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

  • Education

    Todays webinar on unified Communications with Polycom


    A reminder: Today Polycom and Microsoft are hosting a webinar at lunchtime that will look at the practical side of creating a unified communications system.

    From an education point of view, there’s two key reasons I keep coming across for buying unified communications systems:

    • Save money – by switching off their PBX and the associated service contracts, they can save a lot of money
    • Support different models of learning – allowing genuine anytime, anywhere learning with much more flexibility than conventional video conferencing based learning


    Although the webinar isn’t specifically for education customers only, it’s a good opportunity find out more about the way Lync is used and how it integrates with your Outlook email and calendar, and to listen in to a case study (in this case, it’s Andrew Pritchett, the CIO of Griffith Hack talking about what they’ve done with Lync), and to hear from Mario D’Silva of Microsoft and Nick Hawkins of Polycom:


    Join us on 28 March 2012 for a live webinar to learn how you can maximise your UC solutions for growth and productivity in your organisation. Real life applications and considerations for deploying UC networks will be covered by the keynote speakers to help you in your next stage of planning and implementation.

    Topics include:

    1. How Griffith Hack transformed their organisation into a true UC environment.

    2. Key considerations in developing a scalable and robust network and increasing user adoption.

    3. Creating the mobile, video-enabled organisation.

    4. Unifying your voice, IM, audio, video, and web conferencing with NEW Polycom UC Solutions for Microsoft Lync for a seamless user experience.

    Together, Polycom and Microsoft are transforming businesses around the world by driving increased teamwork and productivity, while reducing business costs through:

    • Highly productive interactions. Increase and improve interactions with colleagues, customers and partners through a unified collaboration experience that brings together IM, video, voice, and content-sharing.
    • Interoperable end-to-end solutions. Microsoft and Polycom deliver open standards-based, end-to-end unified communications optimised for Microsoft environments and integrated with the Polycom RealPresence platform.

    The webinar is running at 12PM Sydney/Melbourne time, 11AM Brisbane time, or 9AM Perth time.

    Learn MoreIt’s not too late to sign up for today’s Polcyom/Microsoft Unified Communications webinar

  • Education

    Moodle in the cloud–a Moodle 2 kit for Windows Azure


    The Microsoft CodePlex site is host to a wide range of open source projects, and just last month the first beta release was made of the project to allow hosting of Moodle 2.0 or Moodle 2.2 on the Windows Azure cloud service. As the project notes say:


    The MoodleBuild toolchain patches and packages a Moodle source code directory into a Windows Azure Package using the Azure SDK directly, instead of relying on third-party tools. This allows an easier way to update and customize Moodle, components and the Windows Azure SDK without the hassle of using outdated and incompatible versions.
    The core of this toolchain is a batch file named build.cmd. This script patches and packages Moodle using the tools and components included on the package available to download


    This is good news for people considering deployments of the Moodle Learning Management System, as it means that you can avoid the hassle of having to deploy in-house servers and complex infrastructure, and instead deploy Moodle in the cloud. This is ideal for agile projects, or where you expect the demand for the system to be variable (the beauty of Moodle in the cloud is that you can scale it up and down as you want, rather than having to build a system that will support a gazillion users on day one).

    Learn MoreDownload the Moodle 2.0 resources for Windows Azure from CodePlex

  • Education

    Using Kinect for Windows with students


    Kinect for WindowsRob Miles, from the University of Hull in the UK, has created a free pack of curriculum material for teachers or others who want to use the Kinect for Windows device within education. It might be for creating an educational application, or because you want to help your students to develop their own applications using the body tracking capabilities of Kinect. It is based on the XNA framework, which is widely used by students to develop their own gaming applications.

    Here’s the description from the site:


    The Kinect sensor adds a new dimension to Xbox 360 gameplay through its ability to read its environment and track the body movement of players. It is also a creative device that can be a great teaching tool.

    Rob Miles from University of Hull (UK) has created a set of curriculum materials that show how you can harness this creativity and get students enjoying themselves while writing programs that make use of the unique abilities of this sensor and Kinect for Windows software.

    This material contains information on the Microsoft Kinect sensor bar and the Microsoft Kinect SDK. It assumes a working knowledge of the C# programming language, the XNA framework and program development using Visual Studio


    The package includes introductory information on the Kinect sensor and SDK (Software Development Kit), and gives advice on writing Kinect programs – including using the video and depth camera, people tracking, using voice response and creating augmented reality scenarios.


    Learn MoreDownload 'Using Kinect for Windows with XNA' from Rob Miles

  • Education

    Authorised Education Reseller webinar for Microsoft partners – Wednesday 4th April


    Icons_globeAsia_blueWe are hosting a webinar for Authorised Education Resellers (AERs) on Wednesday next week. All Microsoft Partners working in the Education market in Australia are invited to attend. Microsoft experts will provide briefings on current promotions and offers, as well as ways to expand your businesses and education specific solutions and services. Amongst other bits, it will include information on changes to the Office 365 for education pricing announced earlier in the month.

    The team running it will be in the US and the UK – so they’ll be up in the middle of the night for us on 3rd April, but in Australia it will be on the 4th April at much more convenient times:

    • 11:00 AM on the East Coast (AEST)
    • 10:30AM in South Australia
    • 9AM in Western Australia

    Learn MoreRegister here for the Authorised Education Reseller Webinar on 4th April 
    (Registration open to all Microsoft Partners)

    With this meeting working across 6+ time zones, you’ll be relieved to know that when you register you’ll receive an email with a calendar invite, that will pop into your diary at the right local time for you!

  • Education

    The Microsoft Digital Crimes Unit and PhotoDNA


    DCU LogoThe Microsoft Digital Crimes Unit are a team of lawyers, investigators, technical analysts and other specialists working in cooperation with the Trustworthy Computing and Global Corporate Affairs groups at Microsoft to combat digital crime, including crimes against children. They work in partnership with law enforcement agencies across the globe, and their latest announcement is aimed to help defeat one particularly hideous area of crime – the sexual abuse and exploitation of children online.

    Through a new partnership between Microsoft and NetClean, PhotoDNA technology developed by Microsoft will be made available to law enforcement at no charge. The technology will be incorporated in NetClean Analyze, the Child Exploitation Tracking System (already provided to and used by Australian authorities) and via direct licensing.

    PhotoDNA will help law enforcement more quickly identify and rescue victims and hopefully lead to the arrest and conviction of those who perpetrate crimes against children. PhotoDNA is a signature-based image-matching technology developed by Microsoft Research in partnership with Dartmouth College and is already used by Microsoft and Facebook to find child sexual abuse images uploaded to our services. The technology not only detects matches but enables reporting of suspect images to law enforcement agencies for investigation. It helps calculate the distinct characteristics of a digital image to match it to other copies of that same image and can match images that are not digitally identical, making it possible to match images accurately and rapidly across millions of files – even if photos have subtle differences such as being resized, etc.

    Originally designed for use by ISP’s, law enforcement globally voiced strong interest in the potential use of PhotoDNA in child sexual exploitation investigations, so the Digital Crimes Unit talked with many of the leading law enforcement agencies around the world and as a result, made PhotoDNA available to them – you can see how its being used in this YouTube video from the team.

    Learn MoreYou can read more about this project on our Australian GovTech blog

  • Education

    Total spend on ICT in education in Australia to reach $3.2 billion by 2015


    Icons_books_blueIDC have released a report on the Australian Education ICT market (you can buy it here, if you’ve got a spare $4,500), and a matching press release (which is free fortunately).

    The headline numbers are:

    • The Australian Education ICT market size is $2.8bn this year, expecting to grow to reach $3.2bn by 2015.
    • The Australian Education ICT market growth is quoted as 2.1% annually from 2010 to 2015
    • 42% of the spend is on hardware – meaning that education institutions in Australia spend just over $1bn a year on devices
    • Education ICT makes up 6% of the total spend on ICT in Australia

    And the reasons for this growth (and the size of the total spend) is spelt out by IDC as:

      Pervasive mobility, investment in the NBN and the promise of a new connected and engaged vision for education is placing ICT much more centrally within the delivery of education. These activities will open new opportunities in mobility, collaboration and video conferencing.  

    IDC have also looked at the top three ICT priorities for organisations in the Australian education market, and they are:

    1. Migrating to new hardware/software platforms
    2. Aligning IT/IS with business direction
    3. Developing effective business cases for IT investment

    These priorities reflect the focus across the sector on putting the right infrastructure and platforms in place to deliver a new kind of reality in the delivery of education. As Emilie Ditton, the Market Analyst at IDC says:

      A very significant investment has been made in infrastructure and hardware within and for the education sector. Education organisations are now required to build the application, platforms, services and solutions that will utilise that hardware and deliver the experiences, interactivity and outcomes this infrastructure investment promises. Video conferencing, collaboration technologies, mobility and storage will be particular areas of ongoing opportunity.  

    So what does that mean for organisations supplying and supporting education ICT in Australia?

    The IDC team provide a clear short summary:


    Vendors working to find opportunities within the education sector must work with their customers to build ICT strategies that deliver against the institution objectives, and particularly help them understand how key technologies — mobility, cloud, and business analytics, for example — can help to deliver improved educational outcomes and experiences.

  • Education

    Best practices for migration to the cloud


    Every week, I hear of a new education customer who’s moved some part of their IT provision onto a Windows Azure cloud service. Sometimes it’s been the move of a complete service – like cloud-based email or collaboration tools – and other times it’s a part of the core IT infrastructure that’s supporting a specific application or business system.

    The reasons that there are some many education users moving to the cloud seem to mainly be:

    • Save capital costs – reduce the need for on site hardware saves on capital costs in terms of servers and other capital equipment (cooling etc)
    • Save running costs – the basis of only activating cloud services when you need them means that for systems which have peak demand periods, followed by quieter periods, means that there’s cost savings easily available (for example, assessment systems, learning management systems, recruitment and registration systems)
    • Save support costs – the cloud datacentres which allow you to migrate your education services to the cloud are fully managed, allowing you to move your application and data, without having the responsibility to manage the datacentre or the server systems
    • Roll out projects more quickly – I’ve heard from plenty of education customers (especially in the business side of the organisation, rather than within IT) that it typically takes six weeks to get a server setup for a project, whereas it can be done in hours in the cloud – and scaled in the same way. So you can start a small project, and scale it as demand grows, rather than having to build for a million users on day one

    The conversation I’ve had with a few customers in education is not about the “Why?” of moving education services to the cloud, but the “How?”. What they want to know is how to practically plan and implement a cloud migration for a specific service, and what are the gotchas to be aware of. Until yesterday, I’d often refer them to other Windows Azure case studies, and recommend they have a chat with existing users here in Australia. But yesterday I came across a new set of resources that can help:

    imageOur Patterns & Practices team, have just published the third volume of their Cloud Development series - ‘Building Hybrid Applications in the Cloud on Windows Azure’, which looks at applications spanning cloud and on-premise systems, and how to architect applications that exist partly in the cloud, and partly within your corporate network. The three volumes in the series are:

    • Volume 1, Moving Applications to the Cloud,provides an introduction to Windows Azure, discusses the cost model and application life cycle management for cloud-based applications, and describes how to migrate an existing ASP.NET application to the cloud.
    • Volume 2, Developing Applications for the Cloud, demonstrates how you can create from scratch a multi-tenant, Software as a Service application to run in the cloud by using the latest versions of the Windows Azure tools and the features of Windows Azure.
    • Volume 3, Building Hybrid Applications in the Cloud on Windows Azure, focuses on applications that span the cloud and on-premises boundary, where some parts run in Windows Azure, while other parts are located inside the corporate network. It also describes how you can integrate these kinds of applications with external partners.

    The latest guide describes how a fictitious corporation named Trey Research migrated its on-premises Orders application to a hybrid application that interacts with external transport partners using many features and services available in Windows Azure and SQL Azure. It also includes a series of appendices that document the use cases and challenges typically encountered in hybrid applications, and provide guidance on the technologies for addressing these challenges. It does it in a clear structure (see below) that tackles the tricky questions up front, and then talks about how to architect the system to address them.

    Building Hybrid Applications on Windows Azure

    The Patterns & Practices team is responsible for delivering applied engineering guidance that helps software architects, developers, and their teams take full advantage of Microsoft’s platform technologies in their custom application development efforts. The documentation is primarily intended for architects, developers, and IT professionals who design, build, or operate hybrid applications that need to integrate cloud and on-premises.

    Learn MoreLearn more about moving education services to the Cloud

  • Education

    Going from 'Did You Know' to 'Do You Realise'


    This is an incredibly smooth video – from the New Brunswick education system in Canada – that builds on the essence of Shift Happens/Did You Know (the UK version of Shift Happens, which I created 5 years ago, focused on the intersection with education, and has been watched over 200,000 times on YouTube).

    Like Shift Happens, I reckon this one is going to become an opener for education conferences for quite a few months ahead.

  • Education

    Developing Windows 8 applications for education


    There’s going to be a lot of interest in new applications to run in the Windows 8 Metro interface. If you’ve installed and started playing with Windows 8, like me, you probably really, really want to start running more Metro apps.

    Developing Windows 8 AppsNick Hodge, our resident Windows 8 evangelist (and self-described ‘Professional Geek’) is organising a series of Windows 8 Developer Camps in Australia, and giving over his weekends for the next few months to make them a success. And he’s travelling the country (no really, he’s going to Darwin, Hobart and Adelaide, on top of the usual suspects).

    The events are all free – run by developers for developers – and the promise is that you’ll learn the skills for developing Metro style apps, and put the skills into practice on the day. Nick will be lining up the coffee, food and wireless, so all you need to bring is your laptop, with the Windows 8 Consumer Preview installed.

    You have to register to get a place – and I’d recommend doing that soon, as I reckon places will be snapped up by developers pretty quickly (because this is open to anybody in Australia, not just partners). I reckon I might sign up for a place too, so that I can migrate my Windows Phone app to Windows 8).

    Although the workshop isn’t specifically about developing Windows 8 applications for education, every single thing that you learn about will be relevant to developing applications for education.

    When and where we’re running the Windows 8 Developer Camps





    Saturday, 31 March



    Saturday, 14 April



    Saturday, 28 April



    Saturday, 12 May



    Saturday, 19 May



    Saturday, 26 May



    Saturday, 2 June



    Saturday, 16 June


    Why you should be developing Windows 8 applications for education

    If you’ve read this far, you might be wondering why you, or your colleagues, might want to spend a day learning about developing Windows 8 applications for education. Here’s my list of 3 key reasons:

    • The earlier you have an application in the Windows 8 marketplace, the more exposure you are going to get. Today the marketplace has a limited number of applications, so new ones are getting a high profile.
    • Our Education account teams are currently installing Windows 8 onto their laptops and starting to demonstrate it to their customers. If you create an education specific app, I reckon you’re going to get them demonstrating your software to a lot of our early adopter customers in the next few months.
    • You’re demonstrating your innovation, to innovative customers (the people installing Windows 8 right now are the leading edge innovators)

    Learn MoreEven if you can't get to the workshops, do you know about the MSDN Windows 8 Metro App Development Centre?

  • Education

    Is quick disaster recovery something that’s important for education customers?


    Whilst I know that there are many differences between education IT and commercial IT, there are still more similarities than differences. For example, when I was reading a Delimiter case study about Coles IT systems, and their decision to virtualise their store servers onto Microsoft’s Hyper-V, I couldn’t fail to spot similarities between their IT and an education IT system:

    • Quick disaster recovery: In the case of Coles, they wanted something that could get their stores ‘back up and running in a matter of minutes’ if a failure occurred. No difference there to a school, TAFE or university, where a failure could lead to a loss of a significant learning activity for students.
    • Central IT supporting 741 supermarkets: This is the equivalent of government schools supported through a central infrastructure, or faculty supported by a university central IT team
    • 12 million customer transactions a week: Well, once you consider the number of students, their transactions, and the data flying around for registration etc, then you’re easily going to hit that number in education

    The case study is significant, because it records how Coles have deployed Microsoft’s virtualisation and management technologies (Hyper-V and SystemCentre) across 300 stores, with a plan to finish them all during 2012. As the journalist says in the analysis:

      Wow. The virtualisation market has been completely dominated by VMWare for a number of years now, and while the company’s solution is technically excellent — causing a virtual overnight revolution in the way we think about enterprise IT — that dominance has also led to some unfavourable conditions being imposed on VMWare customers from time to time.  

    I often come across a mindset in IT in education which reflects a way of thinking along the lines of “We’ve always done it this way, because everybody does it this way”. As with the disruption created by cloud projects, I think there are lots of other IT projects being done differently, to improve agility or reduce cost. If that’s on your radar, I’d recommend reading the case study of Coles virtualisation, to see if there’s lessons for your education IT too.

    Learn MoreRead the Delimiter article "Microsoft Hyper-V win huge Coles rollout"

    And if you find that interesting, maybe you’d want to read their story about ING Direct rolling out a ‘Bank in a Box’ using the same technologies to create a private cloud solution.

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