Learning Places Scotland 2021 - Articles

24 Nov 2021

Microsoft Keynote - Day 2

The penultimate keynote was presented by Microsoft's Director of Education for the UK, Chris Rothwell. It evaluated life ‘before and beyond remote learning’; the influence that technology has had on schools, colleges and universities; and the way in which technology enables and supports young people to achieve their objectives.

Before and Beyond Remote Learning

"The future is here – it's just not evenly distributed". This quote by William Gibson was the opening statement and highlights some of the struggles and also opportunities that Covid-19 has resulted in. We have to embrace technology and remote learning in a way that we had never done before to get through the pandemic.

Microsoft believes that technology is a fundamental part of the future of education, as the world becomes increasingly digital. Over the last decade there have been enhancements in computer power, increased usage of the cloud, data and artificial intelligence. Driven by digital change, these trends contributed to the success of blended learning and are helping to ensure that as a society, young people are better prepared for employment and life beyond formal education.

Prior to Covid-19, some schools were embracing the digital arena which assisted blended learning. Having accessible digital provisions in place meant that young people, their families and their teachers already had experience of using technology for academic reasons; accounts were set up and were easy to access; virtual communication was readily available between families and teachers. The pandemic has ultimately furthered the requirement for equity: everyone has the right to have equal access to digital devices and internet to successfully continue to learn and develop transferrable life skills.

The Role of Technology, the Teacher and the Physical Space

There is a common misconception that technology diminishes the role of the teacher: the pandemic has proven the opposite. The school plays a significant role in the community, in the equity of resources and tools, and as a support system for children and families. However, technology plays an interesting role in contributing to this support, where blurring the lines between digital and physical spheres can better prepare and equip the learners of today with skills for the future.

Examples of Technology

Microsoft Lens is an excellent application where you can transform physical text into a digital artifact. For instance, this is beneficial to support partially sighted pupils, as their classroom assistant no longer has to rewrite text and physically manipulate it. The Reading Progress software, as part of Microsoft Teams, also helps to improve literacy and reading fluency – something which is an important indicator of life success. Learners can be given text to recite while they record themselves. The artificial intelligence embedded in this system will then provide feedback, for example that a word has been mispronounced. Over time, data is gathered for each individual learner as well as the whole class. This gives teachers continuous insight as to who for example may need more one to one support. In the coming years, virtual reality software and applications are likely to play an expanding role in education, where learners can ‘travel’ back in time for history lessons or better understand anatomy in biology lessons through ‘holding’ and ‘examining’ each organ.

The pandemic has resulted in the need to go straight to the deployment of digital resources, missing out critical planning steps to build a strong foundation. Factors to consider to improve this include: vision, strategy, culture, unique contexts and capabilities. Once we have a long term strategy and foundation in place, we will be able to offer a safe and secure digital space where learners can work, learn, share and develop skills to achieve competencies needed for future employment.

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