There really is no place like home for blogging. For the past week, at the Microsoft Partners in Learning Global Summit in Washington, I’ve been blogging from a hotel room or hotel lobby. It just feels more comfortable to be back in my chair, dog at my feet, and a decent cup of coffee. At times, I think I’m the only person in the world who doesn’t like Starbucks coffee and there was little other choice the past week,
I had been putting off talking about the keynote messages until I got a chance to really think about the importance of what I’d heard. Instead, I had commented on the exhibits that I had seen. It was really easy to be inspired to comment on those as they happen. For the keynote addresses and the individual meetings with Microsoft leaders, I took copious notes and recorded things for future reference on my Livescribe pen.
Here are some of my takeaways from the event…
* Live@EDU – I had a chat with people who use Macintosh computers and have never delved into the world of Windows. They were not even aware that this free offering, including SkyDrive was even available. We created accounts for them in our work sessions in the lobby and they were quite impressed.
* Microsoft Leaders are very friendly and willing to talk about anything. Over the course of the event, I had a chance to interview Lauren Woodman, Anthony Salcito, and Sigfried Behrens. We touched on a number of things including the Partners in Learning program, Microsoft Certification, other operating systems, Social Good, partnerships in the industry, and more. There is no question that the Partners in Learning is a Microsoft initiative and that there were resources to be applied, but the real power of the program comes from honouring the efforts of high quality educators. I was quite impressed with their passions and commitment to education. Their thoughts really helped me frame just what I was experiencing.
* Teach.gov – At the opening keynote, it was announced that the US Department of Education would be turning this domain over to Microsoft for the company to use it as a vehicle to inspire young people to consider teaching as a profession. Predictably, I noticed comments from the Twitter community after the announcement complaining about this move. I wondered out loud if this concern would have been voiced if it had been given to Apple instead. I really liked the airtime that “American Teacher” got in the viewing at the forum and now on the website.
* The kids are all right. All of the exhibits showed some terrific things that are happening in classrooms world-wide. Those who speak poorly of teachers needed to drop in and see what was happening. If this didn’t restore your faith in doing things right, I don’t know what would. I didn’t hear any presenter talk about doing things to get ready for the test but I did hear a great deal about constructing new content, deep research, and critical thinking. I’ll take those skills anyday. This press release identifies the winning entries.
* Computer Science seemed to be the black sheep of the family. There were a couple of examples of programming like one project that connected Sharepoint to Moodle and a few examples of using Kinect but I didn’t see anything that I would consider hardcore computer programming. Perhaps I need to challenge my own definition of what Computer Science is.
* Speaking of this, I need to buy myself a Kinect. There were some pretty interesting uses of this device as a sensor for input on display. This is definitely something worth taking the time to learn how to program.
* Great messages … I missed the presentations on the Monday. I do understand that Will Richardson was there and certainly Anthony Salcito would have affirmed many of the concepts that Will would have touched upon. If there was any question that students, teaching, society are different, this was addressed in presentation and just by walking about and seeing what was possible. For the many that were here, there were many more that weren’t. We need to celebrate those as well. We also need to find some way to address the inequities that also exist so that all students have these opportunities.
* Addressing the Digital Divide – In his opening keynote, Salcito announced a partnership that will provide affordable computers and affordable connectivity plans for those that need assistance getting connected. I couldn’t help but think that this was such a significant announcement. It will address the issues in the United States but thinking like this is needed globally.
* Big History. This was another “I had no idea moment”. Dr. David Christian’s keynote on the second day absolutely blew me away. My recollection of history involved reading, writing and researching, and the odd debate on very closely defined topics. The approach of “An Introduction to Everything” is so motivating. And, to make it freely available online? Count me in when it becomes available.
* The power of connections was so apparent to me as a result of the event. Upon further reflection, I can’t believe that I was talking to a gentleman about the educational system in Nigeria one moment and then exchanging networking ideas with a person from Macedonia the next. It was wonderful to see that the idea from Toronto TakingITGlobal is now a substantial partner. It was absolutely wonderful to talk to educators (albeit some through an interpreter) to hear their big ideas and their directions.
* It was so rewarding to see so many projects around and teachers talking about Social Good. While some of the projects were whiz-bang in their orientation, so many others were based upon identifying a problem within the community. Students then use technology to research and create projects so that they get a deeper understanding and hopefully the inspiration to do something about it.
Yes, there were so many things to take away from this event. Without a doubt, there was a huge Microsoft presence in the projects but if you looked carefully, it wasn’t a prerequisite. It was about good ideas, good teaching, and a willingness to embrace the future of learning. Part of any problem in the success of this lies in letting people know about it! If it wasn’t for my friend Alfred Thompson, I would not have any idea.
I hope that my blog readers are interested enough to dig in to the Partners in Learning website. While we witnessed some spectacular projects here, I know that there are thousands more just waiting to be discovered. Next year’s event is in Greece so that might well be the inspiration needed to look into this!