“Students today don’t learn how to use technology. They use technology to learn.”

Albena Spasova: Students today don't learn how to use technology. They use technology to learn
Albena Spasova, CEE Multi-Country Education Lead at Microsoft
Albena Spasova, CEE Multi-Country Education Lead at Microsoft

Education was one of the sectors directly affected by the COVID-19 emergency. In a few days, the schools in Bulgaria, and not only, managed to reorganize their activities and move to remote learning. Economic.bg talks about the horizons and pitfalls with Albena Spasova, CEE Multi-Country Education Lead at Microsoft.

Technologies in education – what is the added value they bring, but also what are the threats digitization can provoke –these topics will be discussed in depth during the Conference “Education from A to #. The Innovative School” on July 17th. The event was broadcasted live on the Facebook page of Economic.bg.

What are the tech needs of contemporary students in the classroom?

Lets begin with the center of everything in education: students. The students in classrooms today are very different than the students of a generation ago, especially now with the global challenge for all of us. Todays students think differently about their world. They need to because the world they live in is changing faster than at any other time in history. Their world is integrated, and to them, the undetectable blend of digital and physical. 

They cant remember the time they were not wi-fi connected. They dont distinguish between talking to their friends face-to-face or talking on-line, doing schoolwork in class or a coffee shop or from home. Students today dont learn how to use technology; they use technology to learn. 

We stand in awe of the way they embrace their digital world and leverage it in ways unimaginable to us when we were students.

I would never forget the students from Azerbaijan, Bulgaria, Croatia, Estonia, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kosovo, Latvia, Lithuania, Serbia, Slovenia and Ukraine who we brought together for an international class on the topic My country. They not only connected through technology to share knowledge but also used additional applications to make the learning and share even more interactive and exciting. I watched in awe to them.

What are the changes that technology brings in our lives?

We live in a fantastic time of technological progress. The way people interact, socialize, and work is shifting rapidly. By the time the kindergartners of today become the graduates of 2030, the world will be vastly different from anything previous generations have experienced.
By 2030, advances in technology will cause significant disruptions in the workforce, as automation could replace up to 50 percent of existing jobs in the U.S. alone. Occupations associated with lower educational attainment levels will decline by up to 11.5 million jobs in the U.S. At the same time, the fastestgrowing occupations will require higher-level cognitive skills in areas such as problemsolving, critical thinking and creativity, and 30 to 40 percent of jobs will require specific social-emotional skills.  

To be successful in the workplace of tomorrow, we MUST help students TODAY become adaptive, lifelong learners. 

Investments in education – what is the role of the state, and where is the focus of the business?

The question is, are we doing enough, and are we doing the right things? Quality education is the foundation for improving peoples lives – yet not every kid has access to that, and too many students are dropping out. Basic literacy skills are a critical foundation that leads to higherorder cognitive abilities – and yet too many students fall behind early in their education and never catch up.  

The role of the regulators and business is crucial in creating the grounds for this transformation in education. We at Microsoft fundamentally, we believe that every student everywhere has the ability to learn. We believe that every student everywhere has the right to learnAnd we believe that every student everywhere has the right to dream about being the next Stephen Hawking, Michio Kaku, or Katherine JohnsonThis is a core belief for every one of us at Microsoft. We care deeply about both student and institutional success, since education, and thus LEARNING, is one of our biggest societal challenges.

Microsoft sees investing in education as an investment in long-term economic growth and prosperity around the world. Thats why we specifically invest in technology that helps people—like students—develop skills.

Do technologies help only for the tech and digital literacy – what other skills they develop?

Students today are demanding to be at the center of their own learning. They are demanding to explore. They require to make choices for themselves. They intuitively know that they must develop core social-emotional skills, and they must develop advanced cognitive abilitiedata-contrast="auto">s—like communication, collaboration, and critical thinking—for their future success. 

And despite struggles to keep up with shrinking budgets, curriculum and outcomes mandates, and the sheer pace of innovation, educators arent just embracing change. Still, they are leveraging technology to drive it forward in exciting ways. We see it in how they thirst for new digital content and integrate it into their lesson plans, how they harness information in new ways, and how its shared with others. We see it in the shift from passive understanding to active participation. We see it in the way educators are changing the way they teach and assess and how students learn. And we see it in the way entire school systems drive massive scale change for more dynamic teaching methods. 

Digital divide  what are the dangers that the different/not equal access cause?

Our Microsoft mission is to empower every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more. Just as education has been experiencing tremendous change, we have, too, at Microsoft. People with growth mindsets tend to achieve more because they INVEST IN LEARNING ALL THE TIME. 

Teachers, schools, school districts, and ministries of education look to instill a growth mindset IN EVERY SINGLE STUDENT, in every single class, every single day. Our tools are designed to help people achieve more. Tools like Immersive Reader to assist with basic reading skills, and the worlds most-used communication and collaboration platform, Office 365, which we offer to EVERY STUDENT, TEACHER, AND SCHOOL ON THE PLANET… AT NO COST.

What is the problem with the mechanical implementation of technology/ What is the role of the tech-savvy teachers?

School leaders tell us that their number one priority is student success. And we know that student success takes a team of dedicated teachers, staff, school leaders, and parents. Teachers and schools must meet the individual needs of increasingly diverse student populations. Students want choice and control to navigate their own learning and expect their opinions to be heard. And students want to be supported by teachers who know and understand them as individuals.

Yet our class of 2030 research showed a significant discrepancy between student and teacher perceptions about whether personalized learning is occurring. Specifically, up to 51% of surveyed teachers said they have strong, individual relationships with their students, but as few as 34% of students agreed.

We invest a lot in teachers readiness, and in the last year, trained more than 200K teachers to make sure they are onboarded and prepared for remote learning. In Bulgaria, we developed video lessons, localized in the Bulgarian language, the digital skills curriculum which is available to anyone for free, and we also invested in training and reached more than 35% of the teachers in Bulgaria. We realize that this is a leaving process, and during summertime, we will continue with the teacher readiness.

How is Microsoft focusing on Edu technology?

Let me give you an example of what I mean. What happens when a teacher puts a quiz in an LMS? Mostly, nothing happens. The teacher sets a test in the LMS, and the students often have to go to the LMS to find it, the test doesnt land in their calendar, and everyone gets the same test. But we live in a world where everything is connected, smarter, and can be more personal, and we have the potential to do so much more.
Imaginwhen a teacher takes that same action of putting a quiz into an LMS, it triggers a whole series of events based on what the system knows about you. 
Imagine a quiz – based on how well you did on the last one – can tell you the appropriate amount of study time you should carve out to be prepared for this next quiz. Imagine that it provides additional study material, again, based on past performance,  and imagine this intelligent quiz populating your calendar. For example, lets say you have a swim meet later in the week, study time is placed on your calendar earlier in the week.
Imagine the quiz informing your digital textbooks. Imagine your digital, cloud-connected, book changing to highlight material that will be on the quiz, or highlighting key areas where it knows you need the most help.

Speaking of books – why is there a page two in your textbook? The dynamics of turning a page was because there was linear content already written and built into that rigid structure.  But what if your digital book assembled dynamically, and it did so based on your calendar, learning style, and personal interests. Books should know who you are. If you are interested in space exploration, your book should know this, and when you get an algebra book, the math problems should have a space theme.   

This is the reason we went digital in the first place – not to make it easier to read a book. But to make the books better based on the inherent properties of being digital. 

By the way, that smart quiz scenario I just talked about? You dont need to imagine it. You can do it today with a tool called Flow in Office 365.  

COVID-19 – the lessons for the education sector. What trends the emergency showed/emphasized? 

Readiness is critical, including equitable access to devices. Thats why we supported the Bulgarian MOE to organize fast and switch to remote learning in days. The other learning is about how important is the support for meaningful professional learning opportunities for teachers. As teachers receive certifications, they go on to help other teachers in acquiring the skills and knowledge they need to weave new tech tools into their practice.  

 

Learn more about the Microsoft Innovative Educator Programs. Besides, you can find a specific learning path on the Microsoft Educator Center focused on using Teams and other free remote learning resources. And the third point I want to emphasize is the importance of a truly collaborative platform that will not only enable video conferencing but will provide the basis for truly collaborative and interactive 21-century learning. We support governments to Communicate and collaborate with Teams. Everyone has Easy access to Microsoft Office 365 Education, including Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote, and now Teams, which helps educators streamline lesson planning and support the needs of all learners. More information can be found on edumon.bg 

Source: Economic.bg, translated and adapted with the author`s consent

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