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

  • Education

    Staff training for 2015: Work Wonders with Office 365


    Office 365 webinars - header graphic

    Every Tuesday afternoon our Office team run free 15 minute webinars for users of Office 365 with handy hints and tips on getting the most of the Office suite, including handy user tips for PowerPoint, Excel, Outlook, Lync and Yammer. They run at 2pm AEST (ie perfect for an early-afternoon tea break Sydney-time Smile, and just before lunch in Perth), and are designed to give you just enough information to increase your proficiency with Office, but without overloading you.

    It’s an ideal way to encourage your colleagues to learn a little more about the software that you’ve provided to them, and to help them get a step ahead.

    Here’s the detail of what’s coming between now and the end of April:

    6 January 2015 - Working with pictures in PowerPoint

    • Learn keyboard shortcuts, how to manipulate pictures and discover great editing tools in PowerPoint.

    13 January 2015 - Discover Pivot Tables in Excel

    • Pivot Tables are an interactive way for users to easily summarise raw data. Learn how to organise your data, insert Pivot Tables and navigate Fields.

    20 January 2015 - Finding what you need in Outlook

    • We'll cover how to narrow your search use search syntax, search for attachments and save searches for later.

    27 January 2015 - Introducing Lync meetings

    • Discover what you can do with Lync - add your contacts, instant message, screen share and video conferencng.

    3 February 2015 - Using PowerPivot in Excel

    • Power Pivot is an Excel 2013 add-in that lets you perform powerful data analysis and create sophisticated data models. Learn how to mash up large volumes of data from various sources, perform information analysis rapidly and share insights easily.

    10 February 2015 - Protect your work: saving to the cloud in OneDrive for Business

    • Pivot Tables are an interactive way for users to easily summarise raw data. Learn how to organise your data, insert Pivot Tables and navigate Fields.

    17 February 2015 - Working smart in PowerPoint

    • How to easily repurpose one PowerPoint deck for multiple presentations, reuse or import slides and create custom slide shows.

    24 February 2015 - Get started with Yammer

    • Create and customise your profile, set up your notification preferences, start and engage in conversations, tag and search content.

    3 March 2015 - Get familiar with SharePoint online

    • Learn the basics including storing and sharing documents, the differences to OneDrive and the basics on internal and external sites.

    17 March 2015 - Bring style to your Word documents

    • Uncover what Styles do, why they are different to changing fonts, how to move text with the Navigation Pane and how to work with Table of Contents.

    24 March 2015 - Yammer deep dive

    • Create areas for projects or teams - using Notes, Info, uploading files, making announcements and more.

    31 March 2015 - Excel Charts that tell a story

    Which Chart should you choose? Learn how to pick the Chart that is right for your raw data and the message you're trying to make.

    7 April 2015 - Outlook calendars

    • View your entire week in one place - import and consolidate your calendars, navigate calendars seamlessly and work in calendars online.

    14 April 2015 - Plan and share in OneNote

    • Consolidate all of your crucial information in one place, then link with OneDrive to share this virtual notebook with yourself, with other people, and with other devices.

    21 April 2015 - Top 10 short cuts to move your content

    • Are you looking for a fast way to paste data into Excel spreadsheets or gett stuff in and out of Outlook or OneNote? Learn new ways of copying and pasting with shortcuts and working with copied content.

    28 April 2015 - Mastering Slide Master in PowerPoint

    • Slide Master is a built-in tool that provides control and consistency in the look of your PowerPoint presentation. This session will teach you how to create and edit Slide Masters so you can stop cutting and pasting in PowerPoint.

    Make a dateYou can easily register for one, or all, of the "Work Wonders with Office 365" webinars here

  • Education

    New Moodle integrations with Microsoft technology are on the way


    Over the last couple of years I’ve written a number of times about integration points between Moodle and Microsoft, to help education customers understand what the opportunities are to be able to integrate two of their key tools for students and staff. This turns out to be important even for universities or TAFEs which have standardised on other learning management systems, because even in these organisations, there seem to always be specific departments, projects or users who are running a Moodle learning management system – even when everybody else is using the institution’s standard Blackboard/Brightspace or other LMS. So Moodle integrations with Microsoft platforms are key, whether it is about running Moodle on Windows server, or running Moodle on Microsoft Azure cloud servers, or integrating Moodle and Office 365 for Education.

    Remote-Learner logo header

    But there’s more to come, and I thought I should share news from Remote-Learner, an official Moodle partner, who are working with the Microsoft Open Technologies team to build new integrations between Moodle and Office 365 services:


    Remote-Learner is working with Microsoft Open Technologies to build and provide integrations between Moodle and Office 365, OneDrive for Business and Consumer, OneNote and Outlook Calendar. These integrations will provide seamless workflows between Microsoft products already used by organizations, and Moodle, one of the most popular Learning Management Systems (LMS) in use today.

    The power of these integrations will provide speed and efficiency to developing, launching and running learning programs by all types of organizations. Whether you are an educational institution, a corporate training supplier, a certifying body or any other organization that has training as part of its operation, you can benefit from the integration of Moodle and Office365.

    A beta program is starting with various types of organizations. This program will provide test instances of the beta work in Moodle. Beta participants will have an opportunity to test run each of the integrations, provide feedback on their experiences and contribute ideas to future functionality and releases.

    The beta program will run through December 2014. The planned first release for the integrations is late January 2015. Look for Remote-Learner's blog posts on functional items over the next several weeks. For more information on how you can benefit from these developments, contact Remote-Learner at


    So the beta programme is well underway (sadly, for Australia the beta programme coincided with the holidays, so most education customers here weren’t able to join), and the full release is planned for late January (just in time for the new school year!)

    The team have also published an update to the first news, with information on the specific integration work that they are doing with OneNote integration for Moodle.

    OneNote integration for Moodle

    The team are creating plug-ins that will allow seamless workflow between OneNote and Moodle – to allow students to complete a Moodle assignment within OneNote – so that they can take advantage of all of OneNote’s content features - like inking, embedding different content types including video – and then submit their assignment directly into Moodle without having to upload/download any work.

    They’ve also worked on the workflow the other way too – so that a teacher can provide feedback to a student’s assignment submitted in Moodle, directly in OneNote (for example, so that they can mark up a student’s work with a pen through OneNote, to increase the quality of feedback to the student).

    If you are a developer, you’ll probably appreciate the fact that the Remote-Learner team are working out loud on this project – sharing how they are building the connection between Moodle and the OneNote APIs, and the ways that they are building secure connections for data flow.

    You can read more about the work on OneNote integration with Moodle on the Remote-Learning blog

    Learn MoreLearn more about the projects that Remote-Learner are working on with Microsoft through their blog

  • Education

    Dynamics CRM and Office 365 in Australian datacentres


    This morning we made an announcement that will be especially interesting to Australian education customers. The news is that we’re going to be running Dynamics CRM and Office 365 in Australia datacentres by March.

    This follows our launch two months ago of the two Microsoft Azure datacentre services, which provide datacentre servers from NSW and Victoria, and the ability for customers to ensure that they can provide full geo-redundancy between two datacentres over 600km apart, but within the same country.

    Office 365 Australian datacentre announcement splash screen

    As the press release says:

      With Microsoft Azure, Office 365 and Dynamics CRM Online, Microsoft is delivering the industry’s most complete cloud — for every business, every industry and every geography. Microsoft delivers over 200 services to over 1 billion customers and 20 million businesses are served by our cloud infrastructure in over 90 markets, globally.  

    The impact of this is that very soon you are going to be able to run a massive range of cloud services, from infrastructure to full application services, from the same datacentre, and with the benefits of increased speed and the ability to keep all of your data onshore in Australia. This applies even when the data is moving between your use of the different services – eg as you move a file from your OneDrive into your CRM system, or from your SharePoint to your Moodle LMS.

    This is good news for our education customers in Australia, as it means that Office 365 Education is available from an Australian datacentre on the same timescales. And I’ve also been asked a number of times by universities and TAFEs for Dynamics CRM Online in our Australian datacentres. So it’s good news all round – and gives you the widest range of widely-used cloud services with the ability to keep your data within an Australian datacentre.

    Learn MoreRead the full press release announcement

  • Education

    New Moodle Mobile app released for Windows 8 and Windows Phone


    Moodle logoMoodle for Windows 8 and Windows Phone has been available as an app since August this year – through the “Moodle Mobile” app. Just last week, the latest version was released – Moodle Mobile 1.9 – which has a updated look and feel and is designed to be more user friendly. It allows your students to access your Moodle LMS when they’re mobile and they don’t need to be in front of their PC to access your courses and lesson materials. And the touch-friendly design makes it perfect for tablets and small screen devices.

    Moodle Mobile screen shot for Windows PhoneBoth Moodle Mobile versions are available free in the Windows/Windows Phone store, using the following links:

    Moodle Mobile for Windows 8.1

    Moodle Mobile for Windows Phone

    Your staff and students can now:

    • browse the content of their courses, even when offline
    • receive instant notifications of messages and other events
    • quickly find and contact other people in their courses
    • upload images, audio, videos and other files from their mobile device
    • view their course grades

    NB: You need to ensure your Moodle is configured to allow web services for mobile devices

    To keep up to date with news on the Moodle Mobile app, then follow MoodleMobile on Twitter

    Learn MoreAnd don't forget, you could also host your Moodle service in the Microsoft Azure cloud - more info here

  • Education

    edX and Microsoft partnership for teachers


    imageedX is an online learning environment which is extensively used for MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses), founded as a non-profit partnership between Harvard and MIT. They’ve just announced a partnership with Microsoft to help online course creators to develop content with Office Mix.

    Many faculty currently use PowerPoint slides as the basis of their lectures on edX. But creating videos, updating and revising them, and adding interactive elements to lectures can be time-consuming. With Office Mix, educators can easily produce videos and online lectures that deliver an engaging experience to students, with support for audio and video recordings, screen captures, hyperlinks, and digital ink.

    The problem that this partnership is designed to solve is that recent research has shown that developing an online MOOC course is costing universities around $125,000, with some costing up to a $1/4m. This is because the content has to be created in partnership between teaching staff, content creation teams, and editorial teams. At that cost, it can quickly become unsustainable for universities to develop more MOOC courses.

    imageOffice Mix is an add-on for PowerPoint, and as well as supporting the easier creation of online course content, the Mix site tracks the learning analytics for the activity – giving teachers deep insight into which students are watching the material, how long they watch each section for, and results for the embedded assessments. You can quickly and easily see what sections are working best, and what gaps there might be in students’ learning.

    Office Mix can be used for creating content for other online learning systems, or even just as a standalone web service (for example, an individual teacher can publish their Mixes directly to the Office Mix website, and publish a public resource, or just for users within their own school/TAFE/university).

    The partnership with edX will create components to directly embed Mixes into an edX course, and the components will be released as open source components, which will be helpful to developers of other online learning systems looking to do something similar, or for others wanting to create components for edX.

    Learn MoreLearn more about the announbcement on the edX blog

  • Education

    Office DevCamp in Melbourne: Learn how to develop apps for Office and Office 365



    On December 11th, in Melbourne, we’re running a free, full-day Office DevCamp for developers who want to write apps and services for Office or Office 365. It’ll help you to build solutions that can use Office to do things like allow students to read and write from their OneDrive (and save you having to run expensive storage services on your own servers); or build workflows in Office to make a teacher’s life easier. Or simply allow a teacher or student to have a single-sign in to your service using their Office 365 login (that’s a simple step that gives you access to millions of users).

    But, let’s take a step back for a second.

    A long time ago, when I was a developer (yes, really, a long, long time ago) life was easy. I developed Windows apps, and that was all I had to worry about – making an app work on Windows. And now I would think about developing software to run on one of three platforms:

    1. Developing for a device operating system (eg Windows)
    2. Developing for a cloud-based service (eg Azure)
    3. Developing for a service-based platform (eg Office 365)

    Why would you develop apps on Office and Office 365? Well, with over a billion users spending 2-3 hours per day in Office, it’s a platform that gives you tremendous potential to reach a large group of customers, and especially in education, where there are millions of users – students and staff – using Office as a key tool in teaching and learning. In Australia, we’ve seen innovative developments to support teaching and learning on the Office platform – things like:

    The Office Store alone has over 1,000 apps in the catalogue, and in the Education category\ there’s currently just under 80 apps in the store. I noticed that there’s even an app to teach you how to use the JavaScript API for Office!

    The DevCamp is designed to get you up and running, and developing your own apps in Office or developing apps on mobile devices that can use the Office 365 services.  It’s a very hands-on day, not just lecture and listening:


    Build Productivity Apps

    Learn how to build apps using standard web technologies that extend the familiar Office and Office 365 experience and potentially sell them to over 1 billion Office users in 147 international markets. 

    At this DevCamp, you will learn the concepts of the new Office 365 API model and go deep into building out an end-to-end example on the Office 365 environment. Microsoft Office 365 DevCamps are free and fun events for developers, by developers.  You do not want to miss this unique event presented by Microsoft technical experts.

    Gear up and get building!

    This is a jam-packed 1-day training course where you will get deep into the code after we gear you up with the tools and environment. Here are the 6 session topics:

    1 - Intro to day
    2 - Standing up the environment
    3 - Hooking into Apps for SharePoint
    4 - Hook into Office 365 APIs via Standalone web application
    5 - Hooking into Apps for Office
    6 - Building native Android App


    The idea is that you come along with your laptop, and spend time actually cutting code – and the presence of our uber-geek Andrew Coates will mean you can get clear answers to specific questions and scenarios.

    The course is suitable for developers working for companies and ISVs, as well as developers working for universities, TAFEs and schools. And although we’ll talk about scenarios of how you can build apps for education usage, the content is relevant whether you’re building an app for a teacher on their PC, a business user in Excel, or a consumer on their Android phone!

    Make a dateMake a date for our Office DevCamp on 11th December.
    Find out more, and register

    I’ll see you there!

  • Education

    Perth and Melbourne Education Partner Training - places still available for 3/11 December



    Invitation to Microsoft Education Authorised Education Resellers

    This event is for Microsoft Partner Network members and Microsoft Authorised Education Resellers

    We’ve had consistent feedback from our partners that our education-focused training for you has been hitting the mark, and you’d like to ensure that it reaches all of the people in your teams, as well as keeping you completely up-to-date with changes in the market and our education portfolio and strategies. This month we've been running interactive workshops in Sydney and Brisbane, and the final two are just around the corner in the next two weeks. We’re heading to Perth on 4th December, and Melbourne on the 11th, alongside the Office 365 Ignite summits.

    The format that we've been using is a roundtable discussion, and with the help of slides, whiteboards and customer stories, have been able to cover each attendees individual agenda.


    Growing your reach in a changing marketplace.

    Education is in the midst of historic transformation and the rise of technology in the classroom is creating tremendous opportunity for our partners. Just about every government and school system in the world is considering digital access programs and, starting in 2015, new global standards will assess how well schools are helping students develop 21st Century Learning Skills, including critical thinking, technical aptitude and collaboration, driving education institutions globally to look for solutions that will help them effectively integrate technology.

    Microsoft and its partners are uniquely positioned to enable this transformation by providing creative and robust solutions across enterprise management, security, support services, and learning solutions. In this training, focused primarily on sales readiness, participants will deep dive into the Education opportunity, learn the Microsoft vision, as well as how partners can grow their business by selling and deploying solutions across Windows, Office, and Azure to accelerate common education scenarios.

    A single day covering cloud solutions for education built on Office 365 and Microsoft Azure.


    The day will start with an overview of the global and Australian education marketplace, and how you can respond to the hot topics that are currently top of mind for education decision makers within the schools, TAFE and universities market.


    During the morning, we will take a deep dive into Office 365 Education, and how you can help customers tap the communication, authoring and collaboration capabilities, as well as exploring the integration opportunities that will help you sell and deploy solutions in the education market.


    During the afternoon session, we will review customer-specific scenarios, to help you to quickly identify appropriate solutions for different segments of the education market, and meet the customers’ requirements. This will include a look at third-party solutions for specific scenarios. The afternoon will close with a look at how the Microsoft Azure cloud helps you to deliver customer solutions.


    There's still a few places available around the table. Use the links below to sign up:


    Microsoft Perth – Wednesday 3 December
    Microsoft Melbourne – Thursday 11 December

    This event is for Microsoft Partner Network members and Microsoft Authorised Education Resellers

  • Education

    Which Windows device do I buy for students (or recommend for BYOD)?


    After writing about the $90 7” Windows tablet two days ago (called the Pendo Pad) being sold by Coles, I thought I should spend a little more time on the range of options available for students/schools this summer, because there’s such a range of different devices, and I really don’t think that there’s a single option that will suit everybody.

    As there’s such a wide range of devices, its key to have a list of criteria to allow you (or to help parents) to cancel out some of the options quickly. When I think about different computer options for education, I think about a few key things:

    • What screen size do you need?
      I don’t believe that ‘bigger kids need bigger screens, and smaller kids…’, so I think you should start with the kind of tasks students will be doing, and where they are likely to be using their device.
    • Do you want a keyboard integrated (like a laptop) or convertible (where the screen swivels) or 2 in 1 (a tablet with a detachable keyboard)?
      I believe that almost all students are going to need a keyboard for their work, and that in many cases having a keyboard as part of the device design, rather than a separate option, makes sense
    • Do you need a stylus?
      There are lots of scenarios (like note taking and graphic work) where what they do with a stylus will ensure that a student retains more knowledge, and extends their learning in new directions.
      All the devices below have touch screens.
    • How powerful does it need to be?
      There used to be a time when I would always buy a new laptop with the most powerful processor I could, and the biggest storage option. But now I’d choose the processor speed according to the main job I’m going to use a laptop for, and I’ll use OneDrive cloud storage to avoid having everything on my hard drive anyway.
    • What does it weigh?
      Although it’s the textbooks in my daughters backpack that weigh it down, a 2 kg laptop is going to make things worse, so I do ask myself “What will this feel like in a backpack?”
    • What price do I want to pay?
      I’ve always believed you get what you pay for in most cases, and where a computer is twice the price than another, there will be a clear reason.

    So here’s a look at a range of devices that are well suited for Australian education customers, and are available through Australian suppliers. I’ve grouped them by approximate price band based on what they sell for in Australia, and today I’m going to deal with the sub-$600 category.

    Ideal devices for schools up to $600


    Screen Size






    Asus Eeebook X205TA







    Acer Travelmate B115







    Acer Aspire Switch 10 Pro


    2 in 1





    Intel Classmate







    Asus Transformer T100TA


    2 in 1





    Dell Inspiron 11 3000 Series







    HP Pavilion x 360




    or Pentium



    Learn MoreTake a look at the full recommendations for all devices across all price ranges

  • 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

    Update on running Moodle in the cloud on Microsoft Azure


    There’s been quite a bit of news around integration work for Moodle on the Microsoft Azure cloud recently, so I have gathered together some update info. This post is about running Moodle in the cloud. Next week, I’ll pull some bits together on integration with other Microsoft technologies.

    Fully supported Moodle cloud service for Microsoft Azure cloud

    Two of the largest official Moodle partners (Remote-Learner and NivelSiete) have teamed together to provide fully supported and maintained Microsoft Azure Certified Moodle installations in the Azure Cloud. The installations have been configured and optimised to provide high performance and availability, and have been built for medium size organisations. The fully supported service includes a core Moodle build, as well as pre-installation of a series of 40 common, high-value add-ons – and then support for both initial configuration and ongoing use through technical support and a full training programme.

    imageIn many cases the normal process for deploying a Moodle server for educational customers involves first hunting down suitable spare server hardware capacity, then installing an operating system, then installing Moodle etc. Often this can take weeks, or even months. But with a cloud deployed service, you simply click a website button (like the one on the right) to deploy a virtual machine with all of the services pre-configured.

    And because you are selecting the deployment options, you can choose where you deploy the service, and what capacity you’re going to need. Which means you could have it running in one of our two Australian Azure datacentres in minutes.

    The pricing contains two elements, both of which are based on the hours that you run the cloud services:

    • A price for the Microsoft Azure service which varies according to the server capacity. At the low end, deploying onto a 1 core server with 768MB RAM costs just over 2 cents an hour. More likely a dual core server with 7GB RAM and 40GB SSD will cost under 20 cents an hour, whereas putting it onto a server with 8 cores and 56GB of RAM is going to set you back nearly a dollar an hour – but I would guess that will be overkill for almost all scenarios.
    • A price for the support and ongoing maintenance and upgrades, which is provided by Remote-Learner.

    Putting both elements together, that means you can have a scalable, fully managed and supported Moodle service running for between $800 and $1,500 a month.

    For more information, take a look at:

    The official announcement from Remote-Learner (and I’d also recommend taking a look at the blog post from Mike Churchward, who’s the Remote-Learner President, about their experience working with our Microsoft Open Technologies team)

    Learn MoreGo to the Microsoft Azure Marketplace to see more, and deploy a Moodle virtual machine in the cloud!

    Deployment images for Moodle for Microsoft Azure cloud

    If rather than having a fully supported service you just want to deploy a Moodle server image to a Microsoft Azure cloud service, and then configure and support it yourself, then there’s the bitnami images available on the VMDepot.

    The VMDepot is a community-driven catalog of preconfigured operating systems, applications, and development stacks that can easily be deployed on Windows Azure. Find your favorite software and deploy it in minutes, or join the community, build a virtual machine image, and share it with others. It was created by the Microsoft Open Technologies team.

    imageWith these pre-configured machine images, you basically just click a ‘Create Virtual Machine’ button, and then log in to your Azure account to deploy. It will automatically deploy a Moodle 2.8 instance on an Apache 14.04 server onto an Azure virtual server (If you don’t have an Azure account then give it a whirl with the Azure 30-day free trial that gives you $200 worth of free Azure).

    Although deploying a Moodle package on an Apache server is normally a highly technical, time consuming thing to do, it’s totally different on a cloud service. In fact, so different that I actually did it myself to check… and started it as I wrote this paragraph. This is how far it's got at this point:


    (If you’ve met me, you know I’m not an uber-geek like many of my colleagues, so hopefully this is proof that you don’t need to be a rocket-surgeon to do this stuff.)

    Unlike the fully supported service, once you’ve got this deployed, it is now all yours – just like if you were running it on a server under your desk, or in your own datacentre. You manage, configure and update it. We just run the datacentre and the virtual server that it’s running on.

    Just flipped back – and as you can see on my Azure projects page, the cloud service is running, and it’s now starting up the virtual machine:


    If this is your preferred option, then here’s where to go to get it done:

    Other Open Source services running on Microsoft Azure

    If you want to see some of the other bitnami images, either visit the Microsoft Azure marketplace listing for bitnami, or visit the bitnami website (there’s even a button there to launch a free one hour demo server).

    Go to the VMDepot website to see some of the other 500+ virtual machine images you can deploy with one-click of your mouse, including FreeBSD, WordPress, Drupal etc

    And finally, I just went and logged into my new Moodle cloud server on Azure, and I thought I’d share the home screen, just to prove how quick and easy the whole thing was to setup!


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