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

  • Education

    Business Intelligence in schools - Dashboards in SharePoint 2013


    Rod Colledge, is a Microsoft Most Valued Professional (MVP) for SQL Server, and an expert on the technology side of the use of Business Intelligence in education in Australia. For a living, he helps Microsoft customers with their own business intelligence projects, through his business at StrataDB. But in his role as a Microsoft MVP one of the things that he’s been able to do is record a series of short videos of examples of using business intelligence in education, to show some of the simple things that are useful for school leaders and teachers.

    Today’s video is a demonstration of using SharePoint 2013 dashboards, for an education BI project - in this case creating a NAPLAN summary dashboard for a school. Once the report is created, it becomes a dynamic, clickable report that users can use to break down their own views of the data.

    The demo is using a dummy dataset in dashboard designer, using SharePoint 2013 and PerformancePoint

    If you’d like to know more about Rod and his projects, you can find out more on the StrataDB website or email Rod directly

  • Education

    Bring Your Own Device in schools - one school’s experience


    School IT budgets will come under pressure, as the DER programme reaches it’s zenith, and overall spending on education continues to be in flux. Although we’ve now reached the point of every Year 9-12 student having a laptop, there’s still plenty of schools where the teachers and students don’t have access to IT whenever they want.

    And yet students and teachers now have better and cheaper technology at home than ever before. A spot check of the average 15 year-old’s school bag is likely to reveal a heady mix of smartphones, laptops, games consoles, iPods, cameras, and more power packs and cables than your average branch of Harvey Norman.

    It’s therefore not surprising that schools are wondering whether these two trends can be combined. Is it really possible to allow students and staff to be productive in school, using technology they’ve brought in themselves? Can the school save money buying or replacing hardware, by utilising the devices which have often been banned from the network? Will staff and students actually work harder and be more engaged in their learning and teaching, if it’s all happening on a device which they enjoy using? Or is the idea of “Bring Your Own Device” nothing more than a headache for school IT staff, a massive security risk, and a fad based largely on the principal being in love with their new iPad?What devices do students carry around in their backpacks?

    Two of my UK-colleagues Mark Reynolds and Tim Bush have recently been talking about the issues/opportunities created when students have their own IT devices - and how one English school - - accommodates them through their school network. I’ll let them pick up the story from their original blog post:

  is a fantastic school down in Cornwall where head teacher Isobel Bryce has built a strong platform for her staff and students to succeed. Their most famous son is Dan Roberts, whose Recharge the Battery project won a Microsoft Innovative Teacher award in 2009. We spoke with Adam Ledger, the schools Network Manager. Adam explains their approach to Bring Your Own Device (BYOD):

    “Our network has about 300 fixed desktops and 300 netbooks. We also have about 100 teacher laptops, which are vanilla windows and 30 Macs in a suite for Media. So we’ve got about 700 school owned and managed devices, but in total have over 1,700 devices which have joined the network.”

    The 1,000+ “unmanaged” devices are a huge range of laptops, netbooks, smartphones, iPads, iPods, Kindles, Nintendos and anything else which staff or students want to bring in. To be honest, I nearly fell of my chair at this point, because although I’d been to many schools who allowed guest wireless access of some kind, I’d never come across anything on this scale. Adam explains that has always had this approach, ever since students started asking:

    “Trust always is the starting point. Trust the kids and they will reward you with good behaviour. We say yes to everything, as long as they come and ask us. I can only think of 3 or 4 instances of misuse of the system, and one of those was a member of staff. I know we are lucky with the kids and that it might not work in every school, but it works for us. We enable access on peoples on devices which they WANT to use, and so we have happy customers. They know we can block or remove access if we need to, but they value the trust we put on them and they’re glad to be learning in a way that suits them.”

    So from a technical point of view, how do they keep it secure and manage the process?

    “If you want to bring in your personal device, you bring it to see us (the IT team). We register their mac address, version of anti-virus, make and model, and the serial number of the device. We then use the software that comes with our wireless network to enable that mac address in a whitelist. The same software we use for whitelisting can also do the blocking by mac address (blacklisting) – which it does for any “unknown” mac address, or for any device that needs to be banned from the system. We also periodically then clean out the DHCP databases, and run a very short lease on the IP address given to a wireless device. We want people to have freedom of access, but also want to know what’s on our network.”

    And that, really, is that. They give wireless access to devices they know about and they block anything they don’t. It is then down to the teaching staff to manage the way students use those devices when they are in school. That is one for Dan Roberts to explain, which we’ll do in another blog post. Just walking round the school though, that feeling of trust and mutual respect is noticeable. I can only assume that the same respect students have for their teachers, they have for the freedom they are allowed when it comes to technology. They’re enjoying their learning, and feel able to use the technology that suits them.


    Microsoft is planning to make the management of BYOD networks much easier, with the launch of System Centre 2012. Not only will System Centre offer the best possible management of your existing Windows network, but it will also offer support for management of iOS and Android devices too. There is a public beta available already, which you can read about and download here.

    Learn More

    The UK team have created a Consumerisation of IT in Education whitepaper, which you can download from Slideshare
  • Education

    Update 3: Microsoft Surface RT Education offer in Australia


    One of the most frequent questions that we’ve been asked about the Microsoft Surface RT offer for education customers in Australia (the offer is for education institutions to be able to order the Microsoft Surface RT from AU$219) is “can I get the Surface RT Education offer in stores, rather than ordering online from Microsoft?”

    Well, up until now the answer has been ‘no’, but we’ve realised that we could be a little be more flexible…

    So now the answer is ‘Yes’!

    Here’s how it works:

    • Education institutions are able to go to their local Harvey Norman or JB Hi-Fi and place an order, referencing the Limited Time Education Offer
    • The institution and retailer agree on method of payment and delivery details
    • Retailer forwards the order to Microsoft for validation that they are a valid education institution that meets the criteria
    • Once the order’s been validated, the retailer can supply the devices

    This retail option means that you can get a faster and more efficient purchase route, and supply from a local business.

    Just in case you’ve missed it before, here’s a quick summary of the Surface RT Education offer in Australia: Education institutions qualify for the offer to buy Microsoft Surface RT, starting at AU$219, until the end of September 2013.

    Learn MoreHere’s where you can get all the details on the Surface RT education offer in Australia, and here’s my previous updates – Update 1 and Update 2.

  • Education

    New lower prices for Office 365 for education


    Yesterday Kirk Koenigsbauer, Corporate Vice President of the Microsoft Office Division product management group, made an announcement about some changes we’ve made to the pricing for Office 365 for enterprises, and Office 365 for education.


    As we rapidly add customers, the cost to run Office 365 becomes more efficient.  This is the beauty of the cloud where we can deliver economies of scale through our worldwide data centres and economies of skill with our engineers, administrators, and support teams operating the service.  

    With these efficiencies, we're able pass on savings to make it even more affordable for customers of all sizes to move to Office 365.

    In line with our longstanding commitment to education, we will make our "A2" service plan free to not only students, but also to faculty and staff.  A2 includes the core capabilities of Exchange, SharePoint, and Lync and the Office Web Applications.  Exchange Online and Lync Online are available today for academic institutions, and we'll launch the full Office 365 for education service starting this summer.   You can get more information on our Office 365 for education offering here.


    When Kirk said “this summer” he was thinking about the Northern Hemisphere.
    So you’ll need to translate that to “this winter” for Australia.

    The information on the new pricing for the various Office 365 for education options is available on the Office 365 for education webpage. Here’s the key table from that page:


    The prices listed are the US prices currently
    I’ll provide an updated link as soon as Australian prices are available.

    Find out more

    You can sign up via email to get updates and to find out more information about Office 365 for education over at the product website.

    Oh, and if you want to know more about what Office 365 could do for you, there's always the free Microsoft Press digital book on Office 365 - grab it here

  • Education

    A pile of Microsoft technical e-books now free for Kindle and iPad


    Book cover - Programming Windows Phone 7One of the most-read blog posts from the last six months was “Something for the weekend - free ebooks from Microsoft Press”, listing 9 free e-books available in PDF format. The bonus news is that the Microsoft Press team have now made five of them available free in two additional formats, DRM-free EPUB and MOBI.

    Which means you can now read them more easily on a wide range of ereaders, notably Kindles and iPads - as well as the Nook, Sony Reader and Kobo eReader. As the MS Press team point out on their blog:

      Of course these files can also be read with ereading apps for the various devices on netbooks, laptops, and desktop PCs. The key difference between these formats and the previously-offered PDF and XPS files is that the text is “reflowable,” meaning that it recomposes depending on the width of the screen (or as you resize a Window).  

    Hint: Choose MOBI format for Kindles, and ePUB for most others

    Here are the links to the free ebooks for Kindle and other readers

    • Charles Petzold’s Programming Windows Phone 7 is available here as EPUB and here as MOBI.
    • To get Moving to Microsoft Visual Studio 2010 by Patrice Pelland, Pascal Paré, and Ken Haines download here as EPUB and here as MOBI.
    • Introducing Microsoft SQL Server 2008 R2 by Ross Mistry and Stacia Misner is here as EPUB and here as MOBI.
    • Introducing Windows Server 2008 R2 by Charlie Russel and Craig Zacker with the Windows Server Team at Microsoft is here as EPUB and here as MOBI.
    • And finally, Katherine Murray’s Own Your Future, Update Your Skills with Resources and Career Ideas from Microsoft is here as EPUB and here as MOBI.

    Go get em…

  • Education

    More Moodle advice – The Moodle on SharePoint white paper


    Following on from the Office Add-In for Moodle earlier in the week, there’s some further advice and support from the Education Labs team for Moodle that may be useful to you - Moodle on SharePoint. If you’re either using Moodle, or considering it, then you may want to consider how you set it up. Because Moodle is an open source product, it’s often assumed that it should be installed on an open source server – like a Linux box. But the challenge with doing that for many schools is that it doesn’t therefore easily integrate with their existing ICT systems – for example, managing users and files on your existing school file servers.

    However, there’s a more positive way to deploy Moodle, which is to install it on your existing infrastructure, rather than having to add additional complications. The most powerful bit of your infrastructure to add it to is your SharePoint – because Moodle on SharePoint fills in some of the gaps of a conventional Moodle system. First, it helps prevent data loss. For example, if a teacher deletes a file by mistake and wants to get it back, you’ll easily be able to go into SharePoint and restore it from the recycling bin – rather than it being lost forever. Secondly, you can take advantage of versioning in SharePoint. If a teacher or student overwrites a file by mistake, it can be restored to a previous version from SharePoint. Finally you can use SharePoint’s search capabilities to search across all of your content, whether it is in your SharePoint file storage, or in your Moodle system (currently there is no equivalent file search capability in Moodle). Perhaps most importantly, teachers can get these benefits while continuing to use the Moodle user interface they are accustomed to, meaning no new training.

    How do you install Moodle on SharePoint?

    So if it makes so much sense to run your Moodle on SharePoint, how do you do it? Well, we’ve published a white paper that explains how to set up SharePoint as the file system for Moodle. It doesn’t need any special code – if you have SharePoint and Moodle, it is a matter of configuration.

    You can download the full white paper here (click on the Read It link) which can help you plan your strategy.

    image  Quickly find all the other Moodle posts on this blog

  • Education

    Microsoft Australia Partner Conference 2012 dates and venue


    APC 2012 DatesWe’ve just released the dates for the Microsoft Australia Partner Conference 2012, which is going to be on 4th to 6th September, and this year we’re going to Brisbane. We haven’t yet published the agenda, or the website for APC bookings, so keep an eye out here for that in the future. But for the moment, put the dates in your diary.

    With such a big year of product announcements and industry changes, then there’s no doubt that there will be lots of key news at the conference, and plenty of opportunities to explore new product and service opportunities.

    Why should Education partners send their sales team to APC?

    For education partners, there will be lots of significant reasons to attend that will help you to be more effective in your sales and marketing over the next year. For example, in 2011:

    • Every one of our key Education Account Managers attended the conference, and dozens of partners arranged 1:1 briefings with the team, helping them to understand key customers and the ways that we can work together in sales opportunities.
    • The two Education sessions on the second day of the conference were rated as amongst the top five sessions out of the 100+ delivered at the conference, and contained a really deep dive into the education market, and our strategies for the year ahead
    • We announced the Education Partner of the Year, and connected with many of the other finalists to help them to spread the message about their innovative solutions

    If you have any doubts about convincing colleagues of the value of your business and extended team attending the APC 2012, then maybe have a read of the detail from the education breakout sessions – and the information that we covered. I wrote it all up in a series of nine APC blog posts here:

    Last year we got some really good feedback from Education partners to the way that we had managed to increase the value of the conference for Education Partners, and this year we know we’ve got a lot to live up to, based on your feedback. So you can be sure that if you’re investing in the time to attend, we’re going to make sure that we invest in making it as valuable as possible.

  • Education

    One in six schools block Wikipedia


    This morning's Sydney Morning Herald ran an education story "Teaching the Facebook Generation". The overall piece looks at how social media impacts on the relationship between students and teachers, and is worth a read to understand some of the issues faced in today's school environment, where Web 2.0 has both upsides and downsides.

    What caught me eye was some numbers on the proportion of Australian schools which block various websites:

    • 86% of schools block Facebook
    • 57% of schools block YouTube
    • 14% of schools block Wikipedia

    These stats are from the 2009 report "Web 2.0 site blocking in schools" from the Strategic ICT Advisory Service, which is funded by the Australian Government’s Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations.

    I understand the block on facebook in schools (although it's a little futile, because most students who want to can get to it any time that they want from their phone), and I kind of understand the YouTube block (although, some of best educational learning resources, like the 2,000+ videos Khan Academy for maths, get swept up into the all-encompassing ban, depriving students in the classroom of the chance to learn alongside the students who have taken 40 million free lessons on Khan Academy).

    What surprised me was that 1 in 6 schools block Wikipedia. Okay, not everything in it is 100% accurate, but researchers have demonstrated it is as accurate as conventional encyclopaedia's (and Wikipedia itself has an excellent self-reflective article on it's own accuracy). My daughter came home from school with a project on Antartica exploration, with specific instructions from her teacher that she must not use Wikipedia for her research.

    What worries me is that we're already falling behind with testing students for the skills needed for the 21st Century workplace - but are the technology restrictions meaning that we are also failing to teach the skills they need? For example, if so much of modern business involves integrating the web (eg a marketing agency with no skills in social networking will soon be an ex-marketing agency), how do we teach the skills the students will need as they move into the workplace? As businesses create their own internal social networks, wikis and information marketplaces, what's the correct way for a school to keep up with the skills and technology needed, whilst fulfilling their duty of care to their students.

    Most IT managers I've met in schools focus on the systems and processes (for example, they think about SharePoint as a way of controlling information flow and processes), whereas exactly the same systems could be turned upside down - put the user in control, and enable social networking and wikis within the safe environment of a school community. Is that what's happening in most schools? Or is it easy to ban something, but tricky to enable an alternative?

  • Education

    Hosting Moodle in the Cloud - why now?


    Moodle logoIt’s been a bit of a ‘big news week’ in the Moodle community this week. On Monday, it was announced that Blackboard had bought two of the world’s top 5 Moodle partners – MoodleRooms and NetSpot. NetSpot is Australia’s largest Moodle partner, and has been the partner of choice for many of the Australian universities who have chosen to stop using Blackboard and instead switch to using Moodle. So the acquisition news was a bit of a surprise to many. Hence why hosting Moodle in the Cloud is a interesting topic right now.

    I’ve written about Moodle quite a few times on this blog (you can see all the Moodle-related blog posts here), but a colleague was asked by a customer this week about other hosting options for Moodle – and asked me for a summary of the Microsoft integration with Moodle. After I’d written it for him, I thought it might actually be something everybody might be interested in. So here’s my short summary of options for integrating a Moodle LMS to the cloud with Microsoft, and existing integration between Moodle and Microsoft technologies:

    • Integrate Moodle to Microsoft’s cloud email services
    • Integrate Moodle with SharePoint
    • Save files directly to Moodle from Office
    • Host Moodle on Windows Server
    • Host Moodle on Microsoft’s Cloud servers, in Windows Azure

    And here’s the ‘How To’ info…

      Integrate Moodle to Microsoft’s cloud email services

      This can be done with Live@edu on Moodle 1.9 and Moodle 2.x 
      In the last few months, about a third of new Moodle installs have been 2.x, whereas over half of the installed base is Moodle 1.9

      There's more info here on this option

      Integrate Moodle with SharePoint

      This can be done with Moodle 1.9 currently, although I know some work is being done in the Moodle & SharePoint community to release the code for this on Moodle 2.x

      There’s more detail why in the article, ‘Why Moodle is better on SharePoint’, but the key reasons are:

      • Users can edit files directly within Moodle – rather than having to download, edit and re-upload
      • Document versions are possible – so you can work on drafts and ‘release’ courses and materials
      • You can search your Moodle and SharePoint datastores at the same time
      • Users can use Office Web Apps to edit, view and save files
      • Documents can be checked in and out by users
      • Using SharePoint Workspaces gives you offline access
      • SharePoint adds workflows to Moodle

      There's more info here on this

      Save files directly to Moodle from Microsoft Office

      If, like the majority of users, you are using Moodle 1.9 or before, you can use the Office Add-in for Moodle to allow your students and staff to open and save files directly into your Moodle system – rather than having to save to their local hard disk and then upload afterwards. You can find out more about the Office Add-in for Moodle here

      Host Moodle on Windows Server

      This can be done with both Moodle 1.9 and Moodle 2.x – and there’s a simple download pack that’s been created as part of the Microsoft Web App Gallery project. There's more info here on this

      Host Moodle on Microsoft’s Cloud servers, in Windows Azure

      The reason to do this is to allow you to setup and run a Moodle LMS without having to run your own servers (or commit any capital budget). It also means that you can scale up your project as required, rather than having to over-specify a system when you don’t know how much take-up to expect. It can be done for Moodle 1.9 and 2.x

      There’s more info on hosting Moodle in the cloud on Windows Azure here

      Learn MoreFind all Moodle posts on this blog

    • Education

      The Mathletics website now on every Windows 8 device


      You may notice that some websites on Windows 8 ask you to open them in the desktop version of Internet Explorer, rather than the modern UI version, because they are written in Flash - even though Internet Explorer 10 on Windows 8 has an integrated Flash Player, avoiding the need to download and install an add-in. The reason is that if you're using a touch tablet, then some Flash websites are difficult to navigate because they need you to do things like a mouse double-click (tricky when you've only got a finger, not a mouse!).

      So we maintain a list of websites that work on well with touch tablets, and  these are the only ones that you can open with the Windows 8 modern UI version of IE10, otherwise you have to open them with the desktop version.

      You may remember a few months ago that I wrote about "How to get a Flash website working smoothly on Windows 8 and Windows RT", describing the background to designing a web experience that doesn't require plug-ins for browsers. This is an important step to improve browser performance, accessibility support, increase battery life on mobile devices like laptops and tablets, and to increase security and reliability.

      Mathletics logoWe've been working with various publishers to ensure their websites work well with touch devices. Yesterday, we added Mathletics to the list, so if you go to on any Windows 8 device, it will now let you use Mathletics in full on any Windows 8 device (Windows RT or Windows 8, with either ARM or Intel processors). This is much better than having Mathletics content available through an app, because the website gives you access to the full Mathletics system and library of resources, whereas the mobile apps contain just a smaller subset.

      This is good news for Australian schools, where Mathletics is widely used, but a quick look at the Mathletics leaderboard shows there's a long list of other countries that will benefit too.

      Learn MoreVisit the Mathletics website

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