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

  • Education

    Five ways Microsoft OneNote can help students with dyslexia stay organised


    There was a time when students with special needs faced a choice (made for them by their school!) of either using a standard computer, and struggling, or spending large amounts on specific special needs software. These days, accessibility has been built into so many areas of standard software (eg all of the accessibility in Windows 7) that much, much better support is provided for students with special needs.

    imageOne of the unsung heroes of helping students with special needs is OneNote (part of Office 2010) which allows you to use so many different types of media, it readily provides ways for students to take notes, collate information, and store information, in audio, video, image and conventional note format. For example, for students with dyslexia, OneNote has many features that can help students take notes faster and in different ways, stay organised, and meet literacy challenges, such as spelling and grammar.

    Here are five ways that OneNote can help students with dyslexia take better notes:

    1. Take notes faster
    2. Record audio and video notes
    3. Use visual cues to help you organise and remember information
    4. Use outlines and templates
    5. Use the spellchecker, dictionaries, and thesaurus

    Learn MoreYou can see the full detail, and the specific notes on how to use these features, on the main Microsoft education site, along with a short video demonstration of the features.

  • Education

    One third of colleges considering changing their Learning Management System


    imageReading the Distance Education Survey 2010 (from the Instructional Technology Council) is fascinating. Although the report is only based American community colleges, I think there are lots of parallels to TAFEs here in Australia. First, before I dive into the information on colleges changing Learning Management Systems (LMS), some of key contexts:

    • Enrolment in online courses in the US community colleges, is growing faster than enrolment overall (9% v 7/8%)
    • Having run out of on-campus teaching capacity, 40% of colleges use off-campus instructors to teach online courses. Many of them don't live in the area of the college
    • 65% offer some classes as completely online courses
    • The proportion of colleges offering blended-learning courses increased by 50% last year, to 21%
    • 4% offer live interactive video courses

    All of which means that the mode of learning is changing (quite rapidly), and presumably colleges are becoming increasingly reliant on their Learning Management Systems to deliver online and blended courses. So LMS goes up the priority list for mission-critical IT for a college or university.

    One third of US colleges considering changing their LMS

    Which makes it odd that a third of colleges say that they are considering switching their LMS platform in the next few years - and that proportion has been roughly similar for all of the past five years. Because if it's mission critical, surely you wouldn't expect to see such massive change being considered so consistently?

    On Page 10 of the report, there's more detail about the key LMS systems being used by colleges in the US:

    Table 1, Page 10, LMS Usage

    • Blackboard - their combined products make up almost half the market, because Blackboard, WebCT & Angel are now all owned by Blackboard
    • Moodle - with a fairly static 10% of the market
    • Desire2Learn - with a growing 7%

    I think the change we're seeing in the chart is a reflection of the way that teaching style is evolving in tertiary education, and the changes in blended/online courses that are going to impact upon the way that learners learn and teachers teach - and the systems that are needed to support that.

    Why do you think that so many institutions would consistently say that they are considering changing their underlying learning management system?

  • Education

    The Top 10 Education blog posts


    I've been writing this Education Blog for the last four months - since February 2011 - and so I thought it would be a good point to look back over what's been said, and find out what's useful/popular.

    In total, there have been over 125,000 readers of the 112 education blog posts that I've written. And it's probably not a surprise to see that some are more popular than others! Just in case you missed some of the popular ones, here's the Top 10 by readership:

    Top 10 Education blog posts

    1. Something for the weekend - free eBooks from Microsoft Press
    2. Windows 7 SP1 Releases
    3. Business Intelligence for Universities
    4. Moving to the Cloud - the Microsoft experience
    5. One in six schools block Wikipedia
    6. How to deploy Windows 7 to 200,000 computers
    7. Ready-made IT user documentation
    8. Calumo user group - an insight into Business Intelligence
    9. The Lower Cost Cloud - Part Three (or should that be Part Free)
    10. Kinect, augmented reality, and education

    Why are these the top education blog posts?

    It's not always possible to know why some blog posts attract more attention than others - and if I did, I could write more of them more regularly! But here's some explanations for the Top 5:

    Number 1, on free Microsoft eBooks, went viral on Facebook, and attracted almost 3 times as many readers as the next in the list.

    Number 2, happened to be the top search result on MSDN when Windows 7 SP1 released.

    Number 3, on Business Intelligence for universities, is only 6 days old today, but hit the big time because it was featured on the LinkedIn IT News page.

    Number 4, Moving to the Cloud, got noticed on Twitter, and was unique in that it had a lot of audio interviews of Microsoft's IT team.

    Number 5, about Australian schools blocking Wikipedia, got noticed on Wikipedia's discussion pages and generated some debate.

    And looking at the most popular types of blog posts, it's the education case studies which come out on top - with about half of total readership (my inference from that - you like to hear stories about what other people are doing in the real world).

    I wanted to share this info with you, in case you too are interested in starting/growing an education ICT blog for Australia.

  • Education

    Learning Management Systems - Desire2Learn


    There's plenty of change happening with Learning Management Systems at the moment in Australia. Some universities are faced with migrating from WebCT, and others are working out their future strategy to support a much more dynamic learning environment than their current existing learning management system can support. A fortnight ago I wrote a series of blog posts about all of the integration points between Moodle and Microsoft technology, so now I'm going to turn my focus to alternatives to Moodle.

    Desire2Learn logo

    One of the alternatives to Moodle is Desire2Learn, a cloud-based learning suite with over 5 million users, across 500 institutions, including a growing band of Australian universities and schools. In Australia*, Deakin University have chosen Desire2Learn's Learning Suite to replace their existing Blackboard system.

    When they made the choice for Desire2Learn, part of the reason was the Deakin team felt they needed something that went well beyond simply replacing an existing Learning Management System (LMS), but created a genuine virtual learning environment, that would support their future growth. As Deakin's Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Academic), Professor Philip Clarke said at the time:

      At Deakin we place great emphasis on our flexible learning programs and with over 30% of our students studying from home, work, regional or remote areas, we needed a solution partner who can deliver a smooth and rapid transition, with little or no 'culture shock' for academic staff and students.  

    The Desire2Learn system comprises a series of 6 key platforms:

    • Desire2Learn Learning Environment - which enables you to develop and deliver content, manage collaboration and manage course workflow.This also provides capabilities for data import and export - one of the key benefits from a content point of view is that course materials can be transferred to and from other learning management systems (If you're using a different LMS, that's an important consideration, and one of the first questions you learn to ask any potential supplier - Can I bring my data with me? And if I want move away in the future, can I export my data?).

        • Desire2Learn Learning Repository - allowing you to store, search and share a library of learning resources, including course materials, assessments, quizzes and lesson plans. The search system can also be linked to other learning resources - for example your library system - to bring together all of the resources that you have available for your students and staff.

            • Desire2Learn ePortfolio - allowing students to create their own online portfolio, integrating features of social networking to create a more social learning experience, as well as track progress.

                • Desire2Learn Analytics - from simple every day reports on usage and experiences, and also allowing staff to create their own reports to uncover hidden information such as how students are performing in their courses, and highlighting learning opportunities.

                    • Desire2Learn Mobile - providing access to courses and learning resources through student's own smartphones, as well as managing news and information feeds.

                        • Desire2Learn Capture - a new solution, which allows you to automate the process of capturing lectures and tutorials on video, and make them available to students on their computer, phone or over the web.

                        Underneath the Desire2Learn system, the whole solution runs on the Microsoft SQL Server 2008, as a hosted service. In the middle of last year they announced integration with the Live@edu service, so that students can access their email inbox directly within the Desire2Learn portal. It will also integrate to SharePoint, so that students and staff can use the process and document management capabilities of SharePoint in your own institution, as well as to their Cloud services.

                        Learn MoreLearn more about Desire2Learn

                        * This list of Desire2Learn University customers shows the large number of international users already using the system - some with over 200,000 users

                      • Education

                        Moving to the Cloud saves four schools $20,000 in the first year


                        imageThere's no shortage of interesting case studies of schools, colleges and universities moving to the Cloud, to save money and improve the service to students and staff. The one I've just read, of Mendon-Upton Regional School District in Massachusetts (yep, I had to get the spelling checker going!), is interesting because they did the detailed work to identify the cost savings they made. Unlike the big Education departments in the states in Australia, this School District is pretty small - just 4 schools, including one high school. But even so they've saved $20,000 in the first year of switching, and forecast they will save another $10,000 every future year.

                        What they did was move their students and staff onto the Live@edu email service, so that they could provide better support for their users - for example, by giving staff access to email on their smartphones. They also encouraged greater collaboration with the use of Office Web Apps and SkyDrive - allowing teachers to easily transfer lesson plans and presentations between home and school, and also for sharing photo and videos with students and other staff.

                        Why did they move to the Cloud now? Well, cost pressures were huge, and as Joe Leacu, the Director of Technology, said:

                          With the savings enabled by our move to Live@edu, we are able to preserve other IT initiatives that had been considered for cancellation….  

                        Learn MoreRead the full Mendon-Upton Live@edu case study

                      • Education

                        How many Australian students have Internet at home?


                        Most digital learning resources, and learning management systems, are designed for students to be able to use them at home as well as at school. But does that mean that every student can access them? Well, that depends on their access to the Internet.

                        So, how many Australian students have access to the Internet at home?

                        Each year the Australian Bureau of Statistics undertakes a national survey of school students, called CensusAtSchool. The results, published in aggregate form, provide a useful insight into the lives of students, and of their use of technology.

                        19 out of 20 Australian school students have Internet access at home

                        In the 2010 survey, completed by 22,000 students, 94% of Australian school students reported that they had access to the Internet at home (up from 86% in 2006).

                        They also asked students what they did with their Internet connection:

                        What do Australian students use the Internet for?

                        % who do this sometimes

                        % who do this often

                        Social Networking



                        Research for school work



                        Emailing friends and family



                        Searching/Browsing for information



                        Uploading/Downloading (eg music, photos)



                        Playing games



                        Video sharing sites (eg YouTube)



                        Buying/Selling things (eg eBay)



                        You can see the full survey, along with breakdowns by State and Year Level, and historical data, on the ABS CensusAtSchool website.

                      • Education

                        Algonquin College moves 34,000 students to the Cloud in one weekend


                        imageWhen you've got 34,000 students on your mail servers, then it's inevitable that you're going to have to make tough decisions on the services you provide to them. Alqonquin College, in Canada, had to limit their student mailboxes to 60Mb of storage, and also limited where and when students could get access to their email. And these kinds of limits didn't sit well in an organisation that was striving to expand its horizons by recruiting more 'virtual' students, as well as those traditional students sitting on campus.

                        Those are just a couple of factors that played a part in their decision to move their student email to the Cloud with Live@edu. And as well as improving services for students, they also reduced costs. Robert Gillett, the President of Algonquin College, summed it up when he said:

                          We’ve basically found a way to offer superior service to our students while reducing our IT administration costs. That’s hard to beat for a university working within a tight budget.  

                        The college’s new service, internally called Live@AC, was deployed in August 2010. The transition of 34,000 existing student email accounts to the new system was completed over a single weekend. “It’s one of the smoothest transitions we’ve ever gone through on any internal or external server,” says Gillett. “It works, and it works well.”

                        It's worth reading the full story on our worldwide case studies website, as there are many parallels to Australian Universities and TAFE's, with distance learning courses, highly mobile students, and a mix of full-time and part-time students (Algonquin has 40,000 part-time students in addition to their 19,000 full-time ones).

                        Learn MoreRead the full Algonquin College Live@edu case study

                      • Education

                        Securing your sensitive education data automatically


                        This isn't an every day kind of blog article - it's something for data architects, or people who need to think about securing sensitive data - like student performance data or financial information - across a large education organisation.

                        There are huge amounts of data being collected in education. A lot of it isn't sensitive, but some of it should only be accessible to some people in the organisation. For example, if you are collecting medical information on students, or addresses of students in specific categories. Education has traditionally had a habit of protecting this information by limiting availability (often by only having it on paper!), but the growth of large collections of data, which can become more sensitive as the database size grows, means that you need to carefully think about the protection and access to the data.

                        Our own IT team at Microsoft have exactly the same problem, and use standard classifications to group and protect data that contains financial and personally identifiable information (PII). They've implemented a system that automates much of the work of classification and protection (for example, by automating classification they have reduce the error rate of misclassification from 30% to 3%). The benefits they describe are:

                        • Mitigating risks
                        • Reducing total cost of ownership
                        • Streamline, automated process
                        • More granular view of data
                        • Faster, more accurate tagging
                        • Improved security through persistent protection

                        I would bet that almost every significant education institution in Australia has got the same need. You can read the full Microsoft IT case study, about how it was implemented within Microsoft's internal systems, to understand what the team did, and the challenges they faced in doing it.

                      • Education

                        University of Bologna moves to Live@edu


                        University of Bologna logo

                        The University of Bologna, is the world's oldest university, operating continuously since 1088. One of Europe's largest universities with 85,000 students, it's also become synonymous with leading change in the Higher Education sector since the creation of the Bologna Process, which is overseeing the harmonisation of academic standards across Europe.

                        With such a long tradition and significant influence, it's good to be able to report that they have moved their student email system to Microsoft's Cloud-based Live@edu service. It gives their students access to a improved email service, as well as the additional collaboration features, such as the Office Web Apps - allowing students to work on a single document together, and avoiding the need to email versions between themselves.

                        As one student puts it, in the video case study:


                        I am able to study and work even when I'm outside university, wherever I am, thanks to new technologies which allow me to study and communicate with professors and friends anywhere


                        Learn MoreWatch the University of Bologna Live@edu case study video

                      • Education

                        Business Intelligence for Universities


                        imageCalumo, the people behind the Business Intelligence systems used by a range of universities and TAFEs, have just published more case study details for the users of their system, which allows universities to connect their finance data together, simplify presentation and access for their users, and move from lumbering islands of data to a fully connected view of financial planning right across an institution. This is particularly important for strategic decisions such as student load planning - making sure that the right number of students are recruited onto the right courses - and maximising the student profitability across the institution (which is, strangely, an extraordinarily complex challenge in most universities and TAFEs).

                        Calumo's case studies include:

                        • The University of New South Wales, saving half a million dollars and 85% of their time
                        • Macquarie University, saving $350,000 and two months, whilst also reducing their risk profile
                        • The University of Canberra, saving $300,000 whilst increasing their revenue by 6% through effective student load planning
                        • William Angliss Institute of TAFE, reducing time for reporting by 40% and increasing their revenue by focusing on key KPI's

                        The UNSW example has been so effective that the University has now included the BI system into their Business Intelligence and Decision Support course for 2011

                        Learn MoreRead more on the Calumo Education Case Studies page

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