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

  • Education

    Free Windows 8 programming ebook

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    Programming Windows 8 Apps with HTML, CSS and JavaScriptThose nice people at Microsoft Press have done it again – another new free ebook for everybody. And this one is perfectly timed – it’s a preview version of “Programming Windows 8 Apps with HTML, CSS and JavaScript”.

    It’s the perfect guide to programming Windows 8 applications, and gives you the whole story for creating Windows 8 Metro apps. As it’s only the preview version, the whole thing isn’t yet there – just the first four chapters:

    • The life story of a Metro Style App
    • Quickstart
    • App Anatomy and Page Navigation
    • Controls, Control Styling, and Basic Data Binding

    And the further 14 chapters will come out over the next few months. But if you’re interested in getting started, or you’ve got students that you know will want to have a go, then this is a good start.

    You can either download it in PDF directly, or go and read a bit more about it on the Microsoft Press blog.

    And if you want to know why it’s worth thinking about Windows 8 app development, Daniel Sharp’s got some interesting thoughts over on The Kernel in “Windows 8 is an Android killer

    Bonus: Here’s a long list of more free technical ebooks from Microsoft Press.

  • Education

    Microsoft and the Cloud – what it means for education

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    There’s recently been a lot of discussion within education about different models of ICT services. Individual universities have tended to use a mix of services provided on-premise and cloud-based services . And newer models of teaching and learning have accelerated the trend towards cloud-based services – and at the very least, services which absolutely rely on a 100% reliable Internet connection. And this hybrid model, relying on both on-premise and cloud-based ICT infrastructure, looks like it is going to become more common across education.

    But this doesn’t just affect education – the integration of on-premise and cloud-based services is a hot topic for all IT Directors across business and the public sector, from small local businesses to global enterprises, and for all levels of government agencies and departments.

    How do all of the dots join up in this new IT services picture? Well, thinking about it has prompted me to write a summary of what’s going on with cloud-based services at Microsoft, to fill in some of the picture from an education viewpoint.

    Microsoft Online Services and Education

    imageWe’ve made a public big shift in our emphasis towards cloud-based services; but behind the scenes there have been very big changes going on for years to get ready for the day that cloud takes off right across the world.

    I’m going to use ‘Cloud’ to represent all of the Internet services that users and institutions might be using. It might be a mix of desktop and web-based software, or an entirely web-based service. Either way, it’s something that involves a web-service as part of the IT delivery.

    image

    So here’s my summary of the cloud-based services that Microsoft do that may be directly relevant to education, and the essential differences.

    The first two services, Live@edu and Office 365 for education are education-specific, and not available outside of education. The other services are designed for a wide range of business and public sector customers, so you’ll see some overlap between the different services. Although that can feel like duplication, it also means that you’re able to select your online services rather like an a la carte menu – choosing the combination of options to match your exact needs.


    imageLive@edu

    Live@edu is a free hosted service, designed specifically for education, which allows you to outsource some of your IT infrastructure to the cloud. The starting point for many is email, where you keep your existing email domain (institution.ac.uk) and point it over to our email servers – and we then run an Exchange 2010 mail service from our data centres for you, with each student getting a 10GB email inbox. As part of the service, each student gets their own Windows Live ID, which also means that they can use the hosted SkyDrive service too – with 7GB of personal file storage hosted on the web for each student.

    How do you buy it?

    As it’s free, you can simply sign up directly at the Live@edu site

    Where to find out more

    Visit the worldwide Live@edu website


    Office 365 for education logoOffice 365 for education

    Office 365 for education, which will be available from the (northern hemisphere) summer is a hosted service, designed specifically for education, which allows you to outsource a large set of your IT infrastructure to the cloud. The starting point for many, like Live@edu, is email and calendars, but the key additional functionality in Office 365 is the whole productivity suite offered by Office 365 online – SharePoint, Lync, Office Web Apps etc. So you could use Office 365 for education for something as complex (and money saving) as replacing your existing telephone system!

    How do you buy it?

    You have to wait until it’s available shortly, and until then I’d suggest you have a chat with your Microsoft account manager.

    Where to find out more

    Read more about pricing, and then jump over to worldwide Office 365 for education website


    imageWindows Azure

    Windows Azure is Microsoft’s cloud computing operating system. This is essentially a set of services that developers, software vendors and systems integrators can use to develop applications and new business models. We host the servers in the cloud, running cloud versions of the same platforms that would normally run in-house – things like web servers or highly-available SQL servers. The developers use exactly the same tools as today to develop their applications (eg Visual Studio) on their own desktop/in-house machines, and then they can choose to deploy locally or onto Windows Azure in the cloud.

    Because our job is to run an agile, efficient, secure and trustworthy central service through our worldwide datacentres, it means that the developers don’t need to worry about building and managing virtual machines, patching operating systems, and designing their own redundancy system. That’s the Azure team’s job.

    The Windows Azure Platform also allows you to integrate your on-premise and cloud infrastructure.

    How do you buy it?

    It is based on a pay-as-you-go subscription, calculated on the volume of data/workload that’s used. In a sense it is very similar to a normal utility, like gas and electricity – you use as much as you want, and pay for what you use. And just like the electricity company, it’s our job to make sure the capacity is there when you want to use it. It also allows you to convert capital expenditure into resource expenditure – because you aren’t buying big fixed capital infrastructure – just simply renting the capacity you need, when you need it.

    Where to find out more

    http://www.microsoft.com/windowsazure/


    image

    Microsoft Dynamics CRM Online

    This is a cloud-based customer relationship management service that can be accessed through Outlook or an Internet browser, and has rich integration with Office applications – Word, Excel and Communicator. It’s a comprehensive service which includes marketing automation, sales force automation, and customer service and support capabilities, as well as integrated workflow and business intelligence. In education, this is most likely to be valuable to independent schools, colleges and universities.

    The beauty of this cloud service is that you can start a deployment in a small way, without having to build your own infrastructure, and then grow it as you need to. The cloud system is built on the same code as the on-premise system, so you can move between deployment options in the future.

    How do you buy it?

    It’s so easy that you can simply sign up for a subscription, using a credit card. But the majority of education customers will choose to work with a Microsoft partner here in Australia to get the system setup and configured for your needs – and there are already a bunch of partners who offer education products (eg student recruitment systems) based on Dynamics CRM.

    Where to find out more

    http://www.microsoft.com/online/dynamics-crm-online.mspx

    And yes, there’s a free trial (available on the link above)


    image

    Microsoft Private Cloud Infrastructure

    This is a set of resources, products, and management tools that allows you to run your own private cloud (or contract another organisation to do it for you), using the best practice techniques that we have developed for our cloud infrastructure. It enables you to dynamically pool, allocate, and manage resources to deliver flexible/agile Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS). Capabilities like self-service portals let your end-users rapidly consume IT services by self-provisioning (and decommissioning) infrastructure on a shared server fabric, virtualised by Windows Server Hyper-V and managed by System Center. Departments are thus able to deploy their applications with a lot more speed and agility. This allows your own IT team to focus their time on solving business problems rather than worrying about keeping the basic infrastructure running. It provides a less complex, more agile and more efficient infrastructure, in-house. And there’s also a hybrid model, where you contract a service hoster to provider a ‘virtual private cloud’, perhaps as a top-up to your in-house infrastructure.

    How do you buy it?

    Well, because it is based on a set of best practice advice, you’ll find that the key components are being built into the products you already have – like Windows Server 2008 and Hyper-V – and the Systems Management Server products. And in addition, we’re releasing free toolkits – like the Dynamic Infrastructure Toolkit for System Center and the Dynamic Data Centre Toolkit for Hosters.

    Where to find out more

    http://www.microsoft.com/en-us/server-cloud/private-cloud/default.aspx


    image

    Office Web Apps

    The Office Web Apps are online companions for Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote. Office Web Apps provide quick viewing of Office documents and basic editing capabilities. There are three methods of accessing Office Web Apps.

    • Individuals (eg your students off campus) can use the Web Apps in Windows Live, and the files are stored online in their webspace on their SkyDrive.
    • For institutional use, they can be hosted on premise on your SharePoint 2010 or they can be hosted with Microsoft Online. In this mode, files are stored within your infrastructure. It is mainly intended as a companion to the full Office suite, but available over the web when you don’t have Office installed, or when it speeds up sharing and collaboration.
    • Office Web Apps is included within the Live@edu and the Office 365 for education services (see above)
    How do you buy it?

    Individuals can access it on Windows Live using their Windows Live ID. For institutional use, every licence for Office 2010 under a volume licence scheme (such as a Select licence) includes an additional licence for Office Web Apps.

    Where to find out more

    http://www.microsoft.com/office/2010/en/office-web-apps/default.aspx


    imageForefront Online Protection for Exchange

    This is a fully hosted service for managing the inbound and outbound flow of e-mail, through e-mail gateways with multiple filters that provide organizations with a defence against e-mail-borne malware, including spam, viruses, phishing scams, and e-mail policy violations. In addition, the service has a Web-based administrative console for writing rules to help enforce your organisation policies governing e-mail usage (eg limiting which domains users can send/receive email from etc)

    How do you buy it?

    You would normally buy it through your existing volume licence agreement, on a per-user or per-device basis.

    Where to find out more

    http://www.microsoft.com/online/exchange-hosted-services/filtering.mspx


    imageWindows InTune

    This is a cloud service for managing Windows PCs over the web. It allows you to use a single web-based console, with tools for updates, malware protection, troubleshooting, remote assistance, security policy configuration and desktop virtualisation. The aim is to simplify PC management and improve the end-user experience. 

    It is ideal for smaller networks, such as managing a primary school network, or a remote network in a university which isn’t fully managed through your existing IT infrastructure.

    How do you buy it?

    You will pay per-device, per-month, and it can be purchased individually, or as part of your existing volume licence agreement.

    Where to find out more

    www.windowsintune.com

  • Education

    Learning Management Systems - Desire2Learn

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    There's plenty of change happening with Learning Management Systems at the moment in Australia. Some universities are faced with migrating from WebCT, and others are working out their future strategy to support a much more dynamic learning environment than their current existing learning management system can support. A fortnight ago I wrote a series of blog posts about all of the integration points between Moodle and Microsoft technology, so now I'm going to turn my focus to alternatives to Moodle.

    Desire2Learn logo

    One of the alternatives to Moodle is Desire2Learn, a cloud-based learning suite with over 5 million users, across 500 institutions, including a growing band of Australian universities and schools. In Australia*, Deakin University have chosen Desire2Learn's Learning Suite to replace their existing Blackboard system.

    When they made the choice for Desire2Learn, part of the reason was the Deakin team felt they needed something that went well beyond simply replacing an existing Learning Management System (LMS), but created a genuine virtual learning environment, that would support their future growth. As Deakin's Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Academic), Professor Philip Clarke said at the time:

      At Deakin we place great emphasis on our flexible learning programs and with over 30% of our students studying from home, work, regional or remote areas, we needed a solution partner who can deliver a smooth and rapid transition, with little or no 'culture shock' for academic staff and students.  

    The Desire2Learn system comprises a series of 6 key platforms:

    • Desire2Learn Learning Environment - which enables you to develop and deliver content, manage collaboration and manage course workflow.This also provides capabilities for data import and export - one of the key benefits from a content point of view is that course materials can be transferred to and from other learning management systems (If you're using a different LMS, that's an important consideration, and one of the first questions you learn to ask any potential supplier - Can I bring my data with me? And if I want move away in the future, can I export my data?).

        • Desire2Learn Learning Repository - allowing you to store, search and share a library of learning resources, including course materials, assessments, quizzes and lesson plans. The search system can also be linked to other learning resources - for example your library system - to bring together all of the resources that you have available for your students and staff.

            • Desire2Learn ePortfolio - allowing students to create their own online portfolio, integrating features of social networking to create a more social learning experience, as well as track progress.

                • Desire2Learn Analytics - from simple every day reports on usage and experiences, and also allowing staff to create their own reports to uncover hidden information such as how students are performing in their courses, and highlighting learning opportunities.

                    • Desire2Learn Mobile - providing access to courses and learning resources through student's own smartphones, as well as managing news and information feeds.

                        • Desire2Learn Capture - a new solution, which allows you to automate the process of capturing lectures and tutorials on video, and make them available to students on their computer, phone or over the web.

                        Underneath the Desire2Learn system, the whole solution runs on the Microsoft SQL Server 2008, as a hosted service. In the middle of last year they announced integration with the Live@edu service, so that students can access their email inbox directly within the Desire2Learn portal. It will also integrate to SharePoint, so that students and staff can use the process and document management capabilities of SharePoint in your own institution, as well as to their Cloud services.

                        Learn MoreLearn more about Desire2Learn

                        * This list of Desire2Learn University customers shows the large number of international users already using the system - some with over 200,000 users

                      • Education

                        Do you really need a Learning Management System?

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                        I was reading a blog post from Jonathan Rees earlier – a Professor of History at Colorado State University – where he discusses briefly the usage of the Learning Management System (LMS) (‘An uncharacteristically subtle post for me’). It was accompanied by a chart showing the use of different components of their Learning Management System (I suspect this could be many LMSs, in many, many other institutions).

                        LMS Usage

                        The point I inferred from his blog post is that, most of the time, the data show that users are using their Learning Management System to do things that are basic features (like document sharing) and these are the things you don’t really need an LMS for, because you could achieve it on almost any web platform.

                        So if your staff are using a Learning Management System as a place to share documents, make announcements, and publish student marks, would you actually be better off just using the standard platform your institution probably has in place already and linked to your existing IT systems and identity system (like SharePoint or Office 365), rather than having a completely separate IT system dedicated to it?

                        Is this pattern created by a procurement mindset of “Let’s list all of the things we could possibly do, and they buy the thing that meets all of those needs”? The risk is that the focus becomes the delivery of the features, and not the use of them.

                        In the example above, if only 1% of your users actually use wikis within their course, does that justify the need for everybody to have it?

                        I believe that in the future we’re going to see people choosing systems that give them the core functionality as a platform to build on, and then adding the parts they need for specific groups of users; not specifying an all-singing, all-dancing system from day one which has absolutely everything you need built from the ground up before any users have started using the system and experimenting. We’re going to see the shift to more agile systems, and more agile developments to support the way that users use their enterprise-wide systems.

                        So, does that mean you don’t need an LMS? And if not, what do you need?

                      • Education

                        Windows 8 in Education: Windows Store apps and deployment

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                        This is part two of a set of articles on Windows 8 deployment in education. To start at the beginning, take a look at yesterday’s “Windows 8 in Education: Deployment Planning Guide

                        The use of Windows 8 on devices in education brings many new benefits, features and technology capabilities. One prominent feature is the Windows Store and the new Windows 8 apps. Educational institutions can purchase or create apps for Windows 8 that use the new user interface of Windows 8, and use these alongside apps and resources that they used on previous versions of Windows.

                        I’ve noticed though that existence of the Windows Store has often raised new questions (especially from schools). The questions include:

                        • Why don’t I just block the Windows Store, and not let users install any apps
                        • What is the best way to deploy Windows Store apps in an educational environment?
                        • Do all the apps for my students and staff need to come from the Windows Store?
                        • Can I use existing deployment technologies and processes to deploy apps?

                        This guide, written specifically for Windows 8 in education, offers advice on app deployment strategies, and gives you considerations to help you selecting the right one(s). It is written for IT managers in education institutions, and also to give them the information to advise leaders and teachers on the agreed strategy.

                        imageSome of the decisions that you’ll need to make, and that this guide will help you with, include:

                        • How much freedom is it appropriate to give on selecting and installing new apps (and should this be different for staff and students)?
                        • Should my strategy be different for institution-owned and individually-owned devices?
                        • If a device is dedicated to a single user, do I need a different strategy than for shared devices?
                        • Who owns apps when they are bought?

                        The two fundamental models of app distribution that are explained in the guide are:

                        • Windows Store: using a Microsoft account, and purchasing apps using a similar model that consumers and others will use
                        • Sideloading: deploying apps directly to devices yourself, without using the Windows Store

                        Sideloading Windows 8 apps

                        The deployment guide for Windows Store apps provides an overview of what ‘sideloading’ is all about:

                         

                        Sideloading is a process for installing Windows Store apps without using the Windows Store. To sideload an app, you must have access to the app installation files (.appx and related files), which you can obtain from the app developer (either internally or from an independent software vendor). You cannot obtain app installation files to be used for sideloading through the Windows Store.

                        For apps you install by sideloading, you are responsible for validating and signing them, as sideloading bypasses the validation  requirements of the Windows Store. Also, you are responsible for deploying any app updates to their users.

                        IT pros often perform sideloading by using an enterprise app store. An enterprise app store provides similar features to the Windows Store but is exclusive to an organization. You can create such a store by using an electronic distribution system, such as Microsoft SystemCenter 2012 Configuration Manager with Service Pack (SP) 1 or Windows Intune. An enterprise app store allows you to manage the app through the entire software life cycle, including deployment, updates, supersedence, and uninstallation.

                         

                        Sideloading allows you to deploy an app to a device, for use by all users on the device with their own individual account, or just to a specific account (for example, you might deploy a timetable app to any user, whereas you’d only make a behaviour monitoring app available to a staff user). And you can get apps for sideloading from different places – we don’t make you buy everything through the Windows Store. It’s pretty much as you do on PCs today – you can buy directly from a software company, or through a catalogue, or in an online store.

                        Sideloaded apps can be deployed to devices at multiple stages (eg when you first install the computer operating system, or later in its lifetime), and using different tools (Windows Intune, SystemCenter, the Microsoft Deployment Toolkit, or you can even use the command line). And apps can also be sideloaded onto student-owned PCs, assuming you have the right licences setup.

                        The model of app deployment could be more complex than today’s model, because there are more kinds of apps, and more deployment options. The value in this guide is to explain the different processes, along with their benefits and limits, to help you to find the model that’s going to work for your users, your institution, and your mix of device ownerships.

                        Learn MoreRead the full guide: “Windows Store Apps: A Deployment Guide for Education”

                      • Education

                        Moving to the Cloud - the Microsoft experience

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                        I have a huge respect from the Microsoft IT team - the people who have to keep our IT systems up and running, in the face of tens of thousands of highly capable internal users (yes, 'highly capable' also means disruptive!) and millions of users externally (including some with evil intent).

                        Podcast imageSo when they make big changes to our IT - as they have been doing recently by moving many of our internal systems to the cloud - they learn lessons I want to hear about, because education customers and partners are doing similar projects - and many of the lessons learnt are as relevant to a school or university as they are to our own business.

                        The TechNet team have just collected some of those stories together into TechNet Radio downloads, including interviews with Tony Scott, the Microsoft CIO. You can either listen online via the TechNet Edge website , or download the file for your MP3 player/phone/car etc

                        Title

                        Online version
                        on
                        TechNet Edge

                        Direct
                        MP3
                        Download

                        What Does the Cloud Mean to the CIO
                        Tony Scott, Microsoft CIO is leading the Microsoft IT organization to invest in the cloud. Listen to this interview to find out how it will bring new possibilities and benefits to the business.

                        Link

                        MP3

                        What Customers are telling Microsoft IT about Cloud Computing
                        Bob Anderson and Mike Olsson share what the cloud means to senior business leaders from around the globe. Listen in as they discuss how Microsoft IT is gaining valuable insight into future cloud solutions, best practices and how they are implementing these new ideas on the Windows Azure platform.

                        Link

                        MP3

                        Microsoft´s Chief Information Security Officer on Cloud Security
                        Hear from Joe Lindstrom and Microsoft’s Chief Information Security Officer, Bret Arsenault as he shares with us his thoughts on Cloud Security. Listen in as they discuss privacy and security implications for the cloud as well as some of the current challenges and solutions for this new computing paradigm.

                        Link

                        MP3

                        Moving Applications to the Cloud
                        Bob Anderson and Mike Olsson discuss how Microsoft IT is migrating their applications to the Windows Azure platform. Listen in as they discuss lessons learned and best practices as well as how organisations can better prepare for their own move to Windows Azure

                        Link

                        MP3

                        Using SQL Azure to Enable Self-Service Business Intelligence
                        Sanjay Soni and Rajesh Padmanabhan discuss how Microsoft IT is delivering Data as a Service to various Microsoft business and IT User Groups. Listen in as they discuss unified, enterprise level, agile data distribution systems that are possible through SQL Azure and how Microsoft IT has created a world where business users have the power to access all of their data in one central location

                        Link

                        MP3

                        Integrating Day-to-Day Operations with the Cloud
                        Celia Morant-Kraus and Gayle Mateer from Microsoft’s HR IT Department discuss the Windows Azure platform and how it helps capacity management and service level agreements, as well as how it provides a flawless computing experience for employees.

                        Link

                        MP3

                        Developing Applications on Windows Azure
                        Abe Ray and Bart Robertson discuss how Microsoft IT is developing applications on the Windows Azure platform. Listen in as they go in depth into the three main business benefits for developing applications in the Cloud as well as how Windows Azure is optimising the online social and digital media experience at Microsoft.

                        Link

                        MP3

                        Application Migration Strategies for the Cloud
                        Scott Richardson and Tom Woods discuss how Microsoft IT implemented Windows Azure migration strategies for over 1500 internal lines of business applications. Listen in as they discuss the how-to’s and lessons learned for this project.

                        Link

                        MP3

                        In Australian Education, the shift to the cloud has been rapid too - either to shared private data centres here within Australia, or to regional data centres (such as our Cloud services data centre in Singapore). Although many of the initial moves have been about cost-saving, there's now a growing trend of moving to the Cloud to improve service delivery. And that's the trend that will probably accelerate things more - because if the alternative you face is a high capital investment and long project implementation times, or a quick project in the cloud, then you can afford to be much more user-demand led. There are two ways that you're likely to end up using the cloud:

                        • The most visible for you is when you move one of your own applications to the cloud - like your student portal or a collaboration service that you run in your own network today
                        • The less visible way is when one of your service providers (for example, the people that provide your student management system or your learning management system) moves the application to the cloud. This might be completely invisible to you, or you may simply see it as switching off your own servers (saving money, power etc). A good case study is the Janison system that allowed NSW to avoid putting in 60 servers, and instead delivered an exam system from the cloud, saving tens of thousands of dollars.

                        Learn MoreLearn More about Windows Azure

                      • Education

                        Free tools to create online courses

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                        image

                        Do you want to start creating your own learning packages for use in a Learning Management System? And want to find free tools to create online courses? I might be able to help…

                        The Microsoft Learning team create and publish a wide range of online courses for IT professionals and developers using the free Learning Content Development System (LCDS). They have developed over 2,000 hours of e-learning courses themselves, and have built a series of 20 templates to allow you to quickly create e-learning content in a number of categories. And then allows content to be played through a browser (Internet Explorer, Firefox) using Silverlight for interactivity, including animations, demonstrations, videos and simulations. And you can also embed Flash content into your courses.

                        The finished courses are packaged as SCORM objects, which mean that they can be played through a range of Learning Management Systems, and can also include SCORM assessments - including multiple choice, true/false and essay questions. Your finished courses can be uploaded and shared on your Learning Management System, or can simply be shared on a website or download link.

                        There are no shortage of SCORM creation tools  (see this list on the Moodle site for example) but many of them are either basic convertors that simply take a PowerPoint presentation and put it into a SCORM package, or can be costly. If you want a simple tool set to create more interactive content, then LCDS is worth considering.

                        Learn MoreLearn more about the Learning Content Development System

                      • Education

                        Education pricing for Kinect for Windows

                        • 1 Comments

                        I am one of the latest of the 18 million people who’ve bought a Kinect sensor for my Xbox (one of the Microsoft CES announcements - the 18m number, not the fact that I’m a user) 

                        imageIt seems I’m a laggard when it comes to gaming and home entertainment technology, having only just setup my Xbox and bought a Kinect this Christmas. The two things I’ve discovered and never used before, is the voice control feature, and the ABC iView app on my Xbox, which means that we can now watch catch-up TV on our TV, rather than having to watch it on a laptop computer. So over the holiday the whole family have become re-addicted to Spooks. I feel silly not having set this up before, because I’d thought of it as a gaming box, rather than a home entertainment system.

                        Anyway, just as I’m catching up with Kinect on the Xbox, the world has shifted again with the CES announcement of Kinect for Windows. From the outside, the sensor looks the same, and works in the same way, giving you control over your computer via your hand and body movements, but unlike the Xbox version, it’s now optimised for close-up use - from 50cm away rather than having to stand a couple of metres away. That means that it will allow people to use Kinect while they are sitting in front of a desktop setup.

                        What we’ve announced is that this new Kinect sensor hardware and software will be available from the 1st February, and it’s been priced at AU$299. The even better news is that later this year there will also be special education pricing for Kinect for Windows, bringing the price down (I don't have an Australian price yet, but in the US it's planned to come down to $149). You can read all the details on the Kinect for Windows blog here.

                        Because Kinect is able to do full body tracking, and now has it’s new ‘near’ mode, I can imagine a heap of scenarios that it will be useful for in education:

                        • Replacing interactive whiteboards with a Kinect, to reduce the hardware cost and allow more to spent on teaching resources
                        • Giving special needs students the ability to interact in new ways with IT, without needing to use the keyboard or a mouse
                        • Creating simulations - eg science  experiments - where students are able to control virtual equipment and manipulate them

                        imageWith the education pricing for Kinect around the corner, I guess the KinectEDucation community is going to get even busier in the near future, with teachers and developers collaborating on new teaching and learning ideas for Kinect.

                      • Education

                        Using Kinect for Windows with students

                        • 0 Comments

                        Kinect for WindowsRob Miles, from the University of Hull in the UK, has created a free pack of curriculum material for teachers or others who want to use the Kinect for Windows device within education. It might be for creating an educational application, or because you want to help your students to develop their own applications using the body tracking capabilities of Kinect. It is based on the XNA framework, which is widely used by students to develop their own gaming applications.

                        Here’s the description from the site:

                         

                        The Kinect sensor adds a new dimension to Xbox 360 gameplay through its ability to read its environment and track the body movement of players. It is also a creative device that can be a great teaching tool.

                        Rob Miles from University of Hull (UK) has created a set of curriculum materials that show how you can harness this creativity and get students enjoying themselves while writing programs that make use of the unique abilities of this sensor and Kinect for Windows software.

                        This material contains information on the Microsoft Kinect sensor bar and the Microsoft Kinect SDK. It assumes a working knowledge of the C# programming language, the XNA framework and program development using Visual Studio

                         

                        The package includes introductory information on the Kinect sensor and SDK (Software Development Kit), and gives advice on writing Kinect programs – including using the video and depth camera, people tracking, using voice response and creating augmented reality scenarios.

                         

                        Learn MoreDownload 'Using Kinect for Windows with XNA' from Rob Miles

                      • Education

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

                        • 0 Comments

                        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")

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