I’ve been on the road the majority of this month for personal and business travel. I’m in Russia right now, but want to catch you up on my experiences in Puerto Rico.
The best part about my Puerto Rico visit was the amount of student and teacher interaction, as that is something I enjoy the most. During my visit, Microsoft announced an Education Alliance Agreement with the Universidad Metropolitana (UMET) in San Juan focusing on bringing a culture of innovation to the campus and providing the academic community with the latest software and technology skills. In addition to the University joining the Microsoft IT Academy Program, we celebrated the opening of the Microsoft Mobile Development Laboratory (photos below).
Mobile devices have certainly changed lifestyles around the world and new ways to use technology. Exploring and developing mobile applications is a huge opportunity for students who are looking at their careers and future employability. In conjunction with the Imagine Cup, students have been developing mobile applications to compete in the Latin America finals for a chance to go onto Poland…and they have some very different and creative ideas. One application was developed for ride sharing to help with not only lower environmental impact on carbon emissions and autos, but also to help students have outlets for safe driving, saving money, etc. The application is connected to GPS and mobile phones, so students can alert each other when they need a ride and create a social community.
The other mobile project I saw was called “Justice.” It capitalizes on the fact that most citizens have access to a cell phone and a camera…and if you can imagine turning all those cell phones and all those users into eyes and ears for a law enforcement official or an environmental protection official or a municipal government to identify when there is a traffic safety issue or a street lamp that needs repaired…you can put citizens on the alert so they can share and post alerts and track the status.
The students’ professor says the students are so excited about this mobile lab that they don’t want to go home, they want to work through the night because they are so motivated about the work they are doing and the opportunity to compete on the global stage…it’s brought a lot of energy to the learning experience for the students.
I also had the opportunity to meet with the Senate, and talk about ways in which the government is addressing change in education in Puerto Rico. It's great to see them thinking very holistically about embracing and approving resources for teachers, teacher training, and the way in which teachers are valued in Puerto Rico. They're thinking about things like digital access for all citizens and students.
And just like every government, they're thinking about the ways in which you can use data to impact learning outcomes and success rates. It’s great to see Puerto Rico open to taking lessons learned from the U.S. and other parts of the world and really thinking about very important issues.
I also meet with the Department of Education and visited a high school…I’ll share more on that in my next post.
By now, I hope you have seen the press coverage in ZDNET and eSchool News. Microsoft announced a new technical collaboration agreement with ePals, and we will work with them to make Live@edu available to their customers, and in the future, Office Web Apps and features of SharePoint Online. Around the world, ePals reaches about 25 million students, teachers and parents through their networks, and I’m excited about the potential they will have to use Live@edu to advance digital learning and collaboration opportunities in the classroom.
Live@edu actually started on our consumer platform with product offerings like Hotmail, and we quickly realized schools not only required a better way to integrate, but they needed more robust controls for security, data privacy, compliance, identity control and risk management. We wanted to provide a flexible environment, but with no compromise with regards to delivering rich technology resources for free or at no cost, so schools wouldn’t be risking the safety of students online by using cloud technologies. This meant not only offering technology in the cloud, but technology that was enterprise-ready with security and policy management controls schools require.
Today, Live@edu schools get Outlook Live that runs on Exchange 2010. You can also integrate Office and SharePoint Server which are extensible platforms with rich APIs for our partners and serve as building blocks to really make Live@edu coming alive in learning contexts. Partners can leverage Exchange Web Services and write to the data transport engine, calendaring and task tools, etc. and create new experiences to scale their offerings to more people around the world.
Our partners are going to help take us to the next level with Live@edu. In addition to ePals, last week we announced a similar deal with it’s learning, an international learning platform provider based in Norway. They are starting a migration plan to move their 2 million users to Microsoft’s cloud services for education. Yesterday, I blogged about Agilix’s solution making Live@edu more relevant for teachers. And we are also working with CSI Technology Outfitters to include Live@edu as part of their CSI@K12 solution that also happens to be eligible for E-Rate reimbursement.
We are seeing companies offering new complementary services every month. For archiving, CGS, Full Armor and CSI are now offering services on top of Live@edu. CGS, B2B, Full Armor and Messaging Architects can also migrate schools to Outlook Live from various platforms including GroupWise, Exchange on-premise or even Gmail.
I am looking forward to the year ahead with not only Office Web Apps and features of SharePoint Online coming…but also seeing what new services our partners will deliver to help meet the unique policy, privacy and protection needs of education. It’s all about connecting educators and students to do the work they need to do to really advance learning and create interactive and rich experiences.
The quality and the support of our partner ecosystem is, I think, a big reason why Microsoft is so successful. We have evolved into a company that really relies on a set of diverse partners to provide rich solutions to customers of all types and of all needs. By embracing a wide variety of partners, we can not only optimize the way our technology makes a real difference and impacts a variety of industries…but we can enable partners to have a local connection to help address the specific needs of their environment, their community, and the institutions that they serve.
In education specifically, we work with hundreds of partners around the world that provide education institutions with access to additional tools and resources they need to be successful. At the 5th annual Microsoft Global Education Partner Summit 2010, I spoke to a number of partners about their new solutions and I wanted to share some of my interviews with you.
All of the videos have the common theme. As institutions start to evaluate the way technology can play a more fundamental role in the way we optimize technology for learning…we can also use data to guide personalized learning experiences and drive the best learning outcomes. Our partners are responding with robust tool sets to help institutions and schools effectively manage data, gather data, but more importantly use data to make effective decisions, as well as transition and transform learning environments to optimize on the outcomes the data is demonstrating.
Agilix has a product called BrainHoney that integrates with Live@edu (www.microsoft.com/liveatedu) and provides tools to help teachers prepare lessons by matching education resources that align to state or country standards. Take a listen to my conversation with Curt Allen, President and CEO, of Agilix below and see how they are helping move the needle on teacher effectiveness with cloud services. There’s also a short demo video here.
I am fresh from a trip to Europe where I had a chance to see teachers from 40 different countries compete and collaborate at the Microsoft European Innovative Education Forum (IEF) in Berlin. At this regional Partners in Learning event, 80 schools applied for the competition and we awarded twelve winners from ten countries for their groundbreaking school projects that demonstrate the use of technology in compelling new ways.
I found the opening keynote by Professor Sugata Mitra from Newcastle University in the UK very interesting. He highlighted his Hole in the Wall project…an idea that first came to life back in 1999 when Mitra went to very remote parts of the world and he literally just placed a computer in a kiosk in a local village with no explanation or instructions for how to use…and students figured out how to use the computer. What he basically proved is that students are very adaptable to change, and they'll figure out how to use technology. As he says on his website, it’s “a solution that uses the power of collaboration and the natural curiosity of children to catalyze learning.” Learn more in this TED Talk video here.
What I took away from his speech is that a teacher may say they can't use technology or embrace ICT, but there are always issues and obstacles…but if you give students an English language computer in a remote village where the students don't speak English and you tell them, “Here's a computer,” they'll figure out not only how to learn English, but how to use the computer in order to take advantage of the resources. I think his point is students are very resourceful and they have the ability to learn, and certainly their willingness to embrace technology is a huge differentiator.
I love IEF events because teachers are so excited to be a part of this. I think it takes a lot of bravery for teachers to think differently and try new models. In many cases, they're trying to innovate in conditions that are not really ripe for innovation, and they're dealing with challenging environments, budget crunches, etc., but they're still trying to drive change and excellence, and pushing innovation to help their students learn. It's amazing to see how enthusiastic teachers get among their peers sharing their ideas and how much winning recognition means to these teachers. Beyond that, there are lots of lessons to be learned and sharing of ideas at our Innovative Education Forums. Because in all these countries you have different language barriers, different geographical challenges, different economic conditions, etc., but there's lots of commonality to the things educators are trying to solve. Teacher projects from the Berlin event included new ways to collaborate with Live@edu, virtual classrooms connecting pupils with others around the world, infusing ICT into new curriculum for climate change, using Worldwide Telescope to learn about astronomy, a buddy system pairing insecure ICT teachers with tech savvy students, and math coaching via Windows Live Messenger. Many of the teachers blogged about their experiences…you can read more in Jan Webb’s blog, David Rogers blog, a Netherlands teacher blog, the Ireland team’s blog, and others here and here.
The winners from this event represent Poland, UK, Northern Ireland, Sweden, Romania, Serbia, Denmark, Ireland, Belgium and Russia. They will be invited to our worldwide forum happening in Cape Town, South Africa in late October that will be the culmination of the regional events taking place throughout the world right now. The picture below is of the winners of the Educators’ Choice award.
I walked away from the Berlin event wanting to double our efforts in this year, recognizing that we have to close the gaps and continue to push for, cultivate and nurture this type of innovation from our teachers and school leaders to make an impact for our children.
We would love to hear more stories about how teachers are innovating in your classrooms. I hope you will share your stories.
I love playing with new technologies and gadgets. I recently installed Microsoft Pivot, a cool new technology…it’s almost like an Excel pivot table with Web image search. Pivot is a research experiment from Live Labs that allows people to visualize data and then sort, organize and categorize it dynamically.
Anyone can download and install Pivot; you just need Windows Vista or Windows 7 with Internet Explorer 8 and Silverlight. We’ve created dozens of sample galleries where you can go play with Web data from Wikipedia and on topics such as world leaders, endangered species, sports teams, movies and more. So, for example, if you go into the Sports Illustrated covers, you can sort by cover date, by sport, by athlete, by team, by event, etc.
Pivot really puts the Web in the World Wide Web…so as opposed to the Web being just a collection of pages not linked in any way, Pivot can help show the relationships between items and information so you can begin to extract insights from the mounds of data you uncover...so it's not just search and browsing. I think this could make research for students much more interesting.
Check out the video below to see how Pivot works. And if you missed it, I recently blogged about other data visualization technologies from Microsoft that are relevant to education here.
When we think about access to technology, you have to think about it holistically. It's not just access to a device, it's really access for all types of students…particularly students with learning difficulties or physical disabilities…to make sure they have equal access to learning with technology.
Microsoft is very committed and serious about accessibility within our software. We build accessibility options into our products to help enable everyone to personalize their PC to make it safer and easier to see, hear and use. Accessibility options are particularly useful for people with vision or hearing loss, mobile and dexterity impairments, or language and learning impairments.
We’ve released an updated accessibility guide for educators. The guide provides really good insight for schools on the things they need to think about, questions they should be asking, Microsoft technology available to help with students with disabilities, and how to successful and more simply bring it into the classroom. The guide provides an overview of accessibility features in Windows 7, Office 2007 and Internet Explorer.
Windows 7 has very strong voice navigation and voice recognition, so for blind students it's actually very good. In addition to being compatible with a wide variety of assistive technology products, there’s also an On-Screen Magnifier, On-Screen Keyboard, and Narrator in Windows 7. For those who want to listen to the details versus reading them, here is a recording with Kelly Ford, who is blind and involved in product management for Windows 7.
Tutorials for these features and other products can be found here. We are also making accessibility investments in Office 2010, SharePoint 2010 and Office Web Apps that will be available in the coming months.