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The Australian Education Blog
Ray Fleming's take on what's interesting in Education IT in Australia

  • Education

    The NSW Online Science testing pilot–using the Microsoft Cloud


    Whoops – despite me talking about this project frequently, I forgot to put anything on the blog…which came to light when I was writing about Janison being a finalist in the Microsoft Partner Awards. So let me put it right

    Last year Janison worked with the New South Wales Department of Education and Training to move their Essential Secondary Science Assessment (a compulsory test for Year 8 students) online – reducing the amount of paperwork flying around, and the consequent marking and delays caused in issuing results.

    Why makes the online NSW ESSA test interesting?

    From an education point of view, it’s an interesting project because they managed to create a new level of interactivity within the tests – allowing students to change the parameters of experiments, and getting immediate feedback. It’s a big jump forward from multiple-choice quizzes.

    And from a technology point of view, it’s noteworthy because of the way that Cloud services were used to deliver the test to students – which dramatically reduced the cost of delivering the test. In the pilot project in 2010, 30,000 students from 650 schools took the test online, all in a single day – and using Cloud-based ICT made it possible.

    Video case study of the online Essential School Science Assessment (ESSA) test

    The technical side of the ESSA online testing

    Janison, the partner that built the online ESSA testing system, used the Windows Azure Cloud system to deliver the test, with Azure delivering the interactive content to the students, as well as storing the students individual answers (and streaming those answers back to a on-premise data server too). Students taking the test didn’t see any of this – they just worked their way through a set of multimedia, animated virtual assessments, whilst staff used a web portal to administer the system.

    Although all of this would have been possible using a conventional infrastructure, the use of the Windows Azure Cloud reduced the cost – making it 100 times less expensive. In the old model, the system would have needed banks of dedicated servers, which would only be heavily used on one day a year (but would have to have the capacity for hundreds of thousands of students for that one day!). With the Cloud model, what Janison could do was simply use the elastic capacity of the Cloud, and increase the number of servers they were using in the Microsoft datacentre (perhaps in a case of overcaution, using 300 servers on the day). And because they could just switch it on and off like a lightswitch, they only paid for the hours they were using them. This meant the hosting costs fell from hundreds of thousands of dollars (for physical servers) to just $500.

    And, for the developers it allowed them to use their existing development methodology and tools, according Wayne Houlden, Janison’s CEO

    Without the Cloud, then it’s unlikely the project would have ever got off the ground, or would have taken years to get moving, because of the prohibitive cost, and the inflexibility of a traditional computing project.

    The success of ESSA

    Of course, successful IT projects never grab the headlines like unsuccessful ones, but the Sydney Morning Herald’s article on ESSA testing described it with no shortage of praise:


    The trial…heralds a new era of online assessment destined to transform how students are examined…

    …The overwhelmingly positive feedback from students, who are asked to complete a short survey at the end of the exam, and teachers has already filtered out to education authorities worldwide.


    And there’s been widespread recognition for the project, as it won the Australian Excellence in eGovernment Award 2011 for Applications Development, and is a finalist in the Telstra Business Awards at the beginning of July. (And was a finalist in the worldwide Microsoft Partner Awards).

    Visit the Janison websiteVisit the Janison website to learn more

  • Education

    Microsoft worldwide Education Partner of the Year


    Microsoft WPC logo

    The World Partner Conference kicks off in Los Angeles next month, and in the build up to it, we’ve just announced the results of the Microsoft Partner of Year Awards for 2011. It’s a tough race, with over 3,000 companies entering from over 100 countries – and the judging process is tough on the entrants.

    Here’s the criteria that the entries are judged on for the Education Partner of Year Award:

      The Public Sector, Education Partner of the Year Award recognizes partners who have exhibited excellence in providing innovative and unique services or solutions based on Microsoft technologies to Education customers. Successful entrants for this Award will demonstrate industry knowledge and expertise, as well as consistent, high-quality, predictable service or solutions to Education customers.  

    It’s amazing that a small specialist Australian company, Janison, in Coffs Harbour, NSW, made it to the three finalists for the Education Partner of Year. Of course, it’s a real shame that they didn’t win the award, to add to their bookshelf of other awards for the ESSA Online Science Assessment project.

    The winner that pipped Janison to the post was Desire2Learn, a Canadian-based global company who produce a learning management system that’s a competitor to Blackboard and Moodle (and a company that we work closely with here in Australia too).

    Here’s the blurb from the site on the winner, Desire2Learn:

    Desire2Learn is recognized as a global eLearning solution provider with the most complete, scalable and adaptable suite of enterprise software products and services to power any institution’s learning infrastructure. All solutions are customized to reflect each school’s unique learning methodologies and branding needs. Desire2Learn currently has over 500 clients worldwide across Schools, Colleges, Higher Education, State Departments of Education, as well as government, corporate and healthcare organisations. The scalability of their solution and global presence provides Desire2Learn with the ability to connect schools and provide a borderless environment in which to teach and learn, today more than 6 million learners reap the benefits of Desire2Learn’s applications. The Desire2Learn Environment is a complete web-based suite of easy-to-use tools and functionality built exclusively on Microsoft Windows and SQL Server. Other Microsoft technologies integrated, or soon to be integrated, in their products include: Live@edu, Windows Phone 7, Lync, Office 365, and SharePoint.

    If you’re planning to extend e-learning in your school/TAFE/university, then you’ve now got two of the world’s best partners here to work with you in Australia.

    Learn More button

    See information on the Microsoft Partner of the Year Awards

    Read more on this blog about the Desire2Learn Learning Management System

    Find out more about Janison’s ESSA project

    PS As I wrote this, I discovered I’d not already written about the Janison project on this blog – so expect me to rectify that over the next few days

  • Education

    Tips for reducing help desk calls when upgrading to Office 2010


    CIO magazine published a useful article last week, “Supporting Office 2010: Tips for preventing help desk calls”, which contains four specific tips to make the roll out of Office 2010 easier for users (and therefore for you). The timing coincided with the first anniversary of Office 2010, and the news that it is being rolled out five times faster than Office 2007.

    There four key tips from the article are:

    1. Make training mandatory
    2. Help people with the Ribbon (eg using the Interactive Guide)
      They don’t mention Ribbon Hero, which is great for students
    3. Give people Quick Reference Guides
    4. Customise office (eg add ‘Print’ to the Quick Access Toolbar)

    For me, the last one is perhaps the most important – because if you do something simple like that, you can bring the commands your users use most frequently to the top of the screen. Let me show you how I did it on my Word menu:

    Making Print easier to find in Word 2010


    The menu looks like this to start with – with the Quick Access Toolbar at the top (which stays there all the time) – with just Save, Undo and Redo on it.


    Clicking on the drop-down arrow along side it brings up another menu


    And from that menu, just click the ones you want on the menu


    Hey Presto, you now have Print on the Toolbar – and showing all of the time.
    So, if you add that tweak into your standard Office distribution for teachers and students, you instantly make you life easier!
    And, if you add Print Preview instead of Quick Print, you’ll probably also save a lot of paper and money!

    Learn MoreLearn more about the Office 2010 menus and toolbar

  • Education

    Another Social Media Bootcamp in July - B2B Sales & Marketing


    If you missed the chance to attend this first time around, then book early for the repeat visit, at the end of July. Especially as there’s an early-bird rate available until the end of this month.

    imageIf you're a Microsoft Partner, you are eligible to attend the course run by our Partner Development Centre for Asia Pacific. The one-day training events are being run at the end of July and early August in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane. The focus is on the role of social media in today's sales and marketing environment.

    Here's the details:

    Social Media Bootcamp for Microsoft Partners

    In the Web 2.0 era, 'Customer 2.0' is informed, socially engaged and totally in control of the conversation - Social Media is fundamentally challenging the way that we market and sell.

    In this 1 day  'bootcamp' your team - of up to 3 individuals from your organisation - will focus on creating a framework for a Social Media strategy to suit your unique business needs. In doing so, you will map Social Media workflows to buyer behaviour and preferences.

    To help ensure the successful implementation of the resulting action plan, each team will receive individual follow up from the instructor after the session.

    In this 1 day action orientated 'bootcamp' each team - of up to 3 individuals from one organisation – will:

    • Focus on creating a framework for a Social Media strategy to suit their unique business needs
    • Map Social Media workflows to their buyer behaviour and preferences
    • Receive follow up from the instructor to support strategy implementation

    Cost: $950 per team of up to 3 people

    Sydney – Wednesday, 20 July

    Melbourne – Tuesday, 26 July

    Brisbane – Wednesday, 3 August

    Having attended these kind of events before (but not this specific one) I'd encourage you use it as an opportunity to get a team across your sales and marketing organisation to attend and think about how they work together to help you react to the changes and opportunities that social media gives you as a business.

  • Education

    It’s not just education - Coca-Cola moves to the cloud with Microsoft


    Recently, I’ve highlighted quite a few case studies of education customers moving to the Microsoft Cloud. And generally, I hit ‘delete’ when I get sent case studies of commercial customers (after all, they aren’t like typical education customers, are they?). But I liked the first three paragraphs of this case study article on, which drew me in:


    Some CIOs understandably treat the consumerisation of IT as a plague — a disease that must be stamped out, lest it subvert the standard operating environment they fought so hard to implement.

    For Coca-Cola Amatil’s CIO, however, the consumer world is the inspiration for his next steps in the enterprise.

    “Historically, we take the collaborative tools that typically start outside of the enterprise and we figure out how to bring them into the enterprise,” Barry Simpson says. “But by the time we’ve done that, we’ve taken out most of the usable features — all the things that made it great in the home market. Then we try and figure out how to connect back out again. It just doesn’t make a lot of sense.”


    With 15,000 employees to serve in Australia, Barry had the challenges of managing large capital spikes of investment and of continuing to meet  users’ rising expectations. Oh, and keeping the 69 mail servers running. In many ways, it’s not that different to an education customer. Except that he didn’t have access to the free Live@edu service, so had to choose the commercial equivalent (BPOS) – and make the investment decision of whether to invest in a cloud subscription or an on-premise service.

    Learn MoreRead the full Coca-Cola case study on

  • Education

    Power Platform Briefings–SharePoint plus SQL equals Business Intelligence


    I’m convinced that over the next three years in education we’re going to see a massive surge of interest in connecting data together, and turning it into useful information. I know that there is already much happening, but there’s a way to go before we can really say that all of the data that is created and collected in education is being used to improve the learning potential of individual students – whether that’s a student in a high school heading to their HSC/GCE/VCE award, or a university student being able to maximise their own learning journey.

    First there’s the ‘dispersal’ barrier - the way that data is created in education – in big systems, individual spreadsheets and paper markbooks. And then there’s the ‘complexity’ barrier – both from a data analysis and a technology point of view. In fact, we even create barriers with the language we use to describe the issue – ‘business intelligence’ and ‘learning analytics’ aren’t exactly the friendliest phrases to use to encourage others.

    So there will be a group of people who become genuine heroes in this situation – who are able to understand what’s on the other side of the barrier, and are able to carry people across with them, and translate the language so that a classroom teacher can easily grasp what’s possible.

    Power Platform Briefings – next week

    Next week, we are running free Power Platform Briefing events in Brisbane, Melbourne, Canberra and Sydney, which are specifically designed to help you to understand how your existing IT systems can help you to turn data into information. They are designed for IT people (IT managers, database administrators and an afternoon for developers) to help you to understand how you can visualise your information more easily – creating data visualisations, maps, SharePoint lists, dynamic Excel reports etc.

    The morning until lunch (9am-1pm) is the ideal session to attend:

    • The first session, will focus on connecting SQL databases and SharePoint together, to produce better reports that make sense to your users.
    • The second session, until lunch, will look at how you can turn structured and unstructured information into valuable information – and how you can start to build a self-service culture for your users (so that you can tap your staff’s naturally enquiring minds)

    The dates and venues are:

    • 27th June – Brisbane – at the new Microsoft offices in George Street
    • 28th June – Melbourne – at the Microsoft offices in Freshwater Place
    • 29th June – Canberra – at the Microsoft offices in Sydney Avenue
    • 30th June – Sydney – at The Menzies Hotel in Carrington Street (our North Ryde conference rooms are currently being spruced up, and are closed until August)

    If you’re coming to Sydney, let me know and we can catch up over coffee to talk about how all this can be applied in education

    Learn MoreFind out more, and register for the free Power Platform Briefings

  • Education

    Lync conversation translator for instant message conversations


    imageI just came across a great little free toolkit - the Microsoft Lync Adoption and Training Kit - which is a set of utilities and add-ins for Lync to give it increased capabilities - in addition to the instant messenger, video chat, phone calls and conference calling systems.

    There's 'IM an expert' that allows you to search for people with specialist skills within your organisation (something that would probably be really helpful for HE researchers). But the one that struck me as really useful in education is the Conversation Translator, which does exactly that - two people can have a chat where they both type and see responses in their own language - and the Conversation Translator sits in the middle translating from one to the other - in a choice of 35 languages.

    You could have students in Australia chatting to students in France - and build their confidence using the Conversation Translator, before weaning them off it as their language skills grow.

    Learn MoreLearn More about the Lync Adoption and Training Kit

  • Education

    Vicdeaf using Lync to help improve communication between deaf colleagues


    I was watching deaf people using their mobile phones to communicate via video sharing this week, (during ‘An Idiot Abroad’ Karl Pilkington got sent to Cairo, and ended up in a KFC run by deaf staff).

    And then today, I was sent a link to this video from Generation-e, who have been helping the Vicdeaf team to improve communications between their staff and stakeholders. The video demonstrates how Microsoft Lync enables deaf colleagues to collaborate and communicate, with both instant messaging and video calling enabling more interactive, and clearer communication.

    Vicdeaf Microsoft Lync Case Study

    From August, the licence for Lync is being included within the main Client Access Licence (CAL) that our education customers use in Australia – which means that customers who are on subscription licences (School Agreement, Campus Agreement, or the new EES or OVS-ES) will automatically be licensed for parts of Lync. So the example that you see above is more feasible in education establishments across Australia – not just in specialist organisations for the deaf.

    Learn MoreRead other case studies on Microsoft Lync in education

  • Education

    IT managers getting ready for Office 365


    A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about the Office 365 training courses for developers to help them prepare for the move to the Cloud (or a hybrid of Cloud and On-Premise systems).

    Office 365 logoNow it’s time to think about typical IT customers: there’s a different set of training videos for IT managers and their teams, that helps organisations to understand what Office 365 can do, and how it is managed. In the context of Office 365 for education, we’re going to see it take off pretty rapidly, as it helps to solve challenges that CIO’s and IT managers are facing today – like cost management, reduced capital budgets, and ever increasing need for collaboration services which can be tricky to deliver within a conventional IT infrastructure.

    When the free version of Office 365 for education is launched, it will initially provide the email capabilities, and have other capabilities added as time goes on, although an education customer could choose to subscribe to the full paid version to get Lync and SharePoint Online immediately (and this isn’t quite as unlikely as it sounds, because there are plenty of scenarios where it will be very cost-effective to put groups – eg a staff team – onto a paid subscription to deliver a project, especially where collaboration is needed between schools).

    Starting with an Office 365 overview, the videos then dive down into the administration processes, and the management of identity and access, and how to use Office 365 in hybrid situations (so that you still have a single user database, and use that to control access to both your on-premise and Cloud-based IT systems).

    I’ve not included the videos of SharePoint and Lync administration in Office 365 above, but they are available on the link below too.

    These videos are a great way to learn what is possible with Office 365, and to assess what scenarios it is likely to address for education customers.

    Learn MoreView all of the videos of Office 365 for IT managers

  • Education

    The Microsoft Australia Partner Conference 2011–bookings now open



    The Microsoft Australia Partner Conference (APC) is on from 23 - 25 August 2011 in the Gold Coast, where there will be the chance to connect up with over 200 Microsoft experts, 850 other partners and to hear from some inspiring speakers. And it’s also where we’ll announce the winners of the Microsoft Australia Partner Awards, including the Microsoft Australia Education Partner Award 2011.

    All Microsoft Partners with a Gold and Silver competency get one complimentary ticket, and there’s an early bird ticket offer of $1,346 if you book before Friday 8 July (which saves $150 off the usual price).

    For education partners, there are plenty of opportunities to gain special insight:

    • On Thursday 25th August, there are two Education-specific sessions, which will cover our Education strategy and how that helps you with your business growth
    • On Wednesday 24th August, there’s a chance to have 1:1 meetings with members of the education team, including our new Education Director and the Education National Sales Manager
    • On Tuesday 23rd August, there will be a chance to meet up with various members of the education team during the evening reception

    Nearer the time, I’ll be able to help you book individual meetings, or find suitable people from other partner organisations that you want to meet up with. For now though, your priority should be to book yourself in…

    Learn MoreLearn More and Register

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