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

December, 2012

  • Education

    Top 10 Education blog posts of 2012


    Hey, everybody else is at it, so I thought I should join the bandwagon. So here's my top ten Education blog posts, all from this Education blog from Australia. It's a top ten by number of readers, and although quantity is no judge of quality hopefully there'll be something here that you find useful, and might have missed during the year.

    Top 10 Education blog posts of 2012

    1. Final version of the free Windows 8 programming ebook
      Yep, that magic word 'free' seemed to make this the most shared blog post of 2012
    2. The 5 factors which affect school performance
      Although it's over a year old, this blog post is still regularly read by people searching for this info on Bing & Google, and comes up as the #1 search result for 'factors affecting education'
    3. Windows 8 Education Apps
      There's obviously plenty of people looking for info on recommended Windows 8 apps for education
    4. Free technical ebook for Kindle and PDF – Microsoft SQL Server 2012
      I hadn't realised I had such a geeky audience! Two technical books in the top 5
    5. Microsoft Australia Partner Conference dates and venue
      This is for the 2012 conference, but each year I've noticed that my APC blog posts end up high on the search results page on the web, and attract web traffic for people looking for more info
    6. Bring Your Own Device in schools - one school’s experience
      A case study from the UK of a high school that has been rolling out a school BYOD programme and now has 1,000+ unmanaged devices connected
    7. One in six schools block Wikipedia
      Nearly 18 months old, and still getting read
    8. Microsoft and the Cloud – what it means for education
      Because I couldn't find it elsewhere, I had a crack at describing all of the Microsoft cloud services that are relevant to education. 1,800 words later, I bet I still missed a lot!
    9. Songsmith - free software for teachers in February
      The most popular of 28 free education software downloads I featured in my February Freebies list
    10. New lower prices for Office 365 for education
      In March we reduced the price of Office 365 for education – to make the basic service free – and that caught people's interest

    My 600th Education Blog post!

    It's still less than two years since I started writing this blog, and in that time I've written 599 blog posts (the most popular of all time is 'Something for the weekend - free eBooks from Microsoft Press') and hopefully I've managed to share some useful education blog posts beyond this top ten, and helped one or two of you to discover something new and help you to enhance teaching and learning for your students (or yourself!) along the way!

    After writing more than one blog every single working day, it's perhaps suitable to publish this 600th blog post on my very last working day on 2012.

    Happy New Year!

  • Education

    Update 7–Windows 8 Education Apps from Australian developers


    As promised yesterday, here's some another Windows 8 Education app developed in Australia.


    Lesson Coder

    Lesson Coder, is from Lucas Moffitt, who's a developer in Newcastle (the Australian version, not the English one). It's an app designed to allow teachers (or other lesson observers) to reflect up classroom practice, and then analyse those reflections later. As a teacher or lesson observer, you scale and make some notes to review your lessons, and then later download these to Excel to see how you're progressing, and where you may want to spend more time in your planning. This is a noteworthy app for a couple of extra reasons:

    • It uses the NSW DEC Quality Teaching model, which gives a framework for three dimensions of pedagogy – intellectual quality, learning environment and significance. You can read more about the NSW Quality Teaching model here
    • The second reason is that Lucas has made Lesson Coder open source, so that others can contribute to its development – either by cloning it, or contributing to it

    And Lucas's Twitter stream tells me there's more teaching and learning apps coming from him soon, especially after this tweet on Christmas Eve "..the Australian Curriculum offers json formats of the new syllabus files. I'm going to build a million apps"

    Learn MoreRead the full list of recommended Windows 8 apps for education

  • Education

    NORAD tracks Santa on Windows 8


    imageThere was a time, when my children were small, when Christmas Eve also became the time to track Santa's progress on the Internet. We were living in the UK, and in the 12 hours before Christmas arrived, we could see Santa's progress across Australia and Asia, thanks to the NORAD Santa-tracker website. And as soon as Santa made it to Moscow, it was always bed-time (at a reasonable time of 8pm). Smile

    Of course, now they're older they have less interest in Santa's actual progress, and much more interest in the actual contents of the Santa sack Sad smile

    But if you have younger children, then you might want to know about the "NORAD Tracks Santa" app for Windows 8. In the run up to Christmas Eve you can get ready for the tracking, and then on Christmas Eve you can see Santa's progress as he heads towards, and then away from Australia. (And use the 'As soon as Santa gets to NZ, it's bed time" trick). Given that we're so close to the start of his journey, it will probably be most exciting for children who have friends in Europe and America, to see Santa's progress towards them. In face, what a great way of filling the time from when they wake up at 5am to when they are allowed to open their presents at a more humane time.

    imageThe app includes video of Santa's progress in real-time, games, and stories along the way of his journey.

    Make a dateYou can download the free NORAD Tracks Santa app for Windows 8 from the Windows Store

  • Education

    The Technology behind NORAD tracks Santa


    imageYesterday I told you about NORAD Tracks Santa – a website and group of apps where parents and children can track the progress of Santa on Christmas Eve as he travels around the world delivering presents to all the children who have been good this year.

    Although these days children think that tracking Santa online is normal, the idea originated in 1955 from a misprint of a phone number in a US newspaper. When children phoned the special Santa hotline, a typo in the advert meant that they were put through to the North American Aerospace Defense Department (or NORAD for short). Pretty soon, NORAD were answering lots of calls from children wanting an update on where Santa was on his trip round the world (and, of course, in the Cold War years, where better to call to track high-speed flying objects incoming from Europe?)

    Time moved on from phone calls to a website, and this year 25 million people are expected to follow Santa's journey in real-time through the web and apps, in addition to sending 7,000 emails and making 100,000 phone calls [link].

    To track Santa, NORAD are able to use their existing systems – radar, geo-synchronous satellites orbiting at 22,300 miles above the earth following the infrared signature from Rudolph's nose, and the NORAD CF-18 and F-15/16 jets.

    But for getting the information published, NORAD rely on various Microsoft technologies which help to scale the website up for the massive traffic peak on Christmas Eve. Of course, it's a classic case study for why people choose cloud services in education too, with the ability to build scalable and elastic services, to cope with sudden, short-lived peaks.

    Here in Australia, we use Windows Azure in education for the online ESSA test in NSW, with 65,000 students answering a 100 question exam on one day, where there's a similar sudden peak of demand – and then nothing for another 364 days.

    In both of these cases, the ability to spin up hundreds or thousands of cloud based Azure servers for a day or two avoids the need to build expensive individual data centres which will sit idle for much of their life. Why build for a year, when you can rent for a day?

    But there's more to the Santa Tracker than just that:

    • The Santa Tracker website is built on the Microsoft Windows Azure cloud, meaning that they could get the service running online quickly, and then scale it up for the millions of users on Christmas Eve [Link]
    • They use Bing Maps to plot progress and display real-time positioning
    • Children and parents can track Santa's progress from their Windows Phone, Android phone or iPhone
    • The new Windows 8 app will allow families to track progress from their new Windows 8 devices, or the Microsoft Surface

    Find MoreVisit the Santa Tracker website for apps, and more of the Santa-tracking story

  • Education

    Update 5–Windows 8 Education Apps


    It's been a long while since I posted an update on Windows 8 Education Apps, and I feel guilty for the gap. So here's a bumper list of apps for Windows 8 for teachers and students. The list of apps is growing rapidly, and I'm not claiming that this list is any way definitive, as it's just nice (and free) apps that I've noticed recently:



    OneNote was traditionally a hidden gem in the Office suite, but in the last couple of years its profile has shot up as teachers and students have realised how powerful it is as a teaching and learning tool. The OneNote app for Windows 8 joins the existing wide range of OneNote for your PC, OneNote for Windows Phone, iPhone, Symbian and Android, and OneNote on the web.

    And the joy of OneNote is that it syncs your notebooks across all of these devices – make some revision notes on your laptop in a lesson, and review them on your phone on the way home – and then edit them on somebody else's computer in a browser. Create an action list and share it with others, and track progress on any of your devices.



    Mars Curiosity

    NASA's Mars Rover Curiosity, landed on Mars August 6th, 2012. With the apps on Windows 8 you can explore the SUV-sized rover, and learn about the tools that it will use to explore the Martian landscape. The software allows you to explore  NASA's Mars Rover Curiosity with touch or your mouse, and learn about why Curiosity is a Mars Science Laboratory.




    Lazy Paint

    You can see how shallow I am if I admit they got me hooked with their introduction

      So you want to be a great painter?
    And your only problem is that you have no talent?
    And you are too lazy to learn?
    No problem! Welcome to Lazy Paint

    Lazy Paint screenshot

    It's a great tool to introduce techniques and ideas, and is a quick way to get students started and engaged with the process of creating a great piece of art from an existing photo or diagram.

    Find MoreRead the full list of recommended Windows 8 apps for education

  • Education

    Update 6-Windows 8 Apps for Education from Nathan Burgess


    Time to look a bit closer to home for the sixth update of Windows 8 Education Apps. There's an array of Australian developers that are working on education apps, and some of them have now hit the store. So here's my small selection of Windows 8 Australian apps for education users from just one developer – and I'll do other developers tomorrow.

    Maths apps from Nathan Burgess

    Nathan Burgess, who's an IT Director from an Australian school, has developed a group of 'Champ' apps, which are now in the Windows Store Education category. They look like they are designed to appeal to teachers and parents, and he's mixed them up between free apps and paid apps.


    Table Champ

    Table Champ is a free, fun multiplication game help children learn their times tables. In this exciting game players must race against the clock to complete as many multiplication questions as they can. Points are awarded for correct answers, deducted for incorrect ones and there is even a time bonus for chains of correct answers 



    Number Champ

    imageNumber Champ is a free fun game to help children learn valuable skills in counting, counting on and number recognition. In this exciting game players must race against the clock to find as many numbers on a 100 grid as they can. Points are awarded for correct answers.



    Speed Champ

    Speed Champ is a fast maths game designed to test and improve players addition skills. Players have 60 seconds to solve as many addition problems as possible by selecting numbers in the main grid to add up to the target number.
    Players get points for every correct answer and lose points for incorrect answers, and bonus points are awarded for not using 10 in your answer. If you get 5 correct answers in a row, you earn extra time.


    Addition Champ

    imageAddition Champ is one of Nathan's paid-for apps, a fun addition game to help children learn and practice their addition skills. In this exciting game players can choose from 4 levels of addition, with three levels providing a race against the clock to complete as many addition questions as they can. Points are awarded for correct answers and the score and number of correct answers is shown at the end of the game.


    Subtraction Champ

    Subtraction Champ is Nathan's other paid-for app, and is described as "a fun and exciting way for children to learn and practice subtraction". The game features 4 levels of difficulty. Level 1 features 10 subtraction questions with the aid of counters. The first number is shown in counters and these can be tapped to take them away. This teaches children the mechanics of subtraction. Level 2 features subtraction questions below 10, Level 3 below 20 and Level 4 below 100.  

    Learn MoreRead the full list of recommended Windows 8 apps for education

  • Education

    Getting serious about security–Windows To Go in education


    Two weeks ago I wrote about Windows To Go in education – outlining some of the scenarios that it could be used for, such as allowing students to access your standard Windows applications from their home computer, or to make BYOD in education easier (see the original article).

    Windows To Go gives you a fully manageable corporate Windows 8 desktop on a bootable external USB stick. This could allow support for “Bring Your Own PC” and give access to your IT environment for users’ own devices without compromising security. The user just plugs the USB stick into their own computer, and instead of booting up as normal, the computer boots from the stick, and runs the Windows setup that's on their (so if you give them a USB stick with Windows 8 and your classroom apps, when they plug it into a Windows XP home computer, it will magically temporarily transform it into a Windows 8 system!)

    Obviously it's good from a teaching and learning perspective, but I know that many of the IT people in Australian education have 'security' considerations at the front of their mind. And that sometimes the need for security overrides the ability to make things easier and more flexible for users – staff and students.

    Windows To Go security considerations

    So how does Windows To Go cope in a secure IT environment? Well, in addition to what we've written about security and data protection considerations for Windows To Go, the NSA (the US government's National Security Agency) have produced a Windows To Go NSA Factsheet, covering the use of Windows To Go in secure IT environments. Although it isn't specifically about BYOD in education, there's plenty of relevant information.

    So what advice does the NSA offer for Windows To Go? Well, first they start with useful scenarios for Windows To Go centred around providing a managed Windows environment while allowing users to roam to different machines in the workplace or home:


    …scenarios such as managed free seating, temporary or contract workforce, and working from home. A preconfigured and managed Windows To Go device with a VPN solution, such as Direct Access, can provide a trusted environment for remote access into an enterprise network.

    Travel amongst sites often requires a user to travel with a laptop or mobile device. Windows To Go could be used as a solution allowing employees to travel lighter while still having access to their desktop and managed network environment.

    In high assurance scenarios, a Windows To Go device could ease situations where storage drives and devices must be removed and locked up when not in use.


    In education we face these types of scenario daily – not just employees but students too. In universities, the ability to give a visiting researcher access to your full system by just giving them a USB key, or allowing your researchers to use your full system when they are away from your campus – without having to lug a laptop everywhere. And in schools and TAFEs, where there are many part-time teachers and support staff, the ability to give them 'their own' secure setup on a stick, but without having to give everybody a dedicated device.

    The document goes on to list the security risks and effective mitigations (for example, encryption to prevent loss of data, enterprise administration to prevent unmanaged or rogue workspaces, and the default ability to disable access to hard disks on their host computers, to prevent data leakage). And it even goes on to walk you through the process of creating a secure Windows To Go workspace on a USB stick.

    Learn MoreRead the full report from the NSA "Configuring Windows To Go as a Mobile Desktop Solution"

  • Education

    Another amazing day for students in Australia, and around the world


    Team StethCloudThis time last year, a group of four students from the University of Melbourne, got together as Team StethoCloud to enter the Imagine Cup – a Microsoft competition for students to innovate with technology to solve real-world problems. StethoCloud set out to solve a big real-world problem – the fact that pneumonia kills more children under five than any other disease, and is responsible for 1.5 million deaths a year, mostly in the developing world.

    They entered the Australian competition of the Imagine Cup, with their idea: a cloud-powered, mobile-hybrid stethoscope for early detection of pneumonia. By connecting a custom stethoscope to a mobile phone, the user is able to transmit diagnostic information into a cloud service, reproducing the diagnostic capability of a trained medical doctor.

    Their supporting video was:

    After some pretty intensive judging rounds, they won the Australian final and got to go to the world finals (sadly for them, the 2012 worldwide finals of the Imagine Cup was in Sydney). Sadly, they didn't make it to the awards at the worldwide Imagine Cup, but the story was never going to end there – they were already working with clinical researchers to see whether their idea could make it into production. And they got noticed along the way by people like TechCrunch, Bloomberg BusinessWeek, Mashable, Wired and Gizmodo.

    Well it's just taken another amazing turn. Team StethoCloud have just been given an Imagine Cup Grant, of $75,000 to take their project further. In addition to the cash, they've been give grants of software, cloud computing services and access to further Microsoft resources.

    This time last year, they were a group of students entering a technology competition. Now, they're continuing to solve a problem that's challenged the world for centuries.

    Could it be somebody you know who could be the catalyst for that kind of change this year? It's not too late to enter the Imagine Cup 2013 – and get the chance to represent Australia at the worldwide finals in Russia next year. Student teams need four members, and have to be aged 16 or over. Entry deadline is 15th January 2013.

    Find MoreFind out how to enter the 2013 Imagine Cup

  • Education

    Australia's most innovative company (and our most innovative sector?)


    imageClickView – who provide a brilliant video streaming and library service used by loads of schools in Australia - has just been labelled "Australia's Most Innovative Company" by BRW.

    ClickView's digital video solution for schools, 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)

    They've been having a run of success with us at the moment too, as they won the award as Microsoft Education Partner of the Year 2012 in September. And they were also the first education partner from Australia to get a Windows 8 education application into the new Windows Store.

    There will be lots of schools already using ClickView's service, and it's great to know that their innovation is also being recognised outside of education.

    I'm tempted to believe that education ICT developers are one of the most innovative sectors in Australia at the moment, because the finalist list also included Janison, who have been at the forefront of innovation for online assessment for the last couple of years in Australia too. And obviously we judges for Microsoft's Education Partner of the Year aren't a shabby bunch either, as both Janison and ClickView have been previous winners of Education Partner of the Year for Australia.


    Find MoreRead about ClickView's award as Microsoft Education Partner of the Year 2012

    Read about ClickView's Windows 8 app

  • Education

    Using the cloud as a supercomputer: How to analyse 63 billion genetic data points in three days


    In the good old days (you know, like five years ago) you needed a supercomputer to do massive data analysis jobs. University research departments either had to build their own, or buy precious schedule time on somebody else's supercomputer. You had to be pretty sure that your research was important, and going to deliver a valuable result, before you could contemplate committing such a major investment of computing time.

    These days, you can often replace a supercomputer with cloud services – meaning supercomputers are all around and anybody with a credit card can rent them by the hour as a simple cloud service. My colleague Steve Clayton has just written about a series of projects from Microsoft Research where they are using the Microsoft Windows Azure cloud to analyse massive volumes of data as they research deep medical problems, such as diabetes, Crohn's disease and coronary artery disease:


    Research in these areas is notoriously tricky due to the requirement for a large amount of data and the potential for false positives arising from data sourced from related individuals. A technique and algorithm known as linear mixed models (LMMs) can eliminate this issue but they take an enormous amount of compute time and memory to run. To avoid this computational roadblock, Microsoft Research developed the Factored Spectrally Transformed Linear Mixed Model (better known as FaST-LMM), an algorithm that extends the ability to detect new biological relations by using data that is several orders of magnitude larger. It allows much larger datasets to be processed and can, therefore, detect more subtle signals in the data. Utilizing Windows Azure, MSR ran FaST-LMM on data from the Wellcome Trust, analyzing 63,524,915,020 pairs of genetic markers for the conditions mentioned above.

    27,000 CPU’s were used over a period of 72 hours. 1 million tasks were consumed —the equivalent of approximately 1.9 million compute hours. If the same computation had been run on an 8-core system, it would have taken 25 years to complete.

    That’s supercomputing on demand and it’s available to everyone – as is the result of this job in Epistasis GWAS for 7 common diseases in the Windows Azure Marketplace.


    There's a short video case study on YouTube (and with possibly the most intelligent set of comments on a YouTube video I've ever seen!).

    Learn MoreRead more…
    The Microsoft Research Connections blog has more detailed information on this and other research projects where projects are able to replace a supercomputer with cloud services.

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