Microsoft in Education? Maybe not so much.

I just posted this to the Microsoft Yammer Computer Science Teachers Network site.  I figured I might as well get double use out of it.

 

“The sudden death of Touch Develop and CCGA has me deep into an expounding mood. Reading some of the comments by teachers that use TD and CCGA makes me feel for them. I did not use TD or CCGA because I have other directions in my curriculum but a few years ago I did attend one of the multi-day CCGA training sessions given my Microsoft . It was very worthwhile and I figured Microsoft’s interest in education was well grounded and they had a plan. Now I am sure they have neither. It seems to me they do not have anyone involved in their education software department that actually knows anything about education or educators. The death of CCGA is the perfect example. There is nothing wrong with fazing out a program, CS evolves, but that change should be over a year or two to give teachers time to plan, rewrite and train. Adopting a curriculum is not an easy job. A good teacher will not just take something like CCGA and use it exactly as written. They have to adapt it to their own experience, the needs of their particular student group and the hardware they have available. This takes a lot of time on their part. Time is not something teachers have a lot of hanging around. MS seems to have completely missed this. If the MS education department had a couple of experienced K-12 teachers wandering around the office I am sure those teachers would have said something like “Are you nuts!? You cannot kill it like that! There are teachers using this right now and they have hours and hours invested into this curriculum! You do this and you are going to lose the faith of all the teachers that use MS based curriculum. Are you really that nuts!?”. The idea that the CCGA curriculum can simply be replaced by MakeCode demonstrates MS’s lack of understanding even more. Curriculum is not plug-and-play.

 

Years ago MS used to have Education Advocates. There were experienced teachers that were online to help answer teaching questions and promote MS education. Perhaps MS needs to rehire these positions. They need somebody out there that has teaching experience, somebody listening to classroom teachers and somebody to help MS plan a long term education strategy. They need to have someone with K-12 experience look at what teachers are doing in the classroom and give practical advice to the higher powers.

 

MS is not going to make a fortune on education, most of us are too broke to spend money on education software, especially when there is so much good stuff out there for free. But education software lays the foundation for what kids are going to be familiar with when they get into the job market. It builds a dedicated user group. Right now MS is losing that dedicated user group of teachers. My school is leaving Office for Google Apps, I was all ready to dive big time into Project Spark when it died, I now use Unity, my VB curriculum has been almost completely replaced by Python and Chromebooks are replacing all the PCs in our elementary school. At this rate MS is going to lose the education race, especially when they alienate a few thousand teachers.

 

MS obviously has people working for it that are interested in education products. Small Basic is the perfect intro line code language, MakeCode will be great for the middle school (until MS kills it that is), little kids love Kodu and VB/C# have an understandably dedicated core of teachers. All MS has to do now is to figure out what K-12 education is all about. Long range strategic planning is a good thing.”

 

I actually like MS.  They make some great free stuff that makes teaching CS much easier.  Some of their stuff is just down right cool.  Kodu and (when it was alive) Project Spark are and were just so dang fun that I figured I would be able to suck kids into the black hole of programming for years with those two.  After two years I am still grieving the loss of Project Spark.  The death of Touch Develop and CCGA just sends up a flag that MS is simply out of touch with their education community.  We still use Kodu in the elementary school but I will make sure the teacher there does not rely on it as a core to a lesson group.  Luckily Small Basic, one of my mainstays, does not appear to be controlled by MS.  If it were to die I would be hurting.  It is a standalone but having the support group is incredibly useful.

 

The lack of expertise in understanding the education market just seems odd to me.  There are undoubtedly thousands of teachers out there that would love to help MS figure out a plan for a continuous K-12 strategy that would not have any sudden death moments.  A couple of face-to-face conferences and then use online collaboration and something good might occur.  And probably a lot cheaper than pissing off a few thousand teachers.

 

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One Response to “Microsoft in Education? Maybe not so much.”

  1. Alfred Thompson Says:

    There used to be an advisory board of teachers that met several times a year with people at Microsoft. It was a good thing. I wish it were still around. A big part of the problem is there is no central group at Microsoft that cares about CS education. And that is a shame.

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