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

  • Education

    Protecting your users from hackers

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    Have you ever wondered why Office 2010 provides more active protection for documents than previous versions? And why it has started giving you warnings about files? Like this one, which I see on a regular basis:

    image

    Basically, it's about providing enhanced malware protection for students and staff. Experienced IT users can sometimes think that these kind of messages are annoying (after all, I know I've opened a file from an Internet site I trust), but your users - teaching staff and students - can sometimes take actions which potentially harm their computer. Only yesterday I read the story of Virginia Tech being compromised by a data-stealing virus, but they are just one example of the daily battle between you, your users, and the criminal organisations looking to get at your IT systems. (And when you have multiple users using the same computer, as you do in a computer lab or library, you can quickly compound the problem).

    Anyway, back to the message bar. Would you like to know more about why you see these messages, and what Office is doing in the background? It's helpful in understanding how and why it is giving malware protection for students.

    The Office Engineering team (the ones who design and build Word, Excel, PowerPoint etc) have just published a white paper called Keeping Enterprise Data Safe with Office 2010 , which explains the various security features (and hacker challenges they have to tackle, like 'fuzzing'), and it's a good background read to some of the security and data protection that's in place - and provides an insight that might help you to protect your data and users more effectively.

    Learn MoreDownload the 'Keeping Enterprise Data Safe with Office 2010' White Paper

  • Education

    Universities moving to Cloud services - more case studies

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    Hot on the heels of the recent Australian case studies of universities moving to Cloud services with Microsoft, there are some new international case studies available. I'll summarise them here, but for a better insight into what's going on, download the full case studies below.

    Brno University

    The Business School at Brno University of Technology, in the Czech Republic, is one of the universities moving to Cloud services, to enable 4,000 students to connect to their learning whilst they are away from campus. They're using the Microsoft BPOS (Business Productivity Online Services) system to connect e-learning to their students in employment, and in other countries including the UK and the US. What they've found is that it gives their students more opportunities for learning, at the same time as helping them deliver a more flexible service within their limited IT budget. And a significant result for them is that they are able to do this with no more staff resources - leaving them to focus on the quality of teaching and learning.
    Download the Brno University case study

    The Economics University

    The School of International Relations at the Economics University in Prague is another of the universities moving to Cloud services, as they have moved students studying IT management to the BPOS Cloud services. As Tomáš Kubálek's, the Associate Professor of Engineering, put it:

      Our task is to prepare students for real situations they will encounter in their future employment as managers, and, in many cases, members of international teams. Effective communication within a company is an essential element for its success, so we wanted to expose students to technologies that have widespread adoption - such as those offered by Microsoft.  

    By choosing to move to the Cloud, they have said that they speeded up their deployment, which in turns speeds up access to educational resources for their students. They've also reduced their cost of ownership, by not having to rely on the existing university infrastructure.
    Download the Economics University Case Study

    Find more case studies of universities moving to Cloud services

    Learn MoreFind more Education Cloud Case Studies on this blog

  • Education

    Kinect, augmented reality, and education

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    Last week I wrote about the world record that had been set by Microsoft Kinect, for the fastest selling consumer electronics product.

    In it, I said "Perhaps we're going to see ideas where technology supports teaching and learning in a more immersive way - and will make standing in front of an interactive whiteboard look very old fashioned."

    Well, how about this video, where a group of researchers and developers have integrated a number of different imagery sets into a system that allows students to explore the inner workings of the human body - with a very natural interface, and a display that gives an augmented reality experience.

    Now, how could you use this in the classroom?

  • Education

    MIS Magazine's Cloud Computing special

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    My Cloudy morning routineI have a few spare copies of the March edition of Australian MIS magazine, which is a Cloud computing special.

    You can see my morning routine perfectly in this picture - get into the office early, then set to on coffee, email and filling my brain with interesting reading before the day shift arrives at 9am.

    Alongside all of the articles about the opportunities of the shift to the Cloud, it also highlights (on the front cover) the challenges it creates, and calls it 'a shadow over the IT department'. What it means by that is the changing nature of IT jobs, as it goes on to say:

      Dark side of the cloud
    The global shift towards utility computing promises big capital savings for business and government. But will they come at the expense of jobs?
     

    And Julian Bajowski even goes on to list the kind of jobs under threat - Storage Managers, Exchange Deployment Specialists; Infrastructure Managers.

    Given that education appears to be moving to the cloud faster than many other business areas, maybe you should have a read!

    Learn MoreEmail me, and I'll stick one of my spare copies in the post to you *

    * Doesn't seem right to not have any small print. So let's make some up: I have a small pile of magazines, and I'm happy to put one in an envelope if you send me your address. But once they're gone, they're gone.

  • Education

    Looking at data in different ways helps create Learning Analytics

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    I was talking with a Microsoft partner this morning about how you turn education data into actionable information. It's not that we don't have the data - normally the challenge is turning data into a form that other people can appreciate it. Student management systems are a great example - they are chock-full of student data - but often it's trapped into dull reports and spreadsheets. How about unlocking it? I showed an example of a student data set visualised in Microsoft's Pivot Viewer, which is a way of seeing your data in a new way. It's ideal for student data, because what you are able to do is to see every single student in your data set, and what data is influencing their position and performance.

    The video below gives you a short example of what it is and what it does - and is a great way of sparking ideas for education use, and how it can help you to create a Learning Analytics system.

    Microsoft's Pivot Viewer - what could you do with student data?

    If you want an idea of how it might be useful in curriculum teaching, then take a look at the World Leaders pivot. One simple click allows you to demonstrate the difference between 'data' and 'information':


    World Leaders in Pivot View

    imageimage

    On the left - World Leaders
    That's Data.

    On the right - World Leaders sorted by Gender.
    Now that's Information!



    How do I use Pivot?

    If after seeing this, your question is 'How do I use Pivot', then there a group of weblinks below that you'll need - and either a friendly developer or the ear of your suppliers.

    Pivot Viewer is available as an online service, through a Silverlight interface, which means that it is much easier to create browseable data sets. It does mean that you’ll need somebody with a slight programming bent to turn out a custom data set.

    The Pivot overview website contains a couple of excellent videos that are great for sharing with colleagues, to help them to visualise what it can do – and to stimulate the conversation about how it could help present education data, such as student attainment.

    There are also a range of web pages which are designed to help technical people with developing Pivot Collections, and to link to pre-existing data sets and databases.

    Collection Design
    http://www.silverlight.net/learn/pivotviewer/collection-design/

    Collection Tools
    http://www.silverlight.net/learn/pivotviewer/collection-tools/
    This includes the Microsoft Excel add-in which is one way to create a collection

    And there are a bunch of technical discussion forums, linked off the PivotViewer home page

  • Education

    Easter school holidays in Australia 2011

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    A quick guide, if you are planning events or marketing activities with schools, on the Easter school holidays in Australia 2011 - state by state.

    State Easter Holiday 2011
    NSW 11th - 27th April
    VIC 11th - 27th April
    WA 19th April - 4th May
    QLD 15th - 27th April
    SA 15th April - 2nd May
    ACT 15th April - 2nd May

    If you're planning any activities with schools, then the blackout period is effectively from Friday 8th April until Thursday 5th May.

  • Education

    The mindset of a university CIO

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    If you're working with University IT teams, you're going to eventually be talking with (or wanting to talk with) the CIO. After all, there's a common belief that they are involved in all the key decisions. But if you've not worked with many before, how do you approach the conversation? What is it that they will want to hear about?

    Sadly, I can't answer that directly for you - because each CIO is different - but I can point you towards a fantastic CIO interview of Mick Houlahan, who's the retiring CIO of the University of Western Sydney. He talks about his last 20 years, and some of the challenges and successes from that time. There's a few interesting numbers - like the fact that although student numbers have nearly doubled, the IT staff have remained the same. And the number of applications they support has quadrupled from 35 to 140.

    Learn MoreRead the full Mick Houlahan article

  • Education

    Implementing Lync for voice at Marquette University

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    Marquette University in Milwaukee has 11,000 students and 1,00 faculty and staff. As an independent university, they've got to make their budgets add up, so when they started to build three new campus buildings, they looked at the cost of the core services they provide - including their phone systems. What they did was replace their existing PBX phone system with a unified communications system - chopping their annual telecom costs in half, saving $120,000 a year.

    I only know about this because of the story on the CIO Australia website, written by Shane O'Neill. There's detailed background about the decisions they took (and the alternatives they explored) to get them to where they are today - 1,000 staff using Lync as a replacement for their telephones, and adding audio & video conferencing, as well as instant messaging.

    The full article is definitely worth a read, as one of the key elements is the key learnings that they made whilst doing the switch:

    • Get users ready for a cultural change: Not every user will react in the same way - some will embrace the change, others will just want a phone on the desk. So videoconferencing use varies from department to department.
    • Offer training, and then follow up: Marquette trained before they rolled out Lync, and then followed on later with more detailed training in the new facilities, like video calls.
    • Keep phones to help with transition: Although you could switch all of your users to software phones (with headsets plugged into their computers etc), there will be plenty of people that love picking up a handset .
      Marquette used the Polycom 600 series phones, and as Dan Smith put it "The newer Polycom VoIP phones look and act like regular phones, and it's important for people to still have a normal phone as a fallback when moving to a soft client like Lync."

      When Microsoft switched to using Lync instead of phones on our desks, for at least six months I used my handset device more than my laptop headset. But now I've done away with the phone handset, and just use a headset, as I find it better. But I wouldn't have believed that two years ago, when I was first getting used to VOIP phones

    Learn MoreRead the full story on the CIO website

  • Education

    Trends Shaping Education 2010 and the Australian data

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    I've just been browsing the OECD report, Trends Shaping Education 2010, which takes a look at the international evidence about education progress across the globe, and how patterns are changing. The reports are based on data from the OECD, the World Bank and the UN.

    The report covers:

    • the dynamics of globalisation

    • evolving social challenges

    • the changing world of work

    • transformation of childhood

    • ICT: the next generation

    The final chapter, on ICT, contains a bunch of interesting statistics with international comparisons. Some of the statistics for Australia reported in the research include:

    • In 2008, 75% of households in Australia had access to a computer at home, which had increased from just over 50% in 2000 - putting Australia ahead of France and Italy, but behind the Nordics, UK, Germany and Japan.
    • 94% of Australian 15-year old students reported frequent home computer use in 2006, compared to 73% reporting frequent computer use at school.
    • On school computer access, Australia was second highest in the work, and well above the global average of 55%
    • In 2006, there was 1 computer per 3 students, compared to an OECD average of one computer per 5 students. Australia was second in the world, just behind the UK, but ahead of every other country, including the US.

    The report goes on to say:

      What is known about numbers of computers in schools and their use suggests that ICTs are not fundamentally transforming the environments or methods through which most young people learn. Research also shows that children learn ICT skills more through home use than school use, as well as spending more time using computers at home. There are continuing forms of the “digital divide” which are based not on access to technology but on the skills and capabilities to use it effectively.  

    You can actually download the data tables that the report was based on - and use that for your own analysis. For example, there appears to be no visible link between exam results (from the 2009 PISA Results) and Frequent Computer Use at School and Frequent Computer Use at Home. I think that's a statement about examinations and what we're testing (but I won't repeat it here - you can see what I think from my earlier blog post).

  • Education

    Calumo user group - an insight into Business Intelligence

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    Last Thursday evening I spent the evening at Calumo's offices in North Sydney, at their Club Calumo user group meeting. After a period of relaxed conversation over pizza and drinks, we got down to the serious side of the evening - hearing some of the users talking about how they are using the Calumo systems to get a better insight into the finances of their organisations. In the case of last week, it was two not-for-profit organisations - the National Trust and the University of New South Wales (UNSW).

    UNSW

    The UNSW team called their presentation "Dollars and Sense", and was all about the way that they used the business intelligence system to manage the finances across a distributed university finance system - where in some universities the faculties hold more power than the central teams. What they have done is to create a nimble way of users being able to get hold of data, manipulate it, perform what-if experiments - and all from the comfort of Excel. For them, it was about giving users a way to see their data from the tools they were already using, rather than forcing them to learn a new system.

    The UNSW team also shared some quick stats of their business - with a revenue of over $1bn, 40,000 students and over 5,000 staff, it makes them a very significant business in Sydney.

    On one of the pieces of paper handed out, Gary McLennan the CFO at UNSW, is quoted as saying:

      Our team, with Calumo's expert guidance, is delivering a platform that enables us to maximise the financial resources available to support our teaching and research priorities more effectively and at speed. The time frame from commencement to yielding real business value has been astonishingly short. Our environment is very demanding and complex; the flexibility and performance of Calumo has been excellent.  

    And an example given on the day by Alister Cairns, who's the MIS Systems Manager at UNSW, showed exactly what that meant - now they can produce a completely new report in a few days when it previously took 3-6 months to get a new financial report specified, created and running. I get the impression that we're changing into a new way of doing things, when it is quicker to build systems, than it used to be to even just write the specification for it.

    I've now heard a few different universities talking about how they've started to use business intelligence systems to give them a better view of what's going on. And the recurring theme is that they've had to resort to mild guerrilla tactics - to start by building a system outside of their normal systems and processes - because the existing monolithic systems have proved to be difficult to work with. It almost appears as if users and departments are trying to fly under the radar of the IT team, in case they get stopped.

    As we need more and more data sources glued together, in order to manage complex, fast moving scenarios (like student load planning) then the tension - between existing monolithic data systems, and users who need to analyse data - is going to increase.

    National Trust

    William Holmes À Court, the CEO of the National Trust talked about "Doing More With Less", and especially about how they have built their whole system to be used by volunteers around the state, which means using the tools they were already familiar with, like email and Excel, rather than creating a completely new system. He told lots of entertaining stories, but the one statistic that stuck in my head was that weeds cost Australia $6 billion a year. That stuck in my head, because I realised if you can stick a cost on weeds, then you should be able to put a cost on anything!

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