Education Insights

Education news, trends, and highlights by Anthony Salcito, Vice President, Worldwide Education, Microsoft

June, 2009

  • Education Insights

    Lessons learned from the School of the Future in Philadelphia opens dialogue on nationwide school reform


    You’re going to hear us talk a lot about the School of the Future in Philadelphia in the next year. The School of the Future is a unique partnership between the School District of Philadelphia and Microsoft to create a sustainable and replicable model for improved instruction and systemic reform through the use of organizational best practices and innovations in curriculum, architecture, environmental and technology design. The school has now been open for three years and we are beginning to examine, discuss and share what we have learned publicly. We are asking the most critical education scholars and researchers to take a hard look at the school and to identify what we can learn from our efforts and make changes. We believe it is paramount to be transparent and open this part of the journey to uncover some of the real challenges schools are facing…especially now as the Federal government is poised to spend billions of dollars to improve our nation’s schools.
    Last week, Microsoft and the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) hosted an event in Washington, D.C. to discuss the progress of the School of the Future to date. While, eSchool News offered this summary of the event, the purpose was not to evaluate and give the School of the Future a passing or failing grade – frankly, it’s too soon to make that judgment. However, what we do know is that there are many indicators that while challenges exist, we are moving closer and closer towards true impact. The purpose of the meeting was to begin a discourse around the successes and challenges of the School of the Future and offer lessons learned in the areas of educational innovation in high school redesign, technology integration in the classroom, and how to get the maximum benefits out of public-private partnerships, so the School of the Future and other schools can improve.
    We can’t measure a long-term journey with a short-term yardstick. The work of true reform takes tremendous time and effort. If you are going to do this work, get ready for a long journey with many bumps in the road. How do we assess a process that is improving, adjusting so rapidly, when our current methods of reflection yield our findings obsolete by the time they are shared?

    Some examples of what we are learning…
    • Professional Development and curriculum strategies need to be organic yet deliberate at the same time. While challenging, this tension will allow for systemic adoption over time.
    • Community inclusion takes time. Identifying strong pillars in the beginning to act as foundational relationships is critical.
    • Technology will always add an extra layer of intricacy to any work. Integration using an incremental approach will support long-term adoption.
    • Just as our students need real-time reflection as they progress, so do our efforts of reform. This work with AEI is one step we know will improve the School of the Future, as well as provide a bright light on truly transformational efforts at whole school reform.

     Microsoft is absolutely committed to the long-term success of the School of the Future in Philadelphia. We will continue to have these honest and introspective conversations and share the constructive criticism received to help drive true school reform and change across the country. We will listen and act on feedback. We are working with Harvard Education Press and the experts who participated in the AEI event to compile their opinions, feedback and recommended actions to improve school redesign in a book that will be published this fall. And perhaps the best chapter is being written today…educators from the School of the Future are compiling their “3 years of inspiration” stories now that the school year is drawing to a close.

    The School of the Future partnership is about confronting challenges…not building a model for schools in a vacuum. And we look forward to continuing the dialogue with you. 
    If you aren’t familiar with the School of the Future, here is some more background reading…

    Microsoft School of the Future resources:
    2003 partnership announcement: “Microsoft and the School District of Philadelphia Team Up To Build School of the Future”
    2004 ground breaking announcement: “Microsoft and the School District of Philadelphia Break Ground To Build School of the Future”
    2006 school opening announcement: “School District and Microsoft Open School of the Future”
    Fact sheet from SOF Summit, December 2008:
    School of the Future Green Building Design: My earlier blog entry here

    MSNBC story from the first day of school, September 2006:  “Microsoft-designed school opens; three years in planning, ‘school of the future’ comes to Philadelphia”
    Fast Company story, September 2007: “Microsoft’s Class Action”

  • Education Insights

    Redesigning education with service-learning


    I’m on the West coast this week, and in San Francisco yesterday, I had the opportunity to speak at the Corporation for National and Community Service organization’s 2009 National Conference on Volunteering and Service. We announced at the event that Microsoft and the Corporation are partnering to build a virtual, student-driven technical support helpdesk for US educators and non-profits. Over the next three years, we’ll create this program together which aligns to President Obama’s United We Serve initiative. We think this will be a great service-learning opportunity to better connect our nation’s students technical knowledge and enthusiasm with the needs of our nation’s teachers. 

    I am a huge advocate for infusing service-learning into K12 education. Service-learning is an approach to teaching and learning that combines classroom academic instruction with civic duty in the community and reflection. I think service-learning is a key vehicle for students to gain 21st century skills, to better prepare them for the workforce and to keep them excited about learning. I’ve always had a passion for service. Early in my career at Microsoft, I worked with the Girl Scouts to help them use technology to more efficiently sell their cookies, and later I helped create EduConnect, a Microsoft program where employees volunteer and become education evangelists in their local schools and/or at their alma maters. The goal is to get kids to look at technology as much more than just social networking, but to realize the impact it can have on the world around them. 
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             The pervasiveness of community service and service-learning in schools is not widespread yet. According to the Corporation’s research, only 24% of K12 schools offer service-learning and the benefits are positive -- young people are more likely to be committed to volunteerism in adulthood that will last a lifetime, and it has positive impact on their social behavior, habits and attitudes.

    In New Mexico, our US Partners in Learning team is partnering with the Office of the Governor and New Mexico Public Education Department to develop innovative education and technology solutions that not only help students define college and career goals, but also help catalyze local economic development. In the town of Loving, high school students are learning construction trades and business and computer skills, and putting those skills to work to build affordable housing to help rejuvenate their community. This hands-on learning experience is putting renewed classroom focus on science, technology, math and entrepreneurship that will help prepare the students for today’s workplace. Along with the hard labor, students work with an architect on the house plans and with local bankers on financing. (Check out some pictures on the right.) The kids are so committed to this project…even the graduating seniors are sacrificing a portion of their summer to help complete construction of the house which should be ready for new homeowners later this summer.

    We are also working with the National Career and Technical Education Foundation (NCTEF) to identify other high schools across the country that are providing a rigorous academic programs and hands-on, careers-based learning experiences. We are developing best practice guides to document the success of the high schools.  These guides titled, “Redesigning the High School Experience for College and Career Readiness,” present a clear picture of the steps involved in implementing this type of service-learning high school experience.  You can read more about the New Mexico project here and learn more about the importance of partnerships, ongoing community buy-in and support, and most importantly the service-learning benefits to students.

    I would like your feedback on the usefulness of these guides, and I’d be interested to learn more about what your schools are doing to incorporate volunteering and service-learning into curriculum.

  • Education Insights

    Gearing up for NECC in Washington, D.C.


    I travel constantly and while I have the privilege of visiting and getting inspired by institutions all across the US every day…it makes the year pass by very quickly.  That’s one of the reasons I really appreciate big education industry events, and NECC is certainly one of my favorites.  In addition to embracing the opportunity to connect with innovators, leaders, and industry partners…the event provides me with an opportunity to reflect on the progress we’re making as an education team here at Microsoft. Are we adding value? Have we simplified the way institutions get value from our programs and technology?  Have we evolved our relevance in education and teaching and learning? I use NECC as a point in the year to evaluate our past and get feedback on where we should be focusing our future.  As always, I welcome your input and guidance…

    NECC is also a great opportunity for us to share our resources, programs and technology solutions that positively impact students and their learning. For this year’s show, we have identified offerings, partners, and products that meet the specific needs of K-12 education. We’re hopeful people attending the show can benefit from the many assets available...from new devices to professional development resources to software help create 21st century digital learning environments that prepare students for the real world.

    Visit us at Microsoft’s booth #1728. We will be hosting presentations throughout the conference and chances to win cool prizes.

    Collaborate and Educate:
    Join our 12 workshops as part of NECC’s official conference program. These three-hour workshops will be focused on the integration of technology and curriculum, using Microsoft tools, and delivered through instructional education trainers. Register for our classes today: 

    Twitter Treasure Hunt:
    Do you Twitter? If so, follow the Microsoft Twitter account at to participate in our virtual treasure hunt leading up to NECC. Throughout June we will be posting clues on this Twitter account and educators can answer the clues to be entered to win amazing prizes, such as HP laptops, Microsoft Office software, wireless keyboards and mice, and more.

    Helping Engage Students More Effectively Using Technology:
    Join Microsoft and HP to learn how we are creating powerful student engagement tools and effective teacher development through technology usage, with examples from today’s most innovative teachers. Come join us at our session on Wednesday, July 1 from 10:30am–11:30am in WWCC 206.

    Erin Gruwell and the Freedom Writers Foundation Closing Keynote:
    Wednesday's (July 1st) keynote wraps up your conference experience with an inspirational look into the 10+ years worth of technology-supported projects initiated by Freedom Writers founder Erin Gruwell, compliments of HP and Microsoft. Don’t miss this inspirational discussion:

    For those unable to attend the show in person, many of the resources will be available via and stay tuned for future webcast sessions that will highlight many of the things we’ll just touch on at NECC.

    Looking forward to meeting you in D.C.!

  • Education Insights

    Beyond Bing...Search and Productivity


    Microsoft’s announcement of Bing ( has certainly garnered some attention and excitement.  There’s a lot of investment and focus on improving the core search experience for Internet users, and we do have a long way to go to make search results more personal, concise, predictive, and accessible.  Bing is a big step in the right direction. 

    For our schools, I’m most excited about the efforts Microsoft is taking to make search a part of productivity applications and collaboration.  Microsoft Research is working on several initiatives to make the way we find and use information via web searches a core part of the way students collaborate and learn.  One example is SearchTogether, a free Internet Explorer plug-in (download here), that allows groups of people to collaborate on web searches.  SearchTogether can benefit any group of people who are interested in investigating a topic together, such as students working on a group report or joint project, or friends planning a shared vacation or other social activities.  SearchTogether supports both synchronous and asynchronous collaboration styles.  SearchTogether's collaboration features include group query histories, split searching, page-level rating and commenting, automatically-generated shared summaries, peek-and-follow browsing, and integrated chat.  SearchTogether also allows each group member to customize their search preferences; choices include Bing (formerly Windows Live Search), Yahoo!, and Google. More background information can be found here. Screen shot on the right.

    Microsoft Research has also articulated the vision of the Research Desktop. This project integrates web search into the core of the computing experience with concepts and designs that enable new ways of working and managing resources. It provides support in four key areas: Activities, Tools, Library and Notes. 

    Other explorations like Microsoft Tafiti work to incorporate visualization elements into search while adding the ability to create visual search histories that can be shared and edited by project teams.  Tafiti is rooted in the notion that students use a search engine for research…and we need to enhance the experience in the context of learning. 

    I am incredibly excited about the holistic thinking around the way students and teachers find, use, share, and collaborate with information.  Bing is a one example, but there are many other innovations on the way.

  • Education Insights

    Video of the Week: Teaching & Learning & Technology at Washington State University


    Institutions have long realized technology’s promise for impact in education is only fulfilled by a connection and integration to the core teaching and learning process….or at least that’s the hope.  Here’s just one example of a thoughtful approach to bring technology solutions into the learning continuum and put control in the hands of the students to help collaborate and guide learning. 

    The approach from Washington State University introduces students and faculty to technology and the effective application of it with the help of Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2007, and provides a student-centered learning environment where they can connect and collaborate beyond the classroom.

    Technology facilitates student-centered learning for global collaboration
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