Microsoft’s Unlimited Potential

Bill Gates has appeared in a YouTube video praising Microsoft’s supposed goal to:

“bring the benefits of technology to people in a meaningful and relevant way to help address the diverse social and economic issues they face and to foster an environment where people make the most of their skills and abilities.”

These may seem some altruistic goals on the surface and something that TeacherJay agrees with, but today’s post takes a look at the video and some of the reasons to be cautious of Billy Boy’s address.

First, take a look at the video, it’s only two minutes long:

For the moment, lets ignore the nasal voice, what looks like a digitally-created backdrop and the fact that although the video appears on the site with the title “Bill Gates & OLPC”. TeacherJay didn’t notice any mention of the One Laptop Per Child project in the segment. Billy Boy, like many others, seems to think that the simple proliferation of technology, specifically of Microsoft programs, will cure all of the social and economic needs of this world. Well, it’s really not that simple. He does see that technology can be used as a tool to enhance learning, but continues to ignore the fact that people will need time to adapt and learn to use new tools.

The video concludes by showing the URL to the Microsoft Unlimited Potential website. This project seems aimed at putting Microsoft products into the hands of people who previously haven’t had the joy of Windows crashing just when it is needed the most. While some of the ideas may have some promise, for example, Multipoint, which allows a room full of students to each have a mouse and collaborate in one computer environment; or Grava, which seems to be an interactive curriculum development tool with rich authoring tools to create a Computer Adapted Learning environments, in which the software will modify itself according to a child’s needs.

TeacherJay does appreciate the efforts of the world’s largest software publisher to put their muscle to good use, but unfortunately the efforts seem to be misguided. These “solutions” require some rather heavy hardware, plus the technical skills to use it. It will not be enough to simply give the technology to the “disadvantaged” of the world – people need to be taught how to use it. In the United States, perennially, one of the top reasons why teachers do not use technology that has been provided for them is that they feel they have not received adequate training, not just in its use, but in its implementation and incorporation to the way they already teach. Learning typically involves acquiring new skills and even the best-designed software (and we all know Microsoft is usually not in this category) requires some learning or at least a familiarity with the way that software works. Gates and Microsoft seem to be taking a leap and expecting that the whole world fall in line to do things their way.

Fellow blogger, Allan Benamer, recently posted his reactions to an article written on Gates’ attempts to save the world. In true geek fashion, Gates seems to be focusing on numbers and has a grasp of the enormousness of the amount of people not using his software. The education of a child is not something that can be accomplished by looking at the larger view though – it starts with one child. Any project that is truly looking for social change and improving lives has individuals at its core – not technology, not software, and certainly not the monopolistic strategies of Bill Gates.

Microsoft is a company that has unlimited resources and probably unlimited potential to make a difference in the education of all children, but they need to focus on what children and teachers need – not what Microsoft wants them to do. Unfortunately, they seem to be focused on changing the world to suit their model of it.

Comments, criticisms, questions, suggestions… all are welcome.


One Response to “Microsoft’s Unlimited Potential”

  1. emalyse Says:

    Hmmm.I know it’s easy to be cynical about Microsoft (they do make it easy to be so) but that was a decidedly uninspiring address.The bit “let workers access technology in new ways…such as through subscription and payment plans” smacks of a kind of a colonial hire purchase easy payment catalogue plan.PR wise they always end up looking like it’s just about the money.
    I remember a few years ago Gates saying he wanted computers to be available at the sub $199 level to which the manufacturers pointed out that the cost of the OS was a significant barrier to getting costs down when some of them currently work on a 1% profit margin. I appreciate the charitable work Bill Gates does with his personal fortune derived from Microsoft profits but am a little cynical about seeing technology in itself as a solver of world problems rather than just a useful tool that requires talented people to use and exploit its potential and which often costs many times more than the purchase costs to support and maintain.

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