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

  • Education

    Sway–a unique way to present ideas and information


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

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

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

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

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

    Learn MoreView my Sway on Student Attrition in Australian Universities here


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

  • Education

    Reimagine - a briefing about change and digital disruption


    Here’s a chance to attend a high level Microsoft briefing called Reimagine, in Melbourne on 9 October and Sydney on 29 October:

    • The Melbourne Reimagine event is at the Convention and Exhibition Centre, from 9AM-12:30PM
    • The Sydney Reimagine event is at the Royal Hall of Industries, from 9AM-12:30PM

    These events aren’t specifically for education customers, however nearly every time I speak at events, I find that education customers are learning from the experiences of transformation happening in other industry sectors, so I’d highly recommend these events as a way to hear stories which can act as signposts for change in your school/TAFE/university!


    During the briefing, we’ll share the Microsoft vision for platform and productivity – how we will empower people and organisations to do more and achieve more. But technology is only part of the story, because as the impact of technology changes so does the role of IT itself. And the IT people within an organisation become responsible for a digital transformation, and working with others to support the cultural change that technology enables (and requires!).

    This challenge exists with every organisation, whether it’s a big bank, an electricity company, or an education organisation like a school or university. And so we’re seeing new job roles emerging – like Chief Digital Officer and VP of Student Experience. These new roles are often being filled by people with a deep understanding of technology, backed by the skills to effectively manage visionary change.

    At the event, three invited speakers will share their stories of change:

    • Ben Issa, Head of IT Strategy at ING Direct, is one person who is leading change. Having pioneered the Bank in a Box solution, Ben will share his story of delivering a drastically modern innovation platform for banking.
    • Anthony Stevens, Director of IT Operations from KPMG, will share how their business has empowered its people to be more mobile, more responsive and more productive in order to create great experiences for their customers.
    • Belinda Thompson, BDO’s Chief Information Officer, will share how the company is using the cloud to support its people and better connect with its customers – and what it all means for her team’s relationship with the business.
    • In Sydney, Ben’s replaced by Sean Elwick, Head of Information Services at Aurecon, who will share his view on the disruption to the role of IT, and how he personally lobbies for digital change within his organisation.

    To find out more and register for either of the Reimagine events, then use the links below:

    Melbourne Reimagine – 9 October

    Sydney Reimagine – 29 October

  • Education

    Delivering Office 365 on your different screens and wrist


    The Office team have also been busy creating plenty of new scenarios for using Office on a range of different devices (it seems as if every month there’s a new format of device appearing that can support a scenario with one of the Office apps). If you still think of Office as being an app that you install on your PC, then you might be surprised by some of the recent announcements:

    OneDrive for Business for Android, which allows you to seamlessly access your 1TB of Office 365 storage from an Android phone or tablet.

    Lync enhancements for iOS released last month included the ability to have the Lync Gallery View and up to four live video streams on your iPhone or iPad screen. Both of which make online meetings more interactive and visual.


    There’s been a recent dash of enhancements to OneNote too:

    OneNote on Android watchOneNote for Android Wear, so that you can now talk to your wrist and start dictating notes that get synced into your OneNote notebook – and onto any other devices you’re also running OneNote one.

    Handwriting support in OneNote for Android tablets now allows you to write or draw with a stylus or your finger, so now you can easily create drawings, annotate on top of documents etc

    OneNote for Windows 8 has received updates that focus on student features such as ink highlighting and better support for printing and inserting files. These features will help the Windows 8 version of OneNote to catch up with the features of the full desktop version of OneNote. I actually use both versions on my Surface 3, depending on what I’m doing, and whether I want a simple ‘notebook’ setup for handwritten notes, or I want the full-blown mode for extensive editing etc

  • Education

    Developing education solutions in Office 365


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

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

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

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

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

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

  • Education

    Digitise everything - Office Lens and teachers.


    The Office team have been doing some great work recently with adding new features to the Office suite of products, that are especially useful for teachers and students.

    OneNote has been getting a lot of attention on mobile devices including for iOS, Android and Windows phones. For example, this week we released OneNote support for Android Wear watches (yep, you can appear to be a spy whilst you whisper into your wrist “Take a note. Buy paint from Bunnings”) and we also announced the Share extension for OneNote on iOS 8 devices (so you can clip a web page or photo straight into your OneNote notebook from your iPad or iPhone).

    But that seems like nothing compared to what the Office Lens team have been up to.

    What's Office Lens?

    imageOffice Lens is a simple app that allows to snap a picture of a document, drawing, whiteboard etc, and it then frames it and pops it into your photos folder, and your OneNote, as a straightened, adjusted image. It’s ideal for students for lectures, or for staff at meetings, because if you take a picture of a whiteboard from an angle, it will straighten the image as though you were right in front of it. And because it pops it into your OneNote it means it's automatically synced across your devices - take a picture with your phone, and see it in the OneNote on your laptop later.

    Scan a scanned document into Word or PowerPoint

    What the team released on Tuesday is an update of Office Lens for Windows Phone that now means that it goes even further. Now you can take an image, and it will turn it into a Word document or a PowerPoint slide. And not just a picture in a Word document, but it will actually do an OCR scan of the page, and drop the text and formatting into a Word document!

    Office Lens word

    It will do the same for PowerPoint - take a picture of a diagram drawn on a whiteboard, and it will turn it into a slide where the individual hand drawn lines that make up the drawing can be edited as drawing objects. So if you want to change the colours, or the size, or remove a few stray lines, and add more details, you can do it. Even months after you’ve wiped it off the whiteboard!

    Office Lens whiteboard

    Like any amazing technology, this is almost indistinguishable from magic!

    To see it in action, take a look at the video below

    If you’re always being given hand-drawn diagrams by teachers who want somebody to turn them into a PowerPoint slide, then it’s now a snap job to make it happen. I was talking to a university team who have a bank of people currently digitising learning resources for staff, to make them available online. This is probably their dream tool. And it’s free - all it needs is a phone and off you go. Hopefully that’s the end of document projectors in classrooms and lecture halls…

    Learn MoreRead more about Office Lens and what we've done here

  • Education

    New status levels for Microsoft Education Partners (AERs)


    imageThe Microsoft Authorised Education Reseller programme is designed to ensure that our partners that work with education customers have been trained and passed tests on our Academic licensing programmes. This is especially important for smaller education customers, where they might choose to buy their licences from a local small business, but will still want to ensure that they are getting the best deal on Microsoft academic licences for software.

    For much of our software and online services, education customers typically get a discount of up to 80% from the normal price that commercial customers pay, and that’s why it’s important for our partners to understand the different academic licensing options!

    But with hundreds of Microsoft Authorised Education Resellers in Australia, how can you differentiate between them? Previously you couldn’t - the AER search portal would simply give you a list of AERs for a state or city. But all that changed this week, when we announced three levels of AER, connected to the Certifications that our partners have on the main Microsoft Partner Network. So from now on, when you look for details on an AER on the AER Search portal, you will see whether the partner is a standard AER, a Silver AER Partner, or a Gold AER Partner. And you’ll also see the logo on their website and marketing materials.

    imageThis is good for our partners, because it means that they get better recognition for making the effort to train and certify their staff through our Microsoft competencies - like Business Intelligence, Data Platform, Office 365 Cloud Deployment, Customer Relationship Management etc (see the full list of competencies here)


    And it’s really good for our customers, because you can now find more experienced partners more easily, and it is now much easier to identify a partner who has invested in understanding our academic licensing, as well as becoming certified in a specific Microsoft technology or competence.

    How do you find Silver and Gold AERs?

    From now, whenever you search for an AER on our global portal ( the search results will be prioritised with Gold Partners at the top, then the Silver Partners, and then those who don’t have a Microsoft Competency.


    NB: If you’re an AER with a competency, and it’s not showing you as Silver/Gold, then check your profile to ensure that the correct MPN number is listed, as that’s how the AER system checks your competency status!

  • Education

    Could Cortana in education help students and teachers?


    Cortana logo

    Cortana is the intelligent voice-activated assistant on a Windows Phone - described as ‘your personal assistant in your phone’ - and it provides a new way of interacting with other people and your phone. I’ve been using Cortana on my phone for a while now, using the Developer Preview of Windows 8.1 and over time I’ve discovered some great things it can do for me (I most often use it to send an SMS as I’m leaving the office, remind me about something when I arrive somewhere, and to check information in my calendar).

    wp_ss_20140908_0001I’ve got used now to pressing my phone’s search button, and hearing a short tone along with the “Listening…” message pop up - and then talking to my phone as though it was a real person.

    wp_ss_20140908_0002Some of the things I’ve found Cortana does are:

    • Activating your phone - like calling somebody in your contacts
    • Sending text/SMS messages
    • Adding meetings to your calendar, or re-arranging what’s in there
    • Setting reminders that occur at a particular time, or place (like “Remind me to buy milk when I get to the supermarket”)
    • Setting alarms
    • Adding notes to your OneNote file
    • Asking travel questions, like What’s traffic like on the way to school today?


    What about using Cortana in education?

    So that got me thinking - how could Cortana in education help improve things for students and teachers? After I discovered that I could ask Cortana “When is my next dentist appointment”, and it would tell me the time and date, it got me thinking about how useful it would be to ask questions like:

    When/what/where is my next lesson?

    When is my next science lesson?

    When is my next essay due?

    And every single one of those questions it worked for! As long as I had things noted in my calendar, which could be either my personal or work calendar, it would find it and let me know, whether it's tomorrow or in six months’ time! What a help for a time-poor or disorganised student. And a teacher could set a reminder like “Remind me to talk about the Ice Age next time I meet Year 7 Geography

    Using Cortana to make it easier to use apps

    wp_ss_20140908_0003But what I’ve discovered more recently is the way that I can use Cortana with apps - like asking Cortana to make a Skype call (“Call Sarah on Skype”), or joining a conference call (“Lync join next meeting”).
    Cortana isn’t just for Microsoft-written applications, as developers can use the Cortana APIs to allow users to interact with their app through Cortana. Some of the examples from third-party developers that I’ve found on my phone are:

    • - Send a tweet through different Twitter clients. I’ve tried it with Twitter’s native app as well as Rowi
    • - Read my LinkedIn groups and inbox
    • - Listen to radio, and even the local Air Traffic Control through LiveATC
    • - Search Wikipedia, and get the first part of a Wikipedia article read to you!

    What about using Cortana with a Learning Management System?
    Or a Student Management System? Or your Lecture Capture System?…

    So if it can do all of those things, I think there are some very cool scenarios that Cortana could enable to make life easier for students and teachers. Here’s some examples that I think would be really cool to build. How about being able to say things like:

    • Download my assignment notes from the LMS
    • Ask for an extension for my essay deadline
    • Send a homework text to the students who aren’t in class today
    • Send a text to the parents of students absent today
    • What lessons do I have today
    • Tell me how long my child used Mathletics this week
    • Show me the students who haven’t used Mathletics this week
    • Record this lecture
    • Send a reminder to all students who haven’t yet handed in their homework assignment

    To do some of the tasks above, there will need to be some work done by software developers, to connect Cortana to their apps. And if that’s done, then there’s some great ways that the apps will be able to simplify life for teachers, students and parents. And it can all be started from pressing the same Search button on their phone.

    What next?

    Developers - there’s some great resources on how to use Cortana with your apps. Start with the Channel 9 video  What developers need to know about the Cortana APIs, and then have a read of the article “Responding to speech interactions” which guides you through the process of setting up your app to accept recognised commands from Cortana.

    Teachers and Students - what are the scenarios that you’d like developers to add to their apps? Let me know via the comments box, and I’ll share them as I meet with developers. There are probably some cool things Cortana can already do, but I bet you can find a dozen other things that you’d like to see done to make your life easier as a student, teacher or parent. What are your thoughts?

  • Education

    Are you attending the Education Strategy Briefing at the Australia Partner Conference next week?


    Next week we’re hosting the Microsoft Australia Partner Conference in the Gold Coast Convention Centre. It’s a week full of strategic information on key topics across the Microsoft business.

    On Tuesday 2 September, before the main conference opens later, we are hosting an Education Strategy Briefing specifically for our partners that focus on the education sector.


    Our goal is to fully detail our strategy in our sales, marketing and partnering resources in the Australian Education marketplace, and ensure that we have a clear shared strategy with our partners in the year ahead. We believe that this year’s peak education IT buying season will be quite different from the past, with clearly new buying processes and investment priorities across the school, TAFE and university sectors.

    The agenda for the day will cover:

    • Insights into the key Australian education market trends we are seeing
    • A segment-by-segment, and state-by-state overview of our education sales organisation, and our investments in education sales, partner and marketing resources.
    • Our joined-up strategy in education for key products including the Windows ecosystem, Office 365 and Microsoft Azure, and specific investments we are making that will allow you to differentiate your approach to market for education
    • Presentations from education customers who will share their priorities and strategies, and provide advice for partners looking for growth in education
    • Small-group discussions which will allow you to participate in a deep-dive into specific market segments, to explore partnering opportunities and provide feedback to Microsoft

    Our aim is to ensure that there is an equal balance of hearing from us, from customers, and being able to feedback to us (rather than making the day a one-way PowerPoint-fest). And we will also ensure that we have a clear focus on strategic input for your business, and listening to your feedback about how we can support you more. In addition to senior members of the education team, we will have leaders from across the business participating in the round table discussions to ensure we hear your views.

    Date: 2 Sept 2014
    Time: 9AM – 3PM
    Venue: Gold Coast

    The Education Strategy Briefing at APC is open to any Microsoft partner attending APC. You can register using the link below, and the PreDay Invitation Code APCPD052014

    Make a dateMake a date: Register for the Education Strategy Briefing on 2 Sept 2014

  • Education

    Integrating Microsoft Office 365 Education with Desire2Learn Learning Environment


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

  • Education

    Higher Education briefing for Microsoft Partners - 19 August 2014


    Microsoft Australia and CAUDIT - Higher Education Partner Briefing – 19th August


    On behalf of the Microsoft Australia Higher Education team and the Council of Australian Directors of IT (CAUDIT), I’d like to invite you to attend a Microsoft Education Partner Briefing specifically for partners focusing on universities, to discuss challenges and opportunities in the university sector (in light of the federal reforms) in alignment with your key solution capabilities.

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

    Australia’s “CIO of the Year”, William Confalonieri of Deakin University, will open the event and share a deep insight into the changing role of IT within universities.

    Representatives from CAUDIT will be on hand to provide views on the changes in the higher education marketplace within Australia, and the IT priorities for CIOs across the market.

    The Microsoft Australian Higher Education team will provide more information on the Microsoft strategy, and share successful co-selling strategies and advice for partners.

    The briefing will give Microsoft partners an opportunity to understand Microsoft’s strategy within the higher education marketplace, and how our products, services and solutions address the current and emerging needs of Australian universities.

    Our aim is to ensure that partners leave with the latest information on the higher education sector so that they can plan appropriate strategies to support their customer engagements, and to identify new market opportunities as the marketplace and technology directions change.

    Date: Afternoon of 19th August 2014

    Venue: The University of Melbourne

    Make a dateRegister for now the Higher Education Partner Briefing on 19 Aug 2014

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