Guest post by Gerald Haigh. Gerald writes regularly for the Microsoft Education Blog(s).
I recently went to Frog’s International Learning Platforms Conference in Birmingham to hear about the newly developed integration of Microsoft Live@edu into the Frog learning platform. For some months now, Microsoft and Frog technical teams have been working on this development, which extends choice for Frog users, providing seamless, single sign-on access through their Frog platform to a range of free cloud products – email, messaging, calendar, online folders – all with the familiar Microsoft look, feel and function.
Live@edu will be available to Frog users in the immediate future, and a little further down the line this will evolve into integration with Office 365 for education. (There’s a quick preview of Live@edu in the Frog environment on Frog Business manager Adrian Bantin’s blog at http://blog.bantin.me/frog/livepreview/#more-262 )
There were lots of other good reasons to be at the Conference, which was excellently run in Birmingham’s world-class International Conference Centre. The nine optional workshops, for example, on issues including mobile learning, parental engagement and behaviour, were largely run ‘TeachMeet’ style by teachers and school leaders chosen by Twitter poll. That, it strikes me, is an example that many conferences could follow.
Then it was good to hear of the developments which make 2012 such a momentous year for the company. In January, CEO Gareth Davies announced that Frog, which he developed in his spare bedroom in 1999, has been chosen to provide learning platform technology for every school in Malaysia – 10,000 schools, 6 million people. Frog in Malaysia will be provided as a cloud service using a new interface and delivered through Malaysia’s nationwide 4G wireless network.
(A good place to read about these developments in more detail is on Gareth’s own blog http://garethdavies.wordpress.com )
The Malaysia venture not only transforms Frog into a global business, but, as Gareth explained at the Conference, carries significant implications for Frog UK. So, for example, this year the new interface will be rolled out to UK Frog users as Frog4OS – not as yet replacing the current Frog 3, but supplementing and enhancing it. And, catching a fast-rising tide, Frog4OS was announced at the Conference as ‘the world’s first learning platform designed specifically for tablets’.
That bit of news was met with enthusiasm from the almost 900 strong audience, and it became clear in a later Q and A session that there are schools which want Frog on tablets and smartphones sooner rather than later. The vision of a classroom where every student has a tablet is already the reality in a growing number of schools and a ‘Going Mobile’ workshop, led by teachers was well attended.
It’s not difficult to see how Microsoft’s range of products can contribute alongside Frog to these fast-moving changes in the world of educational technology. The Frog strategy, clearly, is to become the hub of the school – the single point of access not only to the rich resources of the Frog platform itself, but to a choice of key third-party services for communication, collaboration and data handling.
Just before the Conference I caught Frog CEO Gareth Davies on his car phone and he pulled into a layby for a quick chat about the Live@edu integration.
‘We’re delighted with this development,’ he said. ‘It’s a key part of the Frog strategy of extending functionality and choice for users by providing direct access to third party services.’
From the very start of the Conference, and as it developed, what struck me was the way the Frog vision for learning and that of Microsoft complement each other. Gareth Davies actually said as much as he welcomed Microsoft UK’s Strategic Partner Lead Mark Stewart to the Conference stage for his session. Mark began by underlining the relationship between Microsoft and Frog
‘We’re a technology provider,’ he said. ‘And we couldn’t do anything without partners like Frog who make what we do relevant.’
Mark went on to speak about anytime anywhere learning, collaboration, communication and interactivity (for example with the growing use of Kinect in the classroom) all of which are easily traced in the DNA of both organizations.
Another line of development that Gareth is obviously very keen on is the gathering and intelligent use of data – including the ‘soft’ data on children’s attitudes, interests and activities that, in Gareth’s word, ‘Helps teachers understand their children better’.
Then, towards the end of the Conference we were introduced to Alistair Smith, newly arrived at Frog as Education Director, http://www.alistairsmithlearning.com/ It’s a significant appointment, not only confirming Frog’s commitment to the ‘learning’ in ‘learning platform’, but also signalling their support for a classroom which is flexible, collaborative, interactive and personalised.
When I spoke to Alistair on the phone next day he confirmed his belief in the need to move on from using technology to administer traditional classroom practice. This, of course, is an insistent theme within Microsoft Education, as Mark Stewart had reminded us in his Conference session, using a telling pair of pretty well identical photographs of classrooms, with children in neat rows facing the front, taken some seventy years apart.
(Tim Bush developed this theme in the HE Blog in March http://blogs.msdn.com/b/ukhe/archive/2012/03/09/future-impact-of-technology-on-teaching-and-learning.aspx _)
What Alistair wants – and again he’s right on the Microsoft wavelength here – is to see the power of technology harnessed to an interactive style – work shared around, circulated for comment by peers trained to respond, for example, gradually revised and developed.
‘Learning is not about the smooth progression to perfection. It is about asking the right questions of the right people at the right time and getting the responses that you can act upon.’
Really, though, the best way to see what Alistair’s going to bring to Frog and Frog users is to look at the video currently on the home page of his website where he appeals for a system that moves children from ‘Performing’ – trying for correct answers, assessed by the teacher – to ‘Learning’ – making decisions, learning incrementally by trial and error. It’s pretty clear that if Alistair has his way, there’ll soon be some interesting developments at Frog, particularly, perhaps, in the area of assessment.
And, make no mistake, Microsoft, with world-class products for communication and collaboration, and unparalleled experience of seeing them into service with a range of partners and schools, is very well placed to help bring the new Frog vision to life.
The ‘Frog Vision’ video, and Conference workshop videos are at http://www.frogtrade.com/index.phtml?d=2532228