Microsoft - Shaping the Future of Learning

In 2019, Microsoft collaborated with DCU to deliver a Student Teacher Digital Skills Project, which aimed to increase the confidence and competence of student teachers to use coding and computational thinking in the design of learning activities. The project saw final year student teachers deliver an Hour of Code in 408 schools across Ireland.

In this piece, Kevin Marshall, Head of Education for Microsoft Ireland, speaks about the project’s origins and explains Microsoft’s long history of collaboration with DCU’s Institute of Education.

What inspires Microsoft to work with DCU’s Institute of Education on projects to shape the future of learning?

“The simple answer is a long history, going back over 15 years, working firstly with St Patrick’s College, Drumcondra and since 2016, with the DCU Institute of Education. Back in 2005, we began to work with Professor Deirdre Butler as our Irish research partner on the Innovative Schools Programme, a flagship programme for Microsoft at the time.

Our partnership has grown since then, leading to exciting new collaborations to inspire the next generation of teachers to embrace new learning technologies. These developments have included the creation of an immersive Minecraft Education Studio on DCU’s St Patrick’s Campus, to demonstrate how game-based learning can develop computational thinking skills that will benefit students in a wide range of careers in the future.

I think it is fair to say that we share a vision around the professional development needs of teachers and have a strong track record of working together to prepare teachers for the world they will face, using good solid academic research. Evidence is very important to us at Microsoft, there is no credibility without solid evidence and a research base.”

How did the Student Teacher Digital Skills project come about?

“Digital skills is an increasing area of focus for Microsoft and when we started to think about a digital skills module, DCU’s Institute of Education was an obvious partner.

Every year, we go out to schools and give students the opportunity to do an Hour of Code. We started thinking about different ways of delivering this to see if we could integrate it into the curriculum. The idea of upskilling student teachers to deliver the Hour of Code in schools was very exciting for us, not least because of the multiplier effect. By working with DCU, we could reach 400 schools through final year student teachers. And the impact doesn’t stop there, by upskilling student teachers we are also reaching the students they will teach in the future.

We were also enthused by the idea of a programmatic approach that integrates Hour of Code in the curriculum; by making it routine, it becomes very sticky, which is exactly what you want.”

How does this kind of project fit with Microsoft’s own values as a company?

“Digital skills and empowerment are at the core of our strategy. The Student Teacher Digital Skills Project was all about confidence, breaking down the barriers that exist to the use of coding and computational thinking in the classroom, and giving everybody the opportunity to learn.

For me, this project promotes empowerment, respect and inclusion. The idea is to make coding accessible to anybody who wants to engage with it, and then let them decide if they like it.”

How do you believe the creative use of digital technologies in the classroom can prepare children for the future and help them to achieve their full potential?

“The creative use of digital technologies has huge potential to enrich the curriculum and enhance the experiences of both children and teachers.

The reality is that children today live in a world where we haven’t yet imagined some of the jobs they will do. The most important skill for the future will almost certainly be data fluency, and everybody will need to have some understanding of coding and algorithms. By using digital technologies in the classroom, and giving children the opportunity to engage with them from an early age, we can increase their understanding and make them more comfortable with this.”