Education Insights

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

March, 2010

  • Education Insights

    New opportunities for students to participate in this year’s Imagine Cup competition


    I wanted to share my blog post from earlier today over on the Microsoft Blog.  As I’ve written before, I am a big fan of the Imagine Cup. It is a unique opportunity for students to showcase their creativity while getting real world experience in the tech industry and an incredible resource for educators to create excitement in the classroom.

    There are thousands of students in more than 100 countries and regions competing right now to represent their country in the Imagine Cup worldwide finals in Poland coming up in July. I want to make sure you know it’s not too late to get involved:

    1) Starting today and running through April 23, you can vote for your favorite idea among the U.S. finalist teams in the U.S. People’s Choice Award at

    2) In addition to the People’s Choice Award, there are two new awards open for students from around the world to win a trip to the worldwide finals: they can create a video submission for the Envisioning 2020 Award or create a mobile application for the Windows Phone 7 Series “Rockstar” Award.
    I’m looking forward to meeting the students at the U.S. Finals in Washington, D.C. in April and then those from around the world who have advanced through online, local and regional Imagine Cup competitions when they gather in Warsaw, Poland, at the Imagine Cup Worldwide Finals on July 3-8, 2010. 

  • Education Insights

    Conversation with Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools


    At our US Public Sector CIO Summit event recently, I had to opportunity to catch up with Susan Johnson, the CIO at Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools in North Carolina. I always love talking to Susan.  She not only has passionate energy for her work, but she has tremendous insights on the progress that she's making with Charlotte-Mecklenburg, and some of the challenges that they're facing. 

    The district is working hard to rollout a data dashboard not just to be more transparent to the public, but to also empower teachers to learn more about their students so they can develop personalized learning plans. You can read more in their case study here. And earlier this year, I spoke to Mariner, the partner who is working on the project. That conversation is here.

    One of the things that she and I have discussed in the past and we talked about in this conversation…is the need for technology companies like Microsoft to make IT invisible. In order for technology to be a success tool as part of the learning and process, it needs to be seamless and not add friction or complexity to the tough environments teachers and schools already face every day.  So, it challenges us and inspires us to think differently on how we can simplify our usage of technology in the schools and improve the efficiency of the way in which we deliver products and technologies…and certainly be sensitive to the realities of budget and time. 

    Take a listen and let us know what you think…

  • Education Insights

    Classroom visualization tools – Stargazing now possible with Worldwide Telescope on Bing Maps


    The thing I think is exciting about Bing is that it’s becoming more than just a place to find information and search…it’s really about how to apply search to experiences and productivity scenarios you would use inside a classroom. So not only being able to search on information but the ability to apply new learning constructs and create new learning experiences that weren’t possible before.

    Today, Bing Maps released the Worldwide Telescope (WWT) application that was first previewed at the recent TED conference. The application allows students to literally look up at the virtual sky in Bing Maps and see constellations and stars as they exist in real-life. You can even adjust the time of the day to see what the sky looks like anywhere in the world at different hours in real-time. You can download the new WWT app here (scroll down and click on “Maps Apps”) and read more about WWT and its uses in the classroom in one of my earlier blog posts here. You need to have Silverlight installed and it only works on the U.S. version Bing Maps right now, but the team is looking to expand the WWT application to other countries in the future.

    The WWT integration with Bing Maps is just one great example of visualization tools teachers can use in the classroom. I think visualization and technology’s role to enhance visualization is a game changer as we work with publishers and content providers around the world. When you think about what students are reading for example…most students are reading more words on a digital screen format than they are in an analog book...and that creates huge potential for content providers to do great things.

    A couple weeks ago, I keynoted at the NCCE 2010 conference in Seattle and showed off several free visualization tools from Microsoft that allow teachers and students to get creative about teaching and learning. The video below shows a demo of Deep Zoom in Silverlight Web pages (more info here), Photosynth (my previous blog post here) and work we’ve done with the British Library to digitize books.

    Check these visualization techniques out and see how you can bring inanimate objects to life and transport faraway places closer to make a personal connection and a real experience. I would love to hear your feedback and see your examples!

  • Education Insights

    Trip notes & thoughts on education from the United Arab Emirates


    Earlier this month, I traveled to the United Arab Emirates and spent time in Dubai and Sharjah. I was impressed with the region’s beauty and magnificent architecture. With regards to education, the emirates are looking at worldwide examples from the U.S. to Victoria, Australia where they are building six model schools in order to push the envelope with regards to learning styles, assessment, and using technology. 

    I found an overall general appreciation for the arts.  When I met the ruler of Sharjah, Sheikh Dr. Sultan bin Mohammed Al-Qassimi, he stressed the importance of building community and really using education as a cornerstone for not only creating arts, but as a way to build a connection to the community and the culture in the area.  And, certainly, there's a focus on employability and getting students prepared for careers like engineering and medicine, etc., but I think education is recognized as a differentiator for quality of life. 

    I think it’s an important concept because the folks I met with referred to education as sort of a foundation of the arts…that if you don't have a good education system, you don't really have a good arts environment or culture that's created from it.  So it becomes a foundation for creating culture as well as quality of life for the citizens. 

    I saw the University of Sharjah and had the opportunity to go through the student union at the American University of Sharjah and sit in a computer lab. Like many other institutions I've visited…students are excited and there's a dynamic atmosphere with students huddling around computers, getting access to the Internet, sharing, squeezing each other off the printers, etc.  I think there is huge opportunity here for creating a one-to-one access program for students, and really think about some of the employability tools and ways to create access through programs like DreamSpark and IT Academy, which the American University of Sharjah is using already. They’ve done a great job focusing on teaching and learning, now they are recognizing they need to make the full picture work more efficiently and effectively as well across their very large campuses.

    In the picture below from left to right: Dr. Amr Abdel-Hamid, Special Advisor to the Ruler of Sharjah for Higher Education; the ruler of Sharjah, Sheikh Dr. Sultan bin Mohammed Al-Qassimi; Anthony Salcito, Microsoft Worldwide Education; Azza El Shinnawy, Microsoft Education Lead for the Gulf.










  • Education Insights

    Conversation about integrating gaming into learning


    Being a gamer myself…and someone who not only grew up with video games and seen the emergence of games mirroring the emergence of technology…I understand the culture and the environment, and certainly the potential games can have to inspire students and get kids more integrated with learning. 

    One of the things I hear when I talk to schools about the possibility of gaming is that everyone understands it's the potential.  I see the same sort of excitement I saw with technology's emergence in the classroom 15 years ago about the potential of bringing game-like experiences to schools. 

    I think initially what schools think about is the concept of simulation.  And we see this today with basically Web examples and science experiments that can be done with simulation.  That's somewhat game-like in terms of the ability to actually create interactive experiences that students can learn from.  They can see the results not only in a safe environment, but also a low-cost environment as opposed to having to buy science equipment, etc.  You can dissect a virtual frog in a virtual reality space as opposed to actually having a real frog to dissect.  So it saves not only money for schools, but it really creates a much more rich visual experience for students.  And I think that will continue to be a main feature of gaming. 

    However, one of the challenges is we've got to go further with regards to the way gaming can really influence learning, and leverage the concepts and lessons learned from gaming.  One example is to incorporate the language of gaming and the way in which students recognize achievements…they get compelled to move through a game based on accomplishing milestones, scoring points, etc.  We do this today with report cards, but I think we can really inspire students in game-based examples. 

    I mentioned earlier in the blog Ribbon Hero because I think it does a good job of connecting achievements to a simple thing like learning how to use Office…which may be one of the more complex things for a teacher or student at first, but Ribbon Hero helps students progress through the concepts, rewards them for challenges they complete, tests them to go further and show off their score with others and compare their score with their friends, etc. 

    All of these are concepts that come from gaming, and I think schools can learn from the language of gaming as opposed to actually just trying to do the simulation approach, which is not only being done by content providers, but more expensive for a school or teacher to do on their own. 

    I was really excited to meet Adrian Sannier a couple weeks ago at our U.S. Public Sector CIO Summit. For the past 4+ years, Adrian’s been Arizona State’s University Technology Officer, and next month he’s leaving ASU to join Pearson eCollege. We had a great time talking about the possibilities and potential for gaming and education and the way in which schools can think today to enhance their curriculum and their approach by using game-based techniques. 

    Watch the video below and please share how you are thinking about incorporating gaming into your classrooms.

  • Education Insights

    Challenges with optimizing curriculum for state assessments, grades and competencies


    I always enjoy talking to Kurt Madden, and learning more about his progress and vision for Fresno Unified School District. They're making significant strides with regards to the use of technology and its potential impact on student achievement in the classroom.

    I met up with Kurt at our recent U.S. Public Sector CIO Summit (see my blog about the event here). We got into a conversation around how we think the district can use their advantage and their thinking with regards to data on the students to really optimize the curriculum model for students beyond just grades.

    I think Kurt recognizes that education has the responsibility to focus on core employability, workforce readiness and preparedness, and it's something that doesn't start in college. It has to start in the K-12 environment where skills-based assessment and context can be incorporated to the learning environment very early on, so students can not only build a portfolio of skills that they'll expand and grow lifelong, but they'll start to see more relevant connection between the skills that they're building for life and the education environment that they're dealing with today.

    In many ways you're able to get there with better use of data, better use of current curriculum and modules to really make sure that you can not only refine assessment and pinpoint areas of focus for student achievement, but really identify skills that can be enhanced over time and their reflection on the overall curriculum progress. At this point in time, it's not necessarily an either/or environment in terms of moving from traditional content and assessment to skills-based competency assessment…it’s both.

    In the video below, Kurt and I talk about what you can do with a more efficient management system and use of data, and how Fresno is working towards all these goals.

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