When I met with Houston ISD recently, it was exciting to reconnect with a U.S. school district that's in a very rapid and aggressive mode of change. Driven by Greg Valdez, the Chief Technology Officer, Greg and his team have not only a vision for technology's impact in Houston, but they are really thinking holistically on the ways in which the district and the learning environment can be improved.
I often talk to school leaders who are driving plans at a district level and cascading them down to principals…as opposed to bringing principals into the conversation early. Greg is doing well at reversing this trend. I met with some leading principals in the district and it was refreshing to see a leader like Greg bring all the constituents together, to be really working very closely with the schools, to be thinking about the leaders and really bringing the principals into the leadership decision-making and the thinking in the school districts early. He is very open and transparent.
To improve education for Houston students, they want to tie education achievement to workforce employability and skills readiness more aggressively…doing more things to get students excited about relevant work experiences, internships, project-based experiences. They want to do a much better job with digital content and eliminate books and use digital textbooks, as well as create and share their digital content. And then they want to empower schools and school leaders, like principals, to drive change, to create the right schools for the right environments, to challenge students and teachers to not accept the status quo, and to be better.
They also recognize there is need for public and private partnerships, so they are reaching out to companies like Microsoft and others to help them with not only guidance and advice but to also help with resources. I’ve blogged before about the importance of these partnerships, and if this is a strategy your school, district, state or country is pursuing, you should definitely read our whitepaper for best practices and lessons learned based on real case studies and partnerships we have pursued.
Houston has a bold, long term vision and I would say Houston is one to watch going forward as a school district. I look forward to seeing more from Houston ISD in the future.
If you haven’t checked out Office 2010 by now, you really should play with it yourself to see how it can change teaching and learning and enable students and staff to be more productive and collaborative. Download the free trial here. Here is my top 5 list of what I think is cool for education.
1. In OneNote 2010, I love the changes and updates. An especially critical feature for students is the Linked Notes that makes it super easy to do research. If you dock your OneNote window to your desktop while you work side-by-side with other programs or a Web browser…as you take notes, they are automatically linked to whatever you are looking at. So imagine your notebook a year later and being able to easily find your source material.
2. For students and staff who use Excel, the increased functionality with analysis tools will help you create great new ways to visualize data. Sparklines in Excel 2010 are awesome (see picture on the left)…tiny charts in the background of a cell help you see patterns and trends in the data, not just formulas. PowerPivot allows you to quickly calculate data sets of hundreds of millions of rows from multiple sources at lightning speed which can eliminate the need to spend money on additional BI tools.
3. I love the changes and optimizations with PowerPoint 2010. There are a lot of fantastic new tools for photo and video editing (screen shot below on the right). You can now trim a video clip without leaving the application and having to re-embed the file, turn a color film into black and white, add artistic effects to photos and more without the need for expensive third party tools.
4. Office has evolved to be much more collaborative to really help drive project-based usage. Co-authoring in Word, PowerPoint, Excel and OneNote enables simultaneous editing to reduce the administrative work that can come from team collaboration; security is not compromised since the information can be hosted on premise. What a time saver not to have to deal with multiple versions of documents and everyone’s rev marks…you can have just ONE version of the file!
5. Office Web Apps are a game changer for education as I’ve blogged about before. Documents where and when you need them and the integration with Live@edu presents tremendous opportunity. Now students don’t have to worry about whether they have Office on their PC or what version of Office is on the library kiosk they are working on…this ability to share notes and collaborate and create rich documents on the phone, browser or a traditional client provides the flexibility and the dynamic learning environment students need.
Once you have Office 2010, you can download Ribbon Hero to help you explore and learn all the new features available. For institutions, we have rolled out Electronic Software Distribution (ESD) for Academic Volume License customers who want easy access to Microsoft software, eliminating the need to acquire and distribute physical media. So take advantage of that to reduce costs, deployment and logistics hassles, and get new software into the hands of your students and teachers faster.
For more specifics on Office 2010 in education, read more on the UK team's blog here. Check out the new Office 2010 and tell us what you think…
One of my favorite new learning tools for teachers and kids on the Web this week is Interrobang. It’s a great example of not only connecting service learning and social responsibility to education but a way to connect students in project-based, team-based, and game-like environments.
Interrobang is a socially networked, mission-based game where students learn the art of problem solving by taking part in missions or deeds to learn about history, world culture, the environment, and the universe and then get recognition to share their stories. Kids are doing many great things…from starting recycling programs at their school to communicating with someone living in a foreign country who speaks a different language using technology.
More than 10,000 students around the world…45 states in the U.S. and thirteen countries…are taking part in these challenges, sharing their thoughts, and earning points based on what they're doing. It's an opportunity for them to connect activity, collaboration, team project-based work with real context in learning. It really connects to the belief we have that service learning can be a powerful driver in getting kids more relevant experience for their education environment…and get kids excited about school and learning, and raise their social consciousness and application of volunteerism. Our Microsoft U.S. Partners in Learning program is sponsoring this in collaboration with the Smithsonian and Corporation for National and Community Service - Learn and Serve America, and Nuvana.
There’s still a week left to compete for fun prizes like Zunes, Xboxes and netbooks. For teachers with class still to teach…this might be a great way to keep students focused and engaged during the last few days of school.
I had the true honor of attending the graduation of the first incoming class of students at the Philadelphia School of the Future. It was an inspiring day celebrating a group of amazing students who have defied odds, embraced change, and overcome many obstacles to deliver…as we expected…an amazing result. All School of the Future graduating seniors have college or continuing education plans. But perhaps even more important…all students graduate with a recognition that they’ve only achieved one step…they EXPECT MORE of themselves, their education and their future. In a neighborhood where for some staying off drugs or out of jail is seen as an accomplishment…all 117 graduates face their life after high school with an optimism for what’s ahead and an understanding of their potential, and as Chief Learner Rosalind Chivis remarked at the close of the ceremonies...and a knowledge that “life is what YOU make it”.
As I reflect back on the opening of the school more than 4 years ago…in addition to the happy and exuberant incoming Freshmen…I most remember and often reflect on the parents and guardians who joined us for the opening celebration. They had the insight to recognize the opportunity their children had been given and foresight to recognize that lives would change as a result. I saw many of the same parents during the ceremony…and while all realized their initial impressions were right on the mark…what was unexpected was the scope of changes. It started by bringing a computer into their homes and the resulting influence on other children in the household and the caregivers themselves. It blossomed into a deeper appreciation of learning and skills development, and it culminated it an expectation across the family that things can be better. We started with a question of “what if”…we end with a question of “what’s next”.
There were no computers on display at the ceremony…no PowerPoint slides to run through or richly crafted videos to watch…only accomplished graduates, proud parents, glowing educators, and real JOY. In many ways this mirrors the ultimate goal of the school…one that I think has often been misunderstood. The school has never set out to deliver on the potential for technology to transform learning…but to demonstrate how transforming learning can help deliver on the potential of all students. We didn’t seek to bring all sorts of innovative technology into the school to marvel at the innovation and admire the fancy gadgets. Instead we worked alongside a vast community of partners and leaders to imagine what’s possible when you think holistically about change, enable broad transformation, shift expectations for all, and support the work with technology. This is the kind of model than can scale broadly…and enrich EVERY school…create a new norm.
I am humbled by the dedication and commitment of the staff of educators at the school who have truly made a difference in so many ways. I’m appreciative of the efforts of a supportive community that has truly embraced the school and helped drive it’s success. But most of all, I’m excited for what lies ahead for the 117 students receiving diplomas. My hope is they will set an example for their peers and never stop raising the bar for themselves, and in doing so, permanently lift the bar for those who follow.
I’ve talked a lot about the value of Live@edu in higher education on this blog, and that’s not to say there’s isn’t demand in the K-12 space…in fact, we are seeing huge spikes of interest from school districts and Ministries of Education around the world. The Kentucky Department of Education just announced they are moving the entire commonwealth of students, teachers and staff…more than 700,000 people…to Live@edu that will help them save more than $6.3 million over the next four years. It is the biggest deployment in the U.S. and one of the fastest migrations ever, moving more than half a million people over a single weekend. Check out their video story here.
I think the cloud still has mythical properties and qualities that not everyone understands, but fundamentally it's about sharing computer resources and capacity to enable new experiences, simplified access to technology, and lower costs. Microsoft has a broad and comprehensive approach to the cloud, and we really recognize the value of both connecting cloud experiences and services to existing products, but also ensuring there's an overall environment schools can manage and control so they have the flexibility, robust enterprise features and security and compliance capabilities.
Live@edu allows schools to get out of the email business and adds even more value with collaboration tools so that schools can focus on what they need to do to manage the school effectively, to create an environment for learning that can even extend beyond the classroom, and extend services to students and teachers at scale for free.
Probably one of the most popular features of Live@edu is SkyDrive, which provides 25 gigabytes of storage (sort of a USB stick in the cloud), and schools and teachers love this because they can store their homework, documents, and projects. They can share documents with other people, create folders and assign permissions to their project teams, etc. It not only provides rich collaboration, but really storage on any device, so you don't have to worry about having the right folders on the right device, you can have a virtual, cloud-based storage environment with SkyDrive.
We’ve also just made publicly available the final versions of the Office Web Apps on SkyDrive in the US, UK, Canada and Ireland. These free versions of Word, PowerPoint, Excel, and OneNote really extend the environment to provide not only rich messaging, collaboration, and storage, but the ability to create and edit Office documents within a Web browser without having to have Office installed locally.
As with any new technology, you just can’t throw it over the fence to users with confidence it will stick and they will know how to use it. You can see some of Kentucky’s training videos online here and we have more on our new K-12 website here.
Hoover City Schools in Alabama is also another good case study. I talked to Keith Price, CTO for Hoover City Schools, about their Live@edu deployment and how they involved their instructional technology folks and curriculum team in the professional development trainings for Live@edu so they are really using the product to its fullest potential. You can watch our conversation here.
We have exciting innovations coming in the future for Live@edu and always welcome and encourage your feedback on what we can add to the product to increase the value for education.