As the immediate impact of the pandemic recedes, we have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to reimagine education in a post-COVID world. We can take the hard-won lessons from the pandemic, with online learning and hybrid education models, and use these learnings to reboot education systems so that they better serve our children and protect their future.
Christine Muhigana of UNICEF summed it up succinctly when she commented that, “The COVID-19 pandemic has fast-forwarded global education thinking on how to transform and strengthen education systems through technology that complements skilled and well-supported teachers, so that every child receives quality and inclusive learning.”
What have we learned?
As we introduce more technology into classrooms, we need to ensure that teachers are well prepared and trained to be able to reimagine how learning and teaching take place. The aim for technology is that it should underpin great classroom practice, and seamlessly integrate so that it becomes and enabler, not the focus. Technology won’t replace good teachers. Instead, it can help then not only with the knowledge acquisition journey their learners need to make, but also enhance skills acquisition. Skills such as collaboration, critical thinking, resilience, and agility, which together with digital literacy, are necessary for them to be able to become active contributors to the global digital economy.
Hybrid and blended learning pedagogical models combine the best of in-school and remote learning, with digital engagement. But these models are more than just a quick fix for disrupted learning. They are ways in which we can enhance and accelerate learning by providing student-centred approaches to meet diverse learners’ needs. That’s why at Microsoft, our aim is to empower educators and students to teach and learn with technology through doing and exploring. In other words, enquiry-based active learning. For educators, clear educational transformation plans will be mission-critical to help to solidify the technology competency gains made during the pandemic.
At Microsoft, we believe that technology, applied in new ways can shift behaviour and motivation, enabling educators to assess learning in new ways and supporting students as they learn to be adaptable and resilient through exploration, simulation, and gaming. The goal is to encourage students to learn through doing – solving problems, practicing, progressing, and having fun, with real-time feedback from educators. This can lead to much deeper knowledge retention and more than this, support students to show what they can do with what they’ve learned.
Data is a valuable tool for educators
One of the really significant developments of the remote and hybrid learning era is the access that teachers now have to data, and resultant insights that reveal how students learn and interact. This has the potential to elevate education by giving educators crucial student insights that work to better each student’s learning achievement. Prior to remote and hybrid learning, this data often wouldn’t have been available accurately, immediately and in real-time. Now, at a glance, educators can proactively track student progress, get the data they need to shape the student experience, and ensure they are meeting social and emotional as well as academic needs.
For example, Education Insights in Microsoft Education for Teams allows teachers to closely track the engagement and progress of students over time and across their classes. This includes seeing the number of inactive and active students per day, missed online classes, and missed assignments. And when needed, educators can see the specific engagement data within the overview.
With access to data showing how students are engaging – like meeting participation, communication, and assignment activities – educators can monitor progress and make faster, informed decisions on which students need immediate learning support. Using data strategically, educators can inform best practices, policy approaches and different interventions to make sure that all learners access a quality education, in the process making the most of what the hybrid environment has to offer.
Insight from tools such as Microsoft Reflect, which is built into Teams, can give valuable qualitative data which helps educators and schools to gain a better understanding of their learners’ emotional wellbeing, and intervene to support individuals and classes where there may be a challenge affecting learning.
Digital transformation needs partnerships for success
Reimagining our education systems will not happen without planning and intentional action by all stakeholders in education systems, not just our teachers. At Microsoft we understand that a holistic digital transformation strategy is crucial to ensuring successful outcomes for both students and educators. That’s why we are working with our partner-systems to develop a set of technical resources that will empower them to build capacity and introduce education analytics at a much faster pace. These resources are made available publicly through an open-source community called Open Education Analytics on GitHub. Together, we are setting the foundation for the future of broad capacity-building in education analytics across the education sector.
We have also developed Education Transformation Framework tools for school-level and higher education centres to help educators plan and build a transformed environment. This is all part of our contribution towards framing modern teaching and learning that makes the most of new and immersive ways to explore the curriculum, emphasising future-ready skills that will help our learners achieve more when they enter the world of work and support them to become successful in a 21st century digital information age.
Author: Jaye Richards-Hill, Education Industry Director for Microsoft Middle East & Africa