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

  • 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

  • Education

    Something for the weekend - free eBooks from Microsoft Press

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    A colleague shared with me a list of other free ebooks from Microsoft Press, that you may find useful too. Many of them are quite technical, so they won't be for everybody. I bet there are some colleagues around you that would appreciate this list:

    imagePersonally, I haven't read them all - but I have read the Understanding Microsoft Virtualization Solutions book - mainly to make sure that I can keep up with some of my more technical colleagues and customers, and to understand what the true potential can be in different scenarios.

    Learn MoreFind all the other 'Free Download' posts on this Education blog

  • Education

    What are your hidden data centre costs?

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    Late last year, Microsoft in the US published "The Economics of the Cloud", which I've only just got around to reading. If you are running a data centre in education - either at university or state level - then this is a good read to understand where your costs are adding up, and where you could be making savings. The document has some data points which were surprises for me (I love data points, so this report made my day):

    • For low-efficiency data centres, spending on power and cooling already outstrips spend on server hardware over three years
    • Electricity cost is fast becoming the largest element of Total Cost of Ownership (and with another 25% price hike in electricity in Australia, I guess we'll be there first…)
    • Conventionally, the server:people ratio is 140:1 - one system administrator can service approximately 140 servers. In Cloud data centres it's  000's:1
    • Average daily data centre usage is typically 50% of the daily peak usage
    • The Tax industry has peak usage 10x greater than average usage, compared to 2x for the News industry
    • Storage has fallen from $120/GB in 2006, to under $20/GB today and is predicted to hit under $5/GB by 2014

    With so many Cloud projects happening in education in Australia, I wonder if anybody is yet collecting the statistics for what's being saved - in power, space or dollar terms?

    Learn MoreDownload your copy of The Economics of the Cloud

  • Education

    University of Canberra saves money and improves service delivery with virtualisation

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    There's a new case study out this week on the University of Canberra's use of virtualisation in their data centre. There's plenty of detail in the case study of what they did (and which products they used, basing it on the Hyper-V virtualisation system built into Windows Server 2008 R2). Rather than dive into that detail, I think the key thing to look at is the way that they have built a much more flexible IT infrastructure for the university, which along the way has virtualised 60% of their servers, including their Red Hat Linux ones. According to Tom Townsend, the IT Data Centre Manager at the University:

     

    We now have a flexible, responsive IT environment, which positions us to grow and change in line with the demands of today’s dynamic university environment. This makes us more agile. We can implement the technologies we want as soon as they become available. From a business perspective, being able to trial and commission new services quickly gives us a real advantage.

    We’re managing a much larger number of servers with fewer staff.

     

    They've also reduced the power and cooling running costs of their data centre by 20% - a significant contribution when electricity rates are continuing to go up.

    Learn MoreRead the full University of Canberra virtualisation case study

  • Education

    Learning Analytics at John Paul College in Brisbane

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    Last week I mentioned that The Horizon Report predicted that Learning Analytics was on the five year horizon for Higher Education. Whilst that timescale might be true for mass adoption (and some of the people management changes that will need to go with it), there are already pioneers using today's business intelligence technologies to help them to build Learning Analytics systems.

    John Paul College, a high school in Brisbane, is one of those - they've created a system (in partnership with their Microsoft partner Wardy IT) which allows them to forecast learning outcomes and behavioural outcomes, giving them the chance to apply early intervention with things like tailored teaching for students. Scott Carpenter at the College summarised where they were originally:

     

    We wanted to bring together the many dimensions of a student’s learning experience – measuring internal and external academic elements; tracking pastoral care and behavioural issues; and monitoring the other influences that may manifest themselves as behavioural change in and out of the classroom.

    We had made some progress towards delivering many of these components, but we discovered that the individual parts were creating a drain on resources. This generated operational versus strategic solution delivery decisions, and in many instances the operational side won. We needed a way to make better use of our information.

     

    Like most large schools, John Paul College had a number of heterogeneous systems from previous IT decisions. These systems created duplicated processes, inconsistent data and multiple views of the school’s information.

    What they have now is a master data repository that contains information about students, their results, behavioural traits, learning styles and many other individual attributes. And the intelligence in it allows them to cut through the data and provide insights and reports about future student performance, which teachers can access through Excel.

    The analysis capability allows JPC to query its information or make self-directed inquiries to extract more meaning from the data it holds. After four years of analysing the data flowing through the organisation and capturing that of value, JPC now has an affordable and integrated system that allows teachers and administrators to easily interpret relevant information, and make it accessible when decisions need to be made.

    Scott Carpenter says anyone can make decisions based on gut feel. But when such decisions can be supported by facts, teachers and educators can be more confident about their decisions.

     

    A teacher knows which students are performing poorly and which ones are doing well. We can pull together many dimensions to provide a fuller and more accurate picture of a student. That picture is part of a bigger puzzle. How a student behaves in class may reflect how they respond to a particular teacher’s style.

    We can recognise these behavioural patterns and identify the triggers for better learning. For example, some students don’t respond well to direct teacher pressure. Others are auditory learners. Getting this right for each student can have huge positive impacts on their performance over time.

    We have been entering this type of information into our systems for five years and we needed to bring it all together to create the full picture. This also helps teachers when they come into a new environment. They have some idea of what they are facing.

     

    One of the key assets that JPC had, like many other schools, is a database of observations, performance data, assessment results, behavioural logs etc. The key for them was their ability to link that all together, and draw conclusions and make active interventions using it.

    Learn MoreRead the full case study of the JPC Learning Analytics system

    You can also read more background in this IT Wire article

  • Education

    Windows MultiPoint Server 2011 Review version

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    Windows MultiPoint Server has been for a couple of years, and it's a very clever bit of technology.

    In a nutshell, Windows MultiPoint Server allows you to plug multiple screens into a single machine and gives each user their own virtual Windows 7 computer, with a full PC experience with multimedia, audio, USB ports etc - saving on hardware costs and power consumption. The technical phrase is 'Shared Resource Computing', but basically it means that as you come to replace computers in IT suites and your library, you may be able to save money.

    There's a dedicated Windows MultiPoint Server website, and you can find out what customers think about it on the Windows SBS blog, as they have a bunch of short videos, with customers sharing their experiences. It's particularly useful for schools, especially in IT suites and open access areas like libraries - you can have a little cluster of users, with just one computer serving each group.

    If you want to evaluate it, and review MultiPoint Server 2011 for your own situation, then you'll be interested to know that there is now a free evaluation download available, which gives you the complete installation, and can be set up on a spare machine.

    If you're a Microsoft education partner, then this is a key product to consider for your infrastructure strategy, as it allows you to reduce cost of an infrastructure refresh whilst delivering the full user experience.

    Learn MoreDownload the 180-day evaluation version of MultiPoint Server 2011

  • Education

    Kinect sets the Guinness World Record for fastest selling consumer-electronic device

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    imageI read this morning that Kinect, for the Xbox 360, is now officially the Fastest-Selling Consumer Electronics Device, according to the  Guinness World Records team. 8 million Kinects were sold in the first two months - an average of 130,000 a day. If new consumer technologies are going to habitually be adopted that fast, then we're going to need a different scale on diagrams that show how technology makes its way into homes, like the one below:

    Although Kinect has been developed and released as a gaming technology, it has potential in other areas, and there are already 3 pages of videos on YouTube of Kinect hacks - where people have hooked it up to PCs and are using it to invent completely new ways of interfacing to computers. 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.

    And if you fancy being one of those to make it happen, then you might want to keep an eye out for the Kinect Software Development Kit - which will be free for use within education.

  • Education

    ICT sophistication leads to business innovation - Australian Bureau of Statistics

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    A report, Business Innovation and the Use of Information and Communications Technology, published last week by the Australian Bureau of Statistics reports a direct link between the sophistication of ICT use in a business and the way that business innovates in improving its products and services.

    There's a good summary of the report on the CIO website, but basically what the report says is that businesses that adopt technology earlier are more likely to be innovative in how they run their business. The research was originally carried out in 2005/6, and has just been updated.

    From an education perspective, I wondered two things:

    What is the ICT Intensity Index for Education?

    Is there an educational equivalent of the four measures that they use to create the "ICT Intensity Index", which is the core metric in the report that they use to measure ICT innovation?

    Business ICT Intensity Index Education ICT Intensity Index
    Has a broadband connection Has high capacity
    broadband connection
    Has a web presence Has website that delivers
    learning resources at home
    Receives orders via the Internet Students submit homework
    assignments online
    Is using IT to a 'high' extent in at least 5 business activities Is using IT to a 'high' extent across both teaching, administration and communications

    Is there a relationship between ICT Intensity and Innovation in Education?

    Is the relationship that they see in the research in business, that same for education establishments? Are schools, colleges and universities that innovate early in technology more likely to innovate in their delivery of their products and services (ie teaching and learning)? And, if so, does that show up in today's measures of success (exam results, attendance, behaviour)?

  • Education

    One in six schools block Wikipedia - the real reason

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    Two weeks ago, when I wrote the "One in six schools block Wikipedia" blog post, I was obviously not thinking outside the box. I was thinking that it was a bad thing, and that it denied students access to valid and valuable information. But then somebody added a comment on the post that turned my thoughts upside down:

      On the flip side you could say that banning Wikipedia in schools is the best publicity that it could get... What better way to get kids to want to go home and illicitly read an encyclopedia, learning secretly hoping they don't get caught! I think you can put blocking Wikipedia up there with banning rock & roll and abstinence-only sex education as effective strategies, they only cause the opposite to occur.  

    So perhaps that's what's really going on - that by making learning seem somehow illicit, it makes it more attractive?

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