*Roundtable Q&A: North Carolina student Miranda Hill and former teacher Jennifer Tyndall discuss their experiences with the Microsoft IT Academy and winning recognition in a global competition.*
REDMOND, Wash. — The 21st-century workplace is driven by information technology, and in today’s competitive job market, employers are seeking candidates who can hit the ground running with IT skills in place.
The Microsoft IT Academy provides a complete IT education solution to help students gain the skills they need to be successful in college and career. The program helps drive employability, digital literacy and 21st-century workforce development for students. At the same time, educational institutions are provided with the structure for a program that has the instant recognition and credibility of the Microsoft brand.
The program brings together students, educators and communities, offering IT training and certification on the latest Microsoft technologies. Students gain confidence as they learn new skills and apply what they learn in real-world scenarios.
In November 2010, North Carolina rolled the program out statewide to 628 high schools. The results have been notable for students, teachers and Microsoft alike, as Microsoft North Carolina received the Education Leadership of the Year Award from the North Carolina Technology Association. To find out more about the program’s impact on teachers and students, Microsoft News Center (MNC) spoke to Jennifer Tyndall, a business and technology teacher at Spring Creek High School in Seven Springs, N.C., and Miranda Hill, one of her former students. Since Tyndall and a colleague implemented the Microsoft IT Academy in their curriculum, 175 students have gone through the school’s program, earning nearly 400 certifications in Microsoft Word, PowerPoint, Publisher, Excel and Access.
MNC: Describe the Microsoft IT Academy at Spring Creek High School.
Tyndall: It is a small learning community within the broader school. Each course is a collaborative effort between the teacher and students, but the program also engages the school’s administrators and community.
The Microsoft IT Academy creates a convenient and flexible learning environment that incorporates online learning, hands-on labs and face-to-face instruction. Microsoft provides lesson plans and an online curriculum, and I also develop my own activities and projects. It’s great because I can customize the program to meet the individual needs of my students.
After learning the material for each software program, students can then take the Microsoft certification tests. Earning certifications validates the skills learned at no cost. It is such a great opportunity for students who would not otherwise be able to afford these tests, and it gives students a competitive edge when job hunting.
MNC: What kinds of activities help make learning about technology more engaging?
Tyndall: Last year, students sought out local businesses in need of promotional materials, such as fliers, brochures and business cards, and then designed those materials using Publisher 2010. The students benefitted by learning about a wide variety of businesses and their marketing needs, and the businesses gained electronic and hard copies of promotional materials. It strengthened our community ties and demonstrated the value of the Microsoft IT Academy to the community.
Hill: Mrs. Tyndall had us create an all-about-me presentation using Microsoft OneNote. Each tab in our notebook featured a different topic, such as family and hobbies. She encouraged us to use the technology to really show who we are.
MNC: How does the Microsoft IT Academy help students prepare for the future and their careers?
Tyndall: Students are gaining valuable skills that will help them be competitive in today’s workforce by earning industry-recognized certifications. Students who haven’t shown success in other courses are finding something that holds their interest in the Microsoft IT Academy. Channeling their talents in technology in such a positive way allows students from all walks of life, of all ability levels, to develop confidence and refine their skills to be successful in any career.
Miranda enrolled in the Microsoft IT Academy her senior year to satisfy a technology credit and became enthralled with learning new IT skills. She earned certifications in Microsoft Office applications and went on to win the Microsoft Word 2010 portion of the Certiport 2011 U.S. Competition on Microsoft Office. Winning the U.S. competition allowed her to compete in the Certiport 2011 Worldwide Competition on Microsoft Office, a global competition that included competitors from 29 countries.
Hill: At first, I wasn’t confident about my skills. I knew how to open a Word document, type a paper and print it, and I knew how to search the Internet, and that was about it. But after learning Word and PowerPoint and Excel and Access, it clicked: I really knew what I was doing, and I was good at it. The program was not only a resume builder but also a confidence booster.
Before I took the Microsoft IT Academy course, I wanted to study music education in college. After going through the program and attending the worldwide competition, I realized I had developed a love for IT. In fact, I’m now majoring in information technology at the University of Carolina at Pembroke.
I’m using the skills I learned with Microsoft Word at college to work faster and create more-polished papers. The Microsoft certifications will give me a leg up in the job market because employers are looking for them — and I’m really glad I have them. I can now work a spreadsheet or a database, and I feel confident that I will be more employable as I move forward.
MNC: Tell us about the competition. How did you get there, and what was it like to participate in the Certiport 2011 Worldwide Competition on Microsoft Office?
Hill: It’s been one of the highlights of my life. After I learned that I would represent the U.S. in Word 2010 at the world championships, Mrs. Tyndall and I started preparing. We began in December, and we worked nonstop until the day we left for the competition in August. It was an amazing opportunity. To this day I still can’t believe it — it’s surreal.
Tyndall: Thanks to Certiport and Wayne County public schools, I was able to go along to the competition to support Miranda.
While I was there, I had the opportunity to network with people from around the world. I gained insight into global business and took the time to talk about the Microsoft IT Academy and how it has revolutionized the business department at my school and the entire school. I encouraged others to implement the Microsoft IT Academy in their countries and educational programs. I also learned I’d been nominated for the Certiport Teacher of the Year award!
MNC: How did you feel when you found out that you won Teacher of the Year?
Tyndall: I was completely shocked. What an amazing honor to be recognized on a national level for the work I had done with the Microsoft IT Academy. I’d only been teaching for five years, so to be recognized nationally at this stage in my career was an amazing honor and an unforgettable experience.
Hill: Mrs. Tyndall was really happy for me when I got all my certifications. So when she won the Teacher of the Year award, it felt good to see her shine.
MNC: As a teacher, how has the experience with the Microsoft IT Academy opened up opportunities in your career?
Tyndall: The Microsoft IT Academy has made me a better teacher — I have developed new technology skills of my own and learned so much in the process of getting the program off the ground. It’s also opened doors for me professionally. I’ve been able to teach hundreds of teachers from North Carolina and Washington state. It’s nice to be able to pass on the skills I learned through the Microsoft IT Academy program to other teachers to help them be more successful in their classrooms.
MNC: What advice would both of you give to students who are considering the program?
Hill: Dive in headfirst because the things you will get out of it and the experience you will have will be well worth it. Don’t say, “Oh, I’m not going to be good at this.” The old line is true: If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. Because it will happen, and it will be an amazing feeling when it does!
Tyndall: No matter what career you are interested in, take the Microsoft IT Academy classes. There is something for everyone in this program. Appreciate the opportunity it offers to obtain these industry-recognized certifications at such a young age, free of charge, and realize the potential that you will have by earning your certifications. They give students such a competitive edge in the job market.