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

  • Education

    Identity management in the cloud (or how to avoid the need to login every two minutes)


    Many education institutions in Australia are using Active Directory for their identity management. Typically, when a new student or staff member starts, they have an account created in the Active Directory (in many cases, this is done automatically by their student management system). That then allows them to logon to their computer and the network, and also gives them permission to access specific information (for example, for the staff to be able to access network resources and software that students shouldn’t have access to).

    Over the years, the ways that Active Directory is used has extended to all kinds of different scenarios, and it’s become the single source of truth in education institutions for user access and information rights. And as customers move to cloud services for some of their IT services, the Active Directory has expanded to that (for example, in my day to day life our Active Directory is used to give me access to all kinds of external and web-based services, including Office 365, Yammer, our external travel booking service and our external payslip system). It means I only login once, and don’t need to login again when I jump across to these systems.

    If you’re in an institution where you have to login multiple times on different systems, then it’s time to look at identity management in the cloud. There’s two bits to the story – what the institution sets up, and what the external software developers do. I’ve covered both below, so that you can get an idea of the conversations you might have with your external software suppliers.

    About identity management in the cloud

    Windows Azure logoWindows Azure Active Directory is a service that provides identity and access capabilities for on-premises and cloud applications.

    Microsoft cloud services today, such as Windows Intune and Office 365 for education, rely on the identity management capabilities provided by Windows Azure Active Directory. These capabilities include a cloud based store for directory data and a core set of identity services including user logon processes, authentication and federation services. In addition, organisations that subscribe to these cloud services can use Windows Azure AD to configure single sign-on to allow interoperability with their existing on-premises Active Directory environment.

    Because it is your organisation’s cloud directory, you decide who your users are, what information to keep in the cloud, who can use the information or manage it, and what applications or services are allowed to access that information.

    Because it’s a cloud service, when you use Windows Azure AD, it is Microsoft’s responsibility to keep Active Directory running in the cloud with high scale, high availability, and integrated disaster recovery, while fully respecting your requirements for the privacy and security of your organisation’s information.

    Using Windows Azure Active Directory as a developer

    Developers can use the features of Windows Azure AD to create applications and services that run in the cloud, and use the organisation’s Active Directory information to control access to the system, without users having to create another, new login identity. Developers can:

    • Implement single sign-on and single sign-off for enterprise applications and software as a service (SaaS) providers
      for example, so that users can automatically be logged into a cloud-based Learning Management System
    • Query and manage cloud directory objects, such as users and groups, by using the Graph API
      for example, you could allow a student management system to manage your Active Directory to add them to specific curriculum groups, and to update their photo that shows to staff in email and IM conversations
    • Integrate with on-premises Active Directory to sync directory data to the cloud and enable single sign-on across on-premises and cloud applications

    As a highly-available and highly-scalable service of Windows Azure, Windows Azure AD can be used to manage identities at massive scale, and it enables organisations to use their credentials to authenticate to new or existing applications, factoring out the authentication process and eliminating the need for many different identities.

    Integration with your on-premises Active Directory

    Windows Azure AD can be used as a standalone cloud directory, but you would usually integrate your existing on-premise Active Directory with Windows Azure AD. Some of the features of integration include directory sync and single sign-on, which further extend the reach of your existing on-premises identities into the cloud for an improved admin and end user experience. Learn more about Directory synchronisation, password synchronisation and Single Sign On (SSO)

    Integration with your applications

    Application developers can integrate their applications with Windows Azure AD to provide single sign-on functionality for their users. This enables enterprise applications to be hosted in the cloud and to easily authenticate users with corporate credentials. It also enables software as a service (SaaS) providers to make authentication easier for users in Windows Azure AD organizations when authenticating to their services. Learn more about integrating applications in Windows Azure Active Directory, and the control that IT administrators have to add, update and remove access for apps

    Some links for developers

    If you're looking to build Windows Azure AD into your application(s) for web single sign on, then here’s some links that might interest you:

  • Education

    Update 3: Microsoft Surface RT Education offer in Australia


    One of the most frequent questions that we’ve been asked about the Microsoft Surface RT offer for education customers in Australia (the offer is for education institutions to be able to order the Microsoft Surface RT from AU$219) is “can I get the Surface RT Education offer in stores, rather than ordering online from Microsoft?”

    Well, up until now the answer has been ‘no’, but we’ve realised that we could be a little be more flexible…

    So now the answer is ‘Yes’!

    Here’s how it works:

    • Education institutions are able to go to their local Harvey Norman or JB Hi-Fi and place an order, referencing the Limited Time Education Offer
    • The institution and retailer agree on method of payment and delivery details
    • Retailer forwards the order to Microsoft for validation that they are a valid education institution that meets the criteria
    • Once the order’s been validated, the retailer can supply the devices

    This retail option means that you can get a faster and more efficient purchase route, and supply from a local business.

    Just in case you’ve missed it before, here’s a quick summary of the Surface RT Education offer in Australia: Education institutions qualify for the offer to buy Microsoft Surface RT, starting at AU$219, until the end of September 2013.

    Learn MoreHere’s where you can get all the details on the Surface RT education offer in Australia, and here’s my previous updates – Update 1 and Update 2.

  • Education

    Using Microsoft translation tools in education


    For years, the challenge of creating and managing translations of content and curriculum has been looked at by people in the academic/tech world as “too hard, I’ll look at it later”. And yet, with $15 billion of revenue for Australian universities and TAFEs coming from international students, perhaps it’s a good time to take a look at a couple of the translation tools that exist in the Microsoft portfolio, to see whether it might help you in creating multi-lingual versions of some of your projects. Some of things that you could consider using the services for include:

    • Publish curriculum materials automatically in multiple languages, or with one-click live translation (link)
    • Creating promotional materials in multiple languages, eg offer your student recruitment pages in the languages of your top 10 international recruitment countries
    • Add a Translator Widget onto every page of your website (link)
    • Allow live chat between students, or between students and staff, in multiple simultaneous languages
    • Build translation directly into apps you develop and release (link)


    Microsoft Translator

    imageWith the proliferation of digital content on the web, mobile devices and desktop applications, there is an increasing demand to communicate and collaborate in multiple languages. Automatic translation enables communication, collaboration and the ability to conduct business across language barriers.

    Microsoft Translator offers automatic, linguistically informed statistical machine translation between any of 39 languages, and has a whole series of interfaces to make it easy for web and software developers to use it.

    The Machine Translation technology behind Microsoft Translator is built on more than a decade of work at Microsoft Research and delivers a flexible, instant and cost-effective automatic translation service to any destination; helping to break the language barrier for businesses, developers and users alike. The rich and accessible translation API empowers application developers and solution providers to deliver the translations services customers require.

    Whether seeking solutions for language detection, translation, speech synthesis, product localization or empowering communities to protect indigenous languages, Microsoft Translator provides the services and solutions to accomplish a variety of translation goals across the web, desktop applications and mobile devices.

    For developers, it offers a rich, flexible and simple to use API for custom applications in web, desktop and mobile applications. And a full translator API available on the cloud-based Windows Azure Markeplace. One simple way to use it is to add a translator widget onto a website, allowing users to translate a web page in situ.

    Learn MoreLearn more about Microsoft Translator

    Microsoft Translator Hub

    Microsoft Translator Hub allows you to build, improve, and deploy customised automatic language translation systems - bringing better and specialised translation quality to established languages, as well as the many native languages of the world that are not yet supported by major translation providers. This is ideal for scenarios where you may have content which uses highly technical language with specific meanings (for example, in the engineering faculty). 

    Built on Windows Azure, Microsoft Translator Hub is an extension of the Microsoft Translator platform and service. You can build a superior translation system easily, within a private website, by combining your translated documents with the power of Microsoft Translator’s big data back end. Once you are satisfied with your translation, you may share it publicly on the web.

    Learn MoreLearn more about the Microsoft Translator Hub

  • Education

    Update 2: Microsoft Surface RT for education in Australia


    There are a few new details to let you know about the Microsoft Surface RT offer for education customers in Australia which we announced nearly a month ago (the offer is for education institutions to be able to order the Microsoft Surface RT from AU$219). In the first update on the Surface education offer, I wrote about ordering processes, apps, offers for other devices from our partners, and some of the details of management of the Surface RT in education situations.

    Surface Education offer closing date extended

    We’ve had plenty of feedback that institutions had found that the original closing date, of 31 August, was too soon for them to complete their procurement processes (some people had to go through an evaluation process before they could add it to their panel of hardware devices), so we have extended the offer closing date to 30 September 2013. (This is hot off the press, so the offer website is just being updated).

    Comparing the Surface RT to the iPad

    My colleagues over in the US released a new TV advert last week, comparing the iPad and the Surface RT. Although it’s for the US market (eg US pricing), it is on YouTube, and because it carries on with the same sense of fun that the previous ads have used, I think it’s worth sharing – and it gives you a quick summary of some of the key differences, that I think are meaningful for education users (eg the USB slot for memory sticks and printers, the in-built stand and keyboard, which are all important for education use)

    If you can't see the video above, you can view it on YouTube here

    imageThe pricing used in the advert (right) is incorrect for Australia, as the pricing it lists is for the US retail market, so the Australian comparison for education would be:

    Surface RT (32GB) – AU$ 219 (or AU$ 279 with the Touch Keyboard Cover) compared to an iPad (32GB) with Retina display for AU$649 (or even an older iPad 2 with only 16GB of RAM for AU$429)

    Meaning that you could have two, and almost three, Surface RT devices for your students for the cost of one iPad.

    Surface for students

    The Surface team in the US have released another video from a college student talking about the way that his Surface RT supports his learning. It’s only a minute and a half long, and worth watching to see a student’s perspective of what drives their device choice.

    If you can’t see the video above, you can view it on YouTube here


    Learn MoreRead the overview of the Microsoft Surface RT offer for education customers in Australia

  • Education

    The new Microsoft Authorised Education Reseller website


    Microsoft AER logoMicrosoft globally sells academic licences for our software and services exclusively through Authorised Education Resellers (AERs). It’s an authorisation programme that ensures that customers are able to get the appropriate advice about the best licensing option for a particular scenario, and ensures that our partners only sell Microsoft Academic licences to the customers who qualify for them (something we call Qualified Educational Users). Over the last few years we’ve been growing the AER programme to be more than just an authorisation programme, so that it supports the changing education business at Microsoft, our partners and our customers.

    As part of this, we’ve just relaunched the AER website, to help our partners receive the readiness, information, training and resources they need to do their jobs in a more professional and knowledgeable way.

    AER website homepage

    The new portal not only has brand new training, including Office 365 and cloud services, to complement traditional licensing and sales training, but it now has a new look and feel to make it easier to find the information that a new or returning partner might require.

    Every Microsoft AER renews their accreditation every year, and that’s just one of the things they can do through the AER website.

    The AER website for education customers

    For our education customers, there’s two key reasons why you might want to use the AER website:

    Find an Authorised Education Reseller

    You can search for an AER on the website easily – via country, state, city/suburb or company name. So you can quickly find a local Microsoft partner who is able to help you buy Microsoft software at academic prices. Note: If you search for a partner in a particular area, it is based on where AER’s offices are listed, so you may not see partners who have national coverage in every search.

    Check if a Microsoft partner is authorised to sell education licences

    If you need to check a partner is correctly authorised to sell Microsoft Academic licences, you can simply pop their name into the ‘Company Name’ box on the AER Search site, and be assured that they are in the list. If a partner doesn’t show up, then you’ll probably want to check more carefully with them before placing an order (for example, perhaps they are in the middle of renewing their authorisation).

    Learn MoreVisit the Microsoft AER website

  • Education

    What does Power BI for Office mean for education customers?


    Over the last year I’ve shared a fair amount of information on the use of business intelligence (BI) in education, with examples of ways that useful information can be unlocked from educational data, as well as looking at the new tools being created to help users get better views of their data. The various Microsoft teams who have been working on BI projects, and our BI partners in Australia, seem to have been moving at breakneck speed on making data more accessible, visual and meaningful to users, and there’s been a special focus everywhere on self-service BI, to help every day users who don’t have the high level skills of traditional data analysts.

    Power BI demonstrations screen, showing the natural language queriesA lot of that work has focused around the traditional Office apps, and that whole story has just come together with the announcement this week of Power BI for Office 365, which adds powerful analysis features on top of Power Pivot and Power View, which were core innovations of the last couple of years. We’ve added Power Query to help users discover, access and combine data sets, and Power Map to help users map visualisations of their data. And packaged it into a powerful Power BI system within Office. And by enabling it within Office 365, it means that the self-service BI capabilities in Excel now add easy ways to host interactive data views and workbooks, so that individual users can access your standard reports and visualisations as well as create their own.

    I think the best way to see what I’m talking about is to watch this video, taken from a keynote during the Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference this week, where there is a rapid demonstration that shows the kind of scenarios that are possible.

    I loved the examples that are shown, because I could imagine very similar scenarios in education – the ability to connect internal and external data sets, and highly visual presentations of data, and especially the ability to ask a natural language question to see the answer. Can you imagine if the same level of data was available for your organisation?

    And that’s the question the video left in my head: How many education organisations have the kind of published data sets (internally or externally) that will help them to turn data into information? I’ve historically seen projects that have relied on scooping data up into the equivalent of locked containers – they tend to produce canned reports that project owners think that users want. There’s often less focus on self-service BI projects, where there’s a focus on collecting/publishing data sets for others to use. I wonder if the kinds of possibilities opened by Power BI for Office will change that?

    In the video we can see an example where the query “top rock classics” is automatically translated into a query of “Show rock songs where era is 70s and 80s sorted by weeks on chart”. So we potentially have a system that would allow a user to ask it for “top performing schools in my area”, or “university distance learning courses with the lowest dropout rate”, or “which TAFE course has the highest employability impact”. But do we have the published/unpublished data sources to help us answer those type of question?

    Learn MoreThere’s plenty more about Power BI for Office below:
    - The announcement of Power BI for Office - short and longer version
    - The story of the technology behind Power BI for Office 365
    - Get signed up for the Power BI preview

  • Education

    Microsoft Australia Education Partner of the Year Finalists 2013


    We’ve just announced the finalists for the Microsoft Australia Partner Awards (MAPA) for 2013, with 66 finalists across 22 categories.

    MAPA Education finalists 2013 - logos

    This year’s entries for the Education Partner of the Year were particularly strong, with some fascinating stories of innovations created by our partners to help our education customers get the best value from their technology investments. In the end though, the judging panel had to select a shortlist of three partners as finalists, and they are:

    So congrats to all three partners for making it to the shortlist. The winner will be announced at the Microsoft Australia Partner Conference in Cairns on 20-22 August.

  • Education

    What’s at WPC for Education Partners?


    WPC logo

    This weekend hundreds of attendees from around Australia will be flying to Houston to join nearly tens of thousands of Microsoft Partners from around the world at Microsoft’s annual Worldwide Partner Conference. If you are going representing an Australian partner that’s interested in the education marketplace, then you’ll want to check the attached schedule for opportunities to connect with the global Microsoft Education team at WPC, and learn about our strategy for the next year.

    The Education sessions at WPC

    There’s a range of sessions, including:

    • Monday 8th July
      • 3PM
        Education Keynote, with Anthony Salcito
      • 4:30PM
        Devices and Services in Education - Shape the Future and drive Windows 8 and Office 365 sales in the education market
    • Tuesday 9th July
      • 1:30PM
        Increase revenue and share through Big Data and relationship management growth in education
      • 3PM
        Worldwide Public Sector Executive Q& A with partners plus >20 roundtable discussions with experts
        This session will include 5 specialist roundtables hosted by members of the Microsoft global Education team, each taking a deeper dive into a specific education technology topic for partners.
    • Wednesday 10th July
      • 2:30PM
        Expand your business – add education to your portfolio
      • 4PM
        How to build great apps that make money in education

    Make a dateDownload the WPC 2013 additional schedule for Education and Public Sector partners

  • Education

    Update 1: The Microsoft Surface offer for schools, TAFEs and universities in Australia


    imageI published the key info yesterday on the Microsoft Surface RT offer for education customers in Australia, which allows schools, TAFEs and universities to buy Surface RT from AU$219.

    Overnight I’ve had a couple of questions from people about the offer, and I’ve also laid my hands on the full Surface RT Offer FAQ document that we published, so here’s a summary:

    Common questions about the Surface RT offer for education

    Is there a minimum order requirement for the Surface RT offer?

    No. Education institutions may buy any quantity of Surface RT for their organisation. Pricing is only available until 31 August 2013. And you can place as many orders as you wish – for example, you could order a dozen now for your staff, and then some for students separately (do bear in mind that the offer is only valid while supplies last).

    How do institutions order their Surface RTs?

    The Surface RT in Education brochure contains an order form (all the forms are linked here). Fill out the order form with a valid purchase order number and send it to You will get an email back confirming the order and details on fulfilment.

    What does shipping cost?

    We’ve already included that in the price of the offer, so there aren’t any additional shipping charges

    How does Surface RT compare to iPad and Android?

    There are many differences between Surface RT and iPad and Android. One of the most important differences to schools is Surface RT comes with a touch-optimised version of Microsoft Office Home & Student 2013 RT - Word, PowerPoint, Excel and OneNote (the free Windows 8.1 update will also provide an RT version of Outlook). Microsoft Office is among the most popular productivity software in schools and businesses. Its inclusion in Surface RT means that your students and teachers will be ready to get to work on Surface right away.
    Surface RT also lets users multitask between applications, share the device between many users, provides USB and HD video out ports, optional keyboard covers, integration of Internet Explorer 10 to run Flash based websites, lots of storage and a file system, a high quality display, and excellent battery life.

    I’ve heard there are more apps on iOS and Android? What can I expect from Surface RT?

    With over 20,000 educationally-relevant apps worldwide in the Windows Store from many of the biggest names in education, like Khan Academy and leading publishers - there is an app for almost every subject.

    I’ve listed some of my early favourite Windows 8 education apps here, and our worldwide team have featured a list of Windows 8 apps by categories here.

    There are also some fabulous apps from Australian companies that have been released for Windows 8, and provide new learning possibilities with touch devices, plus all the ones I’ve listed here have free versions too:

    But don’t forget, that because Microsoft has optimized the web browsing experience for HTML 5 and Flash, you don’t need lots of specific apps like you do on tablets which can run Flash. For example, you can run the full Mathletics website on a Surface RT, whereas on an iPad you have to download apps containing some parts of the Mathletics resources, because you can’t access a Flash website fully.

    Is this the only device that there are offers for?

    There are lots of Windows 8 computers and tablets available from our partners, and many of them are also running special offers on Windows 8 devices for education customers. You’ll find the info on offers from Lenovo, Acer, HP, Fujitsu and Toshiba over on our main website.

    What is the difference between Windows 8 and Windows RT?

    Windows 8 comes in three versions (Home, Pro and Enterprise) and runs on Intel x86 chipset. Windows RT comes in one version and runs on the ARM chipset. Windows RT devices are lightweight, have thin form factors, and better battery life. Windows 8 x86 devices can run your existing legacy Windows software, and software requiring intense processing power, as well as the new modern Windows 8 apps downloaded from the Windows Store. Windows RT ARM devices can run applications like Microsoft Office 2013 RT and the new modern Windows 8 apps exclusively from the Windows Store. Windows 8 x86 devices running Windows 8 Pro and Windows 8 Enterprise have enterprise level security and manageability features.
    You can read more about the differences on the main Microsoft website under “Which Surface is right for you?

    On the Order Form, what does “Institution tax ID” mean?

    What we’re asking for is the institution’s ABN number. It allows us to check the official purchase order details.

    We’ve already got a Hardware Vendor Panel  that Surface RT isn’t on – can we still order?

    I understand the issue around hardware vendor panels, and recognise that may be an issue for some institutions. You’ll need to check your institution’s processes and guidelines. I know that some people will have to miss out on this offer because of their rules, whilst others have ways of making exceptional one-off purchases.

    I’ve read that Windows RT devices can’t connect to a domain – is that right?

    OK, fair to say that this question came from somebody quite technical, but I know others will be interested in my answer! Although you’re absolutely right that you can’t ‘Domain Join’ a Windows RT device, with Windows 8.1 (which will be a free upgrade) we’ve included a range of significant enhancements to improve manageability using non-domain joined computers.

    Some of the additional capabilities coming to Windows 8.1 are:

    • Workplace Join – giving a middle ground between all or nothing access, allowing a user to work on the device of their choice, and still have access to corporate resources. IT can grant some access rights, and enforce some governance parameters on the device
    • Work Folders – allows a user to sync data to their device for a network user folder, and IT can enforce policies including automated Rights Management (eg as they leave the school, they lose access to the Work Folders on their device & centrally)
    • Improved Mobile Device Management – of course, even though I’d love everybody to use our System Center for management, we’ve included support for Open MDM so that customers can choose from a range of tools. My advice for looking at device management is to consider the role of Intune, because of the capabilities it enables (like having an institutional app store available to Windows 8 devices, whether they are domain-controlled or simply device managed.

    I’d recommend reading the full article on the new features in Windows 8.1 for enterprises on TechNet

    Here’s a downloadable PDF version of the official Surface RT Offer FAQ, if you’d like something to share with colleagues.


    Learn MoreYou can either read my overview of the Microsoft Surface RT offer for education customers in Australia from yesterday, or go to  the official offer site to download the Brochure, Pricing and Order Forms

  • Education

    Developing apps in Office–ideas to help education users of Office


    I first wrote about developing Office Apps for education last year, with ideas for our partners to think about some of the processes that education customers do all of the time and asking if they could be made easier with Office Apps (things like developing simple forms for staff absence, student assignment workflow or resource booking systems). And since then I’ve provided a few updates here and here on more resources to help get started. There are so many scenarios where I can see that the lives of staff in an education institution could be made so much easier through being able to simply launch a process or app from within Word, Excel or PowerPoint, rather than having to leave on application and go over to a completely different system for a task.

    Whether you are a developer in a Microsoft partner, or perhaps just an education user with some technical skills that fancies having a crack at developing an app, there is a huge amount of additional information available on the Apps for Office and SharePoint blog


    Here’s some of the ideas that I’ve picked up from the blog:

    How to publish apps to the Office store [Link]

    In addition to the blog articles themselves, there’s a new community forum on MSDN, monitored by the Office Store team, that provides support publishing apps for the Office store.

    Getting data from the Windows Azure marketplace into your Office app [Link]

    The Azure marketplace has large sets of data that are really useful in many education apps – and many of them are free. Some of the examples of free data sets include world economic and other data like UN National Accounts Official Country Data, UN Demographic Statistics, Energy Statistics from the UN for 215 countries, Occupational Employment Statistics, Historical Weather Data, and Protein Databank of 3D Biological Macromolecular Structures. 

    An example of how you might use this data would be to integrate the occupational employment statistics into a ePortfolio or career planning app on SharePoint, so that you can start to provide deeper insights into career choices and options.

    Code samples for Apps for Office [Link]

    The team have published over 100 sample code items that can be used directly, or that you can learn from to understand how to develop more complex apps. It includes things like accessing and storing data, authenticating apps, creating workflows, taking surveys in SharePoint,  approval workflows and making calls through VOIP dialling.

    Get attachments in a mail app [Link]

    This seems really handy, as I can imagine scenarios which will make life much easier. For example, you could build a student assignment app where students can send back their work via email, and the app downloads the attachments into the correct SharePoint library for staff to then assess. Or how about an app that automatically takes school parental permission forms sent by email, and adds them into your document store tagged against the student.

    Those are just of the examples, and scenarios I saw, from the info published on blog. I’d recommend if you’ve got the right level of technical knowledge, it’s worthwhile reading and following the blog. And if you’re using Office 365, it might also fire off some ideas of how you could make life easier for staff in your institution – either by developing in-house, or raising the sights of the Microsoft partners that you work with.

    Learn MoreLearn more at the Apps for Office and SharePoint blog

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