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

  • Education

    This lorry is invisible

    • 2 Comments

    image

    It doesn't look invisible. And the noise it makes as it comes down the school driveway every week isn't invisible. But it might as well be invisible - your mind tunes out things you see every day. Which means that school managers have got used to the paper delivery lorry turning up every week, and the tens of thousands of sheets of paper being delivered weekly for the school copiers and printers.

    imageIn the UK I did some research that showed an average high school was using over one million sheets of paper a year - with some up to two million. And since arriving in Australia, I have been deluged with so many sheets of paper from my children's school, that I reckon the numbers are going to be even higher here.

    For context, one million sheets of paper is almost twice the height of the Sydney Opera House - which you really would notice if it all came down the school driveway on one day!

    Obviously, using that volume of paper is a huge expense - and in many cases, schools are spending as much on paper, copying and printer toner as they are on their main ICT budget. So if there's a way of reducing paper usage, it would deliver a real cash saving as well as an environmental benefit. As an added thought, even just shifting the mix of where things are printed can save money, as printing on classroom inkjets or laser printers can cost up to 6x more than printing on large, shared, multi-function devices around the school. In my research I also came across a school that had as many printers as they had staff - with some staff having more than one each!

    There are plenty of things that can be done to save money on this:

    • Assigning course materials online, for students to access in school or at home
    • Change parental forms to an online-first option, reducing both paper and admin costs
    • Remove internal forms completely, and move them onto your intranet/SharePoint

    There are plenty of things that you can do - but first you have to build the momentum for change. Which means that you've got to make sure the lorry isn't invisible any more. And how do you do that? The easiest way is to find out how much paper you are using at your school (half an hour with the admin team and a quick scan of the last few invoices from your stationery provider), and then you've got a story to share with your principal about the invisible lorry.

  • Education

    Where are the IT jobs?

    • 2 Comments

    I just read an interesting article on the APC magazine website, about the hot skills required in 2012 for IT jobs. If you’re thinking about the skills that students will need as they enter employment, then it’s a great article to share with your students (and if you’re hoping to influence students to choose a computing subject as they make future course choices, it’s a cracking article to share!). According to Peter Noblet at Hayes IT recruitment, and the Clarius Skills Index reports, there’s high demand for IT candidates across the board, with a forecast shortage of IT workers nationwide:

     

    The strongest areas of demand are related to growing use of virtualisation and cloud computing in large enterprises, says Noblet, with many organisations looking to implement Exchange 2010 and moving to a virtual environment that’s creating demand for Exchange, VMware, and storage candidates.

    Microsoft applications like Windows 7, Windows Server 2008, Exchange, SharePoint and the Lync unified-messaging platform figure strongly in recruiters’ activities due to the ongoing demand for in-house corporate messaging and collaboration platforms: “organisations are captivated by the perceived benefits and capabilities of SharePoint,” Noblet says.

    The market has, he adds, been equally voracious for lower-level skills like Java and .NET development, as well as higher-level business analyst and project management nous. And cloud computing expertise, particularly because the sector is relatively young, may prove to be exceptionally valuable to employers.

     

    It goes on to quote Michelle Downing at Dimension Data Learning Services, talking about the demand for skills training by employers, with a over half asking for training in Microsoft technical skills, compared to 3% needing VMware and 2% needing Citrix technical skills training. Business related skills needed by clients include ITIL, project management and business analysis.

    If I was in charge of IT courses in an education institution, I think I’d have this whole article projected  on a wall of every IT lab!

    Learn MoreRead the full APC article "Where are the new IT jobs"

     

    NB Can I also put a plug in here for the Microsoft IT Academy programme, where your students can earn professional industry qualifications whilst still at school/TAFE/university, and bump themselves up the pile of job candidates!

  • Education

    The Consumerisation of IT, and education - presentation slides

    • 2 Comments

    Icons_light_blueI’ve been speaking at some events run by Acer and Fujitsu recently, and had the opportunity to look at the issues surrounding the consumerisation of IT - and what it means for schools when you’ve got a broad range of devices arriving on your campus - and they may not all be owned and managed by your IT team. Although the event was focused on schools, in reality this is impacting every sector of education today.

    Although I haven’t got a recording of the session, you can download the slides here, which will hopefully be useful to people that were there, as well as some of those who weren’t (although, without the words, some slides will make absolutely no sense!)

    What I’ll do going forward is let you know which events I’ll be speaking at, and give you details of how you can register if applicable. And if it’s local to you, it would also be a great opportunity to catch up before or after for a coffee and a chat!


        Learn MoreDownload the 'Consumerisation of IT - and it's impact on Education' slides

      • Education

        Alan’s Paperless School project

        • 2 Comments

        Icons_light_blueAlan Richards, the Information Systems Manager at West Hatch High School near London, has been running a ‘Paperless School’ project for the last 18 months. He’s been using the school’s SharePoint in order to reduce the amount of paper being used in the school or being sent home to parents. I wrote about his project last October (see ‘Schools spend more money on printer paper than on ICT’) and the initial results - cutting out 10,000 sheets of paper from their academic review process.

        Alan ran a webinar in the UK, where he talked about the project and gave a live demonstration of what they were doing now - with SharePoint and InfoPath - to reduce the amount of internal paperwork (as well as improving the communication process within the school). For example, by moving the Absence Request form online they’ve streamlined the process, made it easier for staff and administrators, and reduced the potential for lost forms to cause chaos.

        The recording of the webinar is now available on YouTube (or below):

        If you’ve got a truck arriving at school every month with your new supply of paper, then it’s worth investing half an hour watching Alan’s webinar recording, and then downloading the slides from Alan’s Edutech Now blog.

      • Education

        Ten of the best - Australian education websites built on SharePoint

        • 2 Comments

        Following on from my previous blog posts, ‘Ten of the best SharePoint School websites’ and ‘Ten of the best SharePoint University websites’, then it’s time to get closer to home with Ten of the best Australian school websites built on SharePoint (or best TAFE websites or best University websites).

        The reason I’m focusing on ‘built on SharePoint’ is because most Australian education institutions have SharePoint, and have it integrated into their identity management system and their security model. So extending that same system to run your public-facing website means that you can easily create a website that allows students to access their course materials from home, and staff to be able to use the document storage and workflow, without having to setup yet-another login or user list on yet-another system. Anyway, back to the best school websites list…

        I’ve had help from colleagues tracking some of these down, and recommendations from customers and partners. But ultimately I take total responsibility for the completely subjective Top Ten list and their rankings!

        So here’s my top ten of the best education websites built on SharePoint in Australia

        It’s my take on 10 School/TAFE/University websites, built on SharePoint, that are worth looking at for design ideas and inspiration for functional ideas - or simply because you want to nudge another colleague towards seeing that SharePoint can deliver a beautiful experience for staff, students and prospective students.

        Click on any of them to link to the live website

        1. Gordon Institute of TAFE, Victoria

          This was easy for me to pick as Australia’s best education website built on SharePoint. I’m sure this website must inspire potential students - it gives off the impression of a vibrant learning community, with a fun attitude to the serious subject of learning. And the design makes it easier to navigate to the key information - and encourages you to explore more.

           Gordon Institute of TAFE

        2. Victoria Department of Education - FUSE

          An amazing interactive experience which puts access to learning materials right at the front of the site. And let’s be honest, it breaks the mould for ‘policy-type’ websites, because it’s putting the ‘fun’ into ‘functional’.

          Victoria Department of Education - FUSE

        3. Abbotsleigh School, New South Wales

          You can tell from the very first page that this is a school that takes learning seriously - and the strong photography shows how it puts students at the centre of the experience. With many private and Catholic schools, you can see the increased importance of needing to ‘sell’ the school to prospective students and parents, as well as keeping in touch with the parents of existing students.

          Abbotsleigh School

        4. Trinity Grammar School, New South Wales

          Another design-centric site, but with a clear navigation structure that means students & parents can easily find the section that’s relevant for them. (Pipped by Abbotsleigh for #3 position because it didn’t have Search on the home page)

          Trinity Grammar School

        5. The Learning Place, Queensland

          Another government site, which are often some of the trickiest to design and run, because they are trying to meet the needs of so many stakeholders. Although the SharePoint portion of the website sits behind the login screens, there’s an excellent video here that shows what Stage 2 is delivering.

          The Learning Place

        6. Brisbane Catholic Education, Queensland

          Although this doesn’t have the high graphic design of some of the previous sites, the navigation here is clear - with the tabs at the top helping users find their way quickly to the section that is right for them - students & parents; schools & curriculum; employment etc.

          Brisbane Catholic Education

        7. Bendigo Tafe, Victoria

          Another great TAFE site in Victoria (is there a secret recipe they have there?). I particularly liked the 3D box design, which was very simply to create, and added to, rather than confused, the navigation.

          Bendigo Tafe, Victoria

        8. John Paul College, Queensland

          A nice looking site that crams a lot of information onto the home page - but without making it too busy. A slow rotation of the main picture adds interest, but without detracting from the content and links.

          John Paul College, Queensland

        9. Hale School, Western Australia

          A slightly more traditional design, which puts details on the front page, rather than just short links. As with the others, it’s often the photography that makes the first impression.

          Hale School, Western Australia

        10. Australian School of Business, New South Wales

          Okay, this may be 10th out of my list of 10 - but there’s hundreds of sites that didn’t make it to the Top Ten, so it’s still good going. I like the way this page is easy to read, and has all the vital components - news, events and search - right there.
          What would have given it a higher rating? Less ‘stock’ images and more good photos from the School of Business itself would have helped me, as a parent, to imagine my daughter going to study there.


          Australian School of Business, New South Wales

        Learn MoreDownload the PowerPoint Top 10 Australian Education websites on SharePoint

      • Education

        SharePoint Governance and Lifecycle Management in education

        • 2 Comments

        As you’d expect, we run a massive internal SharePoint system at Microsoft. It contains 250,000 site collections and 36 terabytes of data - growing at the rate of 1 terabyte every three months (yup, that’s the equivalent of 300,000 extra 1MB documents every month). The impact of that growth was not just storage cost - it is also search speed and search relevance (if you’re searching a gazillion out-of-date documents, it makes it harder to find the one you really want).

        The Microsoft IT Team, who keep it all running, have implemented a SharePoint governance and lifecycle management system, to help meet the information standards for the business, as well as reduce cost and improve the search experience. And then written a great Technical Case Study to share their experiences. I thought it worth sharing because I know that education users of SharePoint are grappling with similar issues, as they develop SharePoint usage out from an IT department to institution-wide.

        Policies for SharePoint site lifecycle management

        There were four key policies implemented, which helped bring the system under better control:

        • Site classification. Sites must assign and maintain site information classification, information security classification, and ownership. Eg Team sites must have one full-time employee site owner and two administrators at all times.

        • Site lifecycle management of expired/abandoned sites. Sites expire one year after creation and must be renewed annually. Sites that have no activity over a period of six months are considered abandoned and are subject to decommission.

        • Site storage and quota management. Depending on the hosting environment, storage quota limits range from 2 gigabytes (GB) to 100 GB, depending on the type of sites and hosting options. SharePoint libraries and lists are not to exceed 5,000 items. Sites are backed up daily and recoverable up to 14 days.

        • Customization and server-side access. For most of the standard SharePoint-hosted services offerings, MSIT neither allows server-side access or server-side configuration changes by users, nor does it allow most third-party plug-ins, site customizations, new features, or additions.

        Information Security Classification tabsAlthough our IT environment is very different to an average education user, there is some really useful implementation advice in the IT Showcase case study - for example, in the way that we’ve tagged all SharePoint sites with an Information Classification - something that could be ideal for categorising sets of data in an education SharePoint system (see right).

        There’s also interesting insight into the way that sites are categorised for traffic - with ‘heavy hitters’ categorised when they reach more than 100,000 hits a day, or consuming more than 10GB of memory.

        Learn MoreRead the full Microsoft IT Showcase case study on SharePoint Site Governance and Lifecycle Management

      • Education

        Photo Story 3 - free software for teachers in February

        • 2 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.

        Microsoft Photo Story 3

        Photo Story 3If you remember Photo Story from the Windows XP days, well you’ll be glad to know it's back and working with Windows 7 (as well as Windows XP). If you don’t know, then you’re in a for a surprise when you give this a try!
        imageYou can quickly create slideshows using your digital photos. With a single click, you can touch-up, crop, or rotate pictures. Add animations and special effects, soundtracks, and your own voice narration to your photo stories. Then, personalise them with titles and captions. The whole thing is then wrapped up into a ‘photo story’ - a video with a small file size that makes it easy to send your photo stories in an e-mail. Watch them on your interactive whiteboard, TV, your computer, or your smartphone!

        For an example of the results, watch the video "Remember the Ladies” from the Department of Classics at Furman University.

        It’s difficult to describe how easy it is to use, without stepping it through with you step-by-step, but it is so simple to use that the easiest way to see it is to try it!

        It’s a great way for students to create a piece of work, and makes a fantastic break from the usual PowerPoint presentations that they produce - and introduces a whole new set of skills for students to think about.

        Where can I find out how to use it?

        You may not need much help, as the software is easy to use. However, Pat Pecoy at the Department of Classics at Furman University has created a series of Photo Story 3 tutorials here.

        Where do I get Picture Story 3 from?

        Like every other piece of software in the ‘February Freebies’ list, it’s free. You can download it directly from this Microsoft Downloads link for Photo Story 3. (BTW although it says it’s only for Windows XP, this link contains the updated version that works on Windows 7 too)

      • Education

        I’m Out of Office - and so is my email inbox

        • 2 Comments

        This week, I’m actually in the States at our Global Education Partner Conference in Seattle (right up on the left hand side of the US map). As usual, I tried to be a little creative with my Out Of Office Reply:

         

        Oops! Looks like I’m not here, keep reading…

        I'm over in the States from 6th February until Tuesday 14th February at the Microsoft Global Education Partner Summit. During this time, I'll be able to check my emails during the night Sydney-time, but will be attending business meetings all of the working day, so will be slow and limited in how I can respond (and let's face it, after flying back overnight, I'll probably be slow and limited on the 14th too!)

        I will be fully online again on Wednesday 15th February.

        If there is anything absolutely desperate that you'd need to escalate, the Education team and the Enterprise Partner Team are still around.

        Regards,

        Ray

         

        But I discovered that I have some much more creative colleagues (but not in the sarcastic way of some of the Best Out of Office replies from Dave Duarte). Jason Trump is a colleague from our APAC team, and his out of office reply is awesome:

         

        Where am I?

        This one is an easy one!  The Starbucks empire of more than 17,000 stores in 55 countries started here from a modest store located directly across the road from Pike Place Market.

        The world’s largest online bookstore Amazon.com is also headquartered in this city.  Boeing assembles several of their commercial aircraft in several plants around the city including the Dreamliner 787 which is assembled at the Everett Factory.

        You probably guessed that I’m in Seattle, Washington State, USA.

        This business trip is for partner events related to the Global Education Partner Summit (GEPS).  Held annually at the Executive Briefing Centre building at Microsoft’s Redmond campus, GEPS is a 4 day event especially for our top education partners. I’m also attending a pre-meeting and additional side-meetings during the course of the week.

        I will have regular email access throughout the day so there shouldn’t be a significant delay in responding to urgent messages, except for the time difference.

        Please try to refrain from calling my mobile as the timezone will likely mean you’ll be calling me at an hour when I should be sleeping (but probably won’t be thanks to jetlag!). If it’s urgent though, go ahead +xxxxx.

        Kind regards,

        Jason

         

        When I got it, it made me smile, and I learnt something from the links. How often do you get an Out Of Office reply that makes you smile?

        When was the last time your Out of Office will have made somebody smile?

        What would be the education equivalent of an Out of Office that would make the receiver smile and educate them? (This is what Comment boxes were created for on blog sites Smile)

      • Education

        Publishing accessible learning resources - more support in Office

        • 2 Comments

        We’ve announced some new add-ins for Microsoft Office that will help education users publish their learning resources with added accessibility - making them more accessible to more learners, specifically those with visual and hearing impairments.

        Captioning add-in for PowerPoint to add captions to video and audio

        Screenshot of STAMP in actionOne is an add in for PowerPoint which enables the addition of closed captions to any embedded video and audio files used in a presentation, ensuring that students who have hearing impairments don’t miss out. It allows you to either manually add your own captions, or by importing an existing industry standard Timed Text Mark-up Language (TTML) file. With STAMP, people who already work with captioned video and audio files associated with TTML files can import them directly into their presentations. For people who don't have access to an existing TTML file, but still need to create captions (or adjust imported captions), STAMP provides a simple caption editor within PowerPoint 2010. Captions within STAMP are saved with the file or can be exported for use by others.

        The other way that STAMP could be used is to add English subtitles to a foreign language video (or translate an English video into another language), which might be a great technique for languages teachers.

        The STAMP add-in is for Office 2010. And I discovered the acronym STAMP stands for Subtitling Add-In for Microsoft PowerPoint

        > Go here to find out more about STAMP, and download the free add-in

        Making talks books with Word, with the DAISY Add-in for Office

        The DAISY Consortium was set up to help those with visual impairment (or ‘print disabilities’) to access digital content easily, and enhance their use of the materials. We’ve just updated the DAISY Word plug-in, which allows Word documents to be translated into DAISY XML - a globally accepted standard for digital talking books (eg it’s used by Vision Australia’s Information Library Service).

        DAISY stands for Digital Accessible Information System, which lets you work with digital content in many ways, synchronising audio with display output, generating braille versions, or allowing text to speech conversion. It is more powerful than simply creating an audio file (eg an .mp3) - unlike analogue talking books, an important feature of DAISY books is easy and rapid navigation. A book can be navigated by such elements as sentence, paragraph, page (including specific page numbers) and various heading levels. It is also possible to fast forward or rewind and to jump back and forth by time increments when using the audio component. Depending on the playback equipment being used, a book can be searched for specific words. The user can also place Bookmarks at relevant points and jump to them easily.

        The ‘Save as Daisy’ add-in for Word lets users of Microsoft Word 2003-2010 convert Word files to the Digital Accessible Information System (DAISY) format - accessible multimedia formats for people unable to read print. Some of these formats include synchronized text and MP3 audio that can be played directly within Windows 7 or DAISY XML, which works with compatible software readers and talking book/braille reading devices.

        > Go here to find out more about DAISY, and download the free add-in

        Other accessibility features in Office

        Here are a few of the other Office 2010 features that help people create and consume all kinds of accessible content:

        • An accessibility checker (like a spelling checker, but for accessibility) as a feature of Word, Excel, and PowerPoint that provides step-by-step instructions for how to correct accessibility errors.
        • imageAn on-the-fly translation feature called Mini Translator, which allows you to translate single words or many paragraphs simply by hovering over the text that you want to translate. Mini Translator also includes the ability to speak that text using Microsoft's Text-to-Speech (TTS) engine.
        • A Full Screen Reading view that is optimized for reading a document on the computer screen. In Full Screen Reading view, you also have the option of seeing the document as it would appear on a printed page.

        Learn MoreFind out more about accessibility in Microsoft Office

      • Education

        Creating surveys with the Excel Web App in Office 365 for education

        • 2 Comments

        The free version of Office 365 for education includes web versions of the main Office software – Word, Excel and PowerPoint – in addition to the email, collaboration and communication capabilities included within the online Exchange, SharePoint and Lync services. Of course, that's great for editing and working on documents, spreadsheets and presentations, and the beauty of the web service is that we can keep updating them for you as we add new features – you don't have to take on the responsibility for updating software across a pile of machines.

        You can see the new features being added in the future to Office 365 through the preview versions. And we've just released the preview for Office 365 Enterprise (which is the version that Office 365 for education is based on).

        Here's an idea that you can use them for, that might save you bucket-loads of time.

        Using the Excel Web App for surveys and questionnaires

        Thanks to  my colleague James Marshall in the UK, there's a good explanation of how you can easily create online surveys and questionnaires, and get the answers into a neat Excel spreadsheet. It's great for a range of scenarios, like:

        • A lecturer wanting to get opinion and feedback about a lecture immediately after it finishes.
        • A group of students doing a data collection exercise with their classmates.
        • A senior leader wanting to get feedback from parents about a school event (i.e. sports day, school theatre production)
        • A teacher running a competition.

        The beauty of forms in the new Excel Web App is that they can be shared in a few clicks, and accessed on a variety of devices, making it easy for users with laptops, tablet devices, smart phones or pretty much any device with a browser to contribute. And you can make them public, so you can use them for parental surveys etc

        Here's a screenshot from a survey that James published as an example (you can try it out on this link: http://aka.ms/vumdyw)

        Excel Web App Survey

         

        Learn MoreYou can read James' post on how to create a survey in the Excel Web App over on his excellent UK Education Cloud Blog (plus loads of other useful Office 365 for education information)

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