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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

    MIS Magazine's Cloud Computing special


    My Cloudy morning routineI have a few spare copies of the March edition of Australian MIS magazine, which is a Cloud computing special.

    You can see my morning routine perfectly in this picture - get into the office early, then set to on coffee, email and filling my brain with interesting reading before the day shift arrives at 9am.

    Alongside all of the articles about the opportunities of the shift to the Cloud, it also highlights (on the front cover) the challenges it creates, and calls it 'a shadow over the IT department'. What it means by that is the changing nature of IT jobs, as it goes on to say:

      Dark side of the cloud
    The global shift towards utility computing promises big capital savings for business and government. But will they come at the expense of jobs?

    And Julian Bajowski even goes on to list the kind of jobs under threat - Storage Managers, Exchange Deployment Specialists; Infrastructure Managers.

    Given that education appears to be moving to the cloud faster than many other business areas, maybe you should have a read!

    Learn MoreEmail me, and I'll stick one of my spare copies in the post to you *

    * Doesn't seem right to not have any small print. So let's make some up: I have a small pile of magazines, and I'm happy to put one in an envelope if you send me your address. But once they're gone, they're gone.

  • Education

    Is the technology driving learning, or learning driving the technology?


    You can tell that we're in a period of potential technology confusion. Over the weekend I read three articles which went in different directions.

    First I read "Australia: Day of the iPad arrives" in University World News, and saw that it was (yet another) article about the University of Adelaide handing out iPads to 700 of their first year science students.

    And then I read an article in The Chronicle of Higher Education which carried a story heading in the opposite direction, "iPads could hinder teaching, professors say", which starts with the views of Chatham University:

    "When Paul Steinhaus, chief information officer at Chatham University, met with his colleagues last summer to discus getting iPads for incoming students, they knew the move could raise the profile of the small institution in Pittsburgh. Across the country, institutions had grabbed headlines for adopting Apple's tablet computing device.

    But Mr. Steinhaus and other administrators soon realized that the iPad, with the slow finger-typing it requires, actually makes written course work more difficult, and that the devices wouldn't run all of the university's applications. 'I'd hate to charge students and have them only be able to use it for e-mail and Facebook,' says Mr. Steinhaus. Chatham charges a $700 annual technology fee, which now pays for standard laptops."

    Reading the pair of articles together made me wonder if we're moving into an academic world where a measure of success is about generating PR headlines?

    And there also appears to be some confusion in the press about the difference between different devices - for example, the Sydney Morning Herald ran a story, "Tablets emerge as new uni tool", which left me confused about the different kinds of tablets (in my world, a tablet has a pen). In the article, which starts with the 'iPad for students' stories, it then goes into a lot more detail about the way that Australian universities are using Tablet PCs to enhance teaching and learning. It includes this story from Monash University in Melbourne:

    "At Monash University, associate director of e-learning Nathan Bailey says the screen-sensitive tablet PCs are preferred to iPads by staff in their lectures. The university now has 1000 of them on loan to staff and, if they wish, to students.

    'For students to learn from other students and for the teacher to intervene if the students aren't learning effectively, you need devices that allow the lecturer and students to interact, to ask questions and respond to questions, to get a lot more discussion happening rather than the lecturer standing out the front talking,' Mr Bailey says."

    By the end of reading these, what I'd concluded was that there are some high profile stories of different device pilots going on (which also happened at the time of the first ebook readers), and that the story to read is the one that's written at the end of the pilots - once the technology has been in use - rather than the ones which announce what is going to happen. And perhaps the outcomes will be the ones that help reduce the confusion.

    NB: I'm a Tablet PC fan, and have been for the last decade. And I'm writing this on my Lenovo X61 Tablet

  • Education

    Surgeons use Microsoft Kinect in hospitals to speed up surgery


    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

    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

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


    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.


    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

    Marist College case study - moving to SharePoint for administration


    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

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


    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

    The Microsoft Australia DPE team launch Noise To Signal


    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

    Need help using SharePoint in school?


    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

    Looking at data in different ways helps create Learning Analytics


    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


    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

    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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