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

  • Education

    Business Intelligence in schools–a short demonstration of setting up alerts


    Rod Colledge, Microsoft MVP, of StrataDBRod 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 in his spare time he speaks at conferences, writes books, and shares his knowledge freely.

    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, and the new features in SQL Server 2012 and Microsoft Office 2013, to show some of the simple things that are useful for school leaders and teachers. I’ll share one video every day for the next week, as I think they are ideal for showing to colleagues to start a discussion about how they’d like to use data in your institution, and whether they can start to use some of the features of the latest software releases.

    Today’s video is a demonstration of a key feature for an business intelligence in education project - the ability to set alerts automatically, to allow you to 'manage by exception', rather than having to trawl reports looking for outliers and identify performance issues manually.

    The example that's used here (with a dummy dataset) is using student absences to generate alerts, and uses Microsoft SQL Server 2012, and PowerPivot reports.

    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

    The value of data visualisation in education


    By all accounts, we’re already, or soon going to be, drowning in a sea of data. The amount of data being generated every day, hour, minute or millisecond continues to climb exponentially. This is true whether we’re talking about our home lives or professional lives. There is so much data we can barely keep up, and we’re only at the beginning of the data tsunami.

    This is an issue for education too, because, as McKinsey identified, in the journey from a ‘good’ education system to a ‘great’ one, there is an assumption that we already have high quality performance data available. But having high quality performance data isn’t just about the volume or accuracy of the data - it is also about how easily understandable and usable it is. (This is at the heart of the difference between ‘databases’ and ‘business intelligence’ in education. The challenge we face is about producing useful information, not just data.

    Which is why this video is so powerful - and a great way to explain to colleagues that simply collecting data, and putting it into spreadsheets and reports, is only part of the challenge of making it ‘high quality’ data.


    The Value of Data Visualization from Column Five on Vimeo.

  • 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

    nsquared - putting all your technology together for one purpose


    I’m meeting up with the nsquared people again on Monday, to take a look at some of their education applications. They’re an innovative software developer in Sydney who I first met in London when they were doing clever things with the Microsoft Surface. Now they have moved deeper into creating immersive experiences for users, across PC, Surface, phone and projection screens using Kinect.

    When I saw their latest video of a concept for architects, it fired off the usual thoughts about might be possible if this was applied to learning scenarios. It is an amazing concept, and rightly has been receiving a good deal of interest this week.

    They also offer a range of education applications, which are designed for touch interfaces on the Microsoft Surface or Windows slates, and take advantage of the fact that learners use them in completely different ways to normal laptops.

    Learn MoreLearn more about the nsquared educational applications

  • Education

    What skills do I need for the future?


    Office 365 Header

    When we announced the global Student Advantage programme, it meant that students could get the full Office suite when their institution subscribed for their staff (see ‘The best way to get Office for student BYOD devices’). Part of the reason that supported doing it was some new research from IDC on skills requirements for tomorrow's best jobs, which analysed the current and future jobs market to understand what skills employers are currently looking for, and will look for in the future.

    Learn MoreSkills Requirements for Tomorrow's Best Jobs:
    Helping Educators Provide Students with Skills and Tools They Need

    IDC did their analysis by scanning 14.6 million US job postings for six months this year and identified the 20 most common skills required for those positions. They also used data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, including data on 2010 employment and forecasts for 2020, to understand future employment trends, and to identify 60 occupations that have above average growth potential and salary potential between 2013 and 2020.

    Which roles are going to grow fastest in numbers and salary by 2020?

    IDC categorised all of the data into groups of roles to produce the following chart:


    So by 2020 we’re going to see more demand for people to work in medical, sales and marketing, education, IT and managerial roles. These roles in the chart are expected to account for 28% of new jobs in 2020, with a median salary that’s 51% higher than for all occupations.

    What skills are needed for the high growth employment roles?

    The IDC report looked at the top skills required for all occupations, and the analysis showed the top five skills employers are looking for were:

    1. Oral and written communication skills
    2. Detail oriented
    3. Microsoft Office
    4. Customer service oriented
    5. Organisational skills

    It’s notable that Microsoft Office was the only software package that employers called out within the top 20 skills list. Microsoft Office is at number 3, PowerPoint is at number 11, and Word is at number 13. The full list of top 20 skills is on Page 7, Figure 2 in the IDC report.

    When they correlated the top skills against the top growth occupations, they found the correlation got stronger – the top 5 skills were in even higher demand in these roles (and 16 of the top 20). The most common skills that employers are looking for are cross-functional, rather than occupation-specific skills. As IDC put it (on page 9):


    This high concentration of cross-functional skills suggests that high school students require "job readiness" and not "job training" for success. The skills most needed for the best jobs cut across many occupations, so educators should consider focusing on the skills with the broadest applicability to success. In contrast, skills associated with specific occupations are less applicable for the broader occupation set, implying that they should receive less emphasis in general high school curricula.


    Communication, integration and presentation skills (CIPs) are required for about 40 percent of all positions and make up 11 of the top 20 skills that are required by 39 percent of the fastest growing, highest paying positions. As Cushing Anderson, program vice president of Project-Based Services at IDC says in the report:

      Of the more than 11,000 skills we examined, it is interesting to see the play between hard and soft skills. Many of the top 20 skills reinforce the other; the skills we identified are not taken in isolation but rather are a golden set of skills that are consistently important. Seventy percent of the high-growth, high-wage occupations frequently require at least one of the top 20 skills.  

    IDC make a series of really important points on Pages 14/15 about the assessment of communication, integration and presentation skills capabilities.  They assert that assessments should be used to demonstrate students’ mastery of material and help improve the teaching and learning process. And IDC calls for programs to include formative adaptive assessments, performance-based tasks to demonstrate communication, integration and presentation skills capabilities, and appropriate technologies to facilitate consistent administration and evaluation of assessments. They also caution employers that it is unrealistic to expect schools to prepare students for specific jobs or even a specific industry, and that they must assume the responsibility of training new career entrants in the job-specific skills the occupation requires.

    The whole report is worth a read, both for the data points it includes, and for the help it contains for advising your students (and their parents!) about what lies around the corner in the job marketplace.

    Learn MoreSkills Requirements for Tomorrow's Best Jobs:
    Helping Educators Provide Students with Skills and Tools They Need

  • Education

    The 6 weirdest blog search queries


    Every now and again, people end up on this blog because it shows up in a Bing/Google/Yahoo search. Sometimes it’s about things you’d expect (it’s great that it appears as the number 2 result for ‘SharePoint school websites’ or number 1 for ‘accessibility of SharePoint’).

    But sometimes the search terms that people use amaze me.

    So here, for nothing more than entertainment, are the top 6 weirdest search engine queries that led people to this blog online:

    1. Can I make my email replies look like I’m out of office when I’m not? (got them to this page)
      What? You want to make it look like you’re not in the office. Surely somebody can just walk by your desk and spot the trick?
      • How to make beautiful school (got them to this page)
        At least I understand why you’d ask this. And fortunately, the page they get will show them to pretty up their website! Oh, and go me, I’m the first result in Google for that search Smile
        • I’m out of the office (got them to this page too)
          Why would anybody type that into a search engine? Maybe a journey of self-discovery
          • How to win a ward (got them to this page)
            Please tell me they weren’t trying to win a new hospital wing
            • Do I need a job title? (got them to this page)
              I cannot imagine any reason to type that into a search engine
              • Describe how using Microsoft technologies in your solution helped you win against the competition(got them to this page )
                This is just like copying your homework from somebody else. It was one of the questions on the form to enter for Microsoft Education Partner of the Year, and obviously somebody was looking for some help!

              Anybody other bloggers have any experience of this and want to share your examples?

            • Education

              How to join Skype in the classroom - like 38,000 other teachers


              Skype in the classroom logo

              Did you know that your students can use Skype to connect with a range of fabulous organisations that can broaden the classroom experience for your class – like NASA, museums, and expedition groups?

              Last week the team from 'Skype in the classroom' announced an expansion of their programme to six more supporting organisations NASA's Digital Learning Network™, The National Museum of the Royal Navy and HMS Victory, British Council, Woodland Trust, VerbalizeIt, Action Aid, Education through Expedition and Choose2Matter. They join Penguin Group, New York Philharmonic, Peace One Day, Save the Children, and the Science Museum, London who were already part of the Skype in the classroom programme.

              As one example of how these organisations will participate in Skype in the classroom, NASA's Digital Learning Centre will feature various projects where students can learn how to prepare a space vehicle for liftoff, help scientists and engineers to explore the basic principles of matter and design their own spacesuit mission patch. Participating classrooms will also discover what it is like to live and work in space as well as being introduced to basic robotics.

              Today Skype in the classroom has 38,899 teachers working together on 2,2226 global educational projects, and they are sharing 767 learning resources – and it's all free for teachers to join.

              Learn MoreLearn more about Skype in the classroom, and sign up here

            • Education

              Find out what's new for education customers in Dynamics CRM 2013



              There are now many education customers in Australia using the Dynamics CRM system for a whole range of different scenarios - student recruitment, alumni management, donation management, student retention, case management, event management, even OH&S processes. So the launch events for Dynamics CRM 2013 will be of interest to them as much as to institutions evaluating their strategy for the future.

              We’re heading out to four state capitals over the next 3 weeks, and in each you’ll have a chance to how Dynamics has evolved to deliver more amazing experiences every time.


              imageHappy citizens, students and patients, and healthy communities go hand-in-hand. Learn how Microsoft Dynamics CRM 2013 redefines the way people connect to get work done and enables you to deliver better customer service.

              Government: First time resolution with one view of the citizen to improve the experience of government services with grants management and case management. Enjoy a centralised and consistent view of the citizen at any one time.

              Transforming education for the future: Deliver better education via a single view of the student. Connect schools, TAFEs and higher education institutions.

              Health and Social Services: Increase access to health specialists for people in remote, rural and outer metropolitan Queensland and improve service with one view of a patient’s history.


              The events are designed to help you understand the new features, capabilities and strategic direction for Dynamics CRM, and without having to spend all day out of the office.

              Sydney 7 November - 1.00pm to 3.00pm - Click here to register

              Melbourne 7 November - 1.00pm to 3.00pm - Click here to register

              Brisbane 12 November - 9.00 am to 11.00am - Click here to register

              Perth 13 November - 1.00pm to 3.00pm - Click here to register

            • Education

              Improving school to home communication by giving parents access to Office 365 for education


              imageMy colleague, James Marshall, is a whizz with Office 365 for education. And he regularly shares information on his UK Education Cloud Blog on how to use the Office 365 cloud services to support education organisations (from both an IT management and user perspective). I really recommend following his blog if you're after up to date information.

              I've used some of the information from his blog post "Parent Access to SharePoint Online using PALs" to describe some scenarios where you can use Office 365 for education to improve your communications with parents. I've written this from a school perspective, but the same applies to TAFE or University where you want to securely communicate and interact with external users, including parents, business partners, researchers etc

              Using Office 365 to improve secure parental communications and save costs

              imageThere’s all sorts of information that schools need to provide to parents, and traditionally this has resulted in copious amounts of paper being given to students to put in their bag, often never to be seen again! This not only involves tonnes of paper, but also massive cost. Increasingly schools have turned to their websites, or social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook, to distribute information but sometimes there are things schools need to distribute to a restricted audience (things you want parents to know, but not tell the world; or things that are only relevant to one particular group of parents only). The good news is that if you're using Office 365 for education (the free cloud-based office service that gives you email, SharePoint, Lync, and Office web apps as an online service) you can use the website, team collaboration and publishing services to make this whole process easier.

              You can enable parent access to the SharePoint Online service in Office 365 for education using PALs (Partner Access Licence). And the good news is that the PALs are provided automatically as part of the Office 365 service.

              Scenarios for school to home collaboration with parents

              What sort of information could you publish? Here’s a few examples:

              • Internal school contact information – this could be information on how to contact a particular form tutor, or an up to date staff listing etc.
              • Event dates – some events like an open evening you want to promote to the world, but other events such as sports day or parents evening you might want to make available to a more limited audience.
              • School trip information – creating a dedicated team site for a particular school trip that you can grant parents access in order to share important information such as the trip itinerary, contact information, blogs, photos, etc. It can be a great way to keep in touch with home, but not tell the whole world about it!

              There is a bunch of jargon here, so here’s a few definitions:

              • PAL – partner access licence. Each SharePoint Online tenant in Office 365 for education gets 10,000 of these included.
              • External User – another name for someone that doesn’t exist as a licenced user object in Office 365. Typically your staff and students will have SharePoint Online licences, but as parents can’t be given these licenses they are external users. External users are invited by email address. The email address can be from any domain, but must be associated with a Microsoft Account. Each External User consumes one PAL.
              • External Contact – these represent people outside of your institution who can be displayed in the shared address book (GAL). They don’t have a mailbox in Exchange Online, and can’t sign in to your domain. They are also totally separate from External Users.

              Enabling parental access to Office 365 for education in three simple steps

              Enabling this functionality can be done in three simple steps:

              1. Enable external sharing for SharePoint Onlineby default SharePoint Online does not allow external users. To enable the potential for external users to be invited to any of the sit collections in your environment you need to enable the feature.
              2. Activate external sharing for a site collection – after the SharePoint Online environment has been set to allow external sharing, site collection administrators can choose whether or not to allow external users to be invited to sites in their site collections.
              3. Share your site with external users – now that you’ve activated external sharing, and allowed it on your chosen site collection(s), you can start sharing it with people.


              Keep in mind that once you invite external users to one part of your site, it is easy to grant them permission to other sites – which means if your staff get carried away, you may be sharing more than you first planned. So you should ensure that you know the identity of users who are invited through e-mail and consider confirming their identity before granting an external user access to content.

              An external user invitation can be accepted only one time. The invitation email can be forwarded to another recipient who can use the invitation to access the SharePoint site. However, after the e-mail invitation has been accepted, it expires.

              If you attempt to invite an external user to use your site when your school has set SharePoint Online to deny external users, you will see a note in the 'Share Site' box that that says, “Invitations to users outside your organization are currently disabled.”

              To use an email address, such as *, to log on to a SharePoint Online site, the email address must first be associated with a Microsoft account. You can register an email address with your Microsoft account by following the steps at this website.

              More Info

              You can read up on this topic in a few different places:

            • Education

              The Big Picture Experience in Sydney this Thursday


              Hopefully, if you’re based near Sydney, you’ve already registered to come along to The Big Picture Experience. The Sydney day for customers is this Thursday, the 1st December.

              The event is run as an ‘experience’, rather than as a conventional conference, so we’ve thrown away the usual long, dry agenda with the audience sitting down for hours on end. Instead, we’re creating an experience more like a theme park - lots of different zones to explore and learn in:

              • The Future of Productivity
              • Ultimate customer experiences
              • Insights 24/7
              • Mission control
              • The Modern Home
              • A World of Devices

              The customer days have exactly the same look and feel as our partner day on Wednesday, but instead of a big keynote, there are a number of mini keynotes and case studies throughout the day. There will also be many members of the education team on hand throughout the day, so that you can put faces to names, and get a chance for a deep and meaningful conversation! Oh, and over 100 other Microsoft people will be around each day, so there’s bound to be an expert in whatever subject you’re interested in.

              I can speak from experience of organising the Microsoft team at the world’s largest education IT exhibition at BETT, that having so many Microsoft people in one place means that it gives you access to knowledge that might normally take weeks to track down!

              The Big Picture website has a full agenda and detailed event guide, so I’d recommend jumping over there for full details and to register.

              You can either register in advance, or just turn up on the day

              Thu 1 Dec - 9am - 6pm
              Sydney Convention & Exhibition
              Centre – Hall 5
              Bing Maps | Add to Outlook calendar
              Find out more and register

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