statcounter tracker
June, 2011 - Education - Site Home - MSDN Blogs
The Australian Education Blog
Ray Fleming's take on what's interesting in Education IT in Australia

June, 2011

  • Education

    Business Intelligence in Education - What can we learn from supermarkets?


    Part One of a series - and a bit like chapters in a book, chapter one doesn’t tell the whole story, but gets the journey started!

    Puzzle piecesFor years we have been collecting data on students. In the beginning, it was data created and collated by individual teachers - in students’ own workbooks and teacher markbooks. And then in early student information systems, we started to collect information on statutory tests, and then increasingly in-school tests. But still, in most schools, data is distributed across lots of different places - information is stored in students’ own workbooks, teachers’ markbooks, teacher spreadsheets, the student information system and in other databases (sometimes held at a teacher or department level, sometimes at school level). Oh, and then there’s the data aggregated and held outside of the school by curriculum authorities, state education departments, and assessment agencies.

    But having collected all of that information in different places, and different ways, we haven’t yet reached the stage of using the data to consistently support learning for individual students. Of course, there are some shining examples of where it is being used, but the key word in the sentence is ‘consistently’  - all of the data, connected and used in every school to support learning.

    So, the million dollar question is, as John Davitt put it:

      Why does a supermarket know more about my frozen pea buying habits than my children’s school knows about their learning?  

    What happens in retail?

    Compare the experience of collecting and collating data in supermarkets to the story above. As consumers, we’ve been conditioned by the big supermarkets to share our data, and supermarkets have built central mechanisms to collect and use the data. There’s even a benefit paid for sharing your data. Here’s how it works:

    • Supermarkets sell thousands of products to thousands of consumers, every minute. And that generates a stream of information (What’s selling today? What isn’t? What’s running out of stock? Which shops are making a profit?)
    • To connect that information to individual consumers, they have persuaded us to use a loyalty card every time we shop. Now they can link their generic data to individuals (Who’s buying nappies? If they buy nappies, do they also buy wet wipes? What’s the trend on a consumer’s spending? Are they likely to be shopping at other supermarkets too?)
    • We individually decide to opt-in to sharing our data (by signing up to the scheme, and handing over our membership card every time we shop)
    • In order to encourage us to share our data, the supermarkets have offered us a small incentive - points, air miles, fuel discounts etc

    The data that’s collected is potentially massive - and insightful. Everything from what paper you read, to what meat you buy for your BBQ. And by linking that to external data sources, they can go one step further - what products do customers buy when the temperature gets over 30⁰. Where do you live, shop and fuel your car?

    Which results in retailers being able to collect and collate enough individual information to help them improve their business, through things such as:

    • Using aggregated data to plan their business - eg Where should the next store be built? What product lines can be expanded? How long should stores  be open for?
    • Using individual data to grow their business - eg What’s the next product line to sell this customer? Which customers can I encourage to shop more frequently? Which customers can I switch to more profitable brands?

    And some of this then results in a further incentive for the customers - like offers related to switching brands, or finding that the shop doesn’t run out of your favourite ice cream for the BBQ on a hot weekend (okay, there’s some things that still need working on!)

    Why we shouldn’t compare education to supermarkets’ use of data

    But is it right to compare what is happening with consumer shopping data to what could be happening in education? In some ways it’s an unfair comparison, as the scale is massively different - supermarkets are dealing with millions of customers, and so they can afford to invest the time and money in building big data models. And there’s a commercial imperative to improve, which results in more revenue and profit - it’s not a fixed budget, so investment in improvements pays back with extra cash.

    And there’s also a much more centralised system - for both customer management and data - that results in all of that useful data being seen and used at headquarters, rather than at branch level.

    In education, only some data is shared with the ‘HQ’ - state or nationally - for example, statutory test data, like NAPLAN results. Whereas a lot of it is created and stored by the school. Or just by a teacher for their own use.

    And finally, the money spent on improvements doesn’t necessarily generate more budget for the school.

    The lessons we can learn from supermarkets

    Although direct comparisons are unfair, there are some lessons learnt by retailers that might be useful

    1. Individuals are willing to share data if there’s something in it for them.
    2. Reducing friction on sharing data improves everybody's willingness to share
    3. Everybody in the data chain should receive benefits
    4. Connecting more data sets has an amplified benefit

    If you consider how you use data in your school/TAFE/university, are there frustrations about data use that could be overcome by applying one or more of the retail lessons?

    In my experience, the ‘benefit’ test is a key omission - eg are you asking teachers to supply data, without ensuring that they receive a benefit for it? (Or worse, do they think that sharing data just gives ‘management’ another stick to beat them with?). And reducing friction is also key - eg if a teacher currently stores their markbook in an Excel spreadsheet, can you read the data from there, instead of making them change?

    As I said at the beginning, this is Chapter One. I’m going to come back to this whole subject in a couple of days, but for now, let me leave you with a question to think about (and comment on below?):

    What are the other lessons we can learn from retailers’ use of data? Positive and negative?

  • Education

    Education Revolution in Action 4 - the slide


    As I mentioned earlier, I had to crunch the allocated time for my keynote at the ERA4 conference at John Paul College, but after telling the major part of my story using video and interactive software, the one slide I chose was the most important, and generated some interesting discussion. It’s about the two tensions of educational ICT, and goes a long way to explain why ICT managers in education have such a difficult job:

    The Two Tensions

    These Two Tensions are between an ‘old world’ of control and a ‘new world’ of Innovation.

    Two Tensions ERA4

    On the left hand side, we have an old world which is about rules, process and where change is made a step at a time. It’s all ‘under control’, and that’s where people want it.

    On the right hand side, is a new world where there is a certain degree of anarchy, where iIntuition is used over process, and people run by the mantra of ‘If you can imagine it, you can do it’ - and that’s also where much of the innovation is happening.

    The challenge for educational ICT leaders, and for the system leaders, is that the left hand side describes where the Institution is - and the right hand side describes where many Individuals are - whether that’s students or teachers. And the ICT team is smack bang in the middle - they are responsible for delivering a secure, robust institutional system, at the same time as individuals are just branching out, and going and using whatever personal technology they want - whether that’s a device, a Web 2.0 service, or new ways of collaborating and communicating. The challenge is managing both of those worlds - giving people freedom whilst retaining the right level of control.

    The Two other Tensions - Assessment and Learning

    I’d talked about the need to change assessment earlier in my keynote, and as I presented this slide, people also said that you could also put ‘Assessment’ and ‘Learning’ on this chart too - that Assessment is built around an ‘old world’ model, whereas Learning is becoming increasingly build in the ‘new world’ model. And that’s clear when you look at the skills that employers are looking for, and the assessment system that isn’t currently able to judge those skills. There’s no doubt that the assessment systems around the world are good for testing the basic skills - reading, writing, numeracy, maths etc - but there is a real challenge in assessing the 21st Century skills of learners - eg their collaboration, communication, team working skills. The job of assessing those skills is increasingly left to employers to do in a 40 minute job interview - which is not an ideal environment for either the employer or the potential employee.

    So what other slides was I going to show?

    Fortunately, the slide I used was the most important - but I did commit to putting up my unused slides, so that everybody could glance through them. I was going to go on and talk about the choices that can be made for ICT, and then jump into the use of the Cloud in education. They don’t make as much sense without the commentary, but even without some may be useful to people. You can download them all in PDF form.

    Learn MoreDownload my unused ERA4 slides

  • Education

    Education Revolution in Action 4 Conference


    I was invited to present one of a pair of keynotes at the Education Revolution in Action 4 conference yesterday, at John Paul College in Queensland. The 300 attendees were from schools - state and private - from across Australia and New Zealand, and were a mix of practising classroom teachers, school leaders and ICT managers.

    It’s always a bit tricky to find a story that works for all of the different groups - too much technology, and you can turn off the teachers, and too much pedagogy and you can bore the ICT managers. But I thought I’d got the balance about right, but that was before the agenda started to overrun, and I had to make the decision that every speaker hates - do I stick to my allocated 50 minutes, and eat into the coffee break by 20 minutes - or do I rush through a 50 min presentation in half an hour? If you’ve already been sitting for an hour and a half, coffee breaks become pretty important, so I went for a third option, of delivering the first half of my presentation, and leaving out the rest (fortunately, my presentation came in two handy halves!)

    And even more fortunately, the blog allows me to share the slides that I couldn’t present (although they may not make as much sense without my commentary Smile).

    Workplace Revolution in Action

    Given the conference theme of Education Revolution in Action, what I chose to talk about was the Workplace Revolution in Action - the way that people will be working in the future, and the implications from a technology and skills perspective. I used our ‘2020 Vision’ video, which looks at the workplace of 2020, and then continued by deconstructing the technology behind the video – to look at what exists now – either in research labs or in real life - and how the components might build to get to the vision described for the future. It always then leads into a conversation about the skills needed for the workforce of the future, where the workplace is a very different one from today.

    Unfortunately, I can’t share the whole presentation (I used a multimedia, interactive piece of software to present it), but I can share the short video that I used as the introduction, which is the starting point for the story I told. It's the Productivity Future Vision on YouTube here

    I finished up the session with just one slide from my original presentation, which I’ve found to be a useful way to talk about the tension that is created for ICT people in education.

    I’m going to write about it, and put it on a separate blog post, a little later today. And I’ll also post up all of the slides that I didn’t get to present, just in case any of the attendees wanted to know what they may have missed.

    Now all posted - and available here

  • Education

    Tech Tuesday tomorrow - Desktop Deployment


    Have you signed for any of the Tech Tuesday webinars for schools yet? They are hour long web-hosted meetings, from 12-1pm (Sydney time) on Tuesday lunchtimes, and mean that you can get up to date with some of our latest technology for education - without having to leave school.

    Ryan Bonnici

    Every week, Ryan Bonnici introduces another expert from Microsoft or one of our partners, and then we take a deep look into specific topics.

    This week’s subject is all about Desktop Deployment, and will help you to plan and run a Windows 7/Office 2010 upgrade project in school. And Ryan’s joined this week by Jeff Alexander, one of Microsoft’s Virtualisation specialists.

    Learn MoreFind out more, and register

    Next week’s is all about Dynamics CRM in Education, with Jaythom - sign up on the link above too

  • Education

    Microsoft Australian Partner Conference 2011 - agenda information for education partners



    The agenda for the Microsoft Australia Partner Conference (APC) has been published, and it’s pretty comprehensive.

    There’s a wide choice of tracks available, and they break down into three different types

    • Focus and advice on customer segments
      • Public Sector - including specific sessions for Education, Health etc
      • Enterprise Solutions and customers - addressing the top concerns of major customers, such as the consumerisation of IT, and the switch to the Cloud
      • Small and Midsized Business - with real stories of how you can accelerate your business sales using Cloud
    • Focus and advice on products/technologies
      • ISV and Solution Developer - which will focus on specific advice for partners developing their own applications business through the Microsoft Cloud, and new devices
      • Dynamics - covering the growth of, and applications for, CRM systems
      • OEM - looking at today’s and tomorrow’s hardware devices
    • Focus on your own business
      • Sales and Marketing - advice and case studies to help you develop your sales and marketing capability
      • Microsoft Partner Network - practical information on how to activate the benefits of the MPN, such as internal user rights for Cloud and CRM services
      • Human Resources - including advice on recruitment strategies in today’s market

    Download the full detail of the APC 2011 Track Sessions here



    Find out more about APC 2011, and how to register

    Don’t forget if you’re a Gold or Silver Competency Partner, then you get your first ticket free, saving you up to $1,496.

  • Education

    The NSW Online Science testing pilot–using the Microsoft Cloud


    Whoops – despite me talking about this project frequently, I forgot to put anything on the blog…which came to light when I was writing about Janison being a finalist in the Microsoft Partner Awards. So let me put it right

    Last year Janison worked with the New South Wales Department of Education and Training to move their Essential Secondary Science Assessment (a compulsory test for Year 8 students) online – reducing the amount of paperwork flying around, and the consequent marking and delays caused in issuing results.

    Why makes the online NSW ESSA test interesting?

    From an education point of view, it’s an interesting project because they managed to create a new level of interactivity within the tests – allowing students to change the parameters of experiments, and getting immediate feedback. It’s a big jump forward from multiple-choice quizzes.

    And from a technology point of view, it’s noteworthy because of the way that Cloud services were used to deliver the test to students – which dramatically reduced the cost of delivering the test. In the pilot project in 2010, 30,000 students from 650 schools took the test online, all in a single day – and using Cloud-based ICT made it possible.

    Video case study of the online Essential School Science Assessment (ESSA) test

    The technical side of the ESSA online testing

    Janison, the partner that built the online ESSA testing system, used the Windows Azure Cloud system to deliver the test, with Azure delivering the interactive content to the students, as well as storing the students individual answers (and streaming those answers back to a on-premise data server too). Students taking the test didn’t see any of this – they just worked their way through a set of multimedia, animated virtual assessments, whilst staff used a web portal to administer the system.

    Although all of this would have been possible using a conventional infrastructure, the use of the Windows Azure Cloud reduced the cost – making it 100 times less expensive. In the old model, the system would have needed banks of dedicated servers, which would only be heavily used on one day a year (but would have to have the capacity for hundreds of thousands of students for that one day!). With the Cloud model, what Janison could do was simply use the elastic capacity of the Cloud, and increase the number of servers they were using in the Microsoft datacentre (perhaps in a case of overcaution, using 300 servers on the day). And because they could just switch it on and off like a lightswitch, they only paid for the hours they were using them. This meant the hosting costs fell from hundreds of thousands of dollars (for physical servers) to just $500.

    And, for the developers it allowed them to use their existing development methodology and tools, according Wayne Houlden, Janison’s CEO

    Without the Cloud, then it’s unlikely the project would have ever got off the ground, or would have taken years to get moving, because of the prohibitive cost, and the inflexibility of a traditional computing project.

    The success of ESSA

    Of course, successful IT projects never grab the headlines like unsuccessful ones, but the Sydney Morning Herald’s article on ESSA testing described it with no shortage of praise:


    The trial…heralds a new era of online assessment destined to transform how students are examined…

    …The overwhelmingly positive feedback from students, who are asked to complete a short survey at the end of the exam, and teachers has already filtered out to education authorities worldwide.


    And there’s been widespread recognition for the project, as it won the Australian Excellence in eGovernment Award 2011 for Applications Development, and is a finalist in the Telstra Business Awards at the beginning of July. (And was a finalist in the worldwide Microsoft Partner Awards).

    Visit the Janison websiteVisit the Janison website to learn more

  • Education

    Microsoft worldwide Education Partner of the Year


    Microsoft WPC logo

    The World Partner Conference kicks off in Los Angeles next month, and in the build up to it, we’ve just announced the results of the Microsoft Partner of Year Awards for 2011. It’s a tough race, with over 3,000 companies entering from over 100 countries – and the judging process is tough on the entrants.

    Here’s the criteria that the entries are judged on for the Education Partner of Year Award:

      The Public Sector, Education Partner of the Year Award recognizes partners who have exhibited excellence in providing innovative and unique services or solutions based on Microsoft technologies to Education customers. Successful entrants for this Award will demonstrate industry knowledge and expertise, as well as consistent, high-quality, predictable service or solutions to Education customers.  

    It’s amazing that a small specialist Australian company, Janison, in Coffs Harbour, NSW, made it to the three finalists for the Education Partner of Year. Of course, it’s a real shame that they didn’t win the award, to add to their bookshelf of other awards for the ESSA Online Science Assessment project.

    The winner that pipped Janison to the post was Desire2Learn, a Canadian-based global company who produce a learning management system that’s a competitor to Blackboard and Moodle (and a company that we work closely with here in Australia too).

    Here’s the blurb from the site on the winner, Desire2Learn:

    Desire2Learn is recognized as a global eLearning solution provider with the most complete, scalable and adaptable suite of enterprise software products and services to power any institution’s learning infrastructure. All solutions are customized to reflect each school’s unique learning methodologies and branding needs. Desire2Learn currently has over 500 clients worldwide across Schools, Colleges, Higher Education, State Departments of Education, as well as government, corporate and healthcare organisations. The scalability of their solution and global presence provides Desire2Learn with the ability to connect schools and provide a borderless environment in which to teach and learn, today more than 6 million learners reap the benefits of Desire2Learn’s applications. The Desire2Learn Environment is a complete web-based suite of easy-to-use tools and functionality built exclusively on Microsoft Windows and SQL Server. Other Microsoft technologies integrated, or soon to be integrated, in their products include: Live@edu, Windows Phone 7, Lync, Office 365, and SharePoint.

    If you’re planning to extend e-learning in your school/TAFE/university, then you’ve now got two of the world’s best partners here to work with you in Australia.

    Learn More button

    See information on the Microsoft Partner of the Year Awards

    Read more on this blog about the Desire2Learn Learning Management System

    Find out more about Janison’s ESSA project

    PS As I wrote this, I discovered I’d not already written about the Janison project on this blog – so expect me to rectify that over the next few days

  • Education

    Tips for reducing help desk calls when upgrading to Office 2010


    CIO magazine published a useful article last week, “Supporting Office 2010: Tips for preventing help desk calls”, which contains four specific tips to make the roll out of Office 2010 easier for users (and therefore for you). The timing coincided with the first anniversary of Office 2010, and the news that it is being rolled out five times faster than Office 2007.

    There four key tips from the article are:

    1. Make training mandatory
    2. Help people with the Ribbon (eg using the Interactive Guide)
      They don’t mention Ribbon Hero, which is great for students
    3. Give people Quick Reference Guides
    4. Customise office (eg add ‘Print’ to the Quick Access Toolbar)

    For me, the last one is perhaps the most important – because if you do something simple like that, you can bring the commands your users use most frequently to the top of the screen. Let me show you how I did it on my Word menu:

    Making Print easier to find in Word 2010


    The menu looks like this to start with – with the Quick Access Toolbar at the top (which stays there all the time) – with just Save, Undo and Redo on it.


    Clicking on the drop-down arrow along side it brings up another menu


    And from that menu, just click the ones you want on the menu


    Hey Presto, you now have Print on the Toolbar – and showing all of the time.
    So, if you add that tweak into your standard Office distribution for teachers and students, you instantly make you life easier!
    And, if you add Print Preview instead of Quick Print, you’ll probably also save a lot of paper and money!

    Learn MoreLearn more about the Office 2010 menus and toolbar

  • Education

    Another Social Media Bootcamp in July - B2B Sales & Marketing


    If you missed the chance to attend this first time around, then book early for the repeat visit, at the end of July. Especially as there’s an early-bird rate available until the end of this month.

    imageIf you're a Microsoft Partner, you are eligible to attend the course run by our Partner Development Centre for Asia Pacific. The one-day training events are being run at the end of July and early August in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane. The focus is on the role of social media in today's sales and marketing environment.

    Here's the details:

    Social Media Bootcamp for Microsoft Partners

    In the Web 2.0 era, 'Customer 2.0' is informed, socially engaged and totally in control of the conversation - Social Media is fundamentally challenging the way that we market and sell.

    In this 1 day  'bootcamp' your team - of up to 3 individuals from your organisation - will focus on creating a framework for a Social Media strategy to suit your unique business needs. In doing so, you will map Social Media workflows to buyer behaviour and preferences.

    To help ensure the successful implementation of the resulting action plan, each team will receive individual follow up from the instructor after the session.

    In this 1 day action orientated 'bootcamp' each team - of up to 3 individuals from one organisation – will:

    • Focus on creating a framework for a Social Media strategy to suit their unique business needs
    • Map Social Media workflows to their buyer behaviour and preferences
    • Receive follow up from the instructor to support strategy implementation

    Cost: $950 per team of up to 3 people

    Sydney – Wednesday, 20 July

    Melbourne – Tuesday, 26 July

    Brisbane – Wednesday, 3 August

    Having attended these kind of events before (but not this specific one) I'd encourage you use it as an opportunity to get a team across your sales and marketing organisation to attend and think about how they work together to help you react to the changes and opportunities that social media gives you as a business.

  • Education

    It’s not just education - Coca-Cola moves to the cloud with Microsoft


    Recently, I’ve highlighted quite a few case studies of education customers moving to the Microsoft Cloud. And generally, I hit ‘delete’ when I get sent case studies of commercial customers (after all, they aren’t like typical education customers, are they?). But I liked the first three paragraphs of this case study article on, which drew me in:


    Some CIOs understandably treat the consumerisation of IT as a plague — a disease that must be stamped out, lest it subvert the standard operating environment they fought so hard to implement.

    For Coca-Cola Amatil’s CIO, however, the consumer world is the inspiration for his next steps in the enterprise.

    “Historically, we take the collaborative tools that typically start outside of the enterprise and we figure out how to bring them into the enterprise,” Barry Simpson says. “But by the time we’ve done that, we’ve taken out most of the usable features — all the things that made it great in the home market. Then we try and figure out how to connect back out again. It just doesn’t make a lot of sense.”


    With 15,000 employees to serve in Australia, Barry had the challenges of managing large capital spikes of investment and of continuing to meet  users’ rising expectations. Oh, and keeping the 69 mail servers running. In many ways, it’s not that different to an education customer. Except that he didn’t have access to the free Live@edu service, so had to choose the commercial equivalent (BPOS) – and make the investment decision of whether to invest in a cloud subscription or an on-premise service.

    Learn MoreRead the full Coca-Cola case study on

Page 1 of 3 (29 items) 123