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

  • Education

    Remote teaching for blind students


    After I wrote about the use of Microsoft Lync at Vicdeaf, where they are using the system to improve communications between deaf colleagues, I’ve had a few conversations with customers about different ways that Lync can help to improve the learning experience for students - especially those with accessibility needs.

    If you need it, here’s a quick summary of some of the things that Lync can do: instant messaging, video calling, telephone replacement, video conferencing between multiple users, audio conferencing, screen sharing, audio & video capture, and whiteboard sharing. So in an education context it can be used for things like quick chats between students and teachers, or remote lesson delivery, or connecting groups of students to collaborate in real-time on a project. As I have discovered, with a wireless bluetooth headset, it can allow you to fully participate in a conference call, whilst making a cup of coffee Winking smile

    I’ve just finished reading a case study on the Microsoft PressPass site which gives a good insight into the kind of tough educational challenges that it can help with. In Washington State they are using it at the Washington State School for the Blind to allow teachers based in other areas to teach and support students.

    Washington State School for the Blind

    Teacher Robin Lowell, using a large format display to teach students remotelyThe case study is of students who are taking an algebra class and where the teacher is located 240 km away. In many ways the class is delivered exactly like a normal lesson - with the teacher able to see the students, and the students able to act exactly the same way that they would if the teacher was in the classroom with them - for example, raising their hands to ask a question. As well as a webcam and large display at the front of the classroom, students have their own laptops along with other accessibility features they might need, such as screen readers or braille displays. And the features of Lync - such as screen sharing, virtual whiteboard and chat windows - can then supplement these resources.

    The result is a classroom that works, even though the teacher and the students don’t need to be together. And it doesn’t require any special video conferencing rooms or equipment - it can work with existing webcams (earlier today, I joined a virtual meeting using the built-in webcam on my laptop, with groups of colleagues who were in four different places).

    As Chris, a visually impaired student in the algebra class, said:

      It makes it easier that if we have problem, we can talk to Miss Lo. And if I get snowed in at home in Spokane, with Lync I wouldn’t miss my class!  

    Given the pressing need for creative ways to manage the future teacher shortages in Australia, and the need to enable specialist teaching for rural schools, then I think we're going to see increasing demand for ad-hoc conferencing capabilities, which can be controlled by teachers and students, rather than the bigger formal video conferencing systems and dedicated suites that we've been seeing up until now. If a teacher can just start a group teaching session from wherever they are, without having to book facilities in advance, then it's more likely to give them a learning environment that is adaptive and responsive to students' needs.

    Learn MoreRead the full case study on Lync's use for remote teaching for blind students

    You can read more about Lync’s accessibility features in this post on the Lync blog

  • Education

    Cost saving with ICT - some ideas to reduce school budget pressure


    eBook front coverTalking at the Association of School Business Administrators professional development conference in Queensland today, I mentioned the ‘Saving Money with ICT’ eBook which I wrote when I was in the UK. Although it’s nearly a year old, the information within it is still relevant today to anybody who’s having to think hard about school budget management. It was written with one really simple goal in mind: To help the ICT team in school to explain to the leadership team how they can help out the rest of the school in a climate of cost saving.

    There hasn’t appeared to be the same pressure on school budgets here in Australia as there was in the UK, but it’s a subject that’s been coming up more frequently recently - either because of the top-down budgets being under pressure from the state governments, or because of a need to release funding for new innovation projects. Although I haven’t written an Australian version of this ebook, I do believe that many of the case studies - and the figures - have a relevance here too.

    To make a long list easier to consumer, the cost saving ideas are grouped into three strategies:

    image And the cost saving opportunities identified are across a school - not just your ICT budget, but also include the budgets for admin, energy, electricity, paper and photocopying.

    Even though you may need to translate some of the examples from the UK into our local context in the Australian context, I do believe that it will provide some helpful ideas and advice:

    Learn More

    Download the free “Saving Money with ICT” eBook (UK Edition)

  • Education

    Collaboration with Microsoft Office 365 - free ebook from MS Press in more formats


    The Microsoft Press team announced that their ebook on Office 365  is available as a free ebook in a range of new formats.

    Office 365 ebook coverThe chapters of the book are:

    1. What’s happening in the world of work
    2. Getting started with Office 365
    3. Administering an Office 365 Account
    4. What your team can do with Office 365
    5. Creating your team site with SharePoint online
    6. Posting, sharing and managing files
    7. Adding and managing workflows
    8. Working with Office 2010 Web Apps
    9. Going mobile with Office 365
    10. Email and organise with Office 365
    11. Talking it over with Microsoft Lync
    12. Designing your public website
    13. Integrating all parts of Office 365

    I especially enjoyed reading chapter 12 - Designing your public website. I’ve been writing about using SharePoint to create education websites recently (see ‘Ten of the Best - Australian education websites built on SharePoint’ ) and the idea of using the hosted Office 365 service to create a public website might well be something that’s really useful for smaller schools and colleges. It will mean that you can create a fully managed website, with ownership across a broad team, but without needing to buy lots of hardware or bandwidth, or maintain a complex webserver.

    There are three formats available:

    Free Office 365 ebook  in PDF format - for on screen reading

    Free Office 365 ebook in .mobi format - for Kindle readers

    Download the free Office 365 ebook in .epub format - for Sony readers

    * For nine other Microsoft Press ebooks free, then take a look at my earlier blog post

  • Education

    Is CRM in education any different to CRM in the voluntary sector?


    Magnifying glass iconOne of the things I’ve noticed is that although there are very specific requirements for CRM in education - student recruitment, grants management, parental communication etc - there are also many parallels to tasks done in other industries - room and facilities bookings, sales pipeline management, HR processes. So I’m always interested in what’s happening outside of education, and comparing it to the business of education.

    Yesterday, I read an article on about Lifeline, and their project to increase their call handling capacity. And the article wasn’t about physically handling the calls, but having the systems for the staff members to access and share information in their virtual contact centre. The key business driver for Lifeline was about increasing their capacity to take calls - jumping 50% to 700,000 calls per year.

    Although the article doesn’t go into much detail, it does mention the role of Dynamics CRM to support this, and the work to have a clear disaster recovery backup system.

    Although it’s not an education example, the challenges will be the same for universities with student recruitment changing - how do you cope with constantly growing customer contact, how do you manage their contact lifecycle and how do you ensure that a growing base of employees have access to the systems and information they need, wherever they are.

    Read the full story: Lifeline upgrades call centre, aims to increase capacity by 250,000 calls per year

    imageIf you're interested in finding out more, or are interested in using Dynamics CRM for a project in your institution, then you'd want to know that this project was done by Attain IT, who are a Dynamics partner in Sydney.

  • Education

    Australian School holiday dates - 2012-2013


    Icons_teacher_blueAn update on my previous blog post, to give you “Australian school holiday dates 2012”, with all of the term dates for each state in Australia. It’s a quick guide, if you are planning events or marketing activities with schools. As you’ll see all of the Australian school holiday dates don’t coincide, so you’ll find that you may be able to run an event in one state whilst all of the others are on holiday.

    Australian School Holidays 2012 - state by state


    Summer Holiday Ends

    Autumn Holidays Winter Holidays Spring Holidays

    Summer Holiday Starts



    26 Jan 2012

    6-20 April

    2-13 July

    24 Sep-5 Oct

    24 Dec 2012



    31 Jan

    2-13 April

    2-13 July

    24 Sep-5 Oct

    24 Dec



    20 Jan

    2-13 April

    25 Jun - 6 July

    24 Sep-5 Oct

    17 Dec



    31 Jan

    6-25 April

    7-23 July

    29 Sep-15  Oct

    19 Dec



    27 Jan

    6-13 April

    25 Jun-20 July

    1-5 Oct

    14 Dec



    27 Jan

    18-27 April

    2-13 July

    24 Sep-5 Oct

    17 Dec



    2 Feb

    16-27 April

    9-20 July

    1-12 Oct

    24 Dec



    14 Feb

    6-13 April

    4-15 June

    10-21 Sep

    20 Dec


    If you’re planning a national campaign, and want to work out when is a good time to schedule a mailing, webcast or other activity, then here’s a quick table. It’s the only dates when all Australian state schools are open:

    • 15 February - 30th March
    • 30th April - 23rd June
    • 23rd July - 21st Sept
    • 18th Oct - 11th Dec*
      * Private schools will close up to a week earlier
  • Education

    The Big Picture Experience in Sydney this Thursday


    Hopefully, if you’re based near Sydney, you’ve already registered to come along to The Big Picture Experience. The Sydney day for customers is this Thursday, the 1st December.

    The event is run as an ‘experience’, rather than as a conventional conference, so we’ve thrown away the usual long, dry agenda with the audience sitting down for hours on end. Instead, we’re creating an experience more like a theme park - lots of different zones to explore and learn in:

    • The Future of Productivity
    • Ultimate customer experiences
    • Insights 24/7
    • Mission control
    • The Modern Home
    • A World of Devices

    The customer days have exactly the same look and feel as our partner day on Wednesday, but instead of a big keynote, there are a number of mini keynotes and case studies throughout the day. There will also be many members of the education team on hand throughout the day, so that you can put faces to names, and get a chance for a deep and meaningful conversation! Oh, and over 100 other Microsoft people will be around each day, so there’s bound to be an expert in whatever subject you’re interested in.

    I can speak from experience of organising the Microsoft team at the world’s largest education IT exhibition at BETT, that having so many Microsoft people in one place means that it gives you access to knowledge that might normally take weeks to track down!

    The Big Picture website has a full agenda and detailed event guide, so I’d recommend jumping over there for full details and to register.

    You can either register in advance, or just turn up on the day

    Thu 1 Dec - 9am - 6pm
    Sydney Convention & Exhibition
    Centre – Hall 5
    Bing Maps | Add to Outlook calendar
    Find out more and register

  • Education

    Briefing for Education Partners in Sydney on Wednesday 30th November


    If you’re Sydney-based, and working for a Microsoft partner, then I’m hoping that you’re planning to come down to The Big Picture partner day this Wednesday, at the Sydney Convention centre at Darling Harbour. Although you can drop it at any time during the day, I’m hosting a specific briefing session for our education partners at 11:15-11:45am.

    Education Partner Briefing - 11:15-11:45

    The aim of the education partner session is to ensure that you have the information you need on our licensing programmes and promotions, and we’ll take a look into three specific opportunities in the 2012 education market. The session is just half an hour long, and then there’ll be an opportunity to have a chat with other members of the education team who are going to be at the event (I can help hook you up with the person who looks after your target market, eg private schools, or TAFE, Higher Ed etc)

    Partners who have attended other briefings we’ve run often find that the chance to catch up with our sales team is one of the most useful bits, as it can help them to get really clear insight into a market or sales scenario. But, of course, I’ll have some hand-crafted PowerPoint slides for our half-hour together too!

    You can either drop in just for the Education partner session at 11:15, or come along earlier for the keynote and other sessions that are part of the whole Big Picture event.

    The Big Picture banner

    Plan to arrive early? Here’s my suggested agenda:

    The keynote speaker, at 9:15, is Steve Vamos who’s talking about leadership, innovation and how the potential of people and organisations is greater than ever before. And then at 10:30 you join either the Cloud or Future of Productivity sessions before our session starts at 11:15.

    Plan to stay around afterwards? Here’s what you can do:

    If you have time after the education session finishes, there are plenty of individual demonstrations that I’d recommend you take a look at - for example, just after the education partner session, there’s the chance to join the mini-sessions on ‘Social Networks for the Enterprise’ in the Future of Productivity zone, ‘Moving from Data to Decisions’ in the Insights 24/7 zone, and ‘Cost Effective Disaster Recovery’ in the Mission Control zone.

    The Big Picture for Microsoft Partners event is open to any staff at Microsoft partners, and having spent the day at the The Big Picture down in Melbourne, I’d definitely recommend putting aside a few hours to see some of the ways that we’ve constructed demonstrations of our products and services - there’s plenty of ideas that could be applied in your customer demonstrations.

    There’s plenty of information for the partner day on The Big Picture website, and you can use the link to register too. The event’s open from 8AM to 5PM, in Hall 5 of the Sydney Convention & Exhibition Centre in Darling Harbour.

    Learn MoreFind out more about The Big Picture experience day

  • Education

    Financial changes at the University of Sydney


    The Conversation, and other media, are carrying the story today of the cuts at the University of Sydney. Basically, what’s been announced is that they are to cut staff costs by $53m (7.5%) by reducing academic and general staff. The underlying causes are a need to make investments in buildings maintenance and IT systems, and because the forecast for student fee income was too optimistic - with domestic students deferring and a drop in international students. (As I’ve previously noted, across Australia generally, the forecast is for international students to be down by 23% this year.)

    For the last few months, it’s been clear that there’s a perfect-storm of circumstances which will impact upon higher education in Australia:

    • Changes in the way that research is funded and reported
    • A drop in the new international students arriving
    • Lifting of the cap on student numbers, as a result of the Bradley Report, which leaves universities free to expand and compete more vigorously

    With all of these changes, I’d expect to see more changes in individual universities, as the impact bites. And a increased focus on value for money of projects and investments.

    Learn MoreRead the full article on The Conversation

  • Education

    Using the Cloud for research in Higher Education


    After two weeks of discussions with various groups in universities in Australia about using the Cloud for research in higher education, here’s a couple of press items that caught my eye that are relevant to the discussions:

    CSIRO to mesh Azure Cloud with HPC infrastructure

    According to ComputerWorld, CSIRO are integrating its high performance computing infrastructure with Microsoft’s Windows Azure Cloud to support ‘computed tomography reconstruction’ and virtual labs. The CSIRO eResearch director, Dr John Taylor, is quoted in the article:


    In addition, Taylor said Azure could provide a platform for CSIRO to build virtual labs that will enable scientists within CSIRO and Australia — with plans to expand internationally — to work together online and have quick access to the same software, tools and data resources.

    “Instead of having to chase around and ask their colleagues what they’ve got, what tools they might have, what data they might have, we’ll make it all available in the Cloud and potentially build international laboratories based on this Cloud infrastructure,” he said.

    According to Taylor, employing Cloud-based infrastructure will offer the CSIRO access to greater speed and storage.


    You can read the full article “CSIRO to mesh Azure Cloud with HPC infrastructure” on the ComputerWorld website

    Fujitsu-Microsoft cloud floats to Australia

    From IT Wire comes news that Fujitsu have announced that they will be providing a hosted version of the Azure Cloud here in Australia:


    Australia will be one of five countries initially targeted for a hybrid cloud based solution announced overnight by Fujitsu which allows organisations to use Microsoft Windows Azure components, but choose where their data is located. For Australian clients that means they can choose to keep their data in Australia – overcoming the data sovereignty issue that has held many back from a holus bolus race to the cloud.


    The reason that this is an issue is that some research and other public sector organisations have a need to use a cloud data service, but want to be able to keep their data within Australia. Although, in my experience of these discussions, it can often be caused by a cloud understanding of what the regulations require - and the cost implications of private vs public cloud often changes decisions!

    You can read the full article “Fujitsu-Microsoft cloud floats to Australia” on the IT Wire website

  • Education

    Student Recruitment - social media in student recruitment


    Front cover of Varsity Outreach reportVarsity Outreach, a US-based marketing agency specialising in Facebook marketing for colleges and universities in North America, has just released a survey ‘Facebook in Admissions’ from 150 colleges across the US. The survey, called ‘Facebook and admissions’ contains a good insight into the use and management of social media in student recruitment.

    It makes interesting reading because of the insight it gives into the potential complexity of university student recruitment in a competitive marketplace - something that’s going to be more and more topical here as the student cap is lifted. And it’s also relevant to the future of CRM in education, as the student recruitment process becomes more fragmented.

    Facebook and Admissions

    Here’s some of the headlines that I took away from the report - but I’d heavily recommend reading it yourself as there is so much additional information within it:

    • Four out of five institutions surveyed have an admissions-specific Facebook presence. And Facebook was rated as the most important of the social media options that they used (well ahead of YouTube, blogs, Twitter etc)
    • The major reason quoted for those who don’t an admissions-specific Facebook presence is that they don’t have enough resources to support it. I wonder though if that’s hiding an underlying reason, as for those who do have a presence, 87% have three or less people involved, and in three-quarters of responses, they spend less than 4 hours per week dedicated to it. It was interesting to see that a majority of institutions use current students to help manage their Facebook presence
    • 70% are measuring the performance of their Facebook efforts in some way (Here’s a shocking flipside - it means 30% don’t measure their Facebook presence in any way)
    • The last nugget I’ll mention is that less than one in three institutions had dedicated social media staff, and just one in six had a dedicated social media budget.

    My reflection on this survey is that it hints that student recruitment processes through social media currently aren’t well integrated into the ‘mainstream’ student recruitment processes in most institutions. And yet I know that it can be done really well, and monitored and measured effectively. I wonder if Australian institutions are ahead of or behind North American ones?

    I’m working on setting up a roundtable discussion in Sydney about the use of CRM in education, and I think that this would make a great discussion topic for it. Anybody interested in participating and sharing their experiences?

    Learn MoreDownload the Varsity Outreach Whitepaper - Facebook and Admissions

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