I have had a great time connecting with our education partners the last two weeks. Last week, we had an opportunity to talk about students and technology with a lot of our OEM partners from around the world. This week, at the Microsoft campus in Redmond, we hosted close to 200 education partners from 45 countries for our sixth annual GEPS...or the Global Education Partner Summit.

This is an opportunity for us to connect with partners who are supporting education, to not only identify ways in which we can collaborate together, but really understand the issues and trends, and how we can best support the needs of education institutions around the world. And it's interesting, because a lot of these partners are working with schools and universities in countries all over the world, and have real insight in terms of the on-the-ground transition and transformation with technology...and I think we can see some interesting trends that are true across the industry.

One of my key takeaways from conversations with partners here...its seems like the next phase of technology evolution is happening. Schools are onboard with either data analytics and using some sort of business intelligence to inform learning opportunities and improve school outcomes, but they're actually looking for a higher level connection, as opposed to just aggregating data, actually using it to drive decisions and outcomes.

Digital content, it's less about acquiring digital content, it's more about how it becomes effective. So, publishers are sharing ideas and thoughts around not only how they can get content digitally, but actually how to make that content to come more alive, to enable personalized learning experiences with students, and outcomes.

We're seeing partners who work with governments around access start to think not only about just getting access to a device to a school and supporting our Shape The Future initiative, which helps make technology possible for students and a new population of students around the world. And partners are not only working through how to get that technology into the hands of kids, but actually really drive outcomes and make sure that teachers are prepared and trained, that schools have the back-end technology to support learning, both with regards to things like security and identity, but also thinking about how they can enable experiences with the cloud, etc.

On the cloud, there's been a lot of enthusiasm for Microsoft's Live@edu solution set, and what partners can do to enable Live@edu to really come alive with schools. One of the things that was mentioned by partners is that we need to think about helping reinform our education institutions about the potential of the cloud, and the way in which they think holistically about the integration of services, support, content with cloud-based services extending that to scale. What we've been really focused on with Live@edu and certainly for Office 365 for education down the road...is thinking about how partners can extend and really provide those solution sets in real ways with customers.

I love to see the enthusiasm from our partners around the potential technology has, and the increased meaning of technology and its impact to students and educators, and thei impact that is having on conversations. What this means is...we're shifting away from discussions on why to invest in technology, or how do we fundamentally do it, to what's the impact. Getting to this next level of conversation I think will not only improve education outcomes and the value proposition for technology investments, but it's going to enable a richer set of solutions and leverage the talents of a lot of our partners to really drive effective change across the world...so I'm really excited about that.

One of the things we highlighted at GEPS is the progress we are making with getting applications on Windows Phone 7, and a lot of our partners are going to be helping us drive that next generation of change. We had a student from Gonzaga University, one of our Microsoft Student Partners, come on stage and highlight an application that was built by a team of students participating in last year's Imagine Cup. It is an application to help with malaria research using the Windows Phone 7 platform. By giving students powerful toolsets like Microsoft DreamSpark with access to software like XNA, Visual Studio, Silverlight and more, they will help us create a new distribution platform with the phone. We're going to see lots of Windows Phone 7 applications from students in the Imagine Cup this year and I hope to see some great examples in the regional finals and at the worldwide competition happening in New York City this July.

I'm excited about the potential of the phone, how students are using it, and how it will open up opportunities for schools...but it's really just about the embrace of mobility. It's not just about Windows Phone 7, it's about how they integrate with other devices. We've shown progress with the iPhone application for OneNote. It's how we think about the increased proliferation of devices, both laptops and slate devices, and how schools bring that into a language of broader change and evolution. This is what is really exciting for Microsoft, and a lot of the partners.

Keep in touch on my blog and let me know topics you'd like to learn more about. You can also join our Microsoft Education Partner Network here, and track details of our upcoming Worldwide Partner Conference happening this July in Los Angeles here.