Monday, 7 November 2016

Microsoft, Ambassador Programs... And MIE

It's a year since I had a Skype call with Digital Citizenship Summit organisers. The result of this call was that we decided to hold a UK based event within a few weeks.

This event demonstrates what innovative educators can achieve in a short period of time... and on a zero budget. Many of the people who were involved with this were amazed at what was achieved in a short period of time. This event took 2 months to organise... but, from my perspective, was 3 years in planning.

During this time I've collaborated with a number of people and groups on some really interesting projects. Some worked out straight away, others have taken a little longer to develop.

The latest project has been to explore Microsoft's Innovative Educator (MIE) network, where I notice that I have collaborated with a number of MIEs.

This post looks at my experiences with innovative educators in relation to this exploration of Microsoft Innovative Educators.

For the past 4 years I've not only looked to the practices of major tech companies for ideas about "Where the puck is going to land" with Edtech sales... this research has highlighted the extent to which I have been collaborating with educators that these tech companies have recognised as innovative educators.

Words simply cannot convey the gratitude that I have for the educators and education based professionals mentioned in this post!

(NB There are lots of other educators who have supported me, but this post focuses on MIEs)

As someone looking to make the transition from sales to community management, and with an active interest in alternative ways of ideas getting traction in education, I have kept an eye on the various ambassador programs over the last few years... and includes checking how many ambassadors of education products are in Scotland/UK.

The last time I checked there were only a handful of MIEs, Google Certified Teachers and Apple Distinguished Educators.

Today there are now hundreds educators in the UK on Microsoft's Community pages who are ambassadors of their products and services in one way or the other (Microsoft Innovative Educator Experts, Trainers and Skype Master Teachers) and thousands more across the world.

The rest of this post considers how big a role Microsoft has played in my career, is a huge THANK YOU to those innovators... as well as a recommendation to check out some of these ambassador programs.

Microsoft and Me - Getting Connected
First or all I would be lost without my Excel and Word applications... and I mean totally lost! I was once asked by a colleague if I dream in excel. Lol

At the end of 2010 I found myself along with some 20 colleagues redundant due to my then employer downsizing as a result of government cuts.

As part of my job search, as I had taken a project from an idea to working with 50% of FE Colleges (with 100% repeat business) within 3 years, I wondered if my experiences are good enough to secure an interview with one of the big 3 tech companies (Microsoft, Google and Apple).

I manage to get through to a Microsoft Edu exec and one of the pieces of advice I am given is

"You're not on social media? Get connected... it comes with the job today if you want to be in EdTech"

I had no digital footprint at all up until this point. Everything I did to engage with educators was via email and phone calls. Based on this advice I open a Linkedin and Twitter account and tentatively explore the joys of being connected.

I was very lucky that my first Tweet led to collaboration as I sent a Tweet of appreciation to Social Nation Author, Barry Libert... this led to us developing a "Twitter in FE Report."

Without Barry's time and patience I'm not sure that my other reports would have followed. The difference between the first draft that I sent him and the last with all his advice was significant.

Discovering Inbound Marketing
In early 2011 I have what can only be described as two "career changing" experiences.

1) Attending an Inbound Marketing workshop by MIT's Bill Aulet.
2) Working on two projects that became overnight successes:

               i) An idea was developed and co-created with prospective users.
              ii) A year long  pilot at three FE colleges

We got enquiries from 230 colleges within 3 weeks with the first project. With the second project, 5 Local Authorities committed £15,000 each almost overnight due to the positive results from the pilot.

My experiences prior to this was that we'd find the relevant person/department to have a phone conversation with, arrange an initial meeting and then have a follow up meeting. It might then be a few weeks/months before securing the order.

Think about that for a moment, if it takes two meetings and anywhere from 3-6 months to secure an order for a £1-3,000 product... how much of a "Must Have" tech tool can what you are selling be?

Securing £75,000 from 5 Local Authorities and having 230 request more information on an idea within 3 weeks after sending one email before all other activity thereafter being "Inbound" was a real eye opener. This confirmed to me that cold calling was dead but it also raised questions about how products were developed. 

It was at Aulet's workshop that I wondered if instead of focusing on any particular product, if it is the way that ideas are developed and rolled out that needed to change in Edtech.

As always I asked who's going things well? Where are the bright spots?

In the C4LPT Top Tools for Learning 2012 survey I noticed that some 40 out of the top tools were free tech tools that were developed by major tech companies. So spent some time researching this.

I didn't realise when I highlighted Microsoft's collaboration with PA's School of the Future or Reading UTC in a report that I wrote in 2012 that I was mentioning a network that would be part of a network of 1,000 schools and almost 5,000 Microsoft Innovative Educators a few years later.

The advice from Community Management experts is "Listen! Listen! Listen!" to the community before doing anything (Must read posts regarding this are David Spinks "CMX Guide to Getting Started in Community Management" and Kelly Hungerford's "Community First").

I wasn't aware of "Community Management" as a career or of phrases like "Social Selling" when I joined EdTechChat at 1am local time each week for over a year. But what stood out to me immediately was that some 40 tech tools and services mentioned some 400 times in the first 5 weeks... without a sales rep in sight! I had a front row seat to the "Cold Calling is Dead" show.

Conversations with MIE Susan Bearden have been particularly useful and insightful... as well as her collaboration with Mad Learn was a shining beacon at ISTE two years later (See below).

In December 2012 there were some frustrations with one aspect of being a participant in the EdTechChat conversations... there was all this love for tech tools that "Got it right" (Mostly from companies who had a geographic advantage and/or EdTech incubator companies who were able to stay as small as possible for as long as possible while enjoying better access to educators for feedback and input).

I floated the idea of #StartupEduChat where suppliers could share ideas and resources. This was seen as over-utopian from some EdTech companies that I suggested the idea to.

When I saw that MIE Steve Isaacs had an SXSWEdu Session on the same topic, I spent a few months supporting the EdTechBridge Twitter chat.

Another idea that was the result of "Listening and Learning" from EdTechChat was the idea of tech companies supporting educators to get to ISTE after hearing that one of the reasons educators were not able to attend was due to costs.

This is a project that I have tested a few times to see if the timing was right. I was delighted to see a Get2ISTE recipient on the big screen during the closing keynote in 2015 and the idea being included in ISTE "5 ways to get to ISTE" post.

There is one thing that is absolutely 100% VITAL to getting an idea to this stage, and it's those crucial first followers. MIE Brian Romero Smith was one of the first (If not the first) to open a #Get2ISTE account on PledgeCents.

While this project may look like it had questionable results, it has highlighted to me how slow it can be for ideas to get traction... they need time to develop and sometimes the timing just isn't right.

If there is one thing that I've learnt over the course of the last few years it's this: Learn about momentum. As entrepreneur Joe Kraus puts it

"Being early is the same as being wrong."


The concept of #Get2ISTE came about through EdTechChat and pulling together some information about EdChat Moderators and one of my first attempts at community building with an EdChat Modertor forum that I established and an EdChat Resource plan that I worked on with Nurph.

As well as Susan Bearden and Steve Isaacs who give up their time to moderate chats each week I notice that there are other MIEs who are moderators like Andre Sprang and Skype Master Teacher, Beverley Ladd.

Madlearning from Co-creating with Educators
Since those first 5 weeks of following EdTechChat I've been intrigued by which companies get more love from the education community on social media compared with others. Since 2013 I have tried to curate conference data to look for various trends including the level of EdTech company positive and negative comments.

Apart from the big tech companies it wasn't easy to find any outlier and exemplar companies, until 2014 and Susan Beardon's Tweachme App. An educator and EdTech company co-creating a tool and then the educator going to the event to discuss the product.

What's this got to do with anything? Go take a look at some of the Microsoft Edu staff's LinkedIn profiles and see how many of them have classroom experience. If there is one thing that educators value, its recommendations from their peers. I'm seeing more and more brand ambassador roles being filled by educators.

The ideas from my Job Interview: Where do you see yourself in a Year post felt a little bit "out there" when I wrote them but seems very relevant today... as does the idea that cold calling is dead in EdTech.

SXSWEdu Digital Diversity
In 2015 I was aware that Sarah Thomas and others submitted a Digital Diversity session called "Minority Women in Tech" for the SXSWEdu Conference, which included MIE Rafranz Davis... Now this is a big deal as it lead to a chance introduction which was has proved significant.

Declara CEO, Ramona Pierson, was being interviewed for International Women's Day and was discussing being a woman in Silicon Valley (And winning) as well as how difficult it was to find female coders.

I jumped up from my desk to get this formidable startup lady's name to pass onto the SXSWEdu team and invited her to connect on LinkedIn. She accepted the invite and suggested that I speak to her VP James Stanbridge to discuss some collaborative projects

Mr Microsoft
I check out James' profile on Linkedin and I have a worrying kind of de ja vu feeling of "Oh no!" James is a former Microsoft VP. Why the "Oh No?" Well, any time I've tried to engage with people who work/worked for "The Big 3" regarding my experiences and the chances of being hired, the results have been the same. If it was a Little Britain sketch it would be a case of "The computer says No"

But not this time, James sees value in some of my projects and we agree to keep in contact. James has been supportive of my work since that very first call and I am extremely grateful to him for that.

After doing a little consultancy work with James, he provided me with a recommendation that makes me smile every time I read it!

Chris van der Kuyl & Malcolm Wilson
During the Scottish Learning Festival last year. Chris van der Kuyl gave a keynote presentation which I 100% agreed with and thought "I know what's needed here" and spent the next few weeks listening and seeing what the data told me about Scottish Education.

The more I looked at the data, the more the data screamed that there is something special happening in Falkirk. This lead me to MIE Expert and trainer Malcolm Wilson.

...This in turn led to where this post began and An Amazing Skype call with a Connected Educator and hosting the UK Digital Citizenship Summit within a couple of months.

The one condition that I had with regard to assisting with this was that the event that took place in Scotland to support the DigiLearnScot agenda... as with so many new ideas things didn't quite go to plan (In more ways than one... The joys of startupland.) and we had to move the event to England so that international speakers and delegates could attend the BETT Show and the summit.

I have been extremely fortunate to be able to be able to call on Malcolm and one of the Digital Citizenship Summit Co-Founders for advice and have collaborated with them on the Pokemon Go report over the course of July and August.

Pokemon Go and Michelle Zimmerman
When exploring the MIE data I noticed that Michelle Zimmerman's name came up in a few articles and from early on in the programme. Given that the establishment of a "super user" program is one of the things that are keeping me up at night at the moment, I thought to myself

"I need to try to get an introduction to Michelle when I'm finished all the number crunching with this"

Some of the ISTE DigCit PLN people that I collaborated with on the Pokemon Go report presented details of this Pokemon Go report a couple of weeks ago and, as luck would have it, Michelle was there and asked to be introduced to me... I cannot wait to find out about Michelle's involvement with the MIE program, as well as her other projects.

SLF2015 & 2016
Depending on how you look at some of the projects that I've explored through listening to educators and collaborating with them... there have been some failures as well as successes.

In many cases the "failed" projects are not failures, it's just that their time has not come yet and we've not been forcing the issue.

I've been trying to "Iterate my way to product market fit" for a while now before scaling. It felt like my original business plan was something that wouldn't work out, so I set it aside, but it seems more relevant than ever.

The ideas that I had this time last year after listening to the SLF15 presentations didn't work out because the ideas had no merit, they didn't work because the timing and, to some extent the execution (Which I take responsibility for) wasn't quite right.

Through exploring the MIE network I can see how the timing might be a little better to explore these same ideas.

Core Values and Brand Voice
This time last year #Cmgrhangout discussed the importance of "Brand Voice" and using core values as a way to establish this voice. I've been using this for the last year now and, all in all, it seems to be working out quite well. It's an exercise that was well worth while and that I would recommend.

Paying It Forward
  • The fact that Excel and Word are my "Must have tools"
  • The Microsoft Exec who took a moment to advise me to "Get Soicial," 
  • The authors who kindly gave me permission to reference their work in my EdTech report
  • The MIE and Twitter Chat moderator who helped me to see that cold calling was dead
  •  Those vital "First Followers" with ideas like EdTechBridge and Get2ISTE
  • The SXSWEdu DigiDiversity presenters who led me to "Mr Microsoft" AKA James Stanbridge
  • An amazing Skype call with a connected educator
  • The invaluable advice from people like Malcolm Wilson 
  • Recognising trends in a program that went from one school in 2012 to almost 1,000 with 5,000 MIEs
There is no way of knowing if one of these things didn't happen if it would have lead to the next.

There is also no way of repaying in kind what the MIEs above have done to help me. Whether it was a 30sec DM, a 3 min conversation or collaboration project over the course of a few months.

Words cannot convey the gratitude that I have for the people who have assisted me in my personal and professional development.

The fact that there are a number of MIEs who have played a role in this confirms one of two things to me:

1) Tech companies and innovative educators can (and are!) playing a significant role with ed reform
2) What other interesting projects and ideas are there to be had if I were to find out about and connect with other MIEs?

I gave my assurances to someone who did me an act of kindness a few years ago from someone I admire that I would "Pay it Forward" as and when I can.

This time last year the guys at Skype expressed an interest in supporting the UK Digital Citizenship Summit. People in my PLN may have noticed that I've been spending a bit of time sharing details of the Skypeathon and the three nations challenge. The reason for this? All of the reasons in this post.

I hope that it helps to get a classroom or two connected and leads to the kind of people that I have met and collaborated with since being online.


  1. Wishing you nothing but good fortune William, this is just the intro, the real story is yet to come!

  2. Thanks James, very much looking forward to the next chapter!