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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

    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

    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

    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

  • Education

    This lorry is invisible



    It doesn't look invisible. And the noise it makes as it comes down the school driveway every week isn't invisible. But it might as well be invisible - your mind tunes out things you see every day. Which means that school managers have got used to the paper delivery lorry turning up every week, and the tens of thousands of sheets of paper being delivered weekly for the school copiers and printers.

    imageIn the UK I did some research that showed an average high school was using over one million sheets of paper a year - with some up to two million. And since arriving in Australia, I have been deluged with so many sheets of paper from my children's school, that I reckon the numbers are going to be even higher here.

    For context, one million sheets of paper is almost twice the height of the Sydney Opera House - which you really would notice if it all came down the school driveway on one day!

    Obviously, using that volume of paper is a huge expense - and in many cases, schools are spending as much on paper, copying and printer toner as they are on their main ICT budget. So if there's a way of reducing paper usage, it would deliver a real cash saving as well as an environmental benefit. As an added thought, even just shifting the mix of where things are printed can save money, as printing on classroom inkjets or laser printers can cost up to 6x more than printing on large, shared, multi-function devices around the school. In my research I also came across a school that had as many printers as they had staff - with some staff having more than one each!

    There are plenty of things that can be done to save money on this:

    • Assigning course materials online, for students to access in school or at home
    • Change parental forms to an online-first option, reducing both paper and admin costs
    • Remove internal forms completely, and move them onto your intranet/SharePoint

    There are plenty of things that you can do - but first you have to build the momentum for change. Which means that you've got to make sure the lorry isn't invisible any more. And how do you do that? The easiest way is to find out how much paper you are using at your school (half an hour with the admin team and a quick scan of the last few invoices from your stationery provider), and then you've got a story to share with your principal about the invisible lorry.

  • Education

    Universities moving to Cloud services - more case studies


    Hot on the heels of the recent Australian case studies of universities moving to Cloud services with Microsoft, there are some new international case studies available. I'll summarise them here, but for a better insight into what's going on, download the full case studies below.

    Brno University

    The Business School at Brno University of Technology, in the Czech Republic, is one of the universities moving to Cloud services, to enable 4,000 students to connect to their learning whilst they are away from campus. They're using the Microsoft BPOS (Business Productivity Online Services) system to connect e-learning to their students in employment, and in other countries including the UK and the US. What they've found is that it gives their students more opportunities for learning, at the same time as helping them deliver a more flexible service within their limited IT budget. And a significant result for them is that they are able to do this with no more staff resources - leaving them to focus on the quality of teaching and learning.
    Download the Brno University case study

    The Economics University

    The School of International Relations at the Economics University in Prague is another of the universities moving to Cloud services, as they have moved students studying IT management to the BPOS Cloud services. As Tomáš Kubálek's, the Associate Professor of Engineering, put it:

      Our task is to prepare students for real situations they will encounter in their future employment as managers, and, in many cases, members of international teams. Effective communication within a company is an essential element for its success, so we wanted to expose students to technologies that have widespread adoption - such as those offered by Microsoft.  

    By choosing to move to the Cloud, they have said that they speeded up their deployment, which in turns speeds up access to educational resources for their students. They've also reduced their cost of ownership, by not having to rely on the existing university infrastructure.
    Download the Economics University Case Study

    Find more case studies of universities moving to Cloud services

    Learn MoreFind more Education Cloud Case Studies on this blog

  • Education

    The mindset of a university CIO - Part Two


    Last week I highlighted an interview with an outgoing Australian University CIO - Mick Houlahan of the University of Western Sydney. This week, I've got another one to point to - this time it's the incoming CIO for RMIT, Brian Clark, who's also been sharing his ideas with CIO Australia.

    Having met new university CIO's who have joined from commercial organisations, I know they find there are many stark differences between running an IT infrastructure for a business and for a university - and that there are many, many similarities too. All too often, people who don't understand education assume that somehow education IT infrastructure is a junior version of a corporate IT system - when in fact, the opposite is often true. Often education IT systems have to respond sooner to technology innovations - and the rapidly evolving demands of users.

    You should read the full article - 'Incoming RMIT exec turns IT focus outward' - if you want an insight to the projects and business challenges, and I'd highlight some of the key things that stood out for me in it:

    • As part of a new Cloud strategy, one of the first decisions Brian Clark took was to sponsor the move to cloud-hosted email for students and staff, following a move to the cloud for their learning management system
    • Brian talks about the need to move from focusing on administration-driven projects, and instead focusing on integration with academic needs (ie the end-user groups). One of the ways of doing this was to invite key members of the academic staff to join project steering committees, evaluation panels and the ICT strategy team - which he hopes will help the process of change management in the future.
    • As part of plans to boost technical education, there's a review going on to look at vendor certification for students - so that in future students may be able to leave the university with a recognised industry certification, such as becoming an MCSE (Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer).

    Learn MoreRead the full interview with Brian Clark, CIO of RMIT on

    Apologies to pedants - the grammatical error in the title is deliberate. I know I should say 'an university', but it just doesn't sound right, so I've opted for the easily read, but grammatically incorrect, version.

  • Education

    Windows MultiPoint Server 2011 Review version


    Windows MultiPoint Server has been for a couple of years, and it's a very clever bit of technology.

    In a nutshell, Windows MultiPoint Server allows you to plug multiple screens into a single machine and gives each user their own virtual Windows 7 computer, with a full PC experience with multimedia, audio, USB ports etc - saving on hardware costs and power consumption. The technical phrase is 'Shared Resource Computing', but basically it means that as you come to replace computers in IT suites and your library, you may be able to save money.

    There's a dedicated Windows MultiPoint Server website, and you can find out what customers think about it on the Windows SBS blog, as they have a bunch of short videos, with customers sharing their experiences. It's particularly useful for schools, especially in IT suites and open access areas like libraries - you can have a little cluster of users, with just one computer serving each group.

    If you want to evaluate it, and review MultiPoint Server 2011 for your own situation, then you'll be interested to know that there is now a free evaluation download available, which gives you the complete installation, and can be set up on a spare machine.

    If you're a Microsoft education partner, then this is a key product to consider for your infrastructure strategy, as it allows you to reduce cost of an infrastructure refresh whilst delivering the full user experience.

    Learn MoreDownload the 180-day evaluation version of MultiPoint Server 2011

  • Education

    Trends Shaping Education 2010 and the Australian data


    I've just been browsing the OECD report, Trends Shaping Education 2010, which takes a look at the international evidence about education progress across the globe, and how patterns are changing. The reports are based on data from the OECD, the World Bank and the UN.

    The report covers:

    • the dynamics of globalisation

    • evolving social challenges

    • the changing world of work

    • transformation of childhood

    • ICT: the next generation

    The final chapter, on ICT, contains a bunch of interesting statistics with international comparisons. Some of the statistics for Australia reported in the research include:

    • In 2008, 75% of households in Australia had access to a computer at home, which had increased from just over 50% in 2000 - putting Australia ahead of France and Italy, but behind the Nordics, UK, Germany and Japan.
    • 94% of Australian 15-year old students reported frequent home computer use in 2006, compared to 73% reporting frequent computer use at school.
    • On school computer access, Australia was second highest in the work, and well above the global average of 55%
    • In 2006, there was 1 computer per 3 students, compared to an OECD average of one computer per 5 students. Australia was second in the world, just behind the UK, but ahead of every other country, including the US.

    The report goes on to say:

      What is known about numbers of computers in schools and their use suggests that ICTs are not fundamentally transforming the environments or methods through which most young people learn. Research also shows that children learn ICT skills more through home use than school use, as well as spending more time using computers at home. There are continuing forms of the “digital divide” which are based not on access to technology but on the skills and capabilities to use it effectively.  

    You can actually download the data tables that the report was based on - and use that for your own analysis. For example, there appears to be no visible link between exam results (from the 2009 PISA Results) and Frequent Computer Use at School and Frequent Computer Use at Home. I think that's a statement about examinations and what we're testing (but I won't repeat it here - you can see what I think from my earlier blog post).

  • Education

    Managing non-Microsoft devices on your education network


    System Center LogoLast week, at the Microsoft Management Summit 2011, Brad Anderson, Corporate Vice President for the Management & Security Division unveiled some news in his speech that would be of interest to any university, TAFE or school. It was all about the extension of the System Center family to manage more non-Microsoft devices - including Android devices, and  iOS devices like iPads and iPhones. Sadly, because it was part of the announcement for the new System Center 2012 Beta, there's not a huge amount of detail that's been posted up on the various Microsoft websites, so I've put together my bullet-point version of what's been announced, and then given you all of the source material below:

    • You can already provide email support for other devices through Exchange ActiveSync (Windows Phone and phones running Symbian, iOS and Android)
    • With System Center Configuration Manager 2012, in addition to in-depth management of Windows devices - servers, desktops, laptops and phones, we're making changes to enhance the management of other devices.
    • We're adding support for:
    • iOS-based iPhones and iPads
    • Android devices - smartphones and tablets
    • Symbian smartphones
    • Your IT management team get the benefit of a single set of tools, and a single interface, to manage a much wider part of your campus infrastructure.
    • To help you manage your information security and data loss risk, features added include:
    • set password and pin-lock policies on any devices which connect to your corporate data, even if it's just email
    • setting rigid security rules - for example, to wipe a staff member's device if multiple bad-PIN attempts are made
    • the ability to do a full remote data wipe and reset on registered lost devices - whether they are owned by you, or owned by the user. If you've not already got it, you're going to need a policy that your users agree to when they start using their personal device to connect to your corporate systems.
    • Improved reporting means that you will be able to see what devices are connected, by whom, and what for - so that you can keep a track of changes in your user base (eg what proportion of your students are connecting to your corporate systems with which phone type - really useful for building your mobile web services plan)

    So next time your Principal, or a Head of Department or one of the Deans insists that they need to get access to your corporate systems from their personal phone, or they start syncing files with sensitive data to their iPad at home, you will at least know that you can manage the risk of data loss - and do it from the comfort of your existing System Center management console.

    You can view the full text of Brad's presentation, including the demonstrations on the PressPass site, and here's an extract where Jeffrey Sutherland is demonstrating the new Configuration Manager 2012:


    But today, with Configuration Manager 2012, I now have the tools at my fingertips to manage mobile devices just as I managed my traditional Windows desktop.

    As you can see, there are a number of reports that come built in with Configuration Manager 2012, specific to management of mobile devices. I'm going to show you one report that I find particularly useful, which is the count of mobile devices by platform. And this helps me understand what type of devices are connecting in.

    As you can see, we have just under 14,000 mobile devices that have connected. And even though we've standardized on Windows Phone as our preferred device, our users are able to bring in whichever devices they want. And so you can see that we have a fairly broad distribution across IOS, Android and Nokia Symbian.

    However, understanding what devices I have connecting is just the first problem that I have. Now let me show you how easily I can configure the security policies that I want to apply on mobile phones. So, I'm just going to view the properties of my connector. And as you can see, we have several settings groups from which I can build up the correct policies to apply. I've already set a password policy, but I'm going to make one small tweak to it, and that is if the phone is lost or stolen, and somebody is trying to break into the PIN, I want it to actually automatically wipe if the user has failed to enter the correct PIN after a number of attempts. I'm going to set that to ten.

    And now just like that, this policy is now being pushed out to every device that's connected to our environment


    Learn MoreLearn More about System Center 

    Download the System Center 2012 beta

  • Education

    Easter school holidays in Australia 2011


    A quick guide, if you are planning events or marketing activities with schools, on the Easter school holidays in Australia 2011 - state by state.

    State Easter Holiday 2011
    NSW 11th - 27th April
    VIC 11th - 27th April
    WA 19th April - 4th May
    QLD 15th - 27th April
    SA 15th April - 2nd May
    ACT 15th April - 2nd May

    If you're planning any activities with schools, then the blackout period is effectively from Friday 8th April until Thursday 5th May.

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