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

  • Education

    What does Power BI for Office mean for education customers?


    Over the last year I’ve shared a fair amount of information on the use of business intelligence (BI) in education, with examples of ways that useful information can be unlocked from educational data, as well as looking at the new tools being created to help users get better views of their data. The various Microsoft teams who have been working on BI projects, and our BI partners in Australia, seem to have been moving at breakneck speed on making data more accessible, visual and meaningful to users, and there’s been a special focus everywhere on self-service BI, to help every day users who don’t have the high level skills of traditional data analysts.

    Power BI demonstrations screen, showing the natural language queriesA lot of that work has focused around the traditional Office apps, and that whole story has just come together with the announcement this week of Power BI for Office 365, which adds powerful analysis features on top of Power Pivot and Power View, which were core innovations of the last couple of years. We’ve added Power Query to help users discover, access and combine data sets, and Power Map to help users map visualisations of their data. And packaged it into a powerful Power BI system within Office. And by enabling it within Office 365, it means that the self-service BI capabilities in Excel now add easy ways to host interactive data views and workbooks, so that individual users can access your standard reports and visualisations as well as create their own.

    I think the best way to see what I’m talking about is to watch this video, taken from a keynote during the Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference this week, where there is a rapid demonstration that shows the kind of scenarios that are possible.

    I loved the examples that are shown, because I could imagine very similar scenarios in education – the ability to connect internal and external data sets, and highly visual presentations of data, and especially the ability to ask a natural language question to see the answer. Can you imagine if the same level of data was available for your organisation?

    And that’s the question the video left in my head: How many education organisations have the kind of published data sets (internally or externally) that will help them to turn data into information? I’ve historically seen projects that have relied on scooping data up into the equivalent of locked containers – they tend to produce canned reports that project owners think that users want. There’s often less focus on self-service BI projects, where there’s a focus on collecting/publishing data sets for others to use. I wonder if the kinds of possibilities opened by Power BI for Office will change that?

    In the video we can see an example where the query “top rock classics” is automatically translated into a query of “Show rock songs where era is 70s and 80s sorted by weeks on chart”. So we potentially have a system that would allow a user to ask it for “top performing schools in my area”, or “university distance learning courses with the lowest dropout rate”, or “which TAFE course has the highest employability impact”. But do we have the published/unpublished data sources to help us answer those type of question?

    Learn MoreThere’s plenty more about Power BI for Office below:
    - The announcement of Power BI for Office - short and longer version
    - The story of the technology behind Power BI for Office 365
    - Get signed up for the Power BI preview

  • Education

    Integrating Microsoft Office 365 Education with Desire2Learn Learning Environment


    One of the futures of Learning Management Systems is as a key bridge, building integration between different systems within an education institution. In the future, it’s unlikely that we’re going to see a single monolithic system that solves every elearning challenge, but instead a set of best-of-class components effectively interconnected.

    imageOne example is the integration between a Learning Management System (LMS) and the communication and productivity services that an institution uses - in this case, between the Brightspace* D2L Learning Environment and Office 365. It means that students and staff can use their core email, collaboration, communication and productivity suite, whilst within their LMS.

    Through their integration solutions, the Desire2Learn Learning Environment and Microsoft Office 365 services (email, calendar, & more) improve how students and teachers interact online. Institutions can choose any of the integration solutions appropriate to their users.

    The starting point is a single sign on, so that your users don’t have to logon to multiple systems, but then you can go further - opening documents through Office Online, enabling email processes from within your LMS etc

    The Desire2Learning team have published a big set of documentation and resources on the Desire2Learn website.

    Find MoreGet more info in the Desire2Learn "Office 365 integration Technical Guide"


    * Brightspace is the new brand name for the Desire2Learn learning products

  • Education

    Office Apps for Education–Academic Wordsmith plagiarism checker for Word



    In the past I’ve written about the way that developers can now write apps for Office – which means that specialist capabilities can be added to Office to support particular uses. There are now hundreds of apps in the Office Store, which are add-ins for the Office suite – Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook etc – and this includes a whole range of free and paid education apps for Office you can see here – other education apps in the Office store include a School Planner App for SharePoint, a GeoGebra app to create interactive worksheets in PowerPoint, a SCORM content player for Office 365, and a Lesson Planner for Word.

    We ran an Australian Education DevCamp for apps in May, and the first app to appear from an attendee is Academic Wordsmith, a plagiarism checker for Word - an app for students from the Teacher Collection team which runs within Microsoft Word. The app allows students to check an essay for originality, by comparing sections or whole assignments against Internet results – and displays possible matches between the assignment and online sources such as academic papers. Here’s some more from the website:


    imageMake a simple selection or submit your whole document, checking for originality could not be easier from right within Word. After our detailed analysis, your results are then delivered back to the same window for a quick and easy review.

    A detailed breakdown of matches found allow you to see exactly where problems have been detected including links to the matching locations. This allows you to make decisions about your current work and any chances you might need to make.

    Using our “Benefit of the doubt” algorithm, results that could potentially be related can also be returned, allowing you to easily find other material that may help and support your arguments!


    There are other services that do this (like WriteCheck, from the creators of TurnItIn), but what’s smart about Academic Wordsmith is that it runs within Office, so that students can check an assignment as they are working on it, rather than having to upload it to another website first.

    Learn MoreLearn more about Academic Wordsmith

  • Education

    Sway–a unique way to present ideas and information


    imageYesterday, the Office team introduced a brand new app to the Office portfolio – called Sway, and as the team say on the Sway blog:

      Sway is an entirely different way to express yourself and bring your ideas to life. When your ideas are born, you want to explore, visualize and share them—quickly and easily, wherever you happen to be, and on whatever device you have. You want your ideas to be understood. Sway helps you do just that. It’s a new way for you to create a beautiful, interactive, web-based expression of your ideas, from your phone or browser. It is easy to share your creation and it looks great on any screen. Your ideas have no borders, edges, page breaks, cells or slides. Your mind is a continuous canvas, and Sway brings this canvas to life. Sway helps you focus on the human part: your ideas and how they relate to each other. Sway takes care of the design work—a Sway is ready to share with the world as soon as it is born.  

    There’s a really good Sway video from the team that shows the vision of what they are creating:

    You can read all of the details on the Sway blog, take a look at some sample, and use the links to sign up for the preview version of Sway.

    imageBut to whet your appetite, let me give you an idea of what’s possible with Sway for a complete novice! I created a Sway this afternoon, using a whitepaper I’ve been working on as a starting point. I’ve had no training, but just got stuck in and had a go at creating one. And I think the result is pretty impressive – even more so when you look at it on different devices, and see how it dynamically changes the layout to work on a big PC screen and a small phone screen! I couldn’t imagine how much effort I would have needed before today to create the same high-quality experience.

    Learn MoreView my Sway on Student Attrition in Australian Universities here


    What could you do with Sway? Publishing lesson notes? Getting students to create Sways instead of PowerPoints of their work? Publishing university research in a consumer-friendly format?

  • Education

    A Windows 8 tablet for under $90?


    This seems incredible to me! Coles have a 7” Windows 8 touch tablet, with Office 365 Personal, for $89.


    It’s just one of a few surprises that I have seen this year, as more and more low-cost laptops, tablets and convertibles (tablets with detachable keyboards) have been appearing. But I never expected a tablet under $100 with Office 365 included (which means it also comes with 1TB OneDrive online storage and 60 monthly Skype minutes).

    My daughter’s school is going BYOD for next year, and I’d already decided that I was going to invest in a Surface Pro 3 for her (because of the power of the pen, and because since I got my Surface Pro, it’s made a massive difference to my own notetaking). But my concern was that she may not look after it and it would end up being dragged around without its case.

    But seeing the $89 Pendo Pad in Coles, and then watching Top Gear over the weekend, I’ve hit on the perfect plan! She’s going to be receiving a Surface Pro 3 and a Pendo Pad. The Surface will be her main device, and the Pendo Pad is for some lightweight reading, surfing and Skype. But if the Surface gets damaged, then the Pendo Pad is going to be her main machine whilst the Surface is out of action.

    I got this inspired idea from Top Gear, where the lads are tailed on their journeys in top marque sports cars by a driver in a surprisingly ordinary car. And if they break down, they are forced to switch into the backup car. Imagine the shame of ditching the Ferrari for a 2 door hatchback. Hoping that same challenge will work for my daughter.

    See you at Coles Smile

  • Education

    Developing education solutions in Office 365


    With so many education customers using Office 365 globally (now in the tens of millions of education uses), there's continuing interest by developers in creating services for customers, running on top of Office. This could mean developing an app for Word, Excel, PowerPoint; or could be developing a system that uses the Office 365 cloud service to deliver an integrated solution.

    Office Dev Centre logoThe team responsible for this at Microsoft are very busy releasing new information and features for developers. You can read about these in the constant updates from the Developer stream on the Office Blogs. And to help a little more, here’s some of the key bits of news that I’ve noticed recently:

    On Demand Training for Office 365 developers 
    I’m a big fan of the Microsoft Virtual Academy, as it contains some excellent technical training that is free and available at any time to technical users and developers. There’s a new course, Introduction to Office 365 Development available, which contains modules on developing Apps for Office and Apps for SharePoint, and a session on the Office 365 APIs that are available for developers to use to more closely integrate to Office across different devices.

    Office 365 APIs Starter Projects for Windows
    There’s a series of samples that the team have created which allows developers to quickly spin up projects that interact with Office 365 using the standard APIs. It lets you do things like create, read, update and delete events in a user’s calendar (so you could add an assignment reminder function to an LMS, to automatically put the assignment into the student’s calendar, and that will then show up on their PC/phone etc). Similar samples allow you to create, read, update and delete files on their SharePoint site

    Office 365 Developer Podcast
    If you want to keep up to date with less reading, then there’s the Office 365 Developer Podcast, where Jeremy Thake talks with people involved with developing Office 365 apps – both within and outside of Microsoft.

    The Office Dev Centre has also been completely updated, with easier access to resources, recordings of events and code samples.

  • Education

    Uses for Hololens in education


    Less than 100 days ago, we revealed Hololens during the Windows 10 announcement, and since then we’ve all been waiting for a second chance to see it…

    Hololens in Education

    Well, last night, that finally happened at the \\Build\ conference as the team revealed what they have been working on, and especially focused on Hololens in education, with teaching and learning scenarios.

    imageThey started with Prof Mark Griswold from Case Western Reserve University, talking about, and demonstrating live, the way that Hololens could be used to study anatomy, something traditionally done with a combination of textbooks, models and cadavers.


    After that demo, they switched gears to demonstrate the use of Hololens to interact with, and programme, a Maker Kit based on the Raspberry Pi 2. That was a fascinating demonstration, as it showed how an object in real life – in this case a Maker kit robot – could be paired with an associated hologram to create a single object.


    During the broadcast of the keynote, what the team effectively setup was a camera with a Hololens on, so that you see through the video what a user would see wearing a Hololens.

    Without a shadow of doubt, there are going to be some amazing things done with Hololens in education – classrooms, learning spaces, lecture theatres and research labs - over the next few years, helping students to learn by doing as much as by watching.

    You can watch the keynote, and download it (eg as a teaching resource) from the Channel 9 website.

    Learn MoreWatch the keynote on the Channel 9 website, and fast forward to 2 1/2 hours for the Hololens section!
    Bonus info:

  • Education

    The Consumerisation of IT, and education - presentation slides


    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


        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

        Where are the IT jobs?


        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!

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