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March, 2011 - Education - Site Home - MSDN Blogs
The Australian Education Blog
Ray Fleming's take on what's interesting in Education IT in Australia

March, 2011

  • Education

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


    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


    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


    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?

  • Education

    Student Load Planning and other Business Intelligence challenges


    I had a meeting with Calumo today, to talk about Business Intelligence (aka BI) and its use in education. Calumo know a lot about this, as they've been providing BI systems across industries, and within education, for the last 14 years. In Australia, their system is used by a number of high profile universities to help them manage their financial reporting (and by inference, their student load planning - which is where BI comes in).

    Of course, there's no shortage of systems that will produce reports - but where "reporting" turns into "Business Intelligence" is the point when it delivers real answers to real business problems. For me, as an example, being able to see the financial position of each of your faculty is "reporting" - but working out the optimal number of students for each course (aka Student Load Planning) is "Business Intelligence". And the demand for Business Intelligence is driven by real business problems, which are changing all the time.

    Why BI means Student Load Planning - and plenty of other things too

    Today, with the impending lifting of the student cap in higher education in 2012, student load planning is going to be an increasing priority - what's the optimum number of students to enrol on which courses? Do you go all out to recruit in every faculty, or are some areas much better to grow than others? Although this problem might seem to be unique to education, in many ways it's identical to problems faced in other industries - and there are probably ideas which can be borrowed from these industries for use in education.

    Gartner recently predicted that demand for Business Intelligence systems in Australia will grow by nearly 13%, and that the Australian BI market size here will be $370m in 2011. The reason quoted by Gartner was "end-user organisations largely continued their BI projects, hoping that resulting transparency and insight will enable them to cut costs and improve productivity and agility down the line". Well, that seems no different for education establishments here.

    If you want to learn more about BI in education, and you're in or near Calumo's offices in North Sydney at 5:30PM on Thursday 10th March, then the offer of free pizza from Calumo during their BI user group meeting (which is freely open to non-users too) might be a good one. They've got a case study from Alister Cairns  & Steven Gibbs, from the University of New South Wales, talking about how they've used their BI system for budgeting at a cross-faculty level. And there's also Will Holmes à Court, who's the Chief Executive Officer for the National Trust, talking about how they use BI in their not-for-profit area.  I'm sure there will be plenty of ideas that come from those three speakers.

    And if you're worried that the room will be full of techno-whizzes that have spent years working with BI systems, and you're going to feel out of place, then just join me down one end of the room, and we can learn the basics together!

    Learn MoreLearn More and/or Register


    Hopefully, I'll be able to capture some of Alister & Steven's story too, and share some it here after the meeting

  • Education

    Are you using Internet Explorer 6 anywhere in your establishment?


    imageAlthough Internet Explorer 6 (IE6) is now over 10 years ago, and has been superseded by IE 7, IE8 and now IE9, one in 10 computers around the world are still running IE6. And that's a bad thing for the rest of us. This is because instead of building amazingly cool websites, the web developers and designers keep having to make compromises for the small proportion of people using IE6 (3.2% in Australia today). Which means the rest of us get websites that are less visual, less graphical, and, well, just less cool.

    So there's now an IE6 countdown clock on the web, and another campaign to persuade people to upgrade from IE6, so that we can all move to the beautiful world of HTML 5.

    If you're running IE6 on any of your school, college or university computers, it's time to stop.

    You can find out the latest IE6 numbers on the IE6 Countdown website. And you can also download a short snippet of code for your website, which will display a message if somebody comes your way whilst they are running IE6. It looks like this (Don't panic, you'll only get this message normally if you are using IE6)


    This is also important because if you've got parents or students accessing your school or college website using IE6, then I reckon there's a very good chance they haven't updated their computer recently - with all of the trouble that implies for security etc

  • Education

    Is my data safe in the cloud?


    Windows Live Mesh"Is my data safe in the cloud?" is a question that I sometimes get asked by customers, and it's also something I think about myself with my own data. Actually, the question I ask myself is "Is my data safer in the cloud?" - which encourages me to think about where it is today, and how safe it is - relative to storing it in the Cloud.

    For the grammatical purists, I know that the word 'data' is plural, and that therefore the correct question should be 'Are my data safer in the cloud?', but that would be both pedantic, and really awkward.

    My most critical items of personal data are my wedding photos. There is no way on earth that I can get those back if they disappear. So I put them on my local storage. And I put them in the Cloud. By asking the 'safer' question, a few years ago I realised that my photos were on my home computer, with a RAID configured hard disk, and a local backup disk. BUT if my house burnt down my photos were gone - hence the need to put them in the Cloud.

    Since then, I've become a big fan of synchronisation - having my data locally and in the Cloud - using Windows Live Mesh. So now my critical data is on my home computer and my travelling laptop and in the Cloud. And Windows Live Mesh automatically synchronises every new bit of data for me - as soon as I put a new photo on my hard disk, it automatically synchronises it to the cloud storage on SkyDrive and my other computer syncs when it's next connected.

    So, Yes, my data is safer in the Cloud. A darn sight safer than when it was just on my home computer.

    Next time somebody asks you "Is my data safe in the cloud?", then perhaps you might ask them to consider the "safer" question.

    This blog post was stimulated by the news that over 5 million devices, belonging to 3 million users, are now syncing 2.2 petabytes of data between the cloud and the hard disk on their computer(s). Smart or what?

    Learn MoreLearn More about how you can synch to the Cloud too

  • Education

    What's on, and over, the horizon for learning


    imageThere are plenty of differing views about the future of learning (or teaching, or education etc) and I'm sure I could spend every waking hour reading them and still never finish.

    Some though are more worthwhile to read than others, and I've always appreciated the Horizon Report, published annually by the Horizon Project, part of the New Media Consortium's Emerging Technologies Initiative.

    The Horizon Report

    The Key Trends, Critical Challenges and Technologies to Watch identified in this year's report make interesting reading, and there's plenty of detail in the report for more information:

    Key Trends

    • The abundance of resources and relationships made easily accessible via the Internet is increasingly challenging us to revisit our roles as educators in sense-making, coaching, and credentialing.
    • People expect to be able to work, learn, and study whenever and wherever they want.
    • The world of work is increasingly collaborative, giving rise to reflection about the way student projects are structured.
    • The technologies we use are increasingly cloud-based, and our notions of IT support are decentralized.

    Critical Challenges

    • Digital media literacy continues its rise in importance as a key skill in every discipline and profession.
    • Appropriate metrics of evaluation lag behind the emergence of new scholarly forms of authoring, publishing, and researching
    • Economic pressures and new models of education are presenting unprecedented competition to traditional models of the university
    • Keeping pace with the rapid proliferation of information, software tools, and devices is challenging for students and teachers alike.

    Technologies to watch

    On the near-term horizon - within the next 12 months

    • Electronic Books
    • Mobiles

    On the second adoption horizon - within two to three years

    • Augmented reality
    • Game-based learning

    On the far-term horizon - within four to five years

    • Gesture-based computing
    • Learning analytics

    Learning Analytics is "far-term horizon"?
    Can we afford to wait that long?

    According to the report:

      At its heart, learning analytics is about analyzing a wealth of information about students in a way that would allow schools to take action. This information can include student profiles within an institution’s database, as well as the interactions of students within course management systems. A long absence from a course’s online activities, for example, can trigger faculty intervention. At its best, however, learning analytics goes much further than this, marrying information from disparate sources to create a far more robust and nuanced profile of students, in turn offering faculty members more insight.  

    That seems so critical, I don't think we can afford to wait five years for it. I know that there's plenty of work going on now by institutions, often in partnership with companies, which will hopefully start to produce meaningful Learning Analytics much sooner - and which could be adopted widely much sooner. I wonder if the timeframe is more reflection of the change management that will need to go along with the widespread use of Learning Analytics?

    Learn MoreThe full Horizon Report is a PDF free download from NMC

  • Education

    How to deploy Windows 7 to 200,000 computers


    The Microsoft IT team have the job of running an complex and rapidly-changing IT infrastructure for a very demanding user base - our own. Sound familiar to you too? Well I guess it should, because almost every education institution has exactly the same challenges and budget pressures.

    The team are often on the leading edge of deploying our technology to our own in-house users - for example, not only supporting users running Windows 7 betas, but also rolling out Windows 7 to 84,000 clients within 2 months of the release day. They also have a role of documenting the processes and experiences, and publishing them for our customers to learn from.

    The story of how Microsoft deployed Windows 7 internally is online now, and here's some of the nuggets I picked up from it:

    • The team focused on providing a self-install process for non-technical users (yes, I did my own!)
    • Simultaneously, they wanted to reduce help-desk calls
    • They had to support 46 types of laptops, and 22 types of desktops - and offer 32-bit and 64-bit versions of Windows
    • Data security was increased by rolling out BitLocker Drive Encryption and DirectAccess at the same time
    • And they had to test 1,500 applications for compatibility

    And somehow, they did - seeing up to 3,000 Windows 7 installations a day, to get to 84,000 clients within 60 days, and a total now of over 190,000 internal clients around the world.

    Learn MoreThe article on how they did it, and the lessons they learnt (and the constraints they had) makes a good read if you're in an infrastructure planning role.

  • Education

    Curtin University and the Microsoft Cloud


    After I mentioned the Curtin University Live@edu case study yesterday, somebody from Curtin sent me a link to the Microsoft video we'd produced on their wider use of our Cloud services. They're using Live@edu for student email, and they're also using Windows Azure to develop inhouse applications. In the example they are using Windows Azure to deliver their iPortfolio system to 47,000 students.

    Get Microsoft Silverlight

    (You can also view the video on the Cloud Power website)

    Peter Nikoletatos, CIO at Curtin University talks in the video about what they have done, and why they have done it. For example, towards the end he says:

      We've begun rethinking our whole bespoke development platform and using Azure as the way we're going to deliver corporate applications, in a scalable architecture that could grow as our product suite grew. One of the best benefits of moving to the cloud, was that as our partners grow the product suite, these are transparent to the end user. We don't need to schedule large maintenance windows to do updates. Universities are no longer focused on managing large data centres. We don't want to invest in architectures that will be come obsolete or cost us way to much to maintain. We know that the environment is going to change rapidly to meet the expectations of the next generation of students.  

    It reminded me about they early days when I was learning about Windows Azure, when I'd assumed it was something that our partners would use to develop applications for education customers to use. It was only after a few months that I realised it was also perfect for bigger education customers with their own development teams - like universities - to change their model for internal application development too - because they got the same benefits of reduced application deployment time, minimal capital expenditure, and massive scalability.

  • Education

    Tasmanian Polytechnic links 35,000 users across 20 campuses


    There was a nicely written informative case study published on our global website on Tuesday about Tasmanian Polytechnic. It takes a long-term view of the changes that they have been making to increase collaboration for their staff, and the journey that they have gone on with their collaboration and communication systems. The end result now is that they have created a truly integrated communication and collaboration system, and then been able to help users save time and allow them to focus on their collaborative projects. (It's also interesting that it isn't driven by a move Cloud services, but is currently based on the Polytechnic's in-house infrastructure)

    Owain Williams, the Executive Manager of the ICT Services Branch, is quoted quite a few times in the case study. With all of the technology we have available to hand in our office, I guess I've taken for granted the way that it has changed my working style over the last five years. But Owain tells the story of how it has been a positive change for the staff in Tasmania:

    "It used to take 20 minutes to set up every teleconference meeting, but our very first meeting using Office Live Meeting and RoundTable* took a total of three minutes to arrange. People are more inclined to work together when it’s easy to do so, such as being able to put on a headset and launch an impromptu video phone conversation to complete a document, resolve an issue, and so on.”

    “One of the beautiful things about Exchange Server 2010 is how wonderfully straightforward it makes it for our growing number of mobile users to stay productive wherever they are. They can spend more time out of office because they can access everything—including email messages and files. Being better connected makes for a richer experience.”

    “The experience with our Microsoft tools is so much richer in terms of interaction and ease, compared with what we had before, that people actively want to use the solutions. Our new forms of collaboration are producing more valuable results in less time, too—with no car ride. In the short amount of time since implementing the Unified Communications solutions, I’ve seen collaboration go way up, both among internal colleagues and with vendors and industry experts from around the country.”

    Learn MoreRead the full case study on the worldwide Microsoft case studies website


    * RoundTable is a conference phone and video camera from Polycom with a built-in, 360-degree camera that uses advanced speech recognition to follow the conversation and identify active speakers

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