Microsoft's 6th Worldwide Innovative Education Forum validated by new research

Microsoft education boss Anthony SalcitoMicrosoft education boss Anthony Salcito: 'think differently'School and country leaders should commit to the next wave of learning with technology, said Microsoft boss Anthony Salcito when he opened the sixth, and biggest, annual Worldwide Innovative Education Forum in Cape Town, South Africa. He revealed that new research shows that innovative teaching is successful in equipping learners with 21st century skills.

And the mood of the 500 teachers from more than 70 countries was briefly but powerfully epitomised by advice to teachers worldwide from award-winning Lesotho teacher Moliehi Sekese from the forum stage:  "Use a stumbling block as a stepping stone to success."

Anthony Salcito, who is the US software giant’s vice president of education for its worldwide public sector division, welcomed teachers representing 125 projects selected from 200,000 participants globally, “the best of the best”, and encouraged them use the event to “meet others – open your minds and hearts to that collaboration”. But he warned that the first phase of ICT and learning in schools had not brought about the kinds of changes seen in other sectors.

'We have got to think deeper, to think differently... ICT is critical'

“ICT is used in many places around the world and in many countries, ICT has been used for 10-20 years with no real difference in terms of education test scores or graduation rates,” he said. “We have got to think deeper, to think differently about how technology can be used to drive real change. It links to the leadership question... ICT is critical.

“The change is happening often in spite of the leadership decisions that were put in place. Many times technology comes into schools first, and teachers are left to figure it out. And because many of the people in this room represent true leaders who work tirelessly to make things possible, you are working through the issues and the barriers. One of the things we try to do with Partners for Learning and our commitment to education, is to support you through those challenges, so you can effect faster and easier change but more sustained impact because we can bring leaders together with a holistic change agenda.”

Overall, the use of ICT in learning was still rather basic, he said. “When we see quality ICT integration it goes a step beyond. The way we use collaboration, the way in which we connect content to dynamic and personal learning opportunities. The way we use data to drive the personal learning experience. And that's very different to the way we display the data we collect on student achievement, the grades, the attendance etc. The way in which teachers are using data to drive specific and individualised learning outcomes, is a tremendously powerful concept.”

'Technology must be combined with fundamental shifts in pedagogical approaches...'

Maria LangworthyResearch director Maria LangworthyThe new research suggests that, as much as has been invested in technology and education, we are just now at the end of the first stage of the process of true integration of technology for learning, says Maria Langworthy, who is programme director of innovative teaching and learning research for Microsoft Partners in Learning Research. Called "Innovative Teaching and Learning Research" (and downloadable from ITL Research), the report is sponsored by Microsoft Partners in Learning, and the pilot year of it took place in Indonesia, Russia, Finland and Senegal. In the coming two years of the project, the UK will be joining the research sponsored by Specialist Schools and Academies Trust and the London Knowledge Lab. Preliminary data from the pilot year suggest that in the countries studied so far:

  • The overwhelming majority of technology use in teaching and learning is very basic level use, which replicates traditional pedagogies using technology. Higher level uses of technology that lead to deeper student engagement in learning are used much less frequently.
  • Technology access within classrooms associates much more strongly with technology integration into teaching and learning than access to technology in computer labs or other shared spaces in schools, but technology is much more frequently found at the school level.
  • Professional development courses that emphasise the integration of ICT into instruction and student centered pedagogy appear to increase the use of ICT for learning by educators. Yet educators report that most professional development focuses on basic ICT skills only.

“Education leaders around the world are frustrated by the inconsistent evidence of the impact of technology investments on student learning," says Maria Langworthy. "What we see in this research is that it takes much more than the mere presence of technology in schools to have an impact on learning. Technology must be combined with fundamental shifts in pedagogical approaches, higher level uses of technology that connect with learning goals, and an education system context that measures and rewards innovative teaching practices.”

'People can transcend their circumstances. Welcome to Cape Town'

Microsoft South Africa managing director Mteto Nyati had quickly established the African flavour of the event. He recalled an African proverb of the gazelle, waking every morning in the knowledge that it would have to out-run a lion to stay alive, and the lion that woke every morning knowing that if it couldn’t out-run a gazelle it would die of starvation. “When you are in Africa it does not matter whether you are a lion or a gazelle – when the sun comes up you had better start running,” he quipped.

South Africa, like other countries, was experiencing severe economic conditions, he said, and this made education even more important in the drive to up-skill the workforce and be more competitive. South Africa had discovered this to its cost at the fall of apartheid when economic sanctions were dropped and everyone looked forward to entering a global commercial market. Only to find that South Africa consumers often favoured the cheaper products from overseas and local producers suffered.

Mteto NyaniHe also shared his personal commitment to education. “I come from the wrong side of the line,” he said. “I come from a relatively poor family but my parents focused on providing education for us.” It was a commitment that opened an international stage for him, even while at school. ”Education is one of those things that can make a significant difference, he concluded. People can transcend their circumstances. Welcome to Cape Town.”

His commitment to learning was evidently shared by the teachers attending, many of whom had faced extremely daunting journeys, like the South Americans who had to travel to the event via Europe. And by the teachers who had to overcome huge local challenges of meagre resources, like Indian teacher Krishna Sharma, from Vidisha Government School. She teaches children who are “first generation learners”, a term for children from families who have never been educated. From farming families, these children would normally go straight to work, so it’s difficult to get them into school, and then to keep them there.

Krishna’s school has no computers and only an intermittent power supply, but that didn’t stop her getting her own laptop and learning materials to use with her children. Now her children come to school – and they stay to learn.

With its sheer size and a highly active community which now has its own feedback loop for research, Microsoft’s Worldwide Innovative Education Forum is now the most effective and powerful international organisation of innovative teachers that is commercially-sponsored. And the investment continues. Cape Town saw the launch of a major global environmental project for schools, Shout, which is a partnership between Microsoft, the Smithsonian Institution and TakingITGlobal that is backed by a £1 million investment.

One target that's nearly achieved, might have been disbelieved at the beginning of Partners in Learning. Anthony Salcito’s parting remark to teachers was: “By 2013 we expect to influence 230 million educators and students via Partners in Learning and continue to extend our journey to celebrate innovation… and to demonstrate to education leaders and country leaders the potential for change, the need for change and the need to embrace all of you as heroes for the future.”

But maybe the last word should go to Reid Falconer, a Grade 10 student at Bishops College, South Africa, who was asked for his message to teachers. "Let our students listen less and act more," he replied.

More Information

Microsoft Partners in Learning
Anthony Salcito blog
"Innovative Teaching and Learning Research" is downloadable from ITL Research