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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

    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

    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

    The mindset of a university CIO


    If you're working with University IT teams, you're going to eventually be talking with (or wanting to talk with) the CIO. After all, there's a common belief that they are involved in all the key decisions. But if you've not worked with many before, how do you approach the conversation? What is it that they will want to hear about?

    Sadly, I can't answer that directly for you - because each CIO is different - but I can point you towards a fantastic CIO interview of Mick Houlahan, who's the retiring CIO of the University of Western Sydney. He talks about his last 20 years, and some of the challenges and successes from that time. There's a few interesting numbers - like the fact that although student numbers have nearly doubled, the IT staff have remained the same. And the number of applications they support has quadrupled from 35 to 140.

    Learn MoreRead the full Mick Houlahan article

  • Education

    ICT sophistication leads to business innovation - Australian Bureau of Statistics


    A report, Business Innovation and the Use of Information and Communications Technology, published last week by the Australian Bureau of Statistics reports a direct link between the sophistication of ICT use in a business and the way that business innovates in improving its products and services.

    There's a good summary of the report on the CIO website, but basically what the report says is that businesses that adopt technology earlier are more likely to be innovative in how they run their business. The research was originally carried out in 2005/6, and has just been updated.

    From an education perspective, I wondered two things:

    What is the ICT Intensity Index for Education?

    Is there an educational equivalent of the four measures that they use to create the "ICT Intensity Index", which is the core metric in the report that they use to measure ICT innovation?

    Business ICT Intensity Index Education ICT Intensity Index
    Has a broadband connection Has high capacity
    broadband connection
    Has a web presence Has website that delivers
    learning resources at home
    Receives orders via the Internet Students submit homework
    assignments online
    Is using IT to a 'high' extent in at least 5 business activities Is using IT to a 'high' extent across both teaching, administration and communications

    Is there a relationship between ICT Intensity and Innovation in Education?

    Is the relationship that they see in the research in business, that same for education establishments? Are schools, colleges and universities that innovate early in technology more likely to innovate in their delivery of their products and services (ie teaching and learning)? And, if so, does that show up in today's measures of success (exam results, attendance, behaviour)?

  • Education

    Protecting your users from hackers


    Have you ever wondered why Office 2010 provides more active protection for documents than previous versions? And why it has started giving you warnings about files? Like this one, which I see on a regular basis:


    Basically, it's about providing enhanced malware protection for students and staff. Experienced IT users can sometimes think that these kind of messages are annoying (after all, I know I've opened a file from an Internet site I trust), but your users - teaching staff and students - can sometimes take actions which potentially harm their computer. Only yesterday I read the story of Virginia Tech being compromised by a data-stealing virus, but they are just one example of the daily battle between you, your users, and the criminal organisations looking to get at your IT systems. (And when you have multiple users using the same computer, as you do in a computer lab or library, you can quickly compound the problem).

    Anyway, back to the message bar. Would you like to know more about why you see these messages, and what Office is doing in the background? It's helpful in understanding how and why it is giving malware protection for students.

    The Office Engineering team (the ones who design and build Word, Excel, PowerPoint etc) have just published a white paper called Keeping Enterprise Data Safe with Office 2010 , which explains the various security features (and hacker challenges they have to tackle, like 'fuzzing'), and it's a good background read to some of the security and data protection that's in place - and provides an insight that might help you to protect your data and users more effectively.

    Learn MoreDownload the 'Keeping Enterprise Data Safe with Office 2010' White Paper

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