Not three words you normally find in the same sentence, but last week I had the opportunity to attend the Microsoft Education Roadshow in Sydney. It was part of the regular traveling circus that Microsoft puts on every so often to show off its commitment in the education space. I’ve been a number to these events before, but hadn’t committed to going to this one since they were usually little more than a sales wolf in educational sheeps clothing. But a few weeks prior to the event I had been asked by Intouch Consultancy if I would like to contribute some lesson plans based on the new Office 2007 applications, and those lessons would be released as part of the package of new educational content being shown at the roadshow. For that reason alone – I think it’s called ego – I decided to attend the event this year.
I’ve been a little critical of Microsoft in the past, and some of their events… you may have read my thoughts about the Vista release in Toronto last year. But I have to say, this year’s Roadshow in Sydney was really good. It makes such a difference when the speakers at an event like this are teachers, and can talk about stuff from the perspective of a teacher. I enjoyed listening to guy from the Maitland Catholic Education Office talk about their new Scholaris network deployment and how it solved a whole bunch of problems for them. I could relate to the issues he spoke about, since my school faces many of the same ones albeit on a much smaller scale. As the demos unfolded, I became more and more impressed at just how well thought through some of this new stuff is. The big problem in any school, and any network for that matter, is in getting disparate systems to talk to each other. Getting your school admin package to talk to your Active Directory server, and to talk to your payroll, your library software, your proxy server, your print management software, your timetable etc, is a pain. Getting all these systems to play nicely together is a major headache for any system admin. Yet, here was a guy showing us how they had solved all of these problems across a large number of different schools, all with slightly different configurations, all with a single sign on. I have to say I was pretty impressed… if you weren’t impressed by this, then you really didn’t understand the problem in the first place.
A guy from Intel got up to speak for a while, and it was sooooo obvious when a non-teacher addressed the crowd. the language changed from education to that of sales, and every sentence was full of corporate-speak. They really do need to keep these people away from the microphone at events like these. Seriously guys… if you invite a bunch of teachers along to an event, then keep the focus on education… we don’t care about the technical mumbo jumbo or the product specs or the projected sales figures for next quarter. That stuff is interesting to you, but not to us. Just focus on our needs and your bottom line will be just fine.
They had a guy from Microsoft show us a whole bunch of new stuff for education and I must say a lot of it looked really good. The new stuff you can do with Sharepoint was way cool, some great ideas and demos of software like Flight Simulator and Photostory, and a look at some of the new tools still in beta – in particular one for developing learning object-like apps (It’s name escapes me right now, but it looked very interesting) It looked to me like Microsoft was finally getting its act together in the education space. A final demo of Office 2007 and some new stuff for teachers by my buddy June Wall finished off the demos nicely. There was some cool stuff here too, although despite the oohs and ahhs from some of the audience at Vista’s eye candy effects, I still wouldn’t swap Vista for OSX!
I also got a chance to catch up with Margie Gardner, a teaching colleague that worked with me at Penshurst Marist. Margie took over my role when I left there and it sounds like she is doing a great job of keeping it all going. Margie and I had lunch sitting out on the steps of the Conference Centre, overlooking Darling Harbour on what was a beautiful Sydney day and had a chance to catch up on each others gossip.
Finally, back inside, we heard from the winners of the Microsoft Innovative Teachers Awards. Without intending to take anything away from these guys and girls who had been recognised as innovative teachers with technology, I have to say that it really doesn’t seem to take all that much to be “innovative”. I absolutely applaud what they have been doing with the projects and ideas that they have been applying in their classrooms, but I was stunned at how ordinary some of the “innovation” was. Margie nudged me during the demos and commented that we had been doing most of that stuff back at Penshurst more than eight years ago! I guess I just think that this sort of innovation should be seen as standard practice and not something out of the ordinary. Regardless, it was good to see people getting recognised for their work, and I hope it rubs off on some of the other teachers in the room, some of whom were perhaps seeing these ideas for collaboration and learning with technology for the first time
Before I left for the day I got to look around some of the vendor stands, had a play with the Wacom tablets, spoke to a few developers about Sharepoint, bumped into a few industry people I know and had a chat. Overall, it was a worthwhile day and I’m glad I went.