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

  • Education

    The world’s first School in the Cloud


    img4The most memorable moment of the Microsoft Innovative Education Forum that I attended in the UK in 2010 was hearing Professor Sugata Mitra talking about his Hole in the Wall, and Granny Cloud projects.  Like many inspiring people, I first heard about his work through TED, in his 2008 Ted Talk “Kids can teach themselves”. Shortly before speaking at our Innovative Education Forum, he inspired again at TED, talking about “child-driven education”, and earlier this year he spoke about his wish to “Build a school in the cloud”.

    As fascinating as the journey, and stories, have been, the thing that really stands out about Sugata’s vision is his passionate pursuit of making things happen. And I’ve just finished reading about the next step in that journey, as he’s just opened the doors of the world’s first School in the Cloud, in England, funded through his TED Prize seed money.

    The classroom above matches many other 21st century learning environments that are being built around the world. But what makes it stand out is the way the space is managed and used. I’ll let the TED Blog pick up the story:

      The Killingworth School in the Cloud is run by a committee of 12-year-old students, who manage a schedule to let different classes and groups use the lab in time slots before, during and after school. The lab is, of course filled with computers and touchscreen devices, as these are the tools students use to do their detective work. This lab is the first live demo of the School in the Cloud web platform, which not only connects labs to the “Granny Cloud” but also serves as a community foundation for SOLE practitioners and contains an evolving library of guides and resources. Microsoft and Skype are the core technology partners for this digital platform; Made By Many is the co designer and development partner; and IDEO assisted with design research. Five more School in the Cloud learning labs of varying resources and bandwidth are scheduled to launch throughout India in 2014, and the second UK lab will go live in the spring. All seven Schools in the Cloud will be directed by the School in the Cloud web platform and its community of Grannies. Beta testing for the School in the Cloud platform will begin publicly in March at the annual TED Conference in Vancouver  

    Learn MoreLearn more about Self-Organised Learning Environments (SOLE)

  • Education

    Queensland Department of Education and Training - Partners in Technology Briefing


    I’ve just received an email from DEEDI (the Queensland Department of Employment, Economic Development and Innovation) about an upcoming government briefing on the ICT strategy and procurement for the Queensland Department of Education and Training. If you’re doing business in Queensland education, then this might be of interest:

    Friday, 2 September 2011 – Partners in Technology Briefing –  Department of Education and Training

    The Information Industries Bureau has arranged for Department of Education and Training to deliver a presentation of their proposed ICT procurement schedules. This is an opportunity for ICT firms to hear first hand about the future use of ICT in these organisations.

    Participants will discover:

      • The organisations structure and purchasing procedures
      • Key agency personnel
      • Details of proposed ICT contracts and expected timeframes.

    DATE: Friday, 2 September 2011

    TIME: 8.30am to 9.30am

    COST: Free

    VENUE: Ground Floor, Rooms 1 & 2, 80 George Street, Brisbane

    Please click on this link to register your interest

    Has anybody any experiences of these briefings before? Do they represent a good investment of time?

  • Education

    BI Executive Forum 2011 - Sydney Melbourne and Canberra


    BI Executive Forum Banner

    Over the next three weeks, we’re co-hosting three ‘BI Executive Forum' events with Oakton in Sydney, Melbourne and Canberra. It’s not specifically about Business Intelligence (BI) in Education, which means there will be opportunities to learn about the application of BI in various industries - and see how it applies to business intelligence in education. And possibly the best bit is that you don’t just hear about change from a technology perspective, but get to hear users talking about the business issues and the process changes that can be driven through better use of technology solutions. At the Sydney and Canberra event, this includes a speaker from the NSW Department of Education and Communities.

    As John Brand, Vice President of the CIO Group at Forrester Research, puts it:

      Business intelligence is rapidly moving out of the domain of specialist practitioners and into the hands of ordinary users. But simply providing a platform for self-service reporting is unlikely to deliver the desired results. Organisations must recognise and understand the driving forces behind BI becoming a ubiquitous service. Moreover, organisational performance will increasingly be driven by those that successfully institutionalise the process of business intelligence throughout their organisation.  

    The three BI Executive Forums each have a range of external speakers and an expert panel - including analysts and customers - with hosted interviews and Q&A session. John Brand and Mark Jones, Director of Filter Media, will moderate the panel, comprising senior corporate and government leaders. The panels change at each event, and include NSW Department of Education and Communities, Australian Taxation Office, Airservices Australia, Infigen Energy, Australian Leisure and Hospitality (ALH), Salta Properties and Reliance Petroleum.

    The interactive Q&A session will offer the opportunity to be part of a thought leadership conversation around how to:

    • Use Business Intelligence and Business Analytics to drive organisational performance: better align resources, save money and drive corporate growth and innovation.
    • Identify bad data and access, analyse and provide the insight needed to monetise data.
    • Extract data and insights from your ERP systems and pre-existing platform investments.

    The event is going to be of most value to senior leaders in universities, TAFEs and state education systems. It’s the kind of event that you’d expect to pay a steep entry fee for if it was run by a commercial conference company, but because of our sponsorship, this series is actually free to attend for executive leaders.

    BI Executive Forum - Agenda

    7:30am - 8:00am

    Registration followed by hot breakfast

    8:00am - 9:00am

    Why Business Intelligence?
    How Collaborative, Managed and Familiar capabilities enable business users today and will evolve in the future.

    John Brand, Vice President of the CIO Group at Forrester Research

    9:00am - 9:20am

    Providing breakthrough insight across your organisation with Business Intelligence
    Or, in Canberra, “Insight and Accountability —the Path to Government Transparency”

    9:20am - 10:00am

    Panel discussion and Q&A: Managing the data deluge to drive a culture of performance
    Mark Jones will conduct keynote interviews before facilitating an interactive Q&A session:

    • Sydney: Infigen Energy and the NSW Department of Education and Communities.
    • Canberra: Australian Taxation Office, Airservices Australia, Infigen Energy and the NSW Department of Education and Communities
    • Melbourne: Australian Leisure and Hospitality (ALH), Salta Properties and Reliance Petroleum

    BI Executive Forum - venues and dates

    There are three events that you can sign up for:

    Learn MoreMelbourne, 19th October, Microsoft offices in Freshwater Place - Register
    Sydney, 20th October, Hilton Sydney in  George Street - Register
    Canberra, 3rd November, National Portrait Gallery - Register

  • Education

    University student recruitment is in the toilet - where’s your website?


    I was talking about the process of student recruitment in universities yesterday, and this was one of my slides:

    IT in the Toilet - where are your future students surfing your website from?

    It’s a small bit of data from the “IT in the Toilet” survey from the US, and the point is that 4 out of 10 people from Gen Y (ie your next customer) has used a phone in the toilet to surf the web. The context for university student recruitment is that prospective students could literally be anywhere, at any time, when they are making the choice of their next education institution.

    In the future, student recruitment marketing and methodology has to be a lot more agile, to respond to changes in the way that prospective students are interacting with institutions in making their choices. As I work with universities that are re-designing their systems and processes to reflect the changing student recruitment landscape there are recurring themes. One big theme that keeps coming out is agility, to respond to the constant changes in the recruitment landscape and the prospective student mindset.

    What is often overlooked in institutions (not just in universities, but across any large institution) is the web content that’s published on your own website. What I’ve found is that the recruitment team generally ‘own’ a part of the site, and optimise that part for the recruitment cycle.

    But what happens if the prospective student ends up somewhere else on your site? What experience will they have? I’ve just finished reading ‘Why Higher Ed Sucks at Content Strategy’ on the .eduGuru blog, and it’s a comprehensive article that just might help you influence your colleagues’ thinking. For example:

      I’ve talked to more than one DI level school that has, and I kid you not, millions of web pages. Millions. Millions. Think about that for a second. If you checked 100 pages a day, every day for a year, you wouldn’t even manage to check the quality of 50,000 pages. If you had only one million pages, that wouldn’t even cover 5% of your site. One of the first steps in starting a content strategy is a content audit. How much of your site are you prepared to commit to that when you’re so huge? Yes, a lot of that is automatically generated or archival. Yes, not all of it is meant for normal human consumption. Yet the fact remains that when a problem is so big and you can’t even pinpoint where to start, many will choose to do nothing. Since many university sites lack any comprehensive business or marketing strategy when it comes to the creation and maintenance of content, literally every piece of information gets put out there, and it’s put out there by hoards of individuals that are ultimately not qualified to edit web sites. So we grow. And grow. And grow.  

    Learn MoreRead the full .eduGuru article on content management on university websites

  • Education

    How to sell Windows 8 apps to education customers


    Windows Store logoDevelopers around Australia are creating Windows 8 apps and making decisions about how to go to market.  With the arrival of the Windows Store, there's another route to market that wasn't there previously, especially as it gives you a way to get to market without having to build a complete channel.

    So here's quick guide to some options you might want to think about:

      • Selling Windows 8 Education apps through the Windows Store
        Of course, you can't just dump an app into the Windows Store without any prior steps. The app must adhere to certification policies and process required for all apps in the Store. You’ll get high visibility in the store because there's a specific Education category, and because every user will see the Windows Store on their home screen, and will be looking to try out some new Windows 8 applications, I reckon that getting listed as soon as possible in the store is a great marketing strategy. There are tons of blog posts on the Windows Store blog on getting your app into the Windows Store and strategies for making it successful through the store.

    Windows Store - Education categoryYou have two options for selling your app on the Store: you can offer your apps for sale directly to the end user, with each individual user making the purchase directly from the Store. Another option is to offer the app as a free download, then manage the sales and licensing directly with the institution. Your app would then use authentication to bring specific functionality to each of your customer’s users.

    If you want to enforce a volume licensing model based on user counts for sales (egfor a pre-licensed number of teachers or students), you can use a signed receipt from the Windows Store. This option enables you to securely identify the user running the app.

      • Sell and distribute it directly
        Where your buyers will distribute the app directly to end-users and develop using the Windows App Certification Kit. The kind of scenario this works for is a school or university which wants to get a site licence for an app, and then load it onto their computers themselves (via sideloading). If you do this, be sure to follow some of the best practices around getting discovered on the Internet.
        There's a guide to deploying Windows 8 apps without using the Windows Store here
        • Promoting Windows desktop software through the Windows Store
          You don't have to have a Windows 8 Modern app to list it in the Windows Store. You can also list conventional desktop apps. The key difference is that the user will buy the app directly from you, not the Windows Store (so basically the Store is acting as a marketing point for you). Find out more about listing your desktop app in the Store
          • Microsoft PinPoint
            In addition to the choices above, you should also list your company and your product in Microsoft’s Partner Directory, PinPoint. When you do so, be sure to label your company as working in Education, and it helps a lot when the title of your product or solution in the listing contains the words people might search on, like "teaching", "spelling", "curriculum" etc. The PinPoint database is the source of various partner searches throughout where the results are displayed within the context of pages like Windows Server, SharePoint and other sites where customers click “How to Buy..” to locate the appropriate partner.
            The Australian Microsoft Education website uses PinPoint whenever somebody clicks on the 'Partners' link (eg on this 'How to Buy' page), where it returns a list of Australian education partners listed in PinPoint

          And although the consumer launch of Windows 8 isn't until 26th October, our volume licence customers (which includes almost every single education customer in Australia) already has access to Windows 8, and may be running it on some of their computers. So the sooner you're listed in the Windows Store, the sooner that people will see your software Smile

          Learn MoreRead more on the Windows Store blog

        • Education

          Microsoft Education Publisher Briefing–Singapore 15/16 May


          Publisher Briefing Header

          At the Microsoft Global Education Partner Summit in Seattle earlier in the year, we held a invitation-only summit for education publishers. Following that, we’ve just announced the date for the Education Publisher Briefing for partners across Asia, including Australia. The briefing will be held on 15/16 May 2012, in Singapore.

          This two-day briefing builds on the successful publisher briefings globally, and gives local publishers the opportunity to understand the Microsoft ecosystem for educational publishers, and the opportunities offered by future Microsoft developments. With millions of Windows devices in the hands of teachers and students in Australia, and Microsoft’s various websites and cloud services used daily by students and staff, the Microsoft ecosystem provides a great opportunity for publishers to reach the widest possible audience at home and in the institution.

          Microsoft Education Publisher Briefing - Agenda Topics

          The agenda for the event will look in detail at the entire Microsoft ecosystem for digital publishing, including Microsoft’s current and future device operating environments, Cloud services, and the links to other Microsoft software.

          • Vision for Education through Partnership with Publishers
          • Emerging Innovation – Publisher Solution Showcase
          • Future Innovations for Publishers
          • Why Digital? Leveraging Microsoft’s education solutions
          • Microsoft’s Education Publisher Marketplace – Offering content and tools in the cloud
          • Edutainment – Integration of content & gaming
          • Future of books – IE9 and IE10, HTML5, Search
          • Driving Efficiencies through Cloud with Windows Azure and Office 365 for education
          • Windows 8, Windows Phone and slate devices


          Who should attend the Microsoft Education Publisher Briefing?

          This event is focused on educational publishers and content producers from across Asia-Pacific. It’s a business focused event suitable for:

          • Company Executives
          • Strategy Directors
          • Head of Curriculum
          • Business Development Director
          • CIO or IT Strategy Director

          Microsoft Education Publisher Briefing – APAC Date and Venue

          • 15 May – 8.30am-5.30pm and 16 May – 9.00am-2pm
          • At Microsoft Singapore, Level 21, One Marina Boulevard,Singapore

          Although this is a complimentary event, travel and accommodation are your responsibility!


          Register for the APAC Education Publisher BriefingDownload the Microsoft Education Publisher Briefing invitation (PDF)
          Download the APAC Registration Form (DOC)

        • Education

          Carbon tax strategies in education–reducing PC power usage


          Next month’s carbon tax will cost Australian education institutions upwards of $50m a year (see ‘How the carbon tax will affect education’), and that’s money that won’t be easy to find. But the issue of managing energy usage isn’t unique to education – so what can be learnt from other industries? Our own internal IT team have just finished a case study that will be useful

          Reducing computer power usage by a third

          Microsoft has a pretty large computer fleet – including over 165,000 desktop and laptop computers – and since 2010 we have been looking at how we can manage the power consumption of all of these devices more effectively, without inconveniencing users. The process starts with procurement, where all new computers must meet four energy and environmental standards to get onto our standard approved computer list. That creates a good baseline for energy efficiency and environmental recycling.

          And once the computers are in users’ hands, the Microsoft IT team have then been implementing a rolling schedule of power management and optimisation. When they measured the baseline figure, they discovered that there was a very different energy usage between laptops and desktops:

          • Our desktop computers were typically using 47KWH/Month each
          • Our laptop computers were typically using 6KWH/Month each

          The team then used System Center to apply power-saving settings across the vast majority of our computers, with a standard power plan designed to save power whilst minimising inconvenience for users during business hours. Basically, PCs are running at peak performance while they are actually in use, but then save power when inactive.

          The first roll out of power settings in 2010 reduced energy consumption by 26%

          How much power can you save before users are inconvenienced?

          Since then, the IT team have been continuing to optimise the settings, without making them so draconian that users become frustrated or simply opt-out of energy savings.

          Microsoft Power Savings over time, since 2010

          • By April 2011, they’d reduced power usage by 32%
          • By January 2012, they’d reduced power usage by 49% for desktop PCs, and 26% for laptops

          You can see the full list of power settings in the article linked at the bottom of this blog post.

          All users can opt-out of the energy efficiency settings, but currently less than 10% do – and that is mainly for things like development and test systems running round-the-clock test scenarios.

          The total savings in 2011 were almost $1M, saving 10.6 million kWh.

          There’s an interesting side-note to the story too, related to power settings in Japan. Because of the extreme need to save power in the wake of their natural disaster last year, more aggressive power settings were used in Japan, which increased the numbers of users opting out. The experience helped the Microsoft IT team fine-tune customised power plan settings to achieve an optimum balance between productivity and efficiency goals. Microsoft IT's experience shows that most users at Microsoft are comfortable with a display timeout of 15 minutes and a sleep timeout of 30 minutes.

          Key questions about cost saving through energy saving

          • What environmental and energy standards do your standard approved computers have to meet?
          • Do you want to change the mix of desktop and laptop computers to save money?
          • How can you deploy standard power settings across all of your computers?
          • What level of user opt-out will you allow from power savings?
          • How will you manage the balance between maximising power savings and minimising user opt-out?
          • Where are you going to put your cost saving tracking charts? (Hint: Which leadership report is it going in?)

          Learn MoreRead the full Microsoft IT case study online (or download the Word version)

          Find all blog posts about the Carbon Tax

        • Education

          Reducing IT costs in education - Part II


          Last week, when I wrote about reducing IT costs in education, I talked about saving money by cutting down power bills. And there are plenty of other ways to reduce IT costs in education. Not every way is going to be right for every school, TAFE or university, but how about this pile of suggestions that might have something perfect for you:

          Pennsylvania Charter School saved $45,000 a year by changing their expense reporting and asset tracking systems, using SharePoint 2010 [Read more]

          Oxnard Union High School District saved $160,000 a year by switching off their old PBX systems, and introducing Lync Server - and also increased the availability of telephone services for staff [Read more]

          Florida Virtual School will save $2m over the next five years by switching from using Lotus Notes to our Cloud email and collaboration services [Read more]

          Fraser Public Schools in Michigan saved $600,000 on their new email and collaboration system by using the Live@edu Cloud service, instead of replacing their in-house system [Read more]

          The European University Institute saved $345,000 by moving to the Cloud for email too [Read more]

          Dundee High School saved $15,000 by using Windows MultiPoint Server to replace end-of-life computers in their IT suites and library - reducing the amount of hardware they needed, whilst improving the student experience [Read more]

          Aston University, in the UK, save $300,000, by replacing existing email service with Live@edu [Read more]

          And finally, Palm Beach State College saved $500,000 by consolidating their technology, and streamlining their IT operations [Read more]

          I know that saving money is only one aspect of IT service delivery, but if you need to improve the service you deliver whilst also reducing IT costs in education, then perhaps there's some examples above that might help?

        • Education

          Getting serious about security–Windows To Go in education


          Two weeks ago I wrote about Windows To Go in education – outlining some of the scenarios that it could be used for, such as allowing students to access your standard Windows applications from their home computer, or to make BYOD in education easier (see the original article).

          Windows To Go gives you a fully manageable corporate Windows 8 desktop on a bootable external USB stick. This could allow support for “Bring Your Own PC” and give access to your IT environment for users’ own devices without compromising security. The user just plugs the USB stick into their own computer, and instead of booting up as normal, the computer boots from the stick, and runs the Windows setup that's on their (so if you give them a USB stick with Windows 8 and your classroom apps, when they plug it into a Windows XP home computer, it will magically temporarily transform it into a Windows 8 system!)

          Obviously it's good from a teaching and learning perspective, but I know that many of the IT people in Australian education have 'security' considerations at the front of their mind. And that sometimes the need for security overrides the ability to make things easier and more flexible for users – staff and students.

          Windows To Go security considerations

          So how does Windows To Go cope in a secure IT environment? Well, in addition to what we've written about security and data protection considerations for Windows To Go, the NSA (the US government's National Security Agency) have produced a Windows To Go NSA Factsheet, covering the use of Windows To Go in secure IT environments. Although it isn't specifically about BYOD in education, there's plenty of relevant information.

          So what advice does the NSA offer for Windows To Go? Well, first they start with useful scenarios for Windows To Go centred around providing a managed Windows environment while allowing users to roam to different machines in the workplace or home:


          …scenarios such as managed free seating, temporary or contract workforce, and working from home. A preconfigured and managed Windows To Go device with a VPN solution, such as Direct Access, can provide a trusted environment for remote access into an enterprise network.

          Travel amongst sites often requires a user to travel with a laptop or mobile device. Windows To Go could be used as a solution allowing employees to travel lighter while still having access to their desktop and managed network environment.

          In high assurance scenarios, a Windows To Go device could ease situations where storage drives and devices must be removed and locked up when not in use.


          In education we face these types of scenario daily – not just employees but students too. In universities, the ability to give a visiting researcher access to your full system by just giving them a USB key, or allowing your researchers to use your full system when they are away from your campus – without having to lug a laptop everywhere. And in schools and TAFEs, where there are many part-time teachers and support staff, the ability to give them 'their own' secure setup on a stick, but without having to give everybody a dedicated device.

          The document goes on to list the security risks and effective mitigations (for example, encryption to prevent loss of data, enterprise administration to prevent unmanaged or rogue workspaces, and the default ability to disable access to hard disks on their host computers, to prevent data leakage). And it even goes on to walk you through the process of creating a secure Windows To Go workspace on a USB stick.

          Learn MoreRead the full report from the NSA "Configuring Windows To Go as a Mobile Desktop Solution"

        • Education

          Buying business systems for education


          I’ve been involved in a few conversations recently about business systems with a number of education customers. And there’s a recurring question through these conversations, which is:

          Should a university/TAFE/school buy a system for its technical capabilities, or for the business problem it solves?

          Take Business Intelligence as an example. Should you look for the all-singing, all-dancing answer to everything (ie the one that solves the 300 pages of use-case produced in a typical tender), or should you buy a solution to solve a specific business problem (eg something that reduces your budget cycle by 50%; or reduces your cost of producing your annual report by 30%).

          What I’ve noticed with the first approach is that the procurement cycle takes a very long time – because writing the specifications takes a while (and lots of meetings right across the university) – and then implementation can take even longer – often because you are trying to solve lots of problems all in one go. In fact, in some cases the procurement and implementation can take so long that the original requirement has completely changed by the time that something is built. Or the delay has a real financial cost to the institution bigger than the investment (I once was involved in a project where all sides agreed savings in implementation meant the payback period for the investment was seven days – and yet it took 9 months to do the procurement)

          I’ve seen this happen for lots of different business systems* – business intelligence systems; Customer Relationship Management systems; learning management systems – across lots of different education organisations.

          So what can you do about it?

          • Stay focused on solving the business problem, rather than switching to buying a solution for it’s technical capabilities alone
            And I say that in the full knowledge that will make life difficult for us, as we often default to talking about technical capabilities too!
          • Don’t get carried away with solving everything in one go – because scope creep can really delay projects badly
          • Find a partner that shares a mindset about agile development, rather than the historical waterfall method
            ie rather than spending a year writing a specification, spend that year delivering the system, because these days it can be just as quick (or quicker) to configure a system and write the code, as writing a specification document on paper

          This is only my personal opinion, but it’s based on decades of watching educational ICT systems and procurement, and realising that projects that seem to grow in size during procurement, and then promise to solve all the existing and potential business problems at the end, never actually seem to deliver what people want or expect.


          * Let’s hope it’s just a coincidence that there’s a correlation between the existence of an acronym (BI, CRM, LMS) and the length of implementation.

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