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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

    Ready-made IT user documentation


    When I started working at Microsoft, I hadn’t been in such an open, technology rich culture before. And with so many IT systems around, and so many different software resources, my head was buzzing. In fact, I remember that at the end of the first week, the number of links in my Favourites was massive – just to internal websites.

    I’d never used internet telephony, encryption, instant messaging, live meeting or SharePoint before, so I was all at sea until I could play around and work out how they were supposed to operate. Meanwhile, people who’d been at Microsoft for a while were metaphorically whizzing past me, as they collaborated, shared, published and distributed information. Whilst I was trying to work out how to answer my desk phone.

    imageOne of the godsends for me was a set of documents called Work Smart Guides, which walked me through the basics of some of the new technology I was encountering.

    As our IT team describe it, Work Smart Guides bridge the gap between technology and users. Work Smart guides provide employees with scenario-based, best-use productivity aids on Microsoft products and technologies.

    We produce them because we expect to see more consistent, productive, and cost-effective use of products and technologies across the company – which helps the business ROI on IT investments, as well as helping people to understand the benefit the IT team deliver to users.

    Ready-made IT guides

    I found out today that we have also published them for customers to modify and use. This seems a great step – because I’m guessing that lots of schools are either producing user documentation for staff, or want to. And I bet that 80-90% of the content of some of them is identical. So these guides would make a good starter for 10, either for the format, or the instructions, or simply the screenshots. As an example, here’s the Email Basics one.

    The subjects covered in the step-by-step guides for users include:

    • Environmental sustainability (hints like using Balanced power settings on your laptop)
    • Protecting data with BitLocker
    • Getting started with email
    • Transfer files and settings to a new computer
    • Collaborating with SharePoint
    • An overview of collaboration tools
    • Customising SharePoint sites
    • Integrating Outlook with SharePoint
    • Basics of managing email (Are you a stacker or a filer?)
    • Office tips
    • Outlook email signatures
    • New features for users in Windows 7

    Download the Work Smart Guides

    You can download the customisable versions of Work Smart materials from TechNet. There are 23 of them, and they come in one big Zip file for you to play with.

    Bonus: You should also be looking at the Windows 7 Problem Steps Recorder, described by Long Zheng as a miracle tool. It does what it says on the tin, and the best bit is that the document it creates is brilliant for creating user guides, with screen shots and step-by-step instructions. Just stick “problem steps” into the search box of your Windows 7 Start menu. It would be fantastic when you’ve got to start from scratch, and especially for curriculum materials and lesson plans.

  • Education

    Do you take technology for granted until you need it? Collaboration in a calamity


    Sometimes new technology fades into the background, and you forget what you did before it existed. But sometimes, you forget what it can do for you - you fall into the trap of using the bits you've always used, and not using the newer features until you're forced to.

    For me, one of those 'forced to' moments came when I had to turn a face-to-face training day into an online day, to cope with terrible weather that closed our training venue. It pushed me into using Live Meeting and remote webcams and conferencing - and I've not looked back since.

    I saw a similar story today when reading the news on the website (which is a regular read for me, as it helps me to keep up to date with the kinds of business and technology challenges our customers face). The story's from a university in the States, so we're not likely to be hit by the same kind of snow blizzard, but this summer seems to have been full of other types of weather problems, so I'm sure there are parallels:


    Winconsin blizzard vs data center: How Marquette won

    When Marquette University's IT department deployed unified communications tools to improve collaboration among faculty and staff - IT staff collaboration wasn't the priority. But as it turned out, Microsoft's Lync suite of voice, videoconferencing and instant messaging tools proved to be IT's life raft during a snowstorm-related data center calamity.

    During a January blizzard so snowy that the Milwaukee-based university closed, the HVAC units that run Marquette's data center short circuited, after wind-driven snow piled up and then melted inside the air conditioning condensers on the roof.


    I'd recommend reading the full story online, because there are plenty of lessons in the story if you're running a team - whether or not you're running a data centre!

  • Education

    Examinations need to use the skills that students develop, and employers need


    I have a daughter who is 15-years old. Since the age of 11, my biggest recurring worry has been that she'll not achieve her full potential in life because of the exam system. Because she suffers from hay fever, which might drag her down on the day of her key exam. Because she might lose a boyfriend the day before her exams. And because she is living her life digitally - communicating and collaborating with friends and classmates using technology. Getting and giving help to her school friends by text, email, Facebook and instant messenger.

    But in the summers of 2012 and 2014, she'll suddenly have to give up that mode of learning. She'll be stuck in an exam hall with a pencil and paper. She'll be told to stop working with others. She'll be told not to refer to any external information. And she'll not be expected to use a computer.

    How fair is that? Not just on students, but also on teachers. And also, critically, on employers.

    As students, they've worked collaboratively, communicating constantly, and learning through that. And once students become employees, they'll be encouraged to work with others, communicating and collaborating constantly, and be able to research information, use reference sources, and use other people's work to build their own. She'll never be put in a room with a blank sheet of paper and a pencil and told to solve a business problem alone.

    We know employers need students with skills of communication and collaboration. They are looking for people who can manage projects, keep to deadlines, work well with teams etc.

    So it's about time we saw more passionate pleas from people, like the one from Isabel Nisbet (retiring head of the UK's education qualifications quango Ofqual) to change the exam system:

    "My generation and the next have a lot to learn from today's pupils about the centrality of technology. They use IT as their natural medium. Yet we are even now accrediting new GCSEs, due to run for several years, still taken largely on paper. This cannot go on. Our school exams are running the risk of becoming invalid, as the medium of pen and ink increasingly differs from the way in which young people learn."

    Judging by the comments on this TES article from last week, my views aren't likely to be popular, but I strongly believe the exam system has to change, because today the principal use of a high school exam is to get into university, and the principal use for a degree for many students is to get into the job interview. (I don't mean the courses, or the learning journey - purely the exam process at the end of it). But not many employers spend much interview time looking at exam results - instead they focus on exploring experiences, skills and attitudes to make the right decision.

    Last year one of my colleagues was quoted saying "We are witnessing the death of teaching and the dawn of learning". I wonder what the epitaph should be for paper-based exams?

    All of this is just my personal opinion, not a reflection of anybody else's. You can add your opinion in the Comments section

  • Education

    Reducing IT costs in education - Part II


    Last week, when I wrote about reducing IT costs in education, I talked about saving money by cutting down power bills. And there are plenty of other ways to reduce IT costs in education. Not every way is going to be right for every school, TAFE or university, but how about this pile of suggestions that might have something perfect for you:

    Pennsylvania Charter School saved $45,000 a year by changing their expense reporting and asset tracking systems, using SharePoint 2010 [Read more]

    Oxnard Union High School District saved $160,000 a year by switching off their old PBX systems, and introducing Lync Server - and also increased the availability of telephone services for staff [Read more]

    Florida Virtual School will save $2m over the next five years by switching from using Lotus Notes to our Cloud email and collaboration services [Read more]

    Fraser Public Schools in Michigan saved $600,000 on their new email and collaboration system by using the Live@edu Cloud service, instead of replacing their in-house system [Read more]

    The European University Institute saved $345,000 by moving to the Cloud for email too [Read more]

    Dundee High School saved $15,000 by using Windows MultiPoint Server to replace end-of-life computers in their IT suites and library - reducing the amount of hardware they needed, whilst improving the student experience [Read more]

    Aston University, in the UK, save $300,000, by replacing existing email service with Live@edu [Read more]

    And finally, Palm Beach State College saved $500,000 by consolidating their technology, and streamlining their IT operations [Read more]

    I know that saving money is only one aspect of IT service delivery, but if you need to improve the service you deliver whilst also reducing IT costs in education, then perhaps there's some examples above that might help?

  • Education

    Australian Education Case Studies


    There are plenty of other education case studies from Australia on the worldwide case studies website. Here's an interesting batch:

    • Catholic Education Office Paramatta uses SharePoint 2010 to run a new knowledge management system to serve their 78 schools and 6,500 staff. What's interesting about their approach is that they have implemented it as a collaboration system, including both a wiki and a workflow system. As Leon Bro, the Principal Consultant at the Artis Group, put it “It is everything to everyone. It is a document management platform and a business intelligence tool. It is a presentation layer and a data source. It’s an information management tool and full enterprise architecture in a box. It’s everything you need it to be.”
      Read the full CEO case study
    • Curtin University moved to the Cloud, with Live@edu last year, with the help of Dimension Data. Their IT challenge is to support 40,000 students on 11 campuses across 3 countries, which they solved by using a hosted-email and collaboration system in the Cloud, replacing an existing on-site system which had become difficult to maintain, and limited for users.
      Read the full Curtin case study
    • Drummond Memorial Public School used SharePoint to help their students and teachers collaborate with their partner schools, using wikis and blogs as a way of engaging people.
      Read the full Drummond case study

    You can see all of the Australian Education case studies from the last year online. (And this handy link will show you the last 90 days worth of global education case studies)

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