I was excited to go to Russia recently and learn more about the education system. There are plenty of places around the world where technology accessibility or access to education and reform are meeting in the middle...places where students and teachers are starting to get more and more access to technology…and it's becoming much more common to support education on the periphery, and the school system is also starting to recognize the need for broader reform. And I think those two trends are converging to create lots of potential and opportunity in Russia.
Russia has a long way to go with regards to reforming the education system around some of the core themes that we see around the world…use of data more aggressively, connection to employability and workforce readiness skills, use of electronic content and curriculum. Certainly there's lots of opportunity there. Here's a recent interview with the president of Microsoft Russia for a view on how we see the potential for IT in the country.
Ironically, Russia in the early '60s was one of the first countries to really integrate technology into the curriculum, particularly in the science and mathematics area. A number of early Russian professors were some of the first to experiment with providing students access to computing power as one example. But the reality is that there has been a lull over the last several years, and due to the economic struggles with Russia in the early '90s there has been an opportunity now to revamp and refresh the school system. Every school in Russia has some level of Internet access, but the problem is that most teachers haven’t been trained in ICT, so there’s some skepticism about the effectiveness of ICT in education. There's a spirit of urgency I sensed from the educators and leaders I talked with…they recognize there is lots of work to do, but really a hope for the potential.
I think Russia is a place where culture and history provide some very obvious clues to what's going on and we see that in the education system. You can actually see it in the traffic. Moscow is a city with significant traffic problems, and part of the problem is due to a growing population and an infrastructure that needs modernization. But part of the reality stems from a cultural preference that individuals have to own their own car and drive their car. And it was not long ago where the privilege of owning a car was not something that everyone had a right to. So, there's a cultural significance rooted in why there is so much traffic in Moscow, and I think that's also connected to some of the history with regards to the education system. But that is changing, and we have some aggressive educators who are thinking about differently, and making tremendous things possible.
I saw a good indication of this optimism during my trip to a high school in the outskirts of Moscow. Yefim Ratchevski is the director of education at school #548 which won the best school in Russia two years ago. Yefim is a true innovator in technology and he is open to modern techniques and technologies to improve student learning outcomes and innovative teaching practices. He's thinking differently about how the school can use data to enhance the learning environment. He's also really starting to recognize the need for blended learning environments in Russia, so creating much more interactive classrooms, thinking about ways in which you can use online courses to provide more choice and flexibility for students, and the reality that the school day is changing.
The more and more I travel around the world and see institutions trying to address challenges…whether it's lack of teachers or courseware or flexibility with regards to physical space, or embracing opportunities to provide a more rich and active curriculum…I think the limits we see in education that will most change over the next five years is this dependency on time and place, where education is rooted in sequential offerings in a specific time that happens in a specific location.
I think in the future blended learning models, much more dynamic curriculum engagement, students who are driving their own learning, will become more commonplace, and schools will optimize around that environment, and certainly Yefim is working to do that in school #548 in Russia. They have dynamic curriculum environments and they are usually Microsoft MultiPoint Server to create not only more access to technology within computer labs, but they're also creating collaborative workspaces for students to engage socially.
With leaders like Yefim, I think Russia is on a good trajectory. They will be able to take a lot of the lessons learned around the world and apply them in a fresh way into the Russian environment, and they have obviously willingness and optimism around the potential for technology to change.
On Microsoft’s On The Issues blog today, I wrote about how we, as a society, cannot accept the current and alarming rate of high school dropouts. Students need not only a high school diploma but further education to be able to compete and succeed in today’s increasingly challenging global workforce. And schools need to do a better job taking action with the student and teacher data they are collecting to drive decision making that will help optimize learning outcomes for students.
We’ve released a new white paper here, detailing how our partners are using the Microsoft’s Education Analytics Platform to build new solutions with business intelligence and predictive analytics. Choice Solutions, Mizuni and VersiFIT are working with schools across the U.S. to provide technology that turns static information into useable, actionable knowledge to improve student performance.
The idea behind this solution was really born out of conversations Microsoft had with community colleges initially. If you consider the fact that community colleges make money primarily on student enrollment fees, they are really motivated to figure out when, how and why a student chooses to drop out. When I met with ITT Technical Institute last year, they told me because they use the same curriculum every year…they know to the precise day in a course where there’s been a higher spike for dropouts, because there's a specific tough topic, module or test. So they take a hard look at the curriculum to figure where students begin to struggle and figure out what they can do to better prepare students ahead of time for the content.
Now, a lot of schools use the same standard curriculum and lesson plans year after year after year, but they don't apply data the same way to identify students who are showing signs that they are not challenged, disinterested, or not tracking the lessons and are confused. Another good example is Florida Virtual School, one of the early pioneers in online learning in the U.S. Because students are taking online courses, they can monitor a lot of things that are going on with those students. They can see when the students take courses and log into the system, how long it takes to complete a class or course, etc…and they use that data to identify when a student might need extra help with a teacher or a tutor.
These are all good uses of how schools can use data…and this cannot only be applied to the dropout problem, but it can also be done for career development, personalized learning curriculum…as well as using technology to identify the quality of the learning environment to enhance the management and environment of school systems.
In partnership with the National Dropout Prevention Center, Microsoft is hosting an online community in the U.S. Partners in Learning Network to extend the conversation on this critical topic (sign in and join the NDPC-Dropout Prevention Community). I hope you join us and share your feedback, ideas and success stories.
During my time in Puerto Rico, I had the opportunity to meet education leaders in both the higher education school system (read more in my previous blog post) and primary and secondary schools, as well as the very vibrant and committed partner community.
It was great to see the partners, who are often competitive with each other, recognize the need for change, the need to stimulate the value and impact of education in Puerto Rico, and the need and willingness to work with Microsoft in conjunction with our initiatives. There’s a focus on building solutions around data analytics, the student dropout issue, and then a slowly emerging need around digital resources and electronic books that's coming.
The next part of the visit was with the Department of Education where I met the new Secretary, Dr. Odette Piñeiro, who I think is very visionary. She recognizes that you have to bring a much more inclusive view to the school district in thinking about everything from the way in which the language of the school changes, to the way buildings are modernized, to the way citizens connect to education.
During the course of the conversation, Dr. Piñeiro’s focus on technology was clear…but one of the things that really speaks to her leadership is that she also recognized that as a global company, Microsoft has additional capabilities outside of merely providing software, and most of her interest was really not about technology…it was about teachers and how we can help teachers, which is great to see, and that's something we are excited about the future potential of working together with the Puerto Rican Department of Education.
As part of a Microsoft Education Alliance Agreement we signed with the government while I was there, we will help provide affordable access to technology to 200,000 K-12 students in the country so they can stay abreast with emerging technologies and meet the challenge of enriching their learning experiences. Microsoft will also help the DOE promote greener schools…one of the projects consists of creating a Hohm training. Microsoft Hohm is a free web service that will allow students to understand their energy use and how to apply energy-efficiency strategies in their schools.
The last part of the trip…which was probably the highlight…was a visit to the mountains of Puerto Rico, and Bonifacio Sanchez Jimenez High School in a town called Aibonito. The school is one of the four pilot schools for Windows MultiPoint Server around the world. I talked to teams of students who are collaborating on projects using Multipoint. Some teams are creating a blog. Another team has created this automatic system so when it rains, sensors detect the moisture and the windows automatically close.
One of the best values of Multipoint is it will help create more computing options at a lower cost for schools. So, you expand one CPU to up to eight computers and expand the value of a device (see my earlier blog post on MultiPoint solutions). Interestingly, every time the school talked about Multipoint and its impact, it was always about the fact that it was a collaborative tool that provided a centralized computing station where a project team would work together, sharing documents, talking with each other, etc. and this was the difference maker.
You can learn more about how MultiPoint and technology is used in this Puerto Rico classroom in this video here. A picture below of me and the students in Aibonito.