Education Insights

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

July, 2009

  • Education Insights

    University Students Meet Their Perfect PC


    I thought I would share with you some fun commercials that were created at the University of Kentucky and the University of Colorado at Boulder this summer. They build on the concept our highly successful Laptop Hunter ads where people are looking for a computer that fits their lifestyle and their budgets. In the commercials, they figure out which PC is perfect for them based on their needs and priorities…whether it is gaming, travel, entertainment, media creation, or family computing.

    These university ads run with the theme “PC Hookup” and are a documentary of sorts, showing how the students choose a PC that meets their criteria and then how they spend the rest of the night using their new laptop as part of their regular life in everything they do. These ads underscore how students think their PC is such an important piece of their life...playing a critical role in their academic life and a centerpiece during their playtime. I’ll assume these videos were shot on a Friday night and that is why we don’t see the students doing any homework! Check out the Windows Laptop Scout website that has interactive tools to help you find the Windows laptop that fits your life.

    Check out the student videos here.

  • Education Insights

    Windows 7: A game changer in education


    I will try not to date myself too much, but I started my career at Microsoft when Windows 3.1 wasclip_image001 released. With every operating system since, we’ve been not only driving innovation on the software side, but also hardware. We’ve been pushing the envelope as Moore’s Law has occurred, as processing power and memory capacity has accelerated.

    I think Windows 7 is unique because it’s not only pushing innovation with things like 64-bit and multi-touch…but the new OS also embraces older technology, both with the optimization of Windows XP via the virtualized desktop and the ability to run on older generation hardware. This is really valuable for schools because they don’t have to replace their existing systems or Windows XP systems to take advantage of Windows 7.

    We are really excited to announce that Windows 7 has been released to manufacturing today. This means our partners can now start loading new PCs for retail sales and software developers can test their new Windows 7 applications and get them ready to go to market. For our customers with volume licensing agreements, you can get your hands on the final Windows 7 code starting August 7th and work to upgrade your systems potentially before students are back in class.

    The reactions I hear from most people who have tried Windows 7 say it runs smoothly; it’s more responsive; the user interface is more intuitive; it’s a logical layout in terms of the way the OS works; and it just simplifies things for teachers, students and staff. We built Windows 7 to make everyday tasks easier and to make students, teachers and staff more productive no matter where they are located or what device they are using. Windows 7 is a much more reliable and secure environment… your machine will boot faster and your battery life will be longer.

    One of my favorite new features is BitLocker To Go. Teachers and students take data home from school on USB thumb drives all the time, and sometimes it’s sensitive data like grades. BitLocker was a great way to secure devices in Vista, and we’ve taken it a step further in Windows 7. With BitLocker To Go, USB keys can be provisioned with security measures and users will be prompted for a password in order to access the content on the USB.

    We know schools are often downloading large videos from the web for classroom discussions or documents from a district office. BranchCache will increase network responsiveness of applications, so downloads will happen more quickly and even schools with low bandwidth can take advantage. These features will be very powerful and will help school IT departments not only make people more productive, but also enhance security and control to control risk and streamline PC manageability to reduce costs. Check out this website here for demos on these features and more. The Windows Team blog and the Springboard Series blog are also good resources for IT professionals. If you want to evaluate Windows 7 for yourself, be sure to download the Release Candidate (RC) by August 20th here.

    In the months to come, we’ll share more about how our customers in K12 and higher education are deploying Windows 7 and the benefits they are realizing. In the meantime, check out the video below where our own Scott Thompson shows you the new client features in Windows 7 that will bring new experiences to your schools.

  • Education Insights

    Partners -- the secret to our success


    When I meet with customers and speak at events, I am frequently asked, “What do you think is the secret to Microsoft’s success? And what has enabled the company to keep growing over the years?” While a lot of Microsoft employees contribute to how we scale our products (product development, marketing, sales, etc.)…a source of differentiation is our ecosystem of partners. There are more than 640,000 partners worldwide who build, support and enhance technologies on the Microsoft platform. They are driving innovation, adding value, building local businesses, and growing local economies. These partners are a source of strength and they play a critical role in meeting the IT needs of our customers.

    I just got home from New Orleans where the Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference (WPC) took place this week. It’s a great opportunity to meet with our partners who are working to solve the challenges we see in the classroom every day. They are helping technology work more effectively and more seamlessly, and really focusing on making magic happen in the classroom.

    Datatel won our Education Partner of the Year award this year. Datatel’s ActiveCampus Portal solution is built on SharePoint technology and the company describes its technology as a powerful enterprise work environment and collaborative social learning platform that serves as a personalized one-stop service center for all college and university constituents. Students, faculty, staff and alumni can easily find information, access learning management systems, registration, calendaring, newsfeeds and virtually any other resource.

    We are seeing lots of traction with our partners building solutions for Microsoft Live@edu. Because Live@edu is built around enterprise APIs, partners can easily integrate Live@edu into their offerings and solutions. It’s a great way to extend more value to customers who are already taking advantage of the free resources in Live@edu (email, storage, collaboration, document sharing, etc.) and deliver more options like workflow solutions, integration of security profiles, etc.

    Many partners are very much focused on helping schools understand how to use data. Nuventive is one that is leveraging our data analytics platform and business intelligence framework to help schools interpret data, make decisions and drive change. They also have a digital portfolio solution for students to help students assess their progress in school and identify what competencies they need to grow, etc. The technology delivers the data in a much more actionable way instead of just providing charts and graphs.

    Infusion is doing great work around Microsoft Surface and building applications to transform learning in the classroom, in particular making Surface a great information gathering place for complex data sets. Check out their blog to see examples of the cool applications they are building. We also announced this week a new Microsoft Surface Partner Program to accelerate the number of partners bringing multi-touch and multi-user solutions to market.

    I also met with Neudesic and they are doing great work creating student information systems and incorporating SharePoint into the foundation of how schools use data, connect alumni and students information, etc.  Speaktech also does great work taking the Microsoft technology stack, in particular, Live@edu and SharePoint, and make it really resonate with teachers and students from a design and social networking perspective. They get that students require content and experiences that are visually appealing and dynamic, and they use Silverlight and other technologies in innovative ways to enhance the experience.

    We have hundreds of partners delivering education solutions. You can find more at the Microsoft Public Sector Partner Solution MarketPlace.  And if you are one of our partners and weren’t able to travel to New Orleans this week, be sure to read more about our redesigned Microsoft Education Partner Network website. We listened to your feedback and are now supporting a “community” component which supports sharing and discussion between education partners, as well as directly with Microsoft, for product information, sales materials, education research and best practices.

  • Education Insights

    Industry trends surface at NECC


    I had the pleasure of attending the National Educational Computing Conference (NECC) in DC earlier this month...and as I’ve said before…these big signature education events are a good occasion for me to connect with our customers and partners in one place. It’s also an opportunity to see broader industry trends and how they've evolved year over year. I like to review those trends and gauge how we are aligning and providing technology solutions to meet the needs and challenges of our schools.

    This year’s NECC was no different in many ways…the sheer amount of enthusiasm for technology was evident. The real change I felt this year is that schools, administrators, teachers, etc. are starting to take much deeper action in terms of true transformation around how to use data more aggressively. As opposed to just building data repositories, the focus and shift of this year’s show was much more about how that data is going to drive a change in teaching and the way in which we assess students.

    I also saw transformation in the way in which schools are trying to use curriculum and content. There were lots of different models on the show floor around new learning resources, as well as learning repositories. Digital learning is becoming much more of a reality in schools as seen with the recent decision in California to scrap traditional textbooks. Schools and vendors are thinking hard about how to create more immersive learning environments using technology.

    The reality of the down economy was a broad theme at the show that was both a source of concern and hope. In many ways, schools have used the economy shift to reset thinking, to reprioritize and to focus on the things that are most important and that will truly drive differentiation in their classrooms. We are all thinking more about how we can build and grow better teachers, how we can create rich and immersive learning environments for students, and how we can use school resources more effectively. The stimulus is giving schools hope, not just from a monetary perspective, but from a leadership and focus perspective. Combined with the commitment in our country and from leaders as high as the President of the United States…people are optimistic change will happen.

    With these trends in mind, I see four areas for schools to focus on in the next year.  First, acquiring rich data transparency and education analytics solutions around student achievement, test scores, curriculum needs that will help educators map to state standards and students’ career aspirations. Having that repository and toolset is going to be the #1 priority for schools.

    Second, this new analytics technology will require schools to have an all-inclusive, secure student identification system. So many schools have student IDs and unified student records…but that unified student record is just an ID...schools are not using that ID to the fullest potential to log into everything…to connect the experiences across communication and collaboration content.

    Third, there is a need to create true digital learning environments to capture the hearts and minds of our students. Whether you have a traditional online school where students are taking classes electronically, a blended environment with digital curriculum that supplements classroom instruction, or just an environment where learning is enhanced by using electronic textbooks and/or collaboration tools via new technology…incorporating new ways of teaching to transform the learning experience and outcomes of our students is super important. From a technology perspective, we certainly see a proliferation of a wider range of devices…natural language devices, touch devices, smaller computer form factors, Netbooks, etc…that drive new experiences in classroom. And looking at the bigger picture, we will see a shift to cloud services and how schools balance between on-premise and off-premise technology solutions.

    Finally, as the assessment debate goes on, schools will continue to be laser-focused on how to prepare students and how to arm them with 21st century skills to make sure they are ready for the workforce.

    We have a lot of homework to do this summer while our kids are out on break. What change do you want to implement this next school year?

  • Education Insights

    US Students Win in Egypt at Imagine Cup 2009 Worldwide Finals


    I wanted to give a special shout out to our US students who won prizes this week at the Worldwide Imagine Cup finals competition in Cairo, Egypt. Like I’ve said before, students can do amazing things if given the tools and resources to inspire them to push the boundaries of their imagination. The Imagine Cup is one way Microsoft encourages young people to apply their passion and creativity to technology innovations that can make a difference in the world…and in the process gain valuable life and career skills to set them on a path for future success.

    This year, 300,000 students from 142 countries registered and competed, creating technology solutions that mapped to the theme “Imagine a world where technology helps solve the toughest problems” built around the eight UN Millennium Development Goals. Here’s a quick look at the four winning US teams…

    • Team CURIOUS – Marc-Antoine Pare and Kathy Pham from the Georgia Institute of Technology won FIRST PLACE in the “Mashup” category (picture on the right). They used Popfly and other software to build a website that uses sentiment analysis algorithms to make content and data more meaningful to people so there is a personal connection.
    • Team Epsylon Games – E McNeill from Dartmouth College is an aspiring game designer who won SECOND PLACE in the “Game Development” category. He created an educational game called “Alternex” that allows players to research and deploy alternative energy solutions…and, of course, have fun.
     Team eXchangeFun – Feixing Tuang and Yujia Zhao from Indiana University, Bloomington wanted to encourage sustainable consumption with their project that won SECOND PLACE in the “Design” category. eXchangeFun is a platform for people in their communities to trade and exchange used household items so they don’t go to waste. Additionally, the young women from Bloomington were also presented the Accessible Design Award because their technology solution best addressed accessible needs.
    • Team Auratech – Ryan Gentner and Casey Williams, university students from Buffalo, NY, won FIRST PLACE and collected the Tablet Accessibility Award. They created “Mirage,” a teaching and learning environment geared towards teaching physically and mentally challenged individuals with the ability to personalize the experience.

    Next year’s Imagine Cup 2010 finals will be held in Poland. The registration process just opened this week. As education leaders, administrators, IT staff and teachers…it is our responsibility to nurture a passion for learning in our students, and I challenge you to encourage your kids to sign-up, think big, and compete on behalf of the US.

  • Education Insights

    Integrating Kodu and gaming into the classroom


    Being a gamer myself, I’ve always been attuned to the potential for gaming to become more than just an entertainment device. I think leveraging video games in the classroom can not only stimulate thinking and help develop problem solving and logic skills, but also inspire and excite kids about learning. That’s why I’m thrilled Kodu is now officially available on the Xbox Live Community Games channel. Created in Microsoft Research (MSR), Kodu is a new visual programming tool that allows you to create video games on the Xbox 360, but it’s also a really interesting way to help young children learn the basics of computer programming through a visual and familiar interface.

    If you are with a school or an educator interested in using Kodu in your curriculum, you can sign up here to get involved in the academic beta program on the PC. Space is limited, and it requires an Xbox 360 controller for Windows and a reasonable graphics card. You can read more about Kodu’s potential use in the classroom here, and how kids at a Michigan elementary school took Kodu for an early test drive during the development phase here. Also, check out the demo video below from Alfred Thompson, one of our K-12 Computer Science Academic Relations Managers here at Microsoft. The Kodu forum also has lots of chatter if you need programming tips, want to talk to the community building games and keep up on product developments.

    The potential for Kodu in the classroom is huge. There are three core elements schools should think about in terms of how to maximize the potential of gaming from a learning perspective.  Most schools think about gaming in relation to creating simulation-based experiences in a visual or interactive way that enable collaboration (think Second Life). I blogged earlier about how avatars can help get students more engaged in their learning experiences.

    Gaming is a great way to inspire kids to get exposed to and to understand core skills. Kodu can help kids understand the fundamentals and principals of software development. We can make learning experiences more relevant. If we can get kids interested in gaming concepts early, then hopefully they will think about their potential career aspirations and develop skills early.

    I think there is also potential for incorporating gaming into the way we do assessments. Kids respond to the gaming culture. There’s this notion of achievement and winning in games that incent players to accomplish certain tasks in order to get recognition. Wouldn’t it be great if we could leverage those core concepts for learning? Using elements of games to have rich interactive learning management systems where kids are incented, rewarded and recognized to complete quizzes, to do lesson plans, or to share information and collaborate on a subject.

    I’d be curious to hear if your school is receptive to incorporating gaming in the classroom, and what innovative projects you are assigning your students…

    Kodu demonstration for schools

  • Education Insights

    My talk with Ken Royal

    I always genuinely enjoy my time talking with Ken Royal. His passion for education and enthusiasm for innovative approaches to learning, assessment and technology is inspiring. During NECC, I had an opportunity to chat with Ken for a bit and he shared a snippet of our talk on his new and recommended blog -- The Educators’ Royal Treatment.
  • Education Insights

    Assessments...are we doing it all wrong?


    As part of the National Educational Computing Conference (NECC) this week in Washington, D.C., I attended the Global Education Competitiveness Summit (GECS). The purpose of the event was to start a dialogue about international assessments, to discuss how to get students in the US to perform better on benchmark tests to ensure they are prepared to compete globally, and to look at some of the models of best practices around the world like Finland and Singapore. The meeting was sponsored by Microsoft, the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE), and the Education Commission of the States (ECS), and dozens of education, policy and business leaders from the states of Tennessee, Michigan, Missouri, Louisiana and more contributed to the discussion.

    After listening and participating, I see a couple of urgent actions for our country to take in order to reform education in the US.

    Need for softer skills. We have to start with embracing 21st century competencies. We’ve been so focused on standardized tests and assessments that we’ve undervalued that broader development of competencies. For example, in Singapore, when they think about education transformation, the language they use is that want to build more confident learners, they want to build more creative thinkers. This generation of high school students will supposedly have 10 or more jobs in their lifetime. The workforce is rapidly changing, so this notion about being much more nimble on competencies is important. I think other countries have come to this realization faster than the US has in terms of understanding and taking action. I think development of these softer skills are important in terms of how we can set aspirations for students and make school much more relevant to work and the skills kids need to compete over their lifetime. 

    Teachers as icons. Where do we start change in our education system? There’s a lot of focus on teachers…how do we better prepare teachers and how can we get the best teachers? In other countries, like Finland, the role of a teacher is universally respected, and the best and the brightest become teachers. In the US, we need to show much more effort on making the role of a teacher something we look up to, like we do with doctors, lawyers, policemen, etc. We need to think about the teaching profession as the backbone of our country and better embrace teachers in our culture. In other countries, citizens think the role of a teacher is something to aspire to, that’s not always true here in the US.

    IT assessments for systems, not teachers. When we talk about education transformation and the role of technology in that, I think colleges of teaching are being thrown under the bus when people say teachers aren’t trained to embrace technology.  I don’t think that’s true. If you go to any college of teaching, you’re going to see next generation learning students. They’re going to be taking e-courses, collaborating online, etc.  I think when we talk about technology or IT assessment, we shouldn’t be measuring teachers’ skills on whether they can use a browser or Word document…we should be thinking about IT assessment and asking if the school is IT-ready. Do they support digital curriculum? Are they personalizing learning? Are they assessing students and progress more regularly than once a year when kids take assessment tests? Daily reflection, change and adjustments are needed.  We should put more focus and rigor on IT assessments for systems and schools, not for our teachers specifically. From a learning context, schools should be assessed on the ability to serve curriculum, to do personalized learning, etc.

    We have to take action now. The US used to be the world’s leader in education and our students at the top of assessment tests. We’ve witnessed other countries change and forge ahead of us. We can’t lose a generation of students to transform. We have to transform more aggressively and more holistically.

    Michael Golden also posted on the GECS event and gives details on our collaboration with Cisco and Intel to transform global assessments.


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