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

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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:

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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.

Case Study: Jumeirah English Speaking School & The Value Of OneNote & Surface Pro

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Located in Dubai, JESS is a full K-12 school with around 2,200 students running the International Baccalaureate program. The school has deployed Surface Pro and Office365 at a Grade 7 level and are using OneNote Class NoteBooks, OneDrive, Sharepoint, Office Mix, Sway and Microsoft Classroom (soon to be replaced with Microsoft Teams)

Read the full case study here

Some of the teachers interviewed in the video above were very specific about the value they see from Surface Pro and OneNote e.g.

The advantage of the Surface Pro 4 is that it combines the ability to write text with all the computing power of a laptop, and that is a game changer.

I do encourage you to watch the video and read the case study above and learn more about how JESS started their Digital Transformation journey.

Consolidating Data Reporting With SQL2016 & PowerBI

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This afternoon I read a really interesting case study from the University of Tennessee on how they transformed their business reporting and compliance through consolidating their data onto SQL2016 & PowerBI.

Read the full case study here.

It’s worth reading the entire article (about 5mins) as the University has five campuses and two institutes which previously had individual reporting and analytics tools. To resolve this, a three pointed focus was created around:

  1. Consolidated repository
  2. Report verification process
  3. Data access and stewardship process

As the University was already using Office365, the decision to use PowerBI and SQL2016 as the backbone of their new BI solution made a lot of sense. Some impressive gains were made from this digital transformation project:

  • Data verification time decreased from 45minutes to 10 seconds (a 99% reduction)
  • This allowed the organisation to do multiple validations a day, rather than waiting until the close of business to perform a single audit.
  • The University is a USD$1.2 billion dollar enterprise and yet despite their size they are able to support their BI with a team of just six staff.
UoT by Degree

Click the above to view some sample reports of real data. Note that you can scroll through five different reports using the arrows at the bottom of the report (visible once you’ve clicked above).

For larger HigherEd / Tertiary institutions the above is likely a compelling story in data transformation and reporting.

 

Professional Learning Communities Groups in Office365

office-365-fi-625x321Back in mid-2016 Microsoft released PLC Groups for Office365 and I have to admit, I completely missed this feature release.

You can read the full announcement on the official Office365 blog post here.

I guess I’m pretty excited about this for a few reasons, primarily because it links into the professional development model that is increasingly being adopted in New Zealand schools – that of Professional Learning Groups (PLG) using inquiry based models. Certainly, at St Andrew’s College where I was the Director of ICT for the last five years, this was adopted back in 2012 and resources for these groups would typically use a OneNote or a Moodle course to collate resources over the period of the inquiry. Whilst this was fine, it was always a pain to keep track of group members and making sure that everyone was being included in group messages. The official blog post above highlighted some of the challenges as well:

  • Teachers can be isolated, time is severely limited and collaboration is difficult.
  • Professional collaboration tools are disconnected and don’t always support meaningful, sustained collaboration.
  • A challenge for many PLCs is extending the work and relationships in the times and spaces between physically coming together.
  • It can be difficult for new teachers to ramp up.
  • Information is often stored in personal spaces as opposed to one common place that can benefit others.
  • New members need to better understand the journey, story, exploration and history of a PLC, its activities and areas of inquiry.

To address these short comings, the following features are available in these O365 groups designed especially for educators:

  • Inbox for group email communication, including Connector for connecting your group to Twitter and following topics or Twitter handles that interest your PLC group.
  • Calendar for scheduling group events.
  • Document library for storing and working on group files and folders.
  • OneNote notebook for taking project and meeting notes.
  • Planner for organizing and assigning tasks and getting updates on project progress.

What is not listed above, but has huge value for me, is the ability to add guest members to your PLC group. What this means is that teachers/experts (or even parents) who are outside of your O365 tenant can be invited on their personal email address and they only need to activate this address as a Microsoft Account, to be able to sign into the O365 group and contribute.

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Screenshot from the Professional Learning Communities shared OneNote with guidance on how to run the inquiry.

This opens up a huge range of possibilities for schools where there is likely to be inter-school professional inquiries taking place. In New Zealand, this could be the Communities of Learning which connect different schools together in the same geographical region. To be able to use a shared inbox group and calendar to co-ordinate meetings (either in person or via Skype) as well as a central location for all documents shared (either uploaded or simply attached via emails through the group) and a OneNote means the key tools to promote a successful inquiry are all in one place and accessible to every member, whether they are at the same school or not.

The experience of the Omaha Public Schools District using PLC is shown below:

Last week, Darrell Webster hosted a virtual meeting with a number of people to discuss how PLC work and the effectiveness of them in schools. There are a few technical glitches at the start of the meeting but it’s worth watching past these to see the quality discussion. Attending the meeting are:

  • Darrell Webster  (host) and Microsoft MVP award winner since 2013 and self described “Office365 Enthusiast”
  • Krish Gali, Product Manager for Office 365 Groups
  • Robert Dickson, Executive Director at Omaha Public School
  • Rachel Chisnall MIE Expert and teacher at Taeri College, Dunedin
  • Morgan McKeen MIE Expert and teacher at Parnell District School, Auckland

My Thoughts On This:

There’s a lot to like about PLC Groups in Office365, not least that it reflects that Microsoft is continuing to actively invest into technologies that improve the way in which teachers manage their growing administrative workload. A few other highlights for me (in no particular order):

  • The PLC group OneNote comes pre-populated with templates to assist teachers with their inquiry and smooth running of the Professional Learning Groups.
  • Guest Access – it’s hard to overestimate how valuable this is. Too often schools are dealing with disparate groups of people and being able to link them all into the one-stop-shop of resources is incredible.
  • Central Access – the PLC group is not owned by any one individual teacher, but instead is part of the school’s O365 Tenant meaning that if one teacher leaves the school or is no longer involved in that particular PLC, the resources are not locked down preventing others from getting access to them.
    • Similarly, this means that if a PLC inquiry is likely to be a multi-year group, staff can come and go but all the previous resources, conversations and research is maintained and accessible.
    • Additionally, the staff member in charge of professional development can be added as a member to all PLC groups and can see progress and add comments etc at anytime ensuring full transparency.
    • Again, having a single email address to email all members of the PLC means there are no excuses for accidentally excluding a staff member from a vital communication!
  • Connectors – in particular, the ability to add Twitter and follow users or hashtags means the PLC can extend their reach and pull in valuable resources directly into the PLC group – priceless. I became a Twitter convert back in 2014 and wrote a lengthy blog explaining why teachers should use Twitter to grow their Professional Learning Network
  • Planner – this is a simplified GANT chart type organisational tool, very similar to the popular Trello. It’s a great addition to the Office365 tool box and you can read more about it here. I’d certainly encourage teachers that are already using Trello to consider migrating to Planner given the deep integration into O365 that it offers.

So there you go – don’t make the same mistake I did and overlook the value of the Office365 Professional Learning Communities groups; they will definitely find an indispensable place in your school.

School Stories – How #MSFT Tech Is Changing Schools

This blog post is more of a permanent marker to refer back to regularly – a great website collating inspiring stories of how schools around the world are using Microsoft technology to create immersive teaching and learning experiences.

Click here to read the stories.

Some of my favorites include:

There is a heap of stories on there and I encourage you to go and check them out.