Free online course helps students plan careers

Students with laptopsA free online learning program from Microsoft is helping middle and high school students think about careers they might like to pursue and the skills necessary to attain those careers.

CareerForward debuted in Michigan two years ago when the state became the first in the nation to require students to have an online learning experience before they graduate from high school. It was developed through a public-private partnership between the Michigan Department of Education, Michigan Virtual University, and Microsoft.

Alabama recently became the second state in the nation to adopt an online-learning requirement for high school graduation, and in May the Alabama Department of Education announced plans to implement CareerForward statewide for the 2009-10 school year. State education officials said they hope the program will make students college- and career-ready and will leave them equipped with the 21st-century skills necessary to compete in a global economy.

The course’s four components address specific aspects of 21st-century careers. The course has students examine their skills and interests as they investigate potential career paths and other aspects to independent living, such as financial management skills. Throughout the course, students are asked frequently to reflect on what they’re learning, to write their thoughts down as a continual refinement of their thinking, and to discuss their thoughts with other students, either in person or online.

Students can work with local educators to access the online course, which takes about four to six weeks to complete. The course is designed to be facilitated by a local teacher and can be used independently or as part of an existing face-to-face course in career planning, business, or global studies.

The Alabama Best Practices Center will receive funding from Microsoft to develop and provide professional development to schools and districts that select CareerForward as part of their curriculum. Michigan Virtual University also will receive support to serve as a consultant to help Alabama deploy CareerForward statewide.

CareerForward focuses on the critical development of a skilled work force, helping young citizens assess their skills and interests, explore global opportunities, and recognize the importance of technology in jobs of the future.

Joe Morton, Alabama’s state superintendent of education, said the program will help Alabama students successfully participate in the global economy.

“CareerForward will help our students see the connection between school and work, and it will strengthen students’ 21st-century skills as it asks them to critically think, reflect, and do online research,” said Tommy Bice, deputy state superintendent of education for instructional services.

Microsoft officials praised Alabama for its online-learning requirement and its attention to 21st-century skills.

“Alabama is taking a necessary step as it adopts more rigorous high school graduation requirements,” said Anthony Salcito, general manager of U.S. public-sector education at Microsoft. “CareerForward meets the state’s criteria for online learning, because students’ career choices are critical to the talent pipeline and future business prosperity in the U.S. When you set a high bar for student expectations, we’ve learned our kids will exceed it–and our schools will adapt to support it.”

“CareerForward will support our district’s goals of helping students explore career choices and develop a plan to get there while building online skills,” said Susan Poling, technology coordinator for Alabama’s Shelby County Schools.

Poling said students will most likely enjoy the program’s interactive budgeting tool, professional interviews, and video clips.

“We want to give all our high school students the opportunity to complete the CareerForward course,” she added.



Michigan Virtual University

Microsoft U.S. Partners in Learning

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