Missouri Launches Statewide Initiative to Improve Computer Skills Among Teachers, Students and the Workforce

ST. LOUIS, Mo., July 26, 1999 — Technology in the classroom has made definite inroads in the past several years. According to a study released earlier this year by the CEO Forum on Education and Technology, a group of business and education leaders, there are now about 6 million computers installed throughout the country’s 87,000 public schools, and 80 percent of the schools have Internet access. But for many teachers, such advances are a mixed blessing.

On the one hand, technology brings a host of benefits for both students and teachers. Word processors free students from rote tasks so they can spend their time on more challenging activities. Tutorial software allows teachers to spend more time with their students individually. And Internet access provides students and teachers greater opportunities for research and learning. But all these benefits and many more can be realized only if the teachers themselves are adept at using the tools. When they are not, they spend the bulk of a lesson grappling with technology issues instead of focusing on content — or they simply avoid using the technology resources at all.

The CEO Forum’s StaR Assessment study this year revealed that most technology funding in the schools has been spent on equipment, and very little has been spent on training teachers to use it. With the average public school spending approximately $88 per student annually on computers but only $6 per student in teacher training, it’s no wonder that a mere 20 percent of teachers feel comfortable integrating technology into their classroom instruction.

All that is about to change in Missouri, however. The state earlier this month launched the nation’s first statewide initiative to raise the computer skills, not only of teachers but of students and the workforce as well, through the Microsoft Office Users Specialist (MOUS) program. MOUS is a Microsoft-approved training and certification program that identifies levels of competency in desktop-computer skills using Microsoft Office applications.

Piloted at the Columbia Area Career Center last month, the Missouri MOUS program will be rolled out in late August to 25 other career centers and nine regional professional development centers across the state. The initial rollout will provide training and certification to teachers; programs targeted to students and the workforce are expected to be introduced at the career centers in October and November. Since the announcement, several other states have expressed interest in launching their own MOUS initiatives.

“Our schools are in the business of preparing students for college and the workforce,” said Missouri Lt. Governor Roger Wilson. “By offering training and certification for industry-standard desktop applications to our teachers, students and the workforce, we’re preparing residents for the important work they will do for companies in our state. This initiative also allows us to offer businesses worldwide a well-trained, knowledgeable workforce as an incentive to operate in Missouri.”

For its part, Microsoft is donating $500,000 in software and training materials to the Missouri initiative, and Nivo International, the firm that administers the MOUS program for Microsoft, is donating $500,000 in free tests. In addition, 58 independent courseware vendors are donating training materials to help Missouri teachers and students pass their MOUS exams, and Missouri schools can use part of a $20 million grant for equipment, software and training to augment the MOUS program.

Making the Most of Missouri’s Investment in Technology

According to Jan Bodeux-Boomer, Microsoft education account representative for Missouri, Microsoft and Nivo International saw the potential for integrating the MOUS program with a statewide effort to raise the level of computer skills in the schools. The two companies had been looking to invest in a state that could create a blueprint for technology training and set a trend for other states.

“The Missouri Department of Education was a logical choice,” said Bodeux-Boomer. “It’s a dynamic department – they’re willing to do things out of the ordinary to achieve excellence – and they also had many of the processes in place that would make this initiative successful, such as training and career centers that were already delivering the Microsoft Office curriculum.”

Missouri focused on rolling out the program to teachers initially for a number of reasons. First, if teachers are proficient in using computers and software, they will be better able to integrate technology into their curriculum. They will also be better able to help both inexperienced and technologically savvy students practice and apply their computer skills.

“Students can be extremely well-versed in computer technology, but if the teacher isn’t, the equipment won’t get used,” said Boomer. “If teachers don’t integrate the curriculum using computers, students won’t get enough opportunity to practice what they know.”

Another incentive for providing teachers the opportunity to get up to speed on technology is that their proficiency will allow them to better utilize the resources in which Missouri has invested and reduce the total cost of ownership for computers and software in the schools.

“Whenever we’re given a piece of equipment, a new software program, or even just an update, we have to learn how to use it on our own,” said Teri Holmstrom, an adult business instructor at the Columbia Area Career Center. “The Missouri initiative is a wonderful opportunity to get the additional resources we need at no extra cost and get up to speed more quickly so that we can help students better use technology.”

Missouri is also currently focusing on designing student programs as part of its statewide initiative, which will be introduced at career centers across the state 30 to 60 days after the teacher programs have been implemented. The main incentive, according to Boomer, is to give children the opportunity to acquire the technology skills that are necessary both in higher education and in the job market. In addition, providing students computer skills enables them to focus on content rather than how to use the tools. It also gives them the opportunity to make better use of school assets.

“The main advantage of this program for high-school students is that they’ll be more marketable in the workforce. The certification proves that they are either at a proficient or expert level using Microsoft Office applications,” said Holmstrom. “Our career center advisory board is made up of business leaders from the community, and they are telling us that these are the applications for which students need to gain proficiency to be competitive in the workforce.”

Initiative Expected to Gain Momentum Nationwide

Since the announcement earlier this month, governors in several other states, including Illinois, Kansas, Maryland, Minnesota, Nebraska, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia, have expressed interest in launching similar statewide MOUS initiatives.

In Missouri, chief information officers in higher education also have expressed an interest in the program, according to Bodeux-Boomer. Microsoft is also currently working with the Missouri Department of Education to identify other sources of funding to help underwrite the program. In the future, the company would like to focus on underprivileged schools to help students pass the certification exams, which will enable them to secure higher paying jobs.

“It’s really important for us to be able to train students to be employable,” said Bodeux-Boomer. “These are skills they must have for the workforce or in college, not only for their classes but also for the part-time jobs they hold while they work their way through school. And helping our teachers be more proficient in computer technology will undoubtedly have a positive impact on our kids’ education.”

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