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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

    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

    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

    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

    By 2020, all schools, universities and TAFEs in Australia will offer online virtual education


    Icons_light_blueThe Australian Government has set a series of eight Digital Economy Goals - which are being used to drive the economy and public planning forward. They relate to use of technology at home, in business, in health, in government and in education.

    Digital Economy Goal for Education

    The Digital Economy Goal for Education is quite audacious:

    By 2020, Australian schools, TAFEs, universities and higher education institutions will have the connectivity to develop and collaborate on innovative and flexible educational services and resources to extend online learning resources to the home and workplace; and the facilities to offer students and learners, who cannot access courses via traditional means, the opportunity for online virtual learning.

    Taken literally it means learners will be able to choose to learn online from their own school, TAFE or university.

    Now, if you're used to reading Government targets you'll spot the get out clause, which is that the institutions have to have the facilities to offer it - it doesn't actually set the target that they must offer it. But let's ignore that for the moment.

    There are two parties to this target:

    • The government is accountable to ensure that education has the connectivity and the facilities and things like the DER and NBN are both moving in that direction
    • Every school, TAFE and university is accountable for providing ways of delivering learning online for their students

    I would guess that most institutions have a way of making some learning resources available online today - but do they all have a roadmap that gets them to the point of delivering a full traditional course by online virtual means?

    And if you are in a school, TAFE or university, do you feel accountable for the goal?

    Australian Government Digital Economy Goals

    FYI here are all of the Australian Government Digital Economy Goals. The goals are that by 2020:

    • Australia ranks in the top five OECD countries in the portion of households that connect to broadband at home.
    • Australia ranks in the top five OECD countries in relation to the percentage of businesses, and not for profit organisations, using online opportunities to drive productivity improvements, expand their customer base and enable jobs growth.
    • The majority of Australian households, businesses and other organisations will have access to smart technology to better manage their energy use.
    • As identified in the National eHealth Strategy endorsed by the federal, state and territory governments, 90% of high priority consumers such as older Australians, mothers and babies and those with a chronic disease, or their carers, can access individual electronic health records. Through the government’s investments in telehealth, by July 2015, 495,000 telehealth consultations will have been delivered providing remote access to specialists for patients in rural, remote and outer metropolitan areas, and by 2020, 25% of all specialists will be participating in delivering telehealth consultations to remote patients.
    • Australian schools, TAFEs, universities and higher education institutions will have the connectivity to develop and collaborate on innovative and flexible educational services and resources to extend online learning resources to the home and workplace; and the facilities to offer students and learners, who cannot access courses via traditional means, the opportunity for online virtual learning.
    • Australia will have at least doubled its level of teleworking so that at least 12% of Australian employees report having a teleworking arrangement with their employer.
    • Four out of five Australians will choose to engage with the government through the internet or other type of online service.
    • The gap between households and businesses in capital cities and those in regional areas will have narrowed significantly.
  • Education

    Tech·Ed Australia 2011 announced



    At the end of August, it'll be time to get up to the Gold Coast for Tech·Ed, the annual geekfest that provides a chance to get up to speed with deep technology insights, and hear from some of the best technical presenters around. Having seen the team who are running this event at a number of events since arriving in Australia, I have high expectations that this will be a lively conference!

    Running from the afternoon of the 30th August, until late 2nd September, there's tons of technical tracks on offer, as well as the chance to sign up for technical training, hands-on labs, and cut price certification exams. Let's face it, if you're role involves technical architecture, development, deployment, management or security, then there's something for you. And the 16 tracks include Cloud, Communications, Collaboration, Virtualisation, Security, Identity, Web and a bunch of device specific sessions - including Windows clients, Windows Phone and Windows Server.

    Education customers get a special ticket price of $1,680 inc GST, and for everybody else there's the Early Bird rate until 15th July of $1,800 (saving $300 off the usual price).

    Learn MoreLearn More about Tech·Ed Australia

  • Education

    8 out of 10 students want to see more blended learning


    Lecture capture – by video and audio – and making that available to students is a growing option to produce a blended learning environment. Some lecturers are worried that students may not turn up to their lectures (leading some to say that they will only stream lectures live to “genuinely ill’ students), whilst others are plunging into making all their lectures available online - either publically or through their Learning Management System (LMS).

    But what do students think about making recordings of lectures available?

    A recent survey, published on eCampus News, was based on students in the States. Some of the student responses were:

    • 70% of students said watching lectures online was as effective as traditional in-class lectures
    • Students surveyed nationwide (by Echo360, a lecture capture supplier) ranked lecture capture technology as the most important blended learning technology resource on campus (ahead of LMS and Interactive whiteboards)
    • 90% of students said they would use a captured lecture video if given the choice
    • 84% of students wanted to see their institution expand the use of blended learning

    Interestingly one of the issues that they identified in the survey was that competitive students were less keen than others – seemingly because it gave them less opportunity to show in front of their peers!

    Learn More buttonYou can read the eCampus News story here, and the full survey is linked from the Echo360 press release

  • Education

    SIGMA - Student Individualised Growth Model and Assessment tool


    Last year, we released a solution in the US, known by the name of SIGMA – the Student Individualised Growth Model and Assessment tool. It allows educational institutions to use data more effectively to predict student outcomes by identifying at-risk students, and tracking their proactive management. It’s one answer to the question “Why is Business Intelligence in education so important?”. And also a powerful example of using learning analytics to support students.

    The quote at the beginning of the SIGMA overview, from Carnegie Corporation of New York, explains why the issue of school drop out is so critical:

      Today, young people who leave high school without excellent and flexible reading and writing skills stand at a great disadvantage. In the past, those students who dropped out of high school could count on an array of options for establishing a productive and successful life. But in a society driven by knowledge and ever-accelerating demands for reading and writing skills, very few options exist for young people lacking a high school diploma.  

    The decision to drop out of school results from a process of increasing disengagement that can begin as early as primary school. No single set or combination of generalised risk factors exist that will identify, with absolute certainty, whether a student will drop out. This is because Predictive Analysis—using historical data to anticipate future outcomes—is not an exact science. Research does suggest, however, there is a relationship between key early indicators that can help to identify which students are less likely to graduate on time or drop out altogether. The most common reasons for dropping out of school include:

    • Lack of educational support
    • Outside influence
    • Special needs
    • Financial problems

    But knowing what the factors isn’t the same as being able to use that information to prevent drop outs. The SIGMA business intelligence solution, using factors identified through risk assessment, is able to create a series of reports. The example below shows an example of an early warning system ‘on-track indicator’. The graph consists of three areas - the student identifier, risk level, and visualisation tool. The Risk Level Summary consists of both a current school year’s risk index score and a longitudinal view of the student’s risk index, which examines the entirety of the student’s academic record.

    SIGMA learning analytics report

    There are two approaches to building solutions to identify at-risk students—business intelligence and predictive analytics:

    • Business intelligence is a forensic examination of historical data representing a ―”snap shot-in-time” view of the student, providing educators with insight into the student’s performance. It is the process of gathering, storing, analysing, and accessing targeted school and student data to aid stakeholders in making timely decisions based on the most up-to-date information.
    • Predictive analytics is a technique of applying statistical models to determine likely outcomes by examining historical records. The system assigns a mathematical index score to each student tracked by the system. Each model is unique in that it takes into account local factors found within the school system, the surrounding community, and other influences identified as relevant by the local education stakeholders. These models incorporate both protective and negative factors. An example of a protective factor would be the inclusion of classes and programs such as music, art, advanced placement, after school activities, or athletic programs that capture the interest of the student. Negative factors include poor attendance, low grades, or high levels of negative behaviour incidents.

    Although the whitepaper on the SIGMA model is designed for an American audience, there are strong parallels to the Australian education system, and lessons that are applicable – and it is definitely worth a read if you want to explore more.

    Learn More

    Download the whitepaper on Microsoft’s Student Individualised Growth Model and Assessment (SIGMA)


    For more on learning analytics in Australia, it’s worth looking into the Learning Analytics case study at John Paul College in Brisbane. I’m going up there at the end of the month, to talk at their ‘The Education Revolution in Action4’ conference, so I’m hoping to see it in action when I get there.

  • Education

    Kinect–coming to a classroom near you?



    You’ve probably seen the Kinect device - either in real life or on a video – and there are 10 million of them worldwide being used for gaming on Xboxes. Early on, there were various hacks developed to allow it to be plugged into a PC and operated through Windows, creating alternative augmented reality systems, and even being used by surgeons to speed up surgery.

    Now we’ve just released the official Kinect for Windows Software Development Kit (SDK), which means that you’ve now got an official tool set to develop software prototypes using the sensors. It includes the ability to use the Kinect’s raw camera and sensor data, or using the inbuilt skeletal tracking (for control via gestures) and audio processing (for control by speech). And the SDK includes a demo game, so that you can see how to make it work.

    Right now, the Kinect SDK Code Camp is going on overnight in the States – with a group of developers given 24 hours to produce and demonstrate a new prototype application. You can see the results on Channel 9 as they start to appear (the first project to share the source code turned out to be a Kinect-driven Sith Light Sabre).

    Since I first saw the Kinect device, I’d been thinking about it’s potential in the classroom – for learning games to a better way of creating interactive learning resources, and even to create a better classroom experience for teachers instead of screwing interactive whiteboards to walls, and leaving teachers facing away from students. So the door’s now open for some of those projects to get started…

    The SDK has been released specifically with a licence for education customers and enthusiasts to develop and share projects, and it doesn’t allow commercial organisations to use it to develop products that use Kinect.

    Learn MoreLearn More and download the free Kinect SDK

  • Education

    The Microsoft Australia Partner Conference 2011–bookings now open



    The Microsoft Australia Partner Conference (APC) is on from 23 - 25 August 2011 in the Gold Coast, where there will be the chance to connect up with over 200 Microsoft experts, 850 other partners and to hear from some inspiring speakers. And it’s also where we’ll announce the winners of the Microsoft Australia Partner Awards, including the Microsoft Australia Education Partner Award 2011.

    All Microsoft Partners with a Gold and Silver competency get one complimentary ticket, and there’s an early bird ticket offer of $1,346 if you book before Friday 8 July (which saves $150 off the usual price).

    For education partners, there are plenty of opportunities to gain special insight:

    • On Thursday 25th August, there are two Education-specific sessions, which will cover our Education strategy and how that helps you with your business growth
    • On Wednesday 24th August, there’s a chance to have 1:1 meetings with members of the education team, including our new Education Director and the Education National Sales Manager
    • On Tuesday 23rd August, there will be a chance to meet up with various members of the education team during the evening reception

    Nearer the time, I’ll be able to help you book individual meetings, or find suitable people from other partner organisations that you want to meet up with. For now though, your priority should be to book yourself in…

    Learn MoreLearn More and Register

  • Education

    IT managers getting ready for Office 365


    A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about the Office 365 training courses for developers to help them prepare for the move to the Cloud (or a hybrid of Cloud and On-Premise systems).

    Office 365 logoNow it’s time to think about typical IT customers: there’s a different set of training videos for IT managers and their teams, that helps organisations to understand what Office 365 can do, and how it is managed. In the context of Office 365 for education, we’re going to see it take off pretty rapidly, as it helps to solve challenges that CIO’s and IT managers are facing today – like cost management, reduced capital budgets, and ever increasing need for collaboration services which can be tricky to deliver within a conventional IT infrastructure.

    When the free version of Office 365 for education is launched, it will initially provide the email capabilities, and have other capabilities added as time goes on, although an education customer could choose to subscribe to the full paid version to get Lync and SharePoint Online immediately (and this isn’t quite as unlikely as it sounds, because there are plenty of scenarios where it will be very cost-effective to put groups – eg a staff team – onto a paid subscription to deliver a project, especially where collaboration is needed between schools).

    Starting with an Office 365 overview, the videos then dive down into the administration processes, and the management of identity and access, and how to use Office 365 in hybrid situations (so that you still have a single user database, and use that to control access to both your on-premise and Cloud-based IT systems).

    I’ve not included the videos of SharePoint and Lync administration in Office 365 above, but they are available on the link below too.

    These videos are a great way to learn what is possible with Office 365, and to assess what scenarios it is likely to address for education customers.

    Learn MoreView all of the videos of Office 365 for IT managers

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