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Microsoft brings innovation to the classroom

Microsoft in Education

Over a decade ago, Microsoft founder Bill Gates launched a daring initiative to put computers and free internet access in every library across the United States. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation followed that up with programs that put computers in schools. Today, Microsoft is taking that spirit of learning and philanthropy even further with several programs geared toward providing students, teachers and administrators with the tools they need to deliver a more effective education.

Microsoft takes on the classroom

One of the problems many parents have with allowing their kids to search online is the proliferation of ads. These ads seem to pop up on every page, complete with eye-catching graphics that pull attention away from the subject at hand. Bing for Schools offers a solution to the problem with search engines that are free of advertisements, have augmented privacy protections for kids and strict filtering to block out adult content.

Reuters reports that the free program also offers students an opportunity to earn points with every search, which can then be redeemed for free Surface tablets for their school district. In addition, schools don't have to be enrolled in Bing for Schools to earn the Surface tablets -- anyone can sign up for Bing Rewards and donate their credits to any school system they choose, according to Bing Blogs.

Bing also helps teachers introduce digital literacy into the classroom with daily lesson plans. These free plans are aligned with Common Core standards and offer questions that students can answer through the use of search tools. Three plans are offered each day, one each for K-4th, 5th-8th and 9th-12th grade students.

Microsoft Office 365 for Education is a product that seeks to connect teachers, students and administrators in a simple and straightforward format. Office 365 includes email, document sharing and storage, web meetings and other tools that allow school districts, colleges and universities to modernize their communications. The program connects social media platforms in one place, offers email free from ad scanning and provides cloud storage and sharing for those within the organization or outside of it. Free trials are available, and college students can expect discounts on the program.

In addition to these programs, Microsoft offers constantly updated tools for teachers and students at Microsoft in Education. Here educators can explore new programs and products, tap into a variety of online resources, find discounts on hardware for schools and engage in leadership and training programs.

Microsoft founder Bill Gates, holding to his belief that investment in digital tools can help solve the world's education problems, has joined forces with education nonprofit Common Sense Media to launch Graphite, an online resource for teachers. The plan is to make tested, evaluated, reviewed and proven online resources available to K-12 teachers at no cost. These free resources include digital curricula, games, applications and links to other helpful sites, according to CNET.

According to Graphite, over 55,000 schools currently use the programs offered by the site. The goal is to help teachers cut through the clutter of online teaching tools and find the ones that truly work for students. This is achieved by unbiased ratings from a team of professional educators.

Other educational happenings from Microsoft

Though Microsoft and the Gates Foundation are two separate entities, both are dedicated to keeping teachers and students on the cutting edge of education. In addition to Microsoft's new offerings in the education space, Gates has launched the College Knowledge Challenge, a 2.5 million dollar fund dedicated to creating applications that help college students apply, attend and stay in college. The program kicked off with a "hackathon," a competition designed to push creativity in creating applications, which was hosted by the Gates Foundation and Facebook.

Microsoft hopes to see a two-fold benefit from the recent forays into education. According to Reuters, the company is turning to ad-free searches to ease consumer concerns, compete against Google and drum up more business, both inside and outside the classroom. But Microsoft is also engaging the vision of the Gates Foundation with the College-Ready Education and Postsecondary Success programs, both of which focus strongly on teaching, learning and innovation in the hopes of raising the bar on public education.

Sources:
"Bill Gates pitches in for online education resource Graphite," CNET, August 20, 2013, Dara Kerr
"Bing Adds Hardware and Curriculum for Schools, Subtracts Ads," Bing Blogs, August 21, 2013, Matt Wallaert
"Facebook and Gates Foundation join forces to promote education," CNET, April 2, 2013, Dara Kerr
"Microsoft offers ad-free Bing for the classroom to battle Google," Reuters, August 21, 2013, Gerry Shih