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

  • Education

    Windows Azure toolkit for Windows Phone 7

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    Cloud Power logoDoes exactly what it says on the tin - a Windows Azure toolkit for Windows Phone 7. Makes it easier to develop mobile applications by giving you access to cloud services to run your data services. (Oh, and there's also a way of getting Windows Azure free for 30-days, also on this same web page).

  • Education

    Using student performance data to support learning

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    The Microsoft Business Intelligence (BI) team have set up the BI Labs, a place where they can share some of their experimental work. Don't get misled by the 'Business Intelligence' label, because their job is all about helping people make sense of the vast amounts of data that we're engulfed within. In education, there's a massive bank of student performance data (as well as financial and statistical data) that can be very difficult to interpret.  I've sat it meetings where the challenge has been to work out how to understand 1,000 rows of a spreadsheet or table, and then to work out who's doing well. And almost always a teacher or lecturer will be able to tell as much about a student from their one-to-one interactions as they will from a massive report - mainly because the student performance data is so well buried in the massive reports!

    This problem isn't unique to education - it happens in virtually every business in the world. But in education, the expected outcome is normally different:

    In Business, analysis is often done to summarise information - How's the business doing overall? Where's this year's profit coming from?

    In Education, the analysis flows in two directions.

      • The first is the aggregated view - how's the school going to do in the exams this year? How does the budget look?
      • The second is the individual view - what help does this student need to progress? Who are the individuals that need more support?

    And in many cases, systems have been built to primarily server the aggregated, rather than the individual view eg the needs of managers rather than frontline teachers and lecturers. (That's not just an issue in education, because finance/HR/ERP systems often have the same thing).

    PowerPivot small screen shotOne of the most exciting things I've seen in years to address this is PivotViewer - an interactive tool that allows you to present data in a graphical way - so that in an educational context, you can make the students' faces be the visual key to the data. That's a much better way for a teacher or lecturer to see data - they can much more readily understand a picture of their class when it's actually presented as a picture. And the users can 'play' with the data themselves, easily digging into the detail to find what they are looking for.

    To get an idea of what it is capable of, take a look at the UK Wedding Venue search on hitched.co.uk, which is using PivotViewer to allow website users to find their perfect wedding venue. It gives you a good idea of how powerful it could be if you linked PivotViewer to some of your education data, and how you could be using your student performance data to support learning.

    What the BI team have now done is to release tools to allow you to link PivotViewer with SharePoint data and SQL Server Reporting Services. Which means that most education institutions will have a much easier time linking it to their own data.

    All of the tools and resources to use this are available as a download from the BI Labs site. The BI team also run a BI Labs blog, and Dr Cristian Petculescu, who's the architect behind this, explains a lot more detail on his personal blog.

  • Education

    Authorised Education Reseller programme webcast - May 11th

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    imageHere in Australia, our main education subscription licensing scheme is EES (Enrolment for Education Solutions), and to be able to sell this scheme to their customers, partners must be Microsoft Authorised Education Resellers (AER).

    If you are a Microsoft partner, then there is a webcast next week on 11th May at 2-3pm EST (that's Australia EST, not middle-of-the-night-US-EST) to provide more information on how to license your customers using the academic licensing schemes, including how to license students under the Student Option. We'll also be talking about our incentive programme for partners, and what resources are available to help partners reach their education customers.

    Don’t miss out – attend this webcast to find out all you need to know, and where to find the key resources you need to support your education licensing sales.

    If you're an education customer (school/TAFE/University) rather than a Microsoft Partner, then pop over to our main Australian Education website to find out more about EES.

  • Education

    Moodle hosting on Windows Azure in the Cloud

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    This week I've written a few blog posts about Moodle, the open source Learning Management System. Part of the reason is to demonstrate that the worlds of Microsoft and Open Source are not mutually exclusive, and another reason is to demonstrate that there are plenty of ways to implement a learning management system that complement your existing ICT infrastructure. So far this week, I've talked about Moodle/Live@edu integration, installing Moodle on Windows Server, the Moodle Add-In for Office, and installing Moodle on SharePoint (and why it's better on SharePoint). So what about going a step further, and removing the need for on-site servers for Moodle, by hosting Moodle on Windows Azure?

    Moodle & Windows Azure logoThe normal implementation model for Moodle is to install it on your in-house infrastructure - setting up Windows or Linux servers in your data centre, and managing them as part of your IT system. But that requires an up-front capital investment in the hardware, setup etc. So why not just use Moodle hosting in the Cloud? It means you don't need to run your own servers, and can scale the system out to support students as and when you need them (rather than having to buy big lumps of hardware capacity in advance of your actual usage).

    With Windows Azure there's a cloud-based service which allows you to switch on (and off) capacity as you need it - and you simply buy the capacity you need, when you need it (just like your other utilities, like electricity and water).

    There are two projects currently available for hosting Moodle on Windows Azure, both on CodePlex (Microsoft's open source project hosting site, which hosts over 200,000 projects currently):

    • The MoodleAzure project on CodePlex gives you Moodle version 1.9.9, and has been modified to allow you to run as many instances of the web role as you may need - allowing you to rapidly scale up the implementation to reach tens of thousands of students instantly.
    • And the Moodle 2.0 for Azure project, released in March, gives you an installer for the latest version of Moodle - 2.0, and comes from the Laboratório de Tecnologia da Informação in Brazil.

    And because both of these projects are on CodePlex, there's a community of support on the site for advice as you start to implement and use them (there's also a whole forum on the Moodle community website for Windows users)

    Somebody has already setup a demo Moodle hosting site using the Moodle 2.0 system on Windows Azure, and made it available as a public site, so that you can see it running in exactly the same way that your users would. It's only a demo site, with a very small amount of content, but it gives you a good idea of what it can do for you and your students. You can find the Moodle 2.0 on Azure home page here

    What does this all mean for Moodle and Microsoft users?

    The upshot of this (and everything else I've written this week) is that if you're using Moodle, or somebody within your institution is or wants to, then you can do a bunch of things to integrate it into your existing ICT infrastructure, and which help to improve the experience for your students and teachers (as well as reducing the cost for your ICT budget). This can range from hosting Moodle, to integrating Moodle to your email or portal system. And there's plenty of support across the Microsoft and Moodle community for implementing these projects.

    Learn MoreQuickly find all the other Moodle posts on this blog

  • Education

    Why Moodle is better on SharePoint

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    Earlier today I wrote about installing Moodle on SharePoint, in order to improve the capabilities of the system, and improving the experience for your staff and students. Although I summarised some of the benefits of doing this, I thought it was worth expanding the list out (with the help of my friend and SharePoint MVP Alex Pearce in the UK) to describe some of the things your users will notice. So, when you install Moodle on top of SharePoint, here's the kind of capabilities you add:

    File editing directly in Moodle

    Normally, once you have uploaded your file into Moodle the file is stored in a folder on the Moodle server. This is great but it doesn’t allow you to edit the file. By storing the file in a SharePoint document library you can easily find the file, change it and not have to worry about re-uploading the file again.

    Versioning documents in Moodle

    SharePoint allows you to keep versions of the document you are editing. Over the academic years you may change the file several times, add and delete content but one day you’ll want to go back and view something you deleted. SharePoint will allow you to revert back or just browse previous version. (And this also great for team working, where you can track team changes)

    Search Moodle at the same time as your SharePoint

    As the files are now being stored in SharePoint, SharePoint will index the files and their content automatically. Using SharePoint as your central place to search you all your academic resources is a great learning tool for the learner to find what they are looking for. And it also means that your central search index on your SharePoint is enhanced - because you can search for documents within and outside of your learning management system with a single search.

    Office Web Apps in Moodle

    With the Office Web Applications available for Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote in SharePoint 2010 it allows documents to be opened in the browser using the web apps. Teachers or students can open documents in the browser, simply make their quick change and save it back to the site without having to upload and download again.

    Check-In/Check-Out Documents in Moodle

    All these are great but you wouldn’t want your students to see the changes to documents they are using in a course while you making changes. You can check the files out to make changes, make changes over a few minutes, hours, months but until you check the file back in the users will see the original file you want them to see until you are ready to release those changes. (Which means you can start creating next year's course files without changing this year's)

    SharePoint 2010 Workspaces integrated to Moodle

    SharePoint Workspaces allows you to download a document library and make changes from a machine that doesn’t have access to that SharePoint site at the time. In other words you can now make changes to your Moodle course documents offline.

    Workflows in Moodle

    If you have a process for releasing learning resources to students, you can take advantage of the approval process in SharePoint that will allow another colleague to check the files before you release them to all students. This is pretty important where you have sensitive projects that need some oversight or compliance processes.

    Which hopefully convinces you of the value that installing Moodle on SharePoint gives you. And is your next question:

    How do you install Moodle on SharePoint?

    I'd recommend Alex Pearce's work again here - he's written a three part guide to Integrating SharePoint and Moodle, which steps through the specific steps.

    Learn MoreQuickly find all the other Moodle posts on this blog

  • Education

    More Moodle advice – The Moodle on SharePoint white paper

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    Following on from the Office Add-In for Moodle earlier in the week, there’s some further advice and support from the Education Labs team for Moodle that may be useful to you - Moodle on SharePoint. If you’re either using Moodle, or considering it, then you may want to consider how you set it up. Because Moodle is an open source product, it’s often assumed that it should be installed on an open source server – like a Linux box. But the challenge with doing that for many schools is that it doesn’t therefore easily integrate with their existing ICT systems – for example, managing users and files on your existing school file servers.

    However, there’s a more positive way to deploy Moodle, which is to install it on your existing infrastructure, rather than having to add additional complications. The most powerful bit of your infrastructure to add it to is your SharePoint – because Moodle on SharePoint fills in some of the gaps of a conventional Moodle system. First, it helps prevent data loss. For example, if a teacher deletes a file by mistake and wants to get it back, you’ll easily be able to go into SharePoint and restore it from the recycling bin – rather than it being lost forever. Secondly, you can take advantage of versioning in SharePoint. If a teacher or student overwrites a file by mistake, it can be restored to a previous version from SharePoint. Finally you can use SharePoint’s search capabilities to search across all of your content, whether it is in your SharePoint file storage, or in your Moodle system (currently there is no equivalent file search capability in Moodle). Perhaps most importantly, teachers can get these benefits while continuing to use the Moodle user interface they are accustomed to, meaning no new training.

    How do you install Moodle on SharePoint?

    So if it makes so much sense to run your Moodle on SharePoint, how do you do it? Well, we’ve published a white paper that explains how to set up SharePoint as the file system for Moodle. It doesn’t need any special code – if you have SharePoint and Moodle, it is a matter of configuration.

    You can download the full white paper here (click on the Read It link) which can help you plan your strategy.

    image  Quickly find all the other Moodle posts on this blog

  • Education

    Moodle Integration for Office

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    I've written a couple of blog posts about Moodle this week, so I thought I'd see if I could write a useful Moodle blog post every day this week. Today, the Office Add-In for Moodle.

    The idea behind the add-in is simple. Now, when you got to Open or Save a file in Office you can select to Open from Moodle or Save to Moodle directly. This makes it easier for your teachers to use Moodle natively, and hopefully will encourage them to make better use of your in-school learning management system. (If you have a SharePoint-based learning platform, you get similar functionality in Office 2010)

    The “Office Add-in for Moodle”

    View Slide ShowUploading files to Moodle is now much easier. The Office Add-in for Moodle (OAM) is an add-in for Microsoft Office (2003, 2007 and 2010) that allows teachers to open and save Word, Excel, and PowerPoint documents to a Moodle website. Today, teachers who use Office and Moodle have to switch back and forth between their web browser and Office applications. With the OAM, teachers can create, open, edit, and save Moodle documents from within the Office applications. You no longer need to use your web browser when working with Office documents stored in Moodle.

    So what do you need in order to start using the add-in? It doesn't require anything to be installed on the Moodle server (note we only tested against Moodle versions 1.8-1.9). Anyone who is the teacher or owner of a Moodle course can install the add-in and access their documents. Once installed, the add-in adds two menu items to your File or the Office Button menu: Open from Moodle and Save to Moodle. In order to browse course files on your Moodle you will need to first tell the add-in the address of your Moodle and the credentials you use to log in. Once added you can view the list of courses you are enrolled in. Naturally, students and others can access the content directly from Moodle as they normally would.

    We focused on teachers and content specialists first, since we know most documents posted to Moodles come from teachers. We’ve gotten some requests already about adding support for students and assignments, but we want to hear from you. So check it out, and let the EducationLabs team know what you think and if there’s anything you want them to work on.

    It’s worth browsing on the Education Labs site for other projects they've released

    Learn More ButtonFind out more about, and download, the free Moodle add-in

  • Education

    Installing Moodle on a Windows Server

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    Moodle logoYesterday I wrote about Moodle and Live@edu integration. And somebody pinged me an email to ask why I was writing about it, asking 'isn't Moodle all about Open Source?'. I guess I see it differently, as I see a choice of using Moodle as just one small part of an overall ICT system in education. And Moodle is just one of the options alongside lots of other excellent Learning Management Systems.

    Just because Moodle is released as an Open Source application doesn't mean that you have to warmly embrace Linux servers to run it on - and running it on Windows Servers is probably more popular than you think. Last year we announced the release of WebMatrix. Basically, it’s an easy and free way to get started building Web sites on Windows. WebMatrix is a tool for building, customising and deploying your Web sites in one common, straightforward way. The idea is that WebMatrix can be used by a wide range of developers, and you don’t need to be a rocket scientist to use it. It brings together a bunch of our resources into a simple install - a Web server (IIS Developer Express), a database (SQL Server Compact), and a programming framework (ASP.NET). It’s a simple free download – just download and install it onto a spare server.

    But the extra useful bit is that you can then use the Microsoft Web Application Gallery to install and customise popular ASP.NET and PHP open source community applications - including Moodle - whilst also seamlessly integrating with our professional development tools and servers including Visual Studio, SQL Server and Windows Server.

    The Web App Gallery contains a long list of free downloads to install on top of WebMatrix, including Moodle, Joomla!, WordPress and a long list of other free apps to install (the main categories are: Blogs, CMS, eCommerce, Forums, Galleries, Tools and Wikis)

    It also includes a new, easier-to-learn syntax for ASP.NET to provide you with a faster way to build standards-based Web sites. The built-in helpers simplify the use of ASP.NET to perform increasingly complex and common tasks like connecting to a database, displaying a Twitter feed, or embedding a video.

    This means that you can have the flexibility and freedom to use the tools you choose, and have an easier way to deploy web servers that fit into your existing IT infrastructure.

    You can get WebMatrix by downloading the Web Platform Installer, and then install additional apps from the Web App Gallery

  • Education

    A social media policy to encourage the use of social media by teachers in NSW

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    Twitter birdsAccording to a story in the Sydney Morning Herald over the weekend, the NSW Department for Education is implementing changes which support teachers to use social media both professionally and privacy. From now on teachers in NSW schools can access Twitter, Facebook and other social media from the classroom. And the Department have created a NSW social media policy for teachers - which is critical to helping them to understand what's expected of them. It starts with the statement:

      The department supports its employees’ participation in social media online applications such as social networking sites, wikis, blogs, microblogs, video and audio sharing sites and message boards that allow people to easily publish, share and discuss content.  

    When I read it, I liked seeing that intro "The department supports…", because that's a pretty positive affirmation in a social media policy for teachers  (much better than "You are allowed…"). You can find the NSW Social Media Policy for teachers here*.

    So from now on, you can expect to have many more teachers discussing education, sharing links, and also looking for information through social networks.

    If you're a supplier to education, what is your social media policy? If your customers are using Twitter, are you? Are you making it easier for teachers to find relevant information through social networks?

    * It took me a while to find the social media policy for teachers, as it doesn't show up when you search their website. But happily it's listed alongside all of the other 184 current school policies and guidelines, alongside such timeless classics as the "Pirated DVDs Screening Guidelines", which uses quite a few words to say "Don't"!

  • Education

    Using Open Source Moodle with Microsoft cloud services - case study

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    Whilst businesses have customer-relationship management systems, and online shops, the education equivalent is a Learning Management System (LMS) - something that will help a school, TAFE or university to deliver learning resources to their students, wherever they are.

    There's a diverse bunch of learning management systems in use in Australia - Blackboard, Desire2Learn, the RM Learning Platform, Uniservity, SharePointLMS - across all sectors. Whilst these tend to be fully-managed systems (where the software is installed on your own servers by the supplier or in a cloud-delivered hosted service) some people have chosen to build their own LMS by bringing together different components from different suppliers.

    Education Labs logoAs Computerworld reported recently, Redlands School in Sydney is one of those, where they have integrated an open source Moodle Learning Management System with the Microsoft cloud-based Live@edu email system (using a plug-in from Education Labs). They use Moodle as the main portal for learning resources - whether the student is within school or at home. And by adding integration to the Live@edu email system, it means their students now have single sign-on to their email, and cloud storage, straight from the home page of their Moodle system. As Christian Jean Sellies, the Redlands Director of ICT, is quoted as saying:

      At Redlands, students and staff use Moodle as an increasingly important resource in their online learning. One of the key reasons we chose Microsoft as our hosted mail provider was the availability of the plug-in for Moodle to bring the students’ Live@edu mailbox into their Moodle homepage. Since rolling out Live@Edu, we find that the majority of students access their mailbox through their Moodle lessons.  

    Learn MoreFind out more about the Live Services Plug-in for Moodle

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