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

November, 2012

  • Education

    How to get a Flash website working smoothly on Windows 8 and Windows RT

    • 4 Comments

    This blog post is for developers, designers, and content publishers who have created websites that use Flash Player, and want to know what the right steps to take are to get those sites running smoothly on Windows 8 devices. This is pretty important in education, where there have historically been lots of websites using Flash, that either don't work, or work poorly, on a wide range of mobile devices. And turning them into a more standards-based web format, such as HTML5, isn't an overnight job!

    However, with Windows 8 starting to appear in classrooms and homes, in the hands of students, there are some things that you can do to improve your users' experience.

    Here's an introduction to the background, and links to more detailed articles:

    Supporting Flash in Internet Explorer 10 on Windows 8

    IE logoInternet Explorer 10 is one web platform that provides two browsing experiences: the new Windows Internet Explorer in the new Windows 8 interface which is optimised for touch, and the traditional browsing experience of Internet Explorer for the desktop. As a Windows Store app, Internet Explorer 10 runs without plug-ins so that you have a clean, fast, and secure web browsing experience, though it does provide a native Flash player with support to play Flash content for sites listed in the Flash section of the Compatibility View (CV) list.

    By designing a web experience that doesn't require plug-ins for the browsers, users will benefit from better performance, longer battery life, as well as increased security, privacy and reliability. All of which are critically important to educational customers. Typically plug-ins are used for delivering video and graphics (Flash, QuickTime, Silverlight, Java applets) as well as offline storage an communication (Flash, Java applets, Google Gears). For all of these uses, there are equivalent web technologies that comply with the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) standards, in HTML5 video, audio and graphics; web storage, file and application APIs; and HTML5 Web Messaging standards.

    For developers, the benefit of developing web sites that don't need plug-ins is that using the W3C standards increases interoperability across browsers and devices, and increases forward-compatibility. Standards-based technologies, specified by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), like the ones comprising HTML5 offer similar capabilities to various plug-ins. These technologies have strong support across modern web browsers, making it possible for web developers to write the same markup and script that works across all modern browsers, without writing or maintaining any additional code that has third-party framework and runtime dependencies. (For more on this, read "Get ready for plug-in free browsing")

    On Windows 8, both modes of Internet Explorer 10 use the same integrated Flash Player, removing the need to download or install an additional player. Internet Explorer 10 for the desktop provides the same full Flash support as previous versions of Windows Internet Explorer that relied on the Flash Player plug-in from Adobe, and continues to support other third party plug-ins.

    What developers and publishers need to know to get Flash websites working with Windows 8

    There's a detailed article on MSDN, "Developer guidance for websites with content for Adobe Flash Player in Windows 8", which provides guidance and guidelines from Adobe and Microsoft for designers, developers, and content publishers. It provides some really simple tips that will allow you to ensure that your website always open in the desktop version of IE10. This means that as soon as a user opens the site, it will give them a prompt to open it in Internet Explorer on the desktop.

    It also describes the Compatibility View (CV) list to enable content for Flash Player to execute inside the Internet Explorer 10 browser, and the process for developers to submit sites to be considered for the CV list. The aim of this is to make sure that sites work well in this mode – for example, that they'll support a use of touch on a tablet device, and not requiring users to do things such as a mouse double-click.

    The article also provides advice to enable developers to test sites that require Flash Player in Internet Explorer 10 before they submit it to the CV list.

    Learn MoreRead more:
    Internet Explorer 10 on Windows 8 – the similarities and differences
    Get ready for plug-in free browsing
    Developer guidance for websites with content for Adobe Flash Player in Windows 8

  • Education

    SAP announces Windows 8 app plans

    • 2 Comments

    This caught my eye because there are so many SAP users in Australian education institutions, across schools, TAFE and higher education. Many education organisations are using SAP for their financial and HR systems, and a challenge for these conventional ERP systems is to make them more user-friendly – especially as so many employees are using self-service systems for every day tasks.

    As an ex-SAP user, anything which helps users get at their data and workflows in SAP more easily is a great thing, and this announcement of SAP Windows 8 apps, featuring the clean, modern, touch interface is a really good sign of support by vendors of enterprise-grade systems for Windows 8:

      SAP today announced plans to deliver six new SAP mobile apps for Windows 8, bringing new innovations for SAP customers. SAP also announced forthcoming support for Windows 8 development on the leading SAP Mobile Platform, as well as security enhancements to the SAP Afaria mobile device management solution. Through these apps, platform support and security enhancements, SAP plans to extend business processes to Windows 8 to accelerate a business’ ability to run better with devices of various form factors.  

    They announced plans for six business apps for SAP running on Windows 8, for use on different types of Windows 8 devices, focused on key functions such as training, HR recruiting and sales. These mobile apps include SAP WorkDeck, which will be developed first for Windows 8. It's a new app described by SAP as being:

      A new persona-centric app that offers contextual integration of various information sources and processes into a role-based view. SAP WorkDeck allows employees to initiate new requests, oversee upcoming events and monitor the progress, as well as enables managers to react and process workflows on-the-go, such as travel, leave and purchasing requests.  

    In addition, they are going to be producing five more SAP Windows 8 apps:

    • SAP Manager Insight: an employee profile app that provides managers with access to key indicators, such as diversity, headcount, employee talent by location, as well as employee profiles, to drive collaborative and informed human resources (HR) decision-making.
    • SAP Learning Assistant: a training app that gives on-the-go workers tag-along teachers. It makes on-demand, online training available anytime, anywhere so workers can access required classes to address compliance and job requirements.
    • SAP Interview Assistant: a recruiting app that eases the cumbersome task of arranging interviews. It also helps managers review candidate information, prepare notes, record results, and provide immediate feedback to HR.
    • SAP Customer Financial Fact Sheet: a customer profile app for account executives to access financial data, invoices and critical sales orders in real time.
    • SAP GRC Policy Survey: a policy app for employees to review and acknowledge relevant policy changes and fill in surveys to ensure they understand the policies.

    SAP Manager Insight screenshotAccording to SAP these apps aim to take advantage of the touch capability and features of the new Windows user interface, such as zoom, tiles and Snap mode, enabling users to easily interact with SAP data. Sebastian Kramer shared this screenshot (right) of the SAP Manager Insight demo on Instagram, which gives a good idea of how different the apps looks from previous SAP screens.

    All mobile SAP apps for Windows 8 are planned to include a trial mode to allow customers to be able to download the apps from the Windows Store and evaluate them before purchasing.

    And there's also work happening on the SAP Mobile Platform, to support creation and deployment of mobile apps for Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8. SAP intends to enable the large community of Microsoft developers to quickly create apps (HTML5 and JavaScript) using Visual Studio, as well as enable developers to access SAP Mobile Platform services for enhanced security and authentication, user/device/app provisioning and push notification to help ensure a consistent user experience across devices of different form factors on a single platform.

    Hopefully the vision will make it easier for employees to be able to create expense claims, sign off approvals, get training etc, whilst they are away from their corporate systems and corporate network.

    Learn MoreRead SAPs press release about Windows 8 apps

  • Education

    The biggest factor affecting student retention happens before the student arrives

    • 2 Comments

    I've been in a lot of discussions about CRM for student recruitment and student retention systems in the last month, and today I'm spending the day in a planning workshop, so I thought I'd share a controversial thought bouncing around my brain about higher education student attrition:

    There’s plenty of evidence to suggest that the biggest factor impacting student attrition is their preparation for university before they arrive. And if we were to ‘game’ student retention improvement, the most effective mechanism would be to alter the intake of students. But is that fair to do? Or, are we already doing it?

    One factor that impacts student retention is prior academic achievement. It appears that students with lower academic scores on entry are more likely to drop out, although that be covering up other factors such as parental engagement, preparation for the style of learning in universities.

    According to Steve Draper, from the University of Glasgow:

    “If a student’s parents both went to university, preferably the same university; if their school assumed they would go and pre-trained them e.g. to take notes, use the library, to write essays exhibiting critical thinking, etc., then this may make that student more likely to succeed. Furthermore there are associations, almost certainly causal, between wealth and family support on the one hand, and retention on the other. More accurately, different families demonstrate different amounts of commitment to keeping a student in education. Previous academic achievement is a measure of this because it measures their demonstrated commitment to date, and so selecting for achievement is also likely to select for continued support, and against students who may have to leave to support their families which is a common cause of dropout.”

    We already select students on their academic ability. Is it also okay to select student intake, based on their preparation for university (some already do)? And if so, do you draw the line at selecting according to the parent’s university history? Especially if you know that’s a real factor that drives student retention and attrition.

    Find MoreFind related articles on CRM in education, for student recruitment and retention

  • Education

    Making student recruitment and retention systems more user-friendly

    • 1 Comments

    As we move towards a more consumer-centric world of IT in education – for example, as BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) models are sprouting right across Higher Education, TAFE and schools – there's pressure too on the big enterprise systems that users are forced to use (finance, CRM, management reporting) to become more consumer-friendly. For example, there are two very different approaches to things like online procurement platforms:

    • Corporate online procurement systems tend to be complex, require end user training and complex support help desks and top-up training
    • Consumer online procurement systems (aka online shopping) then to be simple to use, require no training and if they are not intuitive, they fail (sometimes, along with the business that built them)

    With the same mindset impacting corporate IT systems, then we're going to see a shift in systems and interfaces. If employees are walking around with a web-connected tablet, how do we help them do their job on that?

    One of the areas where this is a definite opportunity is in the area of student recruitment and student retention in universities and TAFEs. I'm involved in lots of projects where the Dynamics CRM system is being used to support student recruitment and reduce student attrition, and what's clear is that there are two types of users of a system:

    • People who spend most of their time in student recruitment activities, and use their CRM or other system on a daily basis
    • People who's role involves student recruitment, but only occasionally have to record activities or look up information in the main system

    One of the things I've noticed is that the people who occasionally use the system tend to have workarounds to avoid actually using the system – for example, they keep information offline in a spreadsheet, on paper or in their heads. Whilst it might work for them, it means that there's no visibility of progress and activities to others.

    So how do you encourage more people to actually use your CRM system as the core place to record information and activities on student recruitment, or student attrition activities? Part of the answer has to be to make it easier for your users to use the system, so they don't feel the need for extensive training, or experience disorientation if they are only using it a few times a week/month/year.

    We've just announced a new release of Dynamics CRM, called Polaris, which is designed to improve the experiences of every day, and occasional users, by:

    • focusing on streamlining processes for users
    • improving the experiences for specific users across browsers, mobile devices
    • improve the integration with Microsoft SharePoint and Lync, as well as Skype and Yammer

    There's plenty more detail on Polaris over on the Dynamics website, but the best way I've seen the journey described is the video below, which demonstrates the vision that the Dynamics team are working towards, and shows what the future interface for Dynamics CRM might look like:

    If your users across the campus had this kind of intuitive, and simple, application, would it make it easier to encourage them to use your CRM system holistically, rather than having separate silos of information on paper, cards, spreadsheets and hand-built systems?

    Learn MoreRead more about the long-term vision for Dynamics CRM (PDF)

    Read more about the features of the Polaris release in the Release Preview Guide (PDF)

  • Education

    Update 5: Windows 8 apps for education – ClickView Windows 8 app

    • 0 Comments

    imageThe first Australian education apps are starting to appear, and the charge is being led by ClickView, which is used by thousands of schools around the country.

    The native Windows 8 ClickView Player app allows you to search and playback videos, podcasts and vodcasts from the ClickView library, and the ClickView Exchange content.

    There's tons of video content in the ClickView library from TED, ABC, Discovery Education, NASA etc. And it's clearly structured under subject and topic headings. And then ClickView Exchange allows schools to share content including videos from free to air TV stations, recorded and uploaded by ClickView users. This online source of relevant, educational content contains 15,000+ titles that have been added by teachers around Australia. Yep, ClickView had to be really careful with copyright for all of this, which is why only educational users in Australia can get access to this.

    Find out more about the overview of ClickView service, or the ClickView products they offer – from in-school video delivery and recording systems, to storage and management of digital media.

    What does the ClickView Windows 8 app do?

    ClickView Windows 8 app users can create their own playlists and vodcasts, and get HD streaming and video playback using the optimised Windows 8 player.

    You can download the free ClickView Windows 8 app here.

    • Existing ClickView customers just sign in with their normal ClickView account details
    • For new users, you'll need to have a ClickView account – so you may want to take advantage of the free 30 day ClickView trial

     

    MAPA 2012 - ClickView

    Find More 

    Get the ClickView Windows 8 app on the Windows Store

  • Education

    Can education IT keep up with the speed of innovation?

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    Last week the annual EDUCAUSE 2012 conference, for Higher Education IT people, took place in Denver. As usual, there was a buzz of stories that appeared on HE news websites like The Chronicle of Higher Education.

    What struck me, following the news and discussions, was that there's a real focus on the pace of change happening (or believed to be just around the corner) in higher education, and the fact that the 'old ways' of doing things just aren't going to work in a world dominated by rapid change and consumer-led thinking of your customers (whether that's external customers – students, research funders) or internal ones (the faculty and administration that choose to use IT services).

    Out of the hundreds of hours of talks, and tens of thousands of words that happened at the conference, here's two quotes from two different parts that struck home:

    Clay Shirky at EDUCAUSE 2012

    Clay Shirky, in his keynote kicking off the conference, talked about how he believes that technology is changing everything across education, from research to publishing to studying. And his idea for the conference was about the benefits of, and revolution possible through, a spirit of openness and collaboration created through social media. There's a short summary on The Chronicle of HE, but I'd recommend watching the whole session here, as I'm only going to highlight one single soundbite from a much longer, brilliantly engaging keynote (at 58:30 in the video)

    Here's the two sentences that struck me as completely pertinent to Australian universities (start watching the video at 52:45 for the analogous story):

      Do not put together an interdisciplinary team from 12 departments and give them a budget of a quarter of a million dollars, and a year and a half deadline. Find five people and ask them what can you do in a month—for free. I think the results will surprise you.  

    Start-Ups at EDUCAUSE 2012

    And this quoted make me think of another session from EDUCAUSE, where education-technology start-ups were pitching to venture capitalists for their money. It was the last three sentences in The Chronicle report, quoting the founder of one of the start-ups, Matthew Racz, that struck me:

     

    …ed-tech start-ups faced a challenging market because colleges move so slowly in adopting new products.

    “There’s a 9-to-18-month decision cycle,” he said. “That’s a little too slow for innovation to happen.”

     

    So here's my question: Can IT keep up with innovation?

    Why did I find these two particular quotes important? Well, as I reflected on the statements above, it challenged my thinking about IT in education – and made me reflect on projects in the past. I've often seen IT projects at the leading edge – where IT has been enabling and driving change, sometimes at a speed that is faster than users can easily adapt to. And here we are being told that change isn't fast enough. Have we been banging our head against a brick wall?

    No, I don't think we have. But the challenge is the way that projects and procurement processes can support an agile, innovative organisation.

    Example: I once worked with a university on a project that could deliver an ROI for an investment in energy reduction in 7 days (ie the project paid for itself in a week). But it took them 9 months from start to finish on the procurement process – which meant that 97% of the time, they were throwing money down the drain.

    I've no doubt that IT teams can keep up with the speed of innovation in education, but to do that, some of today's processes are going to have to change. When…

    • It takes longer to write a specification than it does to create the final project that results;
    • The specification process takes so long that the specification is out of date by the time the project delivers;
    • It costs more to run the procurement process to choose a product, than the actual cost of the product;

    …then it's time for change. I often see exactly these three characteristics above in projects for Business Intelligence systems and also for CRM systems

    IT can keep up with the speed of innovation – and continue to lead change. But some of the approaches to project are likely to have to change significantly to allow this, especially with the fragmentation of control and decision making that we're facing by individuals, managers, leaders, and departmental organisations.

  • Education

    Today's online ESSA Science test in New South Wales

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    It’s on again, the annual online science assessment (the ESSA test) that brings all year 8 students, in all Government, Catholic and Private Schools in NSW, together on one day to do an online science assessment. And it's happening right now, with help from Microsoft's cloud services.

    ESSA Test 2012

    Each year this assessment happens online through a combination of using cloud platform technologies (from Microsoft's Windows Azure) and the latest techniques for building scalable assessment systems from Janison, a Coffs Harbour company. Of course, the scale of the assessment, with anything up to 85,000 students taking the test in one day is huge. Wayne Houlden, CEO of Janison told me a little about it:

      Last year we peaked at 500 schools active at the same time – this year we think we might go just a little higher. We are also expecting a few more students on this year, so this year we have 500 Windows Azure processor cores to handle the demand.  

    You can see below, that pretty soon after 9AM last year, hundreds of schools were logging and getting their students started.

    clip_image002

    Watch the ESSA test progresss in real time

    Possibly one of the most interesting things about the test is that you can watch it happening in real time. The Janison team have built a Metrics site where you can watch the statistics as they happen – the number of schools logged on, the number of students taking the assessment every second, and the utilisation of the cloud services and technology that sit behind it.

    Here's a screenshot of the Student Status screen taken a couple of minutes ago:

    image

    So, as oftwo minutes ago, 16,889 students had already completed their test, and a further 9,933 were in progress.

    There's a heap of further detail showing in the live stats – head over to http://cafemetrics.cloudapp.net/essa2012 for a look.

    Find MoreFind more articles on this blog about Janison and the ESSA test

  • Education

    Analytics and Business Intelligence in US education–what are the lessons for Australian universities?

    • 0 Comments

    Nearly two thirds of universities in the US reported in June 2012 that analytics (or business intelligence*) was a major priority for their institution, or some departments within their institution. And 84% reported that it was more important to them than two years ago. As a single fact, that doesn't seem significant – what's really useful to see from the report is the areas of the universities that are using analytics. Beyond the stalwart of finance and budgeting, the main focus appears to be on using analytics for student-centric processes – enrolments, student progress, instructional management. And relatively lower use of analytics in areas such as human resources, facilities, and staff management.

    One of the key findings of the report was that whilst analytics is widely viewed as important, data use at most institutions is still limited to reporting. They also found that programs were most successful when they involved partnership across teams – IT, functional leaders and organisational leaders. They also recommended that institutions should focus their investments on expertise, process, and policies before acquiring new tools or collecting additional data. Although, I think there is a real danger – observed across many analytics projects – of analysis paralysis, resulting in an ever-expanding project scope, and the resulting delays in project deliverables.

    Are analytics tools too expensive?

    The Executive Summary at the front of the report highlights two key questions:

    • Is data mainly collected to enable reporting, rather than to address strategic organisational issues?
    • Is cost a major barrier to widespread use of analytics?

    In fact, 'affordability' was the largest concern about the growing use of analytics in Higher Education (Fig 5, page 13) As the Executive Summary says on page 3:

     

    One of the major barriers to analytics in higher education is cost. Many institutions view analytics as an expensive endeavour rather than as an investment. Much of the concern around affordability centres on the perceived need for expensive tools or data collection methods. What is needed most, however, is investment in analytics professionals who can contribute to the entire process, from defining the key questions to developing data models to designing and delivering alerts, dashboards, recommendations, and reports.

    I've heard similar views expressed – but in a growing mindset of 'self service BI', where the end user is often going to be doing their own data analysis in the tools they are already familiar with – like Excel – I think the need for additional BI tools for everybody is fading. Given that in most Australian universities, all of the staff are already licensed for the common-place analytics tools like Excel, then cost should hopefully not be a barrier to widespread use, and perhaps the need is more of training to help users interpret standard sets of information, and how to analyse it together with their own local datasets.

    Which areas of universities are using analytics?

    The chart below comes from the 2012 ECAR Study of Analytics in Higher Education (the full infographic is a 13MB PDF file here). The area labelled 'student progress' also includes student retention, which I think is a key scenario for analytics with students.

    Departmental use of Analytics in Higher Education

    Given the report's view that a lot of the use of BI/analytics was for 'reporting' rather than true analytics, perhaps there's not a huge surprise here – but it's a timely reminder that reporting data is exploiting a small part of the potential of a analytics/business intelligence system.

    Learn MoreIf you, or colleagues, are involved in discussions or projects around business intelligence or analytics, then I'd recommend the full report, as it's written in a very approachable way, with many useful insights. You can view the full 2012 ECAR Study of "Analytics in Higher Education" on the EDUCAUSE website

    I think there appears to be a shift in language that's happened here. What's called 'analytics' in this report has traditionally been called 'business intelligence' more widely. I know that the phrase 'learning analytics' has become the norm for student-centric BI, but I wonder if the name change we see in this report has come because of the word 'business' in 'business intelligence' – and the perceived need to ensure that people don't apply the label 'business' to education (echoed by one of the response options under 'concerns' about the use of analytics which was "Another means of running higher education like a business")

  • Education

    Win prizes for building apps for Office and SharePoint

    • 0 Comments

    image_thumb[7] We're in the middle of a competition for partners or individuals to build apps for the new Office and SharePoint. With the new model of creating, selling, distributing and running apps in Office, and the creation of the new Office Store to promote apps, there's plenty of potential for developers to create new apps that are available for the hundreds of millions of potential users. And the competition is open to Australian developers too.

    Ideas for Office app developers in education

    If you want ideas for education apps for Office, to get your creative ideas flowing, take a look at Building education applications for Office, Office 365 for education and SharePoint.

     

    Prizes for building Office and SharePoint apps

    The top app in the competition will win US$10,000, plus lots of promotional activities in partnership with the Office team, including getting to be a featured app on the Office Store and Office blog. And some support and consultation to help you with your next app!

    There are an additional 15 winners, who get a Kinect and Xbox, plus promotion for their apps. And then finally 100 further prizes of a Microsoft Mouse or equivalent (see the prizes here)

    The closing date is 20th December, so you've got a few weeks to get your act/app together and submit your entry.

    Learn MoreRead more about the competition, and find out how to enter

  • Education

    How to succeed in Education Technology

    • 0 Comments

    I've just finished reading an excellent article, "How to Succeed in Education Technology" written by the cofounders of Wikispaces, to provide advice and support for people running companies producing education technology products and services - or people thinking of starting one. It's clear, concise (even though it's lengthy!) and it contains some absolute gems of information.

    If you're a supplier to education this is a great read, full of good advice and valuable lessons. And if you're in a school, TAFE or University, it's a great read too, for the overview it provides of the context of change in education today, and for the ideas it might generate on how to enthuse colleagues, and leaders, to help change happen.

    And it hooks you with its first line:

     

    Most of today's education technology startups are doomed to fail.

     

    It then goes on to describe some of the challenges that young technology companies face in the education market, which are fundamentally different to those faced by consumer technology companies.

    Here in Australia, we've got some great examples of companies that have started small and become successful through providing services that schools want – like ClickView, who through sheer hard work now have been chosen by 7 out of 10 of Australian High Schools to provide their video services; and 3P Learning, who's Mathletics service has been chosen by huge numbers of schools in Australia, the US and the UK. Along their journeys they will have learnt some of the lessons that are shared in the article.

    The article defines what success looks like (for Wikispaces) and compares that to how success might be judged in a consumer-facing startup,

    There are a couple of points that really hit home for me. Like this not about the need to serve institutions, but in a different way to the past:

     

    Schools have lost their appetite for cold calls, long sales cycles, big-ticket software contracts, torturous implementations, and projects loaded with long-term risks. Without grass-roots adoption, salespeople can't show the one thing that institutions crave most: demonstrated success under their own roof.

    While customer quotes and whitepapers and research analysts can claim that a product will be successful, teachers who already use the product in their classrooms are the real proof. Bottom-up has replaced top-down. We're seeing more and more leaders of institutions large and small influenced by stories of products that work today for their own students and teachers.

     

    When talking about the need for companies to have "a burning passion to serve the educational market, and the determination to commit a decade or more of your life", they illustrate the reason by listing some of the difficult environmental barriers that face people providing services to the education market. They include:

     
    • Long and uncertain budget cycles
    • Purchasing bureaucracy
    • Limited outside funding sources
    • Micro and macro political pressures
    • Lack of and low upside for technology champions
    • Lack of resources for large-scale technology implementations
    • Resistance to change, especially when institutions have been burned before
    • An unprecedented level of competition for attention in the ed-tech space
     

     

    Learn MoreRead the full article "How to build a successful startup" on EdSurge

    There's also a couple of EdSurge newsletters that you can sign up for, including one specifically for teachers

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