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

  • 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.

  • Education

    The mindset of a university CIO

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    If you're working with University IT teams, you're going to eventually be talking with (or wanting to talk with) the CIO. After all, there's a common belief that they are involved in all the key decisions. But if you've not worked with many before, how do you approach the conversation? What is it that they will want to hear about?

    Sadly, I can't answer that directly for you - because each CIO is different - but I can point you towards a fantastic CIO interview of Mick Houlahan, who's the retiring CIO of the University of Western Sydney. He talks about his last 20 years, and some of the challenges and successes from that time. There's a few interesting numbers - like the fact that although student numbers have nearly doubled, the IT staff have remained the same. And the number of applications they support has quadrupled from 35 to 140.

    Learn MoreRead the full Mick Houlahan article

  • Education

    Implementing Lync for voice at Marquette University

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    Marquette University in Milwaukee has 11,000 students and 1,00 faculty and staff. As an independent university, they've got to make their budgets add up, so when they started to build three new campus buildings, they looked at the cost of the core services they provide - including their phone systems. What they did was replace their existing PBX phone system with a unified communications system - chopping their annual telecom costs in half, saving $120,000 a year.

    I only know about this because of the story on the CIO Australia website, written by Shane O'Neill. There's detailed background about the decisions they took (and the alternatives they explored) to get them to where they are today - 1,000 staff using Lync as a replacement for their telephones, and adding audio & video conferencing, as well as instant messaging.

    The full article is definitely worth a read, as one of the key elements is the key learnings that they made whilst doing the switch:

    • Get users ready for a cultural change: Not every user will react in the same way - some will embrace the change, others will just want a phone on the desk. So videoconferencing use varies from department to department.
    • Offer training, and then follow up: Marquette trained before they rolled out Lync, and then followed on later with more detailed training in the new facilities, like video calls.
    • Keep phones to help with transition: Although you could switch all of your users to software phones (with headsets plugged into their computers etc), there will be plenty of people that love picking up a handset .
      Marquette used the Polycom 600 series phones, and as Dan Smith put it "The newer Polycom VoIP phones look and act like regular phones, and it's important for people to still have a normal phone as a fallback when moving to a soft client like Lync."

      When Microsoft switched to using Lync instead of phones on our desks, for at least six months I used my handset device more than my laptop headset. But now I've done away with the phone handset, and just use a headset, as I find it better. But I wouldn't have believed that two years ago, when I was first getting used to VOIP phones

    Learn MoreRead the full story on the CIO website

  • Education

    Trends Shaping Education 2010 and the Australian data

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    I've just been browsing the OECD report, Trends Shaping Education 2010, which takes a look at the international evidence about education progress across the globe, and how patterns are changing. The reports are based on data from the OECD, the World Bank and the UN.

    The report covers:

    • the dynamics of globalisation

    • evolving social challenges

    • the changing world of work

    • transformation of childhood

    • ICT: the next generation

    The final chapter, on ICT, contains a bunch of interesting statistics with international comparisons. Some of the statistics for Australia reported in the research include:

    • In 2008, 75% of households in Australia had access to a computer at home, which had increased from just over 50% in 2000 - putting Australia ahead of France and Italy, but behind the Nordics, UK, Germany and Japan.
    • 94% of Australian 15-year old students reported frequent home computer use in 2006, compared to 73% reporting frequent computer use at school.
    • On school computer access, Australia was second highest in the work, and well above the global average of 55%
    • In 2006, there was 1 computer per 3 students, compared to an OECD average of one computer per 5 students. Australia was second in the world, just behind the UK, but ahead of every other country, including the US.

    The report goes on to say:

      What is known about numbers of computers in schools and their use suggests that ICTs are not fundamentally transforming the environments or methods through which most young people learn. Research also shows that children learn ICT skills more through home use than school use, as well as spending more time using computers at home. There are continuing forms of the “digital divide” which are based not on access to technology but on the skills and capabilities to use it effectively.  

    You can actually download the data tables that the report was based on - and use that for your own analysis. For example, there appears to be no visible link between exam results (from the 2009 PISA Results) and Frequent Computer Use at School and Frequent Computer Use at Home. I think that's a statement about examinations and what we're testing (but I won't repeat it here - you can see what I think from my earlier blog post).

  • Education

    Calumo user group - an insight into Business Intelligence

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    Last Thursday evening I spent the evening at Calumo's offices in North Sydney, at their Club Calumo user group meeting. After a period of relaxed conversation over pizza and drinks, we got down to the serious side of the evening - hearing some of the users talking about how they are using the Calumo systems to get a better insight into the finances of their organisations. In the case of last week, it was two not-for-profit organisations - the National Trust and the University of New South Wales (UNSW).

    UNSW

    The UNSW team called their presentation "Dollars and Sense", and was all about the way that they used the business intelligence system to manage the finances across a distributed university finance system - where in some universities the faculties hold more power than the central teams. What they have done is to create a nimble way of users being able to get hold of data, manipulate it, perform what-if experiments - and all from the comfort of Excel. For them, it was about giving users a way to see their data from the tools they were already using, rather than forcing them to learn a new system.

    The UNSW team also shared some quick stats of their business - with a revenue of over $1bn, 40,000 students and over 5,000 staff, it makes them a very significant business in Sydney.

    On one of the pieces of paper handed out, Gary McLennan the CFO at UNSW, is quoted as saying:

      Our team, with Calumo's expert guidance, is delivering a platform that enables us to maximise the financial resources available to support our teaching and research priorities more effectively and at speed. The time frame from commencement to yielding real business value has been astonishingly short. Our environment is very demanding and complex; the flexibility and performance of Calumo has been excellent.  

    And an example given on the day by Alister Cairns, who's the MIS Systems Manager at UNSW, showed exactly what that meant - now they can produce a completely new report in a few days when it previously took 3-6 months to get a new financial report specified, created and running. I get the impression that we're changing into a new way of doing things, when it is quicker to build systems, than it used to be to even just write the specification for it.

    I've now heard a few different universities talking about how they've started to use business intelligence systems to give them a better view of what's going on. And the recurring theme is that they've had to resort to mild guerrilla tactics - to start by building a system outside of their normal systems and processes - because the existing monolithic systems have proved to be difficult to work with. It almost appears as if users and departments are trying to fly under the radar of the IT team, in case they get stopped.

    As we need more and more data sources glued together, in order to manage complex, fast moving scenarios (like student load planning) then the tension - between existing monolithic data systems, and users who need to analyse data - is going to increase.

    National Trust

    William Holmes À Court, the CEO of the National Trust talked about "Doing More With Less", and especially about how they have built their whole system to be used by volunteers around the state, which means using the tools they were already familiar with, like email and Excel, rather than creating a completely new system. He told lots of entertaining stories, but the one statistic that stuck in my head was that weeds cost Australia $6 billion a year. That stuck in my head, because I realised if you can stick a cost on weeds, then you should be able to put a cost on anything!

  • Education

    This lorry is invisible

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    image

    It doesn't look invisible. And the noise it makes as it comes down the school driveway every week isn't invisible. But it might as well be invisible - your mind tunes out things you see every day. Which means that school managers have got used to the paper delivery lorry turning up every week, and the tens of thousands of sheets of paper being delivered weekly for the school copiers and printers.

    imageIn the UK I did some research that showed an average high school was using over one million sheets of paper a year - with some up to two million. And since arriving in Australia, I have been deluged with so many sheets of paper from my children's school, that I reckon the numbers are going to be even higher here.

    For context, one million sheets of paper is almost twice the height of the Sydney Opera House - which you really would notice if it all came down the school driveway on one day!

    Obviously, using that volume of paper is a huge expense - and in many cases, schools are spending as much on paper, copying and printer toner as they are on their main ICT budget. So if there's a way of reducing paper usage, it would deliver a real cash saving as well as an environmental benefit. As an added thought, even just shifting the mix of where things are printed can save money, as printing on classroom inkjets or laser printers can cost up to 6x more than printing on large, shared, multi-function devices around the school. In my research I also came across a school that had as many printers as they had staff - with some staff having more than one each!

    There are plenty of things that can be done to save money on this:

    • Assigning course materials online, for students to access in school or at home
    • Change parental forms to an online-first option, reducing both paper and admin costs
    • Remove internal forms completely, and move them onto your intranet/SharePoint

    There are plenty of things that you can do - but first you have to build the momentum for change. Which means that you've got to make sure the lorry isn't invisible any more. And how do you do that? The easiest way is to find out how much paper you are using at your school (half an hour with the admin team and a quick scan of the last few invoices from your stationery provider), and then you've got a story to share with your principal about the invisible lorry.

  • Education

    Danish schools use the web in exams

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    Last week I wrote about the call for more examinations to use IT - to more closely follow the style of learning and working today. At the back of my mind was the fact that in some Scandinavian countries this has been happening - and I've finally found the info.

    In Denmark, in 2009, the government started a pilot where they were delivering examinations online, and students had full access to the internet during them. Although they were forbidden from messaging or emailing each other or people outside of the room, they were allowed to use the internet to hunt down relevant information. You can read the full story on the BBC News website.

    Going back to the example of my daughter from the last post, this would be fascinating. If she had full access to the web in an exam, would she be able to focus on the task in hand, or would she be distracted off to other places and end up lost in Facebook? I think that would actually be a pretty good test for her future employers - because if she can't stay on task in an exam, what are the odds that she's going to be able to stay on task in the office. Quite a nice test of employability skills!

  • Education

    Marist College case study - moving to SharePoint for administration

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    CIO Australia featured a case study on Marist College in Canberra, which has completed their move over to SharePoint as a basis for their future development of their administration and teaching and learning systems. One of the difficulties I have always had when describing SharePoint is that it can do so much, it is almost impossible to put it in a brief paragraph. Ultimately, it's a platform upon which you can build other things - process flow, document management, social networking - which means that the same basic functions can be used for many different things. Think about document management and process handling - in a school, that's as relevant for enrolments, homework assignments or meeting minutes.

    So it is good to read about a College where they see that platform potential, and have a plan in place to extend the strategic use of SharePoint over time. Their first move was to use it as a way of bringing together isolated pockets of information. According to Michael Plenty, the ICT manager at Marist College who's quoted in the article:

      Being a school we started to look for learning management systems as a first port of call, but a couple of us had some knowledge of SharePoint...and we realised a lot of [what we wanted to do] would be covered off by SharePoint.  

    Learn MoreYou can read the full article on the CIO Australia website

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