After nearly three years of disruption to learning caused by the pandemic, government funding has enabled many schools to invest in new devices and upgrade their technology infrastructure to accelerate learning and improve the education experience for all students.
With new technologies in place, education leaders are challenged to align their recent investments to what matters most: enabling equity, advancing learning and fostering well-being among students and staff. In our ongoing commitment to equitable education, Microsoft Education is working to put tools directly in the hands of teachers and students that will reduce barriers to learning.
A Chance to Build on Progress
Schools now have an opportunity to leverage technology already deployed in the classroom to promote equity. Tools like instant translation for language learners, real-time captions to support student note-taking, individualized, self-directed practice for students in different subject areas and easy well-being check-ins can provide support for all learners. Further, they allow teachers to gather valuable information, which helps them respond more efficiently to student needs.
For example, features like Reading Progress and Reading Coach, built directly into Microsoft Teams, allow teachers to assign students self-directed exercises to boost reading fluency, whatever the skill level. Accessibility solutions that benefit all learners are built into the applications in Microsoft 365 for Education, including Teams, OneNote, PowerPoint, Minecraft and others. Features such as Immersive Reader and well-being check-ins offer students ways to direct their own learning experiences and give teachers more information about how to support and encourage their students.
Additionally, Reflect in Teams can help educators embed opportunities to build social-emotional learning (SEL) skills throughout the daily routine. Adding regular check-ins to the class routine can help students name emotions and reflect on their own emotional lives—increasing their capacity to learn and grow with intention. Everyday moments may now become transformational for students, as they become self-reflectors, friends building empathy skills and young people learning to engage with the world meaningfully.
For more information on leveraging edtech to accelerate learning, as well as comparisons between leading tools, see the Accelerate Learning Kits from K-12 Blueprint, or visit Microsoft Education.
Equity-Based Edtech Adoption
Many schools have turned the difficulties of adapting to remote and hybrid learning into opportunities to transform how they use technology and enable greater equity. For example, Las Cruces Public Schools in New Mexico faced a significant challenge in its efforts to avoid disruptions to instruction at the beginning of the pandemic. Beyond the logistical concerns involved in deploying more than 25,000 Windows devices to students and teachers, this effort also represented a stress test for the district’s commitment to equity and access for all of its students.
Administrators had to approach each available option with the mindset that any decision about devices was also a choice about equity. This focus paved the way for innovation in the district, leveled the playing field with a one-to-one device rollout and delivered more ways to engage and educate all students. Ultimately, the commitment to equity informed a successful approach to adoption and deployment of learning technology.
Support for Educators
Historically, it’s been challenging to find adequate time and resources to train teachers on using edtech effectively in the classroom. But with the rapid shift to remote learning in 2020, teachers and students alike have become much more proficient with communication and collaboration tools, along with other educational applications.
A recent study, conducted by YouGov and commissioned by Microsoft, found that 90 percent of the teachers surveyed have increased their teaching skills in areas such as teaching with technology, instructional design for online learning and using technology for online presentations. Additionally, almost half (46 percent) of the respondents credit technology with helping them collaborate with their colleagues, and more than one-third (34 percent) report that using technology for teaching made them feel more confident as an educator.
This confidence is important, not just for the well-being of the educator, but for what education researcher John Hattie described as collective teacher efficacy: “the collective belief of teachers in their ability to positively affect students.” Hattie noted that this has the greatest influence on student achievement. Increased support for teachers through training, professional development (PD), mentoring and support opportunities may boost confidence and, in turn, the ability to positively affect students.
This is why we’ve developed the Microsoft Learn Educator Center. Yet, this is only a starting point. Many schools and districts are building on these types of PD, adding opportunities for teachers to work together and coach one another, further recognizing outstanding leadership within their staff.
We know that technology is not a panacea for all of the issues that prevent equity in education. Putting devices in students’ hands does not address underlying systemic challenges. But listening to what students and teachers need and working together to reimagine a system—one in which every student has access to quality teaching and reliable tools and every teacher is appropriately trained and fully supported—moves edtech investments in the right direction.
Education is always evolving, and that’s how it should be—for the good of every student and the world that they will help define.