By Chris Rothwell, Director of Education at Microsoft UK
Wednesday was the first day of BETT. I’ve been to the edtech conference before (back when I worked on Live@edu), but this has been my first BETT since starting as the Education Director at Microsoft UK. I have always loved going to BETT; the energy is infectious and I don’t think there is any other event where you get to hear from 39,000 education customers in four days.
BETT is always a busy time for Microsoft, and this year is no different. I am lucky to be spending my time meeting customers and partners covering a broad range of topics, and also talking to press about a lot of the news that we’ve shared at the event. It was great to be joined by Cindy Rose, our UK CEO, and Chris Perkins, the UK GM of Public Sector.
It’s impossible not to feel positive about the passion and enthusiasm that teachers and school leaders demonstrate, and the appetite they have to embrace technology to help them and their students. The world is becoming digital, and the role of teachers in preparing their students for a life of rapid change has never been more complex or important. With new technologies impacting our lives, young people need to enter the workforce with the skills to be a lifelong learner, knowing that any single career path could be disrupted.
We conducted some research into how UK teachers are feeling about these changes and their use of technology. It shows there are bright spots, but we have more to do to ensure that technology is reducing workload, to expand access to technology so that it can be integrated into teaching rather than “added-on”, and supporting teachers with “bitesize” continual professional development so they can feel confident using the tools available to them. There are inspirational examples of how technology is being used brilliantly across the UK, but the majority of teachers need more help to feel confident in using technology as an integrated part of their day.
Microsoft is committed to helping education customers use technology to improve teaching and learning in a way that is affordable and manageable. At BETT this year we have announced new low-cost devices in association with our partners, the Microsoft Classroom Pen and a set updates to Microsoft Teams for Education, including integration with Turnitin, the ability to sync grades to your SIS.
I’m incredibly proud of the work Microsoft is doing to make learning more accessible, and we made two announcements at BETT in this area. First, we’re previewing Immersive Reader in Virtual Reality. It is amazing to see how quickly we’re integrating Immersive Reader across different technologies, but seeing it within a VR environment is very inspiring. The second announcement was Code Jumper, a project from Microsoft Research that we are releasing with help from the American Printing House for the Blind. Current tools that help young people learn computational thinking and basic coding are highly visual and are therefore inaccessible to people with low or no vision. Code Jumper teaches the same principles, but uses physical blocks. It was great to see this story covered on the BBC.
All of these things, and more, can be found on Microsoft’s BETT stand. If you’re heading there this week, visit us at stand E300. My highlights were seeing the new devices, the partnership with BBC Learning and watching a pupil dissecting an (animated) frog in Virtual Reality.
I’m looking forward to the rest of BETT and continuing to work with our customers and partners in the UK education sector.