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

  • Education

    How to succeed in Education Technology

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    I've just finished reading an excellent article, "How to Succeed in Education Technology" written by the cofounders of Wikispaces, to provide advice and support for people running companies producing education technology products and services - or people thinking of starting one. It's clear, concise (even though it's lengthy!) and it contains some absolute gems of information.

    If you're a supplier to education this is a great read, full of good advice and valuable lessons. And if you're in a school, TAFE or University, it's a great read too, for the overview it provides of the context of change in education today, and for the ideas it might generate on how to enthuse colleagues, and leaders, to help change happen.

    And it hooks you with its first line:

     

    Most of today's education technology startups are doomed to fail.

     

    It then goes on to describe some of the challenges that young technology companies face in the education market, which are fundamentally different to those faced by consumer technology companies.

    Here in Australia, we've got some great examples of companies that have started small and become successful through providing services that schools want – like ClickView, who through sheer hard work now have been chosen by 7 out of 10 of Australian High Schools to provide their video services; and 3P Learning, who's Mathletics service has been chosen by huge numbers of schools in Australia, the US and the UK. Along their journeys they will have learnt some of the lessons that are shared in the article.

    The article defines what success looks like (for Wikispaces) and compares that to how success might be judged in a consumer-facing startup,

    There are a couple of points that really hit home for me. Like this not about the need to serve institutions, but in a different way to the past:

     

    Schools have lost their appetite for cold calls, long sales cycles, big-ticket software contracts, torturous implementations, and projects loaded with long-term risks. Without grass-roots adoption, salespeople can't show the one thing that institutions crave most: demonstrated success under their own roof.

    While customer quotes and whitepapers and research analysts can claim that a product will be successful, teachers who already use the product in their classrooms are the real proof. Bottom-up has replaced top-down. We're seeing more and more leaders of institutions large and small influenced by stories of products that work today for their own students and teachers.

     

    When talking about the need for companies to have "a burning passion to serve the educational market, and the determination to commit a decade or more of your life", they illustrate the reason by listing some of the difficult environmental barriers that face people providing services to the education market. They include:

     
    • Long and uncertain budget cycles
    • Purchasing bureaucracy
    • Limited outside funding sources
    • Micro and macro political pressures
    • Lack of and low upside for technology champions
    • Lack of resources for large-scale technology implementations
    • Resistance to change, especially when institutions have been burned before
    • An unprecedented level of competition for attention in the ed-tech space
     

     

    Learn MoreRead the full article "How to build a successful startup" on EdSurge

    There's also a couple of EdSurge newsletters that you can sign up for, including one specifically for teachers

  • Education

    Photo Story 3 - free software for teachers in February

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    Find all 'Free Downloads' on this blog

    Some Free February Appy-ness with a new piece of free software for teachers from Microsoft every day in February. Many of these items are unknown heroes, but they all share two things in common: 1) They are useful for teachers or students and 2) they are free.

    Microsoft Photo Story 3

    Photo Story 3If you remember Photo Story from the Windows XP days, well you’ll be glad to know it's back and working with Windows 7 (as well as Windows XP). If you don’t know, then you’re in a for a surprise when you give this a try!
    imageYou can quickly create slideshows using your digital photos. With a single click, you can touch-up, crop, or rotate pictures. Add animations and special effects, soundtracks, and your own voice narration to your photo stories. Then, personalise them with titles and captions. The whole thing is then wrapped up into a ‘photo story’ - a video with a small file size that makes it easy to send your photo stories in an e-mail. Watch them on your interactive whiteboard, TV, your computer, or your smartphone!

    For an example of the results, watch the video "Remember the Ladies” from the Department of Classics at Furman University.

    It’s difficult to describe how easy it is to use, without stepping it through with you step-by-step, but it is so simple to use that the easiest way to see it is to try it!

    It’s a great way for students to create a piece of work, and makes a fantastic break from the usual PowerPoint presentations that they produce - and introduces a whole new set of skills for students to think about.

    Where can I find out how to use it?

    You may not need much help, as the software is easy to use. However, Pat Pecoy at the Department of Classics at Furman University has created a series of Photo Story 3 tutorials here.

    Where do I get Picture Story 3 from?

    Like every other piece of software in the ‘February Freebies’ list, it’s free. You can download it directly from this Microsoft Downloads link for Photo Story 3. (BTW although it says it’s only for Windows XP, this link contains the updated version that works on Windows 7 too)

  • Education

    Final version - Free Windows 8 programming ebook

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    Cover - Windows 8 Programming bookLess than a week ago, I wrote about the free Windows 8 programming ebook "Programming Windows 8 Apps with HTML, CSS and JavaScript" from Microsoft Press. The link I gave then was to the second version, but five nights have passed, and Microsoft Press have now released the full and finished version.

    So if you're interested in Windows 8 programming, then here's the book to read. It will teach you how to develop apps for the new version of Windows, and get them running on existing desktops, laptops and notebooks, as well as slates including the new Microsoft Surface.

    Given the size of the book (800+ pages) and the fast and fluid nature of the subject, then it will have been a remarkable achievement to get it finished and out within a week of the Windows 8 launch, so I'm sure Kraig Brockschmidt will be having a long lie down in a dark room now.

    Right now the download is a PDF book, but EPUB and MOBI formats are coming, for people who want to get it onto their Kindle, Nook etc

     

    Learn MoreDownload the Microsoft Press free eBook "Programming Windows 8 Apps with HTML, CSS and JavaScript"

    Download the companion content for the eBook

  • Education

    5.5m students in Australia can get Office 365 ProPlus free

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    In 2013 we announced that students can download Office 365 ProPlus free (that’s the suite of Office apps including Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote, Publisher etc) onto their personal devices – Windows PCs, Macs, phones, tablets etc. We called this programme “Student Advantage”, and it applied to every education institution which had licensed Office for their staff. But because each customer had to enable the service for their students, and order the free licences from us, it meant that some students who qualified couldn’t get it, and every school/TAFE/university had a different sign-up page for students. It was more complicated than it could have been, and every time students/staff asked me how they could get Office free, I had to point them back to their IT department to find out how to do it in their school.

    So, it’s good news that we’ve simplified the whole process, and made it really easy for the more than 5m students in Australia that qualify.

    Office 365 for students and staff

    Now, if you are a student or a staff member, you simply go to the sign up page, and sign in with your educational email address (in Australia, that means it’s going to end in .edu.au). You’ll then get access to the Office 365 ProPlus software suite free to download and install on up to five PCs or Macs, 5 tablets and other mobile devices – including iPad, iPhone and Android devices. You will also get 1TB of storage on OneDrive for Business in the cloud.

    This is great news for the 5.5 million students in Australia that qualify (yep, that’s nearly every single one), and especially 30% of students who are using a BYOD device, as well as for the IT Department who now have less to do.*

    You can read the announcement from Fiona Sims, our Office 365 Education Product Manager in Australia, or the official global announcement of Office 365 ProPlus for students and staff, or even better, just go to the site below and sign up and get started: 

    Learn MoreGo to the Office 365 site and sign in with your Education email address


    * This may be a contentious comment to make, but there’s actually work for the IT Department to do if they want to block access to Office for their students or staff, but none if they’re happy for everybody to get it!

  • Education

    How to make a beautiful school SharePoint site

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    Last week ago I shared my list of “10 of the best school websites on Sharepoint”. And the opinion around the office was that the Twynham School Sixth Form website was the most astonishing one (in fact, half a dozen times I was asked by Microsoft colleagues “Are you sure that was done in SharePoint?”).

    My colleague, Ben Nunney, who’s an ex-teacher, paid it a massive compliment when he said on Twitter “I know I'm too old to go back to school, but if I could I'd go here - PURELY based on their amazing website

    Mike Herrity from Twynham School talks on his SharePoint in Education blog about all of the things that they’re doing with ICT in his school, and it makes a useful resource if you’re thinking of doing some SharePoint work yourself.

    Twynham School's VI Form website

    He also wrote a series of short articles about how they have created the Sixth Form site, which were published on his blog. The series actually walks through the whole process, and describes the challenges (including the need to convince the Leadership Team in the school that you can make a good looking site in SharePoint).

    If you are in any way involved in using SharePoint in a school, I think it is a must read series, either for you, or for whoever is providing/developing your SharePoint.

    How to build a SharePoint website for a school

    Learn More icon

    The whole series, and a lot of extra detail, is also available in the Twynham School Learning Gateway 2007-2010 ebook

  • Education

    Why Moodle is better on SharePoint

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    Earlier today I wrote about installing Moodle on SharePoint, in order to improve the capabilities of the system, and improving the experience for your staff and students. Although I summarised some of the benefits of doing this, I thought it was worth expanding the list out (with the help of my friend and SharePoint MVP Alex Pearce in the UK) to describe some of the things your users will notice. So, when you install Moodle on top of SharePoint, here's the kind of capabilities you add:

    File editing directly in Moodle

    Normally, once you have uploaded your file into Moodle the file is stored in a folder on the Moodle server. This is great but it doesn’t allow you to edit the file. By storing the file in a SharePoint document library you can easily find the file, change it and not have to worry about re-uploading the file again.

    Versioning documents in Moodle

    SharePoint allows you to keep versions of the document you are editing. Over the academic years you may change the file several times, add and delete content but one day you’ll want to go back and view something you deleted. SharePoint will allow you to revert back or just browse previous version. (And this also great for team working, where you can track team changes)

    Search Moodle at the same time as your SharePoint

    As the files are now being stored in SharePoint, SharePoint will index the files and their content automatically. Using SharePoint as your central place to search you all your academic resources is a great learning tool for the learner to find what they are looking for. And it also means that your central search index on your SharePoint is enhanced - because you can search for documents within and outside of your learning management system with a single search.

    Office Web Apps in Moodle

    With the Office Web Applications available for Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote in SharePoint 2010 it allows documents to be opened in the browser using the web apps. Teachers or students can open documents in the browser, simply make their quick change and save it back to the site without having to upload and download again.

    Check-In/Check-Out Documents in Moodle

    All these are great but you wouldn’t want your students to see the changes to documents they are using in a course while you making changes. You can check the files out to make changes, make changes over a few minutes, hours, months but until you check the file back in the users will see the original file you want them to see until you are ready to release those changes. (Which means you can start creating next year's course files without changing this year's)

    SharePoint 2010 Workspaces integrated to Moodle

    SharePoint Workspaces allows you to download a document library and make changes from a machine that doesn’t have access to that SharePoint site at the time. In other words you can now make changes to your Moodle course documents offline.

    Workflows in Moodle

    If you have a process for releasing learning resources to students, you can take advantage of the approval process in SharePoint that will allow another colleague to check the files before you release them to all students. This is pretty important where you have sensitive projects that need some oversight or compliance processes.

    Which hopefully convinces you of the value that installing Moodle on SharePoint gives you. And is your next question:

    How do you install Moodle on SharePoint?

    I'd recommend Alex Pearce's work again here - he's written a three part guide to Integrating SharePoint and Moodle, which steps through the specific steps.

    Learn MoreQuickly find all the other Moodle posts on this blog

  • Education

    Creating surveys with the Excel Web App in Office 365 for education

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    The free version of Office 365 for education includes web versions of the main Office software – Word, Excel and PowerPoint – in addition to the email, collaboration and communication capabilities included within the online Exchange, SharePoint and Lync services. Of course, that's great for editing and working on documents, spreadsheets and presentations, and the beauty of the web service is that we can keep updating them for you as we add new features – you don't have to take on the responsibility for updating software across a pile of machines.

    You can see the new features being added in the future to Office 365 through the preview versions. And we've just released the preview for Office 365 Enterprise (which is the version that Office 365 for education is based on).

    Here's an idea that you can use them for, that might save you bucket-loads of time.

    Using the Excel Web App for surveys and questionnaires

    Thanks to  my colleague James Marshall in the UK, there's a good explanation of how you can easily create online surveys and questionnaires, and get the answers into a neat Excel spreadsheet. It's great for a range of scenarios, like:

    • A lecturer wanting to get opinion and feedback about a lecture immediately after it finishes.
    • A group of students doing a data collection exercise with their classmates.
    • A senior leader wanting to get feedback from parents about a school event (i.e. sports day, school theatre production)
    • A teacher running a competition.

    The beauty of forms in the new Excel Web App is that they can be shared in a few clicks, and accessed on a variety of devices, making it easy for users with laptops, tablet devices, smart phones or pretty much any device with a browser to contribute. And you can make them public, so you can use them for parental surveys etc

    Here's a screenshot from a survey that James published as an example (you can try it out on this link: http://aka.ms/vumdyw)

    Excel Web App Survey

     

    Learn MoreYou can read James' post on how to create a survey in the Excel Web App over on his excellent UK Education Cloud Blog (plus loads of other useful Office 365 for education information)

  • Education

    Analytics and Business Intelligence in US education–what are the lessons for Australian universities?

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    Nearly two thirds of universities in the US reported in June 2012 that analytics (or business intelligence*) was a major priority for their institution, or some departments within their institution. And 84% reported that it was more important to them than two years ago. As a single fact, that doesn't seem significant – what's really useful to see from the report is the areas of the universities that are using analytics. Beyond the stalwart of finance and budgeting, the main focus appears to be on using analytics for student-centric processes – enrolments, student progress, instructional management. And relatively lower use of analytics in areas such as human resources, facilities, and staff management.

    One of the key findings of the report was that whilst analytics is widely viewed as important, data use at most institutions is still limited to reporting. They also found that programs were most successful when they involved partnership across teams – IT, functional leaders and organisational leaders. They also recommended that institutions should focus their investments on expertise, process, and policies before acquiring new tools or collecting additional data. Although, I think there is a real danger – observed across many analytics projects – of analysis paralysis, resulting in an ever-expanding project scope, and the resulting delays in project deliverables.

    Are analytics tools too expensive?

    The Executive Summary at the front of the report highlights two key questions:

    • Is data mainly collected to enable reporting, rather than to address strategic organisational issues?
    • Is cost a major barrier to widespread use of analytics?

    In fact, 'affordability' was the largest concern about the growing use of analytics in Higher Education (Fig 5, page 13) As the Executive Summary says on page 3:

     

    One of the major barriers to analytics in higher education is cost. Many institutions view analytics as an expensive endeavour rather than as an investment. Much of the concern around affordability centres on the perceived need for expensive tools or data collection methods. What is needed most, however, is investment in analytics professionals who can contribute to the entire process, from defining the key questions to developing data models to designing and delivering alerts, dashboards, recommendations, and reports.

    I've heard similar views expressed – but in a growing mindset of 'self service BI', where the end user is often going to be doing their own data analysis in the tools they are already familiar with – like Excel – I think the need for additional BI tools for everybody is fading. Given that in most Australian universities, all of the staff are already licensed for the common-place analytics tools like Excel, then cost should hopefully not be a barrier to widespread use, and perhaps the need is more of training to help users interpret standard sets of information, and how to analyse it together with their own local datasets.

    Which areas of universities are using analytics?

    The chart below comes from the 2012 ECAR Study of Analytics in Higher Education (the full infographic is a 13MB PDF file here). The area labelled 'student progress' also includes student retention, which I think is a key scenario for analytics with students.

    Departmental use of Analytics in Higher Education

    Given the report's view that a lot of the use of BI/analytics was for 'reporting' rather than true analytics, perhaps there's not a huge surprise here – but it's a timely reminder that reporting data is exploiting a small part of the potential of a analytics/business intelligence system.

    Learn MoreIf you, or colleagues, are involved in discussions or projects around business intelligence or analytics, then I'd recommend the full report, as it's written in a very approachable way, with many useful insights. You can view the full 2012 ECAR Study of "Analytics in Higher Education" on the EDUCAUSE website

    I think there appears to be a shift in language that's happened here. What's called 'analytics' in this report has traditionally been called 'business intelligence' more widely. I know that the phrase 'learning analytics' has become the norm for student-centric BI, but I wonder if the name change we see in this report has come because of the word 'business' in 'business intelligence' – and the perceived need to ensure that people don't apply the label 'business' to education (echoed by one of the response options under 'concerns' about the use of analytics which was "Another means of running higher education like a business")

  • Education

    Kinect sets the Guinness World Record for fastest selling consumer-electronic device

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    imageI read this morning that Kinect, for the Xbox 360, is now officially the Fastest-Selling Consumer Electronics Device, according to the  Guinness World Records team. 8 million Kinects were sold in the first two months - an average of 130,000 a day. If new consumer technologies are going to habitually be adopted that fast, then we're going to need a different scale on diagrams that show how technology makes its way into homes, like the one below:

    Although Kinect has been developed and released as a gaming technology, it has potential in other areas, and there are already 3 pages of videos on YouTube of Kinect hacks - where people have hooked it up to PCs and are using it to invent completely new ways of interfacing to computers. Perhaps we're going to see ideas where technology supports teaching and learning in a more immersive way - and will make standing in front of an interactive whiteboard look very old fashioned.

    And if you fancy being one of those to make it happen, then you might want to keep an eye out for the Kinect Software Development Kit - which will be free for use within education.

  • Education

    Microsoft Bring Your Own Device in Schools whitepaper

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    BYOD in schools whitepaperThere's been a lot said about Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) in schools, and plenty of commentary on blogs and the Twittersphere. It's a fast-moving subject, almost like 'building airplanes in the sky' – it sometimes feels like BYOD strategies and vision are being created as we go along.

    And the debate has been joined by two pedagogical leaders who have produced a Microsoft BYOD whitepaper for schools. Bruce Dixon (from the Anytime, Anywhere Learning Foundation) and Sean Tierney (from the worldwide Microsoft Partners in Learning programme) have both been passionate advocates for 1:1 learning programmes for many years, and have just published their first 'Bring Your Own Device for schools' whitepaper. The aim is to examine the potential deployment models from teaching, learning and IT management perspectives.

    As their introduction says:

     

    The ongoing debate regarding the Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) model in schools warrants deeper analysis to help educators and institutions understand this provisioning model and its potential benefits and pitfalls for learning. This discussion paper sets out to investigate the myths and understand which questions should be addressed when considering allowing students to bring their own devices, and which option might be best suited to a school or system’s culture. It is intended to stimulate discussion around what constitutes best practice 1-to-1 learning.

     

    As well as plenty of detailed analysis and debate within the white paper, there's also a handy table that helps to describe the different capabilities of the various devices that are available for a BYOD scenario:

    BYOD Capability Taxonomy - from page 5

    It's a great way to classify the differing capabilities across a range of current and future devices.

    I think that one of the best aspects of the white paper is that it talks about the alternative models – presenting five potential models, and discussed the benefits and considerations of each. It also goes into five key questions to ask to help you decide whether a BYOD model is right for your school. And then talks through consideration for planning and implementation procedures.

    The conclusion section starts:

     

    BYOD is a trend that needs to be carefully examined in an education context to ensure that the models we deploy are successful. At the heart of good 1-to-1 learning is equity to ensure that all students have equal access to technology-rich experiences, and simplicity to ensure that it is easy to manage and sustain.

     

    and finishes with an absolutely key point:

     

    Schools need to be vigilant and protective of the foundations of equity of access on which all of our education systems are firmly founded. With this in mind, all stakeholders – teachers, parents, students and principals – need to work through the tough decisions early to drive home the best outcomes for all students at all times.

     

    Learn MoreYou can either download the BYOD for schools whitepaper, or if you're in Australia, drop Richard Ryan an email and he'll pop a couple of printed copies in the post

    For more info on Bring Your Own Device, here's a link to related BYOD articles

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