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We announced recently that Yammer for education customers will be free of charge this Spring (that's, Spring in the Northern Hemisphere, or as we would call it in Australia, Autumn), through your Office 365 for Education subscription (which is also free). Which means that educational institutions are able to have a communication system (through Office 365’s email and Lync service), collaboration and document storage (through Office 365’s SharePoint and OneDrive), and secure social networking and collaboration (through Yammer) – all of which is free.
The beauty of Yammer is that it can be fully integrated into your user database – so you create a private place for just your users to collaborate and mingle, and can enable and disable users easily. And then within Yammer you can create public and private groups – so staff can have private planning and discussion areas that others can’t access. Or groups of students can be placed into individual communities, for classes, subjects, sports and social groups etc. It also has a range of apps for mobile devices, so your users can access it on the go from their iPhone, Windows Phone, Android phones etc
There has always been a basic free version of Yammer that users can sign up to individually, and create communities and groups, and some education users in Australia have already been using that for some time (some of them with hundreds or thousands of users). But when you want to have organisational control over your users, then in the past you would have had to paid for the full Yammer Enterprise version. But soon, that’s the version that education customers can get free.
The major difference between Yammer and other social networking systems is that your Yammer network is private, and controlled by you. You don’t have individual teachers uploading lists of students to third-party websites, and managing them outside of your existing systems. Instead, your IT team have full control over your users in the same way that they do for other systems in your school, TAFE or university. Adding and deleting/disabling users is all done centrally. And you have control and visibility of the content and conversations that are happening.
Some of the key features of Yammer that are relevant for education customers are:
Once Yammer Enterprise is available, Office 365 Education tenant administrators will receive an activation link in their Office 365 admin portal. You then visit the Office 365 Admin Portal to begin the self-guided provisioning process. There’s a complete Yammer Activation Guide here. There are also additional resources on activation and provisioning from Yammer.
Learn more about Yammer
My colleagues in the US have been working with Autism Speaks and the University of Washington Autism Centre to produce a series of free PowerPoint templates that can be customised to explain social situations to children with autism, as well as a series a Word templates of documents and forms for the Autism Speaks 100 Day Kit. The Autism Speaks 100 Day Kit was created specifically for newly diagnosed families to make the best possible use of the 100 days following their child's diagnosis of autism, Asperger's Syndrome (AS), or high-functioning autism (HFA).
The PowerPoint templates cover social situations such as going to a restaurant, going to the doctor, personal hygiene, getting ready for school, and getting ready for bed; and the Word templates cover initial planning, progress tracking and transition planning.
Although these templates haven’t been developed specifically for Australia, they are still a good starting point for parents or educational professionals looking for resources, and they can be further customised for specific children, or generically for Australian scenarios. The templates are all available freely online (and if you wanted to publish localised versions, then I’m sure that Autism Speaks would love to hear from you)
Get the autism templates on the Office website
or read more articles on this blog related to accessibility
Next week there’s an open invitation from CALUMO to attend one of their Club CALUMO meetings, in either Sydney or Melbourne. The events are run like a user group, and for the last year they’ve thrown open the doors to non-users, giving people a chance to learn about how their Business Intelligence system is being used (and let’s face it, if you’re thinking about implementing a business intelligence project, there’s a huge value in being able to learn from other people’s experiences).
CALUMO have built up quite a bit of experience of BI systems and projects within education, and have helped universities and TAFEs with things like student load planning, smoothing the budget planning process, and the production of annual reports and financial updates. At this month’s meeting they have a case study from Graham Hoy, from the University of Canberra, talking about the automation of their annual report processes (read more here), and also a demonstration of what the CALUMO team describe as the ‘hidden features’ in our Analysis Services system, and the latest version of the CALUMO software that sits on top of the Microsoft BI platform.
When I went to my first Club CALUMO last year, I came away with some really interesting insights into the way that some of their customers were solving business problems using the CALUMO BI system, and especially about how they were simplifying the whole process for their end users – and some great stories to share with colleagues. CALUMO describe the event as being suitable for “CFOs, FCs, CIOs, BI Managers, IT Managers, Database Administrators, SSAS/SSRS/SSIS Power Users, Report developers, Project Managers and other managers interested in the latest approaches and developments across various applications and industries” – so you can be sure that whatever your level of knowledge, there’ll be content suitable. And it could contribute to any CPD/CPE hours for the year…
As usual, the event is free, and the bonus is that they’ll be including the usual selection of beer and pizza
Find out more details, and register here
In the good old days (you know, like five years ago) you needed a supercomputer to do massive data analysis jobs. University research departments either had to build their own, or buy precious schedule time on somebody else's supercomputer. You had to be pretty sure that your research was important, and going to deliver a valuable result, before you could contemplate committing such a major investment of computing time.
These days, you can often replace a supercomputer with cloud services – meaning supercomputers are all around and anybody with a credit card can rent them by the hour as a simple cloud service. My colleague Steve Clayton has just written about a series of projects from Microsoft Research where they are using the Microsoft Windows Azure cloud to analyse massive volumes of data as they research deep medical problems, such as diabetes, Crohn's disease and coronary artery disease:
Research in these areas is notoriously tricky due to the requirement for a large amount of data and the potential for false positives arising from data sourced from related individuals. A technique and algorithm known as linear mixed models (LMMs) can eliminate this issue but they take an enormous amount of compute time and memory to run. To avoid this computational roadblock, Microsoft Research developed the Factored Spectrally Transformed Linear Mixed Model (better known as FaST-LMM), an algorithm that extends the ability to detect new biological relations by using data that is several orders of magnitude larger. It allows much larger datasets to be processed and can, therefore, detect more subtle signals in the data. Utilizing Windows Azure, MSR ran FaST-LMM on data from the Wellcome Trust, analyzing 63,524,915,020 pairs of genetic markers for the conditions mentioned above.
27,000 CPU’s were used over a period of 72 hours. 1 million tasks were consumed —the equivalent of approximately 1.9 million compute hours. If the same computation had been run on an 8-core system, it would have taken 25 years to complete.
That’s supercomputing on demand and it’s available to everyone – as is the result of this job in Epistasis GWAS for 7 common diseases in the Windows Azure Marketplace.
There's a short video case study on YouTube (and with possibly the most intelligent set of comments on a YouTube video I've ever seen!).
Read more… The Microsoft Research Connections blog has more detailed information on this and other research projects where projects are able to replace a supercomputer with cloud services.
Each year teachers from around the world come together at the Partners in Learning Global Forum. This year, the camera crew that go along to the event asked those teachers for their thoughts on Windows 8, and the result is the compact YouTube video below.
There's a great sound-bite halfway through from Camille Rutherford who's a Professor of Education from Canada, where she says:
It struck me as the first time I'd heard anybody talk about the 'mouseless generation', and it's a great phrase that summarises a lot of device usage by very young children these days
The video above is the short (2 minute) version - there's a slightly longer version of "Why Educators Love Windows 8 for Education" also available.
Watch more of the Microsoft Education team videos on YouTube
Not sure what to make of this news this morning, and definitely not sure what comment to add on this. So I'll go for the completely factual presentation of something I've just read on the Google Enterprise Blog. I know this is relevant to education customers and partners, because when we talk about our Live@edu email service (which is a Gmail competitor) we are always asked about our browser support, and to confirm that we support the main browsers being used by education establishments today, and students at home. And in many cases, we know that includes older versions of Internet Explorer and other browsers.
Here's the relevant paragraphs from Google's blog:
…soon Google Apps will only support modern browsers. Beginning August 1st, we’ll support the current and prior major release of Chrome, Firefox, Internet Explorer and Safari on a rolling basis. Each time a new version is released, we’ll begin supporting the update and stop supporting the third-oldest version.
As of August 1st, we will discontinue support for the following browsers and their predecessors: Firefox 3.5, Internet Explorer 7, and Safari 3. In these older browsers you may have trouble using certain features in Gmail, Google Calendar, Google Talk, Google Docs and Google Sites, and eventually these apps may stop working entirely.
(For comparison, here's our list of supported browsers for Live@edu - IE7, Firefox 3.0.1, Chrome 184.108.40.206 and Safari 3.1)
One of our cloud partners in education, Generation-e, are running a webinar in October, looking at how you can use our free and paid Office 365 for education cloud services. It's going to be held on Thursday 18th October, at 1PM AEST. The presenter, Stuart Moore, is a seasoned cloud professional and his experience across both education and other public sector organisations, means he'll be able to provide a good overview of what and what isn't possible.
Here's the details:
Let us introduce you to the cloud
Want to know what hundreds of schools in Australia are doing right now?
They’re moving to the cloud. Why? Because they see the value in using technology to help achieve learning outcomes.
To make it easy for schools to provide the best environment possible for students and staff, Microsoft offers a free cloud solution called Microsoft Office 365 for Education. As a baseline, the free subscription offers:
To allow schools to extend the use of the cloud beyond the free offering, for a few dollars per month per user, schools can access:
Join us for a 30 minute webinar as Microsoft cloud specialist Stuart Moore introduces you to Microsoft Office 365 for Education and shows you how Australian schools are using this free technology to:
Find out more, and register, here
For years, the challenge of creating and managing translations of content and curriculum has been looked at by people in the academic/tech world as “too hard, I’ll look at it later”. And yet, with $15 billion of revenue for Australian universities and TAFEs coming from international students, perhaps it’s a good time to take a look at a couple of the translation tools that exist in the Microsoft portfolio, to see whether it might help you in creating multi-lingual versions of some of your projects. Some of things that you could consider using the services for include:
With the proliferation of digital content on the web, mobile devices and desktop applications, there is an increasing demand to communicate and collaborate in multiple languages. Automatic translation enables communication, collaboration and the ability to conduct business across language barriers.
Microsoft Translator offers automatic, linguistically informed statistical machine translation between any of 39 languages, and has a whole series of interfaces to make it easy for web and software developers to use it.
The Machine Translation technology behind Microsoft Translator is built on more than a decade of work at Microsoft Research and delivers a flexible, instant and cost-effective automatic translation service to any destination; helping to break the language barrier for businesses, developers and users alike. The rich and accessible translation API empowers application developers and solution providers to deliver the translations services customers require.
Whether seeking solutions for language detection, translation, speech synthesis, product localization or empowering communities to protect indigenous languages, Microsoft Translator provides the services and solutions to accomplish a variety of translation goals across the web, desktop applications and mobile devices.
For developers, it offers a rich, flexible and simple to use API for custom applications in web, desktop and mobile applications. And a full translator API available on the cloud-based Windows Azure Markeplace. One simple way to use it is to add a translator widget onto a website, allowing users to translate a web page in situ.
Learn more about Microsoft Translator
Built on Windows Azure, Microsoft Translator Hub is an extension of the Microsoft Translator platform and service. You can build a superior translation system easily, within a private website, by combining your translated documents with the power of Microsoft Translator’s big data back end. Once you are satisfied with your translation, you may share it publicly on the web.
Learn more about the Microsoft Translator Hub
Last week I wrote about Marquette University, and their Lync 2013 implementation project. One of the aspects l didn't explicitly mention is their use of Lync for emergency contact management - the university's emergency response team are using Lync 2013 to enable collaboration in real time.
The university’s emergency response team originally came to the IT department with a request for a system that it could use to communicate in an emergency, and track the actions of various responders. Lync's persistent chat was a natural fit (persistent chat means that conversations can be picked up from where they are left off, and are fully searchable and archived). Persistent chat enables teams to meet and collaborate in virtual rooms in real time, enabling more efficient information sharing.
The response team can post notices to the entire university, and use chat rooms for internal communications to maintain a record of the event. All students, faculty, and staff can access persistent chat rooms through the unified Lync 2013 client (which is available on a wide range of different devices).
Dan Smith, the university's Senior Director of IT Services, described some of the use scenarios:
The question I had about this scenario was how they implemented Lync to minimise the risk of downtime, as using IP telephony for emergency contact management has been looked at as higher risk. According to the case study:
Lync Server 2013 has several capabilities that will help Marquette ensure a high level of availability. Marquette deployed Lync Server 2013 with two front-end server pools that are linked to provide redundancy. If one server pool is taken offline, people are automatically switched to the other pool and experience little to no downtime.
In addition, Marquette deployed two instances of SQL Server data management software and is using database mirroring to provide a backup. With the addition of a third SQL Server instance to serve as a witness, the failover between the database servers is automatic.
As Victor Martinez, the lead of the university's Windows Team, responsible for implementing the infrastructure to support Lync for emergency contact management, said:
And the added bonus is that their Lync implementation will be saving them at least $200,000 a year. You can read the full case study on the worldwide Microsoft case studies website:
Read the full Marquette University case study
Although this Australian case study is of a local government customer, rather than an education one, I think that it's relevant because there are so many aspects of a council that match education institutions:
Pretty much all of those issues are identical for education institutions.
What the council have done is replace an ageing conventional telephone system with a Microsoft Lync unified communication system, linking telephone, video and audio conferencing, and their existing email system in Exchange. But it wasn't something that they could rush into. According to David Carroll, the Infrastructure and Operations Team Leader for Adelaide City Council:
Many education customers already have Lync licences included within their EES agreements, or can get some of the capabilities within the free Office 365 for education service (although the telephony bit definitely isn't included free!). So the cost of deploying a system similar to Adelaide's won't be prohibitive – and the savings that can be made by switching from a PABX are a big incentive (Adelaide report that their annual phone costs are now a quarter of what they used to be):
The list of benefits that the council report in the case study are impressive (you'll need to read the case study for the details behind each of these bullet points):
Read the full Adelaide City Council Lync case study
(If you want to find Lync partners in Australia, then Microsoft Pinpoint is the easiest way)