In just about two weeks, more than 400 students from 70 countries will travel to New York City to compete at this year’s Imagine Cup 2011 Worldwide Finals. I'm starting to get inspired by all the projects created by students that not only enhance the way technology is making a difference in education, but really use technology to help individuals in their daily life.
One of the projects that caught my attention is a project using Kinect to help students with cerebral palsy in Croatia that gives a hint for the potential future for this technology, and the many ways in which students can think about the ways to connect technology to practical examples to make a difference.
The team from Venezuela made their own interactive whiteboard and tabletop from low-cost materials compared with commercial devices that are not accessible for most schools in the world. The students have also developed applications and created a website to share, rate and recommend interactive material online with other teachers to make primary classrooms more engaging.
In all fairness, all of the student participants represent the next generation of entrepreneurs and inventors and they are tackling the world’s toughest problems…they have great ideas to improve healthcare, to stop pollution, disease and hunger, to improve disaster relief response, to increase access to education, and much more.
I encourage you to check out all the videos at www.imaginecup.com/pca and vote for your favorite. The People’s Choice contest runs through July 12. The winning team will be announced on Wednesday, July 13 at the Imagine Cup Worldwide Finals in New York City, and will receive a $10,000 (USD) prize.
I’ve previously talked about my excitement over games-based learning and natural user interface, and how increasingly Microsoft has invested in exploring how these areas can make a difference in education.
Since its release, there has been tremendous enthusiasm and fascination about Kinect as not only a tool to help navigation and interaction, but to help students to get even more engaged in learning. The video below is a great example of a project in South Africa to show how Kinect is making a difference in getting students more excited about their learning environment, and helping students at different places in their learning styles get engaged in the classroom…and actually get more excited about schoolwork.
There's also been a fascination about using Kinect to control environments. A powerful example is the evolution of the universe via Kinect and the navigation across the universe with Kinect. The marriage between Microsoft's efforts and amazing work with WorldWide Telescope and Kinect is perfectly demonstrated in this video where the power of the Kinect sensor can actually allow you to navigate planets and stars, and literally swim across the universe.
The launch of the Kinect for Windows Software Development Kit (SDK) is just going to be the beginning for what should be an exciting time for Kinect, as well as natural user interface. Universities, developers, researchers are excited about the potential Kinect will bring to create more interactive classroom environments, to create more learning style environments that will help students with disabilities, students with autism get more engaged with learning, as well as potential for much more interactive navigation tools, taking on what has been done with smart boards to get students involved in the classroom. During a 24-hour code camp for the SDK beta launch, teams of university students and researchers built amazing applications.
The power of Kinect is just waiting for ideas and exploration. It will be interesting to see what happens going forward.
One of the initiatives I'm most proud of is the work we do around Shape the Future. It's really all about making access to technology a right and not a privilege for every student on the planet. And increasingly this is a priority for governments and schools throughout the world.
As we think about the opportunity for technology to play a role in business, and certainly to play a role in access to information and the way in which it can empower the classrooms…there's a lot of things that I would put as reminders as schools think about one-to-one computing. I've been working with school districts for the past decade or more on thinking about one-to-one models and the aspiration to move, and I have a couple pieces of advice for folks to consider… and this is regardless of what hardware or even what software you want to use in the device…hopefully some helpful thoughts as you think about the program.
Resist the temptation to acquire first.The first thing I would say is we've got to start with thinking and resisting the temptation to think acquisition first. Typically, when schools think to change, they start with a device and once the device comes into the classroom in many cases if you've not done the right thing upfront, the battle is already lost. School leaders need to start with thinking about people, the implications of learning, and how the device will really be used. In many cases you want to ask questions about what you're trying to accomplish with regards to transforming learning in a broader way without the restrictions and the limitations of understanding for a teacher on a device or doing things around deployment, etc.
Think about sustainability.Two, you've got to think much more about a sustainability approach. So, you've got to think not only around how funding on acquisition exists, but how long-term projects will be sustained with regards to ecosystem.
In many cases we're seeing schools really shift away from providing devices from a one-to-one perspective, and governments being more responsible for thinking around creating sustainable funding models, tax structure models, etc. In many cases, those are much more viable long term, both to expand technology access to all folks who need it, but also to sustain it long term. The days of actually buying technology as a project or a limited initiative with special funding increasingly become less sustainable and really should change.
Delivery of the device matters.The third thing I would say is where you deliver the device matters. From all of our pilots and the work that we've done around the world we've learned that giving a device to a student in a classroom has the least impact with regards to the long-term life of the device. It's better to give the same device to a student via the parent/caregiver or via a retail location outside of the school walls, because the device will be embraced by the families more broadly. It will also be respected much more by the students, as opposed to putting the burden on maintenance or support, and really the respect of the device will be decreased if it's delivered inside the school.
Think about the ecosystem.The fourth thing I would say is the ecosystem matters. So, partnering with banks, telecommunications companies, and NGOs to make sure that these projects are not only more sustainable but also include a broader range of services and support.
Training is imperative.Fifth is obviously critical access to make sure that training is provided for families, both students, teachers, and parents, everything from online safety to digital literacy training to integration of ICT with regards to training and the curriculum is important.
I think those are the key things to think about before jumping into a one-to-one initiative. To learn more and to see about some of the projects that we're doing around the world to help shape the future and provide access to technology for students in education…check out our Shape the Future Facebook page and like our Facebook page. There’s a lot of great videos that explain our vision for the Shape the Future program and sum up some of the work that we are doing around the world.
A quick update from on the road…
I've been traveling a lot recently to both help Microsoft plan for our upcoming fiscal year, as well as meeting with customers as the school year winds down in parts of the world. I just had a very interesting visit in three countries that all have very different education systems based on where the economy stands…so it's interesting to see how it's changing thinking and prioritization of education in countries.
I'll start out with the country that I visited which had the worst economic current conditions, and that was Greece. Greece's problem with regards to education is really one about creating job opportunities in the country to keep and retain students. One of the challenges the country is facing is students are migrating away from the country because economic conditions are creating a population decrease for families, and we want to help continue to create opportunities. The economic conditions are creating urgency with regard to changing the education system and actually creating opportunity for not only new entrepreneurs and new growth but creating new imperatives inside the school system to prepare students for the future.
It's interesting to see the vitality that the government in Greece is putting towards education as a priority, and really shifting investment to make sure that education helps the country get out of the current economic environment that they're facing. After visiting Greece, I had an opportunity to go to France, and things in France are actually economically a little bit better but also the way in which they're thinking about technology is starting to advance.
France is one of the countries that has a very specific education philosophy and education practice and methodology. Other countries like Japan and Russia, who have rich academic traditions and pedagogy, have been often the slowest to change and have been the most resistant of technology integrating into the classroom and actually shifting the way learning is done.
And that's starting to change in all of those countries, and certainly that was what I got from France, both meeting with the education ministry as well as individual schools and universities. There's not only an embrace of technology's role and importance in the classroom, but a recognition that it's a part of everyday life. Not only technology in the classroom, but empowering teachers to think differently about their education models and how they think about content and assessment with technology is something that we're starting to see more and more of.
One of the things we talked during a meeting with the ministry in France was the way in which they're starting to think about celebrating and embracing innovation and looking at innovative teaching models that are happening around the country is very much aligned to what we do with innovative teachers and innovative school projects via Partners in Learning. It's often the way in which many countries start, by looking at the models that exist in their country, and celebrating those examples for others so they can get inspired by how they can transform with technology.
France's universities are also very active in looking at the cloud solutions, and I had an opportunity to meet with a number of CIOs throughout France, and they're certainly excited about the potential the cloud provides to save costs but also to scale out the services across the board.
The last country I met with, Sweden, is actually facing economic prosperity, and certainly it's interesting to see how that dynamic plays in terms of the way in which they think about technology. They're the most aggressive on making sure 1:1 is a priority around the country and providing devices to students.
In some respects it's interesting, because of the economic conditions, that the focus tends to be a little bit too much on device than I would like to see. One of the things I tried to caution the school leaders I met with in Sweden was to think much more about holistic transformation broadly and resist the temptation to focus on devices specifically, but that's an area that they're growing in and certainly looking to make sure that every student in Sweden has access to a device in the next few years. There is a huge opportunity for them to change the way in which they think about content and the way they think about schools 24/7, anywhere, anytime going forward. So, a huge opportunity to look at Sweden as a benchmark for how 1:1 evolves.
So, very interesting models in all of the countries…it really reflects a lot of what we're starting to see in education. There's not only a reality with regards to economic conditions that drive decisions, but the economic conditions around employability, jobs, and economic prosperity is often driving the urgency for education reform and change in countries. This connection is often not only an important thing to embrace but an opportunity for us to really create and ground the change in a lasting and meaningful way in the classroom, with parents, and with students.
One of my favorite things that Microsoft has created is Ribbon Hero. This free download and tool provides a game-like environment for students and teachers, and really anyone, to get more comfortable with the features and resources within Microsoft Office…and especially learn how to navigate and leverage the power of the Office Ribbon.
The Office Labs team at Microsoft released version two of the Ribbon Hero and it takes the concept even further by providing a game narrative for the exploration of the tools. It actually reintroduces one of Microsoft's most renowned innovations from the Office product, Clippy, which was designed to make the Office product more friendly and more easy for people to use. Ribbon Hero 2 follows Clippy’s travels through time as he explores different time periods and tries to get back home. With each time period, the player gets to explore a new game board with challenges they must complete to get to the next level. Each challenge takes the player into Word, Excel, PowerPoint or OneNote to complete a task and race for a high score with colleagues, classmates and friends.
It's a great tool to demo, to help students and teachers get engaged, be more productive, organized and creative…and how to just use some basic functionality in the Office environment. It's a really great way to explore the power that's in the product, but also to have fun at the same time. See a preview below and download it at www.ribbonhero.com.