Education Insights

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

September, 2009

  • Education Insights

    Office Web Apps Enter Technical Preview


    Today, Microsoft officially opened the technical preview program for the much anticipated Office Web Apps to a limited number of invitation-only participants. We have a few schools in this private preview who will be testing Excel, PowerPoint and Word Web Apps through Windows Live SkyDrive (OneNote coming soon). Take a look at the new screen shots on the right. The rest of us will be able to get a sneak peak when the Office 2010 beta is released later this year…you can sign up here for early notification of when it's coming so you can try it out.

    I’m really excited about the potential Office Web Apps have for education. We’ve seen schools, and students in particular, embrace a wide variety of collaborative and online environments to do work in an ad-hoc fashion and move beyond the classroom and even their PC as a core computing device. Office Web Apps will allow students to collaborate in real-time across a wide variety of experience types, whether it’s editing assignments in Word at a library computer or the ability to embrace a much more collaborative approach to sharing projects with teammates. Doing work anytime, anyplace without the restriction of the PC they’re using or the software that’s loaded on it will be a tremendous opportunity. With Office Web Apps, you can view, create, edit and share documents anyplace, on any device (phone, PC, MAC) and across popular browsers (Internet Explorer, Safari, and Firefox).

    Office Webs Apps will be a great companion to Office, so students can take the documents they’ve worked on and open them up for feedback and collaboration with others whether or not they have Office software on their machines…and a student won’t have to worry about whether their friend has the same version of Office either. This will open up the world of computing across campus and across different learning modalities which certainly opens up collaboration opportunities.

    I think Web Apps are great examples of Microsoft’s commitment to not only create new experiences that connect to the needs our educators and students and what they are asking for, but our commitment to software plus services.

    I’m excited to show you more about the features and functionality of the Web Apps in the coming year and how they will play with Live@edu, but in the meantime, learn more about them in the Windows Live and Office 2010 Engineering blog posts, as well as this new demo video and fact sheet.

  • Education Insights

    Improving teaching & learning in Kenya with 1:1 computing


    Access to education is certainly one of the world’s most pressing problems. This week at the annual Clinton Global Initiative meeting in New York City, we are making a number of commitments to partner with industry leaders and governments to provide access to technology to drive change in local communities by enhancing teaching and learning methods, thereby improving skills needed by students to thrive in the 21st century.  
    We are partnering with Intel, Cisco, USAID and the Kenyan Government to improve the quality of primary and secondary education in Kenya by launching the Accelerating 21st Century Education (ACE) project and develop a best-in-class model for deploying ICT in education. This is a combined commitment valued at more than US$9 million and centers on creating “one-to-one e-learning” classrooms in 60 focus schools across Kenya. We will help deploy more than 6,000 networked computers for student and teacher use; train teachers to effectively integrate technology in the classroom; train technical support staff at each school; install a wireless infrastructure inside the schools and Internet connectivity; provide access to digital educational content; and help develop the local IT industry in Kenya to promote economic development and sustainability.

    Additionally, Cisco, Intel and Microsoft will work together to establish a School Technology Innovation Center (STIC) in Nairobi. The center will be dedicated to research on innovative emerging technology solutions and serve as a repository and showcase for best-known methods of teaching, learning and educational technology. The Microsoft Worldwide Partners in Learning team runs School Technology Innovation Centers in a number of cities around the world – Brussels, Belgium; Johannesburg, South Africa, Prague, Czech Republic; Belfast, Northern Ireland; Amman, Jordan; Sao Paolo, Brazil.

    There are a number of curricula that we offer through Partners in Learning that will be made available for teachers in Kenya. One such example is Peer Coaching, which trains teachers to help other teachers in their school and area more effectively use technology for 21st Century teaching and learning. It has been very effective in Brazil and Thailand. Other curricula that will be made available includes Security Day Curriculum, Live@edu, Leading Change for school leaders and basic digital literacy.

    According to UNESCO, since 1990, the Kenyan government has renewed its commitment to improving education. And although, it is still a developing country and many schools still lack electricity or suitable classrooms for learning, Kenya is becoming a strong regional and worldwide advocate for the effective use of ICTs in teaching and learning. With the 1:1 initiative, Kenya has a tremendous opportunity to realize a dramatic transformation of its education system…access to a device opens up a new world in terms of access to information, different technologies, resources and learning opportunities. The computers will transform the classroom experience by giving school leaders and educators the ability to drive student achievement, performance, development and career aspirations overall.

    As education is increasingly looked upon by countries all over the world to help respond to economic challenges as a source for innovation and incubation of new ideas, businesses and industries…one thing that schools equally recognize is that transferrable competency skills are as critical if not more critical than the core content that has traditionally been taught behind school walls. As the connection between school and the workplace become more transparent, schools need to embrace the value of critical thinking, collaboration, creativity, etc. And access to a computer provides a way to build these necessarily skills needed to compete and succeed in the 21st century.

    I am proud we are able to scale some of our programs and bring them to Kenya to help invest in 21st century learning, stimulate the local economy and help the government fast track its education reform efforts. Over the course of three years, this project is expected to directly benefit an estimated 39,000 students and 7,000 teachers through improved educational infrastructure and training.   Kenya’s Ministry of Education estimates than an additional 300,000 people will benefit indirectly from the STIC and other aspects of knowledge sharing.

    We are also happy to report out on the success of the Global Give Back Circle, a Microsoft supported initiative helping disadvantaged girls in Kenya to successfully transition from high school to university. You can read more about our efforts here and here.

  • Education Insights

    H1N1 Virus Forces Academic Institutions To Think More Aggressively About Online Learning


    As the Southern Hemisphere officially begins its influenza season, the CDC is reporting here in the United States that the number of people visiting doctors with flu-like symptoms is increasing and far above normal for this time of year. With the new academic year now in session, the H1N1 flu virus is top of mind as we all think about how to personally stay healthy and school officials think about how to make sure students don’t fall behind in their studies if they are absent from class or they need to close their institutions.

    The U.S. Department of Education has released recommendations to schools and universities for how learning can continue in the event of an outbreak, and today Microsoft announced how it will support the administration’s efforts to minimize the impact of H1N1 in our schools. We are offering free technology resources at that will help educators stay connected with their students. The simplest thing educators can do is set up an online class workspace using Office Live Workspace where you can share assignments, handouts and documents and collaborate on projects anytime, anywhere with just an Internet connection. We’re providing how-to videos, tips and other free technologies teachers can infuse in their classroom content to make lessons more engaging.

    The H1N1 pandemic highlights the need for institutions to think more holistically about blended learning environments…that these online and distance learning solutions are valuable not only when you have to respond to classroom outages or school closures, but also creates an opportunity to connect and share information between a student and teacher beyond the classroom all the time. There’s data to suggest this type of learning boosts student outcomes. The U.S. Department of Education and the Sloan Consortium have interesting analysis here and here.

    We do offer more robust options for classroom continuity for those institutions looking to rollout blended learning solutions more broadly. As IT managers juggle with the need to expand services and react to potential need for H1N1 virtual learning environments with increasing limited budgets and staff…solutions like Office Live Workspace provide a great option.  It’s an easy to implement and FREE solution that is hosted, managed and maintained offsite, yet has the ability to connect with school identity, passwords for single sign-on, etc.  School leaders can quickly demonstrate leadership by providing tools to extend learning beyond the classroom and use the H1N1 mandate to increasingly drive the transformation of learning in and out of the classroom. 

    While the solution is easy to start-up-and-go because it’s connected to Microsoft identity, collaboration and messaging platforms…not only can sign-on and identity be integrated into core school district platforms, but rich messaging options built on Microsoft Exchange can be extended to students and parents for free via Live@edu. Live@edu is being used by schools and universities around the world and provides a suite of communication and collaboration services.

    Microsoft also provides a comprehensive set of solutions that make up a very robust distance learning portfolio. We offer everything necessary from real time meeting and communication capabilities to online content management. Using our Unified Communications and Collaboration Platform, offering both on premise and cloud/hosted versions of Exchange, SharePoint and Office Communications Server, schools have a rich and powerful platform on which to offer distance learning solutions.

    We are honored to do what we can to support education in this country, and around the world, and look forward to continued partnership with the Department of Education and you to make technology solutions more affordable and accessible.

  • Education Insights

    Using data to personalize learning at the School of One


    When we talk to schools, we often talk about the value of data. We think about data as really being holistically used across the learning environment to transform the classroom…from the way in which you create identity, help with curriculum and create personalized learning experiences. A lot of districts have provided increased access to data to provide clarity to teachers on students’ progress and transparency to parents. In these scenarios, schools mostly use data as a reporting function, not as a way to drive true innovation. The School of One in New York City is an example of administrators radically transforming the way they use data to create authentic personalized learning experiences for students.
    I got the chance to visit the School of One last month and it was exciting to see a vision we share with NYC schools about using data to do more…to deliver a transformative learning experience…and actually see it come to fruition.  This week, my team and I sat down with Joel Rose, the lead of the School of One project, to get a report on the results of the pilot. What we learned really affirms what we believed all along…using data to drive action is critical for schools. In order to drive a personalized learning roadmap…you must use the data to optimize curriculum and teacher resources effectively to affect individual student results.
    At this summer school math class, they take data from the students’ performance that day and use it to predict and plan the next day’s lessons and the method in which they are going to learn…how are they going to collaborate, whether they will work in a small team, participate in project-based activities, etc.  Teachers get a daily report on how each individual student is progressing…they can track which students are falling behind, which students are moving ahead…and they get a unique schedule and curriculum plan for the next day based on the data analysis. 

    The School of One uses the Renzulli framework from the University of Connecticut that allows students to assess what kind of learner they think they are, what kind of learning style is most attractive to them, etc.  Teachers at the School of One want to know where and how the students think they learn best and whether that is truly the most optimal way they should learn. For example, a student may think they soak up knowledge best with game-based learning in small groups, but they actually work better in collaborative groups with large projects. They take the Renzulli work, students’ performance and how they are making headway against the curriculum on a daily basis…then run all this information through algorithms a Microsoft consultant has built with Microsoft Access and Excel and other partner tools to generate a class schedule.
    They’ve really created unique learning environments for students that put a teacher where he or she is best skilled. They want to create the most optimal teaching experience for teachers too. In some circumstances, student teachers from the university system help with group collaboration projects, and they use teachers with more experience for specific coaching moments in a 1:1 capacity. So they are optimizing their human capital resources just as much as they are optimizing the student learning opportunities. It’s a real holistic view of the environment – they think about the actual physical structure of the classroom and they think about optimizing for the teacher to create a personalized learning experience.
    The challenges School of One will face are something schools face every day. Innovation like this is not easy…it requires a commitment from the leadership and it requires a commitment to change. You also have to focus on scale. School of One is a great project but to get that to be a district-wide initiative on other subjects requires a tremendous amount of work. The School of One has already seen some return on investment…they have really speeded up time to market in terms of getting data back to teachers. It used to take 3 hours to compile the algorithms and get the data back to teachers – now it is less than an hour. They are seeing economies of scale and they think they can scale out.
    The last thing I think is important…and this is where products like Microsoft Semblio will come in…when you drive to truly personalize learning, there’s a need for content. If you are really going to commit to personalized learning and commit to a student who likes project-based learning with game design for learning algebra, you need a specific type of content for that. The richness of content in terms of what’s available and how teachers can augment existing content to adapt for the student is precisely what Semblio does…provides teachers tools to update and tweak their core content with access to rich digital resources.
    I'm excited to see the School of One concept grow. We’ll continue to see how Microsoft can support the School of One as it expands to three more schools next January. The technology used in this first school pilot was minimal because the focus was on the process of understanding how the students performed each day and what unique content and activities would be needed for each student on the next day to maximize their learning experience. The school district expects the focus of technology to increase as the project expands to more schools and greater levels of personalized learning over the next months and years…and we hope we can help.

  • Education Insights

    Schools reinventing education with Windows 7 and more...


    It’s going to be an exciting year here at Microsoft as we are introducing a wave of new innovative software. This fall, we are helping institutions and IT professionals optimize PC environments, increase productivity and expand innovation in the classroom with Windows 7, consolidate servers with Windows Server 2008 R2 and unify communications with Exchange Server 2010.

    By now you’ve probably seen “The New Efficiency” – it’s both the theme for the product launches and it is the powerful concept behind a new way of thinking about IT…cost savings, innovation and productivity can come together to deliver operational improvements while amplifying the impact of your people. For education, this new efficiency requires some reinvention in many ways. The expectations of schools and its constituents are growing. What schools really have to do is prioritize investments and shift the ways they use existing resources as opposed to just doing more with the same resources. Basically, schools need to make different bets on how they serve content, and how they invest more in education, etc. as opposed to just squeezing more out of the same exact investment and strategy. Be sure to check out our virtual launch events here and here.

    Since Windows 7 was first released to schools with academic licensing agreements in August, many K12 and high education schools around the globe are in the process of deploying the next generation operating system and experiencing the benefits.  Check out my earlier blog post here introducing Windows 7 to schools.

    As part of its Digital Education Revolution initiative, the New South Wales Department of Education and Training is in the process of rolling out tens of thousands of netbooks to students and teachers to bring innovation to teaching and learning, and to equip students with the necessary tools they need to further their education and prepare them for the digital workforce. Check out their video below.

    West Hatch High School, in Essex, England was the first school in Europe to fully deploy Windows 7. And here in the United States, San Diego Unified School District, Catherine Cook School in Chicago, Hoover City Schools in Alabama, Kentucky Community and Technical College System and many more are investing in Windows 7.

    I’m excited to share their stories with you and more in the coming months. Please share how Windows 7 and the other new products are allowing you to transform the teaching and learning experience in your schools. If you haven't started exploring yet, you can download free trial software for Windows 7 here, Windows Server 2008 R2 here and Exchange Server 2010 here.

    New South Wales School District and Windows 7
  • Education Insights

    Education reform in the United Kingdom


    During my first week on the job in the international role for Microsoft Education, I had the opportunity to meet with a true leader and visionary in higher education, David Lammy. He is the Minister for Higher Education and Intellectual Property for the United Kingdom. He is most passionate about expanding access to higher education for all and becoming a world leader in e-learning.  We had the chance to talk about the state of education and higher education in the UK, and about the trends we see consistent across the world.

    Like most countries, the UK has recognized the value of education and is investing in education as a way to fuel the local economy to help the country get out of its own recession. The notion of education helping to prepare its students for the workforce of tomorrow is also vibrant and strong as the UK is investing in science, technology, engineering, and math to stimulate students’ thinking and fuel new industries that will propel the prosperity of places like the UK. We hope to help the UK on the workforce challenge as demonstrated by the launch of the Britain Works program this week where we will partner to provide people access to IT skills that can help them find employment...500,000 people by 2012. It's a unique program to meet local needs, but it shares the same philosophy of Elevate America here in the US that I've blogged about before.

    David and the UK also recognize the value and importance of a blended learning experience and the need of students’ individual learning needs. But they also recognize there’s a balance between the physical classroom experience and the online learning experience...It’s not an either/or approach. We both see a comprehensive look of how students learn, and how they learn in and around technology as a critical part of the discussion.

    I am looking forward to partnering on a number of initiatives with the UK and seeing what becomes of the future of higher education in the country.

  • Education Insights

    Back to school...for me


    Change is fairly common this time of year…new students and teachers enter classrooms and embrace new challenges as they prepare for the future.  Institutions put new plans and innovations in place to improve services and impact learning.  It’s an incredibly challenging, yet wonderful time of year. This resonates with me personally more than ever this year as I embark on a new venture within Microsoft.
    Starting this week, I’ll be shifting my focus on education within Microsoft…instead of just supporting K-12 and higher education in the United States, I will now also oversee Microsoft’s worldwide efforts in education. I’ll work with institutions and partners globally to embrace technology to optimize learning environments and student achievement. I will oversee the worldwide execution of Microsoft’s vision for education and Microsoft’s partnership and technology outreach efforts through the Worldwide Partners in Learning, Partners for Technology Access, and Public and Private Alliances programs and more.

    Like students entering a new school or grade, this change brings with it tremendous excitement and enthusiasm. I’m looking forward to the new challenge and I’m eager to learn about global innovations and obstacles in education.  I have been astonished by the commitment and passion educators in the United States demonstrate every day.  I know this is something shared by educators around the world…and while we all face some very unique issues, many of the struggles and aspirations remain consistent no matter where in the world you teach.  Identifying common issues and fine tuning how Microsoft can step up as a leader and partner with schools will be my goal.  We need to continue to listen and observe the hurdles in the path of our educators, students and institutions and share our resources, people and innovations at Microsoft to help impact learning and allow everyone to truly realize their potential.

    I am grateful for the opportunity to continue to serve our society’s true heroes…our teachers…and will continue to advocate inside and outside of Microsoft for the needs of schools and students.  Technology’s role will continue to increase and if we apply the right thinking and process we can deliver true breakthroughs and transformation. It is a humbling task all of us face in increasingly tough economic conditions and environments of tremendous uncertainty.  Education will be the key to continued economic prosperity and workforce preparedness around the world.  The global imperative to look to our classrooms as change agents to help build a better future is clear and universally shared.

    I have learned a lot from my visits around the United States and have been inspired by incredibly hardworking leaders. I’ll continue to relish the opportunity to learn from you…and now others around the world.  In many ways, I’ll help export lessons learned from the U.S. and import good ideas from country to country.  As I travel to new countries and visit classroom of all shapes and sizes, I’ll use this blog as a bit of a travel log…you’ll learn as I learn, and hopefully I’ll be able to share insights that can help provide new ideas or shared perspective.

    I welcome your input and support as I “go back to school” and try to learn something new every day.

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