USA Tour – Day 5 – Microsoft HQ

Today we ventured down to Microsoft in Seattle and had the privilege of a presentation from two of their Education Partners. It was an interesting day as I personally have not spent a lot of time looking at Microsoft products and services over the past three years. I think from the beginning there were inherent issues with some of the space. My impression was not of a highly creative company but one that had lots of straight edges. The programs they have developed centre around the notion of  Microsoft Partners in Learning Project. This project works to connect educators with tools and each other in a system that promotes reflection on teacher practices and pedagogy. Microsoft States Clearly… 

​We believe that education is the single most important investment in the future of individuals, communities, nations, and the world – that it is vital to sustainable social and economic success. It is also a fundamental human right. The reality is that education, globally, faces a crisis; a crisis of resources, of time, and of support. Governments need help. School leaders need help. Educators need help. Students need help.

That’s where Microsoft Partners in Learning can lend a hand. We help educators and school leaders connect, collaborate, create, and share so that students can realize their greatest potential. We have the tools and the technology to help educators do what they do best: teaching kids and growing young minds. 

We believe that technology is simply a tool that when used appropriately in an educational context can help improve teaching and learning. But technology is only one piece of a larger solution supported by peer coaching, professional development for school leaders and educators, and the innovations in teaching and learning being led by educators on the ground, every day.

The content within the presentation was outstanding and it showed me the direction that Microsoft were taking when it comes to teacher education. Unlike Apple, Microsoft are not making hardware, they are in the software business. The unfortunate thing about this is that the hardware vendors selling microsoft products are just crap at it.

The direction/message  showcased today was aimed squarely at the process to evaluate both staff readiness and administrator strategic planning for ICT integration. With a focus defined on the principles of Insight – Community  – Capacity, the presentation lead us through their philosophy and to some great resources they have been developing all over the world. The two links below highlight two of the resources banks they have been developing

IT Learning Research – http://itlresearch.com/

Education and political leaders in countries around the world have recognized the imperative to prepare their youth for the 21st century, a goal that many believe requires the fundamental transformation of educational opportunities together with the integration of technology into teaching and learning. But educational change is complex. It takes place within an ecosystem of influences that range from national policies, programs, and supports to local community contexts and school-specific professional cultures.

Microsoft IT Learning Research program seeks to provide teachers and administrators with research that they have conducted in order to help create policies and procedures that work to use technology as a tool for learning. With a heavy focus on Pedagogy and Culture, Microsoft  released in 2011 ITL Research Findings and Implications into ICT Education. I should note that underlying the following is that in general schools that have implemented Devices of any kind into schools generally fail to plan, change and adapt to the technologies impact. The report can be read to help those that are struggling with an implementation or are yet to start an implementation.

 INNOVATIVE TEACHING AND LEARNING RESEARCH – ITL Research 2011 Findings and Implications

 School Leadership culture | Innovative Teaching Practice

Principle One: Innovative Teaching Practice

Innovative Teaching Practices are about making the student the centre for learning and moving teachers away from ‘educating’ pedagogy to that of ‘learning’ pedagogy. The issue surrounding this is the ability of technology to intrinsically provide a medium to transition teachers to these methods when one to one devices are implemented into schools. The ability for the learning to continue at a pace set by the learner and move the learning into the real world. While ICT is an enabler of this process it is only that.. an enabler. The importance of ensuring that the technology is not the focus is critical. For example…

ICT is simply a tool we use at school to engage students in learning and provide a connection to the outside world. Why do we feel as teachers/administrators and institutions that we need to put special rules and circumstances around it… do we make a student sign a special form in wood work for using a ban saw? Do we make them agree every time to conditions and understandings when experimenting in science…

In todays society and with our teaching integration surely we have moved out of this model…. the more paper we put around it the more credit we give it to being something ‘dangerous’…. Ridicules..

Innovative Teaching Practice Page 13 Microsoft ITL Research Findings

 

The image above is taken directly from the report… A great image that can be explored and highlighted when trying to start conversations regarding how teachers need to teach differently and with new understandings. The report found that generally students did have access to innovative teaching practices but that these opportunities are not common enough to have a profound impact on the school/student/teacher and learning in general. The level of the uses also were varied with many teachers hitting low level uses and little impact in the higher more creative uses.

Typical Uses of ICT by Teachers

 

Principle Two:  School Leadership culture

Innovative teaching practices can only take place when school leadership cultures analyse and priorities any form of teaching that allows teachers to collaborate. It is noted that if a school fosters and promotes the notion of collaboration between its teachers, which then promotes sharing of teaching methods. As part of the research it noted that teachers felt more comfortable learning from each other in collaboration and  as noted “Collaboration relies on a supportive culture, alignment of incentives, and times built into teachers’ schedules during which collaboration can take place”. This should not be a foreign idea but however it is clear that much of what we do in a normal school often gets in the way of what we should be doing more of. Cricially important is that the leadership of the schools need to foster a environment of sharing through methods that are not mandated or transactional in form, but rather encouraged through a concept of  ‘leading from the front’! Failure to do this will actually cause more damage to the culture as people are unwilling to share if threatened with a personal attack.

The key to supporting this comes directly in the form of a strong professional development program with accountable outcomes for teachers. It was clear when this was presented by Microsoft, that traditional methods of training teachers no longer work. This should be no surprise, logic dictates that if our teachers are getting younger and come from a different generation…

Survey data show that innovative teaching practices tend to be reported more frequently by teachers whose recent professional development has been long term  and included more hand-on activities, such as practicing teaching methods and conducting research rather than observing demonstrations and listening to lectures (Figure 6). 

As stated before this data is only supportive of how ICT can help to innovate teaching practices and is not the solution in its entirety. What it does do is somewhat force change better than other tools an administrator might have. The barriers that are often sited by teachers when it comes to the integrated use of ICT are varied and it is important that administrators take note of what is actually enabling or preventing staff from innovating with ICT. I mix no words when I highlight that some staff just do not care to learn new things, any new things, but I do allow that often staff are just not given the opportunities nor do may they have an advocate. The information below highlights the issues that schools have in general when using ICT as an enabler to culture change.

Put very clearly

Where access was lacking, this issue served as a strong deterrent to ICT integration into teaching and learning. Many students and teachers described students’ frequent uses of ICT outside rather than inside the classroom to supplement an ICT shortage at school. But in many places without ICT access in school, ICT integration relies on individual creativity and resources. In some settings, teachers bring their own laptops to school, students bring their own smart phones and digital cameras, and assignments are completed in cyber-cafés outside of school hours.

It is also noted that without school policies being aligned to performance appraisal, on the key enablers that allow cultural change, then no change can happen. Value must be shown both; explicitly in what is occurring; as well as in the personal journeys staff undertake. Administrators looking for culture change need to be creative in rewarding teachers that are willing to move beyond the traditional methods. The form of this reward is not a one size fits all approach either it is about working out the best way that individuals can engage in learning. I am aware of how difficult it is to implement said changes, but when talking to schools in Australia and the United States it is the ability to grow individuals and then move small groups into bigger groups of change that allows innovation to happen. Complimenting this is having the right expertise in the forms of Technical knowledge and Directors to get a vision growing is also important… but again this was not the focus of Microsoft… and nor should it be.

Reflection

My time at the Microsoft HQ showed me two things. Firstly, while it may seem that they are doing nothing I think they are actually coming at the issues associated with ICT from a different angle. I was unaware of a lot of this research and in particular the tools they are providing to analyse the perceptions of staff for individual schools. The ITL Research site has a free survey that administrators can conduct with their staff and their leaders that allows for a deep analysis to be performed that can indicate strengths and weakness. This tool has been research backed and gives a PDF report of the state of the school community. It takes 15minutes and that in itself is great for starting a strategic plan that has numbers behind it and not misconceptions.

The Controversy Section

The ability for schools to access tools that provide real data is very limited. It is great to see a company like Microsoft taking a leading stand on this. Honestly, I truly hope that Windows 8 provides a viable alternative to the dominance of the Apple platform. It has been a great ride with Apple don’t get me wrong, but having only one viable alternative does not provide a set of tools that allow for true flexibility. I also had a chance to play with the new Microsoft Touch Tablets which have a high potential to make significant impacts in classrooms with a significant number of applications.

One disappointing thing I can say about the visit is that I wish that the polish was put into the presentation. The two staff we met were very good at the content but the delivery was poor, meaning that the message was lost… A message that many disregarded to their detriment…

Roll on Windows 8 and its time that administrators survey their whole school community with these tools to get a clearer picture of their school!

Links and Connectors

Twitter – #MicrosoftPIL

Images from the day