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

  • Education

    Microsoft Australia Partner Conference 2012 dates and venue

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    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

    Drawboard PDF is currently free in the Windows 8 store

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    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

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

    • 1 Comments

    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

    Maths Worksheet Generator - free software for teachers in February

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    Find all 'Free Downloads' on this blog

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

    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

    Moodle integration with Office 365–how to get it

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    Last month, when I wrote that new Moodle integrations with Microsoft technology were on the way, I didn’t have an exact date, but forecast ‘late January’. And how time flies – because they’ve just arrived!

    Microsoft Open Technologies logoOvernight, the work from our Microsoft Open Technologies team and the Remote Learner team (a Moodle partner), was released as open source Moodle plugins - enabling close integration between Moodle and Office 365. This is key news for education institutions, because there’s a huge overlap between the 50,000+ Moodle installations and the millions of Office 365 Education users.

    Now schools, TAFEs and universities that are using Moodle and Office 365 Education can now simplify the lives of staff and students:

    • Teaching staff and students can now use their Office 365 account to login to Moodle
      No longer will students need two separate identities – one to login to their LMS, and a separate one to login to their email and collaboration space.
      By connecting the two systems, it means that teachers and students can store their files on their OneDrive rather than having to have a separate file storage system in Moodle. It also means that where you use Office 365’s SharePoint for document management, you can use it’s document workflow and history features.
    • Moodle calendar entries can now automatically appear in the Office 365 calendars of students and staff
      As the Office 365 calendar (in Exchange) is the one that is normally synced to the phone or PC, it means that a teacher adding an assignment deadline or lecture into Moodle means it will show up on the students’ calendar on their phone/computer!
    • OneNote integration into Moodle means that students can now complete an assignment in OneNote and submit it into Moodle, whether they are online or offline.
      And staff can provide feedback to the student via OneNote too (eg handwritten notes on an essay, or video/voice recordings of feedback).
    • Integration between Office Mix and Moodle allows teachers to embed a Mix directly into a Moodle course
      Office Mix allows you to create a digital learning resource directly within PowerPoint, and then make the recording available to students on the web. By using a single login between Moodle and Office 365, you can share Mixes which can only be viewed by students within your institution, as well as public Mixes.
    • Moodle course documents can now be stored in OneDrive by staff and students
    • Moodle can now appear in your Office 365 app launcher, visible from all the different Office 365 online services
      This means your students don’t need to remember yet another portal URL – it can all be accessed through the Office 365 portal your students are already using for email, file sharing etc

    One of the significant advantages of this approach is that students and staff get the latest capabilities of Office 365 on all of their devices, rather than you having to adapt your Moodle service to deliver to different devices and capabilities.

    • If you assign a piece of work in Moodle through OneNote, it means the students can access that work on all the different OneNote options – on the web, on their PC or Mac, and on the Android, iPhone, iPad and Windows Phone apps. And OneNote handles the synchronisation between devices and the OneDrive cloud services, so your students can choose to work offline or online at any time.
    • If you share resources as an Office document – eg a PowerPoint file – students can open and edit the files on their PC, phone or web-browser. Online and offline.

    What this means is that you could choose to hide the complexity of your Learning Management System and use the Office 365 ability to sync files offline to deliver work directly onto a students’ device! So the first a student sees would be a note appear in their calendar to tell them about an assignment, and then it shows up in their OneDrive folder on their PC, or in their OneNote file on their phone…

    If you are a Moodle user, then you’ll want to take a look at the announcements over on the Microsoft Open Technologies blog, and pass it along to the team responsible for maintaining your Moodle system in your institution.

    I’d recommend the Remote Learner blog if you want to understand the technical approach and for more detailed descriptions of the two systems integrate.

    Learn More

    Learn more on the Microsoft Open Technologies blog

     

     

    Don’t forget I’ve also recently blogged about the new Moodle Mobile app released for Windows 8 and Windows Phone, and the option for you to be running Moodle in the cloud on Microsoft Azure (so that you can more quickly and affordably deploy Moodle instances, or convert existing Moodle servers to run in the cloud rather than on your own servers)

    Find all Moodle blog posts on this blog

  • Education

    One in six schools block Wikipedia

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    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

    Business Intelligence in schools - Dashboards in SharePoint 2013

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    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

    More Moodle advice – The Moodle on SharePoint white paper

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    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

    Hosting Moodle in the Cloud - why now?

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    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.
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