Education Insights

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

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  • Education Insights

    Blue-sky thinking on Kinect and Xbox in education

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    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?

  • Education Insights

    Microsoft giving back to schools via EduConnect

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    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.

  • Education Insights

    New technology for back to school in Ocala, Florida

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    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?

  • Education Insights

    Celebrating Microsoft Education Partners

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    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.

  • Education Insights

    Can schools afford computer labs?

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    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?

  • Education Insights

    Using the Microsoft Platform to Drive Institutional Effectiveness

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    These are extremely challenging times for higher education institutions that are struggling with the balance between efficiency and cost cutting, and maintaining and improving their overall effectiveness. While $2.4 trillion is spent on education every year worldwide, effectiveness of spend can be as low as 7% according to the World Bank.

    How do you assess your institution’s performance? How do you know you are successfully executing your mission and vision? Your strategic goals? Technology can track the data and help. Microsoft’s Platform for Institutional Effectiveness has been developed from an increasing understanding that greater effectiveness and efficiency is derived from a focus on bringing together people, processes, and information across the institution…not from the isolated use of individual technology products.

    We have architected a unified platform approach integrating quantitative analytics, qualitative assessment and collaborative action to help institutions measure progress against their goals for administrative operations, academic outcomes and achievement, and the student and faculty experience. This approach is built on Microsoft technology most institutions already own…like SharePoint Server and SQL Server… and user interfaces that are common across the institution and applications from Microsoft partners. You can read more in our whitepaper here.

    Nuventive, has an application called TracDat which drives the development of strategic plans and tracks progress against the plan. Nuventive has recently struck up a partnership with Mariner to bring this type of solution to K-12 schools. Both partners won awards at our Worldwide Partner Conference this year.

    Earlier at one of our education partner summits, I spoke with David Raney, CEO, Nuventive, about trends in data optimization for institutions and how data can make campuses better. You can watch our discussion below.

  • Education Insights

    Microsoft Live@edu to help connect millions of students and parents in New York City Schools

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    As someone who grew up in the Bronx, I am very excited about our first customer win as a result of our partnership with ePals. New York City Schools has chosen ePals SchoolMail service to bring an email learning solution to about two million students and parents…and Live@edu will be used on the backend to help create the secure, reliable and scalable collaborative learning environment. This move to the cloud will save the district an estimated $5 million annually on infrastructure and maintenance costs.

    According to Gartner, in three years, over 50% of student email services will be hosted by a provider. So, with budget deficits at crisis levels around the U.S. and the world, and teachers being laid off…more and more schools are embracing the cloud with Live@edu, and now our combined solution with ePals, to meet the needs of teachers and students to provide new experiences and drive education transformation. It’s a rare opportunity to add tremendous new functionality, reduce costs and deliver more services to more people to help bridge the digital divide all at the same time.

    Built on the enterprise class platform of Exchange 2010, ePals will be using Microsoft Exchange Web Services and Outlook Live to build the email system and new calendar application that will connect to New York’s on-premise system for teachers. It will enable better communication and collaboration among teachers, parents and students so families can be more involved in their child’s education and success. Together, ePals SchoolMail and Live@edu create an extensible platform that delivers the control, security and other powerful features that are essential to K-12 schools. The Exchange Web Services API, Exchange Transport Rules and other security aspects allow ePals to write robust customized policies for schools to meet their requirements of safety and productivity for teachers, students and their data.

    From an IT perspective, Live@edu will enable cross mailbox search and dynamic distribution groups. The joint solution will allow schools to set up sophisticated policy-based controls that regulate which students, parents and teachers can email and share information with each other for security purposes, and what level of filtering, moderation or monitoring is desired for specific roles, grade level, or other school groups. Rules can also be applied for instructional value to email use, for example by facilitating peer-based editing, feedback, as well as to better communicate with parents and to involve them in the educational process with their children.

    When I went to school, there were no computers in New York City schools. The capabilities for students to connect with a world of learning materials and resources provided by ePals giving students a global connection…and then the ability to share thoughts and dialogue is a tremendous opportunity for students to look beyond the boundaries of their city and look beyond the expectations they might have had for their futures to drive a more exciting future for themselves. Most kids growing up in New York sometimes don’t even understand there is an entire world outside of New York because it is so large. When I lived in the Bronx, I had never even gone to Brooklyn, Queens, or Staten Island until a few years ago…you tend to stay in your borough. These technologies can help kids gain a broader perspective on the world and help them expand their potential for the future.

    I was a kid that used technology as an outlet and I credit technology with helping me envision a future. I am excited to be connected to this solution in New York City. Having worked with the school district over the past ten years, plus growing up there and the fact that my brother teaches at the largest public high school in the Bronx…I know these communities need support and inspiration and this will be a huge impact.

  • Education Insights

    Talking about access, employability and innovation with worldwide education leaders in Poland

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    I’m in Poland this week to host the 2010 Education Leaders Forum (ELF) here in Warsaw.  It’s an event that for the fourth year brings together education leaders from around the globe to exchange experiences and discuss the future of post-secondary education, its role as economic driver and strategies for overcoming barriers to implementation. As I reflect back on the last couple of days of meetings, we’ve had some great discussions about education policy examples and ideas that can make significant impact on citizens, their home towns and their countries.

    We’re getting to see this year’s ELF theme, ‘Engaging Student Creativity and Innovation: A Key to Global Success’, in action through interactive panel discussions, and keynote presentations that demonstrate how governments and education systems can work together to deliver an engaging, relevant and authentic education experiences. 

    There are three keys we’ve been talking about to reach these goals: Access, Employability & Innovation.  We’re seeing amazing examples of innovation at the Imagine Cup finals… having the Education Leaders Forum at the same time as the Worldwide finals for the Imagine Cup is not a coincidence.  We link these two events together because both focus on the importance of technology as key to global success…whether it is obtaining your first PC or access to cloud technologies… which leads to employability, economic stability and national competitiveness.

    In today’s information age, there is little question that information communication technology (ICT) can help drive opportunity and provide a competitive edge in the world economy.  World Bank data shows that worldwide, companies that use ICT have over 5% higher profitability than enterprises that do not use ICT.  For every 10-percentage-point increase in the penetration of broadband services, there is an increase in economic growth of 1.3 percentage points.  But this very data that can give hope also creates the digital divide.  The bridge across that divide is access.

    Microsoft is committed to making the world where we live and work a better place.  By listening to the needs of governments and their citizens, we’re able to channel the passion of our people and the power of technology to the challenges facing the world today. Microsoft’s Shape the Future initiative is a program that helps governments reach ambitious goals by combining Microsoft products and services, years of citizenship, government and education expertise along with broad public private partnership experience. This program has provided more than 1 million European students access to new PCs in the last 12 months alone.

    Over the last several years as Shape the Future has helped governments develop these partnerships, we have learned they should be designed beyond an individual school or an isolated classroom.  Ideally, you should not put the entire burden on a local school, a district or a region, to fund, maintain support, and do so in the context of existing budget, or a one-time appropriation that funds the project, but then could go away.  When this occurs, typically, PCs end up sitting in a closet unopened because no one knows how to use them…or the PCs may break and not be replaced because no one knows how to repair them and the school has run out of funding to buy more.  The best projects are those that are foundational…like the one developed recently in the former Soviet Republic of Georgia where they are creating a sustainable program.

    Dimitri Shashkini, Georgia’s Minister of Education and Science, said it well as the partnership came together last month:

    “Providing every child with a PC to raise their learning opportunities is one of the top priorities of the President and the Government of Georgia. We are clear in our belief that education is the foundation of our nation’s continued growth and prosperity. By ensuring that all Georgian children can have access to the information society, we are preparing our students and our country to succeed in the global marketplace. This agreement with Microsoft represents the next step in our commitment to progress towards full digital inclusion for all our citizens.”

    At Microsoft, we believe we have a responsibility to use our position as a technology leader to help work with governments, to help drive other vendors to really commit to solve this issue, and to help more and more countries get down the road to economic competitiveness.

  • Education Insights

    Education reform in Houston and connecting with corporations to help

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    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.

  • Education Insights

    Why Office 2010 is cool for school

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    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…

  • Education Insights

    Keep your students engaged with Interrobang!

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    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.

  • Education Insights

    Celebrating the School of the Future's First Graduating Class

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    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.

  • Education Insights

    K-12 Schools…Taking the Microsoft Cloud by Storm

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    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.

  • Education Insights

    Schools Using Microsoft Technology To Crunch Data And Help Address The Dropout Problem

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    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.

  • Education Insights

    Thoughts on the future of education in Russia

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    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.

  • Education Insights

    Microsoft and Puerto Rico working together to transform K-12 education

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    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.

  • Education Insights

    Talking to students and teachers in Puerto Rico

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    I’ve been on the road the majority of this month for personal and business travel. I’m in Russia right now, but want to catch you up on my experiences in Puerto Rico.

    The best part about my Puerto Rico visit was the amount of student and teacher interaction, as that is something I enjoy the most.  During my visit, Microsoft announced an Education Alliance Agreement with the Universidad Metropolitana (UMET) in San Juan focusing on bringing a culture of innovation to the campus and providing the academic community with the latest software and technology skills. In addition to the University joining the Microsoft IT Academy Program, we celebrated the opening of the Microsoft Mobile Development Laboratory (photos below).

    Mobile devices have certainly changed lifestyles around the world and new ways to use technology.  Exploring and developing mobile applications is a huge opportunity for students who are looking at their careers and future employability. In conjunction with the Imagine Cup, students have been developing mobile applications to compete in the Latin America finals for a chance to go onto Poland…and they have some very different and creative ideas. One application was developed for ride sharing to help with not only lower environmental impact on carbon emissions and autos, but also to help students have outlets for safe driving, saving money, etc. The application is connected to GPS and mobile phones, so students can alert each other when they need a ride and create a social community.

    The other mobile project I saw was called “Justice.” It capitalizes on the fact that most citizens have access to a cell phone and a camera…and if you can imagine turning all those cell phones and all those users into eyes and ears for a law enforcement official or an environmental protection official or a municipal government to identify when there is a traffic safety issue or a street lamp that needs repaired…you can put citizens on the alert so they can share and post alerts and track the status.

    The students’ professor says the students are so excited about this mobile lab that they don’t want to go home, they want to work through the night because they are so motivated about the work they are doing and the opportunity to compete on the global stage…it’s brought a lot of energy to the learning experience for the students.

    I also had the opportunity to meet with the Senate, and talk about ways in which the government is addressing change in education in Puerto Rico. It's great to see them thinking very holistically about embracing and approving resources for teachers, teacher training, and the way in which teachers are valued in Puerto Rico.  They're thinking about things like digital access for all citizens and students.

    And just like every government, they're thinking about the ways in which you can use data to impact learning outcomes and success rates. It’s great to see Puerto Rico open to taking lessons learned from the U.S. and other parts of the world and really thinking about very important issues.

    I also meet with the Department of Education and visited a high school…I’ll share more on that in my next post.

  • Education Insights

    ePals and other partners building new Live@edu services

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    By now, I hope you have seen the press coverage in ZDNET and eSchool News. Microsoft announced a new technical collaboration agreement with ePals, and we will work with them to make Live@edu available to their customers, and in the future, Office Web Apps and features of SharePoint Online. Around the world, ePals reaches about 25 million students, teachers and parents through their networks, and I’m excited about the potential they will have to use Live@edu to advance digital learning and collaboration opportunities in the classroom. 

    Live@edu actually started on our consumer platform with product offerings like Hotmail, and we quickly realized schools not only required a better way to integrate, but they needed more robust controls for security, data privacy, compliance, identity control and risk management. We wanted to provide a flexible environment, but with no compromise with regards to delivering rich technology resources for free or at no cost, so schools wouldn’t be risking the safety of students online by using cloud technologies. This meant not only offering technology in the cloud, but technology that was enterprise-ready with security and policy management controls schools require.

    Today, Live@edu schools get Outlook Live that runs on Exchange 2010. You can also integrate Office and SharePoint Server which are extensible platforms with rich APIs for our partners and serve as building blocks to really make Live@edu coming alive in learning contexts. Partners can leverage Exchange Web Services and write to the data transport engine, calendaring and task tools, etc. and create new experiences to scale their offerings to more people around the world.

    Our partners are going to help take us to the next level with Live@edu. In addition to ePals, last week we announced a similar deal with it’s learning, an international learning platform provider based in Norway. They are starting a migration plan to move their 2 million users to Microsoft’s cloud services for education. Yesterday, I blogged about Agilix’s solution making Live@edu more relevant for teachers. And we are also working with CSI Technology Outfitters to include Live@edu as part of their CSI@K12 solution that also happens to be eligible for E-Rate reimbursement.

    We are seeing companies offering new complementary services every month. For archiving, CGS, Full Armor and CSI are now offering services on top of Live@edu. CGS, B2B, Full Armor and Messaging Architects can also migrate schools to Outlook Live from various platforms including GroupWise, Exchange on-premise or even Gmail.

    I am looking forward to the year ahead with not only Office Web Apps and features of SharePoint Online coming…but also seeing what new services our partners will deliver to help meet the unique policy, privacy and protection needs of education. It’s all about connecting educators and students to do the work they need to do to really advance learning and create interactive and rich experiences.

  • Education Insights

    Microsoft Education Partner Interview: Agilix

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    The quality and the support of our partner ecosystem is, I think, a big reason why Microsoft is so successful. We have evolved into a company that really relies on a set of diverse partners to provide rich solutions to customers of all types and of all needs.  By embracing a wide variety of partners, we can not only optimize the way our technology makes a real difference and impacts a variety of industries…but we can enable partners to have a local connection to help address the specific needs of their environment, their community, and the institutions that they serve.

    In education specifically, we work with hundreds of partners around the world that provide education institutions with access to additional tools and resources they need to be successful. At the 5th annual Microsoft Global Education Partner Summit 2010, I spoke to a number of partners about their new solutions and I wanted to share some of my interviews with you.

    All of the videos have the common theme. As institutions start to evaluate the way technology can play a more fundamental role in the way we optimize technology for learning…we can also use data to guide personalized learning experiences and drive the best learning outcomes. Our partners are responding with robust tool sets to help institutions and schools effectively manage data, gather data, but more importantly use data to make effective decisions, as well as transition and transform learning environments to optimize on the outcomes the data is demonstrating. 

    Agilix has a product called BrainHoney that integrates with Live@edu (www.microsoft.com/liveatedu) and provides tools to help teachers prepare lessons by matching education resources that align to state or country standards. Take a listen to my conversation with Curt Allen, President and CEO, of Agilix below and see how they are helping move the needle on teacher effectiveness with cloud services. There’s also a short demo video here.

     

  • Education Insights

    Inspiring teachers at the Microsoft Innovative Education Forum in Berlin

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    I am fresh from a trip to Europe where I had a chance to see teachers from 40 different countries compete and collaborate at the Microsoft European Innovative Education Forum (IEF) in Berlin. At this regional Partners in Learning event, 80 schools applied for the competition and we awarded twelve winners from ten countries for their groundbreaking school projects that demonstrate the use of technology in compelling new ways.

    I found the opening keynote by Professor Sugata Mitra from Newcastle University in the UK very interesting.  He highlighted his Hole in the Wall project…an idea that first came to life back in 1999 when Mitra went to very remote parts of the world and he literally just placed a computer in a kiosk in a local village with no explanation or instructions for how to use…and students figured out how to use the computer. What he basically proved is that students are very adaptable to change, and they'll figure out how to use technology. As he says on his website, it’s “a solution that uses the power of collaboration and the natural curiosity of children to catalyze learning.” Learn more in this TED Talk video here.

    What I took away from his speech is that a teacher may say they can't use technology or embrace ICT, but there are always issues and obstacles…but if you give students an English language computer in a remote village where the students don't speak English and you tell them, “Here's a computer,” they'll figure out not only how to learn English, but how to use the computer in order to take advantage of the resources.  I think his point is students are very resourceful and they have the ability to learn, and certainly their willingness to embrace technology is a huge differentiator.

    I love IEF events because teachers are so excited to be a part of this. I think it takes a lot of bravery for teachers to think differently and try new models. In many cases, they're trying to innovate in conditions that are not really ripe for innovation, and they're dealing with challenging environments, budget crunches, etc., but they're still trying to drive change and excellence, and pushing innovation to help their students learn. It's amazing to see how enthusiastic teachers get among their peers sharing their ideas and how much winning recognition means to these teachers.
     
    Beyond that, there are lots of lessons to be learned and sharing of ideas at our Innovative Education Forums. Because in all these countries you have different language barriers, different geographical challenges, different economic conditions, etc., but there's lots of commonality to the things educators are trying to solve. Teacher projects from the Berlin event included new ways to collaborate with Live@edu, virtual classrooms connecting pupils with others around the world, infusing ICT into new curriculum for climate change, using Worldwide Telescope to learn about astronomy, a buddy system pairing insecure ICT teachers with tech savvy students, and math coaching via Windows Live Messenger. Many of the teachers blogged about their experiences…you can read more in Jan Webb’s blog, David Rogers blog, a Netherlands teacher blog, the Ireland team’s blog, and others here and here.

    The winners from this event represent Poland, UK, Northern Ireland, Sweden, Romania, Serbia, Denmark, Ireland, Belgium and Russia. They will be invited to our worldwide forum happening in Cape Town, South Africa in late October that will be the culmination of the regional events taking place throughout the world right now. The picture below is of the winners of the Educators’ Choice award.

    I walked away from the Berlin event wanting to double our efforts in this year, recognizing that we have to close the gaps and continue to push for, cultivate and nurture this type of innovation from our teachers and school leaders to make an impact for our children.

    We would love to hear more stories about how teachers are innovating in your classrooms. I hope you will share your stories.

  • Education Insights

    Navigating the Web with Microsoft Pivot

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    I love playing with new technologies and gadgets. I recently installed Microsoft Pivot, a cool new technology…it’s almost like an Excel pivot table with Web image search. Pivot is a research experiment from Live Labs that allows people to visualize data and then sort, organize and categorize it dynamically.

    Anyone can download and install Pivot; you just need Windows Vista or Windows 7 with Internet Explorer 8 and Silverlight. We’ve created dozens of sample galleries where you can go play with Web data from Wikipedia and on topics such as world leaders, endangered species, sports teams, movies and more. So, for example, if you go into the Sports Illustrated covers, you can sort by cover date, by sport, by athlete, by team, by event, etc.

    Pivot really puts the Web in the World Wide Web…so as opposed to the Web being just a collection of pages not linked in any way, Pivot can help show the relationships between items and information so you can begin to extract insights from the mounds of data you uncover...so it's not just search and browsing. I think this could make research for students much more interesting.

    Check out the video below to see how Pivot works. And if you missed it, I recently blogged about other data visualization technologies from Microsoft that are relevant to education here.

  • Education Insights

    New Microsoft Accessibility Guide for Educators

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    When we think about access to technology, you have to think about it holistically. It's not just access to a device, it's really access for all types of students…particularly students with learning difficulties or physical disabilities…to make sure they have equal access to learning with technology.

    Microsoft is very committed and serious about accessibility within our software. We build accessibility options into our products to help enable everyone to personalize their PC to make it safer and easier to see, hear and use. Accessibility options are particularly useful for people with vision or hearing loss, mobile and dexterity impairments, or language and learning impairments.

    We’ve released an updated accessibility guide for educators. The guide provides really good insight for schools on the things they need to think about, questions they should be asking, Microsoft technology available to help with students with disabilities, and how to successful and more simply bring it into the classroom. The guide provides an overview of accessibility features in Windows 7, Office 2007 and Internet Explorer.

    Windows 7 has very strong voice navigation and voice recognition, so for blind students it's actually very good. In addition to being compatible with a wide variety of assistive technology products, there’s also an On-Screen Magnifier, On-Screen Keyboard, and Narrator in Windows 7. For those who want to listen to the details versus reading them, here is a recording with Kelly Ford, who is blind and involved in product management for Windows 7.

    Tutorials for these features and other products can be found here.  We are also making accessibility investments in Office 2010, SharePoint 2010 and Office Web Apps that will be available in the coming months.

  • Education Insights

    New opportunities for students to participate in this year’s Imagine Cup competition

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    I wanted to share my blog post from earlier today over on the Microsoft Blog.  As I’ve written before, I am a big fan of the Imagine Cup. It is a unique opportunity for students to showcase their creativity while getting real world experience in the tech industry and an incredible resource for educators to create excitement in the classroom.

    There are thousands of students in more than 100 countries and regions competing right now to represent their country in the Imagine Cup worldwide finals in Poland coming up in July. I want to make sure you know it’s not too late to get involved:

    1) Starting today and running through April 23, you can vote for your favorite idea among the U.S. finalist teams in the U.S. People’s Choice Award at http://www.imaginecup.us/peopleschoice.aspx.

    2) In addition to the People’s Choice Award, there are two new awards open for students from around the world to win a trip to the worldwide finals: they can create a video submission for the Envisioning 2020 Award or create a mobile application for the Windows Phone 7 Series “Rockstar” Award.
     
    I’m looking forward to meeting the students at the U.S. Finals in Washington, D.C. in April and then those from around the world who have advanced through online, local and regional Imagine Cup competitions when they gather in Warsaw, Poland, at the Imagine Cup Worldwide Finals on July 3-8, 2010. 

  • Education Insights

    Conversation with Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools

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    At our US Public Sector CIO Summit event recently, I had to opportunity to catch up with Susan Johnson, the CIO at Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools in North Carolina. I always love talking to Susan.  She not only has passionate energy for her work, but she has tremendous insights on the progress that she's making with Charlotte-Mecklenburg, and some of the challenges that they're facing. 

    The district is working hard to rollout a data dashboard not just to be more transparent to the public, but to also empower teachers to learn more about their students so they can develop personalized learning plans. You can read more in their case study here. And earlier this year, I spoke to Mariner, the partner who is working on the project. That conversation is here.

    One of the things that she and I have discussed in the past and we talked about in this conversation…is the need for technology companies like Microsoft to make IT invisible. In order for technology to be a success tool as part of the learning and process, it needs to be seamless and not add friction or complexity to the tough environments teachers and schools already face every day.  So, it challenges us and inspires us to think differently on how we can simplify our usage of technology in the schools and improve the efficiency of the way in which we deliver products and technologies…and certainly be sensitive to the realities of budget and time. 

    Take a listen and let us know what you think…

  • Education Insights

    Classroom visualization tools – Stargazing now possible with Worldwide Telescope on Bing Maps

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    The thing I think is exciting about Bing is that it’s becoming more than just a place to find information and search…it’s really about how to apply search to experiences and productivity scenarios you would use inside a classroom. So not only being able to search on information but the ability to apply new learning constructs and create new learning experiences that weren’t possible before.

    Today, Bing Maps released the Worldwide Telescope (WWT) application that was first previewed at the recent TED conference. The application allows students to literally look up at the virtual sky in Bing Maps and see constellations and stars as they exist in real-life. You can even adjust the time of the day to see what the sky looks like anywhere in the world at different hours in real-time. You can download the new WWT app here (scroll down and click on “Maps Apps”) and read more about WWT and its uses in the classroom in one of my earlier blog posts here. You need to have Silverlight installed and it only works on the U.S. version Bing Maps right now, but the team is looking to expand the WWT application to other countries in the future.

    The WWT integration with Bing Maps is just one great example of visualization tools teachers can use in the classroom. I think visualization and technology’s role to enhance visualization is a game changer as we work with publishers and content providers around the world. When you think about what students are reading for example…most students are reading more words on a digital screen format than they are in an analog book...and that creates huge potential for content providers to do great things.

    A couple weeks ago, I keynoted at the NCCE 2010 conference in Seattle and showed off several free visualization tools from Microsoft that allow teachers and students to get creative about teaching and learning. The video below shows a demo of Deep Zoom in Silverlight Web pages (more info here), Photosynth (my previous blog post here) and work we’ve done with the British Library to digitize books.

    Check these visualization techniques out and see how you can bring inanimate objects to life and transport faraway places closer to make a personal connection and a real experience. I would love to hear your feedback and see your examples!

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