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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

    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

  • Education

    Office 2010 Accessibility Improvements


    imageAmongst your user base you are very likely to have students and staff with hearing, sight, or reading disabilities. Although accessibility has taken huge leaps in the last few years, there's plenty of other work still going on.

    We have just announced the public beta for two add-ins that help make Office documents more accessible: STAMP and DAISY: 

    STAMP, the Subtitling Add-In for Microsoft PowerPoint, lets you add closed captions to the video and audio files in your PowerPoint presentations, so no one misses a word of what you have to say.

    Save as DAISY for Office 2010 helps you convert Word Open XML files to the Digital Accessible Information System (DAISY) format. DAISY powers digital talking books and compatible software and Braille readers for people with print disabilities or limited vision. This beta supports Office 2003, 2007 and 2010.

    Learn MoreRead more on the Microsoft Office blog

  • 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)

  • Education

    Danish schools use the web in exams


    Last week I wrote about the call for more examinations to use IT - to more closely follow the style of learning and working today. At the back of my mind was the fact that in some Scandinavian countries this has been happening - and I've finally found the info.

    In Denmark, in 2009, the government started a pilot where they were delivering examinations online, and students had full access to the internet during them. Although they were forbidden from messaging or emailing each other or people outside of the room, they were allowed to use the internet to hunt down relevant information. You can read the full story on the BBC News website.

    Going back to the example of my daughter from the last post, this would be fascinating. If she had full access to the web in an exam, would she be able to focus on the task in hand, or would she be distracted off to other places and end up lost in Facebook? I think that would actually be a pretty good test for her future employers - because if she can't stay on task in an exam, what are the odds that she's going to be able to stay on task in the office. Quite a nice test of employability skills!

  • Education

    What are your hidden data centre costs?


    Late last year, Microsoft in the US published "The Economics of the Cloud", which I've only just got around to reading. If you are running a data centre in education - either at university or state level - then this is a good read to understand where your costs are adding up, and where you could be making savings. The document has some data points which were surprises for me (I love data points, so this report made my day):

    • For low-efficiency data centres, spending on power and cooling already outstrips spend on server hardware over three years
    • Electricity cost is fast becoming the largest element of Total Cost of Ownership (and with another 25% price hike in electricity in Australia, I guess we'll be there first…)
    • Conventionally, the server:people ratio is 140:1 - one system administrator can service approximately 140 servers. In Cloud data centres it's  000's:1
    • Average daily data centre usage is typically 50% of the daily peak usage
    • The Tax industry has peak usage 10x greater than average usage, compared to 2x for the News industry
    • Storage has fallen from $120/GB in 2006, to under $20/GB today and is predicted to hit under $5/GB by 2014

    With so many Cloud projects happening in education in Australia, I wonder if anybody is yet collecting the statistics for what's being saved - in power, space or dollar terms?

    Learn MoreDownload your copy of The Economics of the Cloud

  • Education

    University of Canberra saves money and improves service delivery with virtualisation


    There's a new case study out this week on the University of Canberra's use of virtualisation in their data centre. There's plenty of detail in the case study of what they did (and which products they used, basing it on the Hyper-V virtualisation system built into Windows Server 2008 R2). Rather than dive into that detail, I think the key thing to look at is the way that they have built a much more flexible IT infrastructure for the university, which along the way has virtualised 60% of their servers, including their Red Hat Linux ones. According to Tom Townsend, the IT Data Centre Manager at the University:


    We now have a flexible, responsive IT environment, which positions us to grow and change in line with the demands of today’s dynamic university environment. This makes us more agile. We can implement the technologies we want as soon as they become available. From a business perspective, being able to trial and commission new services quickly gives us a real advantage.

    We’re managing a much larger number of servers with fewer staff.


    They've also reduced the power and cooling running costs of their data centre by 20% - a significant contribution when electricity rates are continuing to go up.

    Learn MoreRead the full University of Canberra virtualisation case study

  • Education

    Implementing Lync for voice at Marquette University


    Marquette University in Milwaukee has 11,000 students and 1,00 faculty and staff. As an independent university, they've got to make their budgets add up, so when they started to build three new campus buildings, they looked at the cost of the core services they provide - including their phone systems. What they did was replace their existing PBX phone system with a unified communications system - chopping their annual telecom costs in half, saving $120,000 a year.

    I only know about this because of the story on the CIO Australia website, written by Shane O'Neill. There's detailed background about the decisions they took (and the alternatives they explored) to get them to where they are today - 1,000 staff using Lync as a replacement for their telephones, and adding audio & video conferencing, as well as instant messaging.

    The full article is definitely worth a read, as one of the key elements is the key learnings that they made whilst doing the switch:

    • Get users ready for a cultural change: Not every user will react in the same way - some will embrace the change, others will just want a phone on the desk. So videoconferencing use varies from department to department.
    • Offer training, and then follow up: Marquette trained before they rolled out Lync, and then followed on later with more detailed training in the new facilities, like video calls.
    • Keep phones to help with transition: Although you could switch all of your users to software phones (with headsets plugged into their computers etc), there will be plenty of people that love picking up a handset .
      Marquette used the Polycom 600 series phones, and as Dan Smith put it "The newer Polycom VoIP phones look and act like regular phones, and it's important for people to still have a normal phone as a fallback when moving to a soft client like Lync."

      When Microsoft switched to using Lync instead of phones on our desks, for at least six months I used my handset device more than my laptop headset. But now I've done away with the phone handset, and just use a headset, as I find it better. But I wouldn't have believed that two years ago, when I was first getting used to VOIP phones

    Learn MoreRead the full story on the CIO website

  • 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

    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

    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

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