MIAMI — Jan. 22, 2007 — When Miami-Dade County Public Schools needed to communicate with its 1.5 million students, parents, teachers and administrators, the district found it lacked a consistent way to deliver information. Whether they needed educational resources being distributed or critical instructions in case of emergencies, users were forced to hunt for necessary information. The use of different software applications throughout hundreds of schools kept this large, urban and culturally diverse school district from effectively using the communications and educational resources it had at its disposal.
Today the school district is introducing the deployment of a new solution using the Microsoft® Learning Gateway, an integrated portal-based platform that delivers an unprecedented level of collaboration, management of online content and increased productivity by eliminating the need for paper while changing the way people work, learn and succeed across the school district.
“It’s the difference between walking into a grocery store and having to search the aisles for what you need and being able to drive up to a store and everything is already in a cart ready to check out,” said Deborah Karcher, executive officer, information technology services, Miami-Dade County Public Schools. “We were supporting a lot of different technology platforms and nonconnected Web sites to access and deliver information. This reduced our communications effectiveness and did not maximize the resources we had. By optimizing our infrastructure with Microsoft, we were able to design a portal strategy across the district that can incorporate all our application and data sources through Microsoft Office SharePoint® Server 2007 and a suite of Web services that allows security-enhanced access to all district resources based on a user’s role in the system.”
The district can now push the right data to the right stakeholder audience rather than forcing users to navigate a maze of resources to find the information they need:
The school district now communicates time-sensitive information such as emergency notices, school events and school closures to all district users with just one communiqué, which is critical in this hurricane-prone region.
The new infrastructure changes the way that teachers and parents can access and make use of student performance data. Teachers now can readily access historical data about individual student performance for assessments, progress reports and remediation plans and more quickly capture a snapshot of a student’s overall progress.
Administrators can communicate consistent information to staff members across all schools regarding meetings, training and professional development opportunities.
Instructional technology from the district’s digital content provider Riverdeep, which converted its Learning Village solution specifically to work within the district’s new portal solution, now allows teachers, students and parents to access learning resources anytime and anywhere they are needed.
Parents can set their user settings to receive the information they want in the language they need without having to navigate through numerous district services.
“We realized that to communicate effectively with parents and the community, we would need tools that permit our stakeholders to move decisively in support of their children — our students,” said Rudolph F. “Rudy” Crew, Ed.D., superintendent of Miami-Dade County Public Schools. “These tools must work together in such a way as to convert a parent’s need to know into the ability to act, and we now find ourselves moving decisively in that direction.”
Better Management of Resources Enhances Security
The new portal was built by Microsoft Consulting Services on Microsoft technologies that include SharePoint Server 2007, Microsoft Active Directory® and Microsoft Windows Server® 2003.
Moving beyond improvements in communication and access to data and learning resources, making the transition to a single directory system for more than 1 million users helped improve the security of the data and the network. Security was an important consideration for the school district, which must comply with government standards requiring the protection of student information and privacy of minors. Personal data can now be maintained with improved security features consistently as the student moves in and out of the district and through different schools.
Statewide, the Florida Department of Education also uses Microsoft’s portal technologies for Sunshine Connections, an interactive Web environment designed with input from Florida educators, that allow teachers to share lesson plans and best practices and easily and more securely view their students’ Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test scores in real time so they can find, modify or design curricular materials for the unique needs of each class or student.
Growing Ed Tech Focus: Collaboration and Community
Miami-Dade’s efforts to improve data access and system communications reflect a shift in the technology philosophy of educators and education policy-makers across the country and around the world.
“School technology leaders have moved far beyond thinking only about acquiring new technology, beyond improving computer-to-student ratios, and beyond the recent focus on using technology to meet accountability and assessment requirement,” said Anthony Salcito, general manager of Microsoft Education. “We are now seeing technology decisions based on what will best help the education community improve learning by collaborating effectively, sharing resources and information, and getting parents involved. It will be exciting to watch how Miami-Dade’s pioneering work here will enable new learning paradigms moving forward.”
The trend is visible in smaller education communities and education communities around the world. For example, Shireland Language College, a 950-student inner-city institution in a linguistically and culturally diverse area of West Midlands, U.K., also deployed Learning Gateway specifically to support distance and personalized learning and to promote inclusion across a network of local schools. The community of parents, students, teachers and support workers are using the Learning Gateway to create stronger links between Shireland and the local community, promoting learning beyond the classroom. Making these closer connections with families means that students have more support in achieving their learning goals with parents now constantly in touch with their children’s activities so they may take a more active role in the learning process.
“Rather than implementing technology for technology’s sake, school districts of all sizes can design a technology framework using a customer-service-oriented approach and implement an enterprise architecture that will give them room to grow and change as their constituents grow and as technology changes,” Salcito said. “This use of technology to address its constituents’ specific needs and support its vision for the future further demonstrates Miami-Dade’s global education leadership and provides a vision for deployment that can be easily replicated globally.”
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