Washington State Superintendent of Public Instruction Randy Dorn and Microsoft Corp. representatives jointly announced last month the formal launch of a statewide information-technology academy program designed to augment computer-based and online educational resources.
The Microsoft IT Academy will be available to staff and students in more than 700 public high schools, skills centers, and tribal schools across the state, making the deployment the largest statewide Microsoft IT Academy program.
The Microsoft IT Academy includes training and certification in a number of Microsoft products, such as Microsoft Word, Microsoft Excel, and Microsoft PowerPoint, as well as advanced topics, including programming, Web development, and database development.
A struggling economy and an increased demand for technology skills are changing education in Washington state, but that can lead to positive results, Dorn says.
"We're very excited about the Microsoft IT Academy," he said during a presentation of the training at Ingraham High School in Seattle. "Right now, one out of every two of today's jobs requires some technology skills. That number will increase to three out of every four jobs in 10 years. We need to make sure our students are trained in areas that will get them jobs."
The state Legislature provided $4 million during the 20112013 biennium an investment that supporters claim will provide products and services statewide valued at approximately $30 million.
The Microsoft IT Academy Program, which consists of Web-based instruction, includes access to software lab licenses, Web-based e-learning and official Microsoft course materials. Topics range from computer basics to high-level programming, along with information and communications technology management. Through the training, students get hands-on experience with the latest Microsoft software and hundreds of e-learning courses.
"The Microsoft IT Academy program makes education more relevant to students so they can move from learning to earning," asserts Sig Behrens, general manager for U.S. education at Microsoft. "Washington state schools, teachers, and students are now at an advantage in keeping pace with changing technology and curriculum demands. The program also gives students equal access to the IT skills and certification they need to both prepare for advanced studies and to improve career opportunities with higher earning potential."
Access to online courses will allow participants to work at their own pace, program proponents say. The program also provides instructors with a flexible learning environment since lesson plans can be folded into existing curricula or can stand alone as new curricula, they say.
Once students have completed the Microsoft IT Academy training, they can become certified in their areas of study to earn industry-recognized Microsoft Office Specialist, Microsoft Technology Associate, or Microsoft Certified Professional certifications. These credentials, proponents say, can help give students an edge in today's competitive job market.
Benefits to schools participating in the Microsoft IT Academy include access to many programs, including the IT Academy members' website and e-learning curriculum, with more than 1,500 online multimedia courses to choose from.
It also includes a tool for teachers to manage their students' e-learning courses, send class communication, and monitor student performance, and a Microsoft Digital Literacy curriculum for students who are new to computing skills.
Another academy offering is EduConnect, a program in which a Microsoft employee volunteers in schools to help teachers and students learn about improving learning outcomes, careers in technology, helping stay safe online, and getting excited and prepared for the future. Microsoft is creating a formal mentor program to link a Microsoft employee to each of the 703 Washington high schools, skills centers, and tribal schools.
During the 20112012 school year, the state Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction and Microsoft will pilot the Microsoft IT Academy at 63 schools. The program is available, as mentioned, to all 703 high schools, tribal schools, and skill centers throughout the state, and some training sessions already are scheduled.
"Putting training and certification in every high school in Washington state will bridge the gap between the world of education and the world of work," Dorn says. "It will boost science, technology, engineering, and math education statewide and the employability and global competitiveness of our students and future work force.
"The Microsoft IT Academy is a game changer. It will put our state at the nation's forefront in education."
Washington is the second state in the U.S. to implement the program statewide. North Carolina piloted high schools in 29 counties during the 20102011 school year and expanded the program to the entire state in 20112012. Virginia's governor announced last month that it will be the third state.
OSPI is the primary agency charged with overseeing K-12 education in Washington state. It works with the state's 295 school districts and nine educational service districts.
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