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

  • Education

    One in six schools block Wikipedia

    • 10 Comments

    This morning's Sydney Morning Herald ran an education story "Teaching the Facebook Generation". The overall piece looks at how social media impacts on the relationship between students and teachers, and is worth a read to understand some of the issues faced in today's school environment, where Web 2.0 has both upsides and downsides.

    What caught me eye was some numbers on the proportion of Australian schools which block various websites:

    • 86% of schools block Facebook
    • 57% of schools block YouTube
    • 14% of schools block Wikipedia

    These stats are from the 2009 report "Web 2.0 site blocking in schools" from the Strategic ICT Advisory Service, which is funded by the Australian Government’s Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations.

    I understand the block on facebook in schools (although it's a little futile, because most students who want to can get to it any time that they want from their phone), and I kind of understand the YouTube block (although, some of best educational learning resources, like the 2,000+ videos Khan Academy for maths, get swept up into the all-encompassing ban, depriving students in the classroom of the chance to learn alongside the students who have taken 40 million free lessons on Khan Academy).

    What surprised me was that 1 in 6 schools block Wikipedia. Okay, not everything in it is 100% accurate, but researchers have demonstrated it is as accurate as conventional encyclopaedia's (and Wikipedia itself has an excellent self-reflective article on it's own accuracy). My daughter came home from school with a project on Antartica exploration, with specific instructions from her teacher that she must not use Wikipedia for her research.

    What worries me is that we're already falling behind with testing students for the skills needed for the 21st Century workplace - but are the technology restrictions meaning that we are also failing to teach the skills they need? For example, if so much of modern business involves integrating the web (eg a marketing agency with no skills in social networking will soon be an ex-marketing agency), how do we teach the skills the students will need as they move into the workplace? As businesses create their own internal social networks, wikis and information marketplaces, what's the correct way for a school to keep up with the skills and technology needed, whilst fulfilling their duty of care to their students.

    Most IT managers I've met in schools focus on the systems and processes (for example, they think about SharePoint as a way of controlling information flow and processes), whereas exactly the same systems could be turned upside down - put the user in control, and enable social networking and wikis within the safe environment of a school community. Is that what's happening in most schools? Or is it easy to ban something, but tricky to enable an alternative?

  • Education

    Ten of the best - SharePoint University websites

    • 9 Comments

    After the list of school websites built on SharePoint from earlier in the week, here’s another handy (and subjective!) list of Ten University SharePoint websites. These websites are all public facing, and by building them on SharePoint, it means the universities can manage the content in exactly the same way as they manage their other resources - and use SharePoint’s workflow to manage the publishing process. But enough of the SharePoint Content Management story - let’s get down to the pictures:

    Click on any of the images to link to the live website

    1. Northern State University, USA
      Northern State University website

    2. Saïd Business School – University of Oxford, UK 
      Saïd Business School – University of Oxford

    3. Coventry University, UK 
      Coventry University

    4. University College London Hospitals, UK 
      University College London Hospitals

    5. Harvard Business School Executive Education, USA 
      Harvard Business School Executive Education

    6. Furman University, USA 
      Furman University

    7. University of Wales, Newport, UK
      University of Wales

    8. The University of Colorado Denver Business School, USA 
      University of Colorado

    9. Chalmers University, Sweden
      Chalmers University

    10. Washington University in St. Louis - Olin Business School, USA
      image

    Learn MoreDownload the PowerPoint versions of Top 10 University SharePoint websites

  • Education

    Update 3: Microsoft Surface RT Education offer in Australia

    • 9 Comments

    One of the most frequent questions that we’ve been asked about the Microsoft Surface RT offer for education customers in Australia (the offer is for education institutions to be able to order the Microsoft Surface RT from AU$219) is “can I get the Surface RT Education offer in stores, rather than ordering online from Microsoft?”

    Well, up until now the answer has been ‘no’, but we’ve realised that we could be a little be more flexible…

    So now the answer is ‘Yes’!

    Here’s how it works:

    • Education institutions are able to go to their local Harvey Norman or JB Hi-Fi and place an order, referencing the Limited Time Education Offer
    • The institution and retailer agree on method of payment and delivery details
    • Retailer forwards the order to Microsoft for validation that they are a valid education institution that meets the criteria
    • Once the order’s been validated, the retailer can supply the devices

    This retail option means that you can get a faster and more efficient purchase route, and supply from a local business.

    Just in case you’ve missed it before, here’s a quick summary of the Surface RT Education offer in Australia: Education institutions qualify for the offer to buy Microsoft Surface RT, starting at AU$219, until the end of September 2013.

    Learn MoreHere’s where you can get all the details on the Surface RT education offer in Australia, and here’s my previous updates – Update 1 and Update 2.

  • Education

    The 5 factors which affect school performance

    • 7 Comments

    imageAs I mentioned on Friday, I’m currently reading “School performance in Australia: results from analyses of school effectiveness”, a research report published in 2004.

    When the report starts to take a look at the comparisons between secondary schools, using the main data sets that they have available for school-level analysis, there are five factors which they isolate as being key ones. In the statistical analysis, they call these the ‘control variables’, but they key message is that these are the five things external which have a big impact on the attainment of students. If you remove the influence of these from school-level analysis, you can then analyse the difference in performance between secondary schools more effectively.

    The 5 factors which affect school performance

    1. Previous student attainment (through GAT scores)
    2. Socio Economic Status of the student intake
    3. School size, based on number of students
    4. Rural/Urban location
    5. School sector - Public, Private or Catholic

    Why are these the key underlying 5 factors which affect school performance?

    1. Previous student attainment (in Victoria they use GAT scores to measure this)
      This is used to ensure that you are measuring the ‘value added’ to students’ performance, not just their final achievement
    2. Socio Economic Status of the student intake
      This is used to remove bias from a school being in a particular area which may affect it’s student intake. For example, if a school is located in an area with a higher proportion of social housing, statistically the students are likely to be less engaged with education (eg higher absence rates), with less well educated parents.
    3. School size, based on number of students
      OECD research quoted in the report shows that as school size falls below 1,000 students, average student attainment falls too
    4. Rural/Urban location
      Research shows that this is an important influencer of school performance within Australia
    5. School sector - Public, Private or Catholic
      When you don’t take this factor into account, then the analysis of school performance tends to show schools grouping into three bands, representing the different sectors.

    By taking these factors into account when looking at school performance, you are able to get a better idea of how each school is performing compared to other schools, and a better idea of the ‘value added’ to individual students. (You can read much more about this from page 28 of the report. You’ll also see on Page 29, that they used a different set of factors for primary schools, which included density of indigenous students and transient families).

    The question I have in my mind now is:

    If you are a school leader in Australia, do you have the right performance data available, in your analysis systems, to allow for these 5 key factors? Do the reports that you receive help you to allow for these factors?

    Learn MoreRead the full 'School Performance in Australia' report

     

    NB I know that there will be readers who will see this as an over-simplification of the analysis. My aim isn’t to reinterpret it, but simply to share what I’m understanding as I’m reading it. And I’m sure you’ll correct me if I’m wrong - either by adding a comment below or hitting the ‘Email Blog Author’ link at the top right.

  • Education

    Homework is all about learning - yours and theirs

    • 4 Comments

    I think I’m a pretty dab hand at PowerPoint, but that hasn’t stopped my kids showing me some pretty impressive things I’ve learnt from. So, whilst the video below is an advert, I reckon it’s happening in real life in households all around Australia on a regular basis.

    Next time you’re preparing a presentation, maybe ask your kids for help - I bet you’ll both learn something.

    • You’ll learn something about PowerPoint
    • They’ll learn something about what you’re planning to talk about

    Win-Win

    And in related news…I can’t use Publisher. My 11 year-old uses it all the time (party invites last night). But fortunately she still needs my high-tech skills - because she can’t turn the wireless printer on - it’s on top of a cupboard Smile

  • Education

    The Office Add-in for Moodle - free software for teachers in February

    • 4 Comments

    Find all 'Free Downloads' on this blog

    Some Free February Appy-ness with a new piece of free software for teachers from Microsoft every day in February. Many of these items are unknown heroes, but they all share two things in common: 1) They are useful for teachers or students and 2) they are free.

    Free Microsoft Office Add-in for Moodle

    Office Add-In for Moodle banner

    If you use Moodle, you may be familiar with grumbles from staff about the number of steps involved in creating documents and getting them onto your Moodle site. Teachers often create their teaching materials, and student materials, in Word, Excel and PowerPoint. And then they have to save it somewhere, then log into Moodle, find where they want to put it onto Moodle and then upload it. So why shouldn’t it be as easy as saving the file to your desktop, or your SharePoint?

    That’s exactly what the Office Add-In for Moodle does - adds a “Save to Moodle” and “Open from Moodle'” button to all of your Office applications.

    Uploading files to Moodle has never been easier. The Office Add-in for Moodle is an add-in for Office 2003, 2007 and 2010, that allows teachers to open and save Word, Excel, and PowerPoint documents to a Moodle website. Today, teachers who use Office and Moodle have to switch back and forth between their web browser and Office applications. With the Add-In, teachers can create, open, edit, and save Moodle documents from within the Office applications. You no longer need to use your web browser when working with Office documents stored in Moodle.

    Office Add-In for Moodle - screen shotIt doesn’t require anything to be installed on the Moodle server. Anyone who is the teacher or owner of a Moodle course can install the Add-in and access their documents. Once installed, there are two menu items ‘Open from Moodle’ and ‘Save to Moodle’ (see right) under:

    • the File menu in Office 2003
    • the Office Button in Office 2007
    • the File tab in Office 2010

    In order to browse course files on your Moodle you will need to first tell the Add-in the address of your Moodle and the credentials you use to log in. Once added you can view the list of courses you are enrolled in. Naturally, students and others can access the content directly from Moodle as they normally would.

    We focused on teachers and content specialists first, since we know most documents posted to Moodle come from teachers.

    Where can I find out how to use it?

    Step-by-step instructions to help setup the system, as well as how users will use it, are on the Moodle.org website.

    Where do I get Office Add-In for Moodle from?

    Either go to the Office Add-In for Moodle page on Education Labs, or download directly from this link

  • Education

    Three steps to create talking books for students with Word

    • 4 Comments

    To improve accessibility for students, did you know that you can create talking books for students with visual and learning disabilities, using Microsoft Word? The system using a worldwide standard for creating accessible digital resources, called DAISY (the Digital Accessible Information System). And there are just three steps for you or teachers to easily create a talking book in DAISY format:

    Step One: Download the DAISY add-in for Microsoft Word

    Download and install the Save as DAISY add-in from Open XML to DAISY XML Translator (also known as DAISY Translator). The DAISY Translator folder is now in your Start menu, with the Instruction Manual and the Getting Started tutorial, and the Accessibility tab is on your Word 2010 ribbon. (Tutorial video on Step One is here)

    Step Two: Create a digital talking textbook

    imageAfter you have installed the DAISY Translator, you see a SaveAsDAISY option on the Accessibility tab in Word 2010. All you need to do is click on the option, and choose from one of the four DAISY formats. (Tutorial video on Step Two is here)

    Step Three: Listen to your new talking book

    To listen to a DAISY file, you need a DAISY-compatible software playback tool or software reader installed on your computer. You can find several tools, many of which are free, on the DAISY Consortium software playback tools website. (Step Three tutorial video here)

    Learn MoreSee the other blog posts about Accessibility in education

  • 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

    My current computer–why I've switched to a Samsung slate

    • 3 Comments

    Each working day I spend between 5 and 8 hours working with my current computer. And it was only last week I realised my setup was quite different to everybody else, as I looked around the meeting table. Almost everybody else was using a laptop, whereas I've made the leap from laptop PC to slate PC permanently. So I thought I'd share it with you:

    My regular computer: Samsung Series 7 slate PC

    Samsung Series 7 slateUp until May I was using an HP laptop – which I was very happy with. Good performance, nice graphics, and plenty of storage etc. And because I thought of myself as a power-user, I didn't think I'd be able to cope with a less powerful computer – and that seemed to include all the early slate PCs, which were good to demo with, but not something I'd considered as my every day PC.

    But then I got my hands on a Samsung Series 7 Slate PC with all the bells and whistles I needed, and I'm running it with the released version of Windows 8. The one I've got (the sexily named XE700T1A-A05AU) has all the key ingredients I wanted:

    • A touch display: You know, I never imagined I'd be making this the No. 1 requirement, but ever since I moved to Windows 8, it's a must have – especially when I'm sitting at home on the sofa, or taking it into meetings
    • A pen: just like touch, it's now a 'must have', as I take it to meetings and use it as a slate, and am using OneNote more and more for notes, as well as using handwriting recognition instead of an on-screen keyboard
    • Plenty of storage: this one's got a 128GB SSD drive
      I've found that for me 100GB is the minimum drive, because I cart a lot of videos and presentations around with me, and whilst I've got them backed up in the cloud, I have that synced to my computer so that I can always get to them when I'm offline.
    • Decent graphics: this one has got onboard Intel graphics which are good enough for me for everything but games.
    • TPM chip: which means my drive is fully encrypted, so that all of the professional and personal data is secure if I lose it or somebody else gets their hand on it
    • Plenty of RAM: this one's got 4GB of RAM, which I'm finding is more than enough with Windows 8
    • A small dock: Whenever I'm standing or sitting at a desk, then I plug it into a dock. Which gives turns it completely into a laptop – with keyboard, mouse, second monitor and wired network connection
    • It's light: weighing in at under a kilogram
    • It's got a SIM slot, for internet on the go: Although I haven't actually used it, as I tend to just use the Internet sharing of my Lumia 800 – it means I use the data included with my normal phone subscription, rather than to have a second mobile subscription for my computer. Which means I'm always using the WiFi connection, whether that's at the office, at home, or out and about.

    Here's my typical desktop setup, with a second monitor plugged into the docking station, and a normal desktop keyboard and mouse. So it means that whenever I'm at my desk, I've got the perfect setup with a big screen, and then I can just grab it from the docking station and walk to a meeting just carrying the PC and a pen, without all the other stuff. So my bag is a lot lighter than it used to be.

    Samsung Series 7 slate in a desktop setup

    With this setup, I've got something that works as a great desktop computer, and then is good for carrying to meetings. And if I'm using it at home in the evenings, then I tend to use it with touch and the new Windows 8 apps (for things like reading Twitter and blogs). The portability is a big bonus in our Sydney offices, where every desk is setup as a hot desk – I can sit at any desk in the building, and there's already a large monitor, keyboard and mouse ready to go.

  • Education

    The 2013 Innovative Teacher Awards for Australia are now open

    • 3 Comments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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