Microsoft in Education Global Forum 2014 – Reflection from an Expert Educator

I was recently lucky enough to be invited to attend the Microsoft in Education Global Forum held in Barcelona. This annual event aims to recognize and celebrate the achievements of educators who are preparing students for life in the 21st century. Each year, Microsoft brings together participants from the Microsoft Innovative Educators Program and the Microsoft Innovative Schools Program for an energetic, collaborative conference. This high profile event is attended by more than 1000 of the world’s most innovative educators, school leaders, and education leaders from 75 countries, along with government officials. 

This isn’t a day-by-day account of the Global Forum, for that you can check out the Microsoft in Education’s twitter or facebook page. What this is, however, is a reflection of the key learnings and main highlights of the whole event. 

May I start by saying that I felt honored to be chosen as one of 10 educators to represent the UK at the Microsoft in Education Global Forum and privileged to part of a 250 strong delegation of expert educators from around the world. I would also like to say, as other expert educators have expressed, that I felt humbled having met some of the other educators from around the world and having witnessed the profound impact others are making both locally and globally through their projects, and in some cases, with access to little or limited technology. 

2014 Global Forum – Recap video:

 Can you spot a cameo from me?


A major theme of the Global Forum was the exhibition. This gave the expert educators an opportunity to showcase their learning activities.  

Prepare to be judged – A last-gasp attempt to explain to the judges the merits of my project 

One of the projects that, for me, stood out from the crowd was an entry from the Ukraine called “Folk Tales”. The premise was simple – Students find out about folk tales from their region, present them in pictures or in other creative form, retell them and translate into English. They then share their creations online. Students, from other countries, then view the uploaded materials and try to reinterpret the story from the material. The students then upload their interpretation of the story to the Internet and compare it to the original tale. 

Another highlight of the event was Anthony Salcito’s (Worldwide Vice President for Microsoft Education) keynote. In his keynote, Anthony reminded us of the vital role we play as teachers and commended us for the work that we do to educate the young people of today. 

Anthony used his keynote to highlight examples of innovative use of technology to support teaching and learning. Probably the most memorable example was a project called “Mystery Skype”. 

Anthony also used his keynote to showcase a number of new tools to use in the classroom. Some of the highlights included: 

Project Spark – Best described as Kodu for grown-ups. Project Spark builds on the success of Kodu by offering the same easy to use event-driven programming interface however, takes Kodu to the next level with its stunning 3D graphics and downloadable additional content. Find out more about Project Spark here: Project Spark 

OneNote – Now available free for Mac, OneNote continues, in my opinion, to be one of the most powerful tools for educators. With OneNote, teachers can organize their thoughts or plan their lessons and access these quickly and easily via a simple search. Teachers and students can communicate with one another and collaborate on projects (Perfect for Project-Based-Learning). The teacher can also collate notes at the end of each lesson or keep notes on individual students or each of their classes.   

ClassPolicy – A free classroom management solution for Windows 8 devices. With ClassPolicy, teachers can eliminate distractions by restricting web and application access, orchestrate their classes by automating the sequence of their lessons, gauge understanding by using quick polls. 

Whilst on the topic of useful tools, there was also a great presentation from Stuart Ball (Microsoft UK Partners in Learning Programme Manager) on his top Windows 8 apps to support teaching and learning. Most notable were:  

  • ChronoZoom – An online interactive timeline for visualizing history.
  • CreateBook – Allows you to easily create interactive ebooks for Windows 8 devices.
  • NovaMind Mind Mapping – A complete Mind Mapping tool for Windows 8 devices. 

To find out more about educational apps for Windows 8 devices, visit Stuart Ball’s blog: Windows 8 Appedagogy 

Probably the most rewarding part of the week was meeting with other educators from around the world and sharing best practice. This started with the learn-a-thon.

 The Learn-a-thon 

The idea behind the learn-a-thon was to unite expert educators from different countries and challenge them to develop a project which addresses one of three topics (Sustainability, poverty and gender equality) and which encapsulated the concepts of 21 Century Design. Our project was on sustainability and involved students creating apps and online community (blog / wiki etc.) encouraging others to recycle and conserve our natural resources! Although I was a little skeptical at first, I found the process very rewarding. Not only did I learn the true power of Bing Translate for resolving the language divide, I also made a few new friends. 

An animated pitch from yours truly on sustainability

The sharing of best practice was epitomized by a TeachMeet organized by Microsoft Innovative Expert Educator David Rogers. The TeachMeet gave educators from around the world an opportunity to share how they are using technology to support teaching and learning. Although the concept of TeachMeets is not new to me, this was the time I had attended one. I can honestly say that I really enjoyed the experience and will be investigating the possibility of arranging a TeachMeet in my area in the near future! 

What I learned – Key reflections 

As well as the usual meeting and greeting, there was also opportunity to hear keynotes from respected and influential educators from around the world. Here are some of the key points: 

“It’s OK to let student’s fail!” – As educators, it is OK to let our students fail however, we must also ensure that we enable our students to reflect and learn from their mistakes. 

“Teachers are control freaks we need to let go of the control and let students lead with technology”. – It is easy to underestimate the ability of our students and have pre-conceptions of what they are able achieve. If there is one thing I have learned as a result of my project, it’s that, as teachers, we sometimes need to stake a step back and allow our students to take ownership of their own learning – try, you might just be amazed at what your students are really capable of if you give them the chance! 

“Learning has changed – Your students are learning without you”. – With the Internet being more accessible than ever and with an abundance of online tools and resources to support independent learning, our students are learning outside of the classroom. This is no more evident than in the teaching of computer science with many students learning to code online using online tutorials such as those found on YouTube. As educators, we can take advantage of these resources and use them to flip our classrooms. To find out more about the benefits of flipped learning or learn how to flip your classrooms, visit my blog: Make the most of your lessons – flip your classroom 

“Collaboration is key!” – Whether you are an educator or a learner, collaboration is an important aspect of learning. If you are new to the idea of collaborative learning or don’t know where to start, start by forming a collaboration with another teacher in your school. This could be a small project or a team teaching exercise. Once you have mastered the art of collaboration in a safe / familiar environment, initiate a collaborative project with a neighboring school or, if you’re feeling really adventurous, try collaborating with another educator online. Social networking tools such as Facebook, Twitter and Edmodo are great places to find other educators with similar interests / ideas. Why not also find out where your next / nearest TeechMeet is. TeechMeets are not only a great place to find new ideas and resources, they are also a place to meet other like minded educators in your local area. 

“Don’t make technology the star, make it a tool to create amazing learning experiences.” – A message I echo from Anthony Salcito. Pedagogy must come first, technology second. With the appropriate planning, technology can transform teaching and learning however, what technology cannot do is conceal poor planning / teaching! 

What next?

Despite the long days and limited supply of coffee, I can honestly say that I have returned home, not only with a plethora of new ideas and resources but also with a renewed enthusiasm. I have also made some new friends along the way. So, what next?

Experiment – Having come away from the Global Forum bursting with new ideas, the next step is to embed some of these ideas in to my day-to-day teaching. One idea I’m keen to implement straight away is the use of video conferencing technologies such as Skype to support collaborative learning. Something else I plan to explore is how 21st century learning design principles can be used to improve my lessons. Using the 21st century learning design rubric, I plan to evaluate the effectiveness of my current lessons and reflect on how technology can be better used to support teaching and learning.

Collaborate, collaborate, collaborate – Being a huge advocate for the use of social media in education, I’m already aware of the rewards and benefits of using social media to support teaching and learning. However, as a result of the Partners in Learning (PiL) network and Microsoft in Education Global Forum, I’m now part of an online community containing influential educators from around the world. With that in mind, I plan to take full advantage of this new support network by forming collaborations with other Microsoft Innovative Expert Educators (MIEE) and by sharing best practice. It is also my intention to share what I have learnt with other educators and invite them to join the PiL network so that they too can benefit from the wealth of experience and plethora of resources available as a result of joining the PiL network. 

Continue to learn – In the words of Satya Nadella (Microsoft CEO)

“I truly believe that if you are not learning new things, you stop doing great and useful things.” – I fully endorse this statement and believe that we owe it to our students to keep on learning. Without this continued commitment, we will simply run out of new ideas. Now, with the support of a community of influential and innovative educators, we as teachers have never had a better opportunity to further our knowledge and experience! 

To find out more, visit my blog: teachwithict.weebly.comor visit the Microsoft Partners in Learning website.

-Simon Johnson

This entry was posted in 21st century skills, Beyond the Classroom, Building Teacher Capacity, Change Management and Culture of Innovation, External Videos, Information, People, Professional Learning Communities. Bookmark the permalink.

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