SEATTLE, June 30, 2003 — In a small basement office on the campus of Lynchburg College in Lynchburg, Va., a self-professed
of software training leads an unnamed, virtually anonymous effort by public and private schools and colleges, businesses and government agencies. Their goal: To ensure that educators and other computer users master the Microsoft Office System and other popular software.
Tom Murray, the college’s director of technical education and training, began the crusade by teaching classes and writing tutorials for educators who were falling behind their increasingly tech-savvy students. Then he began transferring the tutorials to CD and giving them away for free. Soon, he was burning as many as 50 discs a day — one at a time — on his office PC.
Educators from as far away as Washington state soon began asking for his CDs, and also asking him to visit their campuses to offer his tutorials. To spread the training more broadly, Verizon Communications began awarding Murray annual training grants and Microsoft provided software through the Model Professional Development program to distribute to educators in his class. The two companies then teamed up to sponsor a Web site for Murray’s tutorials ( http://www.officetutorials.com ), which now provides 2,000 downloads a month.
There’s a good chance that educators at this week’s National Educational Computing Conference — being held in Seattle, June 29 – July 2 — have sampled Murray’s tutorials. But the example set by Murray and those who have spread his work may be even more enduring these days, as schools and colleges make unprecedented efforts to employ technology to meet higher academic standards, inspire students and prepare them for an increasingly tech-centric work world.
Partnering with schools and colleges to help meet these needs is one of Microsoft’s mantras at this year’s NECC conference — and will be a focus long into the future, company officials say. It’s a priority that educators say Microsoft is living up to with its software and an increasing array of online and other resources, workshops and software grants.
“Schools and colleges struggle to meet the technology and other needs of today’s students,”
says Sherri Bealkowski, general manager of Microsoft’s Education Solutions group.
“Businesses, local and national governments and other organizations all need to pitch in to help ensure students and faculty have the tools and training they need to succeed.”
Bealkowski says Microsoft’s commitment to ensuring students and teachers have adequate technology tools and training reflects much more than a desire to sell software. It is an investment in the workforce of the future and an extension of the company’s mission statement: To enable people and businesses throughout the world to realize their full potential.
“We are one of the few companies in the world that can have such a grand mission,”
“With our software and our dedication to education, we are — and plan to keep — making a profound difference for schools and colleges as they work to meet today’s technology and other academic challenges.”
21st Century Education: `A Whole New Ballgame’
The challenges facing schools and colleges today, and their need for assistance, couldn’t be more pronounced. The U.S. law known as the
“No Child Left Behind Act,”
championed by the Bush administration, has helped crystallize a national drive to raise academic standards. But finding ways to teach all of the high-level skills students need to succeed after graduation, while catering to their diverse learning styles and other needs, remain a daunting tasks for many schools.
With an estimated 85 percent of today’s jobs requiring more than a high school degree — up from 65 percent in 1991 — technology and related critical thinking skills are more in demand by employers than ever. Just as importantly, educators say many students learn better when academic instruction use tools students are familiar with from other parts of their life: the PC, the Internet and mobile computing devices.
“Teaching the digital generation is a whole new ballgame,”
says Patricia McGee, an assistant professor in the Instructional Technology Program of the University of Texas at San Antonio.
“The shift we’ve seen in the last five to eight years is really remarkable. The learner has different expectations, different ways of thinking and different ways of processing information.”
Compounding the challenge is the increasing diversity of students. Not only do they, as a whole, speak more languages and represent more cultures than ever before; they possess varying technology skills and economic means. For example, less than one third of U.S. students have Internet access at home.
Technology Fosters Independent Learning
Irving Independent School District and Cincinnati Country Day School have little in common. The former is a public school outside Dallas, Texas, where students speak more than 60 different languages. The latter is a private school in Ohio with far less diversity. But both have benefited from calculated, wide-scale integration of technology and help from partners like Microsoft.
Cincinnati Country Day School serves kindergarten to 12th grade. In 1996, it became one of the first in the nation to begin requiring students in grades 5-12 to bring laptop computers to class. Younger students use computers supplied by the school. Irving has piloted a similar program at its high schools since 2001 and will use money from a public bond to equip each high-school student with a laptop beginning this fall.
Both school systems aren’t expecting technology alone to raise test scores. Instead, they are looking for it to motivate and capture the attention of students by providing them more ways to learn and demonstrate their knowledge. Whether through a Microsoft PowerPoint presentation or a traditional essay accompanied by a digital media presentation, using technology allows students to take advantage of more online resources and interactive learning projects. Both school systems are pleased with the results so far, noting that students are taking on projects and learning things in ways they wouldn’t have before.
Last year at Country Day, students created a Web site on their own to help organize a city-wide youth council, partly in reaction to recent, racially related civic disturbances in Cincinnati. At Irving, students and faculty organized a district-wide mock presidential election in 2001 with online voting facilitated by a Microsoft Access database and a Web site created by students using Microsoft FrontPage. Nearly 80 percent of students voted, and, of course, Texan George Bush won.
“One of the best things we can do for students is to teach them how to think and learn, rather than just tell them information,”
says Sam Farsaii, director of instructional technology for Irving. Kelly Hammond, a Grade 9 humanities teacher at County Day, agrees:
“With technology, students soon discover they don’t need to come to someone else who has knowledge if they want to learn something.”
But the enhanced learning with technology didn’t happen overnight or without help. In addition to providing technical assistance, Microsoft has provided training for faculty at Irving.
“Microsoft has helped to bring us all together,”
“We’ve really been able to solve our own problems and solve the problems of other schools so we don’t have to reinvent the wheel.”
A more noticeable sign of Microsoft’s dedication to education, Hammond says, are the constant enhancements it makes to its software that make it more useful to educators. She notes changes to PowerPoint that now provide users an open canvas on which to create slides as one example. In fact, when Country Day began the laptop program, teachers looked for specialized
software. Most now use Microsoft Office because it offers all they need, she says.
“Microsoft seems to be making a conscious decision to be more right-brain, more education friendly,”
“I see Microsoft bending where it needs to bend, changing where it needs to change to meet the needs of education.”
Microsoft Assistance Extends to Online Resources, Grants
Microsoft’s partnership with education goes beyond helping schools once they’ve made large investments in new technology. On Microsoft’s education Web site, the company offers more than 100 Web pages of information, resources, contacts and practical tips derived primarily from the Innovative Teachers program, a joint effort between Microsoft and the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education (AACTE). Schools use these resources to learn how other schools have improved education by integrating technology. The site provides narrative overviews of the improvements made by schools such as Country Day School and Irving Independent, which Microsoft calls
“Centers of Excellence.”
The site also provides detailed overviews of model teacher development programs, along with full lesson plans teachers and online virtual classroom. The need for these types of resources and training programs that help teachers meaningfully integrate technology is great, educators say.
“There are a handful of teachers in schools doing active learning and using technology to make it happen,”
says Les Foltos, director of the Puget Sound Center for Teaching, Learning and Technology in Bothell, Wash.
“But most are using technology to replace the old technologies they used to use. The word processor is replacing the pen or typewriter. There are electronic skill-and-drill exercises instead of paper skill-and-drill exercises, electronic research instead of Funk and Wagnall.”
The Puget Sound Center, which offers a week-long seminar in which teachers create technology-rich classroom projects linked to state curriculum standards, is among those highlighted as a model training program on the Microsoft Web site. Many of the lesson plans on the Microsoft site were developed by teachers who have attended the center’s seminar. These teachers also rely on the resources on the Microsoft site, including the virtual classroom tours, Foltos says.
“All of these (offerings) are evidence that Microsoft is beginning to invest in education as a partner. They are trying to find ways to add value for teachers, trying to work to integrate technology into education,”
says Foltos, who also is a member of the advisory board for Innovative Teachers. The program provides grants and other resources for teachers to work together online and with mentors to better integrate technology into their lessons.
One of the grants allowed the Instructional Technology Program at the University of Texas, San Antonio to create a Community of Practice, which includes a shared online location built on Microsoft’s SharePoint technology. Teachers can use it to share lesson plans, hold online discussions, attend supplemental guest lectures and even seek assistance after they graduate.
“The potential of communities is mind boggling,”
says Associate Professor McGee.
“They allow us to raise the professionalism of teaching, give people a place to go to have mentoring, friendships … It makes sense to stay connected this way.”
Murray, the tutorial writer, is similarly boggled by the impact of his courses since Microsoft, Verizon and the legions of educators joined together to help him help others master their software. He regularly gets e-mails from teachers in other parts of the country whom he has never met, thanking him for creating the tutorials. Another teacher, impressed by the online courses, has agreed to help translate them into Spanish.
“If one person tried to do this all alone, it would be like crying in the wilderness,”
“But when we work together, we can share a good thing with more people.”