I spent two days this week in Redmond at our 8th annual U.S. Public Sector CIO Summit. I like these annual events because they provide us with the opportunity to deeply connect with customers. I also love them because the event serves as an annual reflection point, so we can see year-over-year what things have changes, how perceptions have changed, and learn what we can improve. I really enjoyed talking to our K12 and Higher Education Advisory Councils. These groups are great because we have consistent conversations and they give us honest feedback on where things are going, where we need to do a better job, what’s working, what’s not working, etc.…their feedback is always great, refreshing and redoubles our commitment to education.
One thing we heard consistently in meetings with higher education customers is that there are real concerns around financial setbacks. Institutions are facing tremendous challenges with budget and staff cuts, while at the same time meeting increasing expectations from students and faculty…so doing more with less has never been more true in higher education. I think one of the things that is resonating is the focus on real practical solutions…so give me solutions that I can deploy in my existing environment, solutions that can be added at low, incremental cost, and provide the flexibility to provide a modern infrastructure and support environment for schools.
One of things that link the higher education conversations with K12 is this focus on learning management systems. There’s a great need for innovation as well as leverage of learning management environments. So, as we think about content repositories and the way in which assessment is evolving, institutions are looking for great opportunities to exercise that with learning management systems…and there were a lot of conversations at the event about different options, as well as the way in which people are thinking about building off the Microsoft platform.
For the K12 audience, I think the conversation has really been focused on a number of core things. One, how schools are continuing to push on the usage of data to drive effective decisions. Two, thinking about how we can increase the language on employability in schools about how we can make learning more relevant and connected to students. And three, the other topic of discussion was the gap between where we are and where we need to be with regards to 1:1 access in the US. We really need to think differently about new models, new concepts with regards to PC acquisition…we need to start having a better dialogue about it in the United States. We’ve got to move from an acquisition or device-centric world to one that is much more holistic and more focused on learning…but we also have to be much more creative with regards to funding structures and tax structures. We need to take the PC procurement burden away from a school and put it on a state, city or federal level to think about tax breaks and funding options for making technology acquisition easier for poor families, thereby returning the focus of schools back to improving learning and creating rich technology environments for students.
I also spoke to a lot of customers about things like Xbox and game-based learning to get kids more excited about learning. We see some early examples with the integration of Kodu into curriculum and the classroom, but folks are also looking at things like Project Natal and other innovations happening in the game world and are pushing on and are curious about the potential to impact classrooms and make learning more exciting and interactive for students…that was a good side conversation.
Like I said, these meetings are a great opportunity to reflect on where we need to go and we got some good feedback on creating programs and providing resources. We heard that we’ve got to simplify and make sure people are aware of the things we are doing. We’ve got a lot of things going on, lots of programs that provide tremendous value in education, but people often remark they wished they knew about them earlier. So clearly, we have to do a better job of making resources easier to find, to better connect with schools, students and teachers…and that’s something we’re working on to simplify and scale the impact we can have in education.
I was able to catch a couple of my conversations with customers on video…and I will be sharing those over the next week.
It’s been duly noted that to succeed in the 21st century, people need technology skills and training to become full global citizens. Everyone should be able to participate without having to give up their local language.
In support of UNESCO’s International Mother Language Day 2010, Microsoft is announcing it will offer dozens of new languages for the new releases of Windows, Office, and for the first time, Visual Studio. I wrote about the importance of language and the role technology can play to help keep indigenous languages relevant over on the Microsoft On the Issues blog.
The work is part of Microsoft’s Local Language Program where the goal is to find new ways to create economic opportunities, build IT skills, and preserve local languages, traditions and ancient knowledge. From an education perspective…not only does it help students realize the power of technology, but it can start to build a culture in a community around technology’s usage, and how it can change not only classroom environments, but also employable workers who have ICT skills.
In the rainforests of Peru, for example, more than 7 million people honor their Incan ancestry by speaking the ancient language. Software programs in Quechua make it easier for people who might find language one more barrier to cross in the seemingly insurmountable digital divide. By having something in the language that they speak…instead of having to learn Spanish…they are able to only need to learn the technology, not another language at the same time.
You might be surprised to learn that a language dies out every 2 weeks. If you are interested in learning more…check out this video on how the Inuktitut language in Northern Canada is also being saved…and what experts have to say about how educating children on their native language can help bring it forward to the modern world.
Many schools don’t have a roadmap or can’t afford to make the leap to 1:1 computing in the classroom…yet there is still a need to provide students with IT skills to prepare them for the workforce, and teachers want to increase the quality and variety in delivering their curriculum. Based on these realities of technology access limitations around the world, Microsoft is continuously working to find ways in which we can empower schools of all types to take advantage of the power of technology to transform the learning environment in creative ways.
One of these comes via an emerging computing category known as Shared Resource Computing, which allows a customer to tap into a computer’s full capability to enable a single computer to support multiple users simultaneously, thereby minimizing the need for PC investments and bringing transformative learning activities into classrooms of all shapes and sizes. Over the past two years, we’ve seen the rapid growth in adoption of PC multiplexing solutions in education institutions worldwide, and increasingly, Ministries of Education are including this type of implementation in broad country-wide deployments. That’s why we’re investing in this emerging technology category with the development of our family of Windows MultiPoint solutions.
Windows MultiPoint Server 2010 is the flagship product in the MultiPoint solutions family. This new Windows product is targeted at educational scenarios like classrooms, computer labs and libraries, and allows multiple people to simultaneously share one computer…so you don’t need a computer for every student. Each kid gets their own independent and familiar Windows computing experience, using their own monitor, keyboard and mouse directly connected to the host computer, so they can work at their own pace. It is really powerful when you can enable a 1:1 learning experience and embrace the power of personalized learning and excite a student to have a personal dialogue with content, the teacher and other students.
Windows MultiPoint Server presents many compelling benefits on the administrative front as well for cash-strapped schools. They will not only be able to provide more access to computing (up to 10 units per host computer), but they will have lower costs of acquisition and ongoing maintenance, be able to lower ongoing energy consumption costs since power is only needed for one computer…and with the need to service and support only one computer, schools will experience lower ongoing management costs. And on that note, we realize that not all schools have the luxury of having a robust IT staff, so we’ve intentionally developed MultiPoint Server to be easy for a teacher to set up and manage. You can learn more about Windows MultiPoint Server, which will be released in the first half of this year, here and watch demos of the product in action here.
Our partners will be key to delivering new content. We’ve released the Windows MultiPoint Mouse Software Development Kit (SDK) to help developers create interactive applications allowing up to 25 students, each with their own mouse, to interact on the same PC. Scholastic has developed Story Stage, an interactive and highly creative virtual puppet-based literacy application. And our Russian content partner Noviy Disk is releasing the English version of Curriculum Curiosity, which draws on elements of creativity, construction and modeling, design and project work via five interactive workshops, encouraging teamwork and positive influence on communication skills development for young students.
This new technology will create opportunities for new curriculums and teaching styles that will require new software solutions. To empower teachers to create their own content that can inspire and excite students, we’ve created Mouse Mischief…a new, free state-of-the-art MultiPoint-enabled tool to create interactive PowerPoint classroom presentations that kids can participate in with affordable USB mice. With Mouse Mischief, students have a voice and the ability to take action in the classroom…to vote, give feedback, answer multiple choice questions, etc., and that’s very important for making learning more fun for students and keeping kids engaged. We’ve seen it really change the dynamics of learning in the classroom in pilot schools.
We hope these new Windows MultiPoint solutions will help bridge the digital gap by creating technology access for more students for the same or shrinking IT budgets. Let us know what you think…
I think we can all recognize the greatness and the magic that happens with our students is driven typically by the hard work, the commitment, and the talent of teachers around the world. Therefore, it's critical we find a way to capture their successes, share them broadly and scale that kind of impact globally.
That is the basis of the new Innovative Teaching and Learning (ITL) Research project we are sponsoring. Microsoft will invest $1 million (U.S.) for the next several years, and SRI International will conduct the research in four countries initially – Finland, Indonesia, Russia and Senegal. We want to identify what causes innovation in the classroom…how can innovation spread throughout an entire school…what causes a teacher to innovate…what are the common elements that innovations share around the world…and how can we do a better job of not only encouraging more teachers to embrace these new models, but also scale existing best practices.
The ITL research will broadly investigate current teaching and learning supported by technology that is taking place at the school and system level determining what makes technology in the classroom most effective. The ITL research focuses on teachers’ own adoption of innovative classroom teaching practices and the degree to which those practices provide students with learning experiences that promote the skills they will need to work in the 21st century.
I think it’s important to have a common framework internationally to measure education transformation. The research will come up with a common language we can use to discuss key issues around how to make ICT in education work effectively and provide tools to measure outcomes. As an example, when we met with the stakeholders, we quickly came to the understanding that what’s meant by “new skills” in one country is different in another…21st century skills and what’s meant by traditional teaching practices are different in each country. In Senegal, skills needed could mean teaching students how to purify their own water.
And that’s why we have chosen such a diverse cross-section of countries. Almost all international education research usually takes place in advanced developed countries or emerging markets, but not usually spanning both. As a global company with billions of customers, Microsoft also needs to create products and solutions that will serve all markets and people. This, I think, is the ambitious part of the project…figuring out what educational measurement tools can be used to assess teaching and learning in rural schools in Africa, as well as more modern cities like Helsinki. So, we are developing consistent classroom observation methods, interview protocols and learning assignments…then the data will be coded in a quantitative sense to see what kind of 21st century skills kids are using to do their assignments.
The initial four countries where research will be conducted are perceived as leaders in education in their region, and we will add more countries each year. We want to span the full range of types of infrastructure and technology infrastructure so we can learn about how ICT in education works in places very advanced like Finland where the country’s top PISA scores over the last decade are widely recognized…to everything in between and much less advanced like Senegal and Indonesia, and diverse places like Russia.
We believe that innovative teaching practices like personalized learning, the extension of learning beyond the classroom, and the integration of technology can help drive 21st century learning outcomes. And when our research is successful in measuring this, we are hopeful it will impact and contribute to the development of policy and curriculum to further ICT’s role in education.
You can follow the progress on the ITL website here. For more immediate ideas on how to bring innovation to the classroom, check out the forums and communities in the Partners in Learning Network where educators share their lessons, challenge traditional thinking and learn from each other.