With 25 years at Microsoft, Mike Tholfsen is old style — and a champion of schooling accessibility

Mike Tholfsen at a worldwide Educator Change occasion in Budapest, Hungary, the place Microsoft brings in additional than 400 Microsoft in Training specialists from over around the globe. (Photograph courtesy of Mike Tholfsen)

Lengthy earlier than COVID-19 thrust how we train and study utilizing know-how into an uncomfortable highlight, Mike Tholfsen was imagining the instruments that might make studying extra inclusive and empowering for college students of all talents.

Tholfsen, our newest Geek of the Week, is a principal group product supervisor on the Microsoft Education crew. He’s spent greater than 25 years on the tech large, and now leads the creation of many merchandise and options for educators and college students.

Most not too long ago, he labored on Immersive Reader, which helps college students with dyslexia, dysgraphia, ADHD, in addition to non-native audio system and rising readers. The software, with 23 million month-to-month energetic customers, is constructed into over 20 Microsoft apps and platforms together with Phrase, OneNote, Groups and extra.

The pandemic has solely solidified Tholfsen’s views on accessibility and inclusion, and why it’s much more vital that we don’t go away college students behind.

“Some of the most negatively impacted during remote learning are students with disabilities, and as I’ve seen personally, free technology tools can make a world of difference,” Tholfsen stated, including that, in response to distant studying wants, Microsoft has sped up sure tasks, some updates have been launched to prospects and others are forthcoming.

With a daughter within the midst of distant studying, Tholfsen marks one internet “positive” from the present state of affairs in that she’s been pressured to be rather more unbiased with maintaining observe of precisely what she is doing throughout a number of courses, in all probability a youthful age than would have occurred within the pure circulation of in-person education.

Being so tuned in to the wants of educators, it’s onerous to not image Tholfsen as a instructor himself.

“I have a huge admiration and respect for the work educators do,” he stated. “My dad was a university professor for a while, and while I’d like to hope I would have been a good teacher in a parallel universe, it’s hard to say.”

Tholfsen credit the flexibility to positively influence folks at a worldwide scale because the primary motive he has stayed at Microsoft for thus lengthy, and he likes the hack tradition, accessibility focus, and renewed efforts in schooling championed by CEO Satya Nadella.

When he’s not immersed in “school” work, Tholfsen likes to geek out on writing and recording music in his house studio. Issues have come a good distance because the daybreak of digital recording and the online.

“Fun fact — my college band was one of the very first on the internet, back in 1993, with IUMA (the digital Underground Music Archive) with songs that anyone in the world could download,” Tholfsen stated. “It was such a big deal that our local newspaper wrote a big article about it.”

Be taught extra about this week’s Geek of the Week, Mike Tholfsen:

What do you do, and why do you do it? In brief, I assist make studying extra accessible and inclusive. I like to speak with educators and college students to raised perceive what they want after which work with our engineers and designers to show these concepts into product actuality. Day by day, I discipline questions from academics and assist them learn to use the free instruments we’ve got inside Groups and Workplace to have interaction and assist all of their college students. I’ve seen first-hand how a lot these instruments can positively influence folks’s lives and need to proceed to construct merchandise, in addition to share suggestions, to not solely save time however study new issues in a easy and concise method.

What’s the only most necessary factor folks ought to find out about your discipline? Microsoft Training is having considerably of a renaissance proper now. We’ve spent quite a lot of time partaking with the schooling group and listening intently to them. We’ve quickly improved our services and products, and finished some leading edge issues with accessibility and assistive tech as properly. One of many largest misperceptions I see is that some folks nonetheless consider us as Home windows-only, and costly software program. Nonetheless, Microsoft Training merchandise are free, work throughout platforms, and have leading edge capabilities. After I exhibit a few of the present free capabilities throughout Groups and Workplace, I usually discover persons are pleasantly shocked with the choices.

The place do you discover your inspiration? The power to positively influence folks at scale, particularly in schooling, expenses my engines. Particularly within the area of assistive know-how and accessibility, there’s a lot alternative to assist so many individuals. As a result of Microsoft is an organization with international attain, amplifying that influence is about as motivating because it will get for me.

What’s the one piece of know-how you couldn’t stay with out, and why? OneNote! It’s my one cease store that helps me save time, arrange and collaborate. I particularly love having the ability to create Class Notebooks – this homes all reference supplies for college students, and is handy to retailer supplies you need college students to learn, view and reference simply and infrequently.

(Photograph courtesy of Mike Tholfsen)

What’s your workspace like, and why does it give you the results you want? Like many individuals throughout COVID-19, my office is now at house. My major machine is a Floor Laptop computer and I splurged on a 49” monitor, a superb internet cam, higher lighting, and a superb microphone. I additionally typically will exit to my house studio for a change of tempo.

Your finest tip or trick for managing on a regular basis work and life. (Assist us out, we’d like it.) The one factor I recommend to anybody seeking to carry on prime of labor and life is be sure you have a productiveness system to arrange and observe no matter you might be doing and who you might be speaking with. Everybody can use a unique system, however it’s worthwhile to discover or develop one which works for you after which follow it religiously. I’ve discovered one which works for me with a mix of OneNote and Outlook, and it permits me to not lose observe of issues or miss deadlines.

Mac, Home windows or Linux? Home windows.

Kirk, Picard, or Janeway? Kirk.

Transporter, Time Machine or Cloak of Invisibility? Transporter.

If somebody gave me $1 million to launch a startup, I’d … Concentrate on assistive know-how and accessibility options. I believe this is likely one of the biggest alternatives to assist empower folks by tech. With AI and different cognitive companies quickly bettering, many individuals who’ve been left behind within the analog world could have equal entry within the digital world.

I as soon as waited in line for … A John Denver live performance

Your position fashions: – My Dad – a really sharp man who helped foster a robust work ethic, persistence and early tech ardour.
– My Montessori college academics from age 2-8 years previous. Essentially the most wonderful educators I ever had who centered on creativity, a holistic view of studying, and fostered a constant feeling of surprise.
– Satya Nadella – sure, he’s our CEO, however he’s a pacesetter who fuses mission, objective, empathy and deep technical acumen right into a single package deal. I’m a giant fan.

Best Recreation in Historical past Lode Runner.

Finest Gadget Ever: Sony Walkman.

First Pc: Apple II+.

Present Cellphone: iPhone 11 Professional.

Favourite App: Flipgrid.

Favourite Trigger: American Most cancers Society.

Most necessary know-how of 2020: Cognitive companies and AI.

Most necessary know-how of 2022: Whereas I hope we’ve got a COVID-19 vaccine absolutely deployed by 2022, I believe that vaccine improvement and manufacturing know-how will proceed to catch the attention of the longer term.

Last phrases of recommendation on your fellow geeks: No matter it’s you might be obsessed with, keep persistent. Lots of the issues I’ve had success with took years of dedication and tweaking and iterating. Getting one thing boot strapped into actuality is tough and takes effort and time — however keep persistent and also you’ll be amazed at what you are able to do.

Web site: Mike Tholfsen on YouTube 

Twitter: @mtholfsen

LinkedIn: Mike Tholfsen

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