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

  • Education

    Microsoft Australia's Education Partner of the Year Award for 2011


    Have you been doing good work with education customers, using Microsoft technology, this year? Would you like to win a Microsoft Australia Partner Award? Well, you've got to be in it to win it - and the submission period has just opened, with the closing date of 10th June 2011. There are 21 categories to enter - but, as far as I'm concerned there's only one that matters Winking smile - the Microsoft Australia Education Partner of the Year Award.


    In the words of the awards scheme:

      The Education Partner of the Year Award recognises partners who have exhibited excellence in providing innovative and unique services or solutions based on Microsoft technologies to Education customers. Successful entrants for this Award will demonstrate industry knowledge and expertise, as well as consistent, high-quality, predictable service or solutions to Education customers. Successful entrants will also demonstrate business leadership and success through strong growth in new customer additions and revenue, at the same time as leading customers into the future models of IT use in education…  

    If you win, you'll get the smashing glass trophy (see what I did there?), press releases, logos for your marketing, and be featured across our communications, including our Partner Portal and the Microsoft Education site. The winners will be announced during the Opening Keynote at this year's Australia Partner Conference at the Gold Coast Convention & Exhibition Centre on the 23rd-25th August, and we'll then be featuring their case study during our Education sessions on the morning of the 25th.

    There's some detailed guidance to help you write an entry that gives you most chance of winning - you'll find that here - and I'llshare with you my top tip for entering:

    The best entries, which work for our partners year after year, are those which tell a strong story of the way that a customer has been able to change their way of doing things, thanks to your help. The technology side of the entry is important, but to be successful you need to ensure that you describe the story of success for a customer. By telling a memorable story, you can also help the education team at Microsoft to tell your story to other customers – amplifying your success.

    The other top tip is to get started on your entry. I'm not going to forget the deadline, as the 10th June is my birthday. But it means you've only got a couple of weeks to enter.

    Learn MoreFind out more about the Microsoft Australia Partner Awards - and all of the award categories

  • Education

    Hawaii offers IT skills training through their public libraries


    Yesterday, I wrote about the IT Academy programme in the context of students achieving industry-recognised qualifications whilst still at school, TAFE or university, and I quoted a few examples of different school and tertiary education systems that were offering it to their students.

    Hi-Tech Academy logoWhat I hadn’t read at the time was that it’s just been announced that the Hawaii Public Library System are now going to offer their users the same opportunities to take the 350 Microsoft Digital Literacy and IT Academy study programmes free. All their users need is a library card, and then they can take the courses in the library or at home. And if they want to, they can then take a certification exam to get Microsoft Office Specialist, Microsoft Technology Associate or Microsoft Certified Professional certifications.

    According to Donald Horner, the chairman of the Hawaii State Board of Education:


    IT certifications are increasingly recognised as valuable credentials that give young people expanded career opportunities. The Microsoft IT Academy ensures patrons equal access to IT training and certification through all libraries across the state, regardless of location or economic status.


    Hawaii’s library system is unique as the only statewide public library system in the US, and I noticed quite a few innovative ideas on their website - like the ability to borrow electronic books for ereaders. They even have a neat ‘snapshot of a day’, which shows that on one day in November 2010, they server 18,204 customers, answered 8,642 questions and loaned 25,304 library materials.

    Learn MoreRead more about the Hawaii Public Libraries announcement 
    or find out more about IT Academy

  • Education

    A week in Atlanta–Technology and Soda


    This week I'm in Atlanta, Georgia. Home of the CNN, Coke and, currently, a heatwave. It's our annual internal conference called MGX (Microsoft Global Exchange). I'm expecting it to be an amazing week, with it's usual astonishing organisation and conference content (could you imagine organising a 12,000 person, 4 day conference, for global delegates?).

    We'll learn a huge amount, but sadly it’s an internal event which gives us an insight into the direction ahead. Of course, all the secrets will be safely locked away in my head! So if I can’t share anything from the conference, what can I share? Well, how about the social side of the conference?

    I'm sure I'll have some more stories to share at the end of the week, but as a taster (yup, pun intended), let me take you back to something I wrote in July 2009, after my first Atlanta trip:

    The World of Coke

    Well, I though that perhaps I could do a professional job on my visit to Atlanta’s World of Coke – with the “64 soda challenge”.

    imageHere’s the scenario – they’ve assembled a big pile of drinks machines, containing 64 of the company’s drinks around the room – grouped by continent. I, and Mike (my Government counterpart, and photographer on this occasion) started on Europe, and worked our way through Asia, Latin America and North America. One cup. 64 fizzy drinks. And a burning desire to do this properly!

    Not only did I have Mike with me to record the challenge, but I also took along my notepad, so that I can share with you some of the country highlights!


    But before I tell you about the best, how about some of the highlights?

    • Delaware Punch from the Honduras
      Which tasted just like water from a fish tank (the bit I get every week when I’m trying to syphon it off to clean it)
    • Simba from Paraguay
      Which tasted identical to Irn Bru
    • Inca Kola from Peru
      Which was actually okay, but didn't taste like Cola, and it was lime green.
    • Vegitabeta from Japan
      The label had a picture of a carrot, and a taste to match – like the water you’ve just washed the carrots in it
    • Bargs from North America
      Which tasted like a combination of the stuff you wash your mouth out with at the dentist, with a piquancy of deep heat
    • Fanta Birch Beer from North America
      According to Mike, this smells exactly like the cesspit in the Jorvik Viking Centre. I have no doubt of the accuracy of this, as he was a full time Viking for 6 months - except for weekends, when he had to play a Saxon
    • Mello Yello from North America
      This tastes like it should if you remember the slogan of the 1976 British drought ("If it's yellow, let it mellow; if it's brown, flush it down")
    • Fanta Strawberry from North America
      Exactly like watered down Calpol
    • Vault from North America
      Had the full depth of Lemon Fairy Liquid, and the full taste of cold, fizzy Lemsip
    • Beverly from Italy
      This was odd, as it had almost no taste, apart from a hint that it's arrived through a long garden hose pipe.
    • Fanta Pineapple from Greece
      I think you can make this at home if you drop 5 pineapple chunks in a glass of sugar
    • Fanta Exotic from Uganda
      Like fizzy Umbongo, but the blinding colour of a red traffic light
    • Stoney Tangawizi from Tanzania
      Which not only got a prize for great naming, but had a great taste like Ginger Beer used to taste when you grew it yourself on the windowsill
    • Sunfill Menthe from Djibouti
      Was sweet and fizzy but it had the taste of watered down chewing gum
    • Bibo Candy Pine-Nut from South Africa
      It even had a picture of Pine-Nut on the label, but all it tasted of was desiccated coconut

    imageimage The drink from England was ‘Kinley Bitter Lemon’, which was a bit bizarre, because none of us had heard of it. And similarly, Beverly, from Italy wasn’t familiar to the half-dozen Italians that were with us. There must be a soft-drinks parallel-universe where people sit drinking Kinley all day, and eating Tunnocks Caramel Wafers (‘a million sold every week’)

    And The Winner Is…

    imageAnyway, back to the important stuff. The most pleasing drink of all, and a clear winner for both Mike and I was the French one – Nestea white peach. I am a big fan of iced tea when abroad, so I think it’s time we campaigned for more availability in the UK too.

    The Soda Effect

    imageYou may be wondering what drinking 60 sweet, fizzy drinks does for you? Well, compare the photo below (the ‘after’ shot) with the photo at the top of the article (the ‘before’ shot).

    It may not surprise you to hear that I found it difficult to sleep that night!

  • Education

    Janison–the people behind online ESSA


    I've written a few times about one of our partners, Janison, who worked with the New South Wales Department of Education to produce the ESSA online science test for all students across their government, catholic and private schools. And whenever I meet Wayne Houlden, the Janison CEO, I'm always interested to learn of other projects that they are working on – all focused around delivering and assessing learning, through building learning communities, delivering distance learning, and enabling online skills and knowledge assessments.

    But one of the particular challenges faced by companies like Janison, who are based in regional NSW is recruiting new, highly skilled employees. As so much of the population of NSW is focused around the Sydney area, it can sometimes be tricky to find the right skills in a regional area, or persuading people with the right skills to move – even to attractive coastal towns like Coffs Harbour.

    But I reckon that Wayne's latest video might help solve a bit of that as this video so subtly shares some of the workstyle and lifestyle of working at Janison!

    Learn MoreVisit the Janison website

    Format: ???
    Duration: --:--

  • Education

    How would a 'Microsoft Education Partner of the Year 2011' award look in your reception?


    At the Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference, there are lots of awards handed out to our key partners. And the previous winners know how much it helps them to generate new business, get immediate credibility, and open doors.

    So even if you're not going to the Partner Conference itself, then you can (and should!) still nominate yourself for Education Partner of the Year. It's not that difficult - here's the blurb from the website:

    The Public Sector, Education Partner of the Year Award recognizes partners who have exhibited excellence in providing innovative and unique services or solutions based on Microsoft technologies to Education customers. Successful entrants for this Award will demonstrate industry knowledge and expertise, as well as consistent, high-quality, predictable service or solutions to Education customers. Successful entrants will also demonstrate business leadership and success through strong growth in new customer additions and revenue such as integrating with Microsoft Cloud based technology like Live@edu and Azure in addition to the Windows Phone platform. Partners applying for this Award should demonstrate effective engagement with Microsoft by leveraging the Microsoft Partner Network to develop, create demand for, and sell their software solutions or services.

    And the good news is that the deadline is now 29th April - which means that you can even do it last minute, and sneak in your entry whilst the Americans and Brits are all watching the Royal Wedding.

    Learn MoreLearn more, and enter your nomination for, the Education Partner of the Year award


    As my Dad always said, you've got to be in it to win it.

    And once you've done it, enter for Australian Microsoft Partner of the Year Award too - might as well use the answers twice!

    PS If you're not a Microsoft Partner, but you're a customer of a good one - then tell them to enter.

  • Education

    Which Windows 8 device for next academic year?


    Windows 8 device range

    There's all kinds of new devices running Windows 8 appearing on the shelves of retailers and online stores at the moment. In fact, it seems as if new ones pop up every time I walk away from my screen. Which might lead you to looking at the choices for different Windows devices for next academic year.

    Typically, in most education institutions, there's a need for a range of different devices for different users and scenarios. Something portable and robust for students; something for computer labs; something different for staff; oh, and something really shiny and fast for the leadership team. Whatever the scenario you're buying for, you're going to find a computer that's been tailored precisely for your use - whether it's tablets, convertibles, ultrabooks, laptops, desktops or all-in-ones.

    A good place to start to find out what's available is the Australian Windows 8 website, which highlights some of the great devices now available:

    imageFor my own use, I'm looking for a new home PC that's an All-In-One, that I can put on the countertop in the kitchen for photos, music, video, and to become the hub for my other laptops around the house. And my current favourite is the Sony VAIO Tap 20, which seems to have the right design to be acceptable to my wife, the right portability to make my children happy (it's got a built-in battery, so we can move it onto coffee table for games or video), and the right price and specification to make me happy.
    And the hidden bonus that according to the picture, it can levitate Smile

    Find MoreFind your new Windows 8 PC here

  • Education

    Building Windows 8 apps to run on all the new shiny devices coming…



    Yesterday I wrote about Generation App, a guide to creating Windows Phone apps in 30 days. But I missed a rather obvious addition – what about Windows 8 Metro style apps?

    ‘Metro style’ apps are built for the new Metro touch interface for Windows 8, and will be able to run on any Windows 8 device, whether that’s full function PCs and laptops, or the different kind of Windows 8 slate devices running Intel or ARM chips. If you’re already testing the Windows 8 Release Preview, you’ll know that an Intel-based computer running Windows 8 can run all of your existing Windows software, plus the new Metro style apps.

    So here’s some really useful resources to building Windows 8 Metro Style apps:

    Learn MoreVisit the Windows Dev Center for Metro style apps

  • Education

    Is CRM in education any different to CRM in the voluntary sector?


    Magnifying glass iconOne of the things I’ve noticed is that although there are very specific requirements for CRM in education - student recruitment, grants management, parental communication etc - there are also many parallels to tasks done in other industries - room and facilities bookings, sales pipeline management, HR processes. So I’m always interested in what’s happening outside of education, and comparing it to the business of education.

    Yesterday, I read an article on about Lifeline, and their project to increase their call handling capacity. And the article wasn’t about physically handling the calls, but having the systems for the staff members to access and share information in their virtual contact centre. The key business driver for Lifeline was about increasing their capacity to take calls - jumping 50% to 700,000 calls per year.

    Although the article doesn’t go into much detail, it does mention the role of Dynamics CRM to support this, and the work to have a clear disaster recovery backup system.

    Although it’s not an education example, the challenges will be the same for universities with student recruitment changing - how do you cope with constantly growing customer contact, how do you manage their contact lifecycle and how do you ensure that a growing base of employees have access to the systems and information they need, wherever they are.

    Read the full story: Lifeline upgrades call centre, aims to increase capacity by 250,000 calls per year

    imageIf you're interested in finding out more, or are interested in using Dynamics CRM for a project in your institution, then you'd want to know that this project was done by Attain IT, who are a Dynamics partner in Sydney.

  • Education

    Work experience 'cuts dropout rate' according to the BBC


    According to some research for the UK Education and Employers Taskforce reported by BBC News in the UK at the weekend, work ‘experience’ cuts the likelihood of students dropping out from education. That doesn’t have to be in the conventional way of formal work experience - it can be smaller things like hearing from an employer at a school event, or having a business guest invited to a lesson, or a visit to another workplace. According to the BBC report:


    The more young people come into contact with employers while they are at school, the less likely they are to go on to be unemployed, research suggests.
    Pupils who took part in four or more activities with employers were five times less likely to drop out of school or training, it says.
    Those who had no such contact were most likely to be not in education, employment or training.
    Activities included work experience, visits and enterprise competition.


    I know that many Australian schools have activities which involve businesses. And equally I know that many find it difficult to organise activities, because businesses can be difficult to contact. And it can be equally difficult for the business to organise activities for large groups of students (I remember the massive orchestration that was required for ‘work experience’ week in the UK, when around 100 High School students joined Microsoft for five days).

    So perhaps next time you’re asking a business for support, you should send them this BBC story to help your case!

    What I can do is also offer to try and help schools if they are looking for a business person to come along and talk to a group of students. In the past, when I’ve done those sessions, I’ve always walked away having learnt a lot, and having answered some tricky questions!

    I’m based in Sydney, but I have colleagues around the country, and connections to business people working in partners around the country too. There are programmers, marketing people, sales people, entrepreneurs running their own businesses - I just might know somebody that could be the person you’re looking for.

    If I can help, my email address is

  • Education

    Cutting out paper - hide the printers


    Cutting Out Paper icon

    Continuing the month’s worth of ideas to support a New Year Resolution to cut paper use in education…

    Make printing more difficult

    When I first started work, printers were only just making an appearance and they were noisy, slow and produced very low quality print. I remember the day that I used the first laser print was magical - so quiet, so fast and so very professional. In those days the printers were plugged into the back of the network server, and a whole office of full of staff used to print to a single printer.

    Then inkjets arrived, and prices of printers started to plummet (but not the price of ink, of course) and what happened then was a huge wave of printers arriving in offices. Suddenly everybody needed their own printer. It didn’t take long for the cost of that to hit - and the realisation that buying a printer cost peanuts, but buying the ink was a massive ongoing cost. (And that’s also about the same time that everybody talked about ‘the paperless office’).

    Although many institutions in education have now switched back to central networked printers (or MFDs - multi-function-devices), if you haven’t yet made printing less convenient for your users, then take action to do it. If you switch printing to a central printer, with a smart card to start the printing process (sometimes called follow-me printing), you’ll cut down on the amount of paper you are using - even if it’s only reducing the number of times people print a document, and then forget to collect it from the printer.

    And if people have to leave their desk to get a printout, they will think twice about printing.

    This may seem like a facile statement, but it’s very true. One school I worked with discovered they had 104 printers - and only 102 staff. People in the same office were unwilling to share a single printer because they didn’t want to have to move to collect their printout. And some staff had both a laser and an inkjet printer.

    At Twynham School they’ve tackled the printing process itself – putting in departmental quotas and building ‘stop and think’ warnings into the machines for large print runs.

    How much paper does centralised follow-me printing save?

    Typically, articles which talk about centralising printers quote 10-15% savings - a figure which I agree with based on first-hand experience. Although it won’t be the same for everybody, it should help you to work out how much paper you can save. And, if you manage to switch staff and students away from printing on inkjets, you’ll save a more significant amount in ink - because it can cost up to 6x as much to print on an inkjet as on a central laser printer. So you’ll save more money, not just paper.

    And with centralised printing, you can easily produce reports for departments or individuals, raising awareness of printer use. Which will also help reduce printing.

    Read more ideas to help cut out paper

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