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

  • Education

    The power of TED for education – coming to your classroom in condensed form


    I love listening to TED talks. I only wish I had enough time when I was sitting in front of a screen and could watch more of them. Today I discovered that they have started releasing their first batch of Ted Education talks – very short videos that are ideal as a classroom plenary, or to plant a seed of an idea with students.

    Today, they’re available on the Ted-Ed YouTube channel, but there will soon be a Ted-Ed channel on the main TED website (which is a better idea, given how many schools block YouTube, and the problem created for teachers by noxious comments on YouTube videos.

    Here’s one I watched today, which I believe in completely:

    The power of simple words–something I believe in deeply

    Visit the Ted-Ed channel, to find some of their first batch of videos, on pandemics, containerisation, cockroaches, evolution and a bunch of other subjects.

  • Education

    Writing your entry for the Microsoft Worldwide Partner Awards 2012


    imageAfter writing my opinion on creating a winning entry for the global Microsoft Education Partner of the Year Award 2012, how about some more help from the team here in Sydney?

    We’re running a webinar for Australian partners this Wednesday 14th March, from 12-1, with the straightforward title “Worldwide Partner Award Submission Writing Course”*

    As the webinar description says:

      Entering awards is like being in an examination or writing a business proposal. To get through to the finals, there is a marking scheme and you need to align the content of your submission to this. Winning means delivering a wow factor in your submission so that the judges notice you.
    To help you understand how to write your submission we are holding an online "Award Submission Writing Course". This training course will not guarantee a winning award, however it will give you some tips and tricks to make their submission stand out.


    Sarah Arnold, who writes the Australian Official Partner Blog will be your host. You’ll need to register online here to attend (in the Microsoft Partner Learning Centre)

  • Education

    How to win Microsoft Education Partner of the Year 2012


    imageEvery year thousands of worldwide partners get together with Microsoft at the Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference. In 2012 it’s being held in Canada, in the leafy green city of Toronto (hint: great week to spend in the northern hemisphere summer rather than the southern hemisphere winter!)

    Last year, Janison from NSW, were one of the finalists for Microsoft global Education Partner of the Year 2011 and winner for Australian Education Partner of the Year 2011. And given the global exposure and business opportunities it created for them – in Australia and elsewhere, I’d love as many as possible of our Australian education partners to get the chance to do well in this year’s competition. I recognise that it means somebody has to put some effort into entering – even if it just means spending the time completing the online forms. And it’s not normally somebody’s day job.

    So I’m going to give you my advice in the form of a few handy steps focused on time saving when writing your winning entry:

    How to submit a winning entry for Microsoft Education Partner of the Year, with the least effort and most impact

    1) You’ve got to be in it, to win it

    Entries close on 15th April 2012. So start now – don’t wait for a few weeks, because the deadline isn’t going to be extended just because you forgot. You can read the published info, and start your application, here

    The simple eligibility criteria is that you must have a PinPoint listing. If you don’t have one, or it needs updating, find out how to update PinPoint here. The reason is that many customers use PinPoint as the starting point to find Microsoft partners.

    It is also important to note that the competition is open to everybody that qualifies – whether or not you are attending the World Partner Conference. So you don’t have to commit to travel to be able to enter!

    2) Remember at school, when your teacher said “Read the question carefully”. Same applies

    Like an exam, there’s a set of formal questions to answer, and the judges will have a marking scheme that’s linked to that. So don’t skip a question, even if you think it’s irrelevant to you. Give the best answer you can in the context – just like a tender response, a blank answer gets no points, whereas you’ll get at least one point for attempting it! And an answer like “We’re considering it for the future” is better than '”No” Smile

    3) Try and work out what the judges give marks for

    Looking at the questions in the entry form, question 3 for '”Public Sector – Education Partner of the Year” is:

      3. Describe how using Microsoft technologies in your solution helped you win against the competition in a customer situation from a technical and business perspective.  

    My decoding of this is that the judges want you to tell them how Microsoft helped you win against our shared competitors, and they want you to explain this from a technical and business perspective.

    So “I beat ComputerSellerWarehouse on price” won’t cut it anywhere as much as:

      We helped Contoso University to implement Microsoft Dynamics CRM to replace their existing HokeyKokey CRM system, which helped them to recruit students more effectively, because using the Microsoft cloud services helped them to implement it fast enough for their new recruitment year, and integration to their SharePoint system gave staff more access to vital information. And that’s why the customer chose us instead of OldFashionedCRMSystems Inc.  

    Hopefully that answer is likely to match the judges marking scheme:

    • Microsoft technology – Dynamics CRM, Cloud, SharePoint - tick
    • Against the competition – HokeyKokey CRM; OldFashionedCRMSystems - tick
    • Technical perspective – Cloud, faster implementation - tick
    • Business perspective – Recruit students more effectively, access to vital information for staff - tick

    4) Look out for the gotchas

    When you get to Question Four (Describe which education solution area your solution maps to and which Microsoft technologies you have used), you really need to look at Questions 7-10 to know what the ‘solutions’ are. But to save you time, here’s the four solution areas in summary:

    • Institutional Effectiveness: Business Intelligence, Financial Management, High-Performance Computing, Project Management or Streamline Organisational Process
    • Operational Efficiencies: Optimise Server Infrastructure, Server Consideration and Data Warehousing or Service-Oriented Architecture (SOA)
    • eLearning: Cloud Computing, Education Desktop, Microsoft Live@Edu, Unified Communications, Web Portals for K–12 Schools or Web Portals for Higher Education
    • Research Management: Experiments, Simulations, Archiving, Instruments, Literary Dissemination, Learning Analytics, Data Mining, Machine Learning for Pattern Recognition and Complex Data Reduction and Visualisation

    If you have any difficulty choosing which solution to classify your project under, then just give me a call or drop me an email for some help choosing.

    The other gotcha to look out for is to ensure you are entering the right categories. Education Partner of the Year is for partners working with education customers. Don’t confuse it with Learning Partner of the Year, which is for partners providing IT courses and associated resources for IT professionals.

    5) Save your entry somewhere handy

    As you write your entry, save a copy of your answers. Because when you come to enter the awards for Australian Microsoft Education Partner of the Year 2012 (more details soon), you’ll be able to re-use almost everything for those awards (unfortunately, due to privacy restrictions, we can’t just transfer your data across, but it’s easy as long as you have a copy of your answers for the worldwide awards!)

    What are you waiting for?

    Find all resources to enter the Microsoft WPC Awards here, including full information on categories, Judges tips and the Official rules.

    For the avoidance of doubt, I’m not involved in the WPC Awards, and I have no special inside knowledge of them. All the advice is my responsibility alone!

  • Education

    Accessibility in Windows 8 – what it means for education users


    Continuing the theme of previous Accessibility blog posts, I thought it would be useful to take a look at accessibility going forward, and some of the work that has been done within Windows 8, and how that will help schools, TAFEs and universities to provide support for their students and staff.

    This is important as we’re going to see students accessing learning resources across a much wider range of devices – phones, slates and conventional PCs and laptops. And with new interfaces (such as the Metro interface on Windows 8) it’s important that we keep increasing the accessibility of systems and information.

    The World Health Organisation says one in six people has a disability*, and so in every educational institution there are going to be tens, hundreds or thousands of students needing support. With Windows 8, the team have built on top of the existing capabilities in Windows – like the narrator, magnifier and speech features talked about in the workshop in this blog post – by firstly improving some of these – for example, by improving the way that narrator can help you on websites.

    And the Windows 8 team have made a lot of changes from the ground up – for example, providing clearer support for other software developers to make software that can use the in-built accessibility options. A really simple example is the ability for the user to change default font sizes across applications, rather than having to do it in individual programmes. And this extends to other assistive technologies from third parties, where they can more easily be integrated into the system – to reduce the need for workarounds by both users, assistive technology developers and software designers. (Developers not only get guidelines and advice from us, but also access to specific testing tools to ensure that their applications are accessible).

    Accessibility options within Windows 8On the right are the options I see on my Windows 8 laptop, when I search for Accessibility settings in the Windows 8 Consumer Preview.

    What does it mean for education users?

    On top of the existing accessibility features, and the new ones being added, life will be made easier as we do things like adding an accessibility filter in the Windows Store, making it easier to find the apps that have been declared more accessible by the developer.

    And a lot of work has gone in to ensure that the new interfaces for touch devices are accessible. Many of these features are also really helpful for teachers when using interactive whiteboards, where they can be used to highlight areas of the screen, and zoom in and out so that all pupils can see the display.

    Hopefully the outcome of all of this is that it not only will it become easier to find accessible resources, but more software will be accessible to start with – making it much easier to support the needs of individual learners.

    Find out more on accessibility in Windows 8

    There’s a lot of detailed information on accessibility in Windows 8 – and links to resources – in a blog post (below) by Jennifer Norberg, a senior program manager lead on the Windows ‘Human Interaction Platform’ team.

    Learn MoreLearn more about accessibility in Windows 8 on the 'Building Windows 8 blog'


    Note to self: It’s not just about the technology. I’ve just checked the readability of this article, and it’s scored at just below graduate level. It looks like there’s a lot of long words in the world of accessibility. I’ll attempt to make future blog posts more readable!

  • Education

    Kinect in the classroom – new case studies


    Following on from previous posts about Kinect in education, here’s a couple of case study examples of Kinect in education that you may be interested in.

    Sunset Elementary School

    imageAt Sunset Elementary School in Colorado, students are using Kinect across the curriculum, to study geography, science, natural history etc. And their teacher reports that she’s seen improvements in their comprehension and knowledge retention. As Cheryl Arnett says “There’s power for kids in things that capture their interested, and are also something they can learn from. We’ve barely scratched the surface of where this can go; it’s limited only by our imaginations.” 

    University of Washington

    imageRobin Angotti, an associate professor of maths education at the University of Washington-Bothell, is also working with Kinect for education. With two computer science students at UW-Bothell, Jebediah Pavleas and Jack Chang, she’s created a custom Kinect app to help teach students functions of mathematics such as distance, acceleration, and velocity by letting them plot these equations on a graph in real time using Kinect and their bodies rather than just computing an equation with a pencil on graph paper.

    She came across Kinect and decided to create a math app that would bridge the gap between the abstract formulas and the real world her students live and breathe in. Why? As Robin says:

      Maths is a gatekeeper. If kids don’t get into algebra by their [their first] year of high school, they’re off track to major in any kind of STEM [Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths] field. It’s really interesting – data shows that maths is a favourite subject when kids are younger. Somewhere in the middle school years, when they’re starting to have to abstract (when math moves from the concrete world of addition, subtraction and multiplication to the more abstract equations of geometry and algebra), we’re losing them. This piece of software makes math less abstract.  


    What’s going on?

    Why are there so many projects looking at the use of Kinect in education? Cameron Evans, the National and Chief Technology Officer for the Microsoft Education team in the US, puts it simply:


    The potential behind bringing gaming to education is immense.

    The majority of time spent playing video games, the gamer is failing, he said. Yet when a player fails in a game, they come back again and again until they get it right. Bringing gaming to education could help a student who fails a maths test, for example, keep trying until they get it right


    Where to find out more about Kinect in education

    The case studies above are available in more detail on the Microsoft News Centre website.

    There’s a further article about Kinect in education projects where teachers are using Kinect with Xbox to support learning:

    • Using Kinect Sports to help teach maths concepts such as patterns versus randomness, probability, and angles through bowling
    • Students using Avatar Kinect to produce late-night shows and commercials, strengthening their language arts skills
    • Teachers using Kinect to teach maths lessons on angles, probability and arithmetic. School

    Learn MoreFind our more about Kinect in Education on the Microsoft website

  • Education

    Classroom Interactive Whiteboards and Windows 8


    I watched this video and wondered:

    Do we still need lots of extra special software to work with interactive whiteboards, when there is now so much standard software (and lots more coming around the corner) that uses touch capabilities?

    I know we used to - in the days of Windows XP, you had to have special drivers etc on an interactive whiteboards, and there was a dearth of interactive multimedia software. But perhaps today we’re hanging on to an old habit?

    My thinking is that instead of having special software that just works on the whiteboard, and needs extra training:

    • If you plug a Windows 8 computer into the interactive whiteboard, you get the great natural interactive interface you need for the PC, including great handwriting recognition
    • Teachers use OneNote (built into Office) as the teaching tool, instead of any of the specific whiteboard applications. You end up with learning resources that are much more easily shareable, because you can simply publish into the cloud, so that students can access the learning resources, homework assignments, lesson recordings etc on virtually any device:

    So a teacher can create a lesson in OneNote, and then when they publish it, the students could revise it, and listen to the recording, on the bus/train on the way home, and then complete their homework assignment online at home, and submit it online.

    * OneNote Mobile is free to download and use for up to 500 notes. When you've reached this limit, you can upgrade the app for a one-time fee for unlimited use. If you choose not to upgrade to the unlimited version, you can still view, sync, and delete any of your existing notes even after you've reached the 500 notes limit. However, you will no longer be able to edit your notes or create new ones on your phone/iPad.

  • Education

    Accessibility workshop for education




    I thought I’d point you towards another resource that will be useful for partners, education trainers, and those who need to get the message across about Accessibility to their colleagues.

    Teacher Training Workshop on Accessibility

    It is a complete PowerPoint-based teacher training workshop on Accessibility for schools using Microsoft resources. The workshop materials are there ready to go, with all of the links to the resources on the web etc. The only thing we don’t provide is the person to deliver it for you - but the materials have been written so that it can be delivered by anybody in education, without a deep knowledge of accessibility or special needs.

    It covers a background, as well as an overview of accessibility features in Windows, Internet Explorer and Office, before going to look at the relationship between impairments and technology solutions, and advice on selecting accessible technology.

    In then gets really practical, to help with planning for specific students in your care, by looking at four imaginary students with different needs, and suggests how to support them:

    Alex  - a completely fictional student

    Scenario 1 - Visual impairment

    ‘Alex’ has a visual impairment and is colour-blind. He needs to have what he is reading on the computer enlarged or magnified, and he needs to rely on text, rather than colour, for information.

    Accessibility solutions

    Christina  - a completely fictional student

    Scenario 2 - Hearing impairment

    ‘Christina’ is hard-of-hearing so she needs to be able to adjust the volume on her computer. She uses headphones to block out background noise and increases the volume without disrupting other learners in the classroom. She also may need to watch parts of videos more than once to make sure she doesn’t miss anything that is being said.

    Accessibility solutions:

    Sam  - a completely fictional student

    Scenario 3 - Muscle fatigue and wrist pain

    ‘Sam’ has dexterity difficulties, including muscle fatigue. He needs to be able to limit the amount of keyboard work he does. Sam benefits from using Windows Speech Recognition to dictate large amounts of text for reports and uses an ergonomic Microsoft Comfort keyboard and mouse.

    Accessibility solutions:

    John - a completely fictional studentScenario 4 - Student who has difficulty concentrating

    ‘John’ has been diagnosed with attention deficit disorder (ADD) which makes it difficult for him to concentrate sometimes. He would benefit from reducing visual and auditory distractions while using the computer. He needs the computer to assist him in better focusing on reading and
    typing tasks.

    Accessibility solutions:

    Learn MoreDownload the Accessibility in Education Workshop kit (PowerPoint)

    Bonus info: For more info on Accessibility and education, I’ve written blog posts about Accessibility half a dozen times recently:

  • Education

    University student recruitment is in the toilet - where’s your website?


    I was talking about the process of student recruitment in universities yesterday, and this was one of my slides:

    IT in the Toilet - where are your future students surfing your website from?

    It’s a small bit of data from the “IT in the Toilet” survey from the US, and the point is that 4 out of 10 people from Gen Y (ie your next customer) has used a phone in the toilet to surf the web. The context for university student recruitment is that prospective students could literally be anywhere, at any time, when they are making the choice of their next education institution.

    In the future, student recruitment marketing and methodology has to be a lot more agile, to respond to changes in the way that prospective students are interacting with institutions in making their choices. As I work with universities that are re-designing their systems and processes to reflect the changing student recruitment landscape there are recurring themes. One big theme that keeps coming out is agility, to respond to the constant changes in the recruitment landscape and the prospective student mindset.

    What is often overlooked in institutions (not just in universities, but across any large institution) is the web content that’s published on your own website. What I’ve found is that the recruitment team generally ‘own’ a part of the site, and optimise that part for the recruitment cycle.

    But what happens if the prospective student ends up somewhere else on your site? What experience will they have? I’ve just finished reading ‘Why Higher Ed Sucks at Content Strategy’ on the .eduGuru blog, and it’s a comprehensive article that just might help you influence your colleagues’ thinking. For example:

      I’ve talked to more than one DI level school that has, and I kid you not, millions of web pages. Millions. Millions. Think about that for a second. If you checked 100 pages a day, every day for a year, you wouldn’t even manage to check the quality of 50,000 pages. If you had only one million pages, that wouldn’t even cover 5% of your site. One of the first steps in starting a content strategy is a content audit. How much of your site are you prepared to commit to that when you’re so huge? Yes, a lot of that is automatically generated or archival. Yes, not all of it is meant for normal human consumption. Yet the fact remains that when a problem is so big and you can’t even pinpoint where to start, many will choose to do nothing. Since many university sites lack any comprehensive business or marketing strategy when it comes to the creation and maintenance of content, literally every piece of information gets put out there, and it’s put out there by hoards of individuals that are ultimately not qualified to edit web sites. So we grow. And grow. And grow.  

    Learn MoreRead the full .eduGuru article on content management on university websites

  • Education

    Microsoft Flight simulator - free software for teachers in February


    Find all 'Free Downloads' on this blog

    A last piece of Free February Appy-ness with a new piece of free software for teachers from Microsoft every day in February. Many of these items are unknown heroes, but they all share two things in common: 1) They are useful for teachers or students and 2) they are free.

    Okay, after 28 days hard slog to get through 28 free applications for teachers, I thought I’d take it a bit easier on the bonus day of the month. I’m sure you can find a teaching and learning use for this, but how about a gratuitous tip for a free bit of software:

    Microsoft Flight simulator in the classroom

    Now anyone can enjoy the fun, freedom and adventure of flight. Feel the power at your fingertips as you take to the skies and launch into thrilling missions and exciting challenges over the free-to-play Big Island of Hawaii.

    Take the Controls

    Customise flight controls to match your students’ skill level, choose exciting missions or just take off and explore the sky. Immerse yourself in the thrills and challenges of an ever expanding adventure, where each new plane soars with the power and handling of its real world counterpart.

    Got a Mouse? You Can Fly!

    Microsoft Flight

    Jump into the adventure of flying with no special hardware or past experience. With just a click of the mouse, you can see all available missions and locations, view the planes, track and share accomplishments, or take to the skies!

    Where can I find out how to use it?

    Like any other plane, there’s a handbook you can download

    Where do I get Microsoft Flight from?

    Download the free version of Microsoft Flight from here

  • Education

    Imagine changing the world - Imagine Cup 2012



    Imagine changing the world - Imagine Cup 2012

    One of my most inspiring days of 2011 was spent watching the Australian finalists pitching their ideas and software to the judges in the PowerHouse Museum in Sydney, and feeling so proud of the team that won the right to take their entry to New York to compete at the global Imagine Cup finals. I simply could not believe the amazing projects that teams of 3 or 4 students had created, and the professionalism of the software that they had developed to tackle genuine societal needs. I’ve already added the dates for this year’s finals in my diary - there’s no way I want to miss out. And you??

    Are you a student with the vision to change the world, or an academic, business or IT professional who knows how to inspire young minds?

    Imagine Cup is a global competition for student teams who combine inspiration with technology to tackle some of the world’s toughest problems. Every year, students come up with amazing solutions that use technology to improve education, help environmental sustainability, and reduce poverty and child mortality.

    If that challenge excites you, get your team together, get your thinking caps on and enter Imagine Cup 2012.

    Of course, every team requires a mentor, who can answer questions and challenge them to think big and follow their vision.

    If you’re willing to support the innovators of tomorrow, register now to become an Imagine Cup Mentor. Winning teams have a chance to share their ideas at the Imagine Cup 2012 Worldwide finals right here in Australia and compete for cash grants and other prizes. Enter your team in Imagine Cup 2012 now, or register now to become an Imagine Cup Mentor. And while you’re at it, why not spread the word on Imagine Cup 2012 to your students – or any inspiring young minds you know?

    Go to

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