I think we can all recognize the greatness and the magic that happens with our students is driven typically by the hard work, the commitment, and the talent of teachers around the world. Therefore, it's critical we find a way to capture their successes, share them broadly and scale that kind of impact globally.
That is the basis of the new Innovative Teaching and Learning (ITL) Research project we are sponsoring. Microsoft will invest $1 million (U.S.) for the next several years, and SRI International will conduct the research in four countries initially – Finland, Indonesia, Russia and Senegal. We want to identify what causes innovation in the classroom…how can innovation spread throughout an entire school…what causes a teacher to innovate…what are the common elements that innovations share around the world…and how can we do a better job of not only encouraging more teachers to embrace these new models, but also scale existing best practices.
The ITL research will broadly investigate current teaching and learning supported by technology that is taking place at the school and system level determining what makes technology in the classroom most effective. The ITL research focuses on teachers’ own adoption of innovative classroom teaching practices and the degree to which those practices provide students with learning experiences that promote the skills they will need to work in the 21st century.
I think it’s important to have a common framework internationally to measure education transformation. The research will come up with a common language we can use to discuss key issues around how to make ICT in education work effectively and provide tools to measure outcomes. As an example, when we met with the stakeholders, we quickly came to the understanding that what’s meant by “new skills” in one country is different in another…21st century skills and what’s meant by traditional teaching practices are different in each country. In Senegal, skills needed could mean teaching students how to purify their own water.
And that’s why we have chosen such a diverse cross-section of countries. Almost all international education research usually takes place in advanced developed countries or emerging markets, but not usually spanning both. As a global company with billions of customers, Microsoft also needs to create products and solutions that will serve all markets and people. This, I think, is the ambitious part of the project…figuring out what educational measurement tools can be used to assess teaching and learning in rural schools in Africa, as well as more modern cities like Helsinki. So, we are developing consistent classroom observation methods, interview protocols and learning assignments…then the data will be coded in a quantitative sense to see what kind of 21st century skills kids are using to do their assignments.
The initial four countries where research will be conducted are perceived as leaders in education in their region, and we will add more countries each year. We want to span the full range of types of infrastructure and technology infrastructure so we can learn about how ICT in education works in places very advanced like Finland where the country’s top PISA scores over the last decade are widely recognized…to everything in between and much less advanced like Senegal and Indonesia, and diverse places like Russia.
We believe that innovative teaching practices like personalized learning, the extension of learning beyond the classroom, and the integration of technology can help drive 21st century learning outcomes. And when our research is successful in measuring this, we are hopeful it will impact and contribute to the development of policy and curriculum to further ICT’s role in education.
You can follow the progress on the ITL website here. For more immediate ideas on how to bring innovation to the classroom, check out the forums and communities in the Partners in Learning Network where educators share their lessons, challenge traditional thinking and learn from each other.