Microsoft’s Bing for Schools: Bringing Digital Literacy Front and Center

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I was intrigued to learn that over the summer, Microsoft launched “Bing for Schools,” a program designed to not only put technology into the hands of students and teachers, but to also provide lessons aligned with the Common Core State Standards for digital literacy.

First, a bit about the program. Launched August 21, 2013, Bing for Schools offers free Surface tablets and course materials to teach digital literacy in school. At this time, four schools have been selected by Microsoft to participate: Los Angeles School District, Atlanta Public Schools, Fresno Unified School District, and the Detroit Country Day School. Total, about 800,000 students are participating in the program. The goal of the program is to increase digital literacy by putting technology into the hands of students and teachers.

In addition, Microsoft offers the Bing search engine with no advertisements, no adult content, and more privacy protections than other search engines, like Google, Bing’s primary competitor. So why is this program so different? It aligns its program with Common Core State Standards for digital literacy.

What is digital literacy? In very basic terms, digital literacy is when one has the ability and skills to use digital technology, such as computers, tablets, smart phones, and other surface devices in order to communicate, find information, and create new information. A digital literate person can do such tasks as scroll up-and-down a page, format a document, and search for information using a search engine.

Why am I so intrigued by the Bing for Schools initiative? Having over 20 years of experience as a practicing librarian, a professor of information science, as well as completing my doctoral work on the topic of information literacy, I am ecstatic to see that finally, FINALLY, someone on the national and international stage understands why this and the next generation need to be able to search for, locate, and analyze information effectively (regardless of format)!

Plus, they understand how to effectively teach students to be information literate by a.) giving them the technology needed to become digital literate (a component of information literacy) and b.) providing teachers and librarians with a forum for sharing lesson plans that integrate information literacy DIRECTLY into the curriculum – not on the side as a separate course, not as a 50-minute one-shot session on how to find information – but directly within the context of daily instruction.

If you are a teacher, librarian, or administrator reading this blog post you should celebrate! The Bing for Schools program may not be perfect; however it is definitely a big step in the right direction.