Education Insights

Education news, trends, and highlights by Anthony Salcito, Vice President, Worldwide Education, Microsoft

January, 2012

  • Education Insights

    A turning point for education? Trends to watch in 2012.


    Will the year 2012 prove to be a turning point for education? There’s certainly an ever-increasing spotlight on the quality of education and an interest to help improve it from all corners of society. As I travel around the world, I see many technology companies increasing their focus and investment in education. And I think it’s time for the industry to pull together to think not just about winning and losing, but how we can do what’s right for students and make learning better.

    I’m inspired everyday by the work of teachers, school leaders, policymakers, and business leaders who have made improving education worldwide a facet of their lives. As part of Microsoft’s Partners in Learning initiative, we work with more than 9 million teachers in 115 countries, and it’s amazing to me that regardless of local economics or other challenges in their unique learning environments, teachers find a way to make a difference in students’ lives.

    With the ever-changing economic climate, the next year is sure to be filled with both challenges and opportunities. Here are some trends and themes I think we’ll continue to hear more about in 2012.

    1. A tighter focus and prioritization on workforce readiness and jobs. This is going to be everywhere. Traditional universities are thinking much more about preparing students for the workforce, immersing students with job skills training earlier. Traditional community colleges, technical and vocational schools will continue to see a rise in popularity and student interest. And even in the K-12 space, schools are doing more to introduce skill-based learning outside of the core subject areas of math, science and reading that students are tested on. This is true globally where the unemployment rate is also at record lows. In countries like Spain and Korea, entrepreneurship is rising in importance and kids are looking to discover and create new industries. Through our Assessment and Teaching of 21st Century Skills (ATC21S) project, we know skills such as critical thinking, communication, collaboration and creativity are vital for students as they prepare to enter the workforce.  So much so, that The Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) – a worldwide, three-yearly evaluation in OECD member countries of school pupils’ performance – will be including Collaborative Problem Solving as a mandatory component of the 2015 study.

    2. A support for innovative teacher methodologies is critical. There’s a lot of debate whether technology can replace or diminish the role of a teacher in the classroom. At Microsoft, we believe investing in teaching and professional development of teachers is one of the most important investments we can make in education. One teacher can reach thousands over the course of a career, and literally catalyze the future of a community. Between our Innovative Teaching and Learning Research and The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, there is a lot of research on teacher effectiveness and its impact on student learning. We know the more education a child obtains, the higher their income earning potential is…and now there is a new study out of Harvard and Columbia  that shows how just even one great teacher can impact a student’s future earnings. The Partners in Learning Network is a free community resource with networking, educator resources, lesson plans, and invaluable learning content from the world’s best teachers.

    3. 2012 is when the cloud moves from a curiosity to a necessity. While more than 22 million students, faculty and staff are using Microsoft’s cloud services today in education, there is going to be huge growth. Schools will recognize the cloud is a key component to their digital content platform strategy to storage options as it relates to security, identity, back-up, etc., It’s also a way to cost-effectively deliver more technology to more people quickly and so that they can focus their IT resources on projects that really drive improvements to learning.

    4. Real data-driven learning. Another big trend I think you will start to see is more examples of data-driven learning and education taken to the next level. Historically, data-driven education has been a chart taking activity where we get data and display information, but then reaction to the data has been inconsistent. The data collection of students’ progress hasn’t been driving a real opportunity for proactive support. This is where business intelligence (BI) can enable a much richer dialogue with regards helping teachers personalize learning and being able to create individualized lessons for students at different places in their learning.

    5. Gaming and the emergence of Kinect as a PC factor. Yes, I am a gamer…and I blog a lot about how gaming and the mechanics of gaming can and should be brought into education to help drive expectations of students higher. At CES, I had an opportunity to see Kinect applied in very interesting ways. There were vendors showing how Kinect can work with digital whiteboards and classroom navigation, lecture capture, and how voice control can be integrated in very simple and elegant ways. We are starting to see a grassroots effort and more teachers include Kinect as a component of classroom design and a way to motivate students. It’s also a way for schools to save money yet still acquire innovative technology to create rich, interactive experiences. The marketplace for more education solutions will continue to grow after the Kinect for Windows SDK and Kinect for Windows Sensor is released publicly on February 1st.

    6. Change the conversation from the device to learning. I think we’ll see a movement where schools will move beyond 1:1 computing and really focus on digital learning. It will transform from a device conversation to a learning conversation. There will be trends like “bring your own device” (BYOD) that support it, and the proliferation of multiple device types (laptops, slates, tablets, phones) that support the technology environment schools want and need. But then the conversation needs to turn to connecting the devices to curriculum and pedagogy and the assessment models. And all the content needs to be accessible on multiple devices and be available anytime and anywhere.

    7. The rise of digital curriculum and reading. The rise of digital reading is certainly a reality in the consumer space, but textbook providers are just starting to build out next-generation content experiences. I think we’ll finally start to see the transition and some schools like this one in Turkey as early adopters. While many schools will use the opportunity to save money on traditional textbooks to fund devices, schools have to think about this holistically and not just buy a device to replace a textbook. Digitizing textbooks in and of itself is not transformative, but by focusing on the entire learning continuum and how digital curriculum and content created by students and teachers can be connected to back-end systems that can link the student outcomes to assessments, personalized learning and increased student achievement…now that’s transformative change.

    Microsoft is working with more than 150 publishers worldwide, including Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Cornelsen, Oxford University Press, Cambridge University Press, and Santillana to publish and distribute digital textbooks in the cloud. These textbooks and new content will be able to be consumed by students on a variety of devices, from Windows 7 notebooks to tablets and slates, Windows Phone, Xbox, Kinect and Office 365, reflecting the diversity and personalization required as part of the learning experience.  

    I think it will be a very exciting year.

  • Education Insights

    Cool new devices for schools at CES


    I’m back in the office after a quick trip to Las Vegas for CES. I love to walk the show floor each year to see all the new gadgets, not just because it’s fun to tinker with new technology, but because I like to get a first look at the new innovations that could be most useful when applied in education. There are a lot of new Microsoft products that are available to schools now or very soon. Surface 2.0 has just shipped, the Kinect for Windows Software Development Kit (SDK) and a Kinect for Windows sensor are coming on February 1st, and Nokia phones built on Windows Phone are out now.

    Our hardware partners are building some cool PCs and Windows 7 runs super-fast and super-long on them. They’re building rich input devices, with mice, keyboards, and pen inputs – some go from a laptop to a tablet in just seconds -- satisfying those students who want the best of both tablets and PCs in one.  There are also a lot of new form factors designed to appeal to students that are lightweight with rich screens, and that are very flexible with support for gaming and use things like voice and touch commands to enable a very immersive experience. Ultrabooks were the star of the show. You can see the latest Windows 7 devices here and in the embedded video below.

    I am really excited about all the choices schools have when it comes to determining what device they want to bring into their institution. As we know 1:1 learning is going to become more rampant with the shift to digital content and the need to make sure kids are prepared for college and career. We’ve learned a lot about technology’s effectiveness in schools and in 1:1 programs in particular, and I encourage school leaders to think holistically about the learning environment before they jump to buy technology for technology’s sake. I met with JP Sa Couto and Critical Links at CES. They help schools think about all aspects to create the most effective learning environment. They have done a lot of research and investment in looking at everything from the school furnishings to lighting to looking at ethnographic studies to literally determine how a device best fits into a school.

    Schools want devices for different activities….reading digital textbooks, taking notes, creating presentations and papers, the ability to plug in an array of peripherals and 3rd party solutions, and centralized IT management and security. And as data-driven education improves, schools need to be able to analyze what students and teachers are doing with the technology and link the outcomes to assessments and personalized lesson planning through business intelligence and learning management systems.

    There are a lot of great new tablet PCs and laptops designed especially for education that can withstand the rigors of heavy use during the school day, including getting thrown in backpacks and dropped on the playground.

    At CES, Lenovo was showing off the newly released Lenovo Classmate + . It’s a rugged PC laptop that converts into a tablet, sports a drop resistant exterior, spill proof keyboard,  reinforced steel hinges, 10.1 inch touch display with pen (optional HD), 10 hour battery life, multiple USB ports and VGA or HDMI output to monitor. The Lenovo X130e is also a good choice for K12 schools made rugged with rubber “bumpers” and reinforced hinges to take a long school day. 

    Dell’s Inspiron Duo continues to win praise from students and teachers alike because its innovative flip hinge design makes it very easy to go from touch to type in seconds.  The 10.1 HD multi touch screen, student sized keyboard and rugged design make it the perfect device for schools that want a HD tablet and a laptop in one device.


    For university students who want a computer that’s light, fast, durable and stylish, ultrabooks are all the rage. The video below showcases the latest hardware from Asus, Acer, Toshiba, Dell, HP, Lenovo, Samsung and Sony.

  • Education Insights

    Navigating the world via Bing and Microsoft Translator


    One of the things I love about the Bing toolbar is the translation service that uses Microsoft Translator technology to provide online automatic translation of text and web pages.  In my worldwide role, I am increasingly traveling to countries I’ve never visited before and communicating with folks who speak many different languages.

    Before I travel, I like to read up on where I am going to learn about the education system, economy and culture…so the Bing Translator, which translates more than 35 languages, is tremendously useful and has made my life easier. After you load the Bing toolbar and go to a web site in another language, like Chinese, Japanese, French, etc., the text of the web page is automatically translated to your preferred language. 

    This translation technology from Microsoft Research is slowly proliferating across Microsoft products. Besides instant translations in Bing, you can also have multi-lingual conversations in Windows Live Messenger and Microsoft Lync, and translate words in Office 2010 documents. Schools can also add the Microsoft Translator widget to their own web pages. Partners and other companies are also using the Translator API to help break down language barrier. Facebook, Trip Advisor, Harper Collins and eBay are using the API to bring their services and content to new audiences and languages.

    If you haven’t already, I suggest checking out the Bing Bar here, download it and give it a try.

  • Education Insights

    The importance on assessing students’ 21st century skills, not just math, science and reading


    (Cross-post from the Microsoft EMEA Press Centre blog.)

    This week, Microsoft is taking part in the annual Education World Forum in London. For us, it’s a great opportunity to meet with education ministers from around the globe and hear about the different issues facing their countries. It’s an important part of the work we do in this sector; by listening and understanding both the opportunities and challenges, we ensure our business is available to support them in the quest for inclusive and relevant education for everyone.

    Three years ago, Microsoft partnered with Cisco and Intel to launch the Assessment and Teaching of 21st Century Skills (ATC21S) project. Made up of governments, intergovernmental organisations and research and teaching institutions, ATC21S is a collaborative research program created to address a specific problem: that traditional assessment methods do not properly evaluate the skills needed to prepare learners for working in the modern world. Skills such as critical thinking and problem solving, communication, collaboration, creativity and innovation are all vital attributes for students but not currently measured effectively by most countries. These skills can prepare a student for the workforce and provide stronger economic opportunities for the future.

    ATC21S has moved from concept and definition stage through to the development of assessments and trials for collaborative problem-solving and ICT literacy -learning using digital networks. Today, we’re excited to announce the road ahead. The Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) – a worldwide, three-yearly evaluation in OECD member countries of school pupils’ performance – will be including Collaborative Problem Solving as a mandatory component of the 2015 study.

    "ATC21S has played an essential pathfinder role to move the assessment agenda forward. It fills a critical gap between existing basic research on assessment design and methodologies, on the one hand, and the implementation of large-scale assessments that provide reliable data at reasonable cost, on the other. Its latest venture, the piloting of tasks to assess collaborative problem-solving skills, provides important insights for OECD's efforts to broaden future PISA assessments to encompass interpersonal skill dimensions." – Andreas Schleicher, Head of Indicators and Analysis Division, Education Directorate, Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD)

    PISA is aimed at improving educational policies and outcomes. It tests literacy in reading, mathematics and science, measuring education’s application to real-life problems and the knowledge needed for the world of work. This close alignment with our own aims means that PISA’s interest helps to focus the ATC21S work in informing the methods, approaches and teaching and learning strategies needed, and we’re really proud to be working together.

    To make sure schools are ready to teach and assess 21st century skills, and specifically, collaborative problem solving skills, we’ll shortly be releasing policy and teaching guidance, as well as sample assessments. Through these materials, teachers will be able to identify gaps in development and assess where they may need to invest in curriculum change.

    As employers of tomorrow’s talent, it’s important for Microsoft to support education initiatives, using our resources, visibility and global reach to help improve learning and education all over the world. Alongside our common interest, assessing students on 21st century skills is an important step in spreading economic development. Many of the jobs that today’s students will perform may not even yet exist. As I’ve blogged about before here and here, using old models to assess these students fails to prepare them to adapt their skillsets for the ever-changing world of work.

    UPDATE: The ATC21S team is blogging from the events and sessions on site in London. You can follow the discussion here.

  • Education Insights

    Join the new Partners in Learning Network today and start spreading ideas to improve education worldwide


    I’m delighted to officially announce the launch of our revamped Partners in Learning Network here at the BETT Show in London. Originally launched in 2009, the new community site is now open to teachers and school leaders in over 115 countries, and has been enhanced with many new features and resources all designed to encourage collaboration and the spread of ideas for improving education around the world.

    If you’re not familiar with the Partners in Learning Network, this is a free community resource designed to provide educators with a place to engage with other like-minded professionals to enhance their personal development and classroom experience for their students. This is not just a networking site; it is a treasure chest of resources, lesson plans, and invaluable learning content from the world’s best teachers. To kick things off, we’ve already populated the site with over 40 different tools such as lesson plans, learning activities and tutorials that are available for immediate download for use in the classroom.

    We started beta testing the new site back in November, and we’ve already received some encouraging feedback from teachers.

    “There is importance in how the Partners in Learning Network can work to offer teachers an online community filled with product downloads, tutorials, activities and discussions. What I am excited about is the opportunity to share with teachers some ideas and resources that ALL our students could use effectively and easily in and out of the classroom.” 
    --Nicole Lakusta, Educational Technology Facilitator, Parkland School Division, Canada
    More on Nicole’s blog here.

    “As a professional development opportunity, the Partners in Learning Network is unparalleled. The more teachers and schools that we can get involved the more innovation and corresponding results will follow.”
    --Louis Zulli Jr., Network Administrator, Center for Advanced Technologies, Florida

    Here are some new features our early users are most excited about…

    1. Using Microsoft Translator, the site is available today in 36 different languages. That means members can not only communicate with others in their own language, but any user can translate any content into one of these supported languages, or make suggestions and edits to previously translated pages. This is incredibly exciting because it allows us to offer educators a truly global community.

    2. New achievement badges help members identify the community’s mentors, teacher trainers and experts, to encourage collaboration and the sharing of ideas and best practices. A new tagging infrastructure ensures that as teachers upload content such as learning activities, tutorials about incorporating technology, sample projects and other ready-to-use educational resources, that the content is quick and easy to find. 

    3. We know there are a lot of choices for social networking sites, and that many educators may already have established profiles and followers on other sites. That’s why Partners in Learning Network members are able to promote and link to their other social media properties. We also make accessing all of the resources easy by allowing members to sign-in using Windows Live ID, Facebook, Twitter, Gmail, or Yahoo, instead of having to “start over” on a new site or just choose one. They can also use pre-existing log-ins from these accounts to sign-in to the Network.

    To sign up now, visit and start spreading ideas to make education worldwide better!

    We’re having a great time engaging with some of the best and brightest in the education community this week in London, and have made a few other exciting announcements. Please see my earlier blog post here to learn more.

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