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

  • Education

    Free DevCamps for aspiring developers of Office apps



    If you are a software developer for education, then you'll already know about the app marketplaces for different devices – like the Windows Store for Windows 8 apps, the iTunes store for iPad/iPod apps and Google Play for Android apps. It's become another route to market for developers, and been a way to reach a wider group of potential individual customers. In the education market it's been a way to distribute apps to individual teachers and schools, and help them to discover software not available through their standard computer build - most education customers get given a device with a standard list of software pre-installed.

    So if the apps stores are a good route to market for education, then here's another app store that you should know about – and some free training events to get you started:

    The Office Store for Office and SharePoint apps

    The all new cloud app extensibility model for Office and SharePoint 2013 enables building a whole new class of productivity solutions for Office and SharePoint. And the new Office Store on provides the venue for these apps to be delivered to millions of Office and Office 365 SharePoint Online users worldwide. It's still in beta at the moment, but already it's being used by customers to buy and download Office apps.

    Learn how to develop apps for the Office Store

    Early next year, we will be running two DevCamps for software developers to learn all about the Office Store, and the app development model. It will be a very practical two day workshop, that covers the store, demonstrates what apps look like, and then will step you through the process of building code and even give you options for 1:1 discussions with the programme leads for the Office Store apps.


    In these DevCamps, developers will learn the concepts of the new app model and how to use it for building apps for Office and SharePoint. Topics for building apps for SharePoint range from how to read/write to SharePoint as a service using its rich APIs whether the JavaScript/managed code object model or via REST/oData, how events that happen on SharePoint can drive actions in your app, to using SharePoint search via the APIs.

    Topics for apps for Office include how to build task pane, content and mail apps that render in the Office client applications, use the JavaScript object model to interact with documents and mail items, and how to deploy apps for Office as standalone solutions or part of an app for SharePoint. Other topics will cover how to think about elasticity, scalability and reliability of your backend services and the steps for getting your app into the Office Store.


    There's plenty of information to get started on building Office apps available now, so that you can get started, and hopefully the DevCamp will help you zoom ahead further.

    Register for one of the free Australian DevCamps for Office apps

    Make a dateMake a date: Find out more about all the DevCamps (Australia, and beyond)

    DevCamp for Office apps in Sydney 4th and 5th February - Register Here

    DevCamp for Office apps in Melbourne  7th and 8th February - Register Here*

    * Today, this is still saying Sydney 6th Feb, but will shortly be corrected to Melbourne 7th Feb

  • Education

    Wednesday's Webinar–Tablets in schools


    This week's webinar "Tablets in Schools" is on Wednesday 5th December from 1 – 2pm.

    Cooper Wearne, the host, promises:

      Everything your school needs to know about Windows 8 hardware. We will be looking at the emerging role tablets are playing in schools and we will highlight our recommended devices!  

    I'm hoping that Cooper can tell us all a bit more about some of these very cool Windows 8 devices for next academic year

    Make a dateMake a date: Register by emailing Cooper, who will send you the joining instructions

  • Education

    Impacting student retention–the hundred million dollar question


    Student attritionAcross Australia, tens of thousands of students start courses in universities that they never finish. Sometimes it’s because they find their course isn’t quite what they expected, and switch to a more suitable course. And sometimes they find that the university or course doesn’t meet their needs, and they switch university. Other times they end up leaving higher education.

    In the past, whilst this has been an issue for universities, it hasn’t been seen as a critical business issue. But, with the new competitive marketplace that’s been created by the lifting of the cap on student enrolments, there’s a new atmosphere on most campuses. Senior leaders are looking at their institutions, courses and teaching, and asking “What more can we do to keep our students?”.

    When recruiting a student costs many thousands of dollars, and losing a student costs tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars in future revenue, and some Australian universities teeter on the brink of financial instability, then attitudes are changing rapidly.

    In 2011 university student attrition stood at nearly 20%, with some universities losing over a third of their students.

    We’re talking about a loss of tens of millions of dollars to a university – hundreds of millions across Australian universities.

    So, what do we know about the factors which affect student retention? In reality, less than Coles or Woolworths know about our grocery buying habits. There are projects across many universities, within Australia and internationally. There are factors being examined and tested. And broad agreement on some key factors. But until we can develop at least the same kind of smart approach to this that the grocers take, we’re in the foothills.

    Learn MoreRead more about Student Retention

  • Education

    Microsoft Partner Update - 12th December in Melbourne



    Next Wednesday, on 12th December, Patrick Pathinathan - the Microsoft Partner Director for Australia - is hosting a briefing event for local Microsoft partners at our Melbourne office. It’s an opportunity to hear about our plans and strategies, as well as to meet up with members of the local Microsoft team from a number of different areas. Although I’m not going to be there, there will be my equivalents from the other public sector teams there – Brad Coughlan, the Government IMDM, and Brian McLaughlin, the Health IMDM. There’s also a chance to meet others in the local team.

    If you’re in Melbourne on Wednesday, can I recommend it as a good use of a morning. In addition to the content sessions planned, it’s often the conversations you can have during the breaks that delivers great value from connecting with Microsoft and other partners.

    Patrick’s description of the briefing is:

      As Microsoft enters a new era , the demands of consumers and the pressure that this places on the Consumerisation of IT across organisations is going to be magnified to a greater level.  You are invited to attend a partner update aimed at equipping you with the insight you need to compete and win in the enterprise. We will share perspectives on the industry as well as the themes that are shaping the buying behaviours of CxO’s across the enterprise. The update will also include insights on industry growth areas,  as well as a deep dive into how Microsoft,  together with our industry partners can position solutions designed to amplify the impact of our platform through industry solutions.  

    The details…

    You will need to register in advance, as we'll need to make sure we've got a place reserved for you:

    • Registration: 8:30am – 9am
    • Briefing: 9am – 11:30am
    • Date: 12th December 2012
    • Venue: Microsoft Melbourne (Level 5, 4 Freshwater Place, Southbank)

    Please register by email here

  • Education

    Another amazing day for students in Australia, and around the world


    Team StethCloudThis time last year, a group of four students from the University of Melbourne, got together as Team StethoCloud to enter the Imagine Cup – a Microsoft competition for students to innovate with technology to solve real-world problems. StethoCloud set out to solve a big real-world problem – the fact that pneumonia kills more children under five than any other disease, and is responsible for 1.5 million deaths a year, mostly in the developing world.

    They entered the Australian competition of the Imagine Cup, with their idea: a cloud-powered, mobile-hybrid stethoscope for early detection of pneumonia. By connecting a custom stethoscope to a mobile phone, the user is able to transmit diagnostic information into a cloud service, reproducing the diagnostic capability of a trained medical doctor.

    Their supporting video was:

    After some pretty intensive judging rounds, they won the Australian final and got to go to the world finals (sadly for them, the 2012 worldwide finals of the Imagine Cup was in Sydney). Sadly, they didn't make it to the awards at the worldwide Imagine Cup, but the story was never going to end there – they were already working with clinical researchers to see whether their idea could make it into production. And they got noticed along the way by people like TechCrunch, Bloomberg BusinessWeek, Mashable, Wired and Gizmodo.

    Well it's just taken another amazing turn. Team StethoCloud have just been given an Imagine Cup Grant, of $75,000 to take their project further. In addition to the cash, they've been give grants of software, cloud computing services and access to further Microsoft resources.

    This time last year, they were a group of students entering a technology competition. Now, they're continuing to solve a problem that's challenged the world for centuries.

    Could it be somebody you know who could be the catalyst for that kind of change this year? It's not too late to enter the Imagine Cup 2013 – and get the chance to represent Australia at the worldwide finals in Russia next year. Student teams need four members, and have to be aged 16 or over. Entry deadline is 15th January 2013.

    Find MoreFind out how to enter the 2013 Imagine Cup

  • Education

    Australia's most innovative company (and our most innovative sector?)


    imageClickView – who provide a brilliant video streaming and library service used by loads of schools in Australia - has just been labelled "Australia's Most Innovative Company" by BRW.

    ClickView's digital video solution for schools, is designed to support learning the classroom by providing a simple and complete solution for watching digital video and other digital media (and if you're not yet using it, then give it a run with their ClickView free trial)

    They've been having a run of success with us at the moment too, as they won the award as Microsoft Education Partner of the Year 2012 in September. And they were also the first education partner from Australia to get a Windows 8 education application into the new Windows Store.

    There will be lots of schools already using ClickView's service, and it's great to know that their innovation is also being recognised outside of education.

    I'm tempted to believe that education ICT developers are one of the most innovative sectors in Australia at the moment, because the finalist list also included Janison, who have been at the forefront of innovation for online assessment for the last couple of years in Australia too. And obviously we judges for Microsoft's Education Partner of the Year aren't a shabby bunch either, as both Janison and ClickView have been previous winners of Education Partner of the Year for Australia.


    Find MoreRead about ClickView's award as Microsoft Education Partner of the Year 2012

    Read about ClickView's Windows 8 app

  • Education

    Win a limited edition Xbox package for trying out Windows Server 2012 and System Center 2012


    At last, after a long semester, the summer holidays are just around the corner for many Australian education institutions (or may even have started if you're lucky). In my experience, the last couple of days before the students finish, and the first couple of weeks of the holiday tend to be manic – lots of last minute projects, plus a bunch of new projects that absolutely have to be kicked off in time to deliver for when the students return next year.

    But then things start to ease up, and you get the chance to have a go at side projects. With no students and staff constantly asking for support, you often get a chance to geek out for a half day. And so here's my suggestion for a great little project:

    See what Windows Server 2012 and System Center 2012 have to offer, and enter to win an Xbox Halo 4 limited edition package

    Limited edition Halo 4 Xbox 360The server team in Australia are running a simple competition – download a free evaluation copy of one or both of their new shiny products, and they'll enter you into the draw to win a customised Xbox 360 package, with Halo 4 branding all over it, and customised controllers.

    The details of how to enter are over on the competition home page, which is open to Australian residents (and, sadly, not Microsoft staff or our geeky spouses/children). All you need to do it download either (or both) and then send in a screenshot of the completed download. Both gets you two entries.

    And to make your experience even better, you could download the free Microsoft Press 'Introducing Windows Server 2012' ebook for PDF or Kindle too, so that you can have some guidance as you run up your new Windows Server 2012 evaluation

    Find MoreFind out more about the competition, and get the download links

  • Education

    Using the cloud as a supercomputer: How to analyse 63 billion genetic data points in three days


    In the good old days (you know, like five years ago) you needed a supercomputer to do massive data analysis jobs. University research departments either had to build their own, or buy precious schedule time on somebody else's supercomputer. You had to be pretty sure that your research was important, and going to deliver a valuable result, before you could contemplate committing such a major investment of computing time.

    These days, you can often replace a supercomputer with cloud services – meaning supercomputers are all around and anybody with a credit card can rent them by the hour as a simple cloud service. My colleague Steve Clayton has just written about a series of projects from Microsoft Research where they are using the Microsoft Windows Azure cloud to analyse massive volumes of data as they research deep medical problems, such as diabetes, Crohn's disease and coronary artery disease:


    Research in these areas is notoriously tricky due to the requirement for a large amount of data and the potential for false positives arising from data sourced from related individuals. A technique and algorithm known as linear mixed models (LMMs) can eliminate this issue but they take an enormous amount of compute time and memory to run. To avoid this computational roadblock, Microsoft Research developed the Factored Spectrally Transformed Linear Mixed Model (better known as FaST-LMM), an algorithm that extends the ability to detect new biological relations by using data that is several orders of magnitude larger. It allows much larger datasets to be processed and can, therefore, detect more subtle signals in the data. Utilizing Windows Azure, MSR ran FaST-LMM on data from the Wellcome Trust, analyzing 63,524,915,020 pairs of genetic markers for the conditions mentioned above.

    27,000 CPU’s were used over a period of 72 hours. 1 million tasks were consumed —the equivalent of approximately 1.9 million compute hours. If the same computation had been run on an 8-core system, it would have taken 25 years to complete.

    That’s supercomputing on demand and it’s available to everyone – as is the result of this job in Epistasis GWAS for 7 common diseases in the Windows Azure Marketplace.


    There's a short video case study on YouTube (and with possibly the most intelligent set of comments on a YouTube video I've ever seen!).

    Learn MoreRead more…
    The Microsoft Research Connections blog has more detailed information on this and other research projects where projects are able to replace a supercomputer with cloud services.

  • Education

    Windows 8 for education–a look at Windows To Go


    One of the clever additions to Windows is the Windows To Go, which is really helpful if you're considering using Windows 8 in education. It gives you a fully manageable corporate Windows 8 desktop on a bootable external USB stick. This could allow support for “Bring Your Own PC” and give access to your IT environment for users’ own devices without compromising security.

    In education, there's a couple of scenarios that are particularly relevant:

    • Giving your students access to your standard Windows build and applications from their home computer temporarily
    • Letting students (or even staff) use their own PC in school, but making sure they use your standard Windows build, so that your school data doesn't end up on their device, and you don't risk them bringing in virus-infected computers that are connected onto your network.

    Mark Reynolds, from the Microsoft UK Education team, has just recorded a short video showing you how Windows To Go works, and it's a masterpiece of summary, at only 2 1/2 minutes long.

    Find MoreClick here for more on what features are in which versions of Windows 8

    Find more videos from the Microsoft UK Education team, on their ITHeadsUp channel

  • Education

    NORAD tracks Santa on Windows 8


    imageThere was a time, when my children were small, when Christmas Eve also became the time to track Santa's progress on the Internet. We were living in the UK, and in the 12 hours before Christmas arrived, we could see Santa's progress across Australia and Asia, thanks to the NORAD Santa-tracker website. And as soon as Santa made it to Moscow, it was always bed-time (at a reasonable time of 8pm). Smile

    Of course, now they're older they have less interest in Santa's actual progress, and much more interest in the actual contents of the Santa sack Sad smile

    But if you have younger children, then you might want to know about the "NORAD Tracks Santa" app for Windows 8. In the run up to Christmas Eve you can get ready for the tracking, and then on Christmas Eve you can see Santa's progress as he heads towards, and then away from Australia. (And use the 'As soon as Santa gets to NZ, it's bed time" trick). Given that we're so close to the start of his journey, it will probably be most exciting for children who have friends in Europe and America, to see Santa's progress towards them. In face, what a great way of filling the time from when they wake up at 5am to when they are allowed to open their presents at a more humane time.

    imageThe app includes video of Santa's progress in real-time, games, and stories along the way of his journey.

    Make a dateYou can download the free NORAD Tracks Santa app for Windows 8 from the Windows Store

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