Empowering educators with budget-friendly tools

Empowering educators with budget-friendly tools

Larry Nelson from Microsoft Asia tells us about the new technology that connects classrooms

Caspar Herzberg |

This article was originally published in the Autumn 2018 issue of The Record.

Can you give us an idea of the key technology issues that education authorities are facing today?
Approaches to learning are fundamentally changing, largely due to advancements of technology and the accompanying increase in access to information, as well as the proliferation of emerging technologies. The ways in which we collaborate, share ideas, connect with each other, and leverage content have resulted in a new learning context and paradigm for schools, educators and students.

In addition, the changing dynamics of the increasingly global and service-based workplace has created demand for new skills to meet evolving requirements. More than 85% of future jobs do not exist today. The implications for education institutions are huge – they need to address the impending economic transformation with the right curriculum, and to impart future-ready skills both in and outside of classrooms. This will help them to cultivate new careers for the workforce and improve operational efficiencies.

If schools approach digital transformation holistically, recognising a commitment to change at an organisational level, they can evolve to ensure students are prepared not just to survive in this new workforce but to thrive as creators and innovators. Many leaders in education are already creating environments that will help change learning paradigms, which includes shifting expectations for students and educators.

School leaders and educators can prepare for the digital age by upskilling themselves. To support them in this journey, we have co-developed several courses with leading universities globally, including the University of Michigan, MIT and University of Queensland. To date, more than 40,000 educators have participated in this programme.

What technological innovations do you think have the most to offer the education sector over the next decade?
Like all organisations, education institutions have lengthy to-do lists, as well as limited staff and budgets. New technologies that address transformation requirements can significantly improve how effectively institutions are run. Our own research, ‘The Class of 2030’, shows that technology can help teachers repurpose up to 30% of current time spent.

Hence it is no surprise that education leaders in the Asia Pacific region are investing in technology for their transformation initiatives. The research, ‘Unlocking the Economic Impact of Digital Transformation in Asia’, conducted by Microsoft in partnership with IDC Asia/Pacific, found that the top core technologies education institutions are investing in today include cloud, mobility and big data.

A key trend in education is to digitise learning experiences. In Japan, the Faculty of Engineering at Hokkaido University is using cloud-enabled e-learning to help students keep up with their coursework, wherever they are.

We see potential in adopting a data-first mindset in the drive to optimise operations and learning outcomes. Institutions need to have structured data collection to track information about students and educators, as well as improve collaboration and optimise education experiences – especially in delivering personalised learning. Data can be used to develop intelligent campuses of the future, whereby students and faculty can benefit from a more efficient, better connected and more secure campus.

We are seeing increased interest in emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence and internet of things (IoT). These emerging technologies are being successfully applied in creating connected experiences across the modern campus, as well as unlocking capacity for limitless research.

China’s Tsinghua University has collaborated with Microsoft on a massive project to enable academic researchers to find other publications related to their own research. By combining once-separate databases of millions of scientific papers, AI-powered machine readers can help professors and students quickly locate research to strengthen or challenge their own scholarship.

At the Hamburg-Eppendorf university hospital, researchers are using machine learning and natural language processing to help the world’s leading oncologists figure out the most effective, individualised cancer treatment for their patients. Another group of researchers is pairing machine learning with computer vision to provide radiologists with a more detailed understanding of how patient treatment is progressing. Using DNA analysis, which can generate 10 billion data sets that need to be handled quickly, reliably and safely, researchers are turning to Microsoft Azure to help enhance, simplify and accelerate the process for cancer research.

Another area where we see potential is the introduction of mixed reality, which is already being deployed in corporate training scenarios. With Japan Airlines, supplemental training for engine mechanics and flight crew trainees is delivered through the use of Microsoft HoloLens, Microsoft’s first self-contained, holographic computer, which allows users to engage with digital content and interact with holograms. As more organisations embrace mixed reality, schools will need to train future-ready individuals to design, create and work alongside these innovative technologies.

Exposing students to 3D in lessons can improve motivation, attention span and engagement, increasing overall academic performance. It also helps students immerse themselves in learning content and understand new concepts quicker. For example, educators can use our HoloTour app to offer students a hyper-real ‘tour’ of ancient relics.

How is Microsoft responding to the growth in demand for distance learning facilities and the ‘connected classroom’?
According to our research with IDC Asia/Pacific, educational institutions seeking to improve curriculum quality and relevance face rapidly changing technology consumption habits, as well as disruptive competitors providing new education models.

In the last few years, institutions have embraced education transformation through digitisation of curriculum, processes and student lifecycle management. There is increased focus on creating connected classrooms due to the shifts in technology consumption impacting how students, staff and partners collaborate.

Connected classrooms enable distance learning, as the definition of a ‘student’ continues to broaden and requirements for learning models evolve – especially with more students across all ages and professions. This requires education leaders to develop and design course content that provides continuous learning, regardless of location or mode of delivery. With connected classrooms enabled by cloud and data services, students can experience ‘anytime, anywhere’ learning. This also allows institutions to scale student recruitment.

In the connected classroom, it is possible to use data to track and measure student performance and retention, and to apply predictive analysis to enable early intervention or amend teaching methods for optimal results. Institutions are also building connected infrastructure to create data-sharing platforms to better manage facilities.

Republic Polytechnic in Singapore adopted IoT technology to get a deeper understanding of students’ social and study habits, and uses the information to help improve academic performance. The polytechnic also introduced a Smart Technology Exploration Lab to test-bed IoT projects that will contribute to Singapore’s Smart Nation initiative.

Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) cut energy usage by 20% with the use of a cloud machine learning solution by Microsoft. These capabilities enabled CMU to gain advanced analytics for its building management requirements within the United States as well as its other facilities worldwide. By rolling out a connected solution supported by Azure Machine Learning, its personnel are able to act in real time or even proactively to achieve greater operational efficiencies.

We’ve created a complete education package to meet the needs of schools, educators and students, providing tools that empower diverse classrooms, while addressing the increased demands on an institution’s infrastructure.

In addition, we have the Microsoft Education Transformation Framework, which works with institutions at every step of their journey, empowering leaders and IT teams to focus on driving campus transformation that enables students to achieve their very best.

With our ecosystem of partners, we are committed to collaborating with education institutions to bring connected campus experiences to life. Through in-depth conversations and thorough assessments, we help institutions identify their needs and challenges, and evaluate areas in which technology can help. This includes conducting reviews of existing security and privacy strategies, as well as providing support in creating more connected experiences.

In addition, our collaboration with edX and Open edX offers distance learners and institutions the ability to teach core development skills, especially addressing the recently increased demand for STEM-related skills and careers. These can be done virtually, or as a supplemental course to the existing curriculum, creating a more complete learning pathway for students.



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