Students and teachers in Washington state will be among the first to reap the benefits of a multimillion-dollar nationwide initiative sponsored by software giant Microsoft Corp. The project will develop curricula and build a collection of best practices intended to help educators better prepare today’s students for success in an increasingly digital future.

Microsoft plans to spend more than $35 million over the next five years to add a U.S. component to its overseas Partners in Learning program, which aims to train teachers and students in technology. The goal stateside is to create technology-

infused learning models that can be replicated and sustained by schools from Puget Sound to New York City, and everywhere in between.

“The revolution of technology has created a new field of opportunities for our students and, in turn, new challenges for our educators,” said Washington Gov. Gary Locke. “By working with an innovator such as Microsoft, we believe we can deliver on the promise of technology in education and institute teaching models that can be used in Washington and across the nation.”

In Washington, Microsoft will work with a yet-to-be announced state university to research, develop, and implement an ed-tech framework consisting of two parts: (1) a “College of Education School of the Future” model, in which schools of education will explore new teaching methods intended to facilitate the development of 21st-century skills among students; and (2) a program that uses existing and emerging technologies to raise student achievement and meet higher graduation rates, especially among at-risk students.

Microsoft plans to document each initiative and make the blueprints available for free on its web site, said general manager Anthony Salcito.

The company has joined forces with several members of the education community to develop specific course offerings, construct standards for learning, and supply professional development.

One of those partners, JES & Co., an Arizona-based nonprofit dedicated to instilling effective communication skills in students by way of technology, is working with Microsoft and the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) to develop five online course offerings, which it hopes will improve information-literacy skills among students and teachers. Course titles are “Integrating Information Communication Technology (ICT) Literacy Skills into Teaching and Learning,” “Using Microsoft Office XP for Learning Projects,” “Deploying Student Technical Support Solutions,” “Understanding and Building Basic Networks,” and “Developing Basic Applications Using Microsoft Visual Basic .NET.”

Each course will feature three components: learning materials for students, classroom instructions for teachers, and training resources to help educators familiarize themselves with the courseware, said Diny Golder-Dardis, executive director for JES & Co.

Helping to facilitate the program not only in Washington, but across the country, JES also plans to publish unique handbooks for educators in every state. Each handbook will address some of the ed-tech challenges facing students and teachers in that state and will explore strategies that could be used to steer state institutions toward annual achievement benchmarks, she said.

“It’s becoming clear that if we want students to acquire technology skills and ICT literacy for the 21st century, we need to engage them with rich curriculum and opportunities for learning,” Golder-Dardis said. “The U.S. Partners in Learning program does just that by equipping schools with resources and specialized courseware that address key content areas typically not covered in middle and high school offerings.”

Professional development is another focal point of the project. According to Les Foltos, K-12 director for the Washington-based Puget Sound Center for Teaching, Learning, and Technology (PSC), students aren’t likely to obtain the technology skills they need to succeed unless their instructors are actively, and willingly, integrating those skills into classroom instruction.

As part of the project, PSC will give participating schools access to its peer training program–a proven professional development model that empowers classroom educators with the skills necessary to guide their peers through more ambitious technology use and integration.

Foltos, who spent 11 years as director of instructional technology for the Seattle Public Schools, said most school leaders overlook that teachers prefer to learn about technology from their peers.

Educators, he said, often don’t respond well to weekend technology sessions and add-on workshops. Rather, they want “down-the-hall assistance” and “technology coaches” who can discuss the relevance of the technology in the context of a classroom environment and who can help them understand, on a personal level, why the technology is important.

Microsoft also plans to give participating schools access to the company’s widespread computer refurbishing program, Fresh Start, as well as content and standards developed by a host of additional partners, including MOUSE (Making Opportunities for Upgrading Schools and Education), ISTE, the MarcoPolo Education Foundation, and the Institute of Computer Technology.

In all, Washington will receive $3 million from the program. Corporate partners who spoke with eSchool News said they hoped to extend the program across all 50 states within the next two years.

See these related links:

Microsoft Corp.
http://www.microsoft.com

JES & Co.
http://www.jesandco.org

International Society for Technology in Education
http://www.iste.org

Puget Sound Center for Teaching, Learning, and Technology
http://www.pugetsoundcenter.com