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

August, 2012

  • Education

    A quartet of Windows 8 devices from Samsung


    It was only last Monday that I was telling you why I'd switched from a conventional laptop to a Samsung Series 7 Slate PC as my main computer. And now they've gone and made me feel like I'm so out of date:

    Samsung ATIV Windows 8 devices

    They held an event yesterday to announce a trio of Windows 8 PCs - ATIV Tab, ATIV Smart PC and ATIV Smart PC Pro – and a Windows 8 Phone.

    Samsung ATIVsmartPC 

    I saw this picture, and now I'm looking at my existing Samsung Slate thinking:

    "Well, it was good knowing you…" Smile

    Learn MoreFind out more about the Samsung ATIV range

  • Education

    5 ideas for using Tags and QR Codes for engaging students


    The Microsoft Tag team are the people responsible for helping people develop innovative ways of using QR codes to engage consumers, pedestrians students…well, just about anybody with a smartphone. In simple terms, you create your own tag, and then anybody with a smartphone can scan it and be linked to websites, downloads, or other information.

    One of the projects they describe on their Microsoft Tag blog is where the Co-op bookstore and PayPal in Australia have used it to help university students purchase text books, by taking out most of the leg work. Students scan the QR code without having to go into the book shop, and the books are shipped via next day delivery. I'd love this for my kids too, if I could just have a page of QR codes to scan for my children's extensive book list, rather than having to type them all into another website.

    Here's the video of the project (buzzword bonus, the video contains the phrase 'omnichannel retailer'):

    And that got me thinking. What about using some of these QR code ideas to engage students?

    Five ideas for using Tags and QR Codes for engaging students

    1. Embed a QR code in the pavement, to provide directions and information.
      Last week I was lost on the University of Sydney campus. How great would it have been to scan a QR code and get a map along with 'you are here' pointer. Or even a visitors guide. In Lisbon, they are embedding QR codes in the cobbled streets for tourist guides.
    2. Use a QR code to make an art exhibition interactive
      How about letting people take the art from an art show home with them? You could put a QR code below every picture, and link it to a digital scanned copy of each bit of art. And because you can get stats for each code scanned, imagine how motivating it would also be for students to know that people wanted to take their art away with them. This art gallery is using QR codes to link artwork to more detailed background information.
    3. Create a daily treasure hunt with hidden QR codes
      How about having student's spending time looking for the QR code of the day? You could hide it on campus in a different place every day, to encourage students to discover more of the campus. Or even have it on a student's T-shirt, to encourage them to engage with each other more, and make it an ever-moving challenge. Although you may not want to go as far as the This Is Dairy Farming website, which has a QR code on the side of a cow.
    4. Create your own 'frequent flyer' programme
      How about taking an idea from retailers, and letting students scan a code every time they attend an after-school homework club – and giving them rewards or status badges? A bit like the eCoffeeCard we're in our coffee shop at Microsoft (every tenth coffee is free). And imagine the extra insight you could get from knowing which students are attending homework clubs etc, and the frequency – and turning it into a positive game for them, rather than a negative 'taking a register' experience.
    5. Turn your whole campus into a game
      The Rochester Institute of Technology developed a real-world game, Just Press Play, which engages students right across their campus, and has gamified the whole experience to aim towards delivering academic success. They are doing this by identifying the key factors for student engagement across their academic journey, and then building an experience (in this case using an RFID tag) which encourages the students to get involved in all aspects of their university. Ultimately, the goal is to reduce student attrition and increase engagement with both the academic course and the full university campus experience. You can read more about Just Press Play here

    There's lots of other ideas waiting to be found on the Microsoft Tag blog, or just hop over to the Microsoft Tag IdeaBook

    Learn MoreLearn more about Microsoft Tag, and how you can create and use your own


    imageHere's my example of a Tag in use – scan the QR code on the right to get a big pile of technical ebooks free. It took me just 2 minutes to create it and add it to this blog post, from the Microsoft Tag Getting Started page. Imagine if instead of technical books, you used this to give your students a big pack of revision guides!

  • Education

    Do you know about Microsoft Academic Search?


    You know when you have been using something for a while, and you think that everybody else has heard of it too - and then you find out it's not as widely known as you think? eg because I use it all the time, I'd assumed that everybody knows that "Windows Key + E" launches Windows Explorer.

    Well, here's another thing I've known about for ages, and assumed other people did too:

    Microsoft Academic Search

    Microsoft Academic SearchMicrosoft Academic Search is a free service developed by Microsoft Research to help academics and researchers quickly and easily find academic content, researchers, institutions, and activities. Microsoft Academic Search indexes not only millions of academic papers, it also surfaces key relationships between and among subjects, content, and authors in a manner that highlights the critical links that help define scientific research. It makes it easy for you to direct your search experience in interesting and heretofore hidden directions with its suite of unique features and visualisations. The difference to a normal search engine like Bing or Google, is that the scope is limited to scholarly materials only – making the results much more relevant. But despite the limited scope, it still indexes over 35 million publications, from 19 million authors!

    It's really useful for searching – but it's the visualisations that make it come alive. Like the ability to navigate geographically through organisations and authors, or graph authors and co-authors, or quickly search for conference 'call for papers'


    Visualisation in Academic Search

    The range of visualisations that are available are:

    image Academic Map Navigate geographically through organizations and authors in a specified domain
    image CFP Calendar Search for conferences you may be interested in by domain, time and location
    image Domain Trend Visualize the research trends in computer science through an interactive stacked area chart
    image Organization Comparison Juxtapose two organizations and compare their citation counts, keywords, top authors and more
    image Co-author Graph Display which researchers have the most collaboration with a particular author
    image Co-author Path Display how two researchers are connected via their co-authors
    image Genealogy Graph Display the advisor and advisee relationships of a particular researcher
    image Paper Citation Graph Discover which publications have cited a particular publication

    And finally, there's a Windows Phone Client for Academic Search, that allows you to search by author, title, keyword etc.

    This isn't only useful for researchers and academics, because if you're a teacher in a school, you can quickly use this to check out current research on a specific topic. For example, a quick search can reveal the latest research papers published on "Interactive Whiteboards" (233 papers) or academic research papers published on "Bring Your Own Device" (1 paper, published in 2004!)

    Learn MoreFind out more about Microsoft Academic Research

  • Education

    My current computer–why I've switched to a Samsung slate


    Each working day I spend between 5 and 8 hours working with my current computer. And it was only last week I realised my setup was quite different to everybody else, as I looked around the meeting table. Almost everybody else was using a laptop, whereas I've made the leap from laptop PC to slate PC permanently. So I thought I'd share it with you:

    My regular computer: Samsung Series 7 slate PC

    Samsung Series 7 slateUp until May I was using an HP laptop – which I was very happy with. Good performance, nice graphics, and plenty of storage etc. And because I thought of myself as a power-user, I didn't think I'd be able to cope with a less powerful computer – and that seemed to include all the early slate PCs, which were good to demo with, but not something I'd considered as my every day PC.

    But then I got my hands on a Samsung Series 7 Slate PC with all the bells and whistles I needed, and I'm running it with the released version of Windows 8. The one I've got (the sexily named XE700T1A-A05AU) has all the key ingredients I wanted:

    • A touch display: You know, I never imagined I'd be making this the No. 1 requirement, but ever since I moved to Windows 8, it's a must have – especially when I'm sitting at home on the sofa, or taking it into meetings
    • A pen: just like touch, it's now a 'must have', as I take it to meetings and use it as a slate, and am using OneNote more and more for notes, as well as using handwriting recognition instead of an on-screen keyboard
    • Plenty of storage: this one's got a 128GB SSD drive
      I've found that for me 100GB is the minimum drive, because I cart a lot of videos and presentations around with me, and whilst I've got them backed up in the cloud, I have that synced to my computer so that I can always get to them when I'm offline.
    • Decent graphics: this one has got onboard Intel graphics which are good enough for me for everything but games.
    • TPM chip: which means my drive is fully encrypted, so that all of the professional and personal data is secure if I lose it or somebody else gets their hand on it
    • Plenty of RAM: this one's got 4GB of RAM, which I'm finding is more than enough with Windows 8
    • A small dock: Whenever I'm standing or sitting at a desk, then I plug it into a dock. Which gives turns it completely into a laptop – with keyboard, mouse, second monitor and wired network connection
    • It's light: weighing in at under a kilogram
    • It's got a SIM slot, for internet on the go: Although I haven't actually used it, as I tend to just use the Internet sharing of my Lumia 800 – it means I use the data included with my normal phone subscription, rather than to have a second mobile subscription for my computer. Which means I'm always using the WiFi connection, whether that's at the office, at home, or out and about.

    Here's my typical desktop setup, with a second monitor plugged into the docking station, and a normal desktop keyboard and mouse. So it means that whenever I'm at my desk, I've got the perfect setup with a big screen, and then I can just grab it from the docking station and walk to a meeting just carrying the PC and a pen, without all the other stuff. So my bag is a lot lighter than it used to be.

    Samsung Series 7 slate in a desktop setup

    With this setup, I've got something that works as a great desktop computer, and then is good for carrying to meetings. And if I'm using it at home in the evenings, then I tend to use it with touch and the new Windows 8 apps (for things like reading Twitter and blogs). The portability is a big bonus in our Sydney offices, where every desk is setup as a hot desk – I can sit at any desk in the building, and there's already a large monitor, keyboard and mouse ready to go.

  • Education

    How to manage student absence using a messaging system


    When students don't turn up to school, there's normally an established procedure for how to handle it, that may involve contacting a parent, or keeping your fingers crossed to hope that a parent remembers to contact you. The challenge that many schools face is that it is time consuming and costly to manage student absence well.

    OneNimbus logoI've just been sent a case study by OneNimbus in Melbourne, which has developed a system using Microsoft Lync to allow you to automate the process of calling parents and checking whether there is a genuine reason for absence, or there may be a need for further contact. It uses the daily attendance register to place a call to parents, plays an appropriate message over the phone, and then collects feedback from the parent – for example, it allows them to speak to a somebody in the school for a more detailed conversation. So it means that they can identify potential truancies much earlier by automating the contact process.

    The case study is of St Pauls Grammar School in Penrith (you can read the messageLinx case study here)*.

    As schools continue to move away from dedicated historic PBX systems onto voice-enabled IP telephony with Lync, it's interesting that in addition to reducing the overall cost of the phone system, it is also enabling much more efficient operation of the school – because the integrated communications systems can enable new ways of working.

    Learn MoreYou can find out more about the messageLinx solution on the OneNimbus website


    * Although the case study is about it's use in a school, it got me thinking of a range of other scenarios this would be useful for in education – such as student recruitment and student retention in universities, or employer and stakeholder engagement in TAFEs.

  • Education

    International student numbers continue to fall in Australia


    Last July, I wrote about the decline in international students in Australian universities. A Deloitte analysis showed a decline in 2010 and 2011, because of tighter visa rules, the strength of the Australian dollar and more international competition for students. And they were forecasting 2012 to be another weak year. Well, they were right.

    The latest figures for 2012 are showing that there's been an 8.5% decline in international student enrolments in the year to the end of June 2012 (5% down in higher education, and 14% down in vocational education). It means a few things:

    • A hit of $1.3 billion to university and TAFE budgets
      This is an issue from a teaching perspective, where international students pay three to four times the fees that domestic students pay, and also an impact on university research, as international student fees contribute to research budgets in many universities. As The Australian put it recently "With federal funding for domestic students in short supply, international student feeds have cross-subsidised the education of Australians and the research output of our universities"
    • Education falls from being the third largest export industry to fifth largest, at nearly $15bn
      You know how the Australian economy has been supported by digging up bits of the country and sending it abroad (iron ore and coal are our two largest export industries). What was often forgotten by industrialists is that education – the incoming flow of funding from international students – was our third largest export. But now the slump in international students means that education has also moved down the table of export industries to fifth (below travel and gold).
    • International markets for higher education are getting more competitive
      As the Australian share of international students falls, other countries are growing – and this trend will continue as a new breed of countries start to challenge traditional choice countries such as the US, UK and Australia.
    • This is a long-term trend, rather than a one-off hit
      Although Deloitte forecast last year that things will start to get better after 2012, the total income from international students has fallen by over $3bn since 2009/10, when it stood at $18bn. It's going to take high growth to get us back to the levels of 3 years ago – and the factors that have affected the last 3 years (tighter visas, the strong Australian dollar and more international competition) are still there, putting a question mark over growth potential.

    Learn MoreFor more background information, I'd recommend reading "The Internationalisation of Higher Education in Australia and the United States" from the United States Studies Centre at the University of Sydney Business School

  • Education

    Programming Windows 8 applications–Generation App


    Do you want to develop Windows 8 applications, or want to know how to engage your students in developing apps? Well, Generation App is a great website to start from. It actually talks you through the process to create a Windows 8 app in 30 days. It's relevant for a professional developer who's starting on day one of a new project, as much as a self-study resource for students.

    Screenshot from Generation App

    Generation App sign-up screenAnd it's dead easy to sign up – just login, download the free Visual Studio 2012 tools, and get started. And the site guides your carefully through 30 days of design, coding, testing and publishing your app.

    There's plenty of coding going on right now for Windows 8 apps, as we get closer and closer to the consumer release in October, and if you start coding now, you've got to stand a good chance of getting your app into the Windows Store by the time consumers start switching on their shiny new devices.

    Of course, education customers will already have access to the released version of Windows 8 through their volume licence agreement, and developers will have it through their MSDN and Dreamspark subscriptions, so there is plenty of opportunity for developers and students to work with the full version of the product in advance of the consumer release.

    Learn MoreGet started at Generation App now

  • Education

    Creating surveys with the Excel Web App in Office 365 for education


    The free version of Office 365 for education includes web versions of the main Office software – Word, Excel and PowerPoint – in addition to the email, collaboration and communication capabilities included within the online Exchange, SharePoint and Lync services. Of course, that's great for editing and working on documents, spreadsheets and presentations, and the beauty of the web service is that we can keep updating them for you as we add new features – you don't have to take on the responsibility for updating software across a pile of machines.

    You can see the new features being added in the future to Office 365 through the preview versions. And we've just released the preview for Office 365 Enterprise (which is the version that Office 365 for education is based on).

    Here's an idea that you can use them for, that might save you bucket-loads of time.

    Using the Excel Web App for surveys and questionnaires

    Thanks to  my colleague James Marshall in the UK, there's a good explanation of how you can easily create online surveys and questionnaires, and get the answers into a neat Excel spreadsheet. It's great for a range of scenarios, like:

    • A lecturer wanting to get opinion and feedback about a lecture immediately after it finishes.
    • A group of students doing a data collection exercise with their classmates.
    • A senior leader wanting to get feedback from parents about a school event (i.e. sports day, school theatre production)
    • A teacher running a competition.

    The beauty of forms in the new Excel Web App is that they can be shared in a few clicks, and accessed on a variety of devices, making it easy for users with laptops, tablet devices, smart phones or pretty much any device with a browser to contribute. And you can make them public, so you can use them for parental surveys etc

    Here's a screenshot from a survey that James published as an example (you can try it out on this link:

    Excel Web App Survey


    Learn MoreYou can read James' post on how to create a survey in the Excel Web App over on his excellent UK Education Cloud Blog (plus loads of other useful Office 365 for education information)

  • Education

    Selling your things to schools–advice on how to get it right in the long-term


    Doug Woods, an education blogger, trainer and consultant from the UK, recently offered some great advice to ICT companies in his blog post "Selling your things to schools". Although Doug's advice was specifically for the UK, a large portion of it is directly relevant to Australia.

    So here's Doug's top ten bits of advice for selling things to schools, with a bit of light editing and some added thoughts from me in italics:

    1. Make sure your product or service is relevant.
      The main purpose of schools is to educate pupils, so make sure your product is educational or can be used in teaching or learning. There is also a good amount of administration that goes on in schools, you might feel your product or service fits more with this. That’s great but first please make sure that your product doesn’t create more administrative work for staff but fits in with current administrative needs and, ideally, makes the tasks easier.
      Over the years, I've seen so many things that supposedly reduce the workload for teachers – and which never actually mean that a teacher can go home earlier or have less work to do in the evenings. So teachers are understandably dubious of the idea of saving time – and are much more interested in things that help them do more in the same time.
    2. Understand the role of technology in schools.
      Be wary of the belief that the role of computers in schools is to ease the burden of admin for teachers so that they have more time for teaching; this is a lie. At no time have computers resulted in less work for teachers and many teachers are fearful that they create more work.
      This is especially true when there's change – normally there's an increased workload whilst change is happening, so setting expectations about that makes people much happier.
    3. Get to know your customers.
      I would have thought that this would be central for all salesmen but what do I know! You are not really selling to ‘schools’ you are selling to a person, get to know that person and their job. Take the time and effort to listen and understand them an what they are trying to do but, and this has to be a careful balance, do not waste their time.
      I've often found that education customers are really happy to share their knowledge and experience – and there are plenty of opportunities, such as conferences and TeachMeets when you can learn from them.
    4. Build a reputation and a track record.
      If you do not have a track record of supporting and understanding education, how can you expect your customers to take you seriously.
      This is tricky – if you're just starting out in the education market, how do you convince your first customer to buy your product? Often, it means you have to start small and grow – get a few teachers using it for free, or a couple of reference schools – and then use that to build your reputation and references.
    5. Offer something for nothing.
      ‘Education’, unlike other ‘markets’, is not going to use your product or service to help it make money, nor is educational computing about saving money. So there is little financial motive for schools to adopt your ‘thing’. This is perhaps the biggest difference between education and other areas such as business or commerce and it is one which will trip up many companies trying to sell into education. Schools like to try products before they buy them, which is not unreasonable, especially as it is unlikely to be the user or person you sell to who will benefit but, hopefully, the pupils they teach. So always be prepared to offer trial periods and consider the ‘freemium’ models which offer a certain level of functionality at no cost and improved features with a price.
      Doug has hit the nail on the head here – one way to compare the models is to work out what it would cost you to sell to a school – and then compare that to the opportunity that can come from a 'freemium' model, or getting established with a small product which is free, and then when you have a reputation, being able to charge for further products.
    6. Ask yourself who your customers really are.
      Schools are mainly buildings, they don’t buy anything so trying to sell to them is a waste of time. So ask yourself who is your thing for? It could be for teachers, it could be for admin staff or maybe it’s for the pupils. In which case try to tailor your promotional material and your marketing efforts for the right people. Obviously, if your product is for pupils, then schools will not view you favourably if you try to market to them through the school but kids aren’t always at school so try to market to them (or their parents) at home or elsewhere where kids hang out (do they still use that phrase?)
      And remember that the business model for selling to 6,000 school leaders is very different from selling to 60,000 teachers or 600,000 parents or 6,000,000 students. It's not just the size of the sale you make, but also the size of the selling involved.
    7. Don’t Cold Call.
      You can try but, to be honest, it is likely to be a very frustrating experience. Teachers are very busy people and usually haven’t got time to talk to you on the phone. [Principals] and Heads of Departments may have a bit more time for you but first, you’ll have to get through the receptionist, who’s probably been told not to allow any cold callers through! Email may be a bit better but don’t expect a reply immediately! So if you can’t cold call, you have to find other ways to market your products; be imaginative, attend educational events, look to support or sponsor events, maybe arrange your own events (and see 8 below)
      The reality of this is that the most obvious person to sell to – Principal, IT Manager, Head of Maths etc – is also obvious to your competitors, so they'll often be bombarded by all the suppliers, whilst others may get no attention.
    8. Show your face and your logo.
      Get yourself known within education circles, attend education events, network with staff or even try running your own events for education. There really is little to beat networking and getting to know potential customers by face. Don’t always be selling, though, remember you’re there to get to know people and make contacts.
      There are suppliers that pop-up for a few years in education, and then rush off to another market when they see a shinier opportunity. But most schools are in it for the long-haul, and will look for suppliers that they are sure are still going to be interested in them in a few years time.
    9. You do have a website don’t you?
      It is expected that anyone and everyone will have a website nowadays, and a Facebook page and a Titter account. In fact, some people will visit a company’s website for evidence that the company is genuine, is active and for background information. So do make sure your site is up to date and that as much information as a customer may need is available via the site and via your Facebook page and also make sure that you are active on Twitter (e.g. make sure any Twitter enquiries are answered promptly).
      On top of Doug's advice, I'd also recommend checking that your website is up-to-date. You'd be surprised how often I find that the key product that's being sold to schools isn't actually mentioned on a company website!
    10. Hey, where are you going?
      Don’t sell a ‘thing’ then move on with the money in your pocket. Nobody likes this, including schools. Keep promoting your products and services to your new customers, let them know ways of using your thing and the ways other people are using it. Make the school feel valued for having bought into your thing and often they will promote it for you!
      If you want to sell to schools in high volume, based on having a low price, that's fine for a while. But it's not going to keep you in the market forever, because there's always somebody who'll come along at a lower price – and all those price-sensitive customers who've switched to you will just switch to them next. So make sure that you're helping your customers get the most from their investment in your products and services.

    If you're a school reading this list, I'm pretty sure that if your suppliers actually did all the things on the list, that you'd be a pretty happy customer too, happy to use them and happy to recommend them to others!

    Now that I've read it again, and commented on each point, then I realise that I'm going to have to improve my game too!

    For more insightful comment I'd recommend adding Doug Woods' blog to your reading list


    Doug Woods blog

  • Education

    Finalists for Microsoft Australia Education Partner of the Year 2012


    Microsoft APC 2012 logo

    The biggest event for Microsoft's partners in Australia is the Microsoft Australia Partner Conference 2012, which will be in Brisbane from the 4-6 September. As well as the full conference experience, we also use it as the opportunity to announce the winners of the Microsoft Australia Partner Awards. (Of course, being Microsoft, we couldn't go any further without creating another acronym – MAPA – for this). Although the winners won't be announced until the first day of the conference, we have just announced the finalists for the awards. And that includes the finalists for the Microsoft Australia Education Partner of the Year 2012. And the finalists are…


    ClickView, for their digital video solution for schools, which is designed to support learning the classroom by providing a simple and complete solution for watching digital video and other digital media (and if you're not yet using it, then give it a run with their ClickView free trial)

    Data#3, for their Education SharePoint Rapid solution, to help education customers with rapid implementation and adoption of SharePoint 2010 and identity management.

    Janison, for their Cloud Assessment Framework, CAFE, which provides a comprehensive online assessment system for secondary, tertiary and post-tertiary education providers worldwide.

    We had some amazing entries this year, with some very innovative projects happening across schools, TAFEs and universities, and I'm hoping to be able to share some more details of the success stories after the end of the conference. But in the meantime, I'd recommend taking a look at the finalists, and their solutions, and seeing if you can second-guess the judges and work out who will win Smile


    There are actually a whole host of other categories, including Windows Azure Platform ISV Partner of the Year (Janison are a finalist in that category too), Business Intelligence Partner of the Year (with WardyIT in the finalists), Communications Partner of the Year (with Generation-e in the finalists) and Microsoft Dynamics CRM Partner of the Year (with eSavvy, OBS and SGS competing for the crown). You can see the full list of MAPA 2012 Finalists here

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