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

  • Education

    Thinking about BI in Education? Want to know more about Business Intelligence programming in Microsoft SQL Server?

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    If you’d describe yourself as an ‘end user’ of data, then this isn’t for you. But if you’re the kind of person that is wondering how to bring your different sets of data together to get real insight into some aspect of your school/TAFE/university, then read on. Especially if you’re job title includes the word ‘data’ or ‘developer’, or you think of yourself as a ‘power user’.

    The case for using Business Intelligence (BI) in education is growing stronger all the time, as massive amounts of data that could enable individual students to achieve of their potential is being collected and made available from external sources. As it’s in its infancy here in Australia, then the leading edge users are going to need to understand more about the technical intricacies, so that they know what’s possible so that they can become demanding users & buyers.

    Book coverThe free ebook ‘Introducing Microsoft SQL Server 2008 R2’ (wow, mouthful) is aimed at database administrators, data analysts and data programmers - and I think they are the kind of people that are going to start on page 1 and work their way through to page 213.

    However, the whole of the second part of the book is specifically about the Business Intelligence -BI - capabilities that are built into the system (really important point here: You get Business Intelligence as part of your Microsoft SQL Server 2008 R2 - you don’t have to buy an additional BI system from us).

    I’ve read across these BI sections to understand what’s valuable reading if you are thinking about BI in education contexts - such as performing complex mixing of school data and learning analysis reports. And I’m wondering if the book is the wrong way around for people like you and I - because the most useful, and technically least challenging, part is Chapter 10.

    Where to start from a “BI in Education” point of view

    My recommendation is that you take a look at Chapter 10 - about PowerPivot - to understand how you can give self-service BI for principals, senior leaders and teachers/lecturers. And instead of producing reams of reports that tell them things they may want to know, you see if it could help you produce simple spreadsheets that they can manipulate easily, so that they can answer their own questions - and be inspired by being able to dig into their data.

    If Chapter 10 is good for you, then perhaps work your way back through Chapter 9 and 7, looking at some of the other facilities added (and stop when it starts to get too complex).

    Here’s the full detail on Part 2 of the book - Business Intelligence Development

    I’ve listed the chapters in Part 2 in reverse order, because that’s the order you might want to read it.

    • Chapter 10
      Self-Service Analysis with PowerPivot
      PowerPivot is without doubt the unsung hero of the business intelligence system. The reason is that it keeps control of the data in a central place - where it can be secured, cleaned and managed - and it devolves analysis out to users, by giving them a toolset that means that they can dig into data, understanding reports, patterns, and performing ad-hoc analyses in Excel. It means that you can link together multiple data sources, and analyse them simply from one spreadsheet - through the PowerPivot Excel add-in. If you are used to working with any of the usual reporting tools, to create reports and datasets for other users, then PowerPivot will make things much easier - for both you and your users. And because it can bring together data from lots of different sources, it is ideal for the massively fragmented data challenge that exists in education. (For example, it can bring data together from SQL, Oracle, Access, Informix, Sybase and other ODBC databases, as well as from Excel spreadsheets, plain text files, SharePoint lists, and commercial datasets online.
      To the end user, it simply looks like you’ve created a friendly-spreadsheet, with the ability to filter and select different information. In some ways, a bit like a pivot table, but drawn from many sources.
    • Chapter 9
      Reporting Services Enhancements
      This chapter, with Chapter 10, are probably the two that are the most widely useful, as they look at the less technical services available - and help you to understand how you could link the multiple data sources within your institution together. Although these are still written for programmer/IT Services level readers, they do a good job of explaining the kinds of scenarios that the reporting systems in SQL Server 2008 R2 allow - such as having a single reporting system that can collect data from its own SQL database, as well as users’ Excel spreadsheets and SharePoint lists. And report them in tabular, chart or map format.
    • Chapter 8
      Complex Event Processing with StreamInsight
      This is all about aggregating and handling rapid streams of complex data, and acting upon triggers. Although this might be a feature that is used extensively already in university research projects, there are likely to be more scenarios where school education systems are coping with rapid streams of data, as we move to fully online, real-time assessment
    • Chapter 7
      Master Data Services
      This chapter is about the maintenance and organisation of ‘master data’ - the things which tend to be more static (eg students/academics/places) as opposed to transactional data (eg attendance records for each lesson/lecture; assessment marks). Master Data Services is all about creating a Single Point of Truth - the one student identity record or one authoritative source of a student’s address(es)and then sharing that across the applications that need it.
    • Chapter 6
      Scalable Data Warehousing
      Probably not the place to start, as this is principally about massive data appliances, which would only be used at the top-end projects for BI in education (such as university research, or massive scale analysis)

    How to get the free ebook

    The good news is that the ebook is free, and available in a number of different formats

    I guarantee, you’re either going to learn something that you can use yourself, or some important questions to ask potential BI suppliers.

     

    * Mike Henegan, at Calumo (one of our BI partners in education here in Australia), has weighed in with his thoughts on this too - take a look over on his blog.

  • Education

    The University of Sydney Tech Lounge

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    I went along to the launch ceremony for the Student Tech Lounge at the University of Sydney yesterday. We’ve worked with the university to create a common room space for students, with plenty of social space for relaxation, and lots of new technology around to bring out their creative side.

    MS Lounge-4The technology is everywhere, but it didn’t seem particularly intrusive - in one corner students competing at dancing with Xbox 360’s with Kinect, whilst in another a small group using a Microsoft Surface for collaboration - and in between plenty of cool looking laptops and Windows Phones. There were some amazing laptops and touch screen computers which I’d never seen before - including an amazing Acer Iconia dual-screen laptop.

    As the press release described it:

    The collaboration between the University and Microsoft is an innovative addition to a wider University program, the Learning Networks Program. This program aims to extend and modernise on-campus learning and social spaces for students, based on student feedback that indicated the need for more places to work collaboratively in addition to independent study areas. Dr Michael Spence, the University of Sydney Vice-Chancellor, explained a bit about the wider goals:

      We’re working hard to create more informal learning spaces and expand access to technology for our students to support learning in its broadest sense – in and out of the classroom  

    MS Lounge-12The students weren’t the ones whole felt immediately at home - I did too, mainly because it was designed within the themes of old school common rooms and had retro, comfy furnishings (Retro to students = Memories for me). They’d even decorated one of the walls with old LP covers - bringing back some memories too. More photos on ZDNet’s report and the University’s facebook Tech Lounge Album.

    It even got featured on LifeHacker

    Oops - I thought I was being discrete there yesterday, but we obviously all got spotted according to the comment on facebook

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  • Education

    A pile of Microsoft technical e-books now free for Kindle and iPad

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    Book cover - Programming Windows Phone 7One of the most-read blog posts from the last six months was “Something for the weekend - free ebooks from Microsoft Press”, listing 9 free e-books available in PDF format. The bonus news is that the Microsoft Press team have now made five of them available free in two additional formats, DRM-free EPUB and MOBI.

    Which means you can now read them more easily on a wide range of ereaders, notably Kindles and iPads - as well as the Nook, Sony Reader and Kobo eReader. As the MS Press team point out on their blog:

      Of course these files can also be read with ereading apps for the various devices on netbooks, laptops, and desktop PCs. The key difference between these formats and the previously-offered PDF and XPS files is that the text is “reflowable,” meaning that it recomposes depending on the width of the screen (or as you resize a Window).  

    Hint: Choose MOBI format for Kindles, and ePUB for most others

    Here are the links to the free ebooks for Kindle and other readers

    • Charles Petzold’s Programming Windows Phone 7 is available here as EPUB and here as MOBI.
    • To get Moving to Microsoft Visual Studio 2010 by Patrice Pelland, Pascal Paré, and Ken Haines download here as EPUB and here as MOBI.
    • Introducing Microsoft SQL Server 2008 R2 by Ross Mistry and Stacia Misner is here as EPUB and here as MOBI.
    • Introducing Windows Server 2008 R2 by Charlie Russel and Craig Zacker with the Windows Server Team at Microsoft is here as EPUB and here as MOBI.
    • And finally, Katherine Murray’s Own Your Future, Update Your Skills with Resources and Career Ideas from Microsoft is here as EPUB and here as MOBI.

    Go get em…

  • Education

    How do you approach Cloud security?

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    Jean-Phillippe Courtois, the President of Microsoft International, has written a guest post about Cloud security on the Viewpoints blog. You should read it if you’re at all interested in the framework for security and compliance of Cloud services - it delves into the Microsoft Cloud offerings, and the security framework we have had to build over the last 17 years.

    There were a couple of highlight points that I took away:

    There is no global standard for security of cloud services

     

    As there is no global standard for security of cloud services or security of cloud infrastructure, GFS’s approach is based on the widely used and understood ISO27001 and ISO27002 information security management standards. Microsoft added an additional 141 controls to the initial 150 in ISO27001. These arise from the unique challenges of cloud infrastructure and are based on our experience of mitigating the risks that arise in this environment.

     

    My reaction: What? There is no global international standard for cloud security! We’ve had to add141 controls to the existing 150 in an ISO standard in order to get to something that’s secure enough. So perhaps there is no wonder that as well as national differences, we’re seeing differences emerging in the ways that Cloud services are being approached between each State government in Australia.

    Our Cloud security commitments

    Jean-Phillippe sets out a summary of the commitments detailed in our Online Services Trust Centre which details our Cloud security model - and critically how we secure your data in our Cloud datacentres:

     
    • Data Use Limits: We use your data only to provide the services you want.
    • Administrative Access: We enable you to find out whether someone has accessed your non-public data.
    • Geographic Boundaries: We will share information about data location.
    • Security, Audits, and Certifications: We obtain third party audits and certifications so you can trust our services are designed and operated with stringent safeguards.
    • Regulatory Compliance: We are committed to transparency to help you comply with your regulatory needs.
     

    My reaction:  It’s the detail behind these five commitments that makes the interesting reading, and would be helpful in understanding the ways that different cloud services could collect and use information - and potentially help you to build your own list of acceptable Cloud practices within your organisations

    Learn MoreRead the original blog post 'A pragmatic approach to security in the Cloud'

  • Education

    CRM in Education - University of Teesside video case study

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    When I think about CRM in education, my first reaction tends towards managing the student relationship - a version of a super Student Management System. But the more case studies I come across, the more I realise that there is a very broad spread of uses for a CRM system in education (like Kiel’s and Curtin’s examples)

    The University of Teesside are using their Microsoft Dynamics CRM system for managing their employer engagements - to expand their relationship local businesses, and to increase their revenues from business sources. In the case study they talk about the benefits of helping colleagues to collaborate in their activities, as well as improving the targeting of their activities - and improve the ability to be able to use the data to build reports for business intelligence - for example, to see which industry areas they are most actively working in, and where future target projects should be focused.\

    The University of Teesside case study of CRM in education

    Learn MoreFind all 'CRM in Education' articles on this blog

  • Education

    And the APC Education Partner of the Year Finalists are…

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    MAPA Awards banner

    The Microsoft Australian Partner Conference is getting closer - and so are the Australian Partner Awards. We’ve just released the list of the Awards finalists, and the Microsoft Australia “Education Partner of the Year” Finalists are three partners who have each been able to make spectacular contributions to the success of their educational customers over the last 12 months. In alphabetical order, they are:

    • Dimension Data
    • Janison
    • OBS

    We won’t know the ultimate winner until the Award ceremony on the main stage at the Conference on 23rd August, and hopefully you’re going to be there to help celebrate? (Full list of all Awards Finalists here)

    Learn MoreFind out more about Education at the Microsoft Australia Partner Conference

  • Education

    The University of Applied Sciences Kiel and CRM in education

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    There’s a growing number of case studies on customer relationship management (CRM) in education around. For example, when the Kiel University of Applied Sciences wanted a technology partner to provide CRM software for engineering students to learn about sales systems used in the workplace, they chose Microsoft Dynamics.

    Kiel University of Applied Sciences in northern Germany has 5,600 students across six faculties, including the Faculty of Computer Science and Electrical Engineering and the Department of Mechanical Engineering. It has a reputation for innovative degree courses with intensive modularized learning in small groups. The university’s engineering faculties customise their curriculum to meet the needs of local employers for graduate recruits with a particular emphasis on IT skills.

    In the Department of Mechanical Engineering, Prof. Dr. Rainer Geisler wanted to get a group of 80 students using the same technology on the course that they will later use in the workplace - to give them an employment advantage.

      Our feedback from local employers is that they want to recruit graduates with hands-on IT skills in CRM technology. eCONNEX and Microsoft Dynamics CRM have helped fill this gap in our curriculum.  

    The university is particularly proud of producing a first generation of graduates who are skilled in technology-rich sales and marketing techniques, as well as e-procurement - which reflects on their teaching reputation.

    This case study is similar to the CRM in education project at Curtin University in Australia, where they are using the Microsoft Dynamics CRM with students to manage their industry engagements. For more details of Kiel’s project, have a quick read the 'University of Applied Sciences Kiel' case study.

    Both of these projects are being used by students, as part of their courses. More commonly in Australia, CRM systems in education are being used for student lifecycle management - especially recruitment and Alumni management. I’ll keep my eyes peeled for good case studies on those areas too.

    Learn More

    CRM in Education

  • Education

    Sink your teeth into the Private Cloud at Tech Ed Australia

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    clip_image001clip_image002

    At the end of August, we’re holding the Microsoft Australian Partner Conference (APC) and the Australian Tech·Ed Conference. They are both key ways to keep up to date with what’s going on today, and what’s coming up - APC is perfect for non-technical staff whereas Tech·Ed is the perfect geek fest.

    There will be a big focus on the Private Cloud at Tech·Ed this year, as well as some of the product launches just around the corner - such as the new version of SQL Server.

    Private Cloud at Tech·Ed 2011

    As the demand for technical professionals who understand Private Cloud, including cloud implementation and development grows, it’s important to stay on top of the latest advancements – and nothing equips you to do this like Tech·Ed 2011.

    A recent Gartner report identified Microsoft as a leader in the Virtualisation market, and at Tech·Ed 2011, you’ll learn Microsoft’s overall Virtualisation strategy, key strengths and where the future is headed.

    imageHowever, Virtualisation is just the start on the journey to Cloud Computing. Tech·Ed will help you to discover how Microsoft offers the simplest path to building a Private Cloud, using the infrastructure you are already familiar with.

    You could also walk away from Tech·Ed 2011 with new industry certifications in Virtualisation – the key skills you need to help your organisation and your customers build a Private Cloud and to help yourself, by increasing your professional value.

    Last year Tech·Ed sold out – so I’d recommend that you don’t delay.

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    * Academic customers get a special ticket price of $1,680 inc GST - more about this on the Tech·Ed site
  • Education

    How to make a beautiful school SharePoint site

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    Last week ago I shared my list of “10 of the best school websites on Sharepoint”. And the opinion around the office was that the Twynham School Sixth Form website was the most astonishing one (in fact, half a dozen times I was asked by Microsoft colleagues “Are you sure that was done in SharePoint?”).

    My colleague, Ben Nunney, who’s an ex-teacher, paid it a massive compliment when he said on Twitter “I know I'm too old to go back to school, but if I could I'd go here - PURELY based on their amazing website

    Mike Herrity from Twynham School talks on his SharePoint in Education blog about all of the things that they’re doing with ICT in his school, and it makes a useful resource if you’re thinking of doing some SharePoint work yourself.

    Twynham School's VI Form website

    He also wrote a series of short articles about how they have created the Sixth Form site, which were published on his blog. The series actually walks through the whole process, and describes the challenges (including the need to convince the Leadership Team in the school that you can make a good looking site in SharePoint).

    If you are in any way involved in using SharePoint in a school, I think it is a must read series, either for you, or for whoever is providing/developing your SharePoint.

    How to build a SharePoint website for a school

    Learn More icon

    The whole series, and a lot of extra detail, is also available in the Twynham School Learning Gateway 2007-2010 ebook

  • Education

    BI in Education - Brisbane Catholic Education case study from StrataDB

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    Business Intelligence (BI) in education is going to become an interesting topic over the next couple of years in Australia. Although there has always been a discussion about the use of data, and various projects that have looked at ways to analyse and use student learning data more effectively, I predict that learning analysis is going to move up the priority list for every education leadership team across Australia.

    Within schools, the discussion of BI in education, and its use for learning analysis, is going to be driven by a ‘perfect storm’ of circumstances:

    • the arrival of a national curriculum, increasingly standardising achievement measurement
    • increasing parental focus on learning achievements, fed by projects like MySchool
    • a more dynamic higher education marketplace, as the student cap is lifted in 2012
    • and more data being available on student performance within school systems

    Is the time coming for BI in education?

    In some ways it is wrong to talk about BI in Education in the future tense, as there have been so many projects already which have used learning analysis data to improve student performance. But I think there is still a lot of change to come. The 2011 Horizon Report identified Learning Analysis as a key technology to watch - in four to five year’s time (I think they got the timescale wrong - it’s going to happen a lot quicker than that, and is already in many parts of the world).

    StrataDB bannerThere’s already some work going on within Australia. For example StrataDB have designed a project with Warren Armitage, the CIO of Brisbane Catholic Education, to deliver more detailed analysis of the learning data that’s being collected by schools and the data that comes back down from government - for example, the outcomes of formal assessments, like NAPLAN, for both their own students and other national data. The case study video below gives a good overview of the work so far.

    Warren Armitage, CIO of Brisbane Catholic Education, discusses BI in education in their schools

    Learn MoreRead more 'BI in Education' stories on this blog

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