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

  • Education

    Tech·Ed Australia 2011 announced



    At the end of August, it'll be time to get up to the Gold Coast for Tech·Ed, the annual geekfest that provides a chance to get up to speed with deep technology insights, and hear from some of the best technical presenters around. Having seen the team who are running this event at a number of events since arriving in Australia, I have high expectations that this will be a lively conference!

    Running from the afternoon of the 30th August, until late 2nd September, there's tons of technical tracks on offer, as well as the chance to sign up for technical training, hands-on labs, and cut price certification exams. Let's face it, if you're role involves technical architecture, development, deployment, management or security, then there's something for you. And the 16 tracks include Cloud, Communications, Collaboration, Virtualisation, Security, Identity, Web and a bunch of device specific sessions - including Windows clients, Windows Phone and Windows Server.

    Education customers get a special ticket price of $1,680 inc GST, and for everybody else there's the Early Bird rate until 15th July of $1,800 (saving $300 off the usual price).

    Learn MoreLearn More about Tech·Ed Australia

  • Education

    By 2020, all schools, universities and TAFEs in Australia will offer online virtual education


    Icons_light_blueThe Australian Government has set a series of eight Digital Economy Goals - which are being used to drive the economy and public planning forward. They relate to use of technology at home, in business, in health, in government and in education.

    Digital Economy Goal for Education

    The Digital Economy Goal for Education is quite audacious:

    By 2020, Australian schools, TAFEs, universities and higher education institutions will have the connectivity to develop and collaborate on innovative and flexible educational services and resources to extend online learning resources to the home and workplace; and the facilities to offer students and learners, who cannot access courses via traditional means, the opportunity for online virtual learning.

    Taken literally it means learners will be able to choose to learn online from their own school, TAFE or university.

    Now, if you're used to reading Government targets you'll spot the get out clause, which is that the institutions have to have the facilities to offer it - it doesn't actually set the target that they must offer it. But let's ignore that for the moment.

    There are two parties to this target:

    • The government is accountable to ensure that education has the connectivity and the facilities and things like the DER and NBN are both moving in that direction
    • Every school, TAFE and university is accountable for providing ways of delivering learning online for their students

    I would guess that most institutions have a way of making some learning resources available online today - but do they all have a roadmap that gets them to the point of delivering a full traditional course by online virtual means?

    And if you are in a school, TAFE or university, do you feel accountable for the goal?

    Australian Government Digital Economy Goals

    FYI here are all of the Australian Government Digital Economy Goals. The goals are that by 2020:

    • Australia ranks in the top five OECD countries in the portion of households that connect to broadband at home.
    • Australia ranks in the top five OECD countries in relation to the percentage of businesses, and not for profit organisations, using online opportunities to drive productivity improvements, expand their customer base and enable jobs growth.
    • The majority of Australian households, businesses and other organisations will have access to smart technology to better manage their energy use.
    • As identified in the National eHealth Strategy endorsed by the federal, state and territory governments, 90% of high priority consumers such as older Australians, mothers and babies and those with a chronic disease, or their carers, can access individual electronic health records. Through the government’s investments in telehealth, by July 2015, 495,000 telehealth consultations will have been delivered providing remote access to specialists for patients in rural, remote and outer metropolitan areas, and by 2020, 25% of all specialists will be participating in delivering telehealth consultations to remote patients.
    • Australian schools, TAFEs, universities and higher education institutions will have the connectivity to develop and collaborate on innovative and flexible educational services and resources to extend online learning resources to the home and workplace; and the facilities to offer students and learners, who cannot access courses via traditional means, the opportunity for online virtual learning.
    • Australia will have at least doubled its level of teleworking so that at least 12% of Australian employees report having a teleworking arrangement with their employer.
    • Four out of five Australians will choose to engage with the government through the internet or other type of online service.
    • The gap between households and businesses in capital cities and those in regional areas will have narrowed significantly.
  • Education

    More Live@edu adopters in schools and universities


    EmailFor those of you who missed it, here's the dozen word summary of Live@edu: Free student email, hosted by Microsoft's Exchange 2010 cloud, with a 10GB mailbox

    The case studies for the Live@edu email service keep coming - this time, it's the Delaware Department of Education and United Arab Emirates University…

    Delaware Department of Education using Live@edu

    They are migrating 20,000 faculty and staff as well as 129,000 students. Their case study has just been published, and there's a couple of quotes that stuck out for me. Jim Sills, Delaware chief information officer and secretary of DTI said:

      Beyond just email, the services provided through Microsoft Live@edu will allow the state to reduce overall support costs and eventually provide a seamless interface with the existing Microsoft platform to access tools such as Microsoft Office and Excel  

    And Ron Usilton, the Lake Forest School District Information Systems manager was quoted as saying:

      Resources, such as interactive whiteboards and mobile computer labs, along with online learning programs, provide our students and educators the tools for a 21st-century education, but a method to provide better staff and student collaboration still was needed.  

    You can read the full Delaware Schools case study here

    United Arab Emirates University using Live@edu and Exchange

    The United Arab Emirates University (UAEU) has just chosen a mix deployment - with the existing 13,000 current staff and students moving to an onsite Exchange mail system, whilst 55,000 alumni students get access to the Live@edu Cloud email system. The driver for the change was that their existing mail system was reaching the end of it's life:

      The system’s calendaring capabilities were limited and did not include sharing. Interfaces were not intuitive and frustrated both users and administrators. Storage limits forced the IT department to restrict users to relatively small mailboxes, and performance was slow. In addition, management was costly and complex, and it was difficult to defend the system against unsolicited bulk email messages.  

    Not only did the new implementation improve the service deliver, the UAEU have calculated - from implementation costs, staff, facilities, equipment and power use - a saving of over $270,000.

    You can read the full United Arab Emirates University case study here

  • Education

    Does more time in the classroom make students/teachers better?


    imageOver the last two days, there have been a couple of interesting articles in the The Australian newspaper, which are worth a read. I'm sharing them here, because they give a useful insight into some of the issues being debated in education in Australia - which ICT could help with.

    More time in class does not a student make

    This article, written by Julie Hare, The Australian's Higher Education Editor, looks at the current generation of students going into universities, and asks 'Are we over-educated?'. It throws in a few statistics, like:

    • In 1901, 0.07% of the population went to university
    • The government target for 2025 is that 40% of students will get a bachelor's degree
    • 20% of graduates could be considered to be over-educated for the job they hold*.

    There are two really noteworthy quotes in the article. The first, from Phil Lewis, director for the Centre for Labour Market Research at the University of Canberra, says the primary reason for the shift to demand for higher-level skills is that the structure of the economy has fundamentally changed since the 80s:

      We now have very much a service-based economy. Manufacturing and agriculture and demand for manual labour has waned, while demand for service-based skills, such as interpersonal skills, creativity and teamwork, has increased dramatically  

    And Frank Furedi, a professor of sociology at Britain's University of Kent , is quoted as saying:

      I don't think we are overeducated, we just force kids to spend far too much of their life in organisations that masquerade as education institutions  

    Read the full article "More time in class does not a student make" here

    Challenge of focusing education reform

    A day later, John Hattie's article, talks about the fundamental challenge for Australian education - that although Australian ranks highly in the world student achievement tables, it has been slipping down over the last decade, and the major drop is among those students who are above average. In the article he argues for 'earned autonomy', with successful schools being given greater autonomy. He highlights that Australia has one of the lowest between-school variabilities in the world, but that overshadows the bigger issue of within-school variability, which is largely driven by the impact of teachers. And Australian teachers spend almost twice as long in front of students as many other Top 10 countries (1,100 hours compared to 600).

    He talks about the need to change assessment, to use it to help a student learn more, by knowing where they are and can go next, rather than at the end, to work out what they learnt (but not being able to use that for the next stage in the journey). He finishes with a clear call:

      It’s all about the teachers – and we have an excellent cohort in Australia. Let’s esteem them, resource them, and help them “know their impact” on every student in our schools.  

    Read the full article "Challenge of focusing education reform" here


    * The actual quote in the article, from Kostas Mavromaras at Flinder University, goes on to say "including the 100,000 people with degrees who work in sales". Which is astonishing presumption - that if you work in sales you are over-qualified if you have a degree. Bit of a shock for a bunch of colleagues sitting around me today!

  • Education

    Using SharePoint 2010 to create a Learning Gateway - case study


    One of the schools that I worked quite closely with in the UK was Twynham School, a high school on the south coast of England. The school staff were in regular demand as conference speakers, sharing their experiences of enhancing learning and their school community through the work that they had done with ICT - and as a result, they are widely known for their SharePoint work.

    Travelling 13,500 kilometres to learn from another school isn't possible for everybody, so it's great news that Mike Herrity, the Assistant Head Teacher, and Dave Coleman, the ICT Manager, have organised a webinar. Unfortunately it's at a very un-Australian-friendly time - 7pm UK time/4am Sydney time Sad smile

    Here are the details, if you'd like to attend in your PJ's (or if you're from the UK or US, where the timing works):


    Many of you will have heard bits of the story of Twynham School and our creation of a well-established learning platform using SharePoint. Through various case studies and presentations at conferences around the world over the last 5 years we have been very fortunate to be able to show our work creating compelling custom applications and engaging students and teachers to gain high user adoption. We have had quite a break from presenting and writing up our work for nearly a year and so we thought it might be useful to put a free webinar on to show you some of the new and exciting things we have done with our learning platform, SharePoint 2010.

    What’s new with Twynham School SharePoint 2010-11

    In this webinar we will take you through our initial work creating a highly developed Learning Gateway from 2007-10. In the second half of the session we will break out into new code the team has written which has not been shown to anyone yet. This includes:

    • A whole new ‘My Site’ development with custom skins which allow the user to create a themed environment.
    • A fully searchable SharePoint Knowledge Base for end users, admins and developers to support them working with SharePoint 2010.
    • A CPD (Continuous Professional Development) system which removes the paper chase from work requests.
    • SharePoint Rewards system which enables teachers to instantly award points to students who can see their scores in real time.

    Mike Herrity and Dave Coleman will be presenting this webinar live on Wednesday 6th July at 7pm BST/2pm EDT/4am Sydney time!

    Register to attend here

    Want this at a sensible time for Australia? Email Mike directly and let him know. Or send him a tweet. I'm sure if enough of us ask, then they'll do it…and in the meantime, take a look at Mike's SharePoint in Education blog

  • Education

    Get your developers ready - Office 365 is coming


    As the 'March of the Cloud' continues, it changes lots of things:

    • It changes the jobs that IT people do in schools, TAFEs and Universities, because most of the basic IT infrastructure just sits there in a cloud data centre, and you switch it on;
    • It changes the costs of introducing new IT services, because the usual barrier, a big up-front capital cost for servers, goes away and is replaced by a pay-for-use subscription;
    • It changes where your storage is, and how much bandwidth is needed - because your data is stored out in the cloud;
    • And it changes your development practices.

    Over the last few years, as education has adopted Live@edu, and education email has moved to the cloud, these changes have been visible. But it's been on a small part of the network infrastructure. Over the next 2-3 years that impact is going to grow, as services like Office 365 come in and supplement or even replace some of the other parts of your IT infrastructure (when it's fully here, Office 365 will deliver Exchange, SharePoint and Lync as a service in the Cloud).

    One of the first groups of people to need to know how to manage this change are your developers - because as they develop applications for your users, they'll need to know how to develop these applications for a Cloud service. The good news is that Cloud services aren't all closed - you can develop applications which work to supplement these core Cloud services - whilst there's a different methodology to development, it still uses the same tools that developers use today - like Visual Studio and Silverlight.

    So if you're a developer, or you've got developers in your organisation, there's a set of training resources that are really useful:

    Office 365 Developer Training Course

    The Office 365 Training Course contains developer focused presentations, self-paced labs and links to key resources to help you build solutions that use SharePoint Online, Exchange Online and Lync Online. In Office 365, SharePoint 2010, Exchange 2010 and Lync Server 2010 are hosted in Microsoft cloud datacentres, so using this course, you’ll learn how to build collaborative and communication focused cloud solutions that run in Office 365 using Visual Studio 2010 and the .NET Framework.

    The course is available as a complete offline download, and the modules include:

    Developing in the Cloud with Office 365
    which gives you an overview of the tools

    Developing for SharePoint Online with Sandbox Solutions
    which will enable you to develop and test, without affecting your live environment

    Building Workflow Solutions for SharePoint Online
    for things like 'allow students to submit assignments, and send them to the right teacher'

    Developing SharePoint Online Solutions with the Client Object Model
    which gives you the chance to build scenarios like 'this student didn't turn up for the lecture, so send them a customised email'

    Leveraging Excel and Access Services in SharePoint Online
    to allow you to link back-end databases to your front-end systems, for example for student learning reports

    Developing Communication Solutions for Lync Online
    for doing things like 'click to chat with a homework helper' to be built into your learning management system

    Developing Messaging Solutions for Exchange Online
    to allow you to create links, eg link to a teacher's calendar so that you can show when their next free period is

    Learn MoreFind out more about the free Office 365 Developer Training Course materials

  • Education

    Education content at Microsoft World Partner Conference in LA


    WPC Logo

    If you are going to the Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference in Los Angeles next month, then there's the chance to join the worldwide Microsoft Education team for some of the conference sessions. With the team promising that you can "learn why education is one of the fastest growing industry segments at Microsoft", you'll also get clear updates on our products and solutions, and hear from other partners.

    Education Sessions during WPC

    There are two specific education sessions during the main WPC agenda:

    • July 12 - BP06i - Office in Education: The Evolution of Live@edu and Office 365 for Education
      Come to this session for an interactive discussion around the Microsoft Office Cloud offerings for education. We will present an overview of Live@edu, the future of Office 365 for education and discuss the major opportunities this presents for partners worldwide.
    • July 13 - 4:15 pm - PS04 - Growing your Business in the Education Industry - Strategies for Success!
      Anthony Salcito, WW VP Education, will outline Microsoft’s overall strategy with the theme of "Partners and Microsoft –Education Inspired." Salcito will address how and where things are evolving for partners within our ecosystem. We are focusing on simplifying our approach, helping partners make money, competing to win and growing our joint market share by driving partner-led solutions.

    You can find out more about WPC, and register, here

    Global Education Partner Summit at WPC

    On Friday 15th July, directly after WPC, there is an additional event, the Global Education Partner Summit (GEPS) @ WPC, which is specifically reserved for education partners. This will in the morning, at the Omni Hotel in downtown LA.

      Time Title Speakers
      9:00 - 9:45 Opening and introduction Larry Nelson & Anthony Salcito
      9:45 - 10:30 Trends in Education: What you Need to Know to Grow Your Business Profitably in Education Industry Bruce Dixon, Fellow, Education Impact
      10:30 - 11:00 Break & networking  
      11:00 - 12:00 Business Modeling for the Cloud Dr. Petri Salonen, CEO TELLUS International, Inc
      12:00 - 1:15 Roundtable discussions; 2 rotations, 40 minutes each:  
        Transitioning your Business Solutions to the Cloud Bradley Tipp, WW Director Education Cloud Computing
        Building Education Scenarios Across the PC, Phone & Browser John Rivera-Dirks, WW Client Strategy Manager
        Helping Education Customers Manage "the Business of Schools", Applying CRM & SQL Server to Build Learning Analytics Solutions Mike Lloyd, WW Education Industry Solutions Specialist
        Supporting Partners entering the Education Industry Alessandro Giacobbe, Sr. Director WW Education Partners, MSFT Office Division
      Mike Chase, Education Transaction/AER Partners
        Building a Services Business in Education with the Education Services Portfolio Larry Nelson, WW Managing Director, Education Partners
        Leveraging the transformation to digital content David Langridge, WW Sr. Director Partner Development
        Leverage Windows Multipoint Server (WMS) to Increase Access for Students Pankaj Srivastava, Principal Program Manager, WMS
      1:15 - 1:30 Concluding remarks Anthony Salcito

    Learn MoreFind out more about, and register for, the Global Education Partner Summit (GEPS) @ WPC

  • Education

    Google Apps to support modern browsers - only


    Not sure what to make of this news this morning, and definitely not sure what comment to add on this. So I'll go for the completely factual presentation of something I've just read on the Google Enterprise Blog. I know this is relevant to education customers and partners, because when we talk about our Live@edu email service (which is a Gmail competitor) we are always asked about our browser support, and to confirm that we support the main browsers being used by education establishments today, and students at home. And in many cases, we know that includes older versions of Internet Explorer and other browsers.

    Here's the relevant paragraphs from Google's blog:


    …soon Google Apps will only support modern browsers. Beginning August 1st, we’ll support the current and prior major release of Chrome, Firefox, Internet Explorer and Safari on a rolling basis. Each time a new version is released, we’ll begin supporting the update and stop supporting the third-oldest version.

    As of August 1st, we will discontinue support for the following browsers and their predecessors: Firefox 3.5, Internet Explorer 7, and Safari 3. In these older browsers you may have trouble using certain features in Gmail, Google Calendar, Google Talk, Google Docs and Google Sites, and eventually these apps may stop working entirely.


    (For comparison, here's our list of supported browsers for Live@edu - IE7, Firefox 3.0.1, Chrome and Safari 3.1)

  • Education

    Integrating a Learning Management System with student email


    itslearning is a Norwegian learning management system (LMS) provider, and their solution is used by millions of students and teachers across schools, colleges and universities around the world.

    The LMS market has seen rapid development and innovation over the last few years, as technology has changed alongside users' expectations and experiences. Where once monolithic systems were the default - with users expected to do everything in one complete system - the boundaries between the Learning Management System and other ICT systems in education have been rapidly moving. It created a tension between the closed messaging systems being created in Learning Management Systems, and the email systems that students were using for their rest of their work. Everybody knew that email/messaging had to be available in an LMS - but the early model of writing a closed email system as part of the LMS wasn't sustainable - because it was becoming increasingly expensive to manage and keep pace with systems students were using outside of this.

    itslearning's answer was to offer a full email solution, as part of their learning management system, by using the Live@edu integration. It meant that they could stop developing the internal mail system, and integrate to the standard Microsoft cloud-based mail system already used by many of their customers. This took away the need for itslearning to develop separate filtering and control systems.

    Now, when their users login to the itslearning system, they get Single Sign-Onimage to their cloud-based mailbox, and things like email notifications appear within the LMS. And all of the other features of Live@edu are still there - like a 10GB email inbox in the cloud. It makes life easier for teachers and students (and, in some implementations, parents) as they have one single system to use and login, and the system handles the invisible connections.

    As well as saving itslearning's customers' money, it also meant that they no longer had to deal with yet-another messaging and collaboration system. And for itslearning, it meant less development was needed to deliver more customer benefits. As their CEO Arne Bergby put it:

      Why reinvent the wheel? We got a highly-used, familiar mail service without having to invent the UI or code the functionality ourselves. Even more, the integration was easy and we spent very little time working on the actual integration steps.  

    Learn MoreRead the itslearning case study on the Microsoft global website

  • Education

    Where's the server with your student data on? Is it encrypted?


    SQL logoSomebody asked me yesterday what the differences are between the various versions of Microsoft SQL Server. Given that we have 7 different editions - in addition to the core editions, there are two free versions and three specialised editions - it's a reasonable question. The question made me think hard about the kind of data that's being put onto these servers.

    Probably most education establishments will have a range of different SQL servers running, each running your student management system, email system, SharePoint system and a pile of others. And they may be running on different flavours of SQL - for example, a lot of primary schools will be running their student management system on SQL Express, one of the free editions, because they have small databases.

    There's a handy table from the SQL Server team, that summarises very quickly the key differences, in terms of database support (eg the Express edition will support a maximum database size of 10GB), but it's in the features that the real differences come out - and help you to work out which version is right for you.

    So, in an education context, here's my simple guide to choosing the right version:


    edition suitable?

    edition suitable?

    edition suitable?

    Do you need a basic database system?




    Is the database big (>8GB) or going to keep growing with complex info (for example adding images, scanned paperwork?)




    Does it contain sensitive data (for example, any student medical data)?
    ie you need data encryption




    Do you need to be able to track all changes of data, and all access by users?
    ie you need an audit trail for compliance




    Find out the differences




    In a nutshell, for the majority of education users, the Enterprise Edition is the right one to choose, because most school databases contain some sensitive student data (medical, behavioural), and that data is then at risk from unauthorised access or theft. Unless your server is very securely locked away, then you've got a data security risk. And if you don't have an audit trail of who's accessing what data, you've also got a data security risk that you can't even quantify. (Enterprise Edition also offers live mirrored backups, for more data resilience).

    I have seen plenty of primary schools where the server for the Student Information System is in the school office, under a desk - right by the front door. And I've walked past plenty of them as I've headed towards a meeting with staff. With so much sensitive data now stored by default on these servers, they definitely need better physical security, as well as better protection for the data which is being stored.

    With so much focus on data security, and privacy, it's right to think about how valuable your data is. With data storage growing massively, as more and more data is retained, the situation might well have changed since you last looked.

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