and often global finals.

        So I thought I should alert you to the chance to enter the Australian finals for the 2013 Innovative Teacher Awards. It's a chance to be recognised as one of Australia's leading educators, win a new Windows 8 tablet device (ooh) and potentially go to the 2013 Microsoft Global Education Forum.

        And do you want to be feeling as smug as the guy in the photo on the right? (Well, perhaps you want to feel inwardly smug, whilst keeping a calm professional persona of "What? Me?")

        Enter the 2013 Innovative Teacher Awards and get the recognition you deserve!

        The Microsoft Partners in Learning Teachers Awards competition is about recognising great teaching using ICT in the Classroom. Teachers everyday are complimenting their teaching and lessons with fantastic innovative and often very simple uses of technology. Many don't even think it to be 'innovative!' This is not an award based on how much Microsoft technology you, or the colleague you are nominating, have used; it is about the way that you have used the simplest technology to motivate and encourage learning with your students.

        For a flavour of the entries you can see previous winners projects here. Remember that the deadline for entering is December 14th 2012.

        Learn MoreYou can find out more, and enter, on the Partners in Learning network

      • Education

        Australia Microsoft Surface RT offer for Education

        • 3 Comments

        imageYou may have heard about the worldwide launch of a great Microsoft Surface offer for schools and tertiary education customers. It is exclusively for education institutions, to buy Microsoft Surface RT tablets at a reduced price for a limited time. The good news is that I can share with you the details for Australian education customers.

        From now until August 31, 2013, schools, TAFEs and universities in Australia can get:

        • Surface RT (32 GB) for AU$219 (Estimated Retail Price is $559)
        • Surface RT (32 GB) Touch Keyboard Cover for AU$279 (Estimated Retail Price is $679)
        • Surface RT (32 GB) Type Keyboard Cover for AU$319 (Estimated Retail Price is $708)
          All the prices above include GST

        Surface RT provides students and teachers with Microsoft Office Home & Student 2013 RT pre-installed. The Microsoft Surface offer for schools also opens the door to thousands — more than 20,000, to be precise — of education related apps in the Windows Store, from big names like Khan Academy, Kno, Chegg, and major textbook publishers such as HMH and Pearson. And there are some fabulous apps from Australia publishers that support new modes of learning in the classroom – like nsquared make words, just one of eight free apps of theirs you’ll find in the Windows Store.

        If you were considering buying non-Windows tablets for your students and staff, then in my opinion, there’s nothing comparable to this Microsoft Surface offer for schools  – and in many cases with this offer you’d not only get the Windows and Office experience, you’d be able to put twice as many devices into the hands of students with the same budget. You get a Windows device that supports mouse, keyboard, USB and video displays – so that you can plug in printers, projectors, external screens etc. And you get Microsoft Office pre-installed, which means that your students can continue to work with the existing tools they already know – like PowerPoint, Word, Excel and OneNote. And your teachers don’t have to re-write all of their curriculum resources and lessons plans either. Plus you give them a device with all-day battery life, true Windows multi-tasking so they can have apps running side by side, and you can have individual profiles and logins for each student.

        If you’re asking why now is the right time for us to take such an ambitious step into the education market, the answer is simple: It’s because Microsoft believes every student and teacher deserves a fair opportunity to reach his or her full potential, and this means ensuring our education customers have access to affordable and high quality tablets with laptop functionality ready for education.

        This Surface offer is just one of the options for putting Windows touch tablets and laptops into the hands of your staff and students. As we showed at the recent EduTech conference in Brisbane, Windows devices come in a variety of shapes, sizes, features and price points to serve all our education customer needs. And over the last few months I’ve highlighted stories about new Windows 8 devices from Dell, Asus, HP, Samsung and Lenovo. We are continuing to work with OEMs on delivering their latest tablets and PCs, and I’ll have more to share on devices and offers from them shortly.

        Although this information is specific to Australia, similar Microsoft Surface offers for education are available in other countries – hop over to the global Microsoft in Education blog for details of others.

        How the offer works

        The way this works is really simple – there’s a downloadable brochure and order form for education institutions* which contains the details of the devices, and the usual terms and conditions. You simply complete the Order Form and send it back to the Surface team (who are on surfaceedu@microsoft.com) who’ll arrange to get your order supplied.

        * Yep, the offer is only available to official education institutions in Australia (see our criteria here), not to individual students or teachers to place an order. For good reasons, if you wanted to buy one for your personal use with your own money, then you’ll need to buy yours through the normal retailers at normal retail price

        For more information and to order, see the Surface RT for Education brochure and return the completed order form to the Surface team.

        Learn MoreGo to  the offer site for the Brochure, Pricing and Order Form

      • Education

        The Mathletics website now on every Windows 8 device

        • 3 Comments

        You may notice that some websites on Windows 8 ask you to open them in the desktop version of Internet Explorer, rather than the modern UI version, because they are written in Flash - even though Internet Explorer 10 on Windows 8 has an integrated Flash Player, avoiding the need to download and install an add-in. The reason is that if you're using a touch tablet, then some Flash websites are difficult to navigate because they need you to do things like a mouse double-click (tricky when you've only got a finger, not a mouse!).

        So we maintain a list of websites that work on well with touch tablets, and  these are the only ones that you can open with the Windows 8 modern UI version of IE10, otherwise you have to open them with the desktop version.

        You may remember a few months ago that I wrote about "How to get a Flash website working smoothly on Windows 8 and Windows RT", describing the background to designing a web experience that doesn't require plug-ins for browsers. This is an important step to improve browser performance, accessibility support, increase battery life on mobile devices like laptops and tablets, and to increase security and reliability.

        Mathletics logoWe've been working with various publishers to ensure their websites work well with touch devices. Yesterday, we added Mathletics to the list, so if you go to www.mathletics.com.au on any Windows 8 device, it will now let you use Mathletics in full on any Windows 8 device (Windows RT or Windows 8, with either ARM or Intel processors). This is much better than having Mathletics content available through an app, because the website gives you access to the full Mathletics system and library of resources, whereas the mobile apps contain just a smaller subset.

        This is good news for Australian schools, where Mathletics is widely used, but a quick look at the Mathletics leaderboard shows there's a long list of other countries that will benefit too.

        Learn MoreVisit the Mathletics website

      • Education

        Could Cortana in education help students and teachers?

        • 3 Comments

        Cortana logo

        Cortana is the intelligent voice-activated assistant on a Windows Phone - described as ‘your personal assistant in your phone’ - and it provides a new way of interacting with other people and your phone. I’ve been using Cortana on my phone for a while now, using the Developer Preview of Windows 8.1 and over time I’ve discovered some great things it can do for me (I most often use it to send an SMS as I’m leaving the office, remind me about something when I arrive somewhere, and to check information in my calendar).

        wp_ss_20140908_0001I’ve got used now to pressing my phone’s search button, and hearing a short tone along with the “Listening…” message pop up - and then talking to my phone as though it was a real person.

        wp_ss_20140908_0002Some of the things I’ve found Cortana does are:

        • Activating your phone - like calling somebody in your contacts
        • Sending text/SMS messages
        • Adding meetings to your calendar, or re-arranging what’s in there
        • Setting reminders that occur at a particular time, or place (like “Remind me to buy milk when I get to the supermarket”)
        • Setting alarms
        • Adding notes to your OneNote file
        • Asking travel questions, like What’s traffic like on the way to school today?

         

        What about using Cortana in education?

        So that got me thinking - how could Cortana in education help improve things for students and teachers? After I discovered that I could ask Cortana “When is my next dentist appointment”, and it would tell me the time and date, it got me thinking about how useful it would be to ask questions like:

        When/what/where is my next lesson?

        When is my next science lesson?

        When is my next essay due?

        And every single one of those questions it worked for! As long as I had things noted in my calendar, which could be either my personal or work calendar, it would find it and let me know, whether it's tomorrow or in six months’ time! What a help for a time-poor or disorganised student. And a teacher could set a reminder like “Remind me to talk about the Ice Age next time I meet Year 7 Geography

        Using Cortana to make it easier to use apps

        wp_ss_20140908_0003But what I’ve discovered more recently is the way that I can use Cortana with apps - like asking Cortana to make a Skype call (“Call Sarah on Skype”), or joining a conference call (“Lync join next meeting”).
        Cortana isn’t just for Microsoft-written applications, as developers can use the Cortana APIs to allow users to interact with their app through Cortana. Some of the examples from third-party developers that I’ve found on my phone are:

        • - Send a tweet through different Twitter clients. I’ve tried it with Twitter’s native app as well as Rowi
        • - Read my LinkedIn groups and inbox
        • - Listen to radio, and even the local Air Traffic Control through LiveATC
        • - Search Wikipedia, and get the first part of a Wikipedia article read to you!

        What about using Cortana with a Learning Management System?
        Or a Student Management System? Or your Lecture Capture System?…

        So if it can do all of those things, I think there are some very cool scenarios that Cortana could enable to make life easier for students and teachers. Here’s some examples that I think would be really cool to build. How about being able to say things like:

        • Download my assignment notes from the LMS
        • Ask for an extension for my essay deadline
        • Send a homework text to the students who aren’t in class today
        • Send a text to the parents of students absent today
        • What lessons do I have today
        • Tell me how long my child used Mathletics this week
        • Show me the students who haven’t used Mathletics this week
        • Record this lecture
        • Send a reminder to all students who haven’t yet handed in their homework assignment

        To do some of the tasks above, there will need to be some work done by software developers, to connect Cortana to their apps. And if that’s done, then there’s some great ways that the apps will be able to simplify life for teachers, students and parents. And it can all be started from pressing the same Search button on their phone.

        What next?

        Developers - there’s some great resources on how to use Cortana with your apps. Start with the Channel 9 video  What developers need to know about the Cortana APIs, and then have a read of the article “Responding to speech interactions” which guides you through the process of setting up your app to accept recognised commands from Cortana.

        Teachers and Students - what are the scenarios that you’d like developers to add to their apps? Let me know via the comments box, and I’ll share them as I meet with developers. There are probably some cool things Cortana can already do, but I bet you can find a dozen other things that you’d like to see done to make your life easier as a student, teacher or parent. What are your thoughts?

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