Transformation comes before technology at schools
The education dialogue in today’s world is not about how much schools are spending on technology but, in many ways, about how they are thinking to drive change, according to the technology leaders who spoke at the recent Bett Asia Leadership Summit in Singapore.
At a round table with Asian media, Anthony Salcito, Microsoft’s vice president for education worldwide, said this was because technology had become ubiquitous, easier to manage and cheaper to acquire.
“In a world where information is available at your fingertips,” he said, “how has focus on what we teach and test not changed? In a world where we can learn outside the classroom from other resources, how come that hasn’t changed what we fundamentally do inside the classroom? Where we have access to data to drive effective and personal learning environments, how come we haven’t done that?”
There was a need to accelerate the pace of change and to drive the real transformation needed in our classrooms for all learners, Salcito said. The outcome of the transformation should be students maximizing their individual talents to achieve goodness for our communities and our countries.
He said the usual practice of focusing on technology and trying to use it to change the schools had not worked. “What we’ve got to do is plant the seed for change inside the schools and let that change pull technology in, as opposed to what has happened where technology has been put into a school and the school has had to work around it.”
The reality of teacher resistance to technology had very little to do with teachers not understanding how to use technology, he said. “What they are resistant to is the fundamental role shift that technology creates.”
Where before the teacher was the fountain of information and the students came along on the journey, today students are learning without teachers.
Schools would have to apply new thinking, new energy and new leadership to make things happen for their students, he said.
Microsoft has been working for many years to meet this challenge through outreach with teachers programs and school leader programs, as well as through efforts like Partners in Learning, according to Salcito.
He said Microsoft’s new products and innovations had been fueled by feedback from teachers and school leaders about what had been happening with technology in their classrooms.
Salcito cited as an example Office Mix, an app that was created as an add-in for the popular PowerPoint program after Microsoft looked at how teachers were managing lectures and how they were handling flipped classroom environments where they needed to package lessons for students to learn outside of the school.
“We built a product that is easy for teachers to use,” said Salcito. Besides allowing educators to create lectures with voice, video, inking, screen recording and interactive surprises like quizzes and polls, Office Mix provides access to assessments and analytics so teachers can see how the students are doing and what works have been completed.
He also talked about OneNote Class Notebook Creator, a free tool from Microsoft that makes it easy for a teacher to create a shared notebook for the entire class, allowing personal space for each student, a collaborative space for lessons and activities and a library for handouts and assignment. Content can be shared and feedback given 24/7 in one place.
This educational app “empowers students to take naturally visual notes with ease—place images, text, printouts, tables, ink, screen shots and files in a free-form canvas.” The teacher is able to observe the full learning process—from note-taking to problem-solving to submission—and monitor a student’s strengths and struggles.
For a small investment into Microsoft technology, he said, a school could give its entire population of students and teachers access to these tools for no additional cost because the aforementioned products for learning sit on a platform called Office 365, a productivity suite that includes Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote.
“Because of regions that have given us feedback on the dynamics of cloud technology and ease of use of power cloud technology but without the need for bandwidth,” he said, “we have increasingly worked to make the full Office product available
offline for teachers and students more easily.”
Schools in the Asia-Pacific region that have acquired a full Microsoft license for their operations have been eligible to offer, since last month, Office 365 Pro Plus download to their students, faculty and staff for no additional cost. Other perks include 1 terabyte of storage on OneDrive for Business and Office Online and full Office access on up to five devices.
“We think that this is going to open up the kind of dynamics that many markets with bandwidth concerns will have,” Salcito said. “The program also offers the richness of tools that students need to create their ideas and express their potential.”
Salcito said that for a long time now, technology had been about acquiring things—white boards, WiFi, Internet access. “In many countries the ‘what’ has not really been answered. What is the point? What are we trying to do?”
“Technology has the power to economically expand the impact of education and accelerate the growth potential of every student, educator and school,” said Beth Watson, education director, public sector, Microsoft Asia Pacific. “This becomes even more critical to the future growth in [Asia Pacific], given the young demographic profile of many countries in the region.”
Salcito said Microsoft was very focused on implementation in schools so they had been doing lots of projects and pilots.
He said he had been inspired by the leadership of Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer at Microsoft that was very focused on education. In terms of this passionate concern about education at Microsoft, he surmised that there would be a lot of investment and focus on education under new CEO Satya Nadella who “not only cares about the work that we do in education but the impact that education has on the rest of the world and the need for … our young people to drive the future of the world.”
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