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

June, 2012

  • Education

    Headline writers versus reality


    The media sometimes seem to use education as a point-scoring football eg in my first 9 months in Australia, I noticed that much of the media focus on education focused on a narrow debate about school funding. (In fact, if I was an alien landing in Australia from deep space, the media and political debate might convince me that the purpose of the education system was somehow connected to moving money around, not delivering teaching and learning Smile)

    This week I’ve seen a cracking example of bad focus in the headline writing in tech sites in the US. It comes from a long interview with Bill Gates by the Chronicle of Higher Education. As you may know, Bill Gates now spends almost his entire time on the work of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which focuses on global development and health, and has a US programme focused on education and libraries. It is because of the work in the US on education that his interview with the Chronicle is set. And there’s a long article, with a complete transcript of the conversation and short video clips, on their website. The focus was on the future of higher education.

    When The Verge reported it, they ran with the headline “Bill Gates: tablets in the classroom have a ‘terrible track record’ ”. Which surprised me hugely, as I had always believed Bill Gates has been a fan of tablet devices in education for years and years. So I went back to the transcript, and found what he had said was:

      Just giving people devices, that has a really terrible track record. You really have to change the curriculum and the teacher and those things…  

    Now, that’s a sentiment I completely get behind. I absolutely and positively believe that simply dropping technology into education or business, or anywhere else, doesn’t change anything. You have to provide the support for effective change management. He wasn’t saying 'tablets have a terrible track record', what I think he was saying was 'dropping technology into the classroom without pedagogical and change management support has a terrible track record'. And I can think of tens of examples of that horrible track record over the last decade (and even before that, I think perhaps the first example was the scheme of dropping Prestel into schools, which became known as the 'modems in cupboards' scheme in the late 80's). So they've created a misleading headline.

    I absolutely believe that without change management, Business + Technology = More Expensive Business.

    Whereas with effective change management you get a more efficient and effective business. And I believe the same is true in education. Simply adding more technology, without effective pedagogical support and change management, can simply result in more cost. But support change effectively, and you can make a huge difference to teaching and learning.

    Learn MoreRead the full interview 'A Conversation With Bill Gates About the Future of Higher Education' on The Chronicle

  • Education

    Moving to Windows 8. My top tip


    Every few months, I seem to get a new computer to try out, and this year I’ve also got to try out a few versions of a new operating system. Which means that I’ve got used to switching all of my files between computers.

    Sometimes I’m installing a temporary computer (eg to give it a test run, or for a demonstration), but other times I’m switching my main computer. 

    imageToday, I’ve moved to a brand new computer, running on Windows 8. The process is pretty smooth – within Microsoft we have control over our own machines, so all I needed to do was set it up for a network boot, and hit F12 to install a new operating system from the network. And the data migration tools that are part of the Windows 8 upgrade make it pretty easy to move my data. Last time I upgraded my old computer, it migrated the data as it upgraded the operating system, whereas this time I’ve moved computer, so I’ve used Windows Easy Transfer to move the files from my old computer to my new one, via a removable hard disk. And Easy Transfer gives me a list of the applications that were installed on my old computer that aren’t installed on the new one.

    Although it makes the data migration painless, the one thing it doesn’t do is actually move applications between computers. And over time, I have learnt a trick to make moving between computers easier. This trick applies to self-managed computers, like your home computer or a BYOD PC.

    So my simple top tip is…

    Every time I have downloaded and installed a new application or add-in in the past, I saved the install file in my Downloads folder (in a specific ‘Installed Software’ directory). And then when I move machines, Easy Transfer automatically copies over the folder, and I just run the install files again on my new computer. Which means that it takes me about half an hour to re-install all my apps, and I don’t miss anything, nor do I need to go hunting on the Internet to find the apps.

    This isn’t rocket surgery, just a tip that’s saved me hours, and something I shared with a colleague who said “You could write a blog about that…” Smile

  • Education

    Why do Nigerian scammers say they are from Nigeria?


    We’re in the school holidays down here in most of Australia, so perhaps some off-topic reading would be a nice diversion for a week or two. I’ll keep the usual Education Technology stuff flowing as it comes, but I’ve also got some stuff to share that diverts from my normal ‘education technology blog’ focus. …

    You’ll see them in your email inbox – an offer of fantastic wealth, with a neat side promise of just a couple of million dollars if you help the Nigerian prince/general/director/public servant to transfer a bit of cash. And most people will spot it the scam immediately, and hit Delete before they’ve blinked.

    So why do they continue to send this stream of obvious emails, with their grammatical and spelling errors and random capitals? If you’re looking for an interesting discussion topic with students, the answer is intriguing:

    Because more intelligent people spot the scam immediately…

    imageApparently, the answer is because they don’t want more intelligent people to fall for it, because then they’d have much more work to do to separate out the truly gullible from the mass. And it’s only the truly gullible they want to respond, because they are their best prospects! And a recent research project by Cormac Herley, from Microsoft Research, found that the email with errors and typos is the simplest, most cost effective way of weeding out the wheat from the chaffe:


      Far-fetched tales of West African riches strike most as comical. Our analysis suggests that is an advantage to the attacker, not a disadvantage. Since his attack has a low density of victims, the Nigerian scammer has an over-riding need to reduce the false positives. By sending an email that repels all but the most gullible, the scammer gets the most promising marks to self-select, and tilts the true to false positive ration in his favour.  

    Want to know more? Dive into Cormac Herley's full research paper "Why do Nigerian scammers say they are from Nigeria?"

    Bonus facts: According to 51% of scam emails come from Nigeria, with Cote d’Ivoire coming in second at 34%

  • Education

    Busylight for Lync–Good Idea or Evil Genius?


    If you’re using Microsoft Lync today, for example for instant messaging or phone calls, you’ll know one of it’s great features is the way that you can instantly see whether other people free and busy information (something we call ‘presence’) . When you receive an email from somebody, you can easily see if they are online and free, so that you can give them a call instead of creating yet another email. Or if you see a document on your SharePoint, you see the author’s name alongside it, and a little bubble that tells you when they are available.

    imageThe little presence ‘jelly bean’ icon (the green icon beside my name on the left) shows up in email, SharePoint, Lync, Office documents – all over the place. And it changes colour – green for available; red for in the meeting or on the phone; deep-red for ‘do not disturb’.

    imageThe image on the right is my current Lync window – I can quickly scan it to see who’s online, who’s available, who’s busy, if they are on the phone etc.

    • David and Richard are both in conference calls
    • Lucy is in a meeting
    • Jon’s free
      And in the North Ryde office
    • Andy’s offline
      But seeing ‘mobile’ means that, if I’m desperate, I can also reach him by IM via Lync on his phone.

    It means that I’m much more likely to quickly pick up a casual conversation with one them, using Lync for a phone call, IM chat, or even a video call.

    The only challenge is that means we’re often wearing headphones or Bluetooth headsets. Which means that sometimes you don’t know if somebody’s on the phone and uninterruptible, or can be interrupted because they’re just using the headset to block out noise. And what makes it slightly more confusing is that sometimes people are using a Bluetooth headset on the phone, but I’ve not seen it and started talking to them anyway.

    Busylight for LyncSo when a colleague sent me an email about Busylight, it seemed like an interesting idea. Basically it takes that little ‘presence’ jelly bean status icon, and turns into something physical – a little signal light for your desk.

    I mentioned it on Twitter (asking the question, “Good idea or Evil Genius"?”) and the next thing that happened was the people at kuando, who make Busylight sent me one to play with.

    Now anybody walking up to my desk can see whether I’m free, or busy – either on the phone, or involved in a meeting, or simply trying to get stuff done.

    It also doubles up as the phone ringer – so it trills away when I’ve got an incoming call on Lync, which is handy if the ringing is only happening through your headset, and you’re not wearing it…

    Busylight -  Good Idea or Evil Genius?

    It’s good for open plan offices, or the kind of office where you’re always being interrupted. If you need half an hour each morning to update a record system, you can set your status to Busy, and get everybody to leave you uninterrupted – online or with a tap on the shoulder. It might also be useful as an accessibility device (eg in scenarios like the Vicdeaf Lync use)

    On the Evil Genius side, I’m tempted to think that the IT techs will grab these with glee, set themselves to ‘Do Not Disturb’, and use the glowing bubble to ward off visitors like a light sabre (the USB cord’s long enough).

    Find out more about Busylight

    You can find out more on the Busylight website (it costs around $35)

    I’m going to offer this as a competition prize on the blog, but I’m going to wait until schools are back before I run it. So keep an eye on the blog if you want to win your very own Busylight Smile

  • Education

    Office 365 partner training


    Office 365 logoMicrosoft partners in Australia have access to a wide range of training and development programmes. Most of our product training for different roles (eg sales teams, deployment specialists etc) is available online, so that you can complete the training when and wherever you want.

    Here’s some of the ones that I’d highlight as critical for our Education partners:

    As an example of what the courses contain, here’s a look at the Office 365 Learning Path, which contains an Introduction, and then two different paths for selling and implementing Office 365:

    Office 365 Partner Learning Path

    If you’re in a Microsoft Education partner, then this training will give you key information to help you in providing the right guidance and support for your customers before, during and after their decision making. It is for Office 365 generally, rather than being specific to Office 365 for Education, which is due for launch soon (and there will be more specific training for that too, which I’ll post here)

    You will need to login to the Microsoft Partner Network (MPN) to get access to the courses – using your Windows Live ID. If it’s your first time using the MPN, you’ll also need to associate your ID with your organisation, so that we have the info on which partner you belong to. It’s easy to do, if you start here

  • Education

    Building Windows 8 apps to run on all the new shiny devices coming…



    Yesterday I wrote about Generation App, a guide to creating Windows Phone apps in 30 days. But I missed a rather obvious addition – what about Windows 8 Metro style apps?

    ‘Metro style’ apps are built for the new Metro touch interface for Windows 8, and will be able to run on any Windows 8 device, whether that’s full function PCs and laptops, or the different kind of Windows 8 slate devices running Intel or ARM chips. If you’re already testing the Windows 8 Release Preview, you’ll know that an Intel-based computer running Windows 8 can run all of your existing Windows software, plus the new Metro style apps.

    So here’s some really useful resources to building Windows 8 Metro Style apps:

    Learn MoreVisit the Windows Dev Center for Metro style apps

  • Education

    Students–How to build a Windows Phone app in 30 days



    The Generation App website, from the Windows Phone team, is a really well structured guide to developing apps for the Windows Phone. And ‘well structured’ means that it talks you through a 30-day plan to design, build, test, distribute and monetize applications for Windows Phone – and connects to all of the resources you will need in the form of training, documentation, tools etc

    For students, it’s almost like a ready-made advanced course, and where you’ve got students who are already programming, but want to move onto advanced projects, this seems like just the perfect resource.

    Learn MoreVisit the Generation App website

  • Education

    What would your crystal ball show for education's future?


    I have just read a deeply profound, and shocking, blog post, written by the leader of a significant Australian business.

    Written after the news that major Australian media organisations Fairfax and News Ltd are dramatically downsizing, and in the year that Encyclopaedia Britannica stopped producing encyclopaedias, Kodak stopped producing cameras and EMI stopped producing music, it takes a look at the changing dynamics of the business marketplace – where Borders, Blockbuster and Yellow Pages all lose out to their online competitors.

    Here’s an extract, from the blog post in question (modified to hide the business it discusses):


    There is little or no standardization and only minimal attempts to collect evidence that could be used to improve [the business]. New developments are slow and costs go up every year.

    New online providers will challenge the model, developing standard [products], high quality delivery and more effective [metrics]. The online mantra – better, faster, cheaper – is coming to [this industry] and no one knows where it will end. One thing is certain, [businesses] had better start preparing now.


    48x48-gray-questionWhy do I think that this so significant?

    And who’s it from – one of the big retail CEOs (Harvey Norman? Myers? David Jones? Dymocks?) or a manufacturing business, or a publisher?

    It’s important because of who’s saying it, and what they are talking about

    I think it is significant because the author in question is Professor Steven Schwartz, Vice-Chancellor at Macquarie University.

    And the business in question is the business of higher education. Here’s the quote in full:


    Higher education is next. Stuck in the 19th Century, higher education in many places is a craft in which an artisan-academic prepares bespoke courses. The academic decides on the course content, delivers it and assesses the student’s learning.

    There is little or no standardization and only minimal attempts to collect evidence that could be used to improve delivery and assessment. New developments are slow and costs go up every year.

    New online providers will challenge the craft model, developing standard courses, high quality delivery and more effective assessment. The online mantra – better, faster, cheaper – is coming to academe and no one knows where it will end. One thing is certain, universities had better start preparing now.


    If you’re thinking about the future of education, then you should read Professor Schwartz’s thoughts:

    Better, faster, cheaper: the online mantra coming soon to a university near you

    If you’re in the education business – whether that’s delivering education, or delivering to the education system - reading this will help you get ready for your future.

  • Education

    Microsoft Surface


    Just in case you missed it, something happened in LA yesterday:

    Microsoft Surface

    Learn MoreVisit the Microsoft Surface website

  • Education

    Windows 8 "Finishing School" in Melbourne


    Windows 8 logo 

    Nick Hodge is one of our resident Windows 8 developer evangelists (ie he loves Windows 8 and loves talking to developers about it). And his latest venture is the Windows 8 “Finishing School”, to help app developers as they prepare for Windows 8.

    Windows 8 is now in Release Preview, with a Store ready for Australian developers to publish their apps to the world. This event will assist you in taking your App idea or code and make it ready for App submission.

    The event will be run in an informal consultative style, on two separate days. You can pop along on either day. We will provide hands on assistance and guidance to move your Windows 8 App go to the next level. Come in at any time during Friday 22nd or Saturday 23rd June in Melbourne.

    If you’re an app developer, hop over to Nick’s blog for more info.

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