Education Insights

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

January, 2010

  • Education Insights

    Students take a new role in the teaching and learning process


    I wanted to share my blog post appearing on the “Microsoft On The Issues” blog…it’s about infusing service-learning and technology in the classroom and a new initiative we launched called the Service & Technology Academic Resource Team (START).

    I am very excited about this milestone as a result of our private/public partnership with the Corporation for National and Community Service that we announced last summer. The START initiative will spotlight student-led approaches to technology learning and service. The heart and soul of START is to promote students as partners in supporting their teachers to integrate technology into effective teaching practices. I think we need to go beyond the thinking that students can just fix the printer and support other tech issues. Students can be outstanding academic and technical partners with educators and – in doing so – provide a great service to their schools and communities, experience real-world learning experiences and gain 21st century skills. 

    I think this project will also help break down barriers with those teachers who are still uncomfortable with embracing technology in the classroom. I think there was a time when some teachers were fearful of the lead that students have and the comfort students have with using technology…but this project really gives teachers an opportunity not only to not be afraid of that potential, but to harness it for both the betterment of their usage of technology in the classroom, but also to give students responsibility to help and to volunteer to serve the school in a way that not only helps the day-to-day usage of technology, but also may trigger students' interest or capacity to venture into a technology career and get excited about learning.

    What do you think about this idea of students taking a different role in the teaching and learning process? Kids…no longer just consumers of education, but active participants, part of the solution and figuring out how to create better learning environments with their teachers…

  • Education Insights

    Ribbon Hero: Game-based learning for Office


    I love this new add-in for Office 2007 and Office 2010! This week Microsoft released a new concept test prototype for Office called Ribbon Hero.  Ribbon Hero explores a new approach to Office training that’s designed to deliver a fun, engaging experience to help people explore the features available in Office…whether it’s to help you learn how to do things faster, or uncover features you never knew existed. Unlike traditional training, Ribbon Hero presents a game-like environment for learning and lets people compare their scores and feature usage on Facebook. It currently works with Excel, PowerPoint and Word. Download it here.

    I think this is tremendously useful to schools and the gaming context will surely resonate with students and teachers. I love the achievement system.  There are two ways to “play.” You can either earn points by just working and using features in the applications…or you can take random challenges to learn new features or fine tune areas where you might be rusty…and then you are rewarded later with more points when you use the features you’ve learned. There are some great how-to videos on the Office Labs site here that show you how Ribbon Hero works. And check out the early reviews of what others are saying here.

    We certainly recognize the need to make our products easier to use and more user-friendly…and we are also continuously leveraging our experience with things like our work on the Xbox and partnerships with NYU and the Games for Learning Institute to recognize that understanding the way in which gaming plays into curriculum is very important.

    And that means much more than what often most people think about, which is just building a game-based kind of experience or a simulation of the Civil War in a game as an example. It is really about taking the constructs and the language of gaming into education.  And things like achievements and the way in which we structure learning with regards to recognition and points, etc…those things are incredibly important and potentially powerful in the experience.  And that's exactly what's happening in this scenario where we're exposing making Office easier to use, much more friendly for users, we're bringing some concepts that students and educators may be familiar with in the gaming world to get them more interested in learning.

    Check out Ribbon Hero and let me know what you think…

  • Education Insights

    Today’s kindergartners, tomorrow’s workforce


    (Cross-posted from The Microsoft Blog)

    Today’s kindergartners will retire around 2075. They will likely look back at 2010 as a quaint time, the way many of us remember the time before VCRs, color television and the Internet. Now is an important time for us to think about their future: What kind of education will be meaningful to them and ensure they can adapt and succeed right up to their retirement?

    It’s a question we think about a lot, and something people are talking about at education conferences around the world, including this week’s Learning and Technology World Forum and BETT 2010, two education technology shows in London.

    Today’s kindergartners will be growing up in a world where there are tremendous challenges, as well as fantastic opportunities. They’ll need the best education we can give them. But in a world that is changing rapidly – remember, Facebook didn’t even exist eight years ago – what on earth should we teach them?

    The question is actually not so much what, but how. We can’t possibly imagine what skills today’s kindergartners will need as they reach the middle of their careers. They will learn in a world that is diverse, globalized, social, and complex. And it will be a world with more information and data than we can possibly imagine. In 2007, computer industry analyst IDC reported that the world produced 281 exabytes of data that year. That’s nearly 30,000 times the holdings of the U.S. Library of Congress. And the growth in information created by humans will only increase – explosively.

    But how students learn, and how they learn to use the knowledge they acquire is something that can – and should – be taught. What today’s students need is an education that teaches them to think critically, collaborate effectively, understand technology, and live as a student not only in their specific town or country, but as a student on the entire planet.

    Today, teachers, school administrators and education leaders alike are trying to better understand what skills are critical for the future, how to teach them, and perhaps most importantly, how to measure their success at teaching those skills in the classroom. With the right assessments in place, more schools will have an incentive to embrace teaching those skills effectively.

    To foster the adoption of more applicable assessment, a year ago we announced an initiative in partnership with Intel and Cisco, as well as other global assessment partners such as the OECD and the IEA. Called the Assessment and Teaching of 21st Century Skills (ATC21S –, the initiative is aimed at helping schools escape an educational model from the 19th century, and adopt one that creates and assesses core curricula based on the needs of today – and tomorrow, so that students are ready for this fast-changing world. You can read a status report about the ATC21S program here.

    As a first step, more than 60 worldwide researchers and academics created a framework for what skills need to be assessed, and laid the groundwork for how to assess those skills. Specifically, those skills related to ways of thinking, ways of working, and tools for working and living in the world. For the next steps, we will be working with an initial set of countries to pilot ways to assess these skills.

    The first skills that we will be looking to assess in schools in our pilot countries of Australia, the United Kingdom, Finland, Singapore, and Portugal are problem solving and digital literacy.

    When we’re successful, we’ll change how schools and students are evaluated. Instead of looking solely at math and reading scores to measure performance, teachers, schools, districts and governments will also examine how students are acquiring the skills to succeed in the future.

    At Microsoft, we believe that every one of the planet’s 1.4 billion students deserves the best education we can give them. Our participation in the ATC21S program is an example of our efforts to help schools deliver on that belief. Please be sure to read about other ways that we are focused on transforming education over the course of this week, including: our work in connecting colleges and universities; helping youngsters grasp computer programming; and enabling students in impoverished countries to make better use of the scarce PCs available to them.

  • Education Insights

    Observations of education systems in India and Japan


    Before the holidays, I spent a week in India and Japan where I had the opportunity to meet with many education leaders and partners in higher education and K12, including some students. I continue to see common themes around the globe, and wanted to share with you my experience and thoughts from the Eastern Hemisphere.

    In India, they certainly see the value with regards to technology's impact, and the connection with regards to ICT and workforce readiness and creating new economies. I was impressed that India is starting to think about broader subjects and getting teachers trained more broadly…meaning India had a surge around technology with core ICT-based skills, so the population of students who most benefitted were those interested in going into computer science, engineering, etc…now you’re starting to see innovation and expertise around technology and transformation of those subjects bleed into core subjects like arts and history.

    I think innovation has been happening in pockets and primarily focused on modernizing computer science, but they're trying to scale it out to core subjects as opposed to just the technology side, which I think is a good trend. With 1.2 billion people in the country, there are obviously huge scale and infrastructure challenges. We see this happening in other schools where one subject is advanced…like a 6th grade science class is modernized, and then you go into a social studies class and it’s completely unchanged.  What India is starting to look at is what has propelled its’ success in one area and start to figure out what the root cause is so they can broaden best practices into other curriculum. I think that’s a good takeaway for folks -- it’s okay to innovate in one area, but then you need to break it down. That’s why you go to the critical question model…it’s not about the specific technology, it’s about what was the driver, what are you impacting, how did it connect, what was the change…and you can scale that…you can’t scale a 6th grade lesson for science, but you can scale the core thinking and what was being done in the classroom – a collaborative environment, the assessment methodology, etc. It’s about learning with technology as opposed to learning technology.

    One highlight of mine while I was in India was participating in a student forum as part of the launch of Live@edu at Delhi Public Schools. The kids put a colleague of mine and me on the hot seat and asked us really good, smart questions…some on the environment, some on the features they like in Live@edu, etc…and had some thoughtful ideas on Live@edu, where it could go, what's going on, etc. Students were very focused on learning Live@edu features to help them collaborate better with other students and they were excited about the live video chat capabilities. They were very thoughtful about Live@edu integration with Office…the Web Apps functionality is very exciting for them as they have a lot of computer labs where they have machines without Office installed, but they want to be able to access and work with documents in Office…so this new technology will definitely be an enabler for them.

    My experience in Japan was completely different.
    One of the things I saw in Japan was they are definitely looking to the U.S. for successful education models. Similar to the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) here in the States, they have something called the New Deal.

    Japan has a huge challenge with regards to the birth rate declining due to the fact that more women have careers, fewer people are getting married and having kids. The higher education institutions kept saying, you know, because of the birth rate we have to be more competitive for students.  So, this notion of competing for students is certainly something that's real in Japan because of the lack of quantity of students. 

    As part of the New Deal, parents get an allowance of $300 per student per month for supporting education and their kids to foster both the quality of the kids in the education system, as well as to encourage parents to have more kids. But one of the things from a technology perspective the New Deal is doing is outfitting classrooms and teachers. Every teacher is going to have a laptop and a projector in their classroom in Japan.  So, they're betting on teachers first, which is really interesting…but the embrace of technology in Japan is still far behind other countries as the classroom environment is still very traditional.

    I met with the superintendent of the Shinjuku-Ku Board of Education and talked about innovation happening in their schools, which is fairly progressive for Japan. What they are starting to do in Shinjuku-Ku is integrating that laptop and projector into a much more transformative curriculum approach. Most of what they are going to do with this equipment is to prepare the teacher to do the exact same thing that they’ve been doing for hundreds of years in Japan. And Shinjuku-Ku is looking to push it a little further and start to get into curriculum, design, insert it into more collaborative environments, more active classroom kind of work, which are very common things that we do in the US, but in Japan it is a bigger deal.

    While in Japan, we also had good forum with university CIOs who are looking at a lot of the core trends that we see all over the world, such as virtualization to help save money and the environment. They're thinking about the potential of CRM to do a better job with regards to managing data, supporting alumni, student workflow and more…and they're increasingly using technologies like Silverlight to improve the look and feel of their systems, portals and other platforms.

    Finally, I was able to help announce the first Education Alliance Agreement in Japan with the Institute of National Colleges of Technology, an organization called “KOSEN.” KOSEN is comprised of about 50 technical colleges with more than 60,000 students, faculty and staff. Microsoft Education Alliance technology programs and initiatives provide schools and teachers with affordable access to the best educational technologies and content. Our goal with these agreements is to enable students to benefit from the very best tools and content, support teacher planning, provide learning materials and professional development opportunities. It will be exciting to see how the colleges roll out programs such as DreamSpark, IT Academy and Imagine Cup…and I can’t wait to see how the students will grow and succeed.

  • Education Insights

    Students rise to the challenge at the Imagine Cup


    If you haven’t heard of the Imagine Cup…or read my previous blogs about it…I really would like to share it with you.  It’s one of the things I’m most proud to be involved with and one of the most exciting events around that helps to empower students to use their creativity to change the world.

    The Imagine Cup is the world’s premier technology competition, challenging students to develop and implement software applications, video games and mobile solutions that help solve tough social issues like education and healthcare. Last year over 300,000 students from 124 countries and regions registered for the year-long event. Every year the competition generates new ideas and approaches to real and important global challenges. The event fosters a global community of students that are becoming tomorrow’s social innovators and business leaders. Previous participants have created diverse solutions like an educational game system that allows an entire class to access a single computer at the same time, a self-sufficient system that battles famine by breeding insects as a food source and even an environmentally friendly car that runs on vegetable oil.  You can read more of their success stories here. I’m constantly impressed and awed by the quality, creativity and optimism driving the solutions submitted…it furthers a lesson I have learned long ago…if we raise expectations of what motivated students can achieve…they’ll continue to meet and exceed them.

    Students 16 and over are invited rise to the challenge by registering for one of the local competitions around the world. Winners of these local challenges win a trip to compete at the worldwide finals in Warsaw, Poland this summer. In the US, there is both a fall and a spring competition that teams can compete in. Today, Microsoft announced the finalists for the fall competition. Student can still register for the spring competition by February 1 at The finalists from both the fall and spring competitions will attend the US finals in Washington, DC in April where the winning team will be selected to represent the nation in the worldwide finals.

    Imagine Cup also provides an opportunity for educators to get involved as team mentors or to use the competition for a class project. Participating in the Imagine Cup helps students develop real-world skills, which are so important, especially in today’s struggling economy. Encouraging students to participate in programs like the Imagine Cup helps get students excited about studying technology and exploring career opportunities in the field. This website has a resource kit to help you get started.

    Last year, I attend the US finals in Boston and I’m excited to see what innovative ideas young people from around the world will invent this year. You can follow the event on the Imagine Cup Blog and find out more about the competition at

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