Microsoft Education VP’s Enthusiasm for Learning and Technology
Margo Day's continuous inspiration for student learning
by Dr. Rod Berger
Margo Day is a tech industry veteran with 33 years experience in the industry. She currently serves a VP of U.S. Education at Microsoft, where she has worked in various capacities since 2001. Despite all those years, Margo is not the stereotyped established veteran of the tech industry. To the contrary, she has an infectious enthusiasm and passion for her job and the industry as a whole.
I spent some time with Margo at the ISTE conference last summer in San Antonio. We talked about her role at Microsoft as well as her vision for Microsoft’s role in education. Below is the transcript of what proved to be a very interesting and highly informative conversation.
Rod Berger: Margo, it’s really nice to be spending some time with you today. Everybody and their neighbor knows Microsoft, yet they may not know it in education. I would imagine that in your position, it’s a bit like being an explorer. You have the foundation; you have the resources to be able to chart a course that others wouldn’t be able to because of the sheer size and relevance of Microsoft in technology.
I’m fascinated; what is it like for you at the end of the night when you’re closing down and you think about education and what Microsoft can be doing?
Margo Day: I’m totally energized. I’ve been in the technology business for 33 years; I’ve been with Microsoft for 17 years and I’ve been leading their education business for about 5.
The world of tomorrow is going to look so different than the world of today. As adults, we really have this remarkable responsibility to be part of the team ─ and when I say “team,” I mean everyone, not just Microsoft ─ to truly come alongside the technology and transform this learning environment in K-12 so that we really are preparing our students for a tomorrow that looks different from today.
In that context, viewed from the perch of my responsibilities, I’m super energized. And here’s why: Microsoft is an enterprise company, meaning we’re one of the top technology companies, one of the top global companies.
We bring a vast number of resources and solutions to the problem, and we understand that education institutions are enterprises in and of themselves. We try to understand how to really empower and infuse the learning environment with interesting and creative things to spark the creativity in student minds so that learning is engaging and fun, as opposed to “Oh, man… some lady is talking to me again.”
It’s a long answer but I feel that way. I feel the responsibility of this and I feel that the corporation is so deeply committed to education.
I continuously ask myself, “Am I doing the right job for Microsoft to make sure that people truly understand what we have and where we’re going in partnerships so that everybody has the knowledge and can make the choices that they have to make?”
RB: Let’s talk about the challenges. You have a global society that knows Microsoft ─ the brand awareness and recognition is there. But it’s not just “Well, I use Microsoft, so I guess I can use it in a classroom.” How do you share the apps and programs where people say, “You know what, I didn’t realize that it really is fine-tuned for what we’re doing in the classroom?”
How do you drill down so that people understand the application and specificity? How do you communicate that conversation?
MD: At the end of the day, we have to simplify our messaging. That’s what it takes. We really are all about helping to drive student outcome and student impact in learning.
We’re very clear about our mission statement, which is to “Empower every student on the planet to achieve more.” And I underscore the word “every” because “every” means “every” and “all” means “all.” That means every student on the planet of all types and all abilities irrespective of socio-economic status.
Then you also think about, “Okay, what are the technology footprints that are happening on the planet?” So we’ve got to be cross-platform; we’ve got to be cross-device. We’ve got to be mobile, we’ve got to be online, and we’ve got to be offline.
But then that statement is a pregnant statement because of what the mission statement is ─ and we have to think about what’s going to happen tomorrow. I can give you some data and facts and figures if that’s interesting for you, but essentially we think about how we help students create the future of tomorrow.
So that lends itself to things like computational thinking and creativity collaboration. It lends itself beautifully to these areas of STEAM and STEM and in what we’re doing in the computer sciences, in the broader STEM kind of world.
Then we think a ton about how we empower teachers to be able to deliver that learning tomorrow. And you say, “Okay, unpack that a little bit.”
Then it’s about “How do we really make sure that teachers are super efficient in the classroom?” Making teachers do things like having to enter student data in three different systems or ten different systems is a crime. As an enterprise player, we think about that so I can unpack that.
Lastly, it’s “We run on trust.” Microsoft runs on trust. But what does that actually mean?
RB: Yes. I haven’t heard that.
MD: In the world of cybersecurity, it’s making sure that everybody is secure; that data is held private, that people are secure in their environments from end to end. We can go into cybersecurity conversations. We can go into a variety of different areas on what that means and how we engineer stuff like that.
RB: Margo, one of the things that I think is fascinating in the last three to five years is this shift where you have the bigger players, the main brands out there… and then you have the smaller groups, the innovators, the startups. And I think it’s a positive thing, if I put my parent hat on, that we have groups of all shapes and sizes collaborating on projects and trying to solve global problems, challenges, and opportunities.
What role do you think Microsoft plays in welcoming those small players that, for all intents and purposes, wouldn’t think that Microsoft would be interested in collaboration just because of the sheer difference in size?
MD: Big wide open arms! That’s exactly what I’ll say because you’re right. Education is made up of this beautiful fabric of all of these different solutions depending on what the educator needs depending on where they are in the globe, depending on what size tech footprint they have, and depending on a whole variety of different things.
We have a very significant commitment to the broad scope of partners that are out there. We’ve got people who focus on education incubators all the way from the startup communities up. We’ve got people who actually work with our partners or work with prospective partners to really understand “What does integration with Office 365 actually look like? How do you use the learning tools? What are their environments all about? Or how might you tap into OneNote Class Notebook to really amplify and bring your solution to bear?”
And because we work cross-platform and because we work on a variety of different devices ─ IOS devices, Chromebooks, Android devices, if that’s what people want to do ─ we’re not in this closed ecosystem anymore.
Think about what we’ve just done with School Data Sync and our integrations with teams. We now integrate with over 40 SIS (student information systems) in elementary school systems.
Just an example ─ I was talking with Edmodo last night and they were saying that the integrations that we have with Office 365 allow them to bring in some portions of our technologies into that student experience. And that’s happening over and over again.
Our job is to open up the APIs. (Application Programming Interface.) Our job is to show people how to do it on a scalable basis, and then to just dive in and work with them.
RB: Let’s dive into the business of education for a moment. I think one of the biggest challenges that we face and hopefully, we’ll get better ─ is in understanding how to navigate amazing technology, amazing innovation, and the bureaucracy of states, districts, and schools. I don’t think there’s a silver bullet for it and a one-size-fits-all.
I’m sure there are challenges that you face, being as large as Microsoft, that others may not and challenges others face don’t apply to you. Tell us a little bit about that and how you look at the relationship between industry and policy.
MD: I’ll go into a couple of different ways. There are some very important policy decisions that are being discussed and need to be made ─ policies around cybersecurity, for example. Early on in the process, it was policies around student data privacy. Microsoft is one of the founding members of the K-12 School Service Provider Pledge to Safeguard Student Privacy.
We work at both the federal and the state level with policymakers so that they’re really informed. When you think about policies around computer science, I think it was about five years ago that only seven states had computer science as a high school credit.
Now, I think we’re north of 27 or 28 states. That’s another example of the policy work that Microsoft is doing to really help educators and policymakers understand the future that awaits us. And then, from a policy point of view, how do we really amplify that?
There are lots of things going on right now around student data analytics and the roles that departments of education are playing in really trying to bring the value that they can do on a state level to the variety of different LEAs (Local Education Agencies) that they work with or the districts that they work with.
RB: The data collection is changing where administrators are getting more educated at mastering the technology. They’re not asking the Microsofts of the world for every piece of data that you could conceivably package together within a solution. That was what was going on a few years ago; they wanted all data they could possibly gather. It was like a kid in the candy shop.
But once they got it all they said, “Wait a minute… we don’t know what to do with it. We don’t have the staff to be able to analyze that, and it’s not practical.”
Have you seen that?
MD: Do I see this really deeper understanding of the power of data and what data provides? The answer is absolutely yes.
Do I also see that all of that is informed by policy? The answer is also absolutely yes.
Different states have different policies around how much data can be brought into an education system with predictive analytics on top of that so that really good decisions can be made.
I’ll just give you an example. We know that two-thirds of an impact of a child’s learning happens outside of the school day. And so if you’re a foster child or if you’re a child who only has one parent, or you have a parent that might be incarcerated for a period of time, the world that child is in is a really different world than somebody else’s world who might have a little bit more stable family.
So is there a way to actually bring in the broader environmental factors that student is experiencing and combine it with the education data gathered and then look at predictive indicators as to whether or not that student is going to remain on track towards high school graduation?
That’s something that’s being done with Hub Schools, and it’s being done very successfully. I think they started it five years ago. More and more districts and to some degree state departments of education are looking at those things.
But policy has to inform the breadth or the narrowness of the data that comes into these systems. The tools we have will do it; it’s the policy that needs to inform it, stripped in with the right PII kind of data and experiences, so it’s either directional for populations and/or specific and predictive for a student.
We’re finding that the states understand that. We’re finding that the districts understand that. So then, we come alongside and have those conversations.
RB: I’d love to get your take on this. If you are in a start-up to even small business range, the danger you’re in is if you innovate ahead of the sales cycle in education… which can be very long… or if you hadn’t really predicted the market successfully, you won’t have enough runway even to survive. Then our children miss out on potentially some market-changing technology that we had never thought of.
At the same time, you have technology companies that are trying to stay ahead of the curve as well. And then, you have schools and districts and states saying, “This is the technology we need” whether or not it’s been invented or created yet. They may not understand what it costs in R&D to put together something that ends up in a student’s lap or at a teacher’s desk.
So how do we create a balance where we don’t have this albatross of a project that doesn’t make a lot of sense in today’s education? How do we balance the conversation so that the Microsofts of the world are leading the way but doing so in partnership so that not only do we understand what the districts want in the future but we also educate them on using the tools they already have at their disposal?
MD: Education goes both ways, frankly, from whether it’s teachers or chief academic officers all the way back to Microsoft as well because we’re not the be-all, know-all as to how to drive student outcomes and the greatest student learning. THEY are.
Do we do a lot of research? Do we partner together with leading dyslexia experts? Do we dive into the brain science with leading researchers?
Absolutely! Those are areas that we do all that and more.
But, at the same time, there’s a very pragmatic classroom application. It’s the teacher that’s showing up for those 50 minutes. So what does that learning environment look like? How does a chief academic officer try to layer in this transformational program ─ and over what period of time and at what pace?
Even within an education system ─ just like any system, really ─ you’re always going to have pockets that are out ahead leading the way, really establishing what the broader kind of groups can do. We’re seeing all of that.
How do we then engage Microsoft as a global player with all these resources but at the same time, someone who is always open ─ with two ears ─ to listen and learn?
We engage with hundreds of thousands of teachers so that we can understand, experience, and learn what their classroom environments are like. We work with a lot of influencers whether they’re chief academic officers in particular districts, at state levels or at the LEAs. But even with the smaller schools, the smallest schools… you’ll find this out in very rural places talking to educators there because their challenges in a remote place are super different than the ones who live in Manhattan.
The role that Microsoft plays is a role where we think at scale. It’s not one-size-fits-all, and we’re very aware of this. So when we say, “We want to help the students of tomorrow create that world,” we think “Okay, then how do we ignite a student’s imagination?”
We might ignite it with things like what we’re doing with Windows 10 Fall Creators Update. In this whole new world of 3D and 3D creation and video editing, with this new story remix product that we’re releasing… how that unleashes creativity. We might unleash creativity with a product like Minecraft and the education edition. It was informed by 45,000 teachers while we created this thing and then bringing in this beautiful coding experience along with it.
We might work with the dyslexic experts because we understand that it’s “all” students. So we developed this free add-in called The Learning Tools with this beautiful, immersive reading experience.
We call up teachers that we know and we’ll say, “What do you think about this and can we co-create this with you? Give us feedback on all these things.”
From an awareness point of view, it’s like, “Okay, great!” We have regular channels like Microsoft.com/education and our education blog where we think on scale of, “How do we get these stories out?”
We work with all these teachers, and there is a really interesting grassroots bionature of what teachers do because teachers are always looking for the greatest things. It’s the same thing with chief academic officers.
But the cool thing that I’m seeing now that I didn’t see five years ago ─ I actually didn’t see it in spades even three years ago ─ is this blended partnership between Information Technology and the chief academic officer.
When you really think about this learning environment, the chief academic officer is brilliant in understanding what the learning environment of today and tomorrow needs to be… but they may not be a technology expert. Even with just the simple technology things around single sign-on and the IT environments that need to exist there.
But when you have this team and this collaboration between IT and chief academic officers, they both are working towards “What are the best technology solutions that we should be introducing to make that happen?”
RB: Let’s close with this, Margo. All of this technology in today’s world, it makes me wonder ─ what would I be doing if I had that kind of access to technology back when I was growing up? When you were a young girl and you were in school, did you ever imagine a world like what you and I are now occupying in technology, with the opportunities?
Have you ever said to yourself, “You know what ─”?
MD: When I look back, here’s the first thing that I look at. I had a third-grade teacher and her name was Mrs. Belzvick.
You may not believe this, but I’m actually an introvert. I grew up in a large family and I’m one of the younger kids. So you’re almost kind of like “I think I’ve got something in me but is anybody really noticing?” and all that doubt and stuff that little kids go through.
Mrs. Belzvick saw something in me that I always hoped somebody would. She figured out that I was good at math and that I was really logical. So she wanted me to be the person that did the volcano experiment in front of all of the parents and the school because she wanted to help me break out of my shell. And the way that she did it was through something that she knew that I was good at. She knew I was an introvert. She gave me a pathway.
I had another experience when I was a senior in high school in 1977 where I had another adult in my social world say, “You know something, I think that computers in technology are going to set the world on fire. Do you want to learn how to code?”
And I was like, “Oh, okay, yes absolutely! What’s coding?” This is 1977, remember. (Laughter)
There were three or four of us that got together and we learned how to code midrange computer systems. I remember the first little program that I wrote on Datapoint language using Databus stuff ─ and I thought, “My God, I can actually create something!”
It’s one of these things where as a kid, it’s in there innately. I think it’s in everybody. I do believe that creativity and potential are in absolutely everybody. But it takes all of us to bring it out. And so, did I imagine then the world that I’m in today?
No. But what I did imagine was what the next step beyond might be. Even early on I had people helping me understand what that might look like and be like.
I started this conversation by saying that we, as adults, have a profound responsibility. In a big part, I harken back to what adults did for me whether they’re teachers or other people ─ and my parents were great, by the way. (Laughter)
And it took all of us to do that.
When you think about the world that will exist ─ Java talked a lot about that in January 2016. They said that we really are in this Fourth Industrial Revolution and it’s a revolution that really is unlocking a ton around the existing data, these new paradigms around artificial intelligence, deep learning and what that might actually mean in terms of really doing things like precision agriculture, precision medicine, autonomous vehicles, and stuff like that.
The amount of data in technology that the world beyond ─ that a fourth grader will experience by the time that they’re 18 ─ is dramatic.
I’m actually going to reference something that Satya Nadella talked about in a speech. I haven’t read this piece of research myself but I understand from IBC that they said, “Right now, there are about 10 zettabytes of data in the world.”
And I was like, “What the heck is a zettabyte?”
I learned that it’s one trillion gigabytes, and I can’t even get my brain around that. That’s right now, at this point in time.
In ten years, it will be about a hundred and eighty zettabytes. You’re a fourth grader right now; how are we preparing you, a fourth grader, for that world?
In this world of tomorrow, we’re going to need to tap into the creativity and potential of every single student because they, in part, are going to create that world of tomorrow. They really are.
So, we take that responsibility on at Microsoft in a very deep and profound way when we say that we want to help students of today create the world of tomorrow. It includes the heady things about data science and computer science and STEM and what that will look like.
We all know that we can’t do things on our own. So how do you really ignite collaboration? How do you really do it well? How do you really ignite computational thinking and what does that really mean? How do you really bring kinesthetic learning in?
Maybe one of the pedagogical models could be the problem-based learning or the project-based learning. But what does that really mean?
I’m way off your question but that’s what we embrace. I love my job and I love what we do because we really are living this mission for ourselves.
RB: You bring a humanity to the public’s experience of the corporate world that I think is necessary, especially in education. And I’m so glad to have a chance to be able to tell your story and update people on all the great things that Microsoft is doing.
MD: It’s a real pleasure for me as well. Thank you very much.
About Margo Day:
Margo Day is vice president of U.S. Education for Microsoft Corp. She is responsible for the U.S. Education strategy and sales to K–12 and higher education customers across the U.S.
She has been at Microsoft since 2001, holding previous roles of Vice President, West Region SMS&P and Vice President, US Partners. She was a 2014 Circle of Excellence, Platinum Club Founders award winner, 2006 Microsoft Most Inspirational Woman award, and in 2012 was nominated for the Anita Borg Women of Vision Social Impact Award.
Follow Margo Day on Twitter.