Regular readers will never classify me as a Microsoft shill. One of my major goals in this blog is to look at highly effective cost-saving tools for educators, whether they are open source or free/low-cost web-based resources. However, I absolutely have to give Microsoft credit in terms of the National Educational Technology Plan.
While any number of companies and vendors provide solutions very appropriate to education, Mary Cullinane (Microsoft’s Director of Innovation for Education) very aptly noted that the plan is deep enough that it often leaves schools asking, "So what do you want me to do?" Her Innovation in Education group has put a lot of time into answering that question. Microsoft has actually developed plans around the areas identified in the national tech plan and has created a framework for schools and districts to move towards implementation of the plan. The framework could obviously work quite well with Microsoft products, but much of it is generalizable to other technological solutions and platforms.
The key areas of the framework fall into what Dr. Cullinane called "buckets," each of which was meant to align with the National Ed Tech Plan (also organized in related, but more learning-centered rather than technological buckets). I'll outline Microsoft's buckets and include some key ideas from my discussion with Dr. Cullinane who described the approach as "translating thinking [from the tech plan] into actionable items].
A strong identity management system
While my first thought when she mentioned this phrase was "Active Directory," the idea of identity management goes beyond a groups AD structure and policies. The question to ask is, "Do teachers and students have access to the information and resources they need that are appropriate to their roles and what they are learning?"
The plan suggests that all students need to have access to an "Internet-ready device" but once students are online, an identity management system ensures they can leverage that connectivity and reach their own materials and the correct learning environment.
The second area that Microsoft identified was "access." How easy is it for people to access information? How 24/7 is it? Can students access the information they need outside the school day? Microsoft is especially looking at how they can leverage the cloud (think Live@Edu) to improve access.
Finally, Microsoft is looking at the specific tools that schools can use to make the plan a reality. Dr. Cullinane was quick to point out that they weren't just creating a list of Microsoft applications. Rather, the group asked how to "create holistic functionality" and took a systems approach to planning. The Microsoft Learning Suite was one example of a toolkit, but she also mentioned Ribbon Hero as an exemplar of innovative approaches to education through technology.
The bottom line, according to Dr. Cullinane, was that we "need to start thinking about how to embed relevant technology into student learning experiences." We also need to leverage all of the data we collect on students to not just improve and examine test scores, but actually look at the predictive power of data (what SAS would call business intelligence). For example, Microsoft is developing a dropout prevention algorithm to identify students who are at risk based on a variety of data points. IBM has been doing the same thing with the data warehouses they are building for school systems.
As I have some contact with schools systems that are embracing both the plan and Microsoft's framework over the next few days, I'll post some more thoughts. Suffice to say, though, Microsoft is upping the ante on corporate involvement in education.