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

  • Education

    Securing your sensitive education data automatically

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    This isn't an every day kind of blog article - it's something for data architects, or people who need to think about securing sensitive data - like student performance data or financial information - across a large education organisation.

    There are huge amounts of data being collected in education. A lot of it isn't sensitive, but some of it should only be accessible to some people in the organisation. For example, if you are collecting medical information on students, or addresses of students in specific categories. Education has traditionally had a habit of protecting this information by limiting availability (often by only having it on paper!), but the growth of large collections of data, which can become more sensitive as the database size grows, means that you need to carefully think about the protection and access to the data.

    Our own IT team at Microsoft have exactly the same problem, and use standard classifications to group and protect data that contains financial and personally identifiable information (PII). They've implemented a system that automates much of the work of classification and protection (for example, by automating classification they have reduce the error rate of misclassification from 30% to 3%). The benefits they describe are:

    • Mitigating risks
    • Reducing total cost of ownership
    • Streamline, automated process
    • More granular view of data
    • Faster, more accurate tagging
    • Improved security through persistent protection

    I would bet that almost every significant education institution in Australia has got the same need. You can read the full Microsoft IT case study, about how it was implemented within Microsoft's internal systems, to understand what the team did, and the challenges they faced in doing it.

  • Education

    Algonquin College moves 34,000 students to the Cloud in one weekend

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    imageWhen you've got 34,000 students on your mail servers, then it's inevitable that you're going to have to make tough decisions on the services you provide to them. Alqonquin College, in Canada, had to limit their student mailboxes to 60Mb of storage, and also limited where and when students could get access to their email. And these kinds of limits didn't sit well in an organisation that was striving to expand its horizons by recruiting more 'virtual' students, as well as those traditional students sitting on campus.

    Those are just a couple of factors that played a part in their decision to move their student email to the Cloud with Live@edu. And as well as improving services for students, they also reduced costs. Robert Gillett, the President of Algonquin College, summed it up when he said:

      We’ve basically found a way to offer superior service to our students while reducing our IT administration costs. That’s hard to beat for a university working within a tight budget.  

    The college’s new service, internally called Live@AC, was deployed in August 2010. The transition of 34,000 existing student email accounts to the new system was completed over a single weekend. “It’s one of the smoothest transitions we’ve ever gone through on any internal or external server,” says Gillett. “It works, and it works well.”

    It's worth reading the full story on our worldwide case studies website, as there are many parallels to Australian Universities and TAFE's, with distance learning courses, highly mobile students, and a mix of full-time and part-time students (Algonquin has 40,000 part-time students in addition to their 19,000 full-time ones).

    Learn MoreRead the full Algonquin College Live@edu case study

  • Education

    Universities moving to Cloud services - more case studies

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    Hot on the heels of the recent Australian case studies of universities moving to Cloud services with Microsoft, there are some new international case studies available. I'll summarise them here, but for a better insight into what's going on, download the full case studies below.

    Brno University

    The Business School at Brno University of Technology, in the Czech Republic, is one of the universities moving to Cloud services, to enable 4,000 students to connect to their learning whilst they are away from campus. They're using the Microsoft BPOS (Business Productivity Online Services) system to connect e-learning to their students in employment, and in other countries including the UK and the US. What they've found is that it gives their students more opportunities for learning, at the same time as helping them deliver a more flexible service within their limited IT budget. And a significant result for them is that they are able to do this with no more staff resources - leaving them to focus on the quality of teaching and learning.
    Download the Brno University case study

    The Economics University

    The School of International Relations at the Economics University in Prague is another of the universities moving to Cloud services, as they have moved students studying IT management to the BPOS Cloud services. As Tomáš Kubálek's, the Associate Professor of Engineering, put it:

      Our task is to prepare students for real situations they will encounter in their future employment as managers, and, in many cases, members of international teams. Effective communication within a company is an essential element for its success, so we wanted to expose students to technologies that have widespread adoption - such as those offered by Microsoft.  

    By choosing to move to the Cloud, they have said that they speeded up their deployment, which in turns speeds up access to educational resources for their students. They've also reduced their cost of ownership, by not having to rely on the existing university infrastructure.
    Download the Economics University Case Study

    Find more case studies of universities moving to Cloud services

    Learn MoreFind more Education Cloud Case Studies on this blog

  • Education

    Protecting your users from hackers

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    Have you ever wondered why Office 2010 provides more active protection for documents than previous versions? And why it has started giving you warnings about files? Like this one, which I see on a regular basis:

    image

    Basically, it's about providing enhanced malware protection for students and staff. Experienced IT users can sometimes think that these kind of messages are annoying (after all, I know I've opened a file from an Internet site I trust), but your users - teaching staff and students - can sometimes take actions which potentially harm their computer. Only yesterday I read the story of Virginia Tech being compromised by a data-stealing virus, but they are just one example of the daily battle between you, your users, and the criminal organisations looking to get at your IT systems. (And when you have multiple users using the same computer, as you do in a computer lab or library, you can quickly compound the problem).

    Anyway, back to the message bar. Would you like to know more about why you see these messages, and what Office is doing in the background? It's helpful in understanding how and why it is giving malware protection for students.

    The Office Engineering team (the ones who design and build Word, Excel, PowerPoint etc) have just published a white paper called Keeping Enterprise Data Safe with Office 2010 , which explains the various security features (and hacker challenges they have to tackle, like 'fuzzing'), and it's a good background read to some of the security and data protection that's in place - and provides an insight that might help you to protect your data and users more effectively.

    Learn MoreDownload the 'Keeping Enterprise Data Safe with Office 2010' White Paper

  • Education

    Office 2010 Accessibility Improvements

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    imageAmongst your user base you are very likely to have students and staff with hearing, sight, or reading disabilities. Although accessibility has taken huge leaps in the last few years, there's plenty of other work still going on.

    We have just announced the public beta for two add-ins that help make Office documents more accessible: STAMP and DAISY: 

    STAMP, the Subtitling Add-In for Microsoft PowerPoint, lets you add closed captions to the video and audio files in your PowerPoint presentations, so no one misses a word of what you have to say.

    Save as DAISY for Office 2010 helps you convert Word Open XML files to the Digital Accessible Information System (DAISY) format. DAISY powers digital talking books and compatible software and Braille readers for people with print disabilities or limited vision. This beta supports Office 2003, 2007 and 2010.

    Learn MoreRead more on the Microsoft Office blog

  • Education

    Is the technology driving learning, or learning driving the technology?

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    You can tell that we're in a period of potential technology confusion. Over the weekend I read three articles which went in different directions.

    First I read "Australia: Day of the iPad arrives" in University World News, and saw that it was (yet another) article about the University of Adelaide handing out iPads to 700 of their first year science students.

    And then I read an article in The Chronicle of Higher Education which carried a story heading in the opposite direction, "iPads could hinder teaching, professors say", which starts with the views of Chatham University:

    "When Paul Steinhaus, chief information officer at Chatham University, met with his colleagues last summer to discus getting iPads for incoming students, they knew the move could raise the profile of the small institution in Pittsburgh. Across the country, institutions had grabbed headlines for adopting Apple's tablet computing device.

    But Mr. Steinhaus and other administrators soon realized that the iPad, with the slow finger-typing it requires, actually makes written course work more difficult, and that the devices wouldn't run all of the university's applications. 'I'd hate to charge students and have them only be able to use it for e-mail and Facebook,' says Mr. Steinhaus. Chatham charges a $700 annual technology fee, which now pays for standard laptops."

    Reading the pair of articles together made me wonder if we're moving into an academic world where a measure of success is about generating PR headlines?

    And there also appears to be some confusion in the press about the difference between different devices - for example, the Sydney Morning Herald ran a story, "Tablets emerge as new uni tool", which left me confused about the different kinds of tablets (in my world, a tablet has a pen). In the article, which starts with the 'iPad for students' stories, it then goes into a lot more detail about the way that Australian universities are using Tablet PCs to enhance teaching and learning. It includes this story from Monash University in Melbourne:

    "At Monash University, associate director of e-learning Nathan Bailey says the screen-sensitive tablet PCs are preferred to iPads by staff in their lectures. The university now has 1000 of them on loan to staff and, if they wish, to students.

    'For students to learn from other students and for the teacher to intervene if the students aren't learning effectively, you need devices that allow the lecturer and students to interact, to ask questions and respond to questions, to get a lot more discussion happening rather than the lecturer standing out the front talking,' Mr Bailey says."

    By the end of reading these, what I'd concluded was that there are some high profile stories of different device pilots going on (which also happened at the time of the first ebook readers), and that the story to read is the one that's written at the end of the pilots - once the technology has been in use - rather than the ones which announce what is going to happen. And perhaps the outcomes will be the ones that help reduce the confusion.

    NB: I'm a Tablet PC fan, and have been for the last decade. And I'm writing this on my Lenovo X61 Tablet

  • Education

    Need help using SharePoint in school?

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    SharePoint is pretty widely used in education, with schools, TAFEs and Universities all over Australia using it within their learning or administration processes. One of the things I've noticed is that it tends to be the IT team who get the 'Can I do this…' questions about SharePoint. And the answer is normally "Yes", whether the question is a learning one ('Can I setup a website where I can distribute homework assignments instead of printing them') or a administration one ('Can I setup a collaborative wiki for all the school policy papers, and a shared calendar for the update deadlines').

    And often the challenge is how to do it in the fastest and most user friendly way. So I thought these two Microsoft SharePoint Kits from Microsoft Press would be good to know about - whether you are an IT person in education, or even a developer working within one of our Australian Education Partners. You can pre-order them now, for when they're published.

    Microsoft SharePoint 2010 Administrator’s Kit

    Front coverWith this two-in-one kit, you get mission-critical information from SharePoint MVPs, featuring insights from the SharePoint community and members of the SharePoint Team at Microsoft. You'll discover how to plan, design, deploy, and manage strategic solutions using SharePoint 2010, Microsoft SQL Server, Windows PowerShell, and other key technologies.

    Topics include architecture, deployment scenarios, design considerations, security best practices, high availability, performance, centralised administration, disaster recovery, customisation, solution development, and upgrade and migration strategies. Key solutions include building and managing a server farm, automating tasks, FAST search application management, enterprise and web content management, and business intelligence.

    Book front coverMicrosoft SharePoint 2010 Step by Step Kit

    Experience learning made easy, and quickly teach yourself to use SharePoint 2010 with this two-in-one kit. Written by SharePoint experts and MVPs, you'll discover how to plan, create, design, deploy, and manage applications and workflows using SharePoint Designer 2010 and SharePoint Foundation 2010 -- one step at a time!

    Build exactly the skills you need by working at your own pace through easy-to-follow lessons and hands-on practice files.


    You’ll learn to:

    • Design solutions to meet your scenario - without code
    • Customise your pages with Web Parts - display, edit, and modify list item data
    • Access data from a variety of external sources
    • Create workflows to automate business processes
    • Use master pages and CSS to control how sites work
    • Build your own SharePoint site with easy-to-use templates
    • Add discussion boards, wikis, and blogs
    • Customise lists, libraries, and SharePoint site pages to store information
    • Set up Document and Meeting Workspaces for easy collaboration
    • Share calendars, contacts, and data from Microsoft Office programs

    Discounts on Microsoft Press ebooks

    I also discovered that O'Reilly run a weekly and daily promotions of Microsoft Press ebooks. Two weeks ago they took 50% off Inside Microsoft SharePoint 2010, and on 1st March they took half off the Microsoft Silverlight 4 Step by Step ebook. And as they point out prominently, the ebooks are DRM free and delivered to you in 5 different formats where possble. (And ebooks are a lot more convenient for Australia!). The easiest way to follow the offers is to subscribe to their eBooks Offers RSS feed, or look at this week's deal on Microsoft Press books at the top of this page

    Learn MoreLearn More about the full range of Microsoft Press books

  • Education

    The Microsoft Australia DPE team launch Noise To Signal

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    DO NOT PRESS buttonOne of our teams in Australia is called Developer and Platform Evangelism (or DPE in Microsoft-Acronym-Speak). They work with developers, technical students and software makers, and spend their time getting geeky. They're also the team that wear the coolest T-shirts (or so they think), and like DPE teams all over the world, like to find different ways to express themselves. In fact, I'm sure they get a kick out of being as un-corporate as possible.

    I tell you this as a warning, so that you're not surprised when you look at their 'Noise to Signal' website, which is about some of their areas of expertise - for example, the work they do with students, or the latest technology like Kinect Hacks, Surface 2 and IE9. The website is a massive, clickable, cartoon.

    My two favourite idiosyncratic bits of it:

    • The 'Do Not Press' button. Of course, I did. You can find out for yourself on their website what happens…
    • The legal stuff at the bottom. Wait for it to load, and see it for yourself…

    Learn MoreVisit NoiseToSignal

  • Education

    Saving money with the Core CAL suite

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    Computers or users which access Microsoft servers often need a specific licence called a CAL (stands for Client Access Licence). Most education customers buy these licences in a package called the Microsoft Core CAL suite - basically, a package of licences that they need for their computers to allow them to access their key server systems in the school/TAFE/University. The Core CAL Suite includes licences for Windows Server, Exchange Server and SharePoint Server. Customers who do more advanced things with their networks often choose the Enterprise CAL Suite, which gives them more advanced collaboration etc.

    We've just announced that from August, the Core CAL Suite will have additional licences within it, as we'll be adding the Lync Server Standard CAL and Forefront Endpoint Protection CAL.

    The changes reflect the way that technology use is changing in business and education. For example, by adding Lync (previously known as Office Communications Server), it means that you can be ahead of the curve of the deployment and use of Instant Messaging (IM) and presence across your network. Gartner say:

      By 2013, 95% of workers in Global 100 organisations will use the IM client as their primary interface for computer-based, real-time communications.  

    So these changes make it easier for education customers to adopt these technologies within your existing ICT infrastructure (this is particularly important in schools, where it is unlikely that a public Instant Messaging system would meet all of the e-safety requirements for all users).

    Adding Forefront Endpoint Protection means that you will have a highly-rated malware and virus protection licence included with your CAL Suite. (Forefront provides advanced antivirus, behavioural threat detection and Windows Firewall management).

    Cost Saving with Core CAL in Education

    By buying the Core CAL suite, customers save money on the cost of individual licences. By adding Forefront Endpoint Protection, it is likely to mean that there are additional cost savings possible, for example if you're currently spending money on alternative protection software for your network - in many cases, this could be a significant amount.

    You can see what is in which CAL suite on the Microsoft website, including the August changes (marked with a * in the table below)

    CAL Suite table

    Learn More

    Find out more about Lync on the Microsoft Lync website

    Find out more about Forefront on the Microsoft Forefront website
    (quick links: Overview and FAQ)

  • Education

    The mindset of a university CIO - Part Two

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    Last week I highlighted an interview with an outgoing Australian University CIO - Mick Houlahan of the University of Western Sydney. This week, I've got another one to point to - this time it's the incoming CIO for RMIT, Brian Clark, who's also been sharing his ideas with CIO Australia.

    Having met new university CIO's who have joined from commercial organisations, I know they find there are many stark differences between running an IT infrastructure for a business and for a university - and that there are many, many similarities too. All too often, people who don't understand education assume that somehow education IT infrastructure is a junior version of a corporate IT system - when in fact, the opposite is often true. Often education IT systems have to respond sooner to technology innovations - and the rapidly evolving demands of users.

    You should read the full article - 'Incoming RMIT exec turns IT focus outward' - if you want an insight to the projects and business challenges, and I'd highlight some of the key things that stood out for me in it:

    • As part of a new Cloud strategy, one of the first decisions Brian Clark took was to sponsor the move to cloud-hosted email for students and staff, following a move to the cloud for their learning management system
    • Brian talks about the need to move from focusing on administration-driven projects, and instead focusing on integration with academic needs (ie the end-user groups). One of the ways of doing this was to invite key members of the academic staff to join project steering committees, evaluation panels and the ICT strategy team - which he hopes will help the process of change management in the future.
    • As part of plans to boost technical education, there's a review going on to look at vendor certification for students - so that in future students may be able to leave the university with a recognised industry certification, such as becoming an MCSE (Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer).

    Learn MoreRead the full interview with Brian Clark, CIO of RMIT on CIO.com.au


    Apologies to pedants - the grammatical error in the title is deliberate. I know I should say 'an university', but it just doesn't sound right, so I've opted for the easily read, but grammatically incorrect, version.

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