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

October, 2011

  • Education

    How many ways can you use SharePoint in education?

    Alex Pearce, is a SharePoint Most Valuable Professional (MVP) in the UK who works with education customers, and writes extensively about SharePoint in Education on his blog at BFC Networks. In this guest blog post, Alex gives some thoughts on the many ways SharePoint can make for productive learning in the classroom:

    There are many ways to get SharePoint 2010 in your school, whether you’re using it as part of a package from a supplier, using a hosting company to host your own SharePoint or using your EES licence to host your SharePoint internally.

    All of the successful SharePoint implementations I have seen are those that have integrated SharePoint into their daily school lives and don’t use it as just another web page that student and teachers use if they want to. There are loads of great examples of how schools use SharePoint in their school and have a 100% adoption rate but how can this be done for your environment?

    I often talk to different schools about this very subject and I split the conversation into three different sections - management, learning and social. These three can be tackled by the school one at a time or all at the same time, but each of these can help you integrate SharePoint into your school.

    Whether you are looking at going with a third party hosting solution or building your own SharePoint, consider the following and ensure you can achieve these with the solution being provided.


    Any process in your school, whether it’s the approval of staff external training, hiring of equipment from IT or keeping the staff calendar up to date it, has a process from the request to information staff of the change/approval. SharePoint can help in any of these and any other process that comes to mind. Let’s take a look at how two of these processes can be used within in SharePoint.

    • Example - A member of staff requested some Maths training
      Navigate to the CPD site on their SharePoint and click on ‘’new request’’ which opens up Microsoft Word. They fill in the request and click ‘’save’’ which saves the document back to the CPD site. In the background, SharePoint is doing its thing and has emailed a copy of CPD Request to your manager for approval. They then open their email and get a link to the document which opens up in Internet Explorer using Office Web Applications and shows them the request you have made. They are happy and so they click ‘’approve’’ in SharePoint. This sends off the email to the finance department letting them know to send a purchase order to the training provider. During this time, two other emails have also been sent, letting the Timetable Manager know that you will not be in school on that training day and therefore need to arrange cover. The other email is to let you know that your course has been approved and you can attend.

        • Example - You want to borrow some digital cameras from the ICT Support department
          Navigate to the SharePoint page they have setup. You click on ‘’digital cameras’’ which loads a page that looks similar to your Outlook calendar and look for you the time you want. You can see that another member of staff has them already booked at that time, so you decide to use them the next lesson. You have to fill out an online form that includes the date and time and the room you require them in. When you have submitted the request, an email is sent to the ICT support team who approve the request. The day arrives for you to use the cameras but you are worried you don’t know how to use them. Help is at hand. Go to the same SharePoint page the ICT Support department use to book the cameras, see that they are still booked and there is a help wiki that’s been setup on the cameras which shows you everything you need to know.


        Pupils are given out worksheets all the time in class which, 9 times out of 10, are generated in Word or printed off the internet. Why give them something that can be lost, screwed up in the bottom of the bag or used as an excuse for not doing their homework?
        SharePoint is a great tool for document storage and management. You can store any type of document and even edit Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote in your Internet browser without having to have these installed on your computer or smart phone.

        Documents can be tagged allowing you to easily find content with a same relevant name. As the English teacher, you can upload content for your Romeo and Juliet topic and tag all the documents with Romeo and Juliet included. With the right setup, it will automatically tag the documents with English and Shakespeare.


        There is always an interesting question about where to use social networking in a school. Personally I believe that students use it every day out of school, so we should be doing the same within the school and integrate into their education. SharePoint can help in many ways with an educational angle.

        During the learning section of the post we talked about the ability to tag documents. In SharePoint 2010 we can use these tags within the User Profile services.

        imageA student can subscribe to one of these tags allowing them to see content as it is uploaded. As a student, I am working on Romeo and Juliet in English and I see Romeo and Juliet in a Tag Cloud. This then allows me to see all updates made to this tag, giving me more information on each of my subjects as other use it in the school.

        Each user has their own ‘’profile’’, allowing them to upload an image and give some general information about themselves. (SharePoint allows us to manage this, so you can do things like block photos). One of the features is the ability to say you are an expert in a subject. Link this to your tagging (like Romeo and Juliet) and a student can then use SharePoint Search to find the most relevant documents, the ability to filter and the most relevant member of staff who can help them on that subject.

        SharePoint for All

        Whatever the learning asset, document or process, it can be done in SharePoint, don’t be afraid to ask someone on twitter or on an education community forum such as Edugeek.


        Learn MoreRead more about SharePoint in education on Alex Pearce's blog

      • Education

        Why social media matters in student recruitment - CRM in education


        We’ve just updated our Microsoft Dynamics CRM system to include a range of new capabilities focusing on social features - engaging with social communities, which can be both internal and external - as part of sales, marketing and customer service delivery. For CRM in education, this brings a much-needed set of capabilities for universities and TAFEs in Australia, where the role of social media, and engagement with the social communities, is becoming increasingly critical to key business drivers - whether that’s managing your institution’s overall brand, or engaging with prospective local and international students for recruitment purposes.

        Although some (marketing) people initially wrote off social media as a ‘fad’, there is now no doubt that it is driving student behaviours, and having a significant impact upon choices that they make. In the ‘Building Your Business’ video below, there’s one slide that explains why. It’s about trust. 90% of people trust their peers to make recommendations on things they are going to buy (and in today’s tertiary education marketplace, education is something students ‘buy’).

        Text: 90% of consumers trust peer recommendations for purchasing decisions; only 14% trust adverts; 70% trust other consumer opinions

        So here’s a question for the marketing people in tertiary education: If 9 out of 10 trust their peers, and only 1 out of 6 trust your adverts, do you monitor, manage and support the social communities that result in those recommendations? And do you do it with 6x as much focus and time as you do with your adverts?

        Hopefully, the background explains why we’ve put so much new focus into the social aspects of our Dynamics CRM system - because you need a tool for CRM in education that covers your conventional marketing (adverts, events, student enquiries) as well as the amorphous mass of social communities (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn). It’s because there’s a bunch of opportunities (or potential lost opportunities) that come from effective student recruitment through social communities (after all, your existing ‘customers’ are the generation that uses social media more than anybody, and will have a massive amplification impact on your prospective students).

        Slide text: Business Opportunities with Social Technologies - Listen, engage, amplify, solve, innovate, analyse

        The trick with what we’ve done with Dynamics CRM is to integrate social tools into the existing tools your staff are using - whether that means surfacing LinkedIn profiles of your contacts into your email inbox, or your social communities through your CRM system. The key has been to integrate into the systems your users may already be using - Office, Outlook, Lync and SharePoint. In the first wave of updates to CRM, just released, our focus is on your internal communities - activity feeds to help people to collaborate internally, internal status and micro-blog updates, connections between people and activities.

        There’s a detailed presentation below, from the Microsoft Dynamics CRM YouTube channel, which explains the background to the changes (and includes the two slides I’ve used above), as well as demonstrating what’s now possible - including a demonstration of the app for the Windows Phone. Although it’s longer than the average YouTube video, it’s has a mass of useful context and detailed demonstrations. 33 minutes into the video, the Dynamics team share their future plans - on wider device support, ability to convert social status updates into user actions in your system and other areas.

        Learn More iconThere’s a broad range of Microsoft Dynamics partners in Australia - and three I’d explicitly mention because of their previous projects with tertiary CRM education customers in Australia:

        Need contact details for any of them? Drop me an email, using the ‘email me’ link at the top of the page

      • Education

        SharePoint Composites - the future of the Learning Management System?


        I’ve been reading quite a few articles recently about the future of Learning Management Systems (LMS). These have attempted to look over the horizon - beyond today’s monolithic LMS - for a future where it’s likely that these systems will be comprised of a mash-up of different ‘best in class’ components, highly integrated. Although the majority of institutions aren’t near the point where this model be mainstream, it’s something that bears thinking about in your long-range strategy. Personally, I believe that the key platform to connect all of these different components together will be SharePoint, which I think of as a platform for education web applications, in the same way as Windows is the platform for local applications.

        The descriptive term for what I’m discussing is ‘composite applications’. A composite application combines data, documents and business processes through a series of building blocks to create a business solution. But how will these applications be built? And is this already happening?

        SharePoint Composites

        There’s a ‘SharePoint Composites Handbook’ which describes some of the common scenarios for these composites, and talks about how they would be produced in SharePoint (both process and tools). I think it’s useful for people with two interests:

        • Understanding how to take the next step in using SharePoint as a strategic tool across your institution by building quick composite applications, like expenses, leave and training solutions;
        • Considering how you can connect together your existing systems (learning management systems, student management systems, finance systems) in a way that gives you more flexibility in the future.

        Although the handbook does dive down into IT detail, there are sections of it that are useful for senior managers outside of IT who want to know what their current systems are capable of. Here’s the introduction to Composites at the beginning of the handbook:


        In short, a SharePoint Composite is a “do-it-yourself” business solution. A SharePoint Composite bears close resemblance to the often-used term, “mashup”. A mashup (in contrast to a classic shrink-wrapped software product) is a quick Web application that incorporates data into a simple, visual, and interactive solution. However, the term “composite” emphasises the breadth and depth of solutions you can build on the SharePoint 2010 platform.


        In Part II, the handbook also identifies 20 common design patterns for composite applications, including social computing, dynamic diagrams, business process and workflows, content management, records and media management, web databases and business intelligence. And from page 65 it lists 40 pre-made application templates, with sources, including budgeting and tracking, contact management, absence and leave requests

        Learn MoreYou can download the SharePoint Composites Handbook from this page

      • Education

        What's Next at Microsoft


        Microsoft is a big place - with tens of thousands of people designing, creating, coding and building things around the world. There’s simply too much going on to keep up with it all. With just under 100,000 staff, it’s the equivalent of trying to keep up with what’s happening in every government school in NSW and Victoria put together.

        And as a result, I’m often catching up on new developments at the same time as you may be (if you’re an avid reader of other Microsoft blogs!). One of my favourite blogs to keep ahead of the curve is the Next at Microsoft blog, written by Steve Clayton, an old colleague from the UK. Steve’s a natural story-teller, and he has managed to get access to some of the amazing work going on behind the scenes in our research labs.

        Four days ago, Steve linked to a Microsoft Research video on the ‘HoloDesk’, which takes some of our latest inventions to a whole new level. If you’ve seen Kinect in action, you’ll be familiar with the concepts, but when you see where they’ve taken this, I’m sure you’ll be amazed.

        Watch the Microsoft Research team share their work on the HoloDesk

        What learning experiences could this allow you to create for your students? What’s not possible today that would be with this? And which sci-fi films now look slightly old fashioned?

        Learn MoreRead more about this project on the Next at Microsoft blog

      • Education

        The debate between employers and the education system


        I’ve been in Australia for 9 months today, and one of the things that I’ve noticed is that the Australia media only focuses on a few issues in relation to schools - and a lot of it is about political, rather than learning-centric, issues. So I was heartened to open the Sydney Morning Herald today to see a story about education that isn’t focusing on the narrow debate about funding (don’t get me wrong, school funding is important, but it seems to have dominated the reporting on education for the last six months, at the expense of media coverage about learning-related topics). The story, on page five, was headlined ‘Employers want HSC geared to workforce’, and reported on a review to be published by the NSW Business Chamber. (Although this story had a a specific New South Wales focus, the same pattern will exist in every state, and I know it exists in many countries - it seems that every year the Institute of Directors in England produces a similar report).

        Icons_teacherStudent_blueAs it’s a report in the News section, it focuses on a complaint-response structure - in this case, employers calling for more core subjects for the HSC, better quality vocational courses and minimum standards for literacy and numeracy, with the NSW Board of Studies responding that literacy and numeracy is high up their agenda. It also went on to say that the chamber believes that 9 out of 10 vocational courses won’t lead to a qualification ‘adequate for a 21st century labour market’.

        Whatever else this may imply, there’s a couple of significant points in here for the suppliers of ICT services for schools in NSW:

        • The literacy and numeracy skills of students are high up the agenda for key stakeholders
        • We should expect continuing change in the configuration, breadth and diversity of courses
          This will be a major challenge, when considered alongside the data that half of NSW teachers are due to retire by 2016 - with a similar statistic in other states.

        Question: Does what you do contribute to alleviate the problem? If the answer isn’t immediately obvious, is it important enough to refocus?

      • Education

        How safe is my cloud data? And what’s the USA Patriot Act?


        Cloud iconEarlier in the year, I wrote a blog post titled “Is my data safe in the Cloud?”, where I explained that actually my personal data was safer in the cloud than it was on my own laptop - because there’s less chance of it disappearing (and through clever syncing using Windows Live Mesh, I ensured that I could have it both in the Cloud and on my laptop).

        But when people ask “Is my data safe in the Cloud?”, they can often be thinking about another aspect - whether it’s safe from other organisations looking at it.

        If you’re using a Microsoft Cloud-service, you can find out about our data security, privacy and compliance principles at the Microsoft Online Services Trust Centre.

        The other aspect people are concerned about is whether governments can go dipping into the data to find out things. Specifically, people have often asked about the US Patriot Act, which they’ve assumed gives the US government the right to dig into data. It definitely doesn’t provide for routine access to data stored up in the cloud. Jeff Bullwinkel, Microsoft’s Associate General Counsel and Director of Legal & Corporate Affairs in Australia, wrote a blog post recently about the US Patriot Act and what it does (and doesn’t allow). It’s worth reading if you’d like to understand some of the background to the impact, but I’ve pulled out one key quote from his post, relating to data access in criminal cases:

          …Australia and the United States, like most countries around the world, cooperate closely in law enforcement matters. Under a longstanding bilateral mutual legal assistance treaty providing for law enforcement cooperation between Australia and the United States, either government can gain access to data located within the territory of the other.  

        The point Jeff concludes with is that there are common misunderstandings and confusion about data protection in the Cloud, and that when you’re considering what you might be doing with data in the Cloud, you need to carefully pick out the genuine issues from the mass of confusing opinions (often with no basis in fact) that bounce around.

        Within education in Australia, there are more examples of Cloud-based services being used by staff and students. Sometimes it is individuals using them, and sometimes it’s big organisations. One of the things that often helps people to understand whether it is a possibility for their own projects is to do a side-by-side comparison of the data risk for their own system today, versus using a system in the cloud. That often leads to some surprising results!

        Learn MoreRead Jeff's article about data in the Cloud, and the US Patriot Act

      • Education

        Education ministers back new national standards in four subjects


        Icons_books_blueThe Education Review website carried the story this week that the state and federal education ministers have agreed a common set of future assessments standards to go with the new Australian curriculum:


        State and federal education ministers have endorsed assessment standards for the new Australian curriculum and a framework for national teacher registration.

        They have also got behind a proposal to fund professional development for principals and a national model to identify students with a disability.

        The standards by which students will be assessed are to be streamlined nationally in the new curriculum subjects of maths, science, English and history, school education Minister Peter Garrett says.

        "We already had the content, now we have the validated standards against which students will be assessed," Garrett said after the ministers met in Melbourne last week.


        As you think about the future in schools in Australia (either because you’re in one, or because you are a supplier to them), then there’s a clear trend that’s likely to follow this, based on what’s happened in other countries around the world - expect to see increased focus on those subjects where there’s both a national curriculum and agreed national assessment standards.

        In Australia, that means that maths, science, English and history will get an increasing focus as the national curriculum is rolled out, until both the curriculum and assessment standards for other subjects are agreed.

        Learn MoreRead the story "Education ministers back new national standards" in Education Review

      • Education

        The Microsoft Virtual Academy - a resource and an exemplar?


        When I wrote about the Australian IT skills shortage (Where are the IT jobs) earlier in the week, I highlighted that research had identified a growing need from employers for applicants with very specific Microsoft skills sets - eg experience in virtualisation and cloud computing, as well as product specific skills. And I’d mentioned the Microsoft IT Academy programme as one route for institutions to help their students get recognised certifications.

        The Microsoft Virtual Academy

        imageA colleague has also reminded me about the Microsoft Virtual Academy, which is an online training centre which uses some of the characteristics of game-based learning to motivate learners. It’s free and open to anybody, not just those students in formal education institutions, and focuses on a range of Microsoft cloud-based technologies. As the site says:

          Microsoft Virtual Academy (MVA) is a fully cloud-based learning experience focusing on Microsoft Cloud Technologies. You can access a variety of training content online and become one of the renowned experts in the IT Pro community around the world. MVA provides its users with a virtual university experience: the student can select a track and study the material and then do the self-assessment. By doing so, they will collect points that will promote them to a Bronze, Silver, Gold or Platinum Level. Students on MVA can get access to all the information, statistics and advancements of their training career, allowing them to maintain a long-term relationship with Microsoft. Learning through MVA is free of charge, and you can study the contents at any time and at your own pace.  

        There are currently 310,000 students registered, and they’ve collectively taken 290,000 self-assessments (of which 6,000 were within the last week).

        Topics covered include:

        • Clustering
        • Hyper-V
        • Office 365
        • Private Cloud
        • Public Cloud
        • Security
        • SQL Azure
        • System Center Virtual Machine Manager
        • Virtualisation
        • Windows Azure

        The whole system runs in the Cloud, as it’s built on Windows Azure. This means that the data can be made public, or kept private, and the system can scale up as the student base grows.

        The MVA league tables

        Game-based learning

        The interesting game-based learning aspects of the MVA site are things like the league tables on the right. All of the courses have specific points allocations (based on level, type of learning activity etc), and as learners progress through courses and assessments, they can accumulate points to move through the bronze/silver/gold/platinum levels. And on their profile they can also see their position in the national and global league tables.

        The assessments are not a replacement for the formal certifications which are required to reach Microsoft certified status (eg MCP or MCSE), but it is an interesting twist to delivering learning activities, and really interesting to see how many individuals voluntary sign up for and complete courses and assessments.

        Who would have guessed that over a quarter of a million students would sign up for a virtual academy?

        What does it mean for the future of Learning Management Systems?

        I’ve been watching the Learning Management System market change over the last couple of years, as we’ve moved away from a monolithic, ‘enterprise’ mindset for learning management. Instead of thinking that the answer lies in a big, central, controlled learning management system, we are starting to see organisations use a mixture of different systems to deliver and assess learning activities - and the MVA is a good example of something built for one specific purpose.

        In the future of learning management systems, I think we’re going to see more of these custom portals, delivering learning on specific subjects, and a greater need to integrate the learning and assessment data across them - rather than having only a single system per institution that can deliver courses. We’re a long way from solving the challenges this fragmentation delivers, but we’re definitely on the journey. If you work in a school or college, how would the courses in the MVA help you to reach your teaching and learning goals? And how would you link it to what goes on in your classroom, and your own assessment and data systems?

        Learn MoreGo to the Microsoft Virtual Academy

      • Education

        Using video conferencing to connect disaster-hit learning communities in Japan, New Zealand and Australia


        TVNZ One NewsYasawa Elementary, JapanCashmere Primary, ChristchurchMilton School, Brisbane

        On Wednesday TVNZ One News broadcast the story of students from three schools from disaster hit areas - Christchurch, Brisbane and Fukushima - using video conferencing to connect their schools together, share experiences and extend their learning.

        You can watch the news report on the TVNZ website

        Polycom - Microsoft Partner of the Year for Unified Communications 2011The connection was arranged by Polycom (Microsoft’s Unified Communications Innovation Partner of the Year for 2011), who are more used to connecting students with outside experts for curriculum projects (this winter they connected schools with NASA to talk with Astronaut Hans Schlegel, CSIRO for National Science Week and Dr Jane Goodall for World Environment Day). These special events connected 3,883 participants together across seven countries this year.

        Polycom have been chosen by Victoria to provide classroom video conference systems for 600 of their schools, so there will be a big new group of schools able to connect next term in the projects scheduled for International Math Day, World Foreign Languages Week and International Women’s Day. Lynette at Polycom is responsible for making all of these days successful and relevant to the curriculum - you can follow her on Twitter to find out about new projects, and keep in touch with their projects through their education newsletter - October’s is online here, which has much more information on the news story.

        Learn MoreYou can sign up for the Polycom newsletter here

      • Education

        Do you need a new job title in ‘the Cloud’?


        Amidst all the noise and fervour associated with the Cloud in education one question I have not, till now, seen properly addressed is what does the Cloud mean for the skills and responsibilities of IT professionals?  The team over at Microsoft Learning have just addressed this with a white paper Cloud Computing: What IT Professionals Need to Know. It provides useful insight into the whole issue of cloud-skilling an IT department and guess what – it is more complex and rewarding than simply changing job titles from systems administrator to cloud administrator (but the job title change is a good start).

        Slide: Cloud Role Evolution

        If you’re responsible for an IT team in a school, TAFE or university, one of the issues that you’ll need to consider going forward is how moving to cloud computing will impact on your team’s roles and responsibilities - and what new skills they may need to develop to succeed. IT managers and CIOs who want to deliver more value from their IT investments are going to have to be in the front line of cloud skills education — both for themselves and to build training capacity for their IT staff.

        This paper explores the advantages of moving to the cloud and outlines the skill sets IT professionals are likely to need to acquire. It identifies the roles - eg Cloud Service Manager or Cloud Developer - and also the skills development needs across critical IT job roles, including business liaison, datacentre managers, security specialists and software architects.

        Learn More

        Download your own copy of the white paper - Cloud Computing: What IT Professionals Need to Know


        There’s more information on the Microsoft Learning Cloud Services curriculum and certification here

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