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Ed Tech in a Hybrid World With Microsoft's Joe Brazier — ICYMI

Joe Brazier leads K-12 strategy on Microsoft's worldwide education team. This week he answered the "In Case You Missed It" crew's questions about the changing needs of educators in the wake of COVID-19.

The COVID-19 pandemic upended education and learning across the U.S. for years. School administrators, educators and students were thrust into remote learning seemingly overnight.

Unfortunately, the leap to remote learning brought with it challenges with accessibility, connectivity and equity for students across the country.

In this episode, the “In Case You Missed It” crew examines the technological needs of educators and students in a hybrid learning world with Joe Brazier, K-12 strategy lead for Microsoft's worldwide education team.

Before Microsoft, he spent more than a decade working in special education. His passion is helping provide technology access and skills to students with social, cognitive and other obstacles to a typical learning experience.

Brazier gives us a look into how Microsoft is helping schools provide an equitable and accessible education for all students.



The following interview was lightly edited for clarity and brevity:

Q: Tell us a little bit about yourself and your work in Microsoft.

A: I started out in special education. And technology plays a big point in that. Anybody who works in special education understands that data collection and all the logistics are a difficult thing. So it's things that I did in my classroom that really have transferred well over to my work here at Microsoft. I'm a K-12 strategy manager for our worldwide education business — it is kind of a sales strategy role. So it's a little bit different than many people may think. But one of the things I really get to do in this role is understand the products that we have, how it impacts our students, and really try to drive our strategy on focusing there. It's really focusing on how we can empower all of our learners, and all of our educators, to do more in the world. So that's a little bit about what I do. It is on the sales side of the business, but it really does have a lasting impact on the students, educators, leaders and IT around the world.

Q: K-12 has been a whirlwind over the last two years. And looking at the events of the last 24 months, I'd be interested to know, how have these events started to reshape the thinking around learning, including distance learning.

A: "Whirlwind" is a great way to describe it. Maybe that's a little bit downplaying just what has happened over the last couple of years. But I'd like to just kind of take a moment to really acknowledge the heroic efforts that have been made by teachers, school admins, instructional technologists, just everybody across the board to navigate these last two years. Any student who's come to the other side, any educator who has come to the other side, if that's even what we can call it now, with sanity intact, has accomplished a great feat. So really want to just kind of take a moment to acknowledge that it's very important to do that.

One of the things that we've seen is that technology has played a vital role. There's been a lot of things thrust into the market, thrust into the education industry. In response to it, everybody's like, "We've got to go online, we've got to learn remotely. How do we do that?" And for better or worse, a lot of tech companies have doubled down, they said, "Hey, we're going to support education." And I think that the important thing is that everybody is now focused on how we can make education better inside the classroom, outside of the classroom and even the management security of it all. And what we're about to find out is what will remain, and we don't know that yet. That's what we're starting to see. What are the things that are going to linger after all of this, when people return in person more often, even as things kind of ebb and flow — remote, blended, flipped, even — and back in person? So what is going to stick around remains to be seen. But one of the things that I think is very important is that it did highlight that there is that the digital divide is a little bit deeper than we first anticipated.

Q: Something else that people have been bringing up is learning loss. This is a huge concern right now, a topic of a lot of conversations — particularly learning loss between racial groups and income groups during this move to distance learning. What efforts are capturing your attention right now around accessibility and digital equity?

A: I try to frame this idea more that learning was interrupted. It was interrupted at a very profound scale. It was interrupted to the point where students are not at the point where we would expect them to normally be. However, that is a global thing.

So what we are trying to do is see how can we really accelerate that learning, and what is it that we can do for that? In special education, sometimes I got students with a diagnosis. Other times, I would work with students who were behind several years. So the idea wasn't how can I get growth on pace, but how can I accelerate that learning to try to do as much as we can to catch those students up with their peers. One of the main ways that we would do that, as I mentioned earlier, is with data. What do we know about how the student learns, how they feel about their learning, and their actual progress? So being able to take all of these pieces of data into account to say, this is where they are on their reading, this is their confidence level with their reading. And here's how we can continue to support them with the way that they process information and to give them access to the content in the way that works. This was all bits and pieces that myself and my team did to accelerate that learning for students.

What's really catching my eye is how we're seeing technology. And technology partners really try to work that in to their platforms, or tools or services, and the tools that are readily available for students. So these are the things. Yes, we've got lots of great tools, devices, features. There's amazing things that are going on. And you even mentioned that with the Windows 11, the Surface Laptop SE at the top of this.

The other side of that is what do we learn? And what can we do now that we've got all these devices, all that technology being used, and all that data coming in on how long students are working, who's struggling, where they're struggling, and how they're feeling, and how we can help them? There's a lot of great things around the insights and the AI and what we can do with that. And that's really what's catching my eye as far as being able to provide that accessible education for all students.

Q: Going back to devices and technology, the roles that these things play. What is the value of having a laptop and operating system that is purpose built for education? In other words, what kind of impact can that have on students and educators versus just having any old laptop or any operating system?

A: The device is important. It should go without saying the form factor and the capabilities, they are very important. Kids interact with the world in a very exploratory way. And the device should be able to adjust to those needs in the education environment, without limiting or taking away from a student's willingness to learn. They're continual learners, and so we want to continue to foster that and foster that confidence and initiative in learning.

So when they are limited to the tools that are in front of them, that's where the struggle is. Like I said, the form factor is important. But also not feeling like you're "othered" right? Like, all my classmates have this. But I have to have this because I have additional needs, I have additional supports. Being able to be very flexible within the portfolio of available devices that are there for all students. I think what we're able to do is limit that social anxiety that some students have. Things like reading progress and being able to do that without being pulled out into the hallway with a different teacher — but for everybody being able to do that, and the teacher getting that data. So the same way having something that has accessibility built in — having the device that is able to have a screen reader, be controlled with your eyes, be a magnifier, all those things are built in along with Immersive Reader, Presenter Coach, Reading Coach, all of these accessibility tools that are built in means that you're limiting that stigma around it.

When someone has a temporary disability, they have a broken leg, a broken arm, it's understood that, yeah, to navigate the halls I need to get out a little early, people need to give me a little room. And it feels a little odd to be in that situation. But you know, it's going away. At some point your bones will heal. But if you're in a perpetual state of understanding that you have more needs, and it doesn't just come built in. That's a difficulty. And that's one of those things (where) the device is important. And the level of accessibility features that are in the hardware, the operating system, the software that you're using that everybody has access to, can have a profound impact on the social-emotional well-being and the confidence of students to be able to drive their learning.

Q: When you look at all the funding that's available right now to K-12 schools and districts to help reimagine the education experience, how are you seeing districts use those funds today to build a more inclusive experience for all? What would you like them to be doing (that) they're not doing today?

A: This idea around the digital divide that we mentioned earlier is a lot of times around access. We just finished talking about devices and (how) the device matters. But there's a lot around that, which is important. So many districts initially, and even with a lot of the rescue funds, are trying to make sure that students have access to those devices. Maybe a school doesn't have the budget regularly to provide that one-to-one experience. And so they're leveraging that funding to get those devices. So they want to get in as many devices to be able to replace, repair and manage whatever they need to do for those students, in order to give them the opportunity that you feel should be a part of learning: to have access to technology, access to the Internet, access to that connectivity, access to things like Editor, so you can do better at writing dictation, all of these tools. And there's nothing wrong with that, right? We want to make sure that all kids have those devices to reduce the amount of inequities in that access. But then there's also things around connectivity, right? We've got to have the device, we've got to have it turned on, it's got to connect, and how do we spread that around?

One of the things that I would like to see an investment in is the professional development around the usage of those tools. I was on the teacher side of social media recently and somebody was talking about the amount of data. All these devices are in schools and kids are using them. And so there's a need to secure it right? Say that we bring kids into a building, we want to make sure that they're physically secure. If we bring kids into virtual environments, we want to make sure that they are virtually secure. But there's a lot of data now that is being produced. So what do we do with that, right? How do I make it actionable? How do I respond to the interventions? How do I reduce the time of assessment and intervention, and then be able to adjust to give that real intervention so that we can accelerate that learning? How do we do that? We have some ideas at Microsoft, we've got some tools to kind of get you going — things like Insights and Teams, and many other tools. And so that's what I would like to see: investment in making sure that the IT teams are built up to really secure and manage the devices safely, that education leaders know how to support their educators so that the educators feel empowered to really drive that learning, and meaningful professional development that connects to the curriculum and to the technology in order to meet the students, connect with them and drive that learning forward.

Q: We always enjoy looking at Microsoft's viewpoints on the future and what's around the corner. So what's on the horizon for 2022? For Microsoft in K-12?

A: We are trying to center on this idea of enabling equitable education, and it goes through the whole gamut of what we offer. We want to make sure that our devices, the products, the apps and the services are inclusively designed. And we want to make sure that we make accessible those real-time data and insights and the usage of data and AI to accelerate learning.

We also want to make sure that we've got the tools and the products to facilitate and foster well-being for our educators or students, making sure that you're using your time correctly, that you're taking time for yourself, and that we're able to see how students are feeling about their learning and how they're doing with their time. And all of this is kind of supported by IT that is safe and secure and is ready for the future. And so that's how we're looking at it. I can spend hours just naming off products and tools. But we really are trying to center it around enabling that equitable education. It's a goal. It's something we're striving for. It's something that we want to achieve. And I think it's something that we've got our eye on, especially in 2022.


Microsoft Education provides schools with solutions, technologies and education expertise to accelerate opportunities for all learners.

For more info on how Microsoft is helping schools, educators and students, visit their Microsoft Education website.

Follow Microsoft's education resources here: LinkedIn | Twitter | Facebook


“In Case You Missed It” returns on April 15.

“In Case You Missed It” is Government Technology’s weekly news roundup and interview live show featuring e.Republic* Chief Innovation Officer Dustin Haisler, Deputy Chief Innovation Officer Joe Morris and GovTech Assistant News Editor Jed Pressgrove as they bring their analysis and insight to the week’s most important stories in state and local government.

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*e.Republic is Government Technology’s parent company.
Dustin Haisler is the Chief Innovation Officer of Government Technology's parent company e.Republic. Previously the finance director and later CIO for Manor, Texas, a small city outside Austin, Haisler quickly built a track record and reputation as an early innovator in civic tech. As President, Haisler drives exponential growth, implements new ideas and promotes a corporate culture that rewards creativity. Read his full bio.
Joseph Morris is the Chief Innovation Officer of <i>Government Technology's</i> parent company e.Republic and a national keynote speaker on issues, trends and drivers impacting state and local government and education. He has authored publications and reports on funding streams, technology investment areas and public-sector priorities, and has led roundtables, projects and initiatives focused on issues within the public sector. Joe has conducted state and local government research with e.Republic since 2007 and knows the ins and outs of government on all levels. He received his Bachelor of Arts in government and international relations from the California State University, Sacramento.
Jed Pressgrove has been a writer and editor for about 15 years. He received a bachelor’s degree in journalism and a master’s degree in sociology from Mississippi State University.