Digital Technologies For Learning – What The Research Says

The New Zealand Council for Education Research (NZCER) has released a report on the role of Digital Technologies in the primary and intermediate years of schooling in New Zealand, drawing on data obtained from a survey of schools conducted in August/September 2016. This provides some really valuable insights into the situation in schools (for a direct link to the Key Findings click here), neatly summarized in the following infographic:

NCZER Infographic.png

Licensed under Creative Commons – see here for full report.

Having read the Key Findings from the report and the three blog posts from the report’s author Rachel Bolstad, here are a few things that stood out to me:

  • Teachers indicated that student use of technology was still focused around a few key things e.g. practicing skills (think Mathletics and skills repetition/speed work) researching (the ever present “google search”) or creating presentations in documents / slide shows
  • Other uses of technology were less common e.g. game based learning (Minecraft Education Edition is a good example of how to do this successfully), programming and genuine multi-media work.
  • Many teachers did indicate they wanted to harness technology to enable their students to collaborate with students/schools/others outside of their own school but were struggling to make this happen. It was unclear why this did not happen, but one way to forge these relationships is with activities like Mystery Skype, which can then lead to truly Global Citizens connected with fellow learners around the world.
  • Whilst most teachers thought Digital Technologies provided positive gains in the classroom, 10% (still quite high in my view) thought the negatives/frustrations outweighed the positives.
  • Principals identified the obvious challenges to deeper integration of Digital Technologies into the primary curriculum, including issues around equity of access, funding challenges and costs around professional development of teaching staff.
  • I was surprised that so few teachers have built their own online Professional Learning Network (PLN). This was quite prevalent in the previous school I worked in, and there seems to be a wide range of networks utilizing social media to connect teachers with teach other to share ideas, resources, best practice or just some much-needed encouragement!

Whilst the above came from the data surveying primary and intermediate aged schools, in her first blog post Rachel Bolstad did share data from the 2015 NZCER study of secondary schools with some interesting data showing how digital technologies were being used in secondary classrooms:

NZCER.png

Credit: Rachel Bolstad, blog post here

It’s a similar trend perhaps – many teachers saying they don’t use technology for a range of more innovative uses (game based learning, distance learning, coding etc) but would like to. The aspirations are there – identifying the blockers is the next step!

Back the 2016 Primary/Intermediate data on programming:

  • Only 19% of teachers said their students were using digital technologies for coding or programming (15% “sometimes”, 4% “often”).
  • A further 43% said they would like this to be happening in their classrooms.

In her third blog post, Bolstad identified a key point: a lot of the coding and makerspace programmes happening in school are, to all intents and purposes, extra-curricular ones, occurring at lunch times, after school and usually because an enthusiastic teacher (or parent!) is helping to drive it. This is an important point to acknowledge, as it highlights the fact that many schools still struggle to “find time” or integrate this into their core curriculum programmes. This will change, of course, with the NZ Government announcement about new Digital Curriculum Standards and subsequent investment to make this happen.

Another fascinating point to emerge from the research, perhaps lending some weight to the challenges of equity, were found in the answers to the questions around what sort of opportunities students had to access coding, gaming or makerspace activities in schools:

  • 41% of teachers said their students DID have access
  • 41% of teachers said their student did NOT have access
  • 17% were not sure…..
  • BUT in Decile 9-10 schools this was 49% said yes students did have access compared to just 26% in Decile 1-2 schools.

Overall, it seems that activities like coding and gaming still remain less common in schools and a marginal activity that majority of students do not participate in:

NZCER involvement.jpg

Credit: Rachel Bolstad blog post here

It is fantastic to have this level of research and analysis based off recent survey data and I do encourage you to read the entire findings by clicking the link below:

NZCER Digital Technologies Survey

New To PowerBI: Daily Dashboard Email Updates Via Subscription

I’ve written a lot about PowerBI, both on this blog and in my previous role at St Andrew’s College and one of the things I love most about the product is the current speed of development. Significant new features are added monthly, often in response to user requests (hint, if you want to see a new feature submit it here) and today I saw announced a great new feature.

Daily Dashboard Email Subscriptions is a new feature allowing your PowerBI users to subscribe to a company or individual dashboard and receive daily email snapshots of this critical data.

PowerBI

An example email of a dashboard overview emailed daily to the recipient

For users that are used to Microsoft SQL Server Reporting Services (SSRS) this feature could not come soon enough. It is super easy for your end users to sign up themselves for these daily emails, they simply go to the dashboard of their choice (or make a custom dashboard by pinning the visuals they want to track) and hit subscribe:

PowerBI 2.jpg

Note: if your data does not change regularly, then will not be bombarded with daily emails that were identical to the previous day. The updates come via email only as regularly as your data refreshes but no more than once a day. Therefore, if you have non-critical data that only refreshes once a week, you will only receive an email once a week.

It looks like the PowerBI team isn’t stopping there when it comes to email subscriptions, with new features coming soon that include:

In an education context I can see this being super helpful for Executive and Enrollment Teams where they need to track time sensitive data e.g. how many beds remain in the boarding house? What is the gender split in Year 10? How many students have passed their internal assessment before the end of the year? Lots of possibilities exist for daily emails of key dashboards.

PowerBI Premium Is Here

powerbiLast month I blogged about the announcement of PowerBI Premium and the changes that were coming. This has sparked a renewed interest from schools and tertiary institutes as they understand the implications of these changes and how they can leverage them to their advantage.

Overnight, the PowerBI team published a couple of interesting blogs that are worth checking out:

If you’re not particularly familiar with PowerBI Premium then read the whitepaper here, but in essence it:

….enables the distribution of reports broadly across an enterprise and externally, without requiring recipients to be individually licensed. And since Power BI Premium consists of capacity in the Power BI service exclusively dedicated to an organization, the offering provides the flexibility to customize performance based on the needs of a team, department, or the organization itself.

Embedded PowerBI Reports:

An area that has probably generated the most questions to me is the ability to embed PowerBI reports into a web or mobile app. I’ve linked to guides showing how this can be done in earlier blog posts, but it is only with PowerBI Premium that fixed costs around this service have become available. It’s worth reading the PDF called “Embedded Analytics Capacity Planning PowerBI” in it’s entirety but a few things stand out to me:

  1. You need to continue to license users with PowerBI Pro if they are administrating, developing or publishing content within PowerBI for consumption by others. This is no change from the earlier announcement last month but is worth keeping in mind.
  2. Even when testing in development you need to have a PowerBI Premium SKU “Power BI Premium enables full testing of the solution with embed tokens that allow multi-user access to the embedded Power BI reports and dashboards.”
  3. PowerBI Premium has new embedded SKU for running it as a PaaS with varying levels of capacity, based on the anticipated number of pages rendered per hour
    1. A page render is counted any time Power BI visuals are loaded on a page. A page refresh counts as a page render, as does any other page interactivity, like slice and dice, filtering, etc. 

The report gives an example for how to calculate what sort of capacity a developer might need to think about when it comes to using Embedded PowerBI:

[A developer] knows that the SaaS App with embedded Power BI handles 100 users in the peak hour. It is assumed that these users will trigger a total of 250 page renders for that hour because each user will load a report and interact with it 2.5 times during the peak hour …. [the developer] should choose Power BI Premium EM1.

PowerBI Embedded Costs

Initial costing (in USD$) for commercial users. The first three rows are embedded SKU (PaaS only). Educational pricing will be lower than the above.

I’ve had a number of conversations with both educational software developers and larger schools that are interested in delivering embedded PowerBI reports in both web apps (parent portals or intranets in a typical school environment) and mobile apps, so the new EM1 SKU above does start to deliver a more affordable option.

PowerBI – Major Licensing Changes

powerbi-getting-startedPowerBI is a fantastic visualisation and reporting tool that I’ve written about extensively on this blog already, as well as having created numerous screencasts and blogs in an educational context from my time at St Andrew’s College.

Last week, Microsoft announced some major changes to the licensing of PowerBI which will come into effect on June 1st 2017 with some potential ramifications for schools that are currently exploring the functionality in the free version. If you’re unfamiliar with the product in general, then PowerBI.com is the best place to start for an overview, and the key changes from the announcement on 3rd of May can be found on this blog post from PowerBI.com.

My take on these changes is as follows:

  • PowerBI Free = still available, you can download the free PowerBI Desktop app here, and you can still publish reports/dashboards to PowerBI.com in the cloud but you can no longer share these with other users in the free version (this will require a Pro license – see below). Perhaps a better way of looking at this would be “PowerBI Personal” – i.e. for your own data explorations and visualizations in situations where you have no intention to share or collaborate with others. The update is there is some increased functionality around frequency of data refresh rates using the Data Gateway, along with increased volumes of data.
  • PowerBI Pro = Very similar to what was previously being delivered with this paid for license (academic pricing is generally available in most countries) but it appears this is increasingly becoming the “default” license if you’re wanting to share or collaborate on reports, or have your data automatically refreshing using the Personal Data Gateways from a wider range of data sources. The best link to understand what constitutes content requiring a PowerBI Pro license can be found here and I would encourage you to check this out. From my quick scan, the features which have moved out of the “free” and into the “Pro” license appear to be:
    • Data from a dataset that connects to on-premises data using the Power BI Gateway – Personal or the On-premises Data Gateway, and for which a scheduled refresh is set.
    • A dashboard or report that’s installed from an app or an organizational content pack.
    • Export to CSV/Excel
    • Peer to Peer dashboard sharing
  • PowerBI Premium = The newest feature, all details can be seen here, this is intended for large scale deployment of dashboards and reports across your organisation, including the ability to share content with users who are not necessarily licensed in the traditional way as an individual user. It has a higher financial entry point, with a fixed monthly cost and I don’t see much application at a K-12 level (outside of a school investing in sharing PowerBI reporting with parents too). However this could be a game changer at HighEd / Tertiary institutions that are wanting to enable their entire staff and students to make better data-driven decision making.
    • Importantly, it appears that the embedding of dashboards into web apps and web pages is now a feature reserved for Premium usage, so this will have consequences for third party developers / ISVs wanting to use PowerBI as the reporting engine in their software.
PowerBI Dashboard.png

Example K-12 Education dashboard made in PowerBI

It is going to take a bit for for me to fully understand how these changes will ultimately affect schools. For those that have invested in PowerBI Pro licenses for staff/students, not much will change I suspect and it will be business as usual. For those schools that have been experimenting with PowerBI and the free licenses I think the major implications are likely to be:

  • No ability to share content that has been refreshed automatically using the Personal Data Gateway, or has come from any sort of database / web source.
  • Restricted to sharing content that has been manually populated into PowerBI.com from limited data sources such as either PowerBI Desktop, Excel or CSV.

Given most schools want to move towards a “set and forget” approach when it comes to data configuration, it would appear that using PowerBI Pro licenses is the way forward for most schools.

For an external view of these changes have a read of this interesting summary from Matt Allington in Australia where he highlights five different user scenarios and identifies how the changes benefit them. He picks up on the value add for large organisations and the ability to deploy easily across users, splitting users between content creators (who will still need a PowerBI Pro license) and consumers (who will be covered by organisational PowerBI Premium consumption licenses).

 

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.

Embed A PowerBI Dashboard In Your Application

I read the following blog post this afternoon that demonstrated how to embed a PowerBI Dashboard directly into a web application. It’s worth watching the 14min video if you’re a developer as there are a lot of tools and sample code that you can explore straight away to test this out:

I see this as particularly useful for schools that allow students to log into their Learning Management System (LMS) or for parents who may have a portal into the school’s Student Management System (SMS). To be able to build dashboard reporting of a student’s learning and display it visually and interactively is a great step forward compared to much of the reporting that students and parents currently receive.

Yes, currently it is quite technical to achieve this, however some schools have internal resources that could build a web app and incorporate this type of reporting, whilst others would be looking for their IT partners to build this in.

In the past, I’ve worked to embed open source reporting graphs into LMS such as Moodle (you can see an example here), however using PowerBI embedded dashboards would definitely take this kind of reporting to the next level!

Get The Most From Office365 With PowerBI Usage Reports

Many schools are using Office365 to drive learning outcomes and effectively enable faculty and students to communicate and collaborate more efficiently. Increasingly, organisations are asking “how do we know this investment is working?” and, with the recent preview release of Office365 adoption content pack for PowerBI, schools are able to accurately measure usage and uptake.

Even though this is still in limited preview release, schools can sign up to trial this free content pack for PowerBI by emailing O365usagePowerBIPreview@service.microsoft.com and getting access to the rich visualisations on usage within their organisation:

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Sample dashboard of the new Office365 Adoption content pack for PowerBI

From my perspective, these reports now enable schools to actively ask questions of how is Office365 being used within their organisation and then see if the data assists in providing valuable insights for action e.g.

  • Are staff using OneDrive to store and share resources as they have been trained to do?
  • Are students using Skype for instant messaging and video chats for after-school revision sessions?
  • Are staff and students using the desktop application of OneNote or are most still using the web browser version?
  • Are we getting swamped by email and is the volume increasing or decreasing?

The last question is particularly pertinent as email can be one of the biggest time consumers for staff as they read/reply to emails from fellow staff, students or parents:

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The Communication Report showing email and and yammer posts

This new level of analysis also provides schools with focused, actionable insights such as:

  • Areas identified which clearly need further training to increase adoption e.g. if a school is trying to push all non-urgent communications onto an internal Yammer site, these reports will show if adoption is happening through the volume of posts.
  • Return on the investment: with Office Pro Plus available for faculty and students providing a rich desktop environment with deeply integrated cloud storage and connectivity in the back end, are users downloading and activating this on their devices?
  • If the mobile platform is showing as the predominant client for reading emails or other communications, is the school ensuring all emails (and websites for that matter) are mobile friendly to read with responsive designed layouts?

The full range of reports available in this adoption pack can be seen on this link, but the main ones are:

  • Yammer Usage report—Useful for organizations that are in the process of rolling out Yammer or are focused on increasing usage. The report provides helpful information about how various parts of your organization adopt Yammer as a form or communication including how many people post messages, how many consume content by liking or reading a message and how new user activation has changed over time.
  • Skype for Business Usage report—Provides a consolidated view of Skype activity as well as with details about how many users leverage Skype to connect with others through peer-to-peer messages and how many communicate their ideas by participating or organizing video conferences.
  • OneDrive for Business Usage report—Shows admins how users leverage OneDrive to collaborate with others in new ways. They can easily see how many users use OneDrive to share files and how many utilize it mostly for file storage. The report also includes information about how many OneDrive accounts are actively being used, and how many files are stored on average.
  • SharePoint Usage report—Shows how SharePoint team sites and groups sites are being used to store files and for collaboration. The report also includes information about how many SharePoint sites are actively being used, and how many files are stored on average.
  • Office 365 Top User report—Enables admins to identify Office 365 power users and the individual products they are using. Power users can often help to drive product usage by sharing their experience about how they use the products to get their work done faster and more efficiently.

In an earlier post I wrote about how professional development in Office365 for teachers can be tracked and measured using the MIE Educator Platform, and this new content pack for Office365 administrators seems like a similarly useful tool for schools to utilize. One of the many strengths of PowerBI is that the reports are easy to comprehend and digest meaning these could, and should, be shared with school leaders and not just be reviewed by the ICT administrators from a technical perspective. All schools want to know and prove that their investments into technology are paying off through adoption by staff and students. This new reporting tool is a great asset for schools to start that analysis and sharpen their focus and expectations around the usage of ICT in education.