I am excited about the upcoming launch of Kinect for Xbox 360 this November and the potential to push the envelope to create new experiences for the classroom and virtual learning environments.
Not only does Kinect (formerly known as “Project Natal”) represent an exciting new platform for the potential of gaming and interaction in new ways…it's intriguing to think about the possibilities of not only extending natural user interface beyond touch and speech and pen, but actually using visual recognition, voice recognition, as well as gesture motion to capture and create new experiences with technology. Kinect was born out of Microsoft Research...there's a great video below that shows the concept to reality. You can also read more about what researchers are envisioning for the next 5-10 years in human computer interaction here and here.
There's tremendous application potential for the classroom, whether it's gesture-based input for smart boards or whiteboards, or the potential of having students getting more active in the classroom with projects and visual simulations, etc. There are so many opportunities for partners to really push this technology in new ways. Think about the possibilities if the capabilities of Kinect were transferred to the PC…or if it was optimized for publishers to be able to create content for the classroom on the Xbox.
I’ve blogged before about gaming as an education solution…and I certainly see the potential beyond gaming to think about what the future of a classroom would look like or the future of connection between students and team-based activities, as well as things as simple as raising your hand and having your classroom recognize the student who raised their hand. Interactive experiences, really new dynamics for interacting with content, using gestures to navigate, using voice recognition, creating new types of simulations using full motion and even helping kids with fitness. There's lots of opportunity for this type of technology to really accelerate the way in which we get more and new, different experiences with technology.
What do you think? Is this too far out for schools? What would you create?
I was in Ocala, Florida recently to talk to about 500 teachers and administrators about how they can incorporate technology into their classrooms as they prepare for the upcoming school year and learn about new technology the district is rolling out. This Technology Day for Marion County Public Schools happened to take place at the first U.S. high school to deploy Live@edu...Lake Weir High School.
It was very interesting to see how Live@edu fits into not only Principal Saunders vision for the school, but how Scott Hansen, who is the IT director, is really taking technology and thinking holistically about how Live@edu integrates with a broader transformation that's undergoing in Marion County. This video really does a good job of highlighting some of the things that Live@edu is being used for and some of the benefits that they've already seen from their Live@edu deployment.
After keynoting, I attended a couple of sessions, including one on how the district is deploying a Microsoft SharePoint site with Chancery to provide a learning management system to allow parents to see their kids’ grades, homework assignments, deadlines, etc.
I sat in a workshop with teachers, and it was great to see and hear the questions they were asking. The teachers wanted to learn more about provisioning rights…all the details, like who's the primary caregiver, how do the rights extend, how does the person get the rights, if there's a parent who's taking care of a kid in a school for a time or parents are on leave or something, how do you transfer the rights…all these different questions about the implementation and you quickly come to realize there's a whole range of considerations around privacy concerns and issues that schools have to deal with.
It was really good for me to get a chance to see not only the way in which Marion County is addressing those concerns and providing guidance and training for teachers, but understanding the range of issues and questions that come from teachers.
What new technology are you rolling out in this school year and how do you think it will make impact?
Microsoft recognizes the power of our employees to give back, and Microsoft has tremendously passionate employees about the mission of education. This relates to not only the education of their children but education's impact in their society, on the future of Microsoft as a company, as well as the recognition that we have resources and tools to help provide value to schools. And this goes far beyond cash and in-kind donations, we have employees helping in ways such as donating their time to teach math and sciences in local classrooms, helping teachers with technology training, hosting tech camps for students, and demonstrating a range of tools to help teachers, students, parents prepare their kids for the future.
Microsoft celebrates and collects these initiatives under a program we call Educonnect. Educonnect is really about taking that passion that Microsoft employees have, and linking it to our focus in education. The program started in the United States but has since spread to 43 countries and counting. I think it’s important that companies like Microsoft nurture their responsibility to give back and be responsible leaders. It's this kind of work that helps make our ability to connect with schools much more real and the commitment the company has in education much deeper.
The video below gives a glimpse of how we are trying to make impact.
As some institutions around the world prepare to embark on a new school year, there is chatter in both K-12 and higher education about the reality of the challenges of managing computer labs. Schools are looking to optimize costs or optimize budget and save costs…tools to manage labs more effectively are becoming increasingly needed as well.
Despite many of the 1:1 laptop/netbook trends that are happening around the world, I think computer laps still have a viable place in schools. In fact, many universities find that their lab usage increases as students get access to devices, because they grow dependent on having instant access in a flexible way. One of the things I think will happen more in schools is that students will bring their own managed device, their personal device to schools, and leverage the school labs for communication and classroom use. With this added complexity, schools need ways to manage all these different devices more effectively and save money.
Microsoft MultiPoint Server is a great example of where you can not only reduce the complexity of management…because as opposed to managing multiple PCs, you can have one PC connected to 10-15 units, but also save money on power consumption, as well as the CPUs used to run the technology. Other solutions like virtualization and Hyper-V become hugely valuable, and then obviously leveraging the cloud for storage (i.e. Live@edu and SkyDrive).
How are you getting creative to keep your computer labs open and loaded with the most current software?
Microsoft’s Worldwide Partner Conference is always a great opportunity to connect with people who are supporting Microsoft's efforts in education. There was truly a global representation of partners from all over the world that gathered in Washington, D.C. last month who have been working with universities and schools and supporting Microsoft technology. The theme of this year's event was clearly the optimization of what the cloud can offer, both with regards to cost savings, a simplification of IT environments, and really creating new experiences for our schools and universities.
We have a lot of partners who are really excited about building off of the platform of free solutions we provide with Live@edu. What's interesting is that they're providing not only context for Live@edu and the education scenarios by providing it, integrating it in with learning management solutions, ERP and student information system solutions…but they're helping to work on activation and deployment to make sure that schools are up and running quickly, integrating in with single sign-on and identity management, etc.
Partners like Full Armor showcased not only the work they did to get all the schools in the Commonwealth of Kentucky deployed on Live@edu, but really shared the kind of services they can provide not only to our schools and universities to help deploy Live@edu, but working with other partners to make sure there's a comprehensive solution involved.
it's learning from Norway…who previously had been using a Google platform for their mail solution…are excited about the potential Live@edu provides, not only with regards to enterprise connectivity, but the roadmap that Microsoft is providing to build on Live@edu in the future, and it's learning will be moving their platform to Live@edu. One of the things they remarked on was that not only is Live@edu more attractive with regards to the enterprise nature of the solution, but the fact that there were Microsoft people around the world committed to education…that was a differentiator for them.
Every year we recognize a partner that's been doing innovative work and providing value. Gestar won the 2010 Public Sector Education Partner of the Year award. This partner from Brazil is using Microsoft Dynamics to provide a comprehensive student information and data gathering system for schools, and they've recognized the problem that many schools have in that data that's collected but not acted upon really is wasted data. They've optimized their Dynamics back-end solution with a front-end built around Microsoft Silverlight that allows a very simple to use touch interface for teachers to extract data, to act on data, and to have a comprehensive record of students and group of students work. It's a great example of a partner recognizing the reality of what's going on in the classroom because of their local connection, and the Gestar solution both provides a rich back-end solution for data collection with Microsoft Dynamics, but a very easy to use front-end solution for the future.
But perhaps the biggest highlight of the show was seeing representatives from the Microsoft Students to Business program walking the floor with “Hire Me!” t-shirts throughout the conference. The program allows students who are connected to Microsoft certification and training via things like Microsoft IT Academy and DreamSpark, or who have competed in things like the Imagine Cup competition, the opportunity to join Students to Business where they receive career coaching and career development tools. They also have an opportunity to get placed with Microsoft companies and partners that are doing business with Microsoft…and many of them were not only interviewing and connecting with partners at the show, but really promoting the value of Students to Business for partners to reach back to find talent. They taped a conversation with me about technical careers and getting students engaged…you can watch that below. These students were really a great example of the connection that education and our schools have with the work that's going on and the innovations that are happening with Microsoft partners around the world.