The search is on for the nation’s top education visionaries. Not long after Intel Corporation staged its own Visionary Conference in Washington, D.C., two more technology giants are on the hunt.

Dell Inc., the nation’s leading provider of computers to schools, and the world’s leading software maker, Microsoft Corp., have announced the creation of a Visionary Award. The program seeks to empower forward-thinking educators by providing the tools and resources to help them upgrade the nation’s classroom for the 21st century.

Three educators committed to turning their vision for the future into a reality will each win $250,000 in technology and services for their school, according to the companies. The visionaries will be chosen based on personal essays detailing how technology can transform education and help their students prepare for the future.

The awards are part of a larger million-dollar grant initiative, dubbed FutureReady, which seeks to equip educators with the skills, resources, and technology necessary to prepare the nation’s students for success in the ultra-competitive global economy.

Winners will be announced at Dell’s Global Education Day in early 2006, where they will be given the opportunity to share their vision of education and technology with education stakeholders around the world.

“These [students] are the people who down the road are going to be our employees,” said Scott Campbell, Dell’s vice president of sales for K-12. “But these students will not be successful in the future if they do not have the skills they need to succeed.”

Rather than awarding people for the work they’ve already done, Campbell said FutureReady seeks to award forward-thinking educators for the work they plan to do.

“We have a tendency in these types of programs to award people for work they’ve already done,” he said. “This program is about the what-ifs. It asks, ‘what if I had the resources to do something different?”

He added: “We want to give educators an opportunity to inspire students to integrate technology effectively into the classroom.”

Anthony Salcito, general manager of U.S. Education for Microsoft, said the goal “is to shine a light on the good examples [of what’s] being done across the country.”

The Visionary Award winners will be selected based on how well their individual essays describe a plan to use 21st century technology to increase student achievement and the development of 21st century skills in their students; increase teacher productivity and improve instruction; improve the effectiveness of the school’s administration through access to data; and provide an opportunity for their local communities to participate in education.

The call for classroom innovation has intensified in recent months. As high school graduation rates nationwide continue to decline, parents and employers question whether it’s the schools–not the students–that have been left behind.

With the advent of the No Child Left Behind Act and a widespread emphasis on what works, Salcito said the focus has shifted from outfitting classrooms with the latest high-tech solutions, to proving that the effective use of technology does, in fact, breed academic success.

“These days, it’s not about the technology … but about how the technology can be applied to learning,” he said. The hope is that the winning educators and their stories will inspire others across the country to follow their lead.

“We really believe technology can have a profound impact on education and student achievement,” added Salcito. “There are islands of excellence in education. The challenge has always been pulling together and taking those best practices to scale.”

Dell and Microsoft are providing numerous ways for schools and communities to benefit from the program. Beyond the Visionary Award, educators also will have the opportunity to win Mobile Computer Labs and even a Dell Intelligent Classroom worth up to $75,000 for their schools.

In all, five school districts with the most visits to the program web site––will each receive a mobile computer lab provided by Dell and Microsoft. Each lab, valued at $10,000, includes Dell notebook computers, a mobile cart, a wireless access point, and a Dell laser printer, the companies said.

Based on a random drawing, three schools or school districts will each win a Dell Intelligent Classroom, a technology-enabled classroom that allows educators to choose from a variety of customizable technologies, including wireless-enabled Dell computers (desktop or laptop); a wireless projector; interactive whiteboard; wireless polling and quiz-taking applications; a wireless pad that allows professors to control classroom presentations remotely; a document camera and overhead projector; multimedia devices, including DVD players and high-quality LCD TVs; a central audio/visual control system; managed printing for individual and classroom use; and a classroom PA system. Campbell said Dell and Microsoft will consult with the winners in an effort to help them design the classroom that best resembles their vision.

The program was first announced last month during the National Educational Computing Conference in Philadelphia.

To be considered for the Visionary Award, each entrant must be an educator or administrator representing a K-12 school or school district in the U.S.

For a complete description of FutureReady criteria, rules and regulations, and to submit an entry, educators are encouraged to visit the web site. Submissions will be accepted online beginning this fall until mid-November 2005. No purchase or entry fee is required.

“Educators can inspire students and awaken their curiosity for learning by integrating technology in the classroom,” Campbell said. “Through the FutureReady program, Dell and Microsoft are committed to highlighting schools that have a vision for the classroom of the future, and equipping schools with the technology they’ll need to make it a reality.”

Related story:

Ed ‘visionaries’: Schools must change


FutureReady program web site

Dell Inc.

Microsoft Corp.