This article first appeared in the Spring 2017 issue of The Record.
At St Mungo’s High School in Scotland, the PE teacher uses Microsoft Classroom and OneNote to set homework for his students, who receive push notifications to their mobile phones when they are sent an assignment. In history, teachers place content that pupils need to revise in OneNote, and encourage them to use PowerPoint to collaborate. One pupil who was absent for 40% of the school year achieved a ‘B’ grade in Higher History because he could access course content and interact with the class and teacher within OneNote.
Examples such as this make it clear that the days of rigid curriculums, chalk and blackboards are long gone, as technology opens up new avenues for learning.
Anthony Salcito is vice president of worldwide education at Microsoft. In his opinion, the digital era is fundamentally changing the way people generate ideas and manage knowledge.
“Educators must foster the creativity that humans will need to create value in the modern world,” he says. “The opportunity to learn happens everywhere and always. It is important for school leaders and educators to build from that as they expand learning beyond the classroom. The question that needs to be answered is how can we build on this new reality to drive better learner outcomes and inspire students to achieve more.”
Microsoft’s Education Transformation Framework demonstrates some of the ways in which leaders and educators can take advantage of technology to improve learning.
“Digital transformation is impacting every industry and perhaps none more dramatically than education,” says Salcito. “How we can empower our students to support their future, while supporting educators and school leaders to embrace the opportunity, is something the Education Transformation Framework is designed to support.”
Salcito explains that the framework helps fast track system-wide change by summarising decades of research and insight from Microsoft’s work with its ‘Showcase Schools’ – a global community of schools engaged in digital transformation to improve teaching and learning.
“The Microsoft Education Transformation Framework includes a library of supporting materials for ten components of transformation, each underpinned by an executive summary and an academic whitepaper detailing global evidence,” he says. “This provides a shortcut to best practice, speeding up transformation and avoiding the mistakes of the past. We are also aligning technology architectures, university-driven courses in partnership with online course provider edX, and collaborative workshops to support the journey for leaders.”
According to Salcito, Microsoft’s core focus in this space is improving learner outcomes, and it offers up many technology solutions with students in mind to help support this vision.
“We know when great leaders and educators put students first, and thoughtfully apply technology, amazing things can happen,” Salcito says. “We are working to ensure our core offerings, like Windows 10 and Office 365, are tailored to students across learning styles, learning disabilities and language abilities to ensure all students succeed. We build tools that teachers and students can access easily to drive outcomes.”
Such tools include Microsoft OneNote, which is being used to support collaboration in and out of the classroom, and Minecraft Education Edition, which Salcito says is inspiring students and educators to create, share and think in new ways.
“Another example is Skype, which extends the opportunity to learn far beyond the classroom,” he says. “Microsoft Innovative Educators and Microsoft Showcase Schools are applying these technologies in incredible new ways in their learning environments.”
At January’s global education event, BETT, in London, Salcito said Microsoft is focused on helping “people build essential life skills – computational thinking, critical thinking, collaboration, communication and creativity.” But how does he feel this vision can be turned into a reality?
“Contemporary curriculum and assessment should be student-centred, relevant, authentic, constructive and interdisciplinary,” he explains. “It should empower students to develop innovation, creativity and 21st century skills through deep learning. School leaders and educators should act as visionaries of a better future for their students and communities, working as orchestrators who use evidence and modern technology to positively influence curriculum and assessment. We are designing Office 365 to empower this rich collaboration and get students on a path to employment.”
Ultimately, Salcito believes that educators should encourage and allow early learners to see technology as a tool to solve problems, spark creativity and connect ideas.
“We need to challenge all learners to see their path to the future and understand the resources they can leverage, not only to make their dreams a reality, but to navigate in the current economy,” he concludes. “We need to support educators with easy to leverage projects and technologies that can be used in the classroom with minimal expense and technology expertise. As part of our Microsoft focus on developing next generation hardware, software and services for education, our goal is to support teachers in building inquiry and project-based activities that embed computational and design thinking into existing middle school curriculum.”