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

March, 2012

  • Education

    Free technical ebook for Kindle and PDF – Microsoft SQL Server 2012


    The Microsoft Press team have just released the full array of downloadable versions of their free Introducing Microsoft SQL Server 2012 ebook. This is a technical ebook – it’s not for the average user, but if you understand SQL already, it’s a good way of getting up to speed with the changes in 2012.

    It’s available in a variety of formats:

    This is a full Microsoft Press book, not just a summary (at 288 pages it’s a serious read), and includes an overview of the various editions of SQL Server 2012, and sections on performance, scalability, security and programmability.

    And the section that will really interest educational readers is Part 2, which dives into developing Business Intelligence capabilities. There are lots of new ways that SQL 2012 will help education users to display the masses of data they collect (especially PowerView) so I’d recommend taking some time to read that section of the book.

    Learn MoreFind out about other free technical ebooks from Microsoft Press

  • Education

    Classroom Interactive Whiteboards and Windows 8


    I watched this video and wondered:

    Do we still need lots of extra special software to work with interactive whiteboards, when there is now so much standard software (and lots more coming around the corner) that uses touch capabilities?

    I know we used to - in the days of Windows XP, you had to have special drivers etc on an interactive whiteboards, and there was a dearth of interactive multimedia software. But perhaps today we’re hanging on to an old habit?

    My thinking is that instead of having special software that just works on the whiteboard, and needs extra training:

    • If you plug a Windows 8 computer into the interactive whiteboard, you get the great natural interactive interface you need for the PC, including great handwriting recognition
    • Teachers use OneNote (built into Office) as the teaching tool, instead of any of the specific whiteboard applications. You end up with learning resources that are much more easily shareable, because you can simply publish into the cloud, so that students can access the learning resources, homework assignments, lesson recordings etc on virtually any device:

    So a teacher can create a lesson in OneNote, and then when they publish it, the students could revise it, and listen to the recording, on the bus/train on the way home, and then complete their homework assignment online at home, and submit it online.

    * OneNote Mobile is free to download and use for up to 500 notes. When you've reached this limit, you can upgrade the app for a one-time fee for unlimited use. If you choose not to upgrade to the unlimited version, you can still view, sync, and delete any of your existing notes even after you've reached the 500 notes limit. However, you will no longer be able to edit your notes or create new ones on your phone/iPad.

  • Education

    New lower prices for Office 365 for education


    Yesterday Kirk Koenigsbauer, Corporate Vice President of the Microsoft Office Division product management group, made an announcement about some changes we’ve made to the pricing for Office 365 for enterprises, and Office 365 for education.


    As we rapidly add customers, the cost to run Office 365 becomes more efficient.  This is the beauty of the cloud where we can deliver economies of scale through our worldwide data centres and economies of skill with our engineers, administrators, and support teams operating the service.  

    With these efficiencies, we're able pass on savings to make it even more affordable for customers of all sizes to move to Office 365.

    In line with our longstanding commitment to education, we will make our "A2" service plan free to not only students, but also to faculty and staff.  A2 includes the core capabilities of Exchange, SharePoint, and Lync and the Office Web Applications.  Exchange Online and Lync Online are available today for academic institutions, and we'll launch the full Office 365 for education service starting this summer.   You can get more information on our Office 365 for education offering here.


    When Kirk said “this summer” he was thinking about the Northern Hemisphere.
    So you’ll need to translate that to “this winter” for Australia.

    The information on the new pricing for the various Office 365 for education options is available on the Office 365 for education webpage. Here’s the key table from that page:


    The prices listed are the US prices currently
    I’ll provide an updated link as soon as Australian prices are available.

    Find out more

    You can sign up via email to get updates and to find out more information about Office 365 for education over at the product website.

    Oh, and if you want to know more about what Office 365 could do for you, there's always the free Microsoft Press digital book on Office 365 - grab it here

  • Education

    Hosting Moodle in the Cloud - why now?


    Moodle logoIt’s been a bit of a ‘big news week’ in the Moodle community this week. On Monday, it was announced that Blackboard had bought two of the world’s top 5 Moodle partners – MoodleRooms and NetSpot. NetSpot is Australia’s largest Moodle partner, and has been the partner of choice for many of the Australian universities who have chosen to stop using Blackboard and instead switch to using Moodle. So the acquisition news was a bit of a surprise to many. Hence why hosting Moodle in the Cloud is a interesting topic right now.

    I’ve written about Moodle quite a few times on this blog (you can see all the Moodle-related blog posts here), but a colleague was asked by a customer this week about other hosting options for Moodle – and asked me for a summary of the Microsoft integration with Moodle. After I’d written it for him, I thought it might actually be something everybody might be interested in. So here’s my short summary of options for integrating a Moodle LMS to the cloud with Microsoft, and existing integration between Moodle and Microsoft technologies:

    • Integrate Moodle to Microsoft’s cloud email services
    • Integrate Moodle with SharePoint
    • Save files directly to Moodle from Office
    • Host Moodle on Windows Server
    • Host Moodle on Microsoft’s Cloud servers, in Windows Azure

    And here’s the ‘How To’ info…

      Integrate Moodle to Microsoft’s cloud email services

      This can be done with Live@edu on Moodle 1.9 and Moodle 2.x 
      In the last few months, about a third of new Moodle installs have been 2.x, whereas over half of the installed base is Moodle 1.9

      There's more info here on this option

      Integrate Moodle with SharePoint

      This can be done with Moodle 1.9 currently, although I know some work is being done in the Moodle & SharePoint community to release the code for this on Moodle 2.x

      There’s more detail why in the article, ‘Why Moodle is better on SharePoint’, but the key reasons are:

      • Users can edit files directly within Moodle – rather than having to download, edit and re-upload
      • Document versions are possible – so you can work on drafts and ‘release’ courses and materials
      • You can search your Moodle and SharePoint datastores at the same time
      • Users can use Office Web Apps to edit, view and save files
      • Documents can be checked in and out by users
      • Using SharePoint Workspaces gives you offline access
      • SharePoint adds workflows to Moodle

      There's more info here on this

      Save files directly to Moodle from Microsoft Office

      If, like the majority of users, you are using Moodle 1.9 or before, you can use the Office Add-in for Moodle to allow your students and staff to open and save files directly into your Moodle system – rather than having to save to their local hard disk and then upload afterwards. You can find out more about the Office Add-in for Moodle here

      Host Moodle on Windows Server

      This can be done with both Moodle 1.9 and Moodle 2.x – and there’s a simple download pack that’s been created as part of the Microsoft Web App Gallery project. There's more info here on this

      Host Moodle on Microsoft’s Cloud servers, in Windows Azure

      The reason to do this is to allow you to setup and run a Moodle LMS without having to run your own servers (or commit any capital budget). It also means that you can scale up your project as required, rather than having to over-specify a system when you don’t know how much take-up to expect. It can be done for Moodle 1.9 and 2.x

      There’s more info on hosting Moodle in the cloud on Windows Azure here

      Learn MoreFind all Moodle posts on this blog

    • Education

      Kinect in the classroom – new case studies


      Following on from previous posts about Kinect in education, here’s a couple of case study examples of Kinect in education that you may be interested in.

      Sunset Elementary School

      imageAt Sunset Elementary School in Colorado, students are using Kinect across the curriculum, to study geography, science, natural history etc. And their teacher reports that she’s seen improvements in their comprehension and knowledge retention. As Cheryl Arnett says “There’s power for kids in things that capture their interested, and are also something they can learn from. We’ve barely scratched the surface of where this can go; it’s limited only by our imaginations.” 

      University of Washington

      imageRobin Angotti, an associate professor of maths education at the University of Washington-Bothell, is also working with Kinect for education. With two computer science students at UW-Bothell, Jebediah Pavleas and Jack Chang, she’s created a custom Kinect app to help teach students functions of mathematics such as distance, acceleration, and velocity by letting them plot these equations on a graph in real time using Kinect and their bodies rather than just computing an equation with a pencil on graph paper.

      She came across Kinect and decided to create a math app that would bridge the gap between the abstract formulas and the real world her students live and breathe in. Why? As Robin says:

        Maths is a gatekeeper. If kids don’t get into algebra by their [their first] year of high school, they’re off track to major in any kind of STEM [Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths] field. It’s really interesting – data shows that maths is a favourite subject when kids are younger. Somewhere in the middle school years, when they’re starting to have to abstract (when math moves from the concrete world of addition, subtraction and multiplication to the more abstract equations of geometry and algebra), we’re losing them. This piece of software makes math less abstract.  


      What’s going on?

      Why are there so many projects looking at the use of Kinect in education? Cameron Evans, the National and Chief Technology Officer for the Microsoft Education team in the US, puts it simply:


      The potential behind bringing gaming to education is immense.

      The majority of time spent playing video games, the gamer is failing, he said. Yet when a player fails in a game, they come back again and again until they get it right. Bringing gaming to education could help a student who fails a maths test, for example, keep trying until they get it right


      Where to find out more about Kinect in education

      The case studies above are available in more detail on the Microsoft News Centre website.

      There’s a further article about Kinect in education projects where teachers are using Kinect with Xbox to support learning:

      • Using Kinect Sports to help teach maths concepts such as patterns versus randomness, probability, and angles through bowling
      • Students using Avatar Kinect to produce late-night shows and commercials, strengthening their language arts skills
      • Teachers using Kinect to teach maths lessons on angles, probability and arithmetic. School

      Learn MoreFind our more about Kinect in Education on the Microsoft website

    • Education

      Using Kinect for Windows with students


      Kinect for WindowsRob Miles, from the University of Hull in the UK, has created a free pack of curriculum material for teachers or others who want to use the Kinect for Windows device within education. It might be for creating an educational application, or because you want to help your students to develop their own applications using the body tracking capabilities of Kinect. It is based on the XNA framework, which is widely used by students to develop their own gaming applications.

      Here’s the description from the site:


      The Kinect sensor adds a new dimension to Xbox 360 gameplay through its ability to read its environment and track the body movement of players. It is also a creative device that can be a great teaching tool.

      Rob Miles from University of Hull (UK) has created a set of curriculum materials that show how you can harness this creativity and get students enjoying themselves while writing programs that make use of the unique abilities of this sensor and Kinect for Windows software.

      This material contains information on the Microsoft Kinect sensor bar and the Microsoft Kinect SDK. It assumes a working knowledge of the C# programming language, the XNA framework and program development using Visual Studio


      The package includes introductory information on the Kinect sensor and SDK (Software Development Kit), and gives advice on writing Kinect programs – including using the video and depth camera, people tracking, using voice response and creating augmented reality scenarios.


      Learn MoreDownload 'Using Kinect for Windows with XNA' from Rob Miles

    • Education

      Moodle in the cloud–a Moodle 2 kit for Windows Azure


      The Microsoft CodePlex site is host to a wide range of open source projects, and just last month the first beta release was made of the project to allow hosting of Moodle 2.0 or Moodle 2.2 on the Windows Azure cloud service. As the project notes say:


      The MoodleBuild toolchain patches and packages a Moodle source code directory into a Windows Azure Package using the Azure SDK directly, instead of relying on third-party tools. This allows an easier way to update and customize Moodle, components and the Windows Azure SDK without the hassle of using outdated and incompatible versions.
      The core of this toolchain is a batch file named build.cmd. This script patches and packages Moodle using the tools and components included on the package available to download


      This is good news for people considering deployments of the Moodle Learning Management System, as it means that you can avoid the hassle of having to deploy in-house servers and complex infrastructure, and instead deploy Moodle in the cloud. This is ideal for agile projects, or where you expect the demand for the system to be variable (the beauty of Moodle in the cloud is that you can scale it up and down as you want, rather than having to build a system that will support a gazillion users on day one).

      Learn MoreDownload the Moodle 2.0 resources for Windows Azure from CodePlex

    • Education

      Bring Your Own Device–what it means in education


      There’s a lot of interest in Bring Your Own Device in education, as many believe BYOD is going to be an increasing trend moving down from higher education into schools. But today, there aren’t many exemplars that we can look at to see how it might work.

      I have come across some stuff that might be useful, which is a case study from the Microsoft IT team (MSIT are the people that run our IT infrastructure for employees and the business). The scale probably isn’t typical, but there’s some excellent information that is!

      The Microsoft IT infrastructure and BYOD

      • Most employees at Microsoft are working with at least two portable devices at any given time
      • There are approximately 1.3 million devices on the Microsoft corporate network
      • Most employees expect to use their own devices for work
      • The challenge for IT is balancing employee productivity and satisfaction, whilst safeguarding the integrity and security of corporate data
      • Devices are evaluated for risk into a series of device classes
      • It’s a tricky set of decisions - the balance to be struck is between business value versus risk

      Tony Scott, the Microsoft CIO, puts it clearly:

        We worry about data security, not about a device in particular. When you do that, you find that your employees, or consumers of your information, love it, because now they have something that s useful to them both at home and at work. It’s also a recognition on the enterprise's part that a lot of our information comes from outside, not from internal IT systems.  

      Technologies to support BYOD in education

      The article goes on to discuss what technologies are being used by the Microsoft IT team to support the strategy. Although the situation is quite different, there are many parallels to how you would manage an education BYOD policy:

      • System Centre 2012 Configuration Management allows device management on the corporate network
      • Exchange ActiveSync allows for policy control over mobile devices – eg remote wipe
      • Office 365 provides secure access from anywhere to collaboration technologies
      • Direct Access provides secure remote access, without needing a VPN.
        The MSIT team saves approximately $300,000 per facility with this (as well as making me, as a user, happier than the days of VPN)
      • Lync and Lync Mobile allows real-time collaboration across multiple platforms.
        And the business saves over $200M using this every year for remote meetings, training and communications
      • OfficeTalk, which is an internal social network

      You should read the article for the full story – especially towards the end, when it talks about the best practices for development of future internal applications that are web-based and device agnostic – like using HTML5, supporting employee-driven development, and using the cloud.

      Learn MoreRead the full case study on Microsoft's BYOD story


      NB: I have gone back and tagged articles on this blog relevant to Bring Your Own Device in Education, so that you can easily track down everything on the subject.

    • Education

      Accessibility in Windows 8 – what it means for education users


      Continuing the theme of previous Accessibility blog posts, I thought it would be useful to take a look at accessibility going forward, and some of the work that has been done within Windows 8, and how that will help schools, TAFEs and universities to provide support for their students and staff.

      This is important as we’re going to see students accessing learning resources across a much wider range of devices – phones, slates and conventional PCs and laptops. And with new interfaces (such as the Metro interface on Windows 8) it’s important that we keep increasing the accessibility of systems and information.

      The World Health Organisation says one in six people has a disability*, and so in every educational institution there are going to be tens, hundreds or thousands of students needing support. With Windows 8, the team have built on top of the existing capabilities in Windows – like the narrator, magnifier and speech features talked about in the workshop in this blog post – by firstly improving some of these – for example, by improving the way that narrator can help you on websites.

      And the Windows 8 team have made a lot of changes from the ground up – for example, providing clearer support for other software developers to make software that can use the in-built accessibility options. A really simple example is the ability for the user to change default font sizes across applications, rather than having to do it in individual programmes. And this extends to other assistive technologies from third parties, where they can more easily be integrated into the system – to reduce the need for workarounds by both users, assistive technology developers and software designers. (Developers not only get guidelines and advice from us, but also access to specific testing tools to ensure that their applications are accessible).

      Accessibility options within Windows 8On the right are the options I see on my Windows 8 laptop, when I search for Accessibility settings in the Windows 8 Consumer Preview.

      What does it mean for education users?

      On top of the existing accessibility features, and the new ones being added, life will be made easier as we do things like adding an accessibility filter in the Windows Store, making it easier to find the apps that have been declared more accessible by the developer.

      And a lot of work has gone in to ensure that the new interfaces for touch devices are accessible. Many of these features are also really helpful for teachers when using interactive whiteboards, where they can be used to highlight areas of the screen, and zoom in and out so that all pupils can see the display.

      Hopefully the outcome of all of this is that it not only will it become easier to find accessible resources, but more software will be accessible to start with – making it much easier to support the needs of individual learners.

      Find out more on accessibility in Windows 8

      There’s a lot of detailed information on accessibility in Windows 8 – and links to resources – in a blog post (below) by Jennifer Norberg, a senior program manager lead on the Windows ‘Human Interaction Platform’ team.

      Learn MoreLearn more about accessibility in Windows 8 on the 'Building Windows 8 blog'


      Note to self: It’s not just about the technology. I’ve just checked the readability of this article, and it’s scored at just below graduate level. It looks like there’s a lot of long words in the world of accessibility. I’ll attempt to make future blog posts more readable!

    • Education

      Accessibility workshop for education




      I thought I’d point you towards another resource that will be useful for partners, education trainers, and those who need to get the message across about Accessibility to their colleagues.

      Teacher Training Workshop on Accessibility

      It is a complete PowerPoint-based teacher training workshop on Accessibility for schools using Microsoft resources. The workshop materials are there ready to go, with all of the links to the resources on the web etc. The only thing we don’t provide is the person to deliver it for you - but the materials have been written so that it can be delivered by anybody in education, without a deep knowledge of accessibility or special needs.

      It covers a background, as well as an overview of accessibility features in Windows, Internet Explorer and Office, before going to look at the relationship between impairments and technology solutions, and advice on selecting accessible technology.

      In then gets really practical, to help with planning for specific students in your care, by looking at four imaginary students with different needs, and suggests how to support them:

      Alex  - a completely fictional student

      Scenario 1 - Visual impairment

      ‘Alex’ has a visual impairment and is colour-blind. He needs to have what he is reading on the computer enlarged or magnified, and he needs to rely on text, rather than colour, for information.

      Accessibility solutions

      Christina  - a completely fictional student

      Scenario 2 - Hearing impairment

      ‘Christina’ is hard-of-hearing so she needs to be able to adjust the volume on her computer. She uses headphones to block out background noise and increases the volume without disrupting other learners in the classroom. She also may need to watch parts of videos more than once to make sure she doesn’t miss anything that is being said.

      Accessibility solutions:

      Sam  - a completely fictional student

      Scenario 3 - Muscle fatigue and wrist pain

      ‘Sam’ has dexterity difficulties, including muscle fatigue. He needs to be able to limit the amount of keyboard work he does. Sam benefits from using Windows Speech Recognition to dictate large amounts of text for reports and uses an ergonomic Microsoft Comfort keyboard and mouse.

      Accessibility solutions:

      John - a completely fictional studentScenario 4 - Student who has difficulty concentrating

      ‘John’ has been diagnosed with attention deficit disorder (ADD) which makes it difficult for him to concentrate sometimes. He would benefit from reducing visual and auditory distractions while using the computer. He needs the computer to assist him in better focusing on reading and
      typing tasks.

      Accessibility solutions:

      Learn MoreDownload the Accessibility in Education Workshop kit (PowerPoint)

      Bonus info: For more info on Accessibility and education, I’ve written blog posts about Accessibility half a dozen times recently:

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