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Microsoft To Help Link SchoolsTo Bulletin Boards, E-Mail Systems

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Washington

The Microsoft Corp. will give every school in the nation free software that will allow them to set up computer bulletin boards and electronic-mail systems, Chairman William H. Gates III announced last week.

Mr. Gates said in a speech here that the company will make the software available in the spring as part of an effort to link schools with their communities and with the outside world.

"The most important use for information technology is to improve education," Mr. Gates said in announcing the new program, called "The Connected Learning Community." The complex software-development program is one prong of a broad effort by Microsoft to help schools make effective use of technology, Mr. Gates said.

Although the software giant has long sold to schools, Microsoft lately has redoubled its efforts to capture the home and school markets for education software. (See Education Week, April 26 and Sept. 20, 1995.)

The new program, Mr. Gates said, will link classrooms within schools and schools with one another; connect homes and schools; and connect students and teachers with such community and global learning resources as libraries and museums by means of the Internet computer network.

Connections to individual homes, he said, will provide a means for parents to become more involved in their children's schooling by opening up lines of communication with teachers.

Mr. Gates called the new software the Microsoft Parent-Teacher Connection Server. It will be an add-on to Microsoft's existing Windows nt product, a commercial version of the company's Windows software that is used on local computer networks by businesses and administrative offices.

Electronic Forums

The software will allow parents to send teachers individual electronic messages from their home computers and for teachers to respond. Schools and school districts also could create electronic forums on the system where users could share information, hold on-line discussions, or publish their own "home pages" on the Internet's World Wide Web.

Mr. Gates said the complex software will allow the hodgepodge of MS-DOS, Windows, and Apple Macintosh machines now used in schools to communicate with one another and with machines used by parents at home. It will not, however, work with the Apple II machine, an obsolescent model that still represents nearly half the computers used in classrooms.

School system, or individual schools, would have to obtain servers, or central computers that would process the messaging, from hardware vendors. Windows NT is frequently used as the operating system, or basic set of operating instructions, by such computers.

Microsoft also is working with such hardware and telecommunications companies as Compaq Computer Corp., Bell Atlantic Corp., and Pacific Bell to help make hardware available and to provide technical assistance, training, and support to get the systems up and running.

View of the Future

The announcement came during a speech by Mr. Gates at Georgetown University on the future of information technology in education, reiterating themes from his new book, The Road Ahead.

Mr. Gates' enthusiasm for the potential uses of technology in education was shared by Deputy Secretary of Education Madeleine M. Kunin, who spoke before the Microsoft co-founder. The Clinton administration believes technology provides unique opportunities to enhance teaching and learning, Ms. Kunin told the audience of 700 educators and students.

But, she added, "our nation needs to do a much better job with technology training, including developing teachers' professional skills with these new tools."

Mr. Gates noted that his share of the proceeds from sales of his book will pay for 22 national pilot projects dealing with the use of technology in education. The winning projects were selected from 400 applicants by the National Foundation for the Improvement of Education, a philanthropic arm of the National Education Association.

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