Guest Editorial: The Connected Learning Community: Using Technology for Education

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The most important use of information technology today is to improve education, and we have a tremendous opportunity to enhance the ways we think and learn by taking advantage of the computer as a learning tool. Microsoft envisions using technology to create a "Connected Learning Community" in which all students have access to the world's information through personal computers, and students, educators, parents and the extended community are connected to each other.

Coming Together

There are three ways "The Connected Learning Community" will come together: networked school districts where all the students are connected; connections between homes and schools; and connections reaching out to the entire world ¬ to schools, other institutions, libraries, companies, museums ¬ everyone accessible on the Internet.

Creating "The Connected Learning Community" will require schools to connect to all the constituent groups that can help in the education process. "Connected" students then can browse to learn, use bulletin boards to see what people are talking about, create their own learning path. It will eliminate distance and let people go wherever they want, with the control and flexibility to exercise their curiosity and discover the world.

Even with all this global knowledge available, computers will never become substitutes for great teachers. In fact, using computers in the learning process is effective only when teachers are involved. Computers only can be relied on to impart some of the knowledge ¬ we need teachers' expertise to integrate technology into daily lessons, to become facilitators and coaches, which will enable them to spend more time one-on-one with students.

So, teachers will actually be a bigger influence in "The Connected Learning Community." And in today's teaching environment, with information available globally, they'll be able to share their best practices with other teachers, and have the opportunity to stand on the shoulders of other people's outstanding work.

Remember, too, that "The Connected Learning Community" involves parents and caregivers as well. Some really exciting model schools already have Internet connections that allow parents to dial in and learn about school activities, check homework assignments, chat with teachers and much more.

Parents must be comfortable with computers and committed partners in their children's education. They should be willing to review online lesson plans, for instance, and use them as points of discussion at the dinner table, or sit down at the computer and browse to see what their children are discovering there.

Initiatives for Education

We know widespread technology-based learning won't happen overnight. A lot more content-rich software and systems integration tools will have to be developed, and a lot of hardware advances are needed. We have to demonstrate the value of the investment. We have to improve teacher training.

Microsoft's commitment is very broad. It includes delivering software as a learning tool and providing instructional materials to go with that software; it also includes creating industry alliances to lower barriers and accelerate the use of technology for learning.

One of the things we have announced is the Microsoft "Parent-Teacher Connection Server." With this free software, schools using Windows NT can provide teachers and parents with electronic mail and bulletin board services, publish their own Home Pages and provide Internet access. We're also working with telephone service providers to make sure schools have these connections.

Another Microsoft initiative is the expansion of the Global SchoolNet Foundation's Global Schoolhouse, an Internet site that is a meeting place for teachers and a repository of the vast array of great instructional materials they've developed on myriad subjects. Educators can browse the information, edit the material, and if they come up with a worthwhile refinement, it's easy to submit comments or find and collaborate with the person who did the original work.

The information technology industry has a lot of work to do in schools and in the private sector to help the rich, interactive learning experiences technology offers come together with the written curriculum. We're just beginning this process and there's lots to be learned.

But we know that "The Connected Learning Community" can work. And, we're committed to working with educators, families and technology industry partners to bring this vision to fruition.

Editor's Note: This editorial is based on Bill Gates' speech given at Georgetown University, Washington, D.C., Nov. 28, 1995.

This article originally appeared in the 03/01/1996 issue of THE Journal.

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