Empowering ahead

Microsoft joins push for 21st century education

Jeff Healey: 'We've got to innovate to survive.' Microsoft NZ's Jeff Healey strongly believes edcation and innovation should go hand in hand. Photo / Supplied
Jeff Healey: 'We've got to innovate to survive.' Microsoft NZ's Jeff Healey strongly believes edcation and innovation should go hand in hand. Photo / Supplied

Healey, the public sector director in Microsoft NZ's Enterprise and Partner group, has been at the company only a matter of months. But he relishes the intellectual challenge of working with the public sector on issues of national importance. He says the scale of the competition elsewhere would dwarf New Zealand if we did not make changes ("we've got to innovate to survive").

Access to top quality education is essential if we don't want a future where "we're just shipping off raw materials at the bottom end of the world's value chain".

Microsoft has been strongly engaged with the parliamentary push to examine 21st Century Learning. It made several in-depth submissions to the select committee inquiry formerly chaired by Cabinet Minister Nikki Kaye.

The inquiry examined a range of issues including the equity of access to technology in NZ schools and the extent of this country's digital divide. Microsoft's senior vice-president and Worldwide Education leader, Anthony Salcito, also presented to the select committee.

Salcito created the Microsoft Technology Friends Network, which links IT professionals and developers to schools and nonprofits to donate their technical expertise, to aid with technology support.

Of particular interest was the Innovative Teaching and Learning Research programme; a Microsoft-initiated research project to contribute information and policy insights on where and how effective teaching is taking place in seven countries: Australia, England, Finland, Indonesia, Mexico, Russia, and Senegal. Among the key findings: Innovative teaching supports students' development of the skills that will help them thrive in future life and work. But students' opportunities to develop these skills are typically scarce and uneven, both within and across the sample of schools in the study.

Though ICT use in teaching is becoming more common, ICT use by students is still an exception in many of these schools. Innovative teaching practices are more likely to flourish in a supportive environment where teacher collaboration focuses on peer support, there is active and direct engagement of teachers, particularly in practicing and researching new teaching methods and a school culture that offers a common vision of innovation, as well as consistent support that encourages new types of teaching.

Microsoft founder Bill Gates high-lighted the importance of "mentor teachers" in his 2013 annual letter,

Why Measurement Matters. His own foundation funded a project, Measures of Effective Teaching (Met) that worked with 3000 classroom teachers to better understand how to build an evaluation and feedback system to help teachers improve. The report concluded that there were observable, repeatable, and verifiable ways of measuring teacher effectiveness. Met highlighted several measures that schools should use to assess teacher performance, including student surveys and reports from trained evaluators who observe teachers at work.

The use of mentor and master teachers has gained acceptability among teachers in Colorado's Eagle County where the district threw out its traditional seniority-based evaluation system and moved to a performance-based one.

Back in New Zealand, says Healey, interest is evolving in how technology can empower students to learn at their own pace. "Strengths-based learning" is an important development.

Microsoft's own approach to innovation is compelling (see formula).

Healey is particularly proud of an application that Microsoft has built for Plunket which enables visiting nurses to manage their caseload from on the road.

In the public sphere there is a strong focus on collaboration and information sharing.

Microsoft's innovation formula

1) Balance invention, re-imagining and evolution: In some instances, we seek to invent entirely new product categories - such as online console gaming. In the process, we sometimes pioneer entirely new businesses and markets, not only for Microsoft but for the entire industry.

2) Hire the world's brightest minds: Great ideas occur when great minds meet. At Microsoft, we pride ourselves on hiring and retaining brilliant people from a diverse, global talent pool and empowering them to work together with the utmost collaborative freedom.

3) Constantly evolve our products: Refine and hone them while adding new capabilities that are themselves new inventions - a great example is Microsoft Office, where customers have seen the benefit of new inventions such as the Ribbon interface and OneNote.

4) Commit to openness and partnerships: No single company can have all the answers. That's why we work closely with more than 640,000 partner organisations and collaborate with researchers, academics and institutions in every region across the globe.

5) Take a long-term approach: With more than 850 scientists and researchers working in labs around the world, Microsoft Research focuses on advancing state-of-the-art computing through a combination of basic and applied research.

6) Focus on breadth and scale: Our product teams are dedicated to delivering a breadth of products that offer incredible experiences while also helping to provide the utmost levels of reliability, security and support to hundreds of millions of customers in over 240 countries.

7) Embracing disruptions: Our technology and business incubation groups - including FUSE Labs and the Startup Business Group - were created to take risks to "fail fast, learn faster". These enable Microsoft to rapidly react to disruptive trends and developments so we can bring new experiences to market.

8) Design matters: Across our product groups, there is a renewed emphasis on design. The Modern UI design, seen in Windows 8, Windows Phone 8, Xbox and other products, brings a fresh, clean new look to our products with a focus on content that is distinctly Microsoft.

- NZ Herald

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