Microsoft is getting busy for the back-to-school season. The software giant just launched a national pilot program that offers K-12 schools ad-free Bing search and free Surface RT tablets.
Bing for Schools paves the way for schools to avoid the commercialization of student Web searches performed on the school network. Bing is the first and only major search engine to give schools that choice, while also setting strict filters to help block adult content and adding in specialized learning features to promote digital literacy.
Search is an important tool for students. A November 2012 Pew study found that 94 percent of teachers believe their students are very likely to use search engines in typical assignments. With that in mind, Los Angeles Unified School District (Calif.), Atlanta Public Schools, Fresno (Calif.) Unified School District and the Detroit Country Day School have already signed up for the pilot.
Encouraging Critical Thinking
The Bing for Schools program helps schools earn credits toward Bing Rewards when students search the web from home or on mobile devices. Once the school earns 30,000 credits, it wins a Microsoft Surface RT tablet with Touch Cover.
Bing for Schools also works to make it easier to incorporate digital literacy into the classroom by offering three learning activities every school day, targeted at kindergarten through fourth, fifth through eighth and ninth through 12th grades. The activities are free, aligned with Common Core State Standards and use the Bing homepage image of the day to pose a critical-thinking question that can be solved using search tools.
"Collaborating with community partners like Microsoft is an essential part of bringing the best possible educational experience we can to our students," said Ronald S. Chandler, chief information officer for the Los Angeles Unified School District. "I look forward to supporting the Bing for Schools program, which is designed to promote digital literacy by helping to put new devices into the hands of students, teach them how to use them well, and facilitating learning in a safe and supportive environment."
Bing may also be taking a swat at Google with its new program. A new public GfK Roper poll shows that 84 percent of Americans are unaware that students searching on classroom computers will see the same ads as they would on public computers, and 79 percent of parents of children who search the Web in school agree that schools should have the choice to make their students' searches ad-free.
The poll also indicated that 87 percent agree that being able to effectively search for information on the Internet is an important skill for children to learn to be successful in today's world, and 85 percent feel parents should be concerned about their children possibly seeing inappropriate content when searching online.
We asked Rob Helm, an analyst at Directions on Microsoft, for his thoughts on the program. He told us Bing for Schools seems like an interesting tactic for introducing Bing to a new generation while at the same time supporting the overall Scroogled campaign, a series of ads that Microsoft is using to scare consumers away from Google, mainly because of privacy concerns.
"Microsoft may be trying to encourage people to be a little wary of Google's business model, which is driven by ads," Helm said. "By creating an ad-free alternative, Microsoft highlights Google's dependence on that model. On the other hand, Google could follow suit."