|The goal of Microsoft’s Partners in Learning initiative is to empower schools to increase student learning through teacher development and leadership. Through Partners in Learning, Microsoft is joining with experts in education and curriculum development to deliver high-quality learning and development experiences for educators, resources to support success in the classroom, and opportunities to network with colleagues.
In this presentation on May 11, 2004, Greg Butler, who leads the Education Programs team in Microsoft’s Worldwide Public Sector, described how he draws on past experience and current issues in education to develop and implement strategies and program solutions that target Microsoft’s mission of helping educators and students use information and communication technologies (ICT) to improve teaching and learning and realize their potential.
To advise Microsoft on its approach, the corporation created an international advisory panel of leading educators. Butler explained that the panel’s message was loud and clear — Microsoft needed to learn who would benefit from digital technology and how to best address those needs. A focus on primary and secondary education was selected as the best way to close the ICT skills gap. The program has two main parts: facilitating access to technology and building capacity to help people use and integrate that technology in their lives. “Access is key,” Butler said. One program, Fresh Start, provides software for donated personal computers (PCs). When they are given away by corporate donors, they are stripped bare and rendered useless without operating systems and application software. “In the past, we’ve done a terrible job of it,” Butler said. “We’ve made it incredibly hard and difficult and complex for schools to do.” He contrasted that with the present mechanism — all that educators have to do today is log on to a Web site to sign up to receive software and licensing. Another program, School Agreement, offers a way to license software to schools at the lowest possible price. For example, Microsoft has distributed licenses to its Office software at $2.50 per license per year. This project has also been extended to developed countries, where the most needy 15 percent of schools are supported.
Five key areas for educational investment have been identified by Microsoft. First, teacher and school leader training and development will build capacity around people who will drive these changes within school organizations. Second, digital content and curricula must be emphasized. Third, student assessment and certification will help to determine what are the cutting-edge tools around student assessment that highlight the benefit of technology, particularly from a formative approach. Fourth, working with non-profit partners to provide student technical help desk support will prepare students for an industry certification. Finally, research, reporting and evaluation must analyze the program’s successes and weaknesses.
Microsoft has undertaken a range of projects each of which, though varied, fit into one of the company’s five key areas for investment. In Thailand, Microsoft was the first corporation to be nominated for a royal decoration award from the king. Butler heralded that accomplishment as a huge first step in trying to build a symbiotic relationship with governments. In Chile, it has studied the applications of pocket PCs to promote wireless collaborative learning in the classroom. But the key benefit of Microsoft’s activities, Butler explained, will always be the creation of local advisory groups. These groups have come together to support each other in building a strong network, targeting educators who have knowledge experience and leadership in the area so they bring credibility around ICT and development issues. It is most important, however, that these groups be ready to critique actively any proposals that the corporation receives.