Video Case Study: Using Azure Machine Learning Studio In High Schools

Video

The above video is a great example of how schools can start to engage students with real world technologies such as Azure Machine Learning that are only going to grow in significance in the very near future.

The Azure Machine Learning Studio was used by the students at Seymour College in South Australia to build a model that predicted risks of breast cancer, with the results then being analyzed by the girls in Microsoft Excel.

This is a great example of supporting girls in STEM with contextualized learning, hopefully keeping them thinking about further study and careers in STEM which is very necessary to redress the gender imbalance in this sector.

There are some great introductory videos showing how easy it is to get Azure Machine Learning, including collaboration with other students, on the link below:

azure machine learning.PNG

Nayland College Case Study: $150,000 Savings Moving To Microsoft Cloud Platforms

This blog is re-posted content from the original Microsoft Case Study that you can read by clicking here.

Nayland College was using Google Apps for Education to reduce the need for on-premises servers and software, but the solution was not meeting its needs. So the school chose to migrate to Microsoft Office 365. The new software was so well received by staff and students that the migration finished well ahead of schedule. The school now has access to a powerful suite of teaching and learning tools, and it saved $150,000 (NZD) on hardware. Microsoft partner pcMedia facilitated the migration with its cloud and education expertise.

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Taking first steps into the cloud

Nayland College in Nelson, New Zealand, offers its 1,000 students a curriculum of inspirational learning programs designed to prepare them for scholastic and professional success in the modern information economy. The school takes pride in its state-of-the-art educational facilities and its talented, dedicated teachers. Nayland has a leading-edge cabled and wireless IT infrastructure designed to provide the school community with easy access to the its technology resources.

Nayland wants to make sure that those resources include the tools that both teachers and students need to succeed. “We want our students to develop the twenty-first-century skills they need to excel,” says Daniel Wilson, Principal at Nayland College. “And we want our teachers to have strong professional development programs so they can provide students with the learning opportunities that will cultivate those skills. We also want to make sure that our infrastructure is able to keep up with technological changes so it continues to meet our requirements.”

In 2015, Nayland decided that its existing IT systems were not meeting those requirements. The school had on-premises software and servers that were costly to maintain and update, and they could not provide features like remote access to files and lessons. To address these concerns, Nayland adopted the cloud-based Google Apps for Education (GAFE) suite, while still maintaining an on-premises student management system (SMS). However, the solution proved to have some drawbacks. “The online tools weren’t meeting the needs of our teachers,” says Wilson. “The functionality of Google Docs at the time was limited, and it couldn’t integrate with our SMS, which was a problem for us.”

Finding a better solution for the school

Because of the drawbacks of GAFE, Nayland put out a request for proposals seeking a better solution. The school chose to work with Microsoft partner and education expert pcMedia on a plan to migrate from GAFE to the Microsoft Office 365 Pro Plus hosted suite of productivity applications. The initial goal was to finish the migration in 18 months, but once the school started using the solution, the timeline became shorter.

“Our teachers were extremely enthusiastic about Office 365, and they were eager to learn more about how to use new tools like Microsoft OneNote to enhance teaching and learning,” explains Wilson. “The initial rate of adoption exceeded expectations, so we were able to complete the migration more quickly than we originally anticipated.”

Within 6 months, all staff members were using Office 365 as their primary teaching and learning tool. Nayland helped streamline the adoption process by putting an emphasis on comprehensive professional development for faculty and staff. “pcMedia provided us with a Microsoft Teacher Ambassador who conducted individual and group training,” says Wilson. “We also offered video tutorials and a OneNote staff handbook, and we set up lead teachers within departments as a peer resource.”

pcMedia also made the transition easier by providing a hybrid strategy that enabled staff and students to move from GAFE to Office 365 at their own pace. To do this, pcMedia modified the Office 365 application launcher so that all of the school’s key systems were accessible from a single place, giving users time to become familiar and comfortable with the Office 365 interface. The pcMedia solution also made things easier by using Microsoft Azure Active Directory to provide single sign-on (SSO) capabilities so that users could access multiple online tools and systems without the need to log in separately to each one. This enabled Nayland to eliminate a third-party SSO software package it had been using, saving both money and administration time. The school’s applications and devices now all rely on Azure Active Directory for authentication.

Nayland is using the Microsoft Azure cloud platform to store off-site backups of the on-premises SMS. Between Azure and Office 365, the school now has 90 percent of its data and services in the Microsoft cloud with only legacy applications and some large graphics files on a single server at the school. “We have a Windows Server 2012 with ShadowProtect Image Control on it and Azure blob storage
for the back-up. We chose Azure because it provides better cost and uptime than other alternatives,” says Lee Harper, Education Specialist at pcMedia. “Microsoft is also a brand that we trust, and one that the school trusts with its sensitive information.”

Providing benefits for the entire school community

Now that Nayland has completed its Office 365 migration, the school has access to a wide range of tools that enhance communication and collaboration capabilities, including Skype for Business, OneDrive for Business, and SharePoint Online. Staff and students are able to access course content and files at any time from anywhere that they have an Internet connection. Communication between students and teachers have increased, and teachers can more easily enhance and customize class materials.

“Our teachers can create more dynamic lessons through the use of video, which they can easily record directly into OneNote,” says Wilson. “They can also create more personalized and differentiated learning programs and choose from multiple modes of assessment to best meet the needs of each student. Teachers are also finding innovative ways to use tools like OneNote to support dyslexic students and to integrate field and classroom studies.”

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Because Nayland is using Office 365 ProPlus, students have the option to install the software on their own devices, so they have access to the same tools at home that they do at school.  Wilson has also noticed that students are increasingly using educational apps on their own devices. Parents are now able to be more involved in learning because they can see student work at home.

Nayland has also streamlined IT management with Office 365, by reducing the need for on-site administration and maintenance of servers and software—updates to the Office 365 tools happen automatically in the background. By eliminating all but one of its on-premises servers, the school estimates that it is saving $150,000 (NZD) in hardware over two years, and it has been able to redirect that money into classrooms for new computers and wireless projectors. Office 365 also works smoothly with the school’s SMS.

With its Office 365 project, Nayland has taken important steps on the pathway to a digital transformation of the school. Teachers are excited about the technology and exploring its many available options, and there is greater collaboration and sharing of expertise across the entire organization. The project has been a success, and its benefits are spread across the whole school community. “Working alongside pcMedia and Microsoft, we have been able to implement a robust, extremely cost effective, and innovative solution that meets and responds to the learning needs of our students and the professional needs of our staff,” says Wilson.

Dealing With Data Sovereignty: Why Government Agencies Must Use Cloud Services

One of the common objections I hear from schools around New Zealand when the topic of moving to the cloud comes up is “what about the security of my data? Who owns it if it is hosted overseas?”

Data sovereignty is a big deal and schools should definitely be thinking about these types of questions, however the New Zealand Government has significantly simplified this conversation by posting online about why Government Agencies must use cloud services:

Cabinet’s Cloud First policy requires agencies to adopt cloud services in preference to traditional IT systems because they are more cost effective, agile, are generally more secure, and provide greater choice.

Cabinet requires agencies to adopt cloud services

Cabinet requires agencies to:

  • adopt cloud services in preference to traditional IT systems
  • make adoption decisions on a case-by-case basis following a risk assessment 
  • only store data classified as RESTRICTED or below in a cloud service, whether it is hosted onshore or offshore

The last bullet point is especially important – it’s unlikely any schools store data at a security classification level higher than “RESTRICTED” – leaving only Confidential, Secret and Top Secret data not being permitted in the public cloud.

The Government requirement outlines the reasons why they mandate a cloud-first approach for agencies, with the value offering being:

The key benefits of cloud services for the Government are:

  • more cost-effective IT services
  • increased agility from quicker deployment times
  • greater choice
  • improved security.

From an Office Productivity perspective, the article also shows significant usage of Microsoft Office365 usage amongst Government agencies:

There is strong demand for adopting office productivity services, with over half of agency CIOs stating in our October 2016 survey their agencies intend to use these services within the next 12 months. Almost all of these agencies intend to use Microsoft’s Office 365, Skype, Azure Active Directory and Azure Services

From a school leadership perspective, this mandate from the New Zealand government simplifies the decision making process somewhat, by effectively saying the public cloud offerings outside of New Zealand are acceptable for all data classified as RESTRICTED or below. The closest Azure data centers to New Zealand are located in Sydney and Melbourne respectively:

regions-map

Harvest: Making Marking Easy in OneNote Class Notebooks

Harvest2OneNote Class Notebooks remain one of the most popular features in the Microsoft Office365 Education offerings and teachers love the simplicity of seeing all of their students’ work in one place. This is especially important when it comes to quickly and efficiently marking the work of students and providing feedback.

The One Education team, creators of the Infinity One laptop for students, recognised the power and popularity of OneNote and created a brand new product called Harvest to supercharge marking and sharing of student work for teachers. This is hosted entirely in the Azure cloud and harnesses all the power of Office365 API and OneNote Class Notebooks, demonstrating innovative thinking by helping teachers reduce the time consuming work of marking and collating student work.

I’ve created a quick six minute introduction to the product where I walk through some of the key features and you can see this below:

As you will have seen in the video, teachers can install the plugin into OneNote Online (note that for now OneNote desktop does not support the addition of third party extensions, so Harvest only works in the browser version of OneNote Online) and can get started marking student work immediately:

Harvest1

Currently, Harvest supports a database of both New Zealand and Australian curriculum standards/strands meaning teachers can easily search for the standard they wish to mark student work against. This, in itself, streamlines the marking process for teachers as they do not need to manually enter the curriculum details that the student is studying.

Here is a simple example of marking a student’s Year 13 Calculus work:

On the left you can see the student’s Maths–>Calculus section in the OneNote Class Notebook has been selected and on the right the teacher has clicked “Browse” to identify the curriculum strand they’re assessing against. Mathematics and Statistics is selected.

Harvest Maths1

The teacher selects the curriculum level / year level to narrow down the selection of curriculum strands to choose from:

Harvest Maths2

The teacher then selects the most appropriate curriculum strand(s) they are assessing against:

Harvest Maths3

The teacher can now see the curriculum strand, give it a grade of “Below / At / Above Level” and can even add a comment of up to 255 characters (visible only to the teacher currently)

Harvest Maths4

Harvest Dashboard

Harvest Dashboard Link

What really sets Harvest apart is the use of existing API within OneNote to collate all of this work (essentially, these grades are Tags within OneNote) and then display them in a “single pane of glass” interface. This assists the teacher to get an overview of either a single student or an entire class based off the marking they have completed. To view this dashboard the teacher simply clicks the “Harvest” menu item and then “Dashboard” and it loads for them in a new tab in their browser:

Harvest Dashboard1

Some things to note in the above screenshot:

  • Teachers can select from multiple different OneNote Class Notebooks on the left hand menu
  • Teachers can also select from multiple curriculum areas within the same Class NoteBook which obviously makes a lot of sense for primary school teachers, or cross-curricular class environments.
  • Students are all listed in a grid (the columns), with a colour coded system showing whether they are Below / At / Above The Level based on each curriculum strand marked (the rows in the grid). Where a student does not have work marked against a particular curriculum strand it is grey indicating “No Rating”
  • Harvest will also generate a thumbnail of the student work when hovering over the grade in the grid – note at this stage thumbnails of digital inking is not available.

It’s not hard to imagine how beneficial the above view would be for a teacher when it comes to writing school reports or preparing for parent/teacher interviews – they would literally have ALL graded work collated into one place and able to show the parent at the click of a button. This is harnessing all the power of OneNote Class Notebooks, the associated API’s and the Azure cloud to streamline marking and reporting for teachers.

Harvest Dashboard2

Viewing larger thumbnails of student work in Harvest Feed, where the various grades are easily recognizable through consistent colour coding.

To top it off, teachers can choose to share selected student work directly to parents with a shortened URL (something Microsoft recently added to Class Notebooks):

Harvest Share

A teacher must first select “Student Feedback” along the top to make it publicly visible, and then simply copy the link to share with a parent.

I am really excited by the prospects of Harvest because it seems like a product that understands the challenges teachers have managing large amounts of assessment and aims to simplify the reporting process. With many schools moving to increasingly digital and paperless environments, leveraging the existing power within OneNote to support assessment and reporting is a smart move and something I’d imagine many schools will be very interested in.

For schools that are wanting to get started with Harvest straight away, check out these comprehensive set up instructions.

Free Azure Cloud Migration Assessment Tool

As more organisations, including schools and tertiary institutes, explore cloud migrations from on-premise servers, the number one question is always “how much will it cost me and how much can I save?”

Recently, Microsoft have released a free cloud migration assessment tool that you can see here:

Click here to start the free cloud migration assessment

There are three ways you can import data into this assessment tool:”

  1. Manual Import – essentially entering the RAM/CPU/OS specs of your physical/virtual servers one at a time into the online tool
  2. Bulk custom import – download an Excel template to manually update the specs and then import into the online tool
  3. Automated discovery and import – this utilises the free Microsoft Assessment and Planning (MAP) Toolkit. This can be configured to scan through all/part of your server network to automatically identify the specifications being used and then generate an import file for the online tool.

You can watch a detailed instruction on how to use these three methods in the YouTube clip below:

cloud migration toolkit

Click the above image to watch the YouTube clip

What I really like about this tool is that you get a report with calculated costs for Azure hosting compared to your on-premise infrastructure costs:

Azure Report.PNG

An example of the predicted cost savings using Azure compared to on-premise hosting.

This is, of course, based off assumptions in terms of costs to maintain on-premise services and this is where the tool is very flexible. If you have already done a TCO or ROI exercise and know the costs of on premise services you can manually update these costs in the assumptions calculator to truly match your known costs:

Azure Assumptions

This tool allows great flexibility in terms of entering your true/known costs into the assumptions tab to get accurate comparisons

Tools like this can give organisations certainty in terms of predicted costs for moving their infrastructure into the Azure cloud. I’d love to hear first hand from educational institutes out there that have used this tool – feel free to post a comment below if you have.

 

Azure Media Analytics – Search EVERYTHING In Your Videos

Azure Media Analytics

Last week I was in Singapore at the Microsoft APAC Education Partner Summit where over 140 partners attended two days of sessions. One that really stood out for me was a session on Azure Media Analytics.

The idea behind this service is to deliver deeper insights into the media content of an organisation, far beyond the simple number of plays on a video. The best platform for viewing this concept is below:

https://www.videobreakdown.com/

The demo was impressive and highlighted a range of really interesting use case scenarios on how Azure Media Analytics might be leveraged by organisations. As per the graphic above there is a lot of individual features and some of the ones that stood out to me included:

  • Facial Identification/Recognition – tagging of names to faces
  • Transcription – automatic transcription of content either live or post-recording
  • Translation – automatic translation of the above transcripts
  • Visual Text Recognition – a really unique one that allows you to search for any text that appears on screen, whether a sub-title or PowerPoint deck being shown.
  • Indexing – all of the above is searchable from a global search box

From a real world usage perspective there is a range of very clever scenarios that could leverage this type of technology e.g.

  • An organisation tags important people e.g. their senior leadership / VIP guests. They could then search their video archives to find footage where two people are in the same video shot such as a Prime Minister coming to open a new building at the school and the Principal is in the video shot with the Prime Minister.
  • Recorded Lectures – students/lecturers could search recorded lecturers for anything e.g. key words either spoken or displayed on screen.
    • Because indexing is applied the above search results will play a few seconds before the keywords are spoken/displayed on screen.
  • Providing searchable transcripts for visually/aurally impaired users, increasing the accessibility of content to all users.
Azure Filters

The search capabilities available on the www.videobreakdown.com website

Another cool feature demonstration was Microsoft Hyperlapse a tool that was released last year that allows you to create smoothed accelerated time-lapse  videos. Designed to improve the viewing experience of “first person” videos filmed on devices like GoPro cameras that are often very shaky, the significant processing power of the cloud is used to improve these videos.

Video showing actual speed, 5x accelerated time-lapse and then 5x accelerated time-lapse with HyperLapse

There is a good summary from The Verge here, and the video below shows how Hyperlapse Pro can be used:

These all represent new ways to engage with rich visual media and maximise the value of it by making it searchable.