I attended the National Community Education Association’s (NCEA) annual conference last weekend in Phoenix, Arizona where they held the first national forum on “Revitalizing America’s Rural Communities.” Every child has the right to a quality education…and improving access and opening up opportunities for students in rural areas is a worldwide dilemma we must address.
I am a NCEA Board Member and the reason why I like this organization is they recognize the need to make education more relevant to students by helping them build job and life skills they will need for the rest of their lives. Along with that, NCEA recognizes that schools need to be much more aware of community resources and the need to connect schools to their communities and get more participation from parents and businesses. That’s why I’m on the board…I feel very strongly about what they do in terms of the connection to the community and the need for institutions to think much more broadly about the way in which their schools exist in the places that they are.
According to the Why Rural Matters 2009 report, there are more than 9 million public school students enrolled in rural schools districts in the United States alone…that’s 19% of the nation’s total public school enrollment. Rural populations suffer from bandwidth challenges; they suffer from the ability to scale projects because of the lack of teachers and resources; and they also suffer with regards to diversity of education offerings because they don’t have enough teacher specialization to support all the curriculum and learning needs students may have. This is also very true around the world.
In many ways, the challenges and the solutions collide. Technology is a valuable tool to connect to each other and other parts of the world, in addition to the ability to leverage online learning or blended learning to support curriculum gaps. But because of the lack of resources, bandwidth, etc., rural areas are often the most poorly serviced with regards to technology access even though it’s one of the areas where technology can help the most. So there’s a balance we have to address.
We need a greater focus on revitalizing rural education…making sure we have a healthy dialogue about rural challenges the way we do with urban challenges. I think one of the great opportunities in the rural environment is the ability to connect schools and students to their local community. In my keynote at the NCEA event, I talked about leveraging public and private partnerships, service-learning applications (see my earlier blog post here), to blended learning environments to make learning that much more relevant and personal to individual students which is critical. In order for education in a rural setting to be a success, community officials, state and local agencies, and local businesses need to come together to address the problems in a collaborative way to leverage each other’s resources and investments.
Through our U.S. Partners in Learning program, we committed to a 5-year partnership with the state of New Mexico to focus on schools which act as a catalyst for 21st century workforce readiness and economic vitality in rural communities to improve academic success. The purpose was to also figure out how the private and public sectors could sit side-by-side to address an education problem. This was not a case of business leaders stepping in to tell the school what they should be doing…rather, recognizing and embracing the various expertise that could be brought to the challenge.
We funded four projects, each focused on a different learning experience – running a small town newspaper, giving a facelift to a local main street, opening a storefront, and building single family homes. In Loving, they recently celebrated the completion of a new house. These examples reflect the strong local connection New Mexico communities have with education and how the schools are able to create opportunities and hope for students…which is a very powerful thing.
Australia has an interesting idea for rural revitalization…send city kids to the country. What’s your suggestion to improve rural education? What’s working or not working in your geography? How can we help?
I know the day will come when I read about the growing numbers of students pursuing careers in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) instead of always seeing stories about the current education crisis. There are many ideas out there for how education leaders worldwide can make sure their students are prepared to compete in the global economy and pursue careers in information technology where there is a growing need for workers.
At Microsoft, we are very focused on making a difference in this area – from our involvement with organizations in the United States like the Boys and Girls Club to bring technology access to underserved youth -- to ways we are tapping young people’s imagination and curiosity with technology and encouraging them to get involved through our Imagine Cup and DreamSpark programs.
Exploring the universe we live in is just one way…a fun way, I might add…to get students excited about science and help them build STEM expertise and other 21st century skills like problem solving and teamwork. Today, at our Professional Developers Conference (PDC), Microsoft and NASA announced the “Be a Martian” web site…an interactive destination built on the Windows Azure platform that allows visitors to pan, zoom and explore Mars. Based upon data collected by NASA’s Mars missions, and stored on Microsoft’s cloud services technologies, “citizen scientists” can help create a complete and accurate map of the Red Planet using simple online tools and take part in research tasks.
As part of the project, NASA and Microsoft are also cosponsoring the Pathfinder Innovation Challenge. The challenge beckons software developers at all levels of proficiency, and as young as 14-years old, to win prizes for creating tools that provide simplified access to, and analysis of, hundreds of thousands of Mars images for online, classroom, and even Mars mission team use.
We hope this can be another tool in a teacher’s arsenal to inspire students to become life-long learners in science.
Even before the Department of Education released the final rules for how to apply to the Race to the Top funds last week, schools around the United States and the world have been pushing the envelope and testing new methods for how to raise student performance with innovative new teaching practices. It’s exciting to see even the current issue of TIME Magazine call out The School of One in New York City as one of “The 50 Best Inventions of 2009.” (Read my earlier blog post on School of One for how Microsoft is partnering on the project.)
I talked to Neil Richards with HunterStone recently about trends in education and how new learning styles and form factors play into the transformation of schools. HunterStone is one of our partners and provides e-learning and IT tools for Microsoft environments. Take a look and listen to the video below and let me know what you think.
How are you bringing change to your schools and classrooms? Are stimulus funds making an impact?
This week, I am in Salvador, Brazil, attending the Worldwide Innovative Education Forum. The event brings together more than 400 teachers, school leaders, government officials and other education experts from around the world to celebrate and share innovation happening in the classroom that leads to educational transformation. Best practices for integrating technology into curricula, pedagogy and classrooms are showcased and people are connected with their peers for lifelong learning opportunities.
This is the 5th year the Microsoft Partners in Learning team has put on the event, and it kicked off today with the launch of the Partners in Learning Network. The Network is the next generation of the Innovative Teachers Network that I’ve blogged about before. We expect to have more than 2 million teachers and school leaders participating by next year…making it one of the largest professional networks for educators in the world. It went live today in English and Ukrainian and within the next couple of weeks, it will be available in 39 countries, with more languages coming in the next couple of months. The new site provides educators with the opportunity to collaborate with colleagues in their local region and around the globe.
Teachers cannot be successful innovators unless their school systems support inventive teaching and learning. The Innovative Schools Program is designed to help school leaders become change agents within their school communities by providing tools and resources they need to successfully envision and implement transformation. In Brazil, we are welcoming the first classes of Mentor and Pathfinder Schools. There are 42 schools and we will work together over the next year to refine their vision to change the culture of schools and bring radical transformation to the classroom. We will then help implement the ideas, infuse technology where appropriate, and broadly scale out and help replicate it in other schools.
On Friday, we will announce the 12 winners of the Innovative Teachers Awards. Right now, 250 worldwide regional finalists are competing and we will recognize the best examples of those who have creatively and effectively used technology in their curriculum to help improve the way their students learn.
More details on what’s happening in Brazil can be found here. You can also follow all the chatter on Twitter by searching for the #MS09ief hash tag.
The U.S. Education team is in Denver this week at the 2009 Annual Educause Conference. We are excited to talk to and listen to higher education institutions about how we can work together to bring new, innovative technology to lecture halls around the world to create personalized learning experiences. Cloud computing is a hot topic in these tight economic times when school leaders are wondering how they are going to financially make it…and we are excited to share the success stories of our customers who are succeeding by deploying Microsoft’s range of software plus service product offerings.
Live@edu adoption continues to grow
We continue to gain huge traction with Microsoft Live@edu, our hosted email, communications and collaboration solution for students. In the past four months more than 5,000 schools have enrolled with Live@edu, joining the thousands of other institutions in more than 100 countries already providing Live@edu to tens of millions of students worldwide. Our growth in universities and colleges includes recent wins at the University of Washington and the University of Missouri, as well as:
• Seton Hall. The university chose Live@edu over Google Apps for Education to provide email and collaboration features for its 10,000 students and is currently rolling it out to 70,000 alumni. Read their case study here.• University of Cincinnati (UC). UC has an extensive 55,000 Live@edu deployment, including user identity management and password synchronization with ILM, a single sign-on portal and more. Students can launch any of the Live@edu applications directly from their Blackboard home page and synchronize with their class schedules.• Ohio University. Ohio is almost done activating more than 140,000 Live@edu accounts for current students and alumni. While the school is looking to reduce costs and improve communications with alumni, students cite the modern web interface, increased mailbox capacity and powerful search capabilities as top features. • Colorado Community College System (CCCS). CCCS is comprised of 13 colleges, serving more than 115,000 students annually, and assigns all students Live@edu email accounts to use as a primary point of contact and to ensure timely communications.
New collaboration opportunities
We are also announcing new SharePoint Online-based collaboration and productivity services will be available for students as part of the Live@edu next year. These new SharePoint-based services will offer IT departments more flexibility and control to set up and manage their school’s collaboration and productivity tools in a security-enhanced environment…as well as the ability to access and manage permissions to sites, documents and content (pictures, videos) with enterprise-class control.
For students, these new services give them access to similar types of functionality that has made SharePoint the fastest growing server product in Microsoft history. It will enable them to create, edit and securely access content from their school’s site anywhere, whether at home, at the school library or even while on the road for holiday. It will allow them to organize, track and easily share classroom information, interests, expertise and easily find colleagues. By leveraging Office Web Apps that are currently in technical preview, students will have a new online space where they can securely upload, easily share, and collaborate on documents, including in-place editing. We believe this will better prepare them for the workforce through use of functionality and technology used every day in the workplace.
Microsoft’s software plus services model—which spans mission-critical datacenter availability and security, Live@edu, Microsoft Online Services collaboration and communication offerings, and Windows Azure—combines the reach and flexibility of the cloud with the power of on-premises software applications. Today, we see that people want to access information on the PC, in the browser and on a mobile device…and I think this the real value in moving to the cloud…having the flexibility and choice to run your solutions either in the cloud, on premises, or a mix of the two.
Schools adopting Microsoft Online Services
Universities are beginning to embrace the Microsoft Business Productivity Online Suite on campus, which is comprised of Exchange Online, SharePoint Online, Office Communications Online and Office Live Meeting. These products have been traditionally on premise, but are now available in a paid-for, hosted environment in the cloud that Microsoft manages for you that you can buy through partners. These online services offer streamlined communication, simplified management and business-class security and reliability…and new this quarter, we are increasing the mailbox size five-fold to 25 GB for every user. Recent customer wins include:
• University System of Ohio. The state of Ohio has signed an Education Alliance Agreement with Microsoft that will bring a cloud computing approach to the entire state. Exchange Online is one of many products that will provide significant cost savings, increased productivity and improved performance while minimizing environmental impact.• Hofstra University. Hofstra is moving its faculty and staff to Exchange Online. By using Microsoft’s security, spam filtering and archiving capabilities, the technical staff will be able to concentrate on providing other high-valued academic services to the University.• Belmont University. Belmont is using Exchange Online to serve approximately 1,400 faculty and staff email accounts. The Exchange Online implementation supports the school’s green initiatives by saving space and energy costs. They anticipate saving about $30,000 a year by not having to hire additional IT staff to support.
We will be talking about our software plus services solutions and more at Educause. I hope you stop by our booth (#608) to engage in dialogue and give us feedback on what you need technology to deliver to make your institution more efficient and effective. Our event session schedule can be found here.
And if you are unable to be in Denver this week, be sure to check out our education webcasts on these topics and more here.
I had the pleasure of visiting Mexico recently and had the opportunity to speak with institutions, educators, principals and other leaders about the potential for education to revitalize local economies. Like many countries, Mexico is excited about technology’s role in transforming learning, creating new options for teachers and students, and forming a much tighter connection to improve the knowledge economy inside the country. Education leaders here recognize technology’s role as a way to provide new content, new resources, and a vehicle for students to grow new skills to prepare for new jobs and new industries in Mexico.
I was very happy to see the level of passion and enthusiasm from the institutions about technology. My trip coincided with Windows 7 consumer availability, so I had the chance to witness launch activities. I also had the chance to participate in the signing of a Microsoft Education Alliance Agreement with Universidad ICEL to promote academic achievement through the latest technology tools (see picture to the bottom left). If you read Spanish, check out the news coverage here and here.
The Microsoft education team in Mexico is doing a great job partnering with the country to help students take advantage of Microsoft programs like Imagine Cup, Students to Business, DreamSpark and BizSpark. I’m inspired about the country’s optimism and what we might be able to do together in the future. There’s a very practical recognition that if students leverage Microsoft tools to connect to resources they need to prepare for the future, it will help them connect to jobs.
One of the things that are becoming clearer to me is that fundamental principles really translate across countries. Teachers really need to think more holistically about education by focusing on the fundamentals…how do they help students learn, how can they create personal learning opportunities, and how can they use technology as a catalyst. The teachers I met in Mexico share a belief in technology’s role, but certainly see the challenges that are apparent around the world…the need for training, the need to minimize distraction from core content, and the need to connect assessments to students.
During my trip, I also had the opportunity to meet with leaders at the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM), the largest university in Latin America, and Tecnológico de Monterrey. I was excited to see the wide range of resources (like virtual learning models) and connections to research and to industry at both universities. I walked through the health research lab at Tecnológico de Monterrey which was especially fascinating because they had students doing the gene splicing to help create the H1N1 vaccine for Mexico.
One of the highlights of the visit…in addition to the tremendous hospitality I received…was not just the real connection the institutions have with economic revitalization…but also the sense of responsibility the schools take on. The country and its education system are committed to helping its citizens, specifically, helping poor families get access to resources they need, facilitating job connections at the community centers, and providing opportunities to those who might not otherwise be able to afford the chance…this goes beyond any specific education agenda or initiative.
When I spoke to about 250 secondary school principals in Mexico, it was the first time I had done a presentation with a translator. My jokes are usually hit or miss, but it was hard to know which jokes were landing and making an impact because of the delay with the translation…people would always laugh a few seconds later. My travels take me to Brazil this week for the Innovative Education Forum, which you will hear more about soon…I wonder if my jokes will be funnier in Portuguese?