statcounter tracker
February, 2012 - Education - Site Home - MSDN Blogs
The Australian Education Blog
Ray Fleming's take on what's interesting in Education IT in Australia

February, 2012

  • Education

    Windows Phone Starter Kit for Schools - free software for teachers in February

    • 0 Comments

    Find all 'Free Downloads' on this blog

    Some Free February Appy-ness with a new piece of free software for teachers from Microsoft every day in February. Many of these items are unknown heroes, but they all share two things in common: 1) They are useful for teachers or students and 2) they are free.

    Windows Phone Starter Kit for Schools

    Windows Phone Starter Kit for SchoolsLet me start by saying that today’s freebie isn’t for your average teacher! It requires a fair amount of technical skills, because it’s actually a starter kit to create a Windows Phone application for your school. It allows you to add a school news feed, contacts database, links to school-connected websites, as well as information feeds for clubs and groups within the school.

    This Starter Kit provides a template for building Windows Phone applications, where content is configured through XML files, and is completely customizable and themable.

    Where can I find out how to use it?

    There’s details, and a discussion page, on the MSDN network

    Where do I get the Windows Phone Starter Kit for Schools from?

    You can download all of the source code from the MSDN website

  • Education

    Why put assessment in the Cloud?

    • 0 Comments

    One of the often-quoted benefits of using Cloud computing is that you can provide for big bursts of activity by using the flexibility of massive datacentres being built around the world for this. And that if you want to use this service, you simply pay for the bit you use. It means that you can activate a few hundred, or a few thousand, servers in a remote data centre for a day, or a week, or even just a few hours. The kind of examples quoted outside of education include things like the demand for pizzas during the breaks on the Super Bowl Sunday - imagine if you suddenly needed to serve hundreds of thousands of data requests in a huge spike. Other examples that are easy to imagine are retail sites in the run-up to Christmas, or ticket agencies selling concert tickets. The common thread is that need to suddenly provide for a huge spike of interaction, which then drops back within hours or days.

    In education there are precise parallels - times of the year (or even of the day) when you need huge amounts of computer capacity, and times of the year when you need almost none:

    • In the summer holidays, computing demands go down to near zero for most education establishments
    • At the start of term, there’s a huge spike in the use of student data systems, for new enrolments
    • Attendance registration systems get a big spike in the morning around 9AM, and then tail off for the rest of the day
    • Reporting systems in schools get heavily used for about a month, while reports are prepared, and then go quiet
    • Formal student assessment systems may only be used for a few weeks in the year

    Before the cloud was here, one of the big costs of any of these systems was the infrastructure - the servers and the networking - needed to support them. It would have cost hundreds of thousands, or millions, to get enough computing to run massive scale student assessments before the cloud - hardware which would sit idle for most of the rest of the year.

    But last year in New South Wales, 65,000 students took the formal Science Assessment (called the ESSA test) - all in three days - using the cloud to provide the infrastructure. Instead of buying lots of servers, what they were able to do was to use ‘the Cloud’ - simply activating hundreds of cloud servers to deliver the tests to tens of thousands of students at the same time - over 40,000 by lunchtime the first day. All the students needed was a device with a web-browser. The team at Janison, who worked with the NSW Department of Education and Communities Assessment team, activated 400 servers in our Windows Azure cloud datacentre at 5AM on the day of the first test, and turned them off at 6PM on the last day. And reduced the cost of running the infrastructure from hundreds of thousands to around one thousand dollars.

    You can see the dramatic impact of this in the image below - what you’re looking at is a screenshot I took on the first day, from the live monitoring site that was created on the web (it was fascinating to watch the charts updating in real time on the day).

    ESSA testing from Janison - metrics chart showing the huge spike of students logging in first thing in the morningThe huge spike happened at 9 o’clock in the morning, as students logged in first thing in the morning to get their tests done.
    During the day I took a few other screenshots of the metrics as the tests were going, so what I’ll do is post them tomorrow, to give you more info on how the testing went.

    Learn MoreLearn more about the Janison CAFE Assessment System used for the ESSA tests

  • Education

    Work experience 'cuts dropout rate' according to the BBC

    • 0 Comments

    According to some research for the UK Education and Employers Taskforce reported by BBC News in the UK at the weekend, work ‘experience’ cuts the likelihood of students dropping out from education. That doesn’t have to be in the conventional way of formal work experience - it can be smaller things like hearing from an employer at a school event, or having a business guest invited to a lesson, or a visit to another workplace. According to the BBC report:

     

    The more young people come into contact with employers while they are at school, the less likely they are to go on to be unemployed, research suggests.
    Pupils who took part in four or more activities with employers were five times less likely to drop out of school or training, it says.
    Those who had no such contact were most likely to be not in education, employment or training.
    Activities included work experience, visits and enterprise competition.

     

    I know that many Australian schools have activities which involve businesses. And equally I know that many find it difficult to organise activities, because businesses can be difficult to contact. And it can be equally difficult for the business to organise activities for large groups of students (I remember the massive orchestration that was required for ‘work experience’ week in the UK, when around 100 High School students joined Microsoft for five days).

    So perhaps next time you’re asking a business for support, you should send them this BBC story to help your case!

    What I can do is also offer to try and help schools if they are looking for a business person to come along and talk to a group of students. In the past, when I’ve done those sessions, I’ve always walked away having learnt a lot, and having answered some tricky questions!

    I’m based in Sydney, but I have colleagues around the country, and connections to business people working in partners around the country too. There are programmers, marketing people, sales people, entrepreneurs running their own businesses - I just might know somebody that could be the person you’re looking for.

    If I can help, my email address is ray.fleming@microsoft.com

  • Education

    Something for your parent or student newsletter? Avoiding scams

    • 0 Comments

    While he was working from home, a friend of mine recently got a phone call, from "Microsoft support", claiming to want to help him fix his PC. Fortunately, he's the suspicious type. And he's right to be. It's a scam. I’ve even received the call myself at home - and I've been prompted to write this blog post about it after reading this iTWire story of other people getting the same calls.

    Obviously, we have quite enough to do without randomly phoning people unprompted, and asking if we can remotely access their PC. It's just a straightforward scam, in which they attempt to gain access to your PC and all of your secret stuff.

    If it's something you wanted to warn your parents or students about, there's some more information, and there's official Microsoft advice about phishing, on the Microsoft Protect site - and specifically on this page "Avoid scams that use the Microsoft name fraudulently". Of the four scams mentioned on the page, I’ve had three of them tried on me so far.

  • Education

    Imagine changing the world - Imagine Cup 2012

    • 0 Comments

    image

    Imagine changing the world - Imagine Cup 2012

    One of my most inspiring days of 2011 was spent watching the Australian finalists pitching their ideas and software to the judges in the PowerHouse Museum in Sydney, and feeling so proud of the team that won the right to take their entry to New York to compete at the global Imagine Cup finals. I simply could not believe the amazing projects that teams of 3 or 4 students had created, and the professionalism of the software that they had developed to tackle genuine societal needs. I’ve already added the dates for this year’s finals in my diary - there’s no way I want to miss out. And you??

    Are you a student with the vision to change the world, or an academic, business or IT professional who knows how to inspire young minds?

    Imagine Cup is a global competition for student teams who combine inspiration with technology to tackle some of the world’s toughest problems. Every year, students come up with amazing solutions that use technology to improve education, help environmental sustainability, and reduce poverty and child mortality.

    If that challenge excites you, get your team together, get your thinking caps on and enter Imagine Cup 2012.

    Of course, every team requires a mentor, who can answer questions and challenge them to think big and follow their vision.

    If you’re willing to support the innovators of tomorrow, register now to become an Imagine Cup Mentor. Winning teams have a chance to share their ideas at the Imagine Cup 2012 Worldwide finals right here in Australia and compete for cash grants and other prizes. Enter your team in Imagine Cup 2012 now, or register now to become an Imagine Cup Mentor. And while you’re at it, why not spread the word on Imagine Cup 2012 to your students – or any inspiring young minds you know?

    Go to www.imaginecup.com.au

  • Education

    Something missing?

    • 0 Comments

    Although there’s no deep and meaningful education-specific point made in this video, it is still Valentine’s Day over in the US, so I feel okay sharing it Smile

  • Education

    Windows Phone Starter Kit for RSS- free software for teachers in February

    • 0 Comments

    Find all 'Free Downloads' on this blog

    Some Free February Appy-ness with a new piece of free software for teachers from Microsoft every day in February. Many of these items are unknown heroes, but they all share two things in common: 1) They are useful for teachers or students and 2) they are free.

    Windows Phone Starter Kit for RSS

    imageAfter yesterday’s techie Windows Phone Starter Kit for Schools, I thought I’d continue with another techie one for Windows Phone. This time it’s a starter kit for RSS - to help you create a Windows Phone app which consists of news feeds from the web.

    Yet again, today’s freebie isn’t for your average teacher! It requires a fair amount of technical skills, because it’s actually a starter kit to create a Windows Phone application which allows you to link to web-based news feeds in RSS format.

    Why do I think this is useful to schools?

    So far this month my children’s school has sent me 29 emails, and seven paper-based letters. That’s 34 different notices in just 25 days. And some of those emails contained over 20 different news items. That is simply too much for me to cope with (and I regularly miss stuff in that deluge). How about if the school just had a series of newsfeeds that were related to what I needed to know, and they were available on my phone. So instead of seeing tens of emails a month in my (already too overloaded) mailbox, I could quickly just scan for the latest news on my phone when I want to? (Okay, that’s only part of the problem solved - it would still require somebody at the school to take an editorial role and reduce the volume of communications to be more appropriate Smile)

    Where can I find out how to use it?

    There’s details, and a discussion page, on the MSDN network

    Where do I get the Windows Phone Starter Kit for Schools from?

    You can download all of the source code from the MSDN website

    Bonus: There’s also a Windows Phone Starter Kit for Podcasts if that’s more your style…

  • Education

    Search Commands - free software for teachers in February

    • 0 Comments

    Find all 'Free Downloads' on this blog

    Some Free February Appy-ness with a new piece of free software for teachers from Microsoft every day in February. Many of these items are unknown heroes, but they all share two things in common: 1) They are useful for teachers or students and 2) they are free.

    Search Commands

    image

    Search Commands is an Office Labs experiment designed to quickly find the commands you need in Microsoft Office 2007 and 2010 Word, Excel and PowerPoint. Just search with your own words and click on the command you need.

    Wouldn’t it be nice if you could just type "mail merge" on the Office Ribbon and all mail merge options would appear? That’s exactly what the Search Commands Add-in does.

    I’d never used this, so I installed it today in order to see how it worked. And I now have that ‘Where have you been my whole life?’ moment!

    One of the things I’ve noticed is that in Windows these days, I almost never use the start menu to select a programme to run. Instead, I find it easier to click the Windows key, and start to type the name - and let the Search function find the programme for me. I find it is much more efficient for me, because I let Windows do all the searching, instead of having to look at a long list of installed applications.

    What this does for Office is the same - Instead of having to search for the menu option on the Ribbon, or click across multiple Ribbon tabs, all I do is go straight to the Search Commands tab, and then start to type what I’m looking for. In the example below, I typed ‘Print’, and it gave me all the menu options related to print. And the bonus I discovered is that the numbers in black circle means I just press the number key I want, and it is the same as clicking the icon (eg to get Print Preview, I just type Print5). No more mouse-keyboard-mouse jumping!

    The Search Commands tool bar

    The add-in that helps you find commands, options, wizards and galleries in Word, Excel and PowerPoint. It also includes Guided Help, which acts as a tour guide for specific tasks.

    This is probably most useful for users who have used Office 2003 for years, and are switching over (ie your staff, rather than your students), although it can be useful for students who want to explore more advanced features for apps like Excel.

    Where can I find out how to use it?

    Having used it for the first time this morning, I don’t think there actually any need for additional help - just install it, and try it out. The only things you need to know are:

    • You find it in extra ‘Search Commands’ Ribbon tab in Word, Excel and PowerPoint
    • The numbers in the black circle are the shortcut keys to launch that command (so when you have your search results, pressing 1 launches Quick Print)

    But, just in case you really want it (or want to watch a short video before deciding whether to download it), then there's a 1 minute Search Commands tutorial on the ClipTraining blog

    Where do I get Search Commands from?

    The free Search Commands download is on the Microsoft Downloads website

Page 4 of 4 (38 items) 1234