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

  • Education

    Solving the biggest problem with Office 365’s SharePoint in schools

    • 1 Comments

    I’ve come across implementations of SharePoint in schools where it has been rolled out as another vanilla IT service – a bit like a shared network drive, or a plain portal. And the IT team are so overloaded with projects that they haven’t had the time to personalise the look and feel to make it suitable for each class, subject or interest group. Of course, they’re not all like that – as my 10 of the best SharePoint school websites and 10 of the best Australian education websites built on SharePoint lists show.

    So wouldn’t it be good if we could solve the design problem, so that you can roll out a unique and compelling design for your Office 365 website, and give control to every teacher and specialist so that they can customise their design so that the History page is exactly what the History teachers want, and the Art page reflects what the Art Department want? And that design worked on your laptops, tablets and even your students’ phones?

    That’s exactly the problem we solved last week, when nSynergy launched Mosaic with us at the EduTech conference in Brisbane.

    Mosaic is a free, Office 365 SharePoint template built specifically for schools, to help you create and customise collaborative and engaging, interactive online learning spaces which support and accelerate learning outcomes. Mosaic lets you create your classroom in the cloud.

    image

    Built in partnership with Australian company nSynergy, and in consultation with educators from around the country, Mosaic helps schools harness the power of Office 365 Education by providing a modern user experience with intuitive and personalised interactions that inspire discovery.  It creates beautiful learning spaces with simple drag and drop tools for teachers, to connect the classroom to any student, anywhere and on any device, at any time. Mosaic extends the power of Office 365 to accelerate learning outcomes.

    Free to download from the Office Store from the end of June, Mosaic is powered by the LiveTiles design tool, and is available on any device, helping schools use Office 365 more effectively for collaboration and communication. Through Mosaic we’re enabling schools to respond and adapt to changes in the education sector, ensuring that both students and teachers have the best and simplest tools at their disposal to improve their learning experience. It brings the ease of use and flexibility to design your own virtual classroom, and hands the power back to the teacher to focus on teaching and not trying to manage the tools to teach.

    It makes anytime, anywhere learning a reality by allowing learners and educators to work and collaborate both in and away from the classroom.

    To find out more about Mosaic, head to the website where you can view a short video demonstration and register your interest to be contacted upon launch day.

  • Education

    Drawboard PDF is currently free in the Windows 8 store

    • 0 Comments

    There’s a new version of the Australian Windows 8 app for education, Drawboard PDF, which is great for teachers to use for marking feedback onto homework, or for students to make notes directly onto PDF documents. It allows the teacher to draw or write – using pen or stylus – on the student’s homework (saved as a PDF), and then save the resulting marked-up document.

    It’s ideal for replacing the pen and paper, and to avoid printing documents. Either upload or create a new PDF, annotate using the wide choice of tools (pen, highlighter, comment boxes, graphics), then save it back as a compatible PDF.

    clip_image001

    For the next few weeks, it’s free on the Windows Store, so I’d recommend grabbing it now, ready for next school year.

    Learn MoreLearn more, and download, Drawboard PDF

  • Education

    Maths Worksheet Generator - free software for teachers in February

    • 0 Comments

    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.

    Maths Worksheet Generator

    Maths Worksheet Generator header

    Another bit of free software for Maths teachers  - and what better way than giving them something to save time. Maths Worksheet Generator creates anything from one to 1,000 equations on a worksheet from a single sample equation you enter. And it also generates the teacher answer sheet too.

    Do you spend a lot of time searching for worksheets with practice problems to give your students? Now you can easily create your own in just a few seconds with the Math Worksheet Generator. This is a tool that generates multiple math problems based on a sample, and then creates a worksheet that you can distribute. By analysing the math problem you provide, or one of the built-in samples, the generator determines the structure of the expression and provides similar problems.

    Create quick maths worksheets in Word

    The Math Worksheet Generator works best with Word 2007 and 2010. If you have that, then the tool creates a Word document and the expressions are editable. If you have an older version of Word, it still creates a document, but the expressions are small images that aren't editable. (This is because Word 2007 and higher has more built-in support for inserting Math equations.) If you don't have Word at all, the tool will create HTML versions of the worksheet and answer sheet.

    The tool supports everything from basic arithmetic through algebra.

    Where can I find out how to use it?

    Here’s a demo of the Maths Worksheet Generator in use, which shows how easy it is to use (download the video here):

    Where do I get the free Maths Worksheet Generator from?

    The free Maths Worksheet Generator download available from the ‘Try It’ link on this page

  • Education

    One in six schools block Wikipedia

    • 10 Comments

    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

    More Moodle advice – The Moodle on SharePoint white paper

    • 4 Comments

    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

    5.5m students in Australia can get Office 365 ProPlus free

    • 5 Comments

    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

    Business Intelligence in schools - Dashboards in SharePoint 2013

    • 2 Comments

    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

    Hosting Moodle in the Cloud - why now?

    • 0 Comments

    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

      Updated - Free Windows 8 programming ebook

      • 2 Comments

      imageThose nice people at Microsoft Press released an update in August to their free ebook – it’s a preview version of “Programming Windows 8 Apps with HTML, CSS and JavaScript”. And it seems perfect timing to highlight it (being absolutely transparent, I didn't read it when it came out, but I've started to read it this week, as I'm spending more time talking to people about building Windows 8 apps for education)

      It’s the perfect guide to Windows 8 applications programming, and gives you the whole story for creating Windows 8 apps. As it’s only a second preview version, the whole thing isn’t yet there – so far there's 12 of a planned 17 chapters, along with a download of companion content (code samples etc)

      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 great book to download and to share.

      And, before you go beetling off to start writing code, can I also recommend reading building an education app for Windows 8 is about designing an experience, before writing code beforehand too.

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

      NOTE: There's now the final version of the Windows 8 programming ebook - see here
      Bonus: Here’s a long list of more free technical ebooks from Microsoft Press.
    • Education

      Do you really need a Learning Management System?

      • 3 Comments

      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?

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