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

  • Education

    What would happen if your students and researchers had access to the world’s data?

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    Windows Azure Marketplace iconDid you know that there is a Windows Azure Marketplace for data? You can use it to get big datasets (some free, some paid for) to work with and integrate into your own analysis. You don’t have to be a Windows Azure user - you could just use it a source for data for a spreadsheet. It’s good for researchers and students, and also for the business-side of education (like student recruitment, or research grant applications).

    The Windows Azure Data Market

    There’s a list of 119 datasets currently available, which can be linked through to your own BI tools, Office applications, or your custom applications. Some of the 61 free datasets that are there include:

    • UN National Accounts Official Country Data statistics, for most countries of the world from 1970 onwards
    • UN Key Global Indicators, covering key economic, social, financial and development topics
    • UN Gender Info, containing gender statistics and indicators on a wide range of policy areas, including population, families, health, education, work, and political participation.
    • World Bank Development Indicators, from official statistics, including national, regional and global estimates
    • UN World Telecomms/ICT indicators, with over 100 data sets over 200 economies worldwide
    • UNESCO UIS Data - over 1,000 types of indicators and raw data on education, literacy, science and technology, culture and communication, collected from 200 countries.

    And the list of commercial data sets, available on subscription, is amazing - such as financial information from companies like Dun & Bradstreet, food ingredient and nutrition listings from Gregg London - but there isn’t yet a comprehensive data set for Australia.

    With the Data Market, you subscribe to a data set, and then can bring that data into your own work - for example, use PowerPivot in Excel to link UN Gender Data to other research data you may be working with.

    • If you’re a researcher working on a study of global economics, you can extend your research findings out by mixing your own data with official UN economy statistics.
    • Or if you are responsible for overseas student recruitment in a university or private school, you could use up to date economic or telecomms data to work out your strategy for identifying and reaching new target markets.

    We’re still in the early days of this kind of data marketplace, but you can see where things are likely to be heading - As we start to see the Australian governments increasingly sharing their data with the public, I can see there will be some fascinating applications being developed that mix your own private data together with public datasets to help you make more informed decisions.

    For an idea of how simple this is to use, then take a look at the 4 minute video below from Christian Liensberger, a programme manager in the Data Market team, who shows you an example of bringing national crime data into an Excel spreadsheet.

    Christian’s example of building a spreadsheet using US Crime Data
         

    Learn MoreLearn more in the Windows Azure Marketplace

  • Education

    Windows Intune gets a Tune Up

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    Windows Intune logoWindows Intune is a cloud-based PC management and security service, which is especially useful for IT support organisations to provide management for smaller customers (for example, where a small school outsources the support of their school’s computers to a local IT company, because it doesn’t have it’s own IT technican). As it’s a subscription service, it means that you can enrol computers on a month-to-month basis, and then manage them all from a central console. And IT support teams can support computers across multiple organisations - making it easy to support a number of different schools through the same team and a single console.

    Currently Windows InTune allows you to centrally:

    • Manage updates on your PCs
    • Protect PCs from malware
    • Track hardware and software inventory
    • Proactively monitor PCs, and receive alerts on threats and out-of-date PCs
    • Provide remote assistance
    • Set security policies
    • Create and run reports, to give you things such as installed software lists

    Windows InTune beta

    We’ve just announced that you can now try out the next beta version of Windows InTune, due for final release later this year, and there are some really interesting developments for education users. I think the most important one is the ability to remotely distribute and install software, even without having to get the computer on-site. This is going to be brilliant if you’re running things like 1:1 laptop schemes, or you want to deploy new software out to student and teacher laptops during the long holidays.

    The top improvements are:

    • Software distribution: With this release, administrators can deploy most Microsoft and third-party updates or software applications to PCs virtually anywhere, without the need for a server infrastructure or physically touching each PC to install the software or update.
    • Remote Tasks: This update allows IT to perform tasks, including full scan, quick scan, restart, and update malware definition all from the administration console. If there is an alert for a malware threat for example, administrators can run a scan on the affected PC by simply right-clicking on the PC from the administration console.
    • Read-only Access: IT pros and partners can grant select administrators read-only access to the administration console so that they can view PC information as needed, but not perform any tasks.

    With these changes, Windows Intune becomes much more interesting for education users, either as a tool for schools to run themselves (for larger schools), or for support partners to develop services to offer to smaller schools. Although it doesn’t have the full management capabilities of the Microsoft System Center suite, it’s a good option compared to not having any management tools at all!

    Learn MoreYou can find out about the full list of features and sign up for a beta account, on the Windows Intune site on Springboard

  • Education

    International students in Higher Education in Australia

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    There are three big sources of revenue for Australian universities - Australian students, international students and research. The balance between all of these revenue sources is interdependent:

    • Funding from students typically subsidises research work
    • Universities charge international students up to three times as much as Australian students (which can be used to subsidise research and local students)
    • Numbers of Australian students are limited by government targets and funding limits (although that changes next year)

    When you’re dealing with universities, it’s good to know what’s going on with each of these funding streams. About 22% of revenue comes from research grants, and a further 18% comes from international students (although in some universities, this can be up to 30%) - that’s over $4 billion.

    Deloitte have just finished a report, paid for by Universities Australia (the body representing 39 Australian universities) which looks at the effects of changes in international student numbers. Of course, it may not be entirely unbiased - with education being a major export (third largest) for Australia, there’s an agenda here about ensuring the government support increasing international students. But it does contain some interesting reference points:

    • In 2010 there was a slowing in the growth in international students, following tighter visa rules, the stronger Australian dollar, attacks on international students and more international competition for students.
    • The forecast for 2011 is a fall in new international students of 23%, resulting in a drop of 3.2% in overall international students
    • Further ahead, 2012 is forecast to be another weak year, and then growth returns after 2012
    • The impact of all of this is a reduction in revenue for universities of half a billion dollars a year

    Learn MoreRead the full Deloitte Report ‘Broader implications from a downturn in international students

    Read ‘Lost international student enrolments may cost Australia billions’ on The Conversation

  • Education

    Business Intelligence in Education - Visualising learning data

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    I’ve written before about the ways that data can be visualised to help teachers and leaders understand the story of learners within their own school. And one of the examples I have used is PivotViewer, which helps to focus on individual students - and groups of students - in a very visual one (see this Learning Analytics blog post).

    Chris Ballard, who is part of the Tribal Labs team in the UK, is doing a lot of work on using learning data to enhance learning - and how cutting edge technologies can help to bring data to life for people who don’t enjoy staring at spreadsheets all day. (That includes me - I can ‘get’ data really quickly when it’s visualised, and I know that it is much easier to explain to other people when they can see data, and especially see the impact of changing data.

    Visualising Learning Data

    Chris’s latest blog post, Analysing education data with Silverlight 5 Pivot Viewer, is a great way to understand the kind of work that they are doing to visualise data for schools. Much of their work focuses on using Microsoft’s Silverlight, which is described as “a powerful development platform for creating engaging, interactive user experiences for Web, desktop, and mobile applications when online or offline”. Which means you can develop a single version of a visual, interactive application, and it will run on a laptop, phone or other interactive device.

    The example Chris uses is a basic student reporting database, where you can easily start to dig down into your data, showing students by all kinds of different criteria - and showing each student as a picture, with colour coding for their performance. And because it is interactive, you can quickly change the display criteria (eg show students in a certain class, or those which have special needs), and the student images whizz around in real time. And this can be overlaid with colour codes (eg highlight everybody that’s not improved their NAPLAN scores in red).

    image

    And what Chris goes on to say is how this helps in education:

     

    As soon as I saw PivotViewer I realised that it had lots of potential in the education sector. For example, schools could create a collection of students, using photos to represent each student, and use it to help them understand student progress. In the UK education sector for example, schools are required to set targets for future student attainment. Estimates of likely future attainment are used to help them set these targets. PivotViewer can help schools to visualise these estimates, understand which students are most at risk of not making sufficient progress and put in place appropriate intervention programmes or corrective measures.

    What is fantastic about using PivotViewer for this purpose is that the data is immediately made much more relevant by showing each individual student, whilst still showing the overall picture and therefore all the data is in context. Rather than just looking at numbers we realise that there are real people who underlie the numbers.

     

    And he’srecorded a short video that shows what this might look like:

    Chris Ballard’s PivotViewer prototype for viewing student data

    Want to know more? Here’s a few options:

    Interested in learning more?

    Read Chris’s full blog post on the Tribal Labs blog

    A spreadsheet wizard, but not a programmer?

    Have a play with PivotViewer yourself - if you have some student data in Excel, then you’ve got what you need to get started - just add the PivotViewer Collection Tool for Microsoft Excel, and you can build your own collection (and show it off to colleagues)

    Got some programming skills?

    If you’ve got some programming skills, then you can take the same journey that Chris is taking - and start to link the PivotViewer to dynamic data. You can find all of the tools, and user guides, to do this on the PivotViewer pages on the Silverlight website

  • Education

    Can you move to the Cloud without training users? Pittsford Central School District think you can

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    Today’s case study is Pittsford Central School District in New York State, who upgraded their email system from an onsite Exchange system to the Cloud-based Live@edu email system, saving $40,000 a year. The savings come from reducing the need for hardware and software licences, and the associated maintenance. But the real benefits come from the services delivered to the teachers and students. As Jeff Cimmerer, the Director of Technology, said:

      File incompatibility, versioning conflicts, work left on the home computer or a misplaced Flash drive—Live@edu will put out all those fires.  

    The other interesting thing is the way that it is being rolled out to the students and staff - the implementation will involve no formal promotion or training, because student adoption of Live@edu will be entirely voluntary. According to Charles Profitt, the Systems Administrator:

      We are not mandating the use of Live@edu, because we’re confident we won’t need to. Based on the enthusiasm of staff members who participated in the pilot and of students whom we recently polled, we anticipate a 90% adoption rate by our third year of having implemented Live@edu, and following it, Office 365  

    Learn MoreRead their full case study on Microsoft.com

  • Education

    Office 365 - Curtin University moves first

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    In the last week of June, we launched Office 365. As the next wave of Cloud-based applications, it’s a service that will grow over time.

    The first university using Office 365?

    According to iTnews Curtin University were the first Australian customer to start to move to Office 365, and plan to move 10,000 staff onto the hosted service over the next four months. The first phase, started before the official launch, was for 100 pilot users with ‘complex variations’ of needs, with a goal of ironing out the different scenarios before moving the deployment across the campus. This move, for university staff, follows the decision a few years ago to move their 200,000 student and alumni email mailboxes to the Live@edu Cloud service.

    Switching from Lotus Notes to Office 365

    In the case of Curtin University, they are aiming to switch users from their on-premise Exchange servers, to the Cloud service - which will save them money and administration time. But other universities are using the opportunity to switch from Lotus Notes to Office 365:

    • In an even more ambitious switch, the Georgia State University are migrating to Office 365 from Lotus Notes for all of their staff - over a single weekend (they’ve wisely chosen the long 4th July holiday weekend, to get a 50% longer weekend!). You can follow news of their migration, and see some of the training resources they have created, on their website.

        • The University of Nebraska-Lincoln also announced last week that they’ll be switching from Lotus Notes to Office 365, with a move planned to complete over the next 12 to 18 months. You can read their press release here.

        Learn MoreLearn More about the Curtin University move to Office 365

      • Education

        South Korea to go ‘all digital’ for textbooks by 2015

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        The South Korean government have announced that by 2015, they will move from physical textbooks across to digital content, and will move their national academic tests online too. The plan is to digitise all primary school subjects by 2014, and high schools by 2015. That’s not the only disruptive activity planned - they also plan to encourage students to take the ‘University Level Program’, allowing students to take higher level courses, and also run after-school programmes using IP TV to teach foreign languages, multiculturalism and other subjects.

        It’s a big bold step - early research has shown that simply handing out ebooks and digital texts to students isn’t necessarily going to improve things - so it will be very interesting to watch what happens.

        Learn MoreRead the original story on eSchool News

         

        I’ve noticed my laptop backpack has been getting lighter recently (my new laptop gives me an all-day battery, so now all I need to carry is my laptop, wireless mouse, and paper notepad), but I’ve also noticed that my daughters’ backpacks are getting heavier. It’s because they now have a school laptop, alongside all of their exercise books and text books - as well as lunch, water and sports gear. Some days their load weighs more than 10 kilos. So perhaps what’s being proposed in South Korea is part of the answer - to replace some things with other things, rather than to merely keep adding things.

      • Education

        Free tools to create online courses

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        image

        Do you want to start creating your own learning packages for use in a Learning Management System? And want to find free tools to create online courses? I might be able to help…

        The Microsoft Learning team create and publish a wide range of online courses for IT professionals and developers using the free Learning Content Development System (LCDS). They have developed over 2,000 hours of e-learning courses themselves, and have built a series of 20 templates to allow you to quickly create e-learning content in a number of categories. And then allows content to be played through a browser (Internet Explorer, Firefox) using Silverlight for interactivity, including animations, demonstrations, videos and simulations. And you can also embed Flash content into your courses.

        The finished courses are packaged as SCORM objects, which mean that they can be played through a range of Learning Management Systems, and can also include SCORM assessments - including multiple choice, true/false and essay questions. Your finished courses can be uploaded and shared on your Learning Management System, or can simply be shared on a website or download link.

        There are no shortage of SCORM creation tools  (see this list on the Moodle site for example) but many of them are either basic convertors that simply take a PowerPoint presentation and put it into a SCORM package, or can be costly. If you want a simple tool set to create more interactive content, then LCDS is worth considering.

        Learn MoreLearn more about the Learning Content Development System

      • Education

        Business Intelligence in Education - What can we learn from supermarkets?

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        Part One of a series - and a bit like chapters in a book, chapter one doesn’t tell the whole story, but gets the journey started!

        Puzzle piecesFor years we have been collecting data on students. In the beginning, it was data created and collated by individual teachers - in students’ own workbooks and teacher markbooks. And then in early student information systems, we started to collect information on statutory tests, and then increasingly in-school tests. But still, in most schools, data is distributed across lots of different places - information is stored in students’ own workbooks, teachers’ markbooks, teacher spreadsheets, the student information system and in other databases (sometimes held at a teacher or department level, sometimes at school level). Oh, and then there’s the data aggregated and held outside of the school by curriculum authorities, state education departments, and assessment agencies.

        But having collected all of that information in different places, and different ways, we haven’t yet reached the stage of using the data to consistently support learning for individual students. Of course, there are some shining examples of where it is being used, but the key word in the sentence is ‘consistently’  - all of the data, connected and used in every school to support learning.

        So, the million dollar question is, as John Davitt put it:

          Why does a supermarket know more about my frozen pea buying habits than my children’s school knows about their learning?  

        What happens in retail?

        Compare the experience of collecting and collating data in supermarkets to the story above. As consumers, we’ve been conditioned by the big supermarkets to share our data, and supermarkets have built central mechanisms to collect and use the data. There’s even a benefit paid for sharing your data. Here’s how it works:

        • Supermarkets sell thousands of products to thousands of consumers, every minute. And that generates a stream of information (What’s selling today? What isn’t? What’s running out of stock? Which shops are making a profit?)
        • To connect that information to individual consumers, they have persuaded us to use a loyalty card every time we shop. Now they can link their generic data to individuals (Who’s buying nappies? If they buy nappies, do they also buy wet wipes? What’s the trend on a consumer’s spending? Are they likely to be shopping at other supermarkets too?)
        • We individually decide to opt-in to sharing our data (by signing up to the scheme, and handing over our membership card every time we shop)
        • In order to encourage us to share our data, the supermarkets have offered us a small incentive - points, air miles, fuel discounts etc

        The data that’s collected is potentially massive - and insightful. Everything from what paper you read, to what meat you buy for your BBQ. And by linking that to external data sources, they can go one step further - what products do customers buy when the temperature gets over 30⁰. Where do you live, shop and fuel your car?

        Which results in retailers being able to collect and collate enough individual information to help them improve their business, through things such as:

        • Using aggregated data to plan their business - eg Where should the next store be built? What product lines can be expanded? How long should stores  be open for?
        • Using individual data to grow their business - eg What’s the next product line to sell this customer? Which customers can I encourage to shop more frequently? Which customers can I switch to more profitable brands?

        And some of this then results in a further incentive for the customers - like offers related to switching brands, or finding that the shop doesn’t run out of your favourite ice cream for the BBQ on a hot weekend (okay, there’s some things that still need working on!)

        Why we shouldn’t compare education to supermarkets’ use of data

        But is it right to compare what is happening with consumer shopping data to what could be happening in education? In some ways it’s an unfair comparison, as the scale is massively different - supermarkets are dealing with millions of customers, and so they can afford to invest the time and money in building big data models. And there’s a commercial imperative to improve, which results in more revenue and profit - it’s not a fixed budget, so investment in improvements pays back with extra cash.

        And there’s also a much more centralised system - for both customer management and data - that results in all of that useful data being seen and used at headquarters, rather than at branch level.

        In education, only some data is shared with the ‘HQ’ - state or nationally - for example, statutory test data, like NAPLAN results. Whereas a lot of it is created and stored by the school. Or just by a teacher for their own use.

        And finally, the money spent on improvements doesn’t necessarily generate more budget for the school.

        The lessons we can learn from supermarkets

        Although direct comparisons are unfair, there are some lessons learnt by retailers that might be useful

        1. Individuals are willing to share data if there’s something in it for them.
        2. Reducing friction on sharing data improves everybody's willingness to share
        3. Everybody in the data chain should receive benefits
        4. Connecting more data sets has an amplified benefit

        If you consider how you use data in your school/TAFE/university, are there frustrations about data use that could be overcome by applying one or more of the retail lessons?

        In my experience, the ‘benefit’ test is a key omission - eg are you asking teachers to supply data, without ensuring that they receive a benefit for it? (Or worse, do they think that sharing data just gives ‘management’ another stick to beat them with?). And reducing friction is also key - eg if a teacher currently stores their markbook in an Excel spreadsheet, can you read the data from there, instead of making them change?

        As I said at the beginning, this is Chapter One. I’m going to come back to this whole subject in a couple of days, but for now, let me leave you with a question to think about (and comment on below?):

        What are the other lessons we can learn from retailers’ use of data? Positive and negative?

      • Education

        Education Revolution in Action 4 - the slide

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        As I mentioned earlier, I had to crunch the allocated time for my keynote at the ERA4 conference at John Paul College, but after telling the major part of my story using video and interactive software, the one slide I chose was the most important, and generated some interesting discussion. It’s about the two tensions of educational ICT, and goes a long way to explain why ICT managers in education have such a difficult job:

        The Two Tensions

        These Two Tensions are between an ‘old world’ of control and a ‘new world’ of Innovation.

        Two Tensions ERA4

        On the left hand side, we have an old world which is about rules, process and where change is made a step at a time. It’s all ‘under control’, and that’s where people want it.

        On the right hand side, is a new world where there is a certain degree of anarchy, where iIntuition is used over process, and people run by the mantra of ‘If you can imagine it, you can do it’ - and that’s also where much of the innovation is happening.

        The challenge for educational ICT leaders, and for the system leaders, is that the left hand side describes where the Institution is - and the right hand side describes where many Individuals are - whether that’s students or teachers. And the ICT team is smack bang in the middle - they are responsible for delivering a secure, robust institutional system, at the same time as individuals are just branching out, and going and using whatever personal technology they want - whether that’s a device, a Web 2.0 service, or new ways of collaborating and communicating. The challenge is managing both of those worlds - giving people freedom whilst retaining the right level of control.

        The Two other Tensions - Assessment and Learning

        I’d talked about the need to change assessment earlier in my keynote, and as I presented this slide, people also said that you could also put ‘Assessment’ and ‘Learning’ on this chart too - that Assessment is built around an ‘old world’ model, whereas Learning is becoming increasingly build in the ‘new world’ model. And that’s clear when you look at the skills that employers are looking for, and the assessment system that isn’t currently able to judge those skills. There’s no doubt that the assessment systems around the world are good for testing the basic skills - reading, writing, numeracy, maths etc - but there is a real challenge in assessing the 21st Century skills of learners - eg their collaboration, communication, team working skills. The job of assessing those skills is increasingly left to employers to do in a 40 minute job interview - which is not an ideal environment for either the employer or the potential employee.

        So what other slides was I going to show?

        Fortunately, the slide I used was the most important - but I did commit to putting up my unused slides, so that everybody could glance through them. I was going to go on and talk about the choices that can be made for ICT, and then jump into the use of the Cloud in education. They don’t make as much sense without the commentary, but even without some may be useful to people. You can download them all in PDF form.

        Learn MoreDownload my unused ERA4 slides

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