Austria – e-Learning and Innovation Conferences

Thanks to my colleagues in Austria for inviting me to give the keynotes at the “Elearning Conference” in Eisenstadt and the “Microsoft Innovation & Education Conference 2011” in Vienna.

In all, around 350 senior Ministry of Education, Local Authority and teachers attended these events to learn about effectiveness, collaborative learning and the “new world of work”.

My presentation covered the following topics:

  • How can ICT accelerate the learning process?
  • How can ICT be used to drive operational efficiency?
  • How can ICT help drive transformation?

The slides can be downloaded here – Schooling at the Speed of Thought Austria, November 2011

Each of the participants at the Vienna event got a copy of “Schooling at the Speed of Thought“.

Thanks to Yuri Goldfuß; Andreas Exner; Daniela Denk; Mirjam Blechner; Thomas Hauser; Ulrike Lanner; Sven Reinhardt; and Dolores Puxbaumer for an excellent reception and well organised agenda.

Cloud Watching # 5 – From Virtualization to Private Cloud

This article is written as an introduction to Virtualization and to help you understand how it can be used in your schooling system, and to help explain how Virtualization leads to Cloud Computing. The first part of this article – an explanation of Virtualization – is based on the excellent work on this area by David Chappell

Virtualization currently a hot topic for three main reasons –

  1. It saves cost
  2. It allows the easier management of systems
  3. It’s a key component in Private Cloud Computing

To understand Virtualization, lets first look at a familiar computing scenario – running an application on top of an operating system, which in turn sits on some physical hardware. The application’s user interface is presented via a display that’s directly attached to a physical machine.

Whilst this scenario is extremely common, it’s not the only choice for how to deliver IT services – nor is it necessarily the best choice. Virtualization enables us to “uncouple” these elements, to deliver more manageable and cost effective computing services.

There are 3 principle Virtualization methods:

  • Hardware Virtualization – where the Operating System is uncoupled  from the Physical Machine that it runs on.
  • Application Virtualization – where the Application is uncoupled from the Operating System.
  • Presentation Virtualization – where the Application user interface is uncoupled from the Physical Machine that the application runs on.

These methods make the links between components easier to change and manage.

Let’s now look at each of these in turn.

Hardware Virtualization

With Hardware Virtualization, Virtual Machines (VMs) that emulate a physical computer are created on either a server or a client (e.g., laptop or desktop) computer. This approach allows several Operating Systems, with Applications, to run simultaneously on a single Physical Machine.

Desktop Virtualization can be used to run more than one operating system on a single computer to deal with application incompatibility. For example, an old application may not run with the latest version of Windows, so a VM can be set up to run an older version of Windows, enabling the older application to run.

Server Virtualization can bring significant economic benefits by enabling the consolidation of workloads onto a smaller number of physical (server) machines. In a Data Center it’s common to find many under-utilized servers machines, each dedicated to a specific workload. Server Virtualization allows consolidating those workloads onto a smaller number of more optimally used machines. The economic benefits are less electricity consumed, less physical hardware to purchase, house and maintain.

A school network will usually have one server for each major IT service function, such as the Management Information System (MIS), Learning Management Systems (LMS), accounts, printing, and library systems etc. When a system is virtualized, these physical servers are replaced with VMs that are housed in clusters on a smaller number of physical servers. This has significant benefits in terms of savings, efficiency and reliability.

West Hatch, a Secondary School in England, shrank the number of physical servers needed to effectively run their system from 24 to 9.Virtualization increased efficiency of their network whilst saving $18,000 a year in hardware, maintenance and electricity. A detailed case study is available here – West Hatch_Virtualization_Case_Study.

Virtualization provides the system with the ability to deal seamlessly with the failure of a server by automatically moving all its services to another – the system users wouldn’t even know it’s happened. VMs are stored as files, and so restoring a failed service can be as simple as copying the VM file onto a new machine. Since VMs can have different hardware configurations from the physical machine on which they’re running, this approach also allows restoring a failed service onto any available machine. There’s no requirement to use a physically identical system.

So what has this got to do with the Cloud? Virtualisation enables a key feature of Cloud services – elasticity. For example, a service that only happens once every academic term (e.g., processing large volumes of academic data), only needs to be hosted on a server for the amount of time it’s required for. The rest of the time, it can be stored away, thereby reducing service costs.

At West Hatch, the key technology used for Hardware Virtualization is Microsoft Hyper-V Server run from within Windows Server 2008.

Application Virtualization

Every application depends on its Operating System for a range of services, including memory allocation, device drivers, and much more. Applications commonly share various things with other applications on their system, and this can be problematic. For example, one application might require a specific version of a dynamic link library (DLL) to function, while another application on that system might require a different version of the same DLL. To avoid this, organizations often have to perform extensive testing before installing a new application – a time-consuming and expensive activity.

Application Virtualization solves this problem by creating application-specific copies of all shared resources. The objects that an application might share with other applications on its system — registry entries, specific DLLs, and more — are packaged with it in a Virtual Application (VA). When a VA is deployed, it uses its own copy of these shared resources.

Application Virtualization makes deployment significantly easier since applications no longer competes for shared resources, eliminating the need to test new applications for conflicts with existing applications before they’re rolled out. These virtual applications can run alongside ordinary applications.

Microsoft Application Virtualization, called App-V for short, is Microsoft’s technology for this area. An App-V administrator can create virtual applications, and then deploy those applications as needed.West Hatch also virtualized applications and for a detailed description from Alan Richards, ICT Technical Lead at West Hatch, on how they did this using Microsoft App-V click here.

Presentation Virtualization

Common applications, such as Microsoft Office, both run and present its user interface on the same machine. Sometimes, it makes sense, however, to de-couple the running and presentation of an application – presentation virtualization. This is about letting an application execute on a remote server, and displaying its user interface on another computer.

Presentation Virtualization allows applications to run in Virtual Sessions, each projecting their user interfaces to a remote client computer. Each session can run single or multiple applications.

Presentation Virtualization offers several benefits – for example, data isn’t spread across many different systems, instead it’s stored safely on a central server rather than on multiple desktop machines. Instead of updating each application on eachindividual desktop, only a single shared copy on the server needs to bechanged. This also allows using simpler desktop operating system images, “Thin Client” technology – both of which can lower management costs.

It’s sometimes easier to run an application on a central server, and then use presentation virtualization to make the application accessible to clients running any operating system. This can eliminate incompatibilities between an application and a desktop operating system.  Presentation virtualization can improve performance. If a client/server application consumes large amounts of data from a central database down to the client and the network link between the client and the server is slow, this application will also be slow. One way to improve performance is to run the entire application—both client and server—on a machine with a high-bandwidth connection to the database, then use presentation virtualization to make the pplication available to its users. This way, only screen refreshes, mouse clicks and keyboard strokes are being sent over the connection.

Many schools use Thin Client computing, but it’s not without its limitations – e.g., the requirement for high bandwidth connection between the terminal and the server especially if users will require multimedia.

Presentation Virtualization technology is included in Remote Desktop Services – a standard part of Windows Server 2008 R2 with SP1.

Private Cloud

Private Cloud exploits virtualization but takes it further. A Private Cloud shares many of the characteristics of Public Cloud computing including resource pooling, self-service, elasticity and pay-by-use delivered in a standardized manner with the additional control and customization available from dedicated resources.

While virtualization is an important technological component of private cloud, the key differentiator is the continued abstraction of computing resources from infrastructure and the machines (virtual or otherwise) used to deliver those resources.

Other key components of Private Cloud are:

  • Packaging and Managing Services
  • Cross Platform Capabilities
  • Cross Environment Capabilities

Packaging and Managing Services

A key differentiator between an ordinary Data Center and a Private Cloud solution is how services are packaged and managed.

Let’s start with a look at Services Management. As organizations begin to move from virtualized infrastructure to private cloud implementations, their focus begins to shift from virtual machines to applications and services.

One approach is to this it to think of a service as a logical representation of an application. For example, consider a line of business application composed of a web tier, business logic tier, and database tier. You then define a “service template” which captures the blueprint of this application service – this service template would include hardware profiles, operating system profiles , application profiles, health/performance thresholds, update policies, scale out rules etc. This is how your application service can then be enabled with the Cloud attributes described above for each service tier.

Designing and operationalizing such a set of services could potentially be complex, but System Center 2012 enables a simplified and visual approach:

The health and performance of all aspects of IT infrastructure, including the physical layer, the virtualization layer, the operating system and the applications need to be managed too, something that can be accomplished with System Center Operations Manager.

Cross-Platform Capabilities

Services are rarely built from the ground up, so it’s critical to make sure that there is good interoperability between different system components, which can be layered in this way:

  • Application frameworks – .e.g.: Net; Java; php; Ruby
  • Management – System Center; HP; CA; BMC; EMC
  • Operating Systems – Windows Server; redhat; Suse; CentOS
  • Virtualisation (multiple hypervisor mangagement) – Hyper-V; Citrix; VMWare
  • Hardware – HP; Dell; Fujitsu; IBM; NEC; Hitachi; Cisco

Cross Environment Capabilities

As mentioned in previous “Cloud Watching” articles, it’s unlikely that any education organisation is going to want to migrate everything to a Public Cloud immediately. Rather, organisations are much more likely to spread workloads across on-premises, Virtualised Data Centers, Private and Public Clouds.

Therefore, a key Private Cloud capability is to have a “single pane of glass” view to manage and run applications across private and public cloud environments. System Center App Controller 2012 offers full visibility and control to deploy, manage, and consume applications across each service scenarios.

In conclusion, virtualisation is a good starting place for developing Cloud capabilities within a single school environment. At municipality level and above we can start thinking about using virtualisation more extensively in Data Canters and start turning Data Centres into Private Clouds by packaging and managing services, and developing cross platform and environment capabilities.

Further information: http://www.microsoft.com/investor/downloads/events/Microsoft_Private_Cloud_Whitepaper.pdf

Putting the “i” into Singapore Schooling

With top rankings in PISA and TIMMS, Singapore is the envy of many schooling systems around the world. Whilst ICT is just one of a range of factors that affect learning outcomes, it is a key tool for meeting at least two of the four key desired outcomes of the Singapore schooling system – for all students to become self-directed and collaborative learners.

Singapore was one of the first countries in the world to have a national strategy for ICT in Schools. A succession of well-planned, funded and executed programmes focussing initially on infrastructure and training, and more recently focussing on self-directed learning – has driven effective use of ICT. For details of Singapore’s main ICT projects, see http://wp.me/P16Iyp-46

A great showcase for the effectiveness of this investment is Crescent Girls’ School, a member of the “Future School” programme, and recently awarded the status of Mentor School by Microsoft. Crescent also hosted the CRADLE conference on 1st – 3rd August.

On the surface, Crescent could be any other Secondary School, but a quick glance at the trophy cabinet next to the reception makes it clear that this school is totally committed to high performance. Crescent’s aim is to be at the forefront of harnessing technology to enhance learning outcomes. ICT is used extensively in both delivery and assessment and the school’s 1300 students each have their own Tablet PC. The goal of using ICT is to give students a degree of choice over what they learn and how they learn.

The students engage in a wide range of activities including 2D, 3D animation and robotics; multimedia production; photo-shooting and editing; and development and use of e-books. Particularly impressive is the use of Tablet PCs’ “inking” features for a range of activities including highly impressive manga artwork.

Crescent is moving towards project based learning with a series of “Integrated Secondary Curricula” programmes.

Virtual Reality is used at the school too. For example, in Geography, students experience immersive content showing erosion in a river – a concept that is much easier to grasp when viewing 3d animated rocks being swept along by the current from the perspective of the river bed.

Particularly impressive at Crescent is the way that teachers engage in the content creation process. For example, a complete suite of applications and content have been developed for the Tablet PC that not only exploits the pen and inking technologies but also address a range of different learning styles.

Taking this process further, teachers specified collaborative games to take advantage of the MultiTouch features in Windows 7 and HueLabs’ “Heumi” multitouch (Surface) devices. This means that students can now engage in a wide range of collaborative learning experiences, such as learning to write Chinese. As impressive as the technology itself is the way in which the room in which the Heumi devices are deployed. Here, in the “iCove”, strong colour coding of the devices and the seating, enable teachers to group learners according to their learning objectives.

More recently the school has introduced a biometric system that not only automatically records the students as present but takes their temperatures as they come into the school in the morning, enabling their health to be monitored.

The infrastructure that sits behind Crescent’s ICT provision is highly impressive. The infrastructure foundation is a Campus-wide wireless network with 100 Mbps Broadband. Tablet PCs are stored in steel lockers, and batteries are charged at charging stations.

Approximately 30 on-premises servers perform a range of essential back-end functions from authentication to content management. The Server infrastructure – based on a Microsoft platform – supports a rich tapestry of capabilities including:

  • i-Connect Learning Space – a role based portal for organising student’s learning and activities
  • Pearson’s Write to Learn – a system that helps “automate” the marking of essays
  • HeuX – Huelabs Classroom Management System – with lesson management, digital book library, real-time Communication and Collaboration include notes-sharing and social media; screen monitoring and broadcasting; Presence awareness; attendance; Video Conferencing
  • i-Media – content management system.
  • Interactive books

These solutions are supported by Windows Server; SQL Server; Microsoft SharePoint Portal Server; System Center; Live Communications Manager; Hyper-V and Live@Edu. Much of the learning that takes place at Crescent happens after school hours, and the Virtual Private Network enables students to have 24×7 access. It’s not uncommon to see the portal being used by students at home at 2.00AM.

Singapore schools benefit from very high quality teachers (only 10% of applicants get admitted into teacher training). This is reflected in the staff at Crescent. Principal, Mrs Eugenia Lim, supported by Chief Technology Architect for Learning, Mr Lee Boon Keng, have a highly structured and team orientated approach, underpinned by a strong focus on continuous professional development.

Every hour, the chimes of Big Ben ring across the school signifying a change of lesson. As with Cornwallis School in Kent in the UK, I was totally inspired by what I saw at Crescent but couldn’t help wondering whether a shift from time-based to a performance-based model would better fit such a technology rich approach to learning. Nonetheless, Crescent’s use of ICT is without doubt world leading.

Whilst Crescent Girls’ School is clearly a leader amongst leaders, it’s far from unique in Singapore in the way in which it innovates with technology. Singapore schools benefit from long term, consistent policy and investment in ICT in schooling. With their structured approaches, strong management and deep understanding of how ICT can make learning more effective, Singapore schools look set to continue to show the world how it’s done.

Fortunately for us all, Crescent Girls’ School are “giving back” by encouraging people to visit the school – both physically and virtually.

Thanks to Eugenia Lim, Lee Boon Keng and all the staff and students at Crescent Girl’s School.

The “Strategic” Phase

This is the third in a series of articles that aim to help schooling systems develop their technology, the first being “Taking the First Steps“ and the second, Taking the Next Steps – The ‘Enhanced’ Phase.

There are four distinct phases through which technology in schooling evolves. The first phase is characterized by access. In the next phase, technology is used to enhance existing processes. The third phase is characterized by using technology strategically. No longer is technology considered a “bolt-on”, or “veneer” on top of existing processes – it now helps drive schooling towards strategic goals such as significantly improved learning and better return on investments. In the final phase, leading edge schools use ICT to transform their operations, using it to personalize learning, integrate deeply with the wider community, run extremely efficient administration systems and develop a culture of performance.

‘Strategic’ Phase Vision

In the Strategic phase, technology becomes a key asset in achieving the strategic goals of an organisation. It’s about restructuring work and processes and doing things differently.

Typically in this phase, the strategic goals of an organisation would include raising standards and improving performance, and technology is a strategic tool for achieving these strategic goals by enabling:

  • Intelligent intervention – data driven support for learners
  • Connected Learning Communities – fully exploiting all available resources, and integration with the local community
  • Monitoring, analysis and planning – data driven decision making
Four phases of ICT implementation

Goals

Intelligent Intervention

This is essentially about using data to make well informed decisions about what students need to learn or do next. To fully personalise the learning experience students should be constantly assessed as they move through their schooling, and their learning pathways should continuously evolve. This relies on highly effective feedback loops and systems which dynamically adapts to the twists and turns of the learning process, and sets challenging learning goals and tasks. This is extremely difficult to do within a paper-based setup, but can be made a lot easier through using IT systems that provide analytic and workflow capabilities.  Intelligent tutoring systems, and managed learning environments, are becoming more commonplace and increasingly sophisticated.

Monitoring, Analysis and Planning

To manage an organisation strategically, as opposed to fighting fires, the ability to monitor performance, analyse results and plan for improvements is fundamental. Organisations wanting to manage strategically must have three key capabilities:

Monitoring

This capability provides managers with the ability to know “what is happening” and “what has happened.” Organisations implement dashboards, scorecards, or reports to monitor their performance. These visual applications allow managers to keep an eye on important indicators of their organisation’s health.

Analysis

This capability provides managers with the ability to know what is happening and why. To analyse performance, organisations implement solutions that are often very interactive in nature and allow managers to investigate the root cause of issues they see in their dashboards, scorecards, or reports.

Planning

This capability provides the organisation with the ability to model what should happen. Organisations develop processes and tools to conduct the essential planning, budgeting, and forecasting exercises. These processes allow managers to align groups and individuals around the metrics that drive the organisation—for instance: “what are our examination result targets?” or “what is our spending versus our revenue?”

Connected Learning Communities

Whilst there may be elements of learning that require independent work, learning only really acquires meaning in a social context, and the most immediate and direct social context for schooling is the local community.

ICT can be used to connect together all those who can make a contribution to students’ learning – e.g. local business, community resources (e.g. museums/libraries), parents and 3rd party learning services. It can connect students to inspiring individuals and inspirational speakers; promote debate and engagement between collaborators in face-to-face or virtual groupings; and provide mentoring opportunities. Connecting stakeholders together in a Connected Learning Community has enormous benefits such as engaging parents more deeply in the learning process, speeding-up processes and improving students’ connections with the outside world. The core of a connected learning community is a portal that can be accessed from anywhere.

Scenarios

Student Access

In the Strategic phase, students have continual access to their own learning devices. These devices need to enable a range of learning scenarios (not just content consumption), be rugged, easy to repair and support, manageable on a network.

Devices should be available to students so they can learn anytime anywhere, access content, learning management and communication and collaboration tools via the Connected Learning Community Portal.

Anytime Anywhere Learning = access to devices + learning services

Having access to their own devices enables students to experience a wide range of learning scenarios:

ICT enables a wide range of learning styles

Classroom

Classrooms need to accommodate an increasingly wide range of learning styles, and equipment needs to be laid out in quite different ways according to the demands of each different learning task, for example:

Different learning tasks require different floorplans

BECTA provided the following guidance to UK schools on different classroom layout options:

Pods – separate circular / hexagonal / octagonal benches with workstations
Hexagonal pods
Advantages
  • No corners with 2 computers, so no dead spots that cannot be used
  • No extra space required for 2 pupils to share a computer
  • Can support collaborative work as users working around ‘one pod’
Pods – squares with computers on two sides only
Square pods
Advantages
  • No corners with 2 computers, so no ‘dead spots’ that cannot be used
  • No extra space required for 2 pupils to share a computer
  • Can support collaborative work as users working around ‘one pod’
Bays built along walls
Bays
Advantages
  • Teacher can more or less see all computer screens from the centre of the room
  • Provides opportunity to use the centre of the room for tables enabling work away from the computer, and to gather groups for discussion
  • Cabling and electrical work is cheaper and easier than ‘pod’ designs as along the room edge.

School

In the Strategic phase, IT has become a strategic asset to schools. With the infrastructure optimised in the Enhanced phase, we now turn our focus on workloads delivered by servers.

The following services are core in the Strategic phase:

  • Optimised Infrastructure – including File and Print, Database Services, Directory Services, Security, Device Management, and Data Protection and Recovery
  • MIS – Management Information Systems
  • Portal
  • Unified Communication
  • Virtualisation – centralizing computing tasks to improve scalability and system performance

These, typically, will be delivered through three layers:

  • On-Premises – the school hosts key functions on their own servers
  • Data Centre/Private Cloud – the Local Education Authority (LEA) delivers services to schools from their servers
  • Public Cloud – the school receives services from the LEA, Ministry of Education and private suppliers from Public Cloud Services
School Server Infrastructure

Portal

The Strategic phase is characterised by the Connected Learning Community, the core of which is a portal that can be accessed from anywhere. For it to be effective it needs to be “role based” i.e. present users with information and tools relevant to their role and to them as individuals. In other words a teacher in the community sees the information relevant to all teachers, their fellow subject specialists, and also information specific to their particular group of students, their particular HR information, and their particular teaching content, tasks, calendar, e-mail etc.

A portal should give students, parents, managers, teachers, their own “spaces” and deliver to them the resources that are important individually to them through a single web page.  It aggregates information from diverse systems into one interface with a single sign-on ID – and organisation-wide search capabilities so that users can access relevant information quickly.  Teaching and administration staff can use the portal to distribute information to students based on their enrolment, classes, security group or other membership criteria, while enabling them to personalise the portal content and customise the layout to suit their needs.

A great Portal reference architecture is Twynham School. Twynham is a 1600+ Secondary school in Christchurch UK, built  a powerful collaboration platform – “Learning Gateway” – which allows students, staff and parents to work efficiently; develop independent and inter-dependence in their learning strategies; and support children in achieving their full potential. Twynham School won the BECTA ICT Excellence Award in 2008 for learning Beyond the Classroom and the schools works with over 400 schools internationally to support the development of their Learning Platforms.

Twynham School Portal Navigation bar

Mike Herrity at Twynham has published a detailed e-book explaining how the Learning Gateway is used: http://bit.ly/qJohiL

Microsoft have also published a full architectural guide explaining how Twynham built their Learning Gateway – http://bit.ly/qORAW5

Enabling many of the functions in the portal are 2 sub-systems – Content Management and Unified Communications & Collaboration.

Content Management Systems (CMS)

When ICT is fully implemented, vast amounts of content gets created.  In order to get maximum efficiencies from ICT, this content needs to be organised and managed in a way that means that people don’t replicate one another’s work.

A content management system in a connected learning community helps education institutions organise and facilitate the collaborative creation of documents and other content. They enable the full life cycle of content – from initial creation to delivery to end users.  CMS comprise document and records management, web content management, forms, search, library systems, curriculum frameworks, curriculum systems, curriculum exemplars and resource assemblers.

Unified Communications (UC) & Collaboration

Today it is typical that people will have multiple contact addresses – direct line phone number; mobile phone number;  e-mail; Instant Messenger; home number; personal mobile number; home e-mail, etc. Unified Communications (UC) takes identity and presence and then has all of these other ways of interacting simply connect up to that.

A single integrated identity can simplify how you find and communicate with others.  One integrated desktop application can provide easy access to all the ways users are likely to want to communicate.  Another key advantage to UC is that in using Voice over IP (VOIP) for telephone calls, it has the potential to significantly reduce communication costs.

UC enables students, teachers, parents and other stakeholders to confer and consult in the way that suits their work style by switching seamlessly between videoconferencing, telephone, email and instant messaging.

Also within UC are task and calendaring functions.

Data Driven Decision Making

In a schooling system, data driven decision making is supported by a huge number of information systems.  Any process that involves the creation and transmission of information can be considered an information system – even informal discussions.

The collective term for the information systems in schooling is Management Information Systems (MIS).

Functions Supported by an MIS

The functions that a Management Information System need to support are:

Improving Student Performance Progression Management
Learning Management Intelligent Intervention
Parents Engagement In Learning Better Teaching Decisions
Make Better Management Decisions Monitor, Analyse and Plan
Tactical Decision Making Data Visualisation
Manage Resources More Effectively Planning and budgeting
Financial Control Asset Control
Reporting Accountability and Alignment
Performance and Assessment Data KPIs, Scorecards, Dashboards and Reports
Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) Drive Administrative Efficiencies
Planning Organising
Controlling Co-ordinating
Management Information Systems – Functional Architecture

In this context, an information system really means an organised hierarchy of information sub-systems. Management Information System (MIS) is a term used as a container for all of the electronic information systems within a schooling system.  These systems vary in size, scope and capability, from packages that are implemented in relatively small organisations to cover student records alone, to enterprise-wide solutions that aim to cover most aspects of running large multi-site organisations.

A MIS includes the following sub-systems:

  • Decision Support Systems (DSS)
    • Finance
    • Performance Management
    • HR
    • Student Relationship Management (SRM)
    • Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP)
    • Analytics and Business Intelligence (BI)
    • Timetabling
  • Student Information Systems (SIS)
    • Integrated Student Record
    • Electronic grade book
    • Attendance Management
    • Automated workflows
    • E-Forms
  • Learning Platform
    • Learning Management Systems (LMS)
    • Managed Learning Environment (MLE)
    • Virtual Learning Environments (VLE)
    • Content Management Systems (CMS)

For a full description, see Schooling at the Speed of Thought, Chapter 6, Managing Information.

Local Education Authority

In the Strategic Phase, the goal of service provision at Local Education Authority level is to deliver those services which when aggregated improve in quality and price.

Local Education Authorities can use their scale to negotiate the best prices for content, communication, support services etc. Many of the services requiring the most maintenance and management – e.g. learning services, system management, business intelligence, and administrative tasks such as payroll and HR, are delivered more cost effectively from a centralised point.  Other benefits include the use of greater amounts of data for decision making – an LEA with data from many schools can perceive more patterns than a single school with its limited pool of data.

Many LEA services are delivered through data centres built on top of optimised infrastructures. Increasingly data centres will become Private Clouds – essentially Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) within the data centre. The large scale and pay-as-you-go economics of Public Clouds aren’t available in typical Private Clouds. However, Private Clouds offer at least some of the scalability and elasticity benefits of Public Cloud but with additional control and customisation. Increasingly many of these services will be also be delivered from Public Clouds.

The services delivered by the LEA can be split into two main categories:

  • Schooling Enterprise Services
    • Monitoring, Analysis and Planning
    • Intelligent Intervention
    • Student Relationship Management
    • Administrative Processes
    • Operations
  • E-Learning Services
Local Education Authority Schooling Enterprise Architecture (SEA)

Ministry of Education

Some of the Schooling Enterprise Services delivered by LEAs to their schools and communities could be provided at National level from the Central Ministry of Education. Services such as strategy, policy, budgets, and curriculum are usually set and delegated at national level.

Computing functions at Ministry of Education level can be grouped into three main categories:

  • Internal departments – Curriculum, Policy, Research etc.
  • Regional Services – Resources and BI
  • National Services – Content (information services) and infrastructure – e.g. national level schooling enterprise internet backbone
Ministry of Education perspective

One of the most important functions at Ministry level is to have a “clear line of sight” of the performance of the schooling system. This enables BI analysis and for resources to then be focussed on the areas where they will have most impact.

Fitts and Aziza (Joey Fitts and Bruno Aziza, 2008) talk of a “line of sight” from strategic to operational to tactical decisions as the discipline that drives aligned execution. “Line of sight” means clear visibility of goals, and progress towards them at executive (strategic), management (operational), employees (tactical) levels.

“Clear line of sight” is about performance metric alignment across organisational layers. This can be thought of as an organisation chart for performance metrics, indicating how the various levels of the organisation’s performance metrics relate to one another. At school level, classroom teacher’s metrics roll up to their Head of Department, which in turn roll up to Deputy Principals, which in turn roll up to the Principal. In turn, and depending on the mode of operations, performance metrics for Principals should roll up to those of Local Authority Directors, which in turn finally roll up to the Ministry of Education.

Clear Line of Sight enables strategic allignment

Technology Building Blocks

Finally, pulling these building blocks together we get the following high level architecture:

Technology Building Blocks for Strategic Phase

Conclusion

Moving from the Enhanced Phase to the Strategic Phase is as much about management as ICT. In this phase, the technology is used a tool for getting better allignement between strategy set at MoE level to exectution at school level. At all levels, there are strategic decisions that ICT can help monitor, analyse, plan and execute.

In the next article in this series, we will explore the final phase – Transformation.

Saving Money Whilst Raising Standards – West Hatch Show You How

How lucky am I to be able to send my children to an excellent state school on the outskirts of London? Apart from having an Olympic Gold medalist, a Turner Prize winning artist, and a BBC newsreader amongst its alumni, West Hatch High School has now acquired an international reputation for its work in ICT. The school has just become a “Microsoft Innovative School” – partly due to the technical excellence of IT Manager, Alan Richards, and the smart investments in ICT made by Headteacher Frances Howarth and the Board of Governors.

Despite being able to offer IT Academy courses to the community for many years, it wasn’t until 2008 and with the arrival of Alan, that West Hatch started to optimise its infrastructure. Until then West Hatch’s 1300 students and staff had no guarantee of their network’s reliability, which meant it was underused. As Alan says: “Teachers will try things two or three times, but after that, if a lesson’s wrecked, they won’t risk it again.”

Alan joined the school with a track record of moving schools from failing ICT systems to state of the art facilities. His starting point was to rebuild the whole school network with new fibre-optic and network cabling and a managed wireless solution. The next step was to replace 24 servers of varying ages, and it was at this point that the decision to virtualise was made.

What is Virtualisation?

A school network will usually have one server for each major IT service function, such as the Management Information System (MIS), Learning Management Systems (LMS), accounts, printing, and library systems etc. When a system is virtualised, these physical servers are replaced with virtual servers that are housed in clusters on a smaller number of physical servers. This has significant benefits in terms of savings, efficiency and reliability. The number of physical servers needed to effectively run the West Hatch’s network shrank from 24 to 9, and virtualisation increased efficiency of the network whilst saving $18,000 a year in hardware, maintenance and electricity.

Virtualisation provides the system with the ability to deal seamlessly with the failure of a server by automatically moving all its services to another – the rest of the school wouldn’t even know it’s happened. “Our staff have confidence in the use of ICT now. They know they can go into a classroom, turn on the computer, and have the applications they need for their lesson up and running in seconds,”

The key technology that enabled this to happen is Microsoft Hyper-V Server, and Alan and the team also used Microsoft Network Monitor in and beyond the pilot phase to ensure effective resource planning. Server technology is predominantly Windows Server 2008. A detailed case study is available here – West Hatch_Virtualisation_Case_Study. West Hatch uses Application Virtualisation, as well as Hardware (or physical) Virtualisation described above. For a detailed description from Alan on how he virtualised applications using Microsoft App-V click here.

Towards the Paperless School

With a solid network foundation in place, the next challenge for Alan was to build a portal. Having been the first school in Europe to deploy Windows 7 across its network, West Hatch was also the first school in the UK to build a portal on SharePoint 2010. This has enabled students, staff, parents and the wider community to benefit from a wealth of information and learning resources.

But the SharePoint 2010 sites goes way beyond just providing information. It is now being used to reduce printing and postage costs. It is estimated that 1.5 million sheets of paper are used per year at West Hatch – the paper, toner, photocopier rental and staffing costs associated with this paper “blizzard” are phenomenal.

A major step forward for Alan was converting Academic Review day from a paper-intensive activity to a paper-less activity. Academic review is when all students and parents attended interviews with teacher. Prior to the use of SharePoint, this process involved completion of paper forms. Now forms are managed electronically and copies of agreed academic targets are emailed to the students and parents. 

Alan has a passion for providing every student with the facilities they need to achieve the best they can. Best of all, Alan openly shares his knowledge in his wonderful blog – Education Technology Now. Needless to say, Alan’s presentation this year at BETT on using ICT to save money whilst raising standards was a big hit!

An Innovative School

In February 2011, West Hatch announced that they had been accepted into the Microsoft Innovative School network. Benefitting from:

  • Access to virtual and in-person training from Microsoft and renowned education experts from around the world
  • Support for professional development
  • Access to the global Innovative Schools community 

And finally, I can’t resist it – here’s a picture from my daughter – a Yr 10 student in West Hatch. Produced on OneNote on a Tablet PC, this was synchronised between my computer and her computer using the automatic synchronisation between OneNote and SkyDrive.