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

  • Education

    The Microsoft Australia DPE team launch Noise To Signal

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    DO NOT PRESS buttonOne of our teams in Australia is called Developer and Platform Evangelism (or DPE in Microsoft-Acronym-Speak). They work with developers, technical students and software makers, and spend their time getting geeky. They're also the team that wear the coolest T-shirts (or so they think), and like DPE teams all over the world, like to find different ways to express themselves. In fact, I'm sure they get a kick out of being as un-corporate as possible.

    I tell you this as a warning, so that you're not surprised when you look at their 'Noise to Signal' website, which is about some of their areas of expertise - for example, the work they do with students, or the latest technology like Kinect Hacks, Surface 2 and IE9. The website is a massive, clickable, cartoon.

    My two favourite idiosyncratic bits of it:

    • The 'Do Not Press' button. Of course, I did. You can find out for yourself on their website what happens…
    • The legal stuff at the bottom. Wait for it to load, and see it for yourself…

    Learn MoreVisit NoiseToSignal

  • Education

    Need help using SharePoint in school?

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    SharePoint is pretty widely used in education, with schools, TAFEs and Universities all over Australia using it within their learning or administration processes. One of the things I've noticed is that it tends to be the IT team who get the 'Can I do this…' questions about SharePoint. And the answer is normally "Yes", whether the question is a learning one ('Can I setup a website where I can distribute homework assignments instead of printing them') or a administration one ('Can I setup a collaborative wiki for all the school policy papers, and a shared calendar for the update deadlines').

    And often the challenge is how to do it in the fastest and most user friendly way. So I thought these two Microsoft SharePoint Kits from Microsoft Press would be good to know about - whether you are an IT person in education, or even a developer working within one of our Australian Education Partners. You can pre-order them now, for when they're published.

    Microsoft SharePoint 2010 Administrator’s Kit

    Front coverWith this two-in-one kit, you get mission-critical information from SharePoint MVPs, featuring insights from the SharePoint community and members of the SharePoint Team at Microsoft. You'll discover how to plan, design, deploy, and manage strategic solutions using SharePoint 2010, Microsoft SQL Server, Windows PowerShell, and other key technologies.

    Topics include architecture, deployment scenarios, design considerations, security best practices, high availability, performance, centralised administration, disaster recovery, customisation, solution development, and upgrade and migration strategies. Key solutions include building and managing a server farm, automating tasks, FAST search application management, enterprise and web content management, and business intelligence.

    Book front coverMicrosoft SharePoint 2010 Step by Step Kit

    Experience learning made easy, and quickly teach yourself to use SharePoint 2010 with this two-in-one kit. Written by SharePoint experts and MVPs, you'll discover how to plan, create, design, deploy, and manage applications and workflows using SharePoint Designer 2010 and SharePoint Foundation 2010 -- one step at a time!

    Build exactly the skills you need by working at your own pace through easy-to-follow lessons and hands-on practice files.


    You’ll learn to:

    • Design solutions to meet your scenario - without code
    • Customise your pages with Web Parts - display, edit, and modify list item data
    • Access data from a variety of external sources
    • Create workflows to automate business processes
    • Use master pages and CSS to control how sites work
    • Build your own SharePoint site with easy-to-use templates
    • Add discussion boards, wikis, and blogs
    • Customise lists, libraries, and SharePoint site pages to store information
    • Set up Document and Meeting Workspaces for easy collaboration
    • Share calendars, contacts, and data from Microsoft Office programs

    Discounts on Microsoft Press ebooks

    I also discovered that O'Reilly run a weekly and daily promotions of Microsoft Press ebooks. Two weeks ago they took 50% off Inside Microsoft SharePoint 2010, and on 1st March they took half off the Microsoft Silverlight 4 Step by Step ebook. And as they point out prominently, the ebooks are DRM free and delivered to you in 5 different formats where possble. (And ebooks are a lot more convenient for Australia!). The easiest way to follow the offers is to subscribe to their eBooks Offers RSS feed, or look at this week's deal on Microsoft Press books at the top of this page

    Learn MoreLearn More about the full range of Microsoft Press books

  • Education

    Is the technology driving learning, or learning driving the technology?

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    You can tell that we're in a period of potential technology confusion. Over the weekend I read three articles which went in different directions.

    First I read "Australia: Day of the iPad arrives" in University World News, and saw that it was (yet another) article about the University of Adelaide handing out iPads to 700 of their first year science students.

    And then I read an article in The Chronicle of Higher Education which carried a story heading in the opposite direction, "iPads could hinder teaching, professors say", which starts with the views of Chatham University:

    "When Paul Steinhaus, chief information officer at Chatham University, met with his colleagues last summer to discus getting iPads for incoming students, they knew the move could raise the profile of the small institution in Pittsburgh. Across the country, institutions had grabbed headlines for adopting Apple's tablet computing device.

    But Mr. Steinhaus and other administrators soon realized that the iPad, with the slow finger-typing it requires, actually makes written course work more difficult, and that the devices wouldn't run all of the university's applications. 'I'd hate to charge students and have them only be able to use it for e-mail and Facebook,' says Mr. Steinhaus. Chatham charges a $700 annual technology fee, which now pays for standard laptops."

    Reading the pair of articles together made me wonder if we're moving into an academic world where a measure of success is about generating PR headlines?

    And there also appears to be some confusion in the press about the difference between different devices - for example, the Sydney Morning Herald ran a story, "Tablets emerge as new uni tool", which left me confused about the different kinds of tablets (in my world, a tablet has a pen). In the article, which starts with the 'iPad for students' stories, it then goes into a lot more detail about the way that Australian universities are using Tablet PCs to enhance teaching and learning. It includes this story from Monash University in Melbourne:

    "At Monash University, associate director of e-learning Nathan Bailey says the screen-sensitive tablet PCs are preferred to iPads by staff in their lectures. The university now has 1000 of them on loan to staff and, if they wish, to students.

    'For students to learn from other students and for the teacher to intervene if the students aren't learning effectively, you need devices that allow the lecturer and students to interact, to ask questions and respond to questions, to get a lot more discussion happening rather than the lecturer standing out the front talking,' Mr Bailey says."

    By the end of reading these, what I'd concluded was that there are some high profile stories of different device pilots going on (which also happened at the time of the first ebook readers), and that the story to read is the one that's written at the end of the pilots - once the technology has been in use - rather than the ones which announce what is going to happen. And perhaps the outcomes will be the ones that help reduce the confusion.

    NB: I'm a Tablet PC fan, and have been for the last decade. And I'm writing this on my Lenovo X61 Tablet

  • Education

    Office 2010 Accessibility Improvements

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    imageAmongst your user base you are very likely to have students and staff with hearing, sight, or reading disabilities. Although accessibility has taken huge leaps in the last few years, there's plenty of other work still going on.

    We have just announced the public beta for two add-ins that help make Office documents more accessible: STAMP and DAISY: 

    STAMP, the Subtitling Add-In for Microsoft PowerPoint, lets you add closed captions to the video and audio files in your PowerPoint presentations, so no one misses a word of what you have to say.

    Save as DAISY for Office 2010 helps you convert Word Open XML files to the Digital Accessible Information System (DAISY) format. DAISY powers digital talking books and compatible software and Braille readers for people with print disabilities or limited vision. This beta supports Office 2003, 2007 and 2010.

    Learn MoreRead more on the Microsoft Office blog

  • Education

    Protecting your users from hackers

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    Have you ever wondered why Office 2010 provides more active protection for documents than previous versions? And why it has started giving you warnings about files? Like this one, which I see on a regular basis:

    image

    Basically, it's about providing enhanced malware protection for students and staff. Experienced IT users can sometimes think that these kind of messages are annoying (after all, I know I've opened a file from an Internet site I trust), but your users - teaching staff and students - can sometimes take actions which potentially harm their computer. Only yesterday I read the story of Virginia Tech being compromised by a data-stealing virus, but they are just one example of the daily battle between you, your users, and the criminal organisations looking to get at your IT systems. (And when you have multiple users using the same computer, as you do in a computer lab or library, you can quickly compound the problem).

    Anyway, back to the message bar. Would you like to know more about why you see these messages, and what Office is doing in the background? It's helpful in understanding how and why it is giving malware protection for students.

    The Office Engineering team (the ones who design and build Word, Excel, PowerPoint etc) have just published a white paper called Keeping Enterprise Data Safe with Office 2010 , which explains the various security features (and hacker challenges they have to tackle, like 'fuzzing'), and it's a good background read to some of the security and data protection that's in place - and provides an insight that might help you to protect your data and users more effectively.

    Learn MoreDownload the 'Keeping Enterprise Data Safe with Office 2010' White Paper

  • Education

    Universities moving to Cloud services - more case studies

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    Hot on the heels of the recent Australian case studies of universities moving to Cloud services with Microsoft, there are some new international case studies available. I'll summarise them here, but for a better insight into what's going on, download the full case studies below.

    Brno University

    The Business School at Brno University of Technology, in the Czech Republic, is one of the universities moving to Cloud services, to enable 4,000 students to connect to their learning whilst they are away from campus. They're using the Microsoft BPOS (Business Productivity Online Services) system to connect e-learning to their students in employment, and in other countries including the UK and the US. What they've found is that it gives their students more opportunities for learning, at the same time as helping them deliver a more flexible service within their limited IT budget. And a significant result for them is that they are able to do this with no more staff resources - leaving them to focus on the quality of teaching and learning.
    Download the Brno University case study

    The Economics University

    The School of International Relations at the Economics University in Prague is another of the universities moving to Cloud services, as they have moved students studying IT management to the BPOS Cloud services. As Tomáš Kubálek's, the Associate Professor of Engineering, put it:

      Our task is to prepare students for real situations they will encounter in their future employment as managers, and, in many cases, members of international teams. Effective communication within a company is an essential element for its success, so we wanted to expose students to technologies that have widespread adoption - such as those offered by Microsoft.  

    By choosing to move to the Cloud, they have said that they speeded up their deployment, which in turns speeds up access to educational resources for their students. They've also reduced their cost of ownership, by not having to rely on the existing university infrastructure.
    Download the Economics University Case Study

    Find more case studies of universities moving to Cloud services

    Learn MoreFind more Education Cloud Case Studies on this blog

  • Education

    Kinect, augmented reality, and education

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    Last week I wrote about the world record that had been set by Microsoft Kinect, for the fastest selling consumer electronics product.

    In it, I said "Perhaps we're going to see ideas where technology supports teaching and learning in a more immersive way - and will make standing in front of an interactive whiteboard look very old fashioned."

    Well, how about this video, where a group of researchers and developers have integrated a number of different imagery sets into a system that allows students to explore the inner workings of the human body - with a very natural interface, and a display that gives an augmented reality experience.

    Now, how could you use this in the classroom?

  • Education

    MIS Magazine's Cloud Computing special

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    My Cloudy morning routineI have a few spare copies of the March edition of Australian MIS magazine, which is a Cloud computing special.

    You can see my morning routine perfectly in this picture - get into the office early, then set to on coffee, email and filling my brain with interesting reading before the day shift arrives at 9am.

    Alongside all of the articles about the opportunities of the shift to the Cloud, it also highlights (on the front cover) the challenges it creates, and calls it 'a shadow over the IT department'. What it means by that is the changing nature of IT jobs, as it goes on to say:

      Dark side of the cloud
    The global shift towards utility computing promises big capital savings for business and government. But will they come at the expense of jobs?
     

    And Julian Bajowski even goes on to list the kind of jobs under threat - Storage Managers, Exchange Deployment Specialists; Infrastructure Managers.

    Given that education appears to be moving to the cloud faster than many other business areas, maybe you should have a read!

    Learn MoreEmail me, and I'll stick one of my spare copies in the post to you *

    * Doesn't seem right to not have any small print. So let's make some up: I have a small pile of magazines, and I'm happy to put one in an envelope if you send me your address. But once they're gone, they're gone.

  • Education

    Looking at data in different ways helps create Learning Analytics

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    I was talking with a Microsoft partner this morning about how you turn education data into actionable information. It's not that we don't have the data - normally the challenge is turning data into a form that other people can appreciate it. Student management systems are a great example - they are chock-full of student data - but often it's trapped into dull reports and spreadsheets. How about unlocking it? I showed an example of a student data set visualised in Microsoft's Pivot Viewer, which is a way of seeing your data in a new way. It's ideal for student data, because what you are able to do is to see every single student in your data set, and what data is influencing their position and performance.

    The video below gives you a short example of what it is and what it does - and is a great way of sparking ideas for education use, and how it can help you to create a Learning Analytics system.

    Microsoft's Pivot Viewer - what could you do with student data?

    If you want an idea of how it might be useful in curriculum teaching, then take a look at the World Leaders pivot. One simple click allows you to demonstrate the difference between 'data' and 'information':


    World Leaders in Pivot View

    imageimage

    On the left - World Leaders
    That's Data.

    On the right - World Leaders sorted by Gender.
    Now that's Information!



    How do I use Pivot?

    If after seeing this, your question is 'How do I use Pivot', then there a group of weblinks below that you'll need - and either a friendly developer or the ear of your suppliers.

    Pivot Viewer is available as an online service, through a Silverlight interface, which means that it is much easier to create browseable data sets. It does mean that you’ll need somebody with a slight programming bent to turn out a custom data set.

    The Pivot overview website contains a couple of excellent videos that are great for sharing with colleagues, to help them to visualise what it can do – and to stimulate the conversation about how it could help present education data, such as student attainment.

    There are also a range of web pages which are designed to help technical people with developing Pivot Collections, and to link to pre-existing data sets and databases.

    Collection Design
    http://www.silverlight.net/learn/pivotviewer/collection-design/

    Collection Tools
    http://www.silverlight.net/learn/pivotviewer/collection-tools/
    This includes the Microsoft Excel add-in which is one way to create a collection

    And there are a bunch of technical discussion forums, linked off the PivotViewer home page

  • Education

    Easter school holidays in Australia 2011

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    A quick guide, if you are planning events or marketing activities with schools, on the Easter school holidays in Australia 2011 - state by state.

    State Easter Holiday 2011
    NSW 11th - 27th April
    VIC 11th - 27th April
    WA 19th April - 4th May
    QLD 15th - 27th April
    SA 15th April - 2nd May
    ACT 15th April - 2nd May

    If you're planning any activities with schools, then the blackout period is effectively from Friday 8th April until Thursday 5th May.

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