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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

    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

    Vicdeaf using Lync to help improve communication between deaf colleagues


    I was watching deaf people using their mobile phones to communicate via video sharing this week, (during ‘An Idiot Abroad’ Karl Pilkington got sent to Cairo, and ended up in a KFC run by deaf staff).

    And then today, I was sent a link to this video from Generation-e, who have been helping the Vicdeaf team to improve communications between their staff and stakeholders. The video demonstrates how Microsoft Lync enables deaf colleagues to collaborate and communicate, with both instant messaging and video calling enabling more interactive, and clearer communication.

    Vicdeaf Microsoft Lync Case Study

    From August, the licence for Lync is being included within the main Client Access Licence (CAL) that our education customers use in Australia – which means that customers who are on subscription licences (School Agreement, Campus Agreement, or the new EES or OVS-ES) will automatically be licensed for parts of Lync. So the example that you see above is more feasible in education establishments across Australia – not just in specialist organisations for the deaf.

    Learn MoreRead other case studies on Microsoft Lync in education

  • 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

    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

    Reducing computer lab costs in schools with Windows MultiPoint Server


    I've written before about Windows MultiPoint Server and the theoretical cost savings identified by Forrester.

    The idea with Windows MultiPoint Server is quite easy to explain - you basically have a group of screens/keyboard/mice connected to a single computer - and each users gets a full Windows 7 desktop. And you save on hardware, electricity and management costs.

    Now I can point you to more detailed real-life case studies from schools using the system.

    Windows MultiPoint Server banner

    Windows MultiPoint Server in Indian classrooms

    In India, the Gulzar Group of Institutes has used it to reduce the cost of rolling out 120 stations in one big computer lab. Their original plan, to deploy 120 desktop computers, would have cost them $60,000, but using MultiPoint they reduced this to $36,000. As Gurkirat Singh, the Executive Director for Gulzar Group of Institutes, said at the time:

      We saved 40 percent on our initial hardware cost, which was a significant saving for us  

    They other savings they made were in power usage - saving over $10,000 a year - and reduced the number of technicians needed to support the system by 50%. Overall, the case study points to a saving in the first year of over $40,000.

    Windows MultiPoint Server in Rwandan classrooms

    On another continent, Gashora Girls Academy in Rwanda has used the latest version - Windows MultiPoint Server 2011 - to provide access to students who didn't have classroom computers. They were aiming to increase availability of IT , without making it too complicated to be managed by classroom teachers. And they also needed to keep a lid on their power costs, due to the high costs of electricity in Africa. They setup 36 workstations, and as Kimberley Mecham, the Technical Advisor to the Academy, said:


    “Some of these girls have never even seen a computer before. Through Windows MultiPoint Server, they can experience the most current software and technology.

    With Windows MultiPoint Server, we can provide cost-effective access to technology, and this is the kind of thing that really changes a whole community.


    In addition to saving hardware costs, they have made significant savings on power - especially important when a kilowatt hour of electricity costs 22 cents. Their original plan, of 36 desktop computers, would have been costing $149 a month to run - whereas their new system costs just $29 a month - reducing power costs by 80%

    Windows MultiPoint Server video case study in Iowa

    There's also a video case study of the use of Windows MultiPoint Server at Tri-Center Schools in Iowa, that shows how they used the system to connect 20 old computers to a single server - and use that to get their desktop experience up to date for their students.

    Read the full case study on the Gulzar Group of Institutes in India
    Read the full case study on the Gashora Girls Academy in Rwanda

    Learn MoreFind out more about Windows MultiPoint Server 2011

  • 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 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

    Lync conversation translator for instant message conversations


    imageI just came across a great little free toolkit - the Microsoft Lync Adoption and Training Kit - which is a set of utilities and add-ins for Lync to give it increased capabilities - in addition to the instant messenger, video chat, phone calls and conference calling systems.

    There's 'IM an expert' that allows you to search for people with specialist skills within your organisation (something that would probably be really helpful for HE researchers). But the one that struck me as really useful in education is the Conversation Translator, which does exactly that - two people can have a chat where they both type and see responses in their own language - and the Conversation Translator sits in the middle translating from one to the other - in a choice of 35 languages.

    You could have students in Australia chatting to students in France - and build their confidence using the Conversation Translator, before weaning them off it as their language skills grow.

    Learn MoreLearn More about the Lync Adoption and Training Kit

  • Education

    Education content at Microsoft World Partner Conference in LA


    WPC Logo

    If you are going to the Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference in Los Angeles next month, then there's the chance to join the worldwide Microsoft Education team for some of the conference sessions. With the team promising that you can "learn why education is one of the fastest growing industry segments at Microsoft", you'll also get clear updates on our products and solutions, and hear from other partners.

    Education Sessions during WPC

    There are two specific education sessions during the main WPC agenda:

    • July 12 - BP06i - Office in Education: The Evolution of Live@edu and Office 365 for Education
      Come to this session for an interactive discussion around the Microsoft Office Cloud offerings for education. We will present an overview of Live@edu, the future of Office 365 for education and discuss the major opportunities this presents for partners worldwide.
    • July 13 - 4:15 pm - PS04 - Growing your Business in the Education Industry - Strategies for Success!
      Anthony Salcito, WW VP Education, will outline Microsoft’s overall strategy with the theme of "Partners and Microsoft –Education Inspired." Salcito will address how and where things are evolving for partners within our ecosystem. We are focusing on simplifying our approach, helping partners make money, competing to win and growing our joint market share by driving partner-led solutions.

    You can find out more about WPC, and register, here

    Global Education Partner Summit at WPC

    On Friday 15th July, directly after WPC, there is an additional event, the Global Education Partner Summit (GEPS) @ WPC, which is specifically reserved for education partners. This will in the morning, at the Omni Hotel in downtown LA.

      Time Title Speakers
      9:00 - 9:45 Opening and introduction Larry Nelson & Anthony Salcito
      9:45 - 10:30 Trends in Education: What you Need to Know to Grow Your Business Profitably in Education Industry Bruce Dixon, Fellow, Education Impact
      10:30 - 11:00 Break & networking  
      11:00 - 12:00 Business Modeling for the Cloud Dr. Petri Salonen, CEO TELLUS International, Inc
      12:00 - 1:15 Roundtable discussions; 2 rotations, 40 minutes each:  
        Transitioning your Business Solutions to the Cloud Bradley Tipp, WW Director Education Cloud Computing
        Building Education Scenarios Across the PC, Phone & Browser John Rivera-Dirks, WW Client Strategy Manager
        Helping Education Customers Manage "the Business of Schools", Applying CRM & SQL Server to Build Learning Analytics Solutions Mike Lloyd, WW Education Industry Solutions Specialist
        Supporting Partners entering the Education Industry Alessandro Giacobbe, Sr. Director WW Education Partners, MSFT Office Division
      Mike Chase, Education Transaction/AER Partners
        Building a Services Business in Education with the Education Services Portfolio Larry Nelson, WW Managing Director, Education Partners
        Leveraging the transformation to digital content David Langridge, WW Sr. Director Partner Development
        Leverage Windows Multipoint Server (WMS) to Increase Access for Students Pankaj Srivastava, Principal Program Manager, WMS
      1:15 - 1:30 Concluding remarks Anthony Salcito

    Learn MoreFind out more about, and register for, the Global Education Partner Summit (GEPS) @ WPC

  • 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

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