Partnerships and Collaborative Learning

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The power of partnerships and the value of alliances in education have existed for many years. Hardware vendors have been partnering with content providers and users to demonstrate the value of technology in education. Creating and utilizing an environment that connects people so they can share information has become essential. The Internet's growth in education has demonstrated that collaborative efforts are assisting in solving educational problems. However, a number of recent issues emphasize the value of partnerships.

Needing Professional Development, Demanding Lifelong Learning

A consortia of universities, private corporations and for-profit companies are collaborating to provide training for school personnel, community groups and industry workers. More federal, state and local funds are being provided for professional development as needed. Private companies are helping with staff development and administrative functions.

The Ameritech Technology Academy (ATA) teaches four-person teams from schools throughout Michigan on how to apply technology in all curriculum areas. ATA's partners include the Michigan Department of Education, the Michigan Association for Computer Related Technologies in Education, the Michigan Association of School Administrators and the office of the governor. Many communities are equipping libraries and community centers for use by adults and students. Planning usually involves the community, businesses, funding agencies and educators. A number of major universities and private corporations are involved with providing AARP members the opportunity to enroll in free and paid courses. The growth in staff development opportunities is documented and increased sharing of information can be noted. However, it must be remembered that professional development should be ongoing, and monies provided for this purpose need to reduce operational costs and increase services.

The recent computer mergers have various affects on the educational community. Hewlett-Packard and Compaq's merger is supposed to reduce operating costs and make the combined company more competitive with Dell, IBM and Sun Microsystems. This is bound to drive prices down and provide better choices to educators. Universities and booksellers are also collaborating to reduce costs for students. The University of Ph'enix has initiated a plan to convert itself into a "bookless" college, providing customized, interactive digital textbooks to students. In addition, the National Science Foundation is working with IBM, Intel and Quest to build a computing grid that can store more than 450 trillion bytes of data by 2003.

Growing Interest in Distance Learning and the Rise of Virtual Universities

According to a recent survey by Merrill Lynch, demand for distance learning is rising rapidly.

 

Many for-profit organizations have been formed. Michigan Virtual University is a private nonprofit organization established in 1998 by the state's governor and the Michigan Jobs Commission (now the Michigan Economic Development Corp.) to provide online learning opportunities. The school d'es not grant degrees or certificates, but acts as a broker of programs made available by Michigan's public and private colleges, universities and commercial training providers. However, problems from accreditation to funding are feared by online educational institutions, in contrast to the successes of e-learning in business environments.

Increased Job Market Opportunities

Educators are continually criticized for graduating students who do not understand the fundamentals of technical literacy and are ill-equipped to get a job. The business community has become more involved with curriculum content, apprenticeships for students and teachers, and with job placement. In addition, vendor-specific courses are now being developed by educators and businesses at educational institutions. For example, the University System of Georgia, which includes 19 public colleges and universities, signed with a training program to help students obtain IT certification.

Decreasing Venture Capital Monies

It has been established that venture capital monies are not as easily available as they once were. Investors are taking more time to evaluate business plans and review the potential of start-up companies. Partnerships are encouraged to better demonstrate the value of products. However, venture capital is still available for development of new applications, and evaluation of current processes leading to greater efficiency and measurable results.

Renewed Interest in Bridging the Digital Divide

The use of technology to provide better education to the disadvantaged student is not new. Many collaborations have resulted in hardware distributed to schools; businesses sending volunteers to schools to help in training; help in content evaluation; and the set up of programs in disadvantaged areas. A large amount of hardware and software is continually donated to educational institutions. For example, Oracle has donated Internet appliances, network equipment and printers to 2,500 classrooms during the past two years. Sun Microsystems gives $1 million annually to low-income schools in California, Colorado and Massachusetts for computers and software. Microsoft will donate $100 million each year in cash and software for five years to the Boys & Girls Club of America to help build 3,000 computer centers.

Tallahassee, Fla., has set up technology centers in the heart of its most disadvantaged neighborhoods. The content is provided by the city's Learn IT Now program, an online training program with more than 1,000 courses. The city's officials have worked with publishers to convert thousands of textbooks to digital form. Houston, Texas, launched a program to offer free e-mail and use of personal computer software to its 3 million area residents by working with corporations, the community and schools. The city will give residents free use of about 1,000 PCs that are already in libraries and police stations.

The Telecommunications Act of 1996 provided schools and libraries with discounts of 20 percent to 90 percent for Internet connection and telecommunication infrastructure. The $2.25 billion annual distribution for three years is funded by the telecommunications industry through taxes on individual telephone bills. More than 30,000 applications requesting $5.1 billion were submitted this year, more than the first two years combined. Due to insufficient funds, only the neediest schools will be considered, which are defined as schools in which at least 50 percent of the students receive free school lunches.

Conclusion

Of course, many partnerships in education exist and are successful. The above are just a few examples of a large number of partnerships and collaborations. The advantages of communication, sharing, alliances and collaboration are better articulated, though the educational community remains highly fragmented. Accommodating the priority level of each participant is critical to meeting the needs of each collaboration, and providing the solution that enables all parties to be more successful while remaining cost-effective are constant challenges. What has been observed is mutual trust, cooperation, understanding and similar expectations that are essential. Partnerships and collaborative efforts must continue to help solve our educational problems and moot the ongoing needs of our educational community.

This article originally appeared in the 10/01/2001 issue of THE Journal.

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