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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

    How to deploy Windows 7 to 200,000 computers

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    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

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    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

    Being a Microsoft partner is good for business. So what?

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    The main Microsoft News Centre, where we publish all of our global press releases, is reporting that new IDC research estimates that Microsoft partners worldwide (all 640,000 of them) generated revenues of $580 billion in 2010, up a fifth over the last three years. And the calculation shows that for every $ of revenue generated for Microsoft, you're generating $8.70 for yourselves.

    (Given that Microsoft's education pricing is significantly lower than mainstream pricing, I'm guessing that in education the real number is probably closer to $30 for you, for every $ for us)

    So what?

    There's some future trends identified in the global report that are directly applicable to the Australian Education market too. For example:

      According to the IDC study, implementation of cloud computing is forecast to add more than $800 billion in net new business revenues to worldwide economies over the next three years, helping explain why Microsoft has made cloud computing one of its top business priorities.  

    It forecasts that Cloud services (explicitly Software As A Service - SAAS) will grow at over five times the rate of traditionally delivered software by 2014.

    image

    The image above, taken from the infographic, relates to a finding in 2009 that partners that invested in more Microsoft Competencies got bigger deals and higher revenue per employee - partly because it also brings more attention and support from Microsoft.

    And the report also identified more collaborative working between partners to win business. IDC said that partner-to-partner activity within the Microsoft Partner Network has increased from $6.8 billion in 2007 to $10.1 billion in 2009 - jumping nearly 50% in two years.

    You can find the press release here, or…

    Learn MoreDownload the full 'Partner Opportunity in the Microsoft Ecosystem' report


    If, like me, you're a visual learner, then you might appreciate the snazzy Microsoft Partner Network Infographic, which gives you quick picture of the results - and provides a good incentive to read the full report.

  • Education

    Surgeons use Microsoft Kinect in hospitals to speed up surgery

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    OK, after 'record breaking Kinect' and 'augmented reality Kinect', this is the last of the Kinect stories for a while. But this is such a great example, I have to share it.

    TG Daily are reporting that doctors at Sunnybrook Hospital are using the Kinect system to view and control images of MRI and CT sacns during surgery. What that means is that instead of having to leave the sterile area around the patient (and wasting another 20 minutes in the clean-up process involved in that), they can check a patient's scans on a screen, using Kinect to zoom in and out etc. It's reported to be saving doctor's up to an hour on surgery, and reduces the amount of data a surgeon needs to remember during surgery.

    Read the full story on TG Daily.

    With so many unexpected uses for Kinect, it cant be long before we start to see the educational equivalents.

  • Education

    Encryption in education - If one of your staff laptops disappears - do you know the data is secure?

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    According to The Guardian, BP have just lost a laptop containing 13,000 personal records related to the Gulf oil spill. And the laptop had no encryption. So where are we with encryption in education?

    Security LogoI've been a BitLocker encryption user since the days of Windows Vista on my laptop, and since that time I have been reassured to know that should something happen to my laptop, all of the data on it is fully encrypted and secure. The whole process was very smooth – I simply enabled it in the Control Panel, and the encryption happened in the background over a morning.

    What astounds me is that more organisations don't deploy BitLocker encryption onto their laptops as standard. After all, it's easy and it's included with Windows Enterprise versions - which schools, TAFEs and universities will be licensed for as part of a Campus, School or EES Agreement. And it's a fire-and-forget protection - once you have enabled it, you can forget it's there. I have been happily using a laptop which is fully encrypted by BitLocker for the last two years, and it's never bothered me or interfered with what I need to do.

    A typical laptop for a teacher or member of school staff is likely to have piles of sensitive data on it - whether that's student lists, reports, or really sensitive information such as special needs or child protection information. So why would they not be automatically encrypted with BitLocker before you hand them to staff? Or retrospectively encrypted now? Encryption in education worldwide seems to be entirely reactively driven - it happens only once a significant data loss.

    If you want to know what's involved in deploying Windows encryption, there's an excellent TechNet article written by the Microsoft IT team – they’re the people that keep all of our in-house IT systems running.

    The article deals with both the technical, and managerial issues, of managing the introduction, and also gives a unique insight into the challenges of change in a very tech-savvy environment. And the article is incredibly honest about the challenges faced, and the lessons learned. Here’s an extract":

    Lessons Learned

    Lessons learned during Microsoft IT's BitLocker deployment include:

    • Microsoft IT tried to retrofit the environment with BitLocker. A better approach would have been to move forward with new computers and then upgrade only existing computers that had the highest security risk.
    • Microsoft IT thought BitLocker would be easier to deploy than it was. Microsoft IT relied on the BitLocker Preparation Tool to handle all aspects but found during testing that it failed in some situations, primarily due to locked files when trying to shrink the partition.
    • Hardware needs rigorous testing at scale. Computers that test well in a lab environment sometimes yield different results in a production environment. In other words, one computer in a lab might look fine but thousands in the production environment have variance, such as differences in the BIOS.
    • Recognizing high-business-impact data is a difficult, industry-wide issue. Few tools are available that enable organizations to find the types of high-business-impact data that users have on their computers.

    Read the whole article here, and if you have time take a look at the whole IT Showcase section – a large section of the website in which the Microsoft IT team share their experiences in running a complex IT infrastructure (The “How Microsoft IT reduces costs” section is especially interesting)h

  • Education

    Are you using Internet Explorer 6 anywhere in your establishment?

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    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)

    image

    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

    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

    Need help using SharePoint in school?

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    SharePoint is pretty widely used in education, with schools, TAFEs and Universities all over Australia using it within their learning or administration processes. One of the things I've noticed is that it tends to be the IT team who get the 'Can I do this…' questions about SharePoint. And the answer is normally "Yes", whether the question is a learning one ('Can I setup a website where I can distribute homework assignments instead of printing them') or a administration one ('Can I setup a collaborative wiki for all the school policy papers, and a shared calendar for the update deadlines').

    And often the challenge is how to do it in the fastest and most user friendly way. So I thought these two Microsoft SharePoint Kits from Microsoft Press would be good to know about - whether you are an IT person in education, or even a developer working within one of our Australian Education Partners. You can pre-order them now, for when they're published.

    Microsoft SharePoint 2010 Administrator’s Kit

    Front coverWith this two-in-one kit, you get mission-critical information from SharePoint MVPs, featuring insights from the SharePoint community and members of the SharePoint Team at Microsoft. You'll discover how to plan, design, deploy, and manage strategic solutions using SharePoint 2010, Microsoft SQL Server, Windows PowerShell, and other key technologies.

    Topics include architecture, deployment scenarios, design considerations, security best practices, high availability, performance, centralised administration, disaster recovery, customisation, solution development, and upgrade and migration strategies. Key solutions include building and managing a server farm, automating tasks, FAST search application management, enterprise and web content management, and business intelligence.

    Book front coverMicrosoft SharePoint 2010 Step by Step Kit

    Experience learning made easy, and quickly teach yourself to use SharePoint 2010 with this two-in-one kit. Written by SharePoint experts and MVPs, you'll discover how to plan, create, design, deploy, and manage applications and workflows using SharePoint Designer 2010 and SharePoint Foundation 2010 -- one step at a time!

    Build exactly the skills you need by working at your own pace through easy-to-follow lessons and hands-on practice files.


    You’ll learn to:

    • Design solutions to meet your scenario - without code
    • Customise your pages with Web Parts - display, edit, and modify list item data
    • Access data from a variety of external sources
    • Create workflows to automate business processes
    • Use master pages and CSS to control how sites work
    • Build your own SharePoint site with easy-to-use templates
    • Add discussion boards, wikis, and blogs
    • Customise lists, libraries, and SharePoint site pages to store information
    • Set up Document and Meeting Workspaces for easy collaboration
    • Share calendars, contacts, and data from Microsoft Office programs

    Discounts on Microsoft Press ebooks

    I also discovered that O'Reilly run a weekly and daily promotions of Microsoft Press ebooks. Two weeks ago they took 50% off Inside Microsoft SharePoint 2010, and on 1st March they took half off the Microsoft Silverlight 4 Step by Step ebook. And as they point out prominently, the ebooks are DRM free and delivered to you in 5 different formats where possble. (And ebooks are a lot more convenient for Australia!). The easiest way to follow the offers is to subscribe to their eBooks Offers RSS feed, or look at this week's deal on Microsoft Press books at the top of this page

    Learn MoreLearn More about the full range of Microsoft Press books

  • Education

    The Microsoft Australia DPE team launch Noise To Signal

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    DO NOT PRESS buttonOne of our teams in Australia is called Developer and Platform Evangelism (or DPE in Microsoft-Acronym-Speak). They work with developers, technical students and software makers, and spend their time getting geeky. They're also the team that wear the coolest T-shirts (or so they think), and like DPE teams all over the world, like to find different ways to express themselves. In fact, I'm sure they get a kick out of being as un-corporate as possible.

    I tell you this as a warning, so that you're not surprised when you look at their 'Noise to Signal' website, which is about some of their areas of expertise - for example, the work they do with students, or the latest technology like Kinect Hacks, Surface 2 and IE9. The website is a massive, clickable, cartoon.

    My two favourite idiosyncratic bits of it:

    • The 'Do Not Press' button. Of course, I did. You can find out for yourself on their website what happens…
    • The legal stuff at the bottom. Wait for it to load, and see it for yourself…

    Learn MoreVisit NoiseToSignal

  • 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

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