Microsoft has launched a new ‘Teacher Ambassador’ programme to help integrate its products and services effectively into the classroom. The first in the role, Nicki Gemmell, talks to INTERFACE.
Last month, Nicki Gemmell, a former primary school teacher, took on a new role at Microsoft New Zealand, becoming the company’s first ‘Teacher Ambassador’.
The initiative is an opportunity for schools to access professional development that is based in research, and leverage resources such as the Microsoft Educator Network. The company has plans for four ambassadors and, although Gemmell is Auckland-based, she will travel throughout the country.
“Teachers learn best from their peers,” she said. “Because I’ve spent so much time in schools I can come from a real position of understanding of what teachers need.
“Life in a school environment is very different to other work environments. Teachers work between a range of different stakeholders and they learn best from someone who understands exactly what situation they’re in.”
Choosing the right technology
Schools are becoming increasingly aware of the importance of choosing the right technology to accelerate learning. Microsoft believes it’s essential to look at the scientific research that highlights the impact of the digital interface on learning, and ensure this is conveyed to teachers and educators through an ambassador.
For example, research by Dr Sharon Oviatt, an internationally renowned scientist and lifelong educator known for her work in human-centred interface design, shows that the use of pen-based interfaces builds deeper learning when compared to learning a keyboard-only interface. New findings, in fact, show that such keyboard-only learning may even hold learning back (bit.ly/digitalinking).
“These are the types of discussions that schools have been asking Microsoft for as they seek to develop an impactful strategy for digital technology in learning, and is why the Teacher Ambassador programme has been created,” explained Anne Taylor, Microsoft’s schools and academic programmes manager.
From beginner to expert
Gemmell is able to work with teachers at every level of the technology spectrum, from beginner to expert.
“The best teachers don’t have to be technology geeks. It’s all about the pedagogy. They have a sound knowledge of teaching and learning. They want to know how to enhance learning outcomes.”
Microsoft’s Teacher Ambassador role exists because teachers understand that learning is changing, and teachers want to know what ideas will work and how to integrate technology into their teaching practice. For that reason, Gemmell’s background with Microsoft products is not technical or IT-based; she is an everyday user just like teachers in schools.
“I’m possibly the world’s biggest fan of OneNote,” she added. “I’ve used it as a teacher, a professional, a student, and as a personal organiser. I use a Surface Pro every day, and I’m able to speak with real experience about how exciting it is to have everything in the cloud with Office 365.”
Microsoft’s Teacher Ambassador Professional Development sessions are free for schools.
“The really exciting thing about the ambassadors is we can tailor professional development to what each school needs. We can do sessions with the whole staff, or highly-focused workshops.”
Looking at real life tools
Teacher sessions can cover anything within the Microsoft suite of products. For example, “We can look at Office Mix, OneNote Class notebook or Skype for Business and how they can be used between students, classrooms, and even schools across the world,” said Gemmell “We will look at real life tools and see them all at work.”
As technology will continue to evolve, it is often difficult for teachers working with it every day to comprehend its effect on learning, and how exactly it will lead to better educational decisions.
“One of the things I always talk about with schools is that we’ve had technology in learning environments for 100 years. We’ve discussed radio, TV, and slide projection as it has been introduced. The discussions always end with ‘how will this affect learning outcomes?’
“We are here to keep the humanity in teaching. We want to keep people in front of kids, not replace them with technology. We want to look at all the tools available and simplify everything right down, and make sure we can find what is going to enhance the outcomes for the kids.”
Nicki Gemmell was talking to Lee Seabrook-Suckling. She was a classroom teacher at Flanshaw Road School in Auckland, from 2001 to 2004, and has worked inside schools ever since.
To find out more about the Microsoft Education team and how they can assist you, go to microsoft.com/nz/microsoftintheclassroom/