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

October, 2012

  • Education

    Windows Azure pre-purchase offer


    Microsoft's cloud system - Windows Azure - is being used in education more widely, and there are plenty of conversations going on about how educational partners can move their applications to be hosted on Windows Azure to reduce the cost of expanding their service (because you can just expand a service as your customer base grows without having to go and buy more servers, data centre space etc etc). The same logic applies to education institutions developing new services (especially where it can be tricky to deploy new technology on-site).

    One question I'm often asked is: Is there an academic discount for Windows Azure?

    And the short answer is: No, but…

    And the 'but…' is that there are some current offers on Windows Azure that could save you a quarter on your cloud costs.

    Normally, the cost savings made from moving services to the cloud are attractive enough when you calculate the differential between running a service in the cloud or on your own servers. But at the moment, it gets even more attractive because of the discounts available on Windows Azure.

    In a nutshell, you can pre-purchase blocks of cloud services and get between 20% and 27%. And the minimum requirement is that your subscription is for at least $500AU a month, for a six month period.

    Learn MoreFind more about the Windows Azure pre-purchase offer

  • Education

    Combining Moodle with OneNote and SkyDrive to raise standards


    Icons_teacher_blueThere's a case study from the UK that I'd recommend reading. It's the story of a college that has enhanced their learning management system – Moodle – with integration Microsoft's OneNote to improve assessment and feedback processes for students and teachers. And their experience is that the system – a combination of Moodle and OneNote - has helped with raising student completion rates in courses:


    Business Need

    Eastleigh College’s Computer Sciences lecturing team wanted to provide an up-to-date and highly vocational experience to their students, whilst having an easy solution for sharing notes and PowerPoint slides to the class. Microsoft OneNote and the Microsoft Interactive Classroom add-in for PowerPoint were found to be a very beneficial system for the staff and students to easily collaborate on work. A combination of Office Web Apps and SkyDrive, a set of services and software that enables users to manage their files online in a simple yet secure repository for resources, was chosen for its level of integration with other Microsoft products.

    In 2010, the Computer Science department were using Moodle, a Virtual Learning Environment (VLE), which is used throughout the college. Moodle provided a system that enabled resources to be shared with learners both in college and from home, a facility the college makes great use of. However, the Computer Science staff found Moodle 1.9 to be limited in some respects and in particular the work flows for assessment were causing problems for staff and students. Under the old department system, a learner would submit written assessments by uploading them into Moodle. The lecturer would assess, mark and provide feedback via a form on Moodle, which the learner could then read to gain feedback. If, however, the lecturer asked for changes or additional evidence to be submitted, the student had to upload a completely new document and the lecturer had to complete the feedback form again. In some cases this destroyed the previous relevant and valuable feedback.

    So although many of the features of Moodle are valuable to Eastleigh College, the Computer Science department were looking for an easy solution to improve the ease of use and comprehensiveness of assessing, allowing the Lecturers to share notes and PowerPoint slides to the class.


    Microsoft OneNote was chosen by the department as an electronic portfolio system. OneNote 2010 notebooks, shared via SkyDrive, enabled learners to organise their notes, embed evidence files, including video and other formats, all in one central location. When this was shared with the lecturer, comments and feedback could be written directly onto the OneNote document adjacent to the evidence. The learner would then see these comments as soon as they opened their OneNote portfolio, and the feedback would be in context with their supplied evidence. Students could therefore adjust their work immediately as directed, without having to re-share or upload a new submission.

    The Computer Science department trialled a number of systems with students, including Google Docs, SkyDrive, iCloud and Ubuntu One, but ultimately made the decision to go with SkyDrive due to its level of integration with a range of Microsoft products. The college found that SkyDrive provided a simple yet secure repository for resources that could be shared to both individual students and whole groups with ease. The students could share their documents with one or more lecturers or even other students when group work was required.


    In addition to changing working practices to use OneNote alongside Moodle, the college is also using the Microsoft Interactive Classroom add-in, which allows lecturers to create PowerPoint Decks, and collaborate with students in real time. All the slides from the deck are visible to the student in separate OneNote pages and the students are able to take notes directly onto their OneNote page containing the current slide in the presentation. If a Lecturer writes on the interactive whiteboard, this text is also visible on the OneNote page, meaning students get a copy of all the notes available during a lecture. This is then available to the student in his/her OneNote portfolio for later revision while writing assignments or uploading evidence.

    How it helped the college

    The result was a flexible electronic portfolio for students, which resulted in the college having a much better overview of students' work, and to be able to share that work with other authorities – for example, with external assessors and examiners. And the ability to both share online, and synchronise files for offline use, means that group collaboration is now possible.

    The combination of SkyDrive and OneNote also enabled the department to share calendars, which were used to record the timetables of all learner groups and lecturers in the department. As SkyDrive can be accessed anywhere in the world and using any internet enabled device, such as Windows Phone, iOS devices and Windows 8 tablets, learners had no excuse of not being aware of any timetable changes.

    As Craig Chambers, Course Manager at Eastleigh College put it:

      I genuinely think that Microsoft Technologies have contributed to the improved completion rates achieved in our BTEC ‘Computer Science’ courses.  

    Learn MoreRead the full case study, and see practical examples, over on the UK Further Education blog

  • Education

    Update 1: Windows 8 Education apps in the Windows Store


    Since last time, that I've installed some more apps, so here's my additional recommended education apps for Windows 8:



    Windows Store link for Mathrathon

    It's a simple maths game – you're shown two numbers along with a simple addition or subtraction sign, and the answer. All you need to do is to click Correct or Wrong. Mathrathon creates 60 random questions (and the most difficult I got was 143-87=22). Sounds simple? Well, turns out it's a lot trickier than you imagine, and it's actually turned into quite a competitive challenge amongst a group at the office.
    As this is listed in Games, not in Education, it's also a reminder to check that category too for great learning games.


    SAS Flash Cards

    Windows Store link for SAS Flash Cards

    This is a flash card app with a great list of additional things that are good for teachers as well as students. Probably the best one is that you can create your own flash cards by uploading a spreadsheet. I could imagine that would make it much easier for a teacher to create flash cards to match their lesson plans. And the second handy addition is that, in Quiz mode, the results can be emailed – so that students could send their results back to a teacher, which would be great for assessment of/for learning.



    Windows Store link for QuickMath
    QuickMath is a simple app for improving your calculation knowledge. It presents you with a calculation of two numbers from 0 to 99 which you have to multiply. After you submit the result the app shows if your answer was correct or wrong. To be honest, this turned out to be quite tricky for me to do, but made me think quite hard for the mental maths tricks I could use to get the answer more quickly.


    Viewer for Khan Academy

    Windows Store link for Viewer for Khan Academy
    This is an independently developed video player for educational videos from Khan Academy, which was developed by Joel Martinez as a Coding4Fun Community Project.

    Learn MoreRead my previous list for additional recommended education apps for Windows 8

  • Education

    Case studies that show how the Windows Azure cloud is used in higher education research


    Researchers in universities and elsewhere are using the cloud (and HPC clusters) in their research in order to reduce the cost, or increase the speed of reaching research conclusions. I was asked yesterday for a few examples of how the cloud is improving research, so having created the list, I thought it would be worth sharing:

    Technology Case Study Overview Link for more info


    Seattle Children’s Hospital

    Making bioinformatics data more accessible to researchers worldwide leveraging BLAST technology

    Case Study

    Windows HPC Server


    Africa HIV: Using HPC to find weaknesses in the HIV virus. Shortened years of computations to mere hours to generate 20 key findings allowing scientists to hone in on finding a cure.


    Case Study

    Azure (MODISAzure)

    University Cal Berkeley

    MODISAzure is a pipeline for the download, processing, and reduction of diverse satellite imagery by using Windows Azure to deliver the results of massive cloud computational power to the desktops of researchers

    Case Study

    Windows HPC Server

    Intellectual Ventures

    Intellectual Ventures is working to eradicate malaria by simulating how the disease spreads. To do so, it uses a computing cluster that runs Windows HPC Server 2008 R2 to take advantage of new features and expand the cluster to include business users.

    Case Study


    Casa Sollievo della Sofferenza (Italy)

    The institute relies on bioinformatics solutions to aid its research projects by looking for discrepancies among DNA samples. To process more genetic data at greater speeds, the institute used Microsoft parallel development tools, such as the support for Parallel Programing in Microsoft .NET Framework 4, to create a set of software plug-ins for the Ocean Workbench, a bioinformatics platform designed to model, check and simulate biological models.

    Case Study


    University of Newcastle

    Uses Azure to execute hundreds of workflows, each is a test of a target molecule for possible use as an anti-cancer drug

    Paper presented at ersymposium


    University of Trento Centre for COSBI

    The work being performed at the CoSBi facility has the potential to have wide-ranging impact. In addition to better understanding of biological systems that could enhance the use of targeted medicines to fight prominent illnesses, systems-biology research on nutrigenomics promises insights into how food can interact with DNA to activate genes that prevent the onset of diseases. And the study of webs of interaction enables the modelling and analysis of ecosystems to determine how the food chain is influenced by human-caused environmental change



    Pacific Ecoinformatics

    Using Azure to predict the behaviour of different species and whole ecosystems to biological and chemical changes.

    View the slides from their 2012 talk

    And if that isn't enough, there's some great materials shared from the Cloud Futures 2012 conference, which looked . You can see the agenda, and download associated papers, slides and videos, on the Cloud Futures 2012 website


    Learn MoreIf you want to know more about how you can use Windows Azure in research in Higher Education, then  a great starting point is the Azure Research Engagement website

  • Education

    How a university saved $1.5m with virtualisation and management tools


    When I left the UK to move to Australia, we'd already had a few years of significant pressure on public sector budgets, and education had taken the hit alongside other sectors. At the time, there was a lot of talk about 'back office functions' as opposed to 'frontline services', and in many cases that meant that the budget cuts were made in areas where there was little direct interaction with the service user. In education, that meant less impact on teaching, and consequently greater impact on 'administration' – including IT services. I felt I learnt a lot, alongside our customers, about the ways that ICT services could be delivered for a lower cost, and also the ways that ICT could help lower the cost of other parts of service delivery. We're now facing a very similar set scenario in Australia – pressure on public sector budgets, and a focus on cutting spending on 'back office' services. And so some of the case studies and experiences from other countries will have relevance here. Here's one example from the Microsoft case studies library, published on Monday:

    Coventry University reduces annual IT spend by $1.5m

    As part of the university’s strategic plan, the IT team needed to reduce annual IT expenditure by £1 million, while at the same time creating a more flexible and scalable environment. A previous foray into virtualisation had proved to be expensive, with the team finding it a challenge to make the most of the technology. After comparing several solutions, it chose to deploy Windows Server 2008 R2 Datacenter because the licensing model immediately saved the university £129,000. The IT team is now using Hyper-V technology to virtualise as many virtual machines onto one server as it needs, without requiring licences for each virtual machine. The team has also reduced staffing needs by one full-time staff member through the consolidation of platforms. With the new environment, the university saves £1 million of its allocated budget.

    Several years ago, the university’s IT team purchased VMware licences and technology, with the goal of reducing server sprawl and centralising IT management. Stephen Booth, Head of Central Computing Services, Coventry University, says:

      We’d looked at virtualisation to improve control over the network and save money through optimising our existing investments. But our VMware distribution was small scale and piecemeal, and we never fully used the technology because of the high direct costs of licensing it, coupled with minimal use of the extended feature capabilities of the product.  

    But, in 2010, the university moved quickly forward with its strategic plan to improve university services. As part of this, the executive management team requested that the IT department make savings of £1 million across the campus. As Stephen said:

      The corporate plan was clear about the IT team’s role in making savings as well as enhancing services through centralisation—we had a specific target to work towards. We revisited virtualisation and cloud technologies because in just a few years they’d changed a lot, and there were different options available to us.  

    That's a nightmare isn't it – a clear expectation that it will be possible to cut costs and deliver more services. But it's typical of the mindset of the "spend less, do more" mindset that occurs around IT in a spending squeeze. And the route forward wasn't easy:

      Although we were initially a bit sceptical about Hyper-V, we played around with it to get the best configuration for our needs. We started to think it was a good fit for us in terms of features and a more cost-effective solution for our environment than VMware.  

    The benefits for the university

    In addition to the savings of £1/$1.5 million in a year, the IT team have managed to improve their service delivery, by:

    • reducing downtime – with failover clustering to allow for hardware problems
    • improving server provisioning times - from three months to just one day to get a new server running
    • reducing research costs  - by embracing cloud provision of services for researchers
    • reducing the university's carbon footprint – reducing power and cooling costs by $40,000 a year, and reducing carbon emissions by 20%

    Learn MoreRead the full case study on Coventry University

    Find out more about our Server virtualisation technologies

    Find a Microsoft education partner specialising in virtualisation

  • Education

    More on building apps for the new Office


    In August, I wrote about building education applications for the new Office, Office 365 for education and SharePoint, which is a new way of creating services and application add-ins for the new Office applications. The new Office has a focus on cloud services, and developers can build cloud applications that integrate with it. In education, it's likely that we'll see developers creating new education services to integrate tightly with the Office software that they are already using, and that will be designed as time savers. For example, how about creating an 'Out of the Classroom' app that allows a teacher to fill out a form to request absence for a training course, automatically manages the workflow around a replacement teacher, and keeps the various diaries synchronised (for the teacher, the timetable, the school diary, and for the cover teacher). Compared to today's manual processes, it would save time and awful lot of paper.

    * For the basics of building education applications for the new Office, and Office 365 for education, the first blog post is a good starting point.

    There's also a complete set of tools that have been released for developing apps in the new Office. They are called Napa, and it's an online environment that is setup for you when you create an Office 365 developer site. And as you get more advanced, you can then start using Visual Studio 2012.

    Learn MoreHere's how to get started:

    1. Read more about the Napa Office 365 development tools
    2. Sign up for the Microsoft Office 365 Developer Preview
    3. Read more about the first steps in building apps for Office and SharePoint
  • Education

    The 2013 Innovative Teacher Awards for Australia are now open


    When I was in the UK, I had a couple of years as a judge on the UK Innovative Teacher Awards, run as part of the Partners in Learning programme. It was a definite highlight of each year, as we saw some fabulous examples of inspiring and motivational classroom practice. Although it was always Pretty sure he's not really smug...difficult to choose a winner, it was great to see one of our teachers going on to regional, and often global finals.

    So I thought I should alert you to the chance to enter the Australian finals for the 2013 Innovative Teacher Awards. It's a chance to be recognised as one of Australia's leading educators, win a new Windows 8 tablet device (ooh) and potentially go to the 2013 Microsoft Global Education Forum.

    And do you want to be feeling as smug as the guy in the photo on the right? (Well, perhaps you want to feel inwardly smug, whilst keeping a calm professional persona of "What? Me?")

    Enter the 2013 Innovative Teacher Awards and get the recognition you deserve!

    The Microsoft Partners in Learning Teachers Awards competition is about recognising great teaching using ICT in the Classroom. Teachers everyday are complimenting their teaching and lessons with fantastic innovative and often very simple uses of technology. Many don't even think it to be 'innovative!' This is not an award based on how much Microsoft technology you, or the colleague you are nominating, have used; it is about the way that you have used the simplest technology to motivate and encourage learning with your students.

    For a flavour of the entries you can see previous winners projects here. Remember that the deadline for entering is December 14th 2012.

    Learn MoreYou can find out more, and enter, on the Partners in Learning network

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