This article was first published in the Spring 2015 issue of OnWindows
Around the globe, in classrooms big and small, rural and urban, technology is transforming education. This is tremendous work, on a massive scale – the kind that takes time. It doesn’t happen overnight, but make no mistake: change is happening. At Microsoft, it’s our mission to make transformative change in education not only possible, but real. So we were proud to play a leading role in the annual British Education Technology & Training (Bett) Show this past January.
I was honoured to present a keynote in the main Bett Arena, discussing how technology is actively transforming education. We also had some exciting announcements, including a new Moodle with Office 365 integration, which provides open-source software solutions that bring out the best of Office 365 for teachers and students.
And this year we had some notable firsts, including working with Bett organisers to create a formal Learn Live Theatre, which gave us the chance to show how tools such as Surface, Office Mix, Sway and OneNote help educators better prepare students for the world of work.
Perhaps the most important – and rewarding – part of being at Bett is the direct interaction with educators. I particularly enjoyed listening to teachers speak about the innovative ways they’ve transformed learning in their own classrooms. But whether I was speaking with teachers, school administrators or our partners, one message was clear: working together continues to be the most important task ahead. How do we best do this? Here are the three main themes that pervaded the week:
Personalised learning is paramount
Throughout Bett, educators and school leaders stressed the importance of personalised learning in improving active engagement within the classroom. The old ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach is no longer a viable option in today’s classrooms, yet so many classrooms’ physical setups simply aren’t conducive to making a personalised approach happen.
Part of the challenge is giving teachers the ability to monitor student progress individually, provide personalised feedback and then adapt learning programmes as needed. Using traditional tools, this can add a considerable burden to teachers’ workloads.
Here’s where technology can play a starring role. In fact, one of the demos I gave was the OneNote Class Notebook Creator app, designed to help educators quickly set up, monitor and update personal workbooks for each student in their class. As personalised learning becomes increasingly important, these tools will become the secret weapons of educators around the world.
Teachers want and need better training
Teachers have always been under pressure to improve learning outcomes, and often technology is introduced into a classroom as a silver-bullet solution. But without the right training, these investments can be little more than expensive projects that don’t deliver the returns required to drive change. We believe that educators must be placed at the heart of any technology programme. Rather than looking to the latest industry trends, schools should first review the challenges they face and then find the right tools for their particular needs.
From there, solutions can be implemented – all while working in tandem with the teachers to ensure they have quality training and a seat at the table. Empowering educators throughout this process is the only way to truly transform classrooms with technology.
The jobs of the future are not the jobs of today
Employer expectations are undoubtedly changing: they want problem-solvers, team-players and collaborative thinkers. Pew Research found a significant skills gap in education, showing how the education system of today is not adequately preparing students for the jobs of the future. As the job market continues to tighten in many countries, having the right skills translates to finding the best jobs.
This was top of mind for everyone at Bett, especially the need to develop relevant skills from a young age. We’ve already seen some positive changes with the addition of coding in many curriculums over recent years, and programs that help graduates gain the right skillset before they enter the ‘real world.’ However, there are still many other skills needed for tomorrow’s workplace, and acquiring these skills can challenge the classroom status quo.
Moreover, developing problem-solving and collaboration skills isn’t easy in traditional classroom setups. By empowering educators to allow their students to explore beyond the four walls of the classroom – an approach that more closely mirrors the world of work – students can get a leg-up on developing the skills they will need to be successful employees of tomorrow.
Microsoft’s legacy of focusing on teachers, students and school leaders is without equal, and we create products for the world of education with their needs in mind. We know that technology can help improve teaching and learning – but only when used as one piece of a larger solution. And while change on this scale is certainly not fast or easy, we’ve only just begun. With the right plans and tools in place, classrooms can transform, and students can be fully engaged in learning. Only then will the students of today be prepared to meet the changing demands of the 21st century, and become the leaders of tomorrow.
Anthony Salcito is vice president of Worldwide Education at Microsoft
Share this story