Microsoft in Education Global Forum, Dubai, 2015 - My Reflections

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I was invited by Microsoft to participate in a two day Global Forum in Dubai on 22nd and 23rd February 2015. It is part of series of global forums that have been organized at different locations in the world. As educators, our invitation to the forum is part of Microsoft’s commitment to recognize and support educators who integrate ICT in their lesson activities.

Mine is chiefly in two areas:

  1. engaging students in purposeful creation of multimedia in the Adobe Youth Voices program
  2. engaging students in digital creation of content for learning purposes in sciences. This one is really an infant program.

These two programs have been recognized in the Microsoft in Education program as examples of how technology can be utilized to enhance and improve learning experiences for students and the teacher involved.

The two day Dubai Forum brought together Educators, School and Education leaders as well as Government Officials and several partner business companies and non-governmental organizations with vested interests in integrating technology in Education. There were several speakers from Microsoft as well as guest speakers in different areas of specialty. The educator participants came from Middle East and Africa. East African educator representatives were from Kenya (3) and Uganda (1). My trip and forum participation was an all-expense paid by Microsoft – flight, shuttle between Dubai Airport and Hotel, accommodation, meals, travel insurance cover and visa processing costs. The forum took place in the splash five star luxurious hotel, Grand Hyatt Dubai, situated in the upcoming yet fast developing section of Dubai.

The forum had series of very engaging presentations and sharing of learning experiences from several of the speakers. We had expository and inspirational talks. We had talks that captured the future of the world and education as seen by Microsoft and their role in shaping it; the collective vision in education of United Arab Emirates and tremendous achievements of the several partner organizations. There were also various panels of discussions addressing variety of issues pertaining to education and the role of technology in it. A venue referred to as the innovation arena was also in place for several partner organizations of Microsoft to showcase their products.

The forum gave us a great opportunity to meet like-minded individuals from various parts of Africa, the Middle East and India; it also brought us together with high ranking government officials from various countries and with whom we had opportunity to interact and network.

THIS I CONSIDER OF NOTE IN THE FORUM The world is changing fast and there is need to be abreast with its changes by continually building capacity in ourselves as individuals, institutions/schools, governments and business entities.

Multibillion private sector companies like Microsoft are becoming fore sighted about how to prepare for the future. They know that the secret in capturing the mind of the next generation adults is to get on board the educator of today. These companies are constantly seeking for support and partnership with other organizations in this regard.

It therefore follows that educators need to build in themselves capacity to meet these new demands and the way the future is envisioned.

Educators need to urgently rethink their role in education – transforming from being the class room dictator to the enabler, facilitator and guide or mentor, with students taking charge of their learning and making it a more engaging life experience concomitant with the world’s realities.

Educators equally need to be given room and freedom to express themselves and venture – be risk takers – in quest of improving and transforming the worlds education. One of the high points for me in this and other Microsoft in Education Forums is how it brings the classroom educators to rub shoulders with education ministers, other high ranking government officials and other interest parties. It shows the high value that Microsoft attaches to the classroom experiences and efforts of the educator. This creation of a confluence is something that states all over the world, not least of all my country Uganda need to borrow a leaf from.

“The world economy no longer pays for what people know but for what they can do with what they know”, states Andreas Schleicher, a German statistician and researcher in the field of education. He was quoted in the forum by Antony Salcito, the Vice President of World Wide Education, Microsoft Corporation. This statement essentially challenges all stake holders in education to rethink what is relevant for learners. For a student to attain distinction in a learning discipline amounts to so little for as long as the knowledge acquired does not yield practical benefits like creating something new to solve a problem.

“… need to love to learn” The attitude to work and how learners are prepared for work was challenged by Dr. Monsoor M.A. Al Awar, Chancellor of Hamden Bin Mohamed Smart University and Chairman of the Governing Board of UNESCO Institute for Information Technologies in Education. In his Keynote address to the forum participants, Monsoor decried the tendency to study hard for the sake of getting a job at any cost to unethical proportions – as long as end justifies the means. He instead advocated for learning for the sake of learning; learning to learn and loving it, which according to him, is the missing link in how learners are prepared for the future. Only when learners love to learn will they unlock their creativity and innovation, he stressed “…only then can we prepare learners for work and life and place them on the right track,” concluded Monsoor.

“When broken by an inside force life begins” History shows that when the challenges of mankind are life-threatening, real creativity and innovation begins. Today mankind has a greater capacity to forecast and act to arrest adversaries yet few nations and individuals can boast of this relative advantage for humanity. The United Arab Emirates begs to differ: The leadership of the Emirates is very much aware of danger of over dependence on petroleum for sustainable development. It is foresighted by realizing the inevitability of finding early alternative sources of energy and revenue to sustain her economy. The ringing question at the forum was: when the last drop of oil barrel is emptied, what happens next for UAE? The united Emirates think the answer is in embracing technology. Thus, as revealed at the forum, greater emphasis is being laid on empowering young people and providing them with an environment that generates creativity and innovation. Youths in the Emirates are being encouraged to move away from receivers of content to creators of content. To know holds little ground, but to do or create is cherished and promoted. Schools are being allowed to be the best incubators of creativity. It is a question of survival for U.A.E. This classroom emphasis on training young people to be problem solvers rather than passive learners as a rigorous drive of state policy is at once very attractive and renders me envious as a Ugandan.

“The plan should not be technology but technology can help the plan”. While the use and integration of technology is lauded, it is not the first item of priorities in learning program. Technology should only be a catalyst to change. It must only come in where it can make a positive difference. Otherwise one runs a risk of employing technology for its own sake and the program will never yield desired outcomes.

“Humanizing Education; not Automating It” the application of technological advancement should be conditioned by the need of humanity and not technology for the sake of technology.

“Blending the digital world with the real world” The possibilities that technology and innovation is bringing are almost unlimited – even in the world of education. We were introduced to new application programs of Microsoft created to enhance learning in a way few would imagine was possible a few years back – from the cloud storage, to OneNote program which, as the name implies, brings together all the other programs for integrated manipulation and creation of content for learning. We were also introduced to marvel of Windows 10 which will introduce and immerse the learners of the near future to experience of three dimension illusions as a way of creating a more realistic life or learning experiences. - all of these are revolutionizing the way technology will be used in the near future. In fact, the future is already here: OneNote, sway and One Drive, for example, are already operational.

There are so many passionate educators who carry out beyond-the-classroom activities with the aid of technology. I was particularly enthralled by the educators in a panel of discussion on deep learning (which I know as project based learning) with emphasis on learning competencies of character, citizenship, collaboration, communication, creativity and critical thinking. The educators have scored a great deal of impact of global proportions through principle of “learning beyond the content”. Listening to some of them at the forum, I felt greatly inspired to move on with my own footsteps in education.

HOW THE FORUM HAS IMPACTED ME The forum gave me opportunity to widen my network among educators and other parties interested in technology in education. The forum has motivated me and I greatly feel validated as an educator engaged in doing out-of-the-box practices in my classes. I feel greatly energized to continue working on integrating technology in my class activities. I am particularly keen to furnish my skills in the application of programs like OneNote, Sway and OneDrive which will be my focal points in sensitizing teachers. I intend to attract more teachers to come on board the super highway of ICT/Technology in Education. I hope to organize training workshops for teachers in secondary and primary schools in Uganda. I would like to continue to build capacity in self and have a stronger voice of advocacy for change in education. Far from feeling flattered, being the only Ugandan educator in the forum has rather greatly challenged me to do more to bring on board more fellow citizens in the Microsoft in Education network. These will be my basis for self evolution this year. It will be interesting to see how much I will accomplish at the close of the year…

ACKNOWLEDGEMENT AND LOOKING BACK This is the third time that I am actively getting involved in international forums on the ticket of Microsoft’s program for education in the world, the previous ones being the Microsoft in Education Forum for Middle East and Africa in Marrakesh, Morocco, September 2012 where I emerged one of 18 top innovative educators and at the 9th eLearning Africa Conference in Kampala Uganda, May 2014 in which I had an opportunity to participate in the pre-conference event by giving an exposition of learning tools for educators and their learners in the program’s network website. I also worked in the Microsoft Exhibition stall. These events have collectively given me priceless opportunities to further grow and develop as an educator of unlimited possibilities with what I can choose to do in the profession. I feel there is so much that I can do yet so little has been done.

I would therefore like to thank Microsoft’s forward thinking initiative of providing educators like me and several others out there with the opportunity to bring out the best in us by creatively and innovatively venturing to embrace new possibilities and transforming us into more versatile educators with global impact. I and several educators in Africa owe it to the hard work, enthusiasm and love for education of Phil Odour (Microsoft East and Southern Africa) to always be engaged in the Microsoft in Education program.

How I came to be a participant in Dubai Global Forum is not a one day affair for me (and many of the other participating educators will probably attest to this). It is part of my journey in ICT in Education which has along the way been aided by several educational organizations with whom I have closely worked with or for. SchoolNet Uganda ranks high for its sustained capacity building programs and sharing of opportunities for professional growth in ICT for Education and other 21st century educational practices. SchoolNet Uganda opened my eyes to possibilities and gave me the foundation for what I have become to today.

The opportunities are there for all educators and learners. It’s only ours to let pass. I am therefore infinitely grateful to SchoolNet Uganda. One of the educational programs that I have come to take with loads of passion is a project based learning program called Adobe Youth Voices which is locally coordinated by SchoolNet Uganda. The program’s unique and engaging methodology and youth friendly approach to learners’ needs at once appealed to me. Since 2009, when I become an educator of the program, I have engaged several school going teenagers and teachers in several schools with considerable success – enough to pass me as a one of 18 top Innovative Educators of Microsoft in Education from Africa and the Middle East and to continue to be recognized as a Microsoft Expert Educator 2014, 2015. Now the concept of project based learning has become very influential in the way I handle students and their classroom experiences. I have to make mention of Gayaza High School, which has a kind of open door policy in its innovative approach to bettering education for the school and community. It has always been a first in striving to evolve with the times, thanks to a forward looking school leadership. I have professionally been a beneficiary of the school’s exploits in education through the many innovative and ICT driven educational programs organized for students and teachers.

Along the way I have met, worked and learned with several individuals who in their various capacities have impacted my professional life in education tremendously. I’ve already made mention of Phil Odour, the Academic Programs Manager, Microsoft, East and Southern Africa who has been very supportive, encouraging and shows great enthusiasm in so doing. The impact of SchoolNet Uganda is simply inseparable with Kakinda Daniel, the organization's country coordinator. His support and mentorship is unparalleled. Dungu Ronald, the deputy head teacher of Gayaza High School has always set the pace for me with his enthusiastic advocacy for change for more meaningful education in schools and community. I have met several educators in Uganda and from all over the world both in the Adobe Youth Voices Program and Microsoft in Education Programs (several of them like me are involved in both). I value their friendship, love and enthusiasm in education and for being supportive of each other.

PMM Girls’ School where I have been since 2003 has basically been my launch pad for the things I do in ICT in Education. I would therefore like to thank the school community for providing me with an environment where I have been able to pioneer educational practices and programs. Behind the success stories that I can roll out are the youngsters with whom I do a lot of class activities. I shall always remember them for their enthusiasm, courage and determination to try uncharted waters in learning. I will particularly mention the learners who have worked with me in the project based learning program, Adobe Youth Voices and the one I initiated with them: “Creation of Digital Content for Learning Purposes in Sciences”. I hope the program is making the desired difference in their lives.

Thank you Chole Richard

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