Big Names in Education and Tech Speak at Microsoft CEO Summit

The 2012 Microsoft CEO Summit presented a panel on Innovation in Education and featured three prominent voices in education and technology. Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates, the founder of the Khan Academy Sal Khan, and Kaplan’s Chief Learning Officer Bror Saxberg sat down with moderator Walter Isaacson, the President and CEO of Aspen Institute and covered a variety of topics related to how innovation is changing education today.

A few highlights:

  • Bill Gates first spoke about the reimagining of textbooks. “With pervasive digital devices and pervasive internet connections, one can imagine eliminating the paper-based textbook,” he said. “The boundary between quiz, lecture and textbook is basically eviscerated.”
  • Gates also commented on while it is impressive that upper-echelon institutions like MIT and Harvard are offering some of their curriculum online, at this point there’s basically no market for it. You won’t exactly find people online at home on their computer eagerly anticipating the next lecture on calculating wave functions. This led to a few of Sal Khan’s points about effective usage of digital lectures.
  • Sal Khan’s nonprofit model Khan Academy is focused on free digital lectures, and he touted the importance of this kind of digital content in a learning environment built around allowing students the freedom to progress at their own pace. “As soon as you’ve made the assumption that every student can learn at their own pace and master concepts and move on and build a scaffold, it allows you to rethink every aspect of the education system. You no longer have to group kids by age or have all the desks pointed in the same direction.”
  • Kaplan’s Bror Saxberg praised Khan’s videos, pointing out that viewers aren’t just responding well to the intelligence of the content, but because they’re actually following along with Khan’s combination of on-screen text and spoken word. “Simple, informal language offers a good learning solution.” See for yourself, it’s highly effective.

(The gentle and invitational way Khan’s videos present information reminded me of a recent MindShift article about what kids gain from listening to their parents read and engaging with the material. It’s about more than just presenting the material, it’s about caring for the material and showing the learner how it’s done.)

  • Saxberg’s for-profit model Kaplan provided an interesting yet non-competitive contrast to Khan’s model. When asked about how the for-profit model will succeed, Saxberg responded: “Technology is not the only answer. The human mind is built to take a lot of feedback and to use it very well, and there are some thing you can’t automate. If you’re trying to write a persuasive essay, you need someone to give you feedback on why its not persuasive and how to do it again until it’s right.”
  • Saxberg also elaborated on the post-education period and what the higher education system can learn from observing how people fare in the first six months after graduating. He recommended observing a workplace, finding the top three performers, and then creating services that target the skills of those specific workers. “It’s enormously valuable for both employees and employers to know that the training track is leading to high-quality expertise that’s been validated in the workplace.”

All three men agreed on how politics and other obstacles stand in the way of American public schools. Gates spoke about how these obstacles must be conquered in order to keep up with innovators like Sal Khan who have current, ready-to-be-implemented services up and running. “Thank goodness for charter schools and some young teachers who are essentially ready to break the rules,” Gates said with a smile.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Halasz-Christina/100001661755654 Halasz Christina

    At 13:15, Bill asks, “Well, what we’d really like to know is, why is it so hard to get kids motivated around these things.  I mean, after all, it’s really in the kid’s interest to get a high school degree and get a college degree.”  It’s at this point when my daughter, Faera enters my home office and asks me, “Would you like a banana?”  I reply, “Sure.” Then she hands me a Dole brand banana from Honduras, marked with the numbers, #60, #4011.

  • oye_el_pensador

    The Gates, Khan, Rhee, and Duncan, currently the really hot public education deformers, are complete frauds.  I have more fingers (not counting my thumb) on one hand than they have years teaching experience combined.  And Rhee’s teaching practices included taping kids mouths shut, not to mention that she lies about the supposed great job she did as the head of the DC school system and uses deceptive marketing practices to get the number supporters for her cause up-see Diane Ravitch’s blog for a systematic explanation of those lies and deceptions.  They send their kids to private schools with small class sizes and no high stakes standardized testing mandates but want to subject everyone else’s kids to inexperienced teachers with class sizes in the 30s.  How fucking nice of them!!

    What do they know about public school education? 

    Why the hell would I listen to anyone who doesn’t have at least ten if not more like fifteen years of public school teaching experience tell me how to “reform” public education?  How utterly fucking stupid is that???

    Do you go into the operating room and tell the surgeon how to perform that angioplasty?

    Rhee lasted three years in a classroom.  None of the others would even last a full day, much less a year or five or ten or twenty.  Hell, I’m more qualified to be the Surgeons General than Duncan is qualified to be the DoE Secretary, at least I worked in a hospital for four years and was married to nurses for over twenty years.

    No these deformers are about destroying local democratically controlled public schools so that they can make a fortune peddling their snake oil supposed solutions.  They want to make a fortune off training and testing and want nothing to do with teaching and learning which is what goes on in a class where there is actually interaction between the teacher and the students.  Training is good for training my Lab to hunt, certainly not good for a human.

    Why is it we’re expected to give these bastards the time of day by listening to their bullshit?  And that is what it is, bullshit.

    They’re all frauds and hucksters whose only concern is their own bottom line although masked as altruism/philanthropy or supposed concern for “all students”-bullshit.!.

    We, public school teachers are professionals and the bastards that
    constantly lie about to degrade us can go to fucking hell (if there were
    one), and yeh, I know that is a strong statement and supposedly shouldn’t be uttered in polite company but I’m completely fed
    up with this crap.  It’s one thing do deal on a daily basis with an ignorant student, we expect to.  But to deal with these liars and prevaricators drives me crazy.  Yes, I’m angry and refuse to back down from these high brow, exploiting people.

    So you know who I am and feel free to contact me, however I doubt this comment will last long in the comment section.

    Duane E Swacker
    Public high school Spanish teacher for 18 years
    dswacker@centurytel.net

  • http://www.backpack.tv/ Joe Wagner

    Khan Academy is not just great for the videos but for the practice exercises as well.  Only with practice can students master math and science concepts.