“Empowering students (and teachers) to think deeply and question what they are seeing enough to formulate their own understanding and opinions is essential to developing intellectual curiosity. And I think that kind of curiosity is essential to be a valuable contributor to society.” – Roy Zimmerman, USA
As a reader of Daily Edventures, you are no doubt well aware about the latest trends in education technology. Today, we are fortunate to speak with Roy Zimmerman, who works at the very forefront of tomorrow’s education technology as part of Microsoft Research. And he’s seen some pretty cool things.
“I’m really excited about individualized instruction that is being made possible through big data sets and advances in machine learning,” says Zimmerman. “Being able to provide students with customized math problems, for example, that reflect individual skill levels and are accompanied by teaching tips to help students grasp concepts is pretty cool. Really exciting things can happen when those kind of tools are layered with some social elements to allow for collaborative learning across borders and boundaries.”
Zimmerman, who also taught high school in Papua New Guinea as a Peace Corps volunteer, is focused on researching and then making “tools that are relevant, practical, easy to use, and have real value quickly.”
I sat down with Zimmerman to talk about some of the latest projects he has been involved in, how his team prioritizes its research, and what he’s finding inspiring now. Enjoy!
What drew you to the field of education? Why is it important to you?
I always liked working with kids. I was one of those career summer camp counselors. I also thought I could be better than most of the teachers I had throughout school. That was one of the most wrong-headed thoughts I ever had.
Can you tell us about a favorite teacher, or someone who made a difference in your education?
My mom was the most influential teacher in my life, not just for the obvious reasons. She was an elementary school Spanish teacher for 34 years, including five years as my Spanish teacher. She was also the person who suggested I go into teaching sophomore year of college, when I had to decide what to do with myself. It was some of the best advice I ever got.
Please describe how your professional achievements have advanced innovation in education. What has changed as a result of your work?
One of my proudest accomplishments was helping to get the high school I was teaching at in Papua New Guinea as a Peace Corps volunteer their first Internet access. It was in 1996 and there was not much on the web yet, but there was enough for the school, which was in a very rural and isolated part of the country, to get access to tools and information that really helped the staff be better teachers.
Is there a 21st century skill (critical thinking and problem solving, communication, collaboration, or creativity and innovation) that you are most passionate about? Why?
In my opinion, I think critical thinking skills are the toughest and most important of all the 21st century skills. Empowering students (and teachers) to think deeply and question what they are seeing enough to formulate their own understanding and opinions is essential to developing intellectual curiosity. And I think that kind of curiosity is essential to be a valuable contributor to society.
If you could give one educational tool to every child in the world, what would it be? Why?
An e-reader with unlimited data access. It’s like having the world’s library in your pocket. Developing a love for reading at an early age is so important for future success. An e-reader would allow each child to create their own personal library and fill it with whatever favorite books they have over a lifetime of reading. What could be better than that for budding critical thinkers?
About Roy Zimmerman
- Birthplace: Washington, D.C.
- Current residence: Seattle, Washington
- Education: B.A. from Emory University, M.Ed. and Ph.D. from UCLA
- Website I check every day: NYTimes.com
- Person who inspires me most: My wife.
- Favorite childhood memory: High school study abroad in Spain.
- Next travel destination (work or pleasure): Whistler, skiing with friends and family.
- When was the last time you laughed? Why? One of my twin boys told me a funny joke.
- Favorite book: I’m really enjoying The Art of Fielding, which I’m reading now.
- Favorite music: I tend to gravitate backwards for music toward the 80s and 90s, Bruce Springsteen and Beck, but I recently saw Juan De Marcos and the Afro-Cuban All Stars at a jazz club here in Seattle and they were fantastic.
- What is the best advice you have ever received? Learn how to say no. Though I haven’t quite mastered it yet.
- Your favorite quote or motto: Life is about the journey, not the destination.