Encarta Class Server: Helping Teachers Make the Most of Technology

REDMOND, Wash., Jan. 11, 2001 — Microsoft today announced Encarta Class Server, a new education platform for K-12 schools, which helps teachers manage curriculum standards, lesson plans, assignments and assessment. With Encarta Class Server, students will be able to complete assignments and interact with teachers wherever they have Internet access, while parents can use it to participate in the learning process and keep track of their children’s progress.

In his new role as worldwide general manager of Microsoft’s Education Solutions Group, Mark East is responsible for all of the company’s education sales and marketing programs.

To find out how Encarta Class Server fits into the company’s overall vision for education, PressPass spoke with Mark East, the recently appointed worldwide general manager of Microsoft’s Education Solutions Group. East joined Microsoft’s UK subsidiary in 1998 to establish the company’s work with the education community, and subsequently built the company’s third-largest education subsidiary in the world. In his new role, he is responsible for the marketing group, sales force and channel partners that service and support all educational institutions, from the smallest primary school to the largest university.

PressPass: What is Encarta Class Server, and what will it do for teachers, students and parents?

East: Today, there plenty of tools that help teachers provide a rich environment for learning: encyclopedias and reference material such as Encarta; general productivity tools like Microsoft Office; and, of course, the Internet. But right now there’s a lack of software that can help teachers bring all those tools together and organize their curriculum. Teachers can do that themselves today, but it’s cumbersome to work with several different applications and difficult to share what you’ve developed with other teachers.

What we’ve done with Encarta Class Server is provide a new product that allows teachers to electronically manage five major areas of teaching: curriculum standards, lesson plans, content, assignments and assessment. It allows teachers to spend more time developing rich learning experiences for their students, gives students greater opportunities to access learning materials over the Internet – even “lurking” in class when they are ill — and allows parents to participate in their children’s education by keeping track of their progress and communicating with teachers over the Internet.

PressPass: What are some of the barriers to PCs and the Internet reaching their full potential in the classroom?

East: The first, and most important, challenge is that many teachers don’t have the skills to incorporate technology into the classroom. Recent data from the U.S. Department of Education show that only one out of every five teachers feels prepared to teach in a modern classroom with PCs and Internet access.

Here at Microsoft, we use technology on a day-to-day basis for general business productivity. But teachers have to understand not only how to use technology to be more productive themselves – they also need to use it as a tool to help children read, write, apply critical thinking, synthesize information and put it together in a structured way. So they have a much harder job than the standard IT user.

We’re helping teachers develop those skills through programs like the Microsoft Classroom Teacher Network, which provides resources to train teachers on how to use our products and services in the classroom, as well as the Authorized Academic Training Program, which provides technical training through community colleges to teachers – or anyone else who wants those skills.

We’re also challenged by the shortage of IT professionals who can help deploy technology in schools. Over the past three years, the number of computers in use at school has increased by 60 percent, but the number of IT professionals dedicated to managing them has remained flat. So we’ve launched TechNet for Education, a free online community for IT professionals in schools, where we share best practices, deployment guides and a wide variety of technical resources.

PressPass: Once teachers have access to the skills they need, what else needs to happen?

East: The next challenge is providing access to the technology. People look optimistically at a student-to-PC ratio of one PC for every four students, but we think that in today’s age, every student needs to have their own device. They spend only one-eighth of their total waking hours in the classroom, and learning shouldn’t just take place there. If you give each student their own laptop – as we’ve done through our Anytime Anywhere Learning program – you’ll see that their grades improve, their critical thinking improves, and they’re far more motivated to do their work on the PC.

PressPass: What is Microsoft’s role?

East: All of our activities are driven by our vision for how technology can be used to improve education. This vision, called the Connected Learning Community, is a simple yet powerful idea: it’s new devices, powerful software, and an explosion in Web services coming together to support learning without limits – any time, any place and on any device.

If you look back over the past decade, many people would say that the pace of technological change was very fast, and that it was very hard to keep up. But the pace of change isn’t slowing down – it’s actually accelerating. In the coming years, we’ll see even greater changes in how technology can be applied to the learning process. Microsoft’s role is to work with our customers and partners to turn those developments into great solutions for the classroom.

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