11 September 2006


School District of Philadelphia and Microsoft Open School of the Future—WITHOUT A LIBRARY

Excerpted from and with comments from Judith A. Siess, Editor, The One-Person Library newsletter, from the press release at http://www.microsoft.com/presspass/press/2006/sep06/09-06MSPhiladelphiaSOFPR.mspx

Opened in Philadelphia 7 September 2006, “the School of the Future is the result of a unique collaboration between the School District of Philadelphia, Microsoft Corp. and the community of West Philadelphia that will deliver a new approach to curriculum and school design and the infusion of technology into the daily lives of educators and learners.” It features “a progressive and research-based curriculum, integrated technology, and environmentally advanced architecture…within the strict confines of a standard urban public-school budget.”

The school has 170 freshman students who will make up the first School of the Future graduating class of 2010. They were chosen in a lottery from the local neighborhood and are 99 percent minority and 85 percent low income.

“The School of the Future project has created education-specific tools for school administrators, faculty and the community in which they live and work.” They include smart-card-accessible lockers, a tablet PC for every student, wireless access at school and broadband access at home, software such as the Virtual Teaching Assistant, media-rich classrooms and the Interactive Learning Center, which replaces the traditional library—allowing content to be constantly updated, in essence creating textbooks with local, regional and global information that is always refreshed and never out of date.” (emphasis mine)

More detail on the library “alternative:” (all emphasis and comments—in brackets—are mine)
Unencumbered access [does that mean no mean librarians to deny access to materials?] to expertise will be gained by providing learners and teachers with access to streaming media content on a variety of subjects, from a variety of content experts. No longer limited due to their location, these experts can be brought into the classroom, or home, whenever the learner or teacher needs access to them [library materials aren’t portable??].

ILC replaces traditional library (and textbook use). Students can access resources throughout the building and from home. The ILC allows for community members to access these resources as well. [Libraries are open to the community, too.]

Space is designed to support ad-hoc collaboration and informal learning opportunities. [Libraries are getting to this—the concept of library as place.]

A complete multimedia encyclopedia and study tools will be installed on students’ computers for use at all times. [Most libraries have 24x7 access to their reference works via their website.]

Students will be able to customize their portal to give them content that is immediate and relevant. [Immediate, yes; relevant, maybe; but what about reliable and accurate?]

Final comments

Isn’t Microsoft being self-serving?! By eliminating the library and having the students rely totally on online materials, they ensure a steady supply of customers. But does teaching them that “everything is online and it is free”—from MS of course, help the students in the long run? Of course not.

By relying totally on the Web, the students learn to accept whatever they find, without examining the source or reliability of the material. And what of the students “unlucky” enough to work in a organization without such free and easy access to the Web? Will they know how to find information in any other way? Will they know that they can find reliable, free information at their local library (public or otherwise)?

What Microsoft is really creating, rather than educated citizens, is a populace that knows only one way to find information—the Microsoft way. Good for Microsoft, bad for society.

For more information, see http://www.microsoft.com/education/SchoolofFuture.mspx

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