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

  • Education

    How a university saved $1.5m with virtualisation and management tools

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    When I left the UK to move to Australia, we'd already had a few years of significant pressure on public sector budgets, and education had taken the hit alongside other sectors. At the time, there was a lot of talk about 'back office functions' as opposed to 'frontline services', and in many cases that meant that the budget cuts were made in areas where there was little direct interaction with the service user. In education, that meant less impact on teaching, and consequently greater impact on 'administration' – including IT services. I felt I learnt a lot, alongside our customers, about the ways that ICT services could be delivered for a lower cost, and also the ways that ICT could help lower the cost of other parts of service delivery. We're now facing a very similar set scenario in Australia – pressure on public sector budgets, and a focus on cutting spending on 'back office' services. And so some of the case studies and experiences from other countries will have relevance here. Here's one example from the Microsoft case studies library, published on Monday:

    Coventry University reduces annual IT spend by $1.5m

    As part of the university’s strategic plan, the IT team needed to reduce annual IT expenditure by £1 million, while at the same time creating a more flexible and scalable environment. A previous foray into virtualisation had proved to be expensive, with the team finding it a challenge to make the most of the technology. After comparing several solutions, it chose to deploy Windows Server 2008 R2 Datacenter because the licensing model immediately saved the university £129,000. The IT team is now using Hyper-V technology to virtualise as many virtual machines onto one server as it needs, without requiring licences for each virtual machine. The team has also reduced staffing needs by one full-time staff member through the consolidation of platforms. With the new environment, the university saves £1 million of its allocated budget.

    Several years ago, the university’s IT team purchased VMware licences and technology, with the goal of reducing server sprawl and centralising IT management. Stephen Booth, Head of Central Computing Services, Coventry University, says:

      We’d looked at virtualisation to improve control over the network and save money through optimising our existing investments. But our VMware distribution was small scale and piecemeal, and we never fully used the technology because of the high direct costs of licensing it, coupled with minimal use of the extended feature capabilities of the product.  

    But, in 2010, the university moved quickly forward with its strategic plan to improve university services. As part of this, the executive management team requested that the IT department make savings of £1 million across the campus. As Stephen said:

      The corporate plan was clear about the IT team’s role in making savings as well as enhancing services through centralisation—we had a specific target to work towards. We revisited virtualisation and cloud technologies because in just a few years they’d changed a lot, and there were different options available to us.  

    That's a nightmare isn't it – a clear expectation that it will be possible to cut costs and deliver more services. But it's typical of the mindset of the "spend less, do more" mindset that occurs around IT in a spending squeeze. And the route forward wasn't easy:

      Although we were initially a bit sceptical about Hyper-V, we played around with it to get the best configuration for our needs. We started to think it was a good fit for us in terms of features and a more cost-effective solution for our environment than VMware.  

    The benefits for the university

    In addition to the savings of £1/$1.5 million in a year, the IT team have managed to improve their service delivery, by:

    • reducing downtime – with failover clustering to allow for hardware problems
    • improving server provisioning times - from three months to just one day to get a new server running
    • reducing research costs  - by embracing cloud provision of services for researchers
    • reducing the university's carbon footprint – reducing power and cooling costs by $40,000 a year, and reducing carbon emissions by 20%

    Learn MoreRead the full case study on Coventry University


    Find out more about our Server virtualisation technologies

    Find a Microsoft education partner specialising in virtualisation

  • Education

    Case studies that show how the Windows Azure cloud is used in higher education research

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    Researchers in universities and elsewhere are using the cloud (and HPC clusters) in their research in order to reduce the cost, or increase the speed of reaching research conclusions. I was asked yesterday for a few examples of how the cloud is improving research, so having created the list, I thought it would be worth sharing:

    Technology Case Study Overview Link for more info

    Azure
    (BLAST)

    Seattle Children’s Hospital

    Making bioinformatics data more accessible to researchers worldwide leveraging BLAST technology

    Case Study

    Windows HPC Server

    MIT/Harvard

    Africa HIV: Using HPC to find weaknesses in the HIV virus. Shortened years of computations to mere hours to generate 20 key findings allowing scientists to hone in on finding a cure.

    Video

    Case Study

    Azure (MODISAzure)

    University Cal Berkeley

    MODISAzure is a pipeline for the download, processing, and reduction of diverse satellite imagery by using Windows Azure to deliver the results of massive cloud computational power to the desktops of researchers

    Case Study

    Windows HPC Server

    Intellectual Ventures

    Intellectual Ventures is working to eradicate malaria by simulating how the disease spreads. To do so, it uses a computing cluster that runs Windows HPC Server 2008 R2 to take advantage of new features and expand the cluster to include business users.

    Case Study

    HPC

    Casa Sollievo della Sofferenza (Italy)

    The institute relies on bioinformatics solutions to aid its research projects by looking for discrepancies among DNA samples. To process more genetic data at greater speeds, the institute used Microsoft parallel development tools, such as the support for Parallel Programing in Microsoft .NET Framework 4, to create a set of software plug-ins for the Ocean Workbench, a bioinformatics platform designed to model, check and simulate biological models.

    Case Study

    Azure

    University of Newcastle

    Uses Azure to execute hundreds of workflows, each is a test of a target molecule for possible use as an anti-cancer drug

    Paper presented at ersymposium

    Azure

    University of Trento Centre for COSBI

    The work being performed at the CoSBi facility has the potential to have wide-ranging impact. In addition to better understanding of biological systems that could enhance the use of targeted medicines to fight prominent illnesses, systems-biology research on nutrigenomics promises insights into how food can interact with DNA to activate genes that prevent the onset of diseases. And the study of webs of interaction enables the modelling and analysis of ecosystems to determine how the food chain is influenced by human-caused environmental change

    Overview

    Azure

    Pacific Ecoinformatics

    Using Azure to predict the behaviour of different species and whole ecosystems to biological and chemical changes.

    View the slides from their 2012 talk

    And if that isn't enough, there's some great materials shared from the Cloud Futures 2012 conference, which looked . You can see the agenda, and download associated papers, slides and videos, on the Cloud Futures 2012 website

     

    Learn MoreIf you want to know more about how you can use Windows Azure in research in Higher Education, then  a great starting point is the Azure Research Engagement website

  • Education

    Combining Moodle with OneNote and SkyDrive to raise standards

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    Icons_teacher_blueThere's a case study from the UK that I'd recommend reading. It's the story of a college that has enhanced their learning management system – Moodle – with integration Microsoft's OneNote to improve assessment and feedback processes for students and teachers. And their experience is that the system – a combination of Moodle and OneNote - has helped with raising student completion rates in courses:

     

    Business Need

    Eastleigh College’s Computer Sciences lecturing team wanted to provide an up-to-date and highly vocational experience to their students, whilst having an easy solution for sharing notes and PowerPoint slides to the class. Microsoft OneNote and the Microsoft Interactive Classroom add-in for PowerPoint were found to be a very beneficial system for the staff and students to easily collaborate on work. A combination of Office Web Apps and SkyDrive, a set of services and software that enables users to manage their files online in a simple yet secure repository for resources, was chosen for its level of integration with other Microsoft products.

    In 2010, the Computer Science department were using Moodle, a Virtual Learning Environment (VLE), which is used throughout the college. Moodle provided a system that enabled resources to be shared with learners both in college and from home, a facility the college makes great use of. However, the Computer Science staff found Moodle 1.9 to be limited in some respects and in particular the work flows for assessment were causing problems for staff and students. Under the old department system, a learner would submit written assessments by uploading them into Moodle. The lecturer would assess, mark and provide feedback via a form on Moodle, which the learner could then read to gain feedback. If, however, the lecturer asked for changes or additional evidence to be submitted, the student had to upload a completely new document and the lecturer had to complete the feedback form again. In some cases this destroyed the previous relevant and valuable feedback.

    So although many of the features of Moodle are valuable to Eastleigh College, the Computer Science department were looking for an easy solution to improve the ease of use and comprehensiveness of assessing, allowing the Lecturers to share notes and PowerPoint slides to the class.

    Solution

    Microsoft OneNote was chosen by the department as an electronic portfolio system. OneNote 2010 notebooks, shared via SkyDrive, enabled learners to organise their notes, embed evidence files, including video and other formats, all in one central location. When this was shared with the lecturer, comments and feedback could be written directly onto the OneNote document adjacent to the evidence. The learner would then see these comments as soon as they opened their OneNote portfolio, and the feedback would be in context with their supplied evidence. Students could therefore adjust their work immediately as directed, without having to re-share or upload a new submission.

    The Computer Science department trialled a number of systems with students, including Google Docs, SkyDrive, iCloud and Ubuntu One, but ultimately made the decision to go with SkyDrive due to its level of integration with a range of Microsoft products. The college found that SkyDrive provided a simple yet secure repository for resources that could be shared to both individual students and whole groups with ease. The students could share their documents with one or more lecturers or even other students when group work was required.

     

    In addition to changing working practices to use OneNote alongside Moodle, the college is also using the Microsoft Interactive Classroom add-in, which allows lecturers to create PowerPoint Decks, and collaborate with students in real time. All the slides from the deck are visible to the student in separate OneNote pages and the students are able to take notes directly onto their OneNote page containing the current slide in the presentation. If a Lecturer writes on the interactive whiteboard, this text is also visible on the OneNote page, meaning students get a copy of all the notes available during a lecture. This is then available to the student in his/her OneNote portfolio for later revision while writing assignments or uploading evidence.

    How it helped the college

    The result was a flexible electronic portfolio for students, which resulted in the college having a much better overview of students' work, and to be able to share that work with other authorities – for example, with external assessors and examiners. And the ability to both share online, and synchronise files for offline use, means that group collaboration is now possible.

    The combination of SkyDrive and OneNote also enabled the department to share calendars, which were used to record the timetables of all learner groups and lecturers in the department. As SkyDrive can be accessed anywhere in the world and using any internet enabled device, such as Windows Phone, iOS devices and Windows 8 tablets, learners had no excuse of not being aware of any timetable changes.

    As Craig Chambers, Course Manager at Eastleigh College put it:

      I genuinely think that Microsoft Technologies have contributed to the improved completion rates achieved in our BTEC ‘Computer Science’ courses.  

    Learn MoreRead the full case study, and see practical examples, over on the UK Further Education blog

  • Education

    Update 1: Windows 8 Education apps in the Windows Store

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    Since last time, that I've installed some more apps, so here's my additional recommended education apps for Windows 8:

    image 

    Mathrathon

    Windows Store link for Mathrathon

    It's a simple maths game – you're shown two numbers along with a simple addition or subtraction sign, and the answer. All you need to do is to click Correct or Wrong. Mathrathon creates 60 random questions (and the most difficult I got was 143-87=22). Sounds simple? Well, turns out it's a lot trickier than you imagine, and it's actually turned into quite a competitive challenge amongst a group at the office.
    As this is listed in Games, not in Education, it's also a reminder to check that category too for great learning games.

    image

    SAS Flash Cards

    Windows Store link for SAS Flash Cards

    This is a flash card app with a great list of additional things that are good for teachers as well as students. Probably the best one is that you can create your own flash cards by uploading a spreadsheet. I could imagine that would make it much easier for a teacher to create flash cards to match their lesson plans. And the second handy addition is that, in Quiz mode, the results can be emailed – so that students could send their results back to a teacher, which would be great for assessment of/for learning.

    image

    QuickMath

    Windows Store link for QuickMath
    QuickMath is a simple app for improving your calculation knowledge. It presents you with a calculation of two numbers from 0 to 99 which you have to multiply. After you submit the result the app shows if your answer was correct or wrong. To be honest, this turned out to be quite tricky for me to do, but made me think quite hard for the mental maths tricks I could use to get the answer more quickly.

    image 

    Viewer for Khan Academy

    Windows Store link for Viewer for Khan Academy
    This is an independently developed video player for educational videos from Khan Academy, which was developed by Joel Martinez as a Coding4Fun Community Project.

    Learn MoreRead my previous list for additional recommended education apps for Windows 8

  • Education

    How to join Skype in the classroom - like 38,000 other teachers

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    Skype in the classroom logo

    Did you know that your students can use Skype to connect with a range of fabulous organisations that can broaden the classroom experience for your class – like NASA, museums, and expedition groups?

    Last week the team from 'Skype in the classroom' announced an expansion of their programme to six more supporting organisations NASA's Digital Learning Network™, The National Museum of the Royal Navy and HMS Victory, British Council, Woodland Trust, VerbalizeIt, Action Aid, Education through Expedition and Choose2Matter. They join Penguin Group, New York Philharmonic, Peace One Day, Save the Children, and the Science Museum, London who were already part of the Skype in the classroom programme.

    As one example of how these organisations will participate in Skype in the classroom, NASA's Digital Learning Centre will feature various projects where students can learn how to prepare a space vehicle for liftoff, help scientists and engineers to explore the basic principles of matter and design their own spacesuit mission patch. Participating classrooms will also discover what it is like to live and work in space as well as being introduced to basic robotics.

    Today Skype in the classroom has 38,899 teachers working together on 2,2226 global educational projects, and they are sharing 767 learning resources – and it's all free for teachers to join.

    Learn MoreLearn more about Skype in the classroom, and sign up here

  • Education

    Getting ready for Windows 8 and getting off Windows XP

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    There's significantly less than two years to go before Windows XP is unsupported, and of course if you're still running Windows XP in your school, it's worth remembering that Windows XP was probably born before some or many of your students.

    But for schools making the shift to Windows 8, there's still a need to plan carefully the migration, and this summer holiday will be one of the first opportunities for many of the classrooms around the country to be updated.

    So this resource guide might be perfectly timed:

    Springboard Resource Guide for Windows 8

    Basically, it steps you through focused documentation for the five key stages of rolling out Windows 8, and provides information that answers key questions:

    • Explore - Windows XP is good enough, why should I care?
    • Plan - Does it work in my environment? How do we prepare?
    • Deliver - What can I do to make deployment easier and faster?
    • Operate - How do I manage risk? How do I maintain control?
    • Support - Where can I find help and support?

    The Resource Guide has links to over 70 detailed documents which will help you to understand what Windows 8 does, how to plan the deployment, and what tools are available to make it easier. For an education institution or partner, there are a number of documents which would be especially useful, including information on:

    • Bitlocker – to encrypt sensitive data on staff computers, especially laptops
    • Windows To Go – to create a Windows 8 environment on a USB stick that staff or students could use on non-managed PCs (for example, to have a secure Managed Operating Environment build that students can run on a home PC which isn't part of your standard managed network)
    • AppLocker – to allow you to control which applications are run on which computers
    • Microsoft Security Compliance Manager – to allow you to support a Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) strategy whilst maintain information security

    Learn MoreDownload the Spring Resource Guide for Windows 8

  • Education

    Windows Azure pre-purchase offer

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    Microsoft's cloud system - Windows Azure - is being used in education more widely, and there are plenty of conversations going on about how educational partners can move their applications to be hosted on Windows Azure to reduce the cost of expanding their service (because you can just expand a service as your customer base grows without having to go and buy more servers, data centre space etc etc). The same logic applies to education institutions developing new services (especially where it can be tricky to deploy new technology on-site).

    One question I'm often asked is: Is there an academic discount for Windows Azure?

    And the short answer is: No, but…

    And the 'but…' is that there are some current offers on Windows Azure that could save you a quarter on your cloud costs.

    Normally, the cost savings made from moving services to the cloud are attractive enough when you calculate the differential between running a service in the cloud or on your own servers. But at the moment, it gets even more attractive because of the discounts available on Windows Azure.

    In a nutshell, you can pre-purchase blocks of cloud services and get between 20% and 27%. And the minimum requirement is that your subscription is for at least $500AU a month, for a six month period.

    Learn MoreFind more about the Windows Azure pre-purchase offer

  • Education

    Get technical training for the new Office and Office 365

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    Ignite workshops - header image

    We're offering a series of technical training events for partners, focusing on the new Office and Office 365. They are coming up over the next few months – first in Melbourne in December, and then in Brisbane and Perth in early 2013 (What, 2013 already. Where's the year gone?).

     

    The Exchange, Office and Office 365 Ignite workshop has been designed as deep technical training for IT implementers and Exchange administrators, who either develop, design or deploy for their organisations or customers.

    The EXO Ignite workshop spans three days to ensure quality of coverage across all product associated workloads. Topics of the training range from new capabilities, design, deployment and management considerations for these technologies. The training content is a mix of presentations and hands-on labs that parallel real world experience delivered by Microsoft certified experts.

    During the event, you will also have the opportunity to interact and learn from your industry peers and representatives from Microsoft.

    The content provided throughout the course requires both a technical background and experience with prior versions of the product and/or service in order for the content to be valuable.

     

    Venues, dates and agenda for the Ignite workshops in Australia

    • Melbourne: 4 – 6 December, 2012
    • Brisbane: 30 January - 1 February 2013
    • Perth: 30 January - 1 February 2013

    You can see the full agenda on the link below, but in a nutshell it breaks down into three significant chunks:

    • Day One: Introducing the new Office, Office 365 and the Office App Model
    • Day Two: Deep dives for Exchange & Office, including compliance, data loss prevention, client management and service delivery
    • Day Three: Office 365 deployment, including hybrid scenarios

    This means the agenda will address some of the hot topics in education use of Office too – like compliance and hybrid implementation of Office 365 (for example, where staff and researchers are run through an on-premise Exchange system and students are in the Office 365 for education cloud service)

    There's a charge for the training – $150 – which is so minimal, I assume it's to make sure you actually turn up!

    Learn MoreFind out more, and register, for the Australian Ignite Workshops

  • Education

    Update 5: Windows 8 apps for education – ClickView Windows 8 app

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    imageThe first Australian education apps are starting to appear, and the charge is being led by ClickView, which is used by thousands of schools around the country.

    The native Windows 8 ClickView Player app allows you to search and playback videos, podcasts and vodcasts from the ClickView library, and the ClickView Exchange content.

    There's tons of video content in the ClickView library from TED, ABC, Discovery Education, NASA etc. And it's clearly structured under subject and topic headings. And then ClickView Exchange allows schools to share content including videos from free to air TV stations, recorded and uploaded by ClickView users. This online source of relevant, educational content contains 15,000+ titles that have been added by teachers around Australia. Yep, ClickView had to be really careful with copyright for all of this, which is why only educational users in Australia can get access to this.

    Find out more about the overview of ClickView service, or the ClickView products they offer – from in-school video delivery and recording systems, to storage and management of digital media.

    What does the ClickView Windows 8 app do?

    ClickView Windows 8 app users can create their own playlists and vodcasts, and get HD streaming and video playback using the optimised Windows 8 player.

    You can download the free ClickView Windows 8 app here.

    • Existing ClickView customers just sign in with their normal ClickView account details
    • For new users, you'll need to have a ClickView account – so you may want to take advantage of the free 30 day ClickView trial

     

    MAPA 2012 - ClickView

    Find More 

    Get the ClickView Windows 8 app on the Windows Store

  • Education

    Can education IT keep up with the speed of innovation?

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    Last week the annual EDUCAUSE 2012 conference, for Higher Education IT people, took place in Denver. As usual, there was a buzz of stories that appeared on HE news websites like The Chronicle of Higher Education.

    What struck me, following the news and discussions, was that there's a real focus on the pace of change happening (or believed to be just around the corner) in higher education, and the fact that the 'old ways' of doing things just aren't going to work in a world dominated by rapid change and consumer-led thinking of your customers (whether that's external customers – students, research funders) or internal ones (the faculty and administration that choose to use IT services).

    Out of the hundreds of hours of talks, and tens of thousands of words that happened at the conference, here's two quotes from two different parts that struck home:

    Clay Shirky at EDUCAUSE 2012

    Clay Shirky, in his keynote kicking off the conference, talked about how he believes that technology is changing everything across education, from research to publishing to studying. And his idea for the conference was about the benefits of, and revolution possible through, a spirit of openness and collaboration created through social media. There's a short summary on The Chronicle of HE, but I'd recommend watching the whole session here, as I'm only going to highlight one single soundbite from a much longer, brilliantly engaging keynote (at 58:30 in the video)

    Here's the two sentences that struck me as completely pertinent to Australian universities (start watching the video at 52:45 for the analogous story):

      Do not put together an interdisciplinary team from 12 departments and give them a budget of a quarter of a million dollars, and a year and a half deadline. Find five people and ask them what can you do in a month—for free. I think the results will surprise you.  

    Start-Ups at EDUCAUSE 2012

    And this quoted make me think of another session from EDUCAUSE, where education-technology start-ups were pitching to venture capitalists for their money. It was the last three sentences in The Chronicle report, quoting the founder of one of the start-ups, Matthew Racz, that struck me:

     

    …ed-tech start-ups faced a challenging market because colleges move so slowly in adopting new products.

    “There’s a 9-to-18-month decision cycle,” he said. “That’s a little too slow for innovation to happen.”

     

    So here's my question: Can IT keep up with innovation?

    Why did I find these two particular quotes important? Well, as I reflected on the statements above, it challenged my thinking about IT in education – and made me reflect on projects in the past. I've often seen IT projects at the leading edge – where IT has been enabling and driving change, sometimes at a speed that is faster than users can easily adapt to. And here we are being told that change isn't fast enough. Have we been banging our head against a brick wall?

    No, I don't think we have. But the challenge is the way that projects and procurement processes can support an agile, innovative organisation.

    Example: I once worked with a university on a project that could deliver an ROI for an investment in energy reduction in 7 days (ie the project paid for itself in a week). But it took them 9 months from start to finish on the procurement process – which meant that 97% of the time, they were throwing money down the drain.

    I've no doubt that IT teams can keep up with the speed of innovation in education, but to do that, some of today's processes are going to have to change. When…

    • It takes longer to write a specification than it does to create the final project that results;
    • The specification process takes so long that the specification is out of date by the time the project delivers;
    • It costs more to run the procurement process to choose a product, than the actual cost of the product;

    …then it's time for change. I often see exactly these three characteristics above in projects for Business Intelligence systems and also for CRM systems

    IT can keep up with the speed of innovation – and continue to lead change. But some of the approaches to project are likely to have to change significantly to allow this, especially with the fragmentation of control and decision making that we're facing by individuals, managers, leaders, and departmental organisations.

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