In early September, Microsoft hosted a Partners in Learning (PIL) advisory summit for a diverse group of people involved with education. These people hailed from around the world and many continents were represented, including Asia, Europe, Africa , South America, and North America. The goal of this summit was for the Microsoft Partners in Learning team to have a dialogue with this group of education experts as well as share some of the technologies and plans Microsoft has moving forward.
I joined them for a "field trip" lunch to the Forest Ridge School in Bellevue, WA. Forest Ridge is a technologically advanced school and they are a 1:1 computing school. Forest Ridge uses tablets, and in addition, as I referred to on this blog previously, they use OneNote extensively. The Partners in Learning advisory group had the chance to observe OneNote in action for portion of a middle school math class, and they also had the chance to see OneNote live sharing and shared notebooks in action. Additionally, the students were given a math problem that involved inking, drawing and the use of color. After the class was finished, the visitors had the chance to talk with the students and ask them about their experiences.
I also had the chance to talk with a few of the students and I got some great feedback for the OneNote product. Things they liked best were the ease of use, the sharing capabilities the use of colors, and they ability to store everything in one place. I also learned that these were some of the students who had been doing a little bit of LiveSharing personal sessions in the library during lunch (Instant Messaging is banned) It's always great to hear how creative the kids can get with software :-)
In terms of areas for improvement, the two students told me about the problems they experienced when attempting to have a large number of students (e.g. - entire class) join into a LiveSharing session on Vista simultaneously on the wireless network. Sometimes people would get dropped. This is an area that the OneNote team is working on improving for O14.
After the class finished, we all ate lunch and had an interesting discussion between some Forest Ridge faculty and teachers. There were many interesting topics that came up around 1:1 computing environments, lessons learned, challenges. There was also quite a bit of discussion around whether or not technology had enabled better learning for the students over the last decade. That's the million dollar question at the end of the day. There were many great view points and I believe Forest Ridge teachers and faculty can point to some real benefits their students have accrued using technology in the classroom. There were examples discussed of students ability to not only adapting more quickly to technology, but in particular how technology and software has helped accommodate a wider array of learning styles that was previously not possible. There were numerous examples of students engaging the lessons in better ways than they had previously been able to. This aspect reminded me of the similar work and findings of Dr. Ole Lauridsen and his research at the learning styles lab at the University of Aarhus, Denmark. There was also discussions around curriculum being delivered digitially at Forest Ridge, whether via CD, email or in OneNote. During the digital curriculum discussion, envinromental benefits came up, as this is a particular area that students are very concerned about these days. The "green" aspect of digital curriculum has been a net plus for the students. After lunch, we all returned back to the main Redmond campus and I parted ways with the PIL advisory group. All in all, a great lunch and interesting discussion of technology in the classroom.