The Power Of Data

PowerBIIncreasingly, most organisations are seeking to “do more” with the data they collect and store and in this respect, St Andrew’s College is no different. For the last two years I have been looking at a number of tools that would allow us to easily collect, analyse, display and share critical information amongst key stakeholders.

As part of this investigation we have looked at tools such as Crystal Reports, Tableau and Microsoft Excel connected via MS-Query to our MS-SQL server and outputting pivot tables for analysis. Here are some examples of this:

In the end, we decided to progress with Microsoft’s PowerBI solution, which is described on their website as:

Power BI transforms your company’s data into rich visuals for you to collect and organize so you can focus on what matters to you. Stay in the know, spot trends as they happen, and push your business further.

Some of the reasons we selected this solution include:

  • It’s browser based – you can access it from “anywhere” and see live data. You can also bookmark certain reports in your browser for near instant access.
  • There is also an app available (iPhone/iPad/Android/Windows10) so the data is accessible anytime / anywhere
  • We can tweak reports / visuals quickly and easily, based off feedback from stakeholders
  • Being browser based, you don’t need a local file on your computer that is “out of date” once a new version with improved features is built. What you see is always the “latest version”
  • It’s part of our existing Office365 Suite, so our existing username/password logs you into the reports.
  • Security permissions are centrally managed based off AD users and role based groups.
  • It connects to our on-premise MS-SQL Server, allowing for scheduled data updates (hourly / daily).

To best demonstrate the power of this tool, we built a proof of concept based around analysing NCEA student achievement, in particular University Entrance requirements and course/subject endorsement. Here is a screencast walking through the tool:

Note: identifiable data such as student names / ID numbers have been blurred out in this video.

To accelerate the development of some of this reporting, we have:

  • Partnered with DataCom New Zealand and are getting expert advice from their Business Intelligence team in terms of configuring the ETL process via Microsoft SSIS, building a tabular data model and connecting to PowerBI in the cloud for presenting the data to staff.
  • Hired a new staff member to join the ICT Services team in the role of Business Intelligence Report Writer. The responsibilities for this role will be to interface with the various business units in the College (e.g. Academic Data, Enrolments, Development, Communications etc), understand their reporting requirements and then build the reports in PowerBI.

The key with any Business Intelligence project is to help inform the decision making process and not just be contented with pretty visualisations. To that end, a robust conversation and scoping of what is required to be seen by the stakeholder needs to be established. However, with a wide range of visualisations being added regularly to PowerBI, there is a number of ways to present data in an easily comprehensible format. One of my favourites in a 3D, interactive globe that significantly improves on the PowerMap in Excel (see above):

This visualisation could be very useful in mapping where our current students or Old Collegians live or identifying where donations are coming from globally mapped either by volume or value for example.

We are in the very early stages of this project, yet the potential is very obvious to the leadership teams at St Andrew’s. The focus over the next few weeks will be configuring the backend infrastructure: the ETL processes (Extraction, Transformation, Loading), the Data Warehouse and the connectivity into PowerBI. Subsequently, the rapid development of reporting dashboards will proceed.

If this interests you, please do check back regularly on the blog for updates or drop a comment below to discuss further.

Tech Evangelist Encourages Student App Development

Toby 3Today Mr Wilj Dekkers and Year 6 student Toby Skyped with Hannes Nel from Microsoft New Zealand about a game called “The Adventures of Mr Dot” that Toby had built in Scratch.

It was a great chat aimed to help Toby identify some next steps for his game development and when Hannes asked what his plans for it were, Toby’s answer was simple:

I want it to go on an app store so that it can make lots of money!

Toby’s game is called “The Adventures of Mr Dot” and is based on a traditional platform style game, revolving around moving a “dot” from one side of the screen to the other, progressing past increasingly difficult obstacles.

Toby demonstrates how to play “The Adventures of Mr Dot”

SuperMarioBros

Super Mario Bros screenshot that Hannes likened Toby’s game to.

Hannes, who has assisted in development of apps for Trademe and TVNZ, likened playing the game to the Super Mario Brothers games he played as a child.  He went on to explain to Toby that there are three different stores that his game could theoretically be published to:

  • The Windows Store
  • Apple’s App Store
  • Google’s Play Store

The challenge was going to be migrating the game from Scratch to a platform that could be published to these online app stores. Hannes made the suggestion that using Construct 2 would allow for this and that since most app developers were gaining success through publishing to apps for smart phones, Toby might want to think about allowing a touch interface to control “Mr Dot”.

Mr Dot

A screenshot taken from Toby’s Surface Pro 3 showing some of the coding he has done in Scratch to build his game.

Toby, who has spent significant time over the last month developing his game, was immediately up for the challenge and considering how he could convert the keyboard controls to a touch interface. Other students in the Year 6 class with Mr Dekkers have been informal “beta testers” playing many of the existing levels, finding it a fun and addictive game to play. Toby aims to write 100 levels for the game that would result in significant gameplay.

I’ll keep an eye on the development of this app and hopefully we can see it make it through to completion and publication on the various app stores.

Toby_gear

Microsoft kindly gifted Toby a backpack with some tech gifts to encourage him to keep up the programming (this did not include the Surface Pro 3 which is Toby’s personal device)

Film Festival – Celebrating Student Talent

“Identity Crisis” – 2013 winner of Overall Best Film

Each year since 2009 St Andrew’s College has run a Film Festival – an evening dedicated to celebrating the diverse creative talents of our students and their film making ability.

Originally accepting all student film submissions, over the years the event has been refined to a showcase of the top ten student entries, interspersed with a number of “5 second films” which are usually humorous in nature. When I met with the Media Studies team to find out more about this festival, I learnt that it was originally a student initiative as they looked for an opportunity to showcase and celebrate their work, and this was supported by head of Media Studies, Mr Simon Williams (whose TV & Film events I’ve blogged about before).

An example of a 5 second film

Poster designed by Sophie Wells to promote the 2014 edition of the annual St Andrew's College Film Festival

Poster designed by Cultural Captain Sophie Wells to promote the 2014 edition of the annual St Andrew’s College Film Festival

It has subsequently evolved to include a red carpet style experience, with the Cultural Captains functioning as the presenters / MCs for the event, whilst other students involved interview attendees as they arrive, with these being broadcast live through to those already in the Theatre. Along with these interviews, there is an invitation for all attending to dress up and make a night of it, which all contributes to the special feeling of this occasion.

The Film Festival celebrates student creativity and is intended to be an inclusive event for a wide audience range with the expectation that all films can be viewed by the students’ younger siblings and grandparents. This helps ensure the themes and content remain in good taste with films vetted for unsuitable content. Consequently, a good size crowd comes along for an enjoyable evening and it is seen as a chance to appreciate these films quite apart from the assessment criteria upon which they are usually judged. Additionally, part of the success of this evening is the length – it’s usually all over in an hour.

When asked why they like the Film Festival, the students involved commented:

People all love movies – you can’t go wrong with a film festival!

 

It’s a chance to promote our creativity, a payoff for our hard work.

 

It’s nice to premiere our films in front of our family and friends – seeing the films on a big screen, with big sound and a real audience is awesome.

From a teacher’s perspective, showcasing the films in this way adds a sense of gravity to the production of them – if over a hundred strangers are going to watch your film, you’re going to try that little bit extra.

A slightly longer example of a 5 second film

The majority of entries come from students involved in the Media Studies and TV classes and typically represents the culmination of nearly two terms worth of effort. Students may spend up to twenty hours in the filming production, combined with up to thirty hours of post-production editing. This editing is done on a range of devices, with some students preferring to use their own laptops, often MacBook Pros using Apple Final Cut Pro, whereas others use the College computers and Adobe Premiere Pro.

College equipment available for use by our students includes:

  • 2x Sony HVR-Z7s cameras which run mini-DV tapes
  • 4x Sony HVR-NX cameras which run SD cards
  • Professional tripods, lighting and rigging, and a range of quality microphones and cabling

Support is also available from staff member Mr David Jensen (who filmed our Mystery Skype Session with Singapore), who has worked on a number of feature length and short films including Netherwood, as well as the other Media Studies teachers.

On the night the Cultural Captains have significant responsibilities: from welcoming the guests, to MC’ing the event, introducing each nominated film and interacting with the audience. They come up with their own monologue, often putting significant effort into this.

Behind the scenes there is a technical crew of up to twenty students and staff that ensures the event runs smoothly – this involves organising the lighting and making sure the films, often submitted in a diverse range of digital formats, all play successfully on the night. This team is co-ordinated by Mr Williams who continues to play a key part in the ongoing organisation and success of this event.

Finally, there are some small prizes that recognise winners in different categories including:

  • Best overall film
  • Best actor / actress
  • Best lighting
  • Best costume / makeup
  • Best camera work

These awards are not the focus of the evening, but add to the sense of a film premiere that the students have worked towards creating. The titles of the nominated films are announced in advance, with a promotion in a full school assembly to build anticipation for the event. Media Studies teachers meet a week before to judge the films and agree on the prize winners.

Many of the students involved in the Film Festival are regularly volunteering their time in other College events, providing technical sound and lighting expertise for assemblies and the massive event of our annual prize giving. I also love the fact that this festival provides an opportunity for the wider community to come share and celebrate in the success of our students’ work.

The evening is seen as a chance for students to celebrate their shared passion for film and media and for all these reasons, it is a very popular event on school calendar.

The Film Festival will be running on September 12th 2014