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The Evolution of Classroom-Based Learning: Students Working Towards Proficiency with Emerging Technologies in Education

By John Adamson
Director of Business Development


Success in this 21st Century society will require a significantly different kind of literacy than one we traditionally use. In fact, today’s literacy has been defined as the ability to use “digital technology, communications tools, and/or networks to access, manage, integrate, evaluate and create information in order to function in a knowledge society,” according to a recent report published by the Educational Testing Service’s (ETS) Center for Global Assessment.

Students today are asked to take the core literacy skills of reading, writing, the ability to listen and speak, and the capacity to decipher meaning and express ideas through a range of media. These skills do not in any way substitute or take away from traditional literacy, but equally underscore the importance of an individual’s readiness to use technology effectively and productively in the Digital Age.


It is clear that students today are on a different kind of learning path than when the paradigm in education was to merely find content. That was the Holy Grail—to “discover” information that was essentially hidden from the learner. Now, it’s as though the information finds the student.

Today’s learners are given a vast amount of curriculum, an accelerated curriculum, multi-facetted in the way information is presented to them. They are asked to multi-task and to sort through significant amounts of material that is all interconnected, project-based, and is very much applicable. Future learners need to make sense of it, validate it, and prioritize that which is important from the mountains of information that are presented to them.


Information abundance and access to information are two of the critical distinctions that exist between the environment of learners today and the world of learning in the past. Technology has catapulted us into a knowledge-based society and serves as a bridge to more engaging, relevant and meaningful learning – all of which can lead to higher achievement.

In this era of information overload, the challenge for educators resides specifically in determining what types of skills will be required to create and manage information in both working and learning environments. Indicators tell us that individuals will need to be equally proficient across a variety of learning modalities— whether that is traditional print, video or audio, whether they are being presented information in terms of a case study or example, evaluation kinds of techniques, Socratic dialogue or committee/collaborative associations. It all boils down to being able to obtain a variety of information from multiple sources and being able to use it across a variety of applications. As Keith Petiti, Chair of Meced High School’s Business Department said, “This [Microsoft Office Specialist] is a certification that says you can actually perform a job skill. As competitive as things are today, students need this practical experience.”

Petiti and other staff at Meced High were proud to see how true that statement was when Martin Reyes, the High School’s first student to earn Office Specialist Master certification, went on to join the Future Business Leaders of America and earn a ranking in the top ten for the state on the FLBA’s written objective test.

At a baseline, students coming out of K-12 and two-year college systems, anywhere in the world, need to be able to manage and process information, and to array that information through various computing applications that include spreadsheets, databases, word processing documents and presentations. They need to be able to manage electronic mail and manage search engines. All of these have become the basic tool sets that students need to have in order to be prepared for higher education and the workforce. It is increasingly less important to store all requisite information as it is to be able to access the databases and informational sources where that information can reside.


The student population is a wonderful arena for deploying these standards and providing a benchmark measurement for proficiency on computing skills or any type of business skill that tends to become more objective, more standardized, and often established by a third party.

Traditionally, the way that proficiency has been measured in the academic community is essentially through transcripts. An individual’s transcripts typically show that individual has taken a basic set of courses, has followed a certain curricular path, and has achieved a grade that includes an examination and perhaps a research paper. It is left up to the institution to leave a mark on the student, and the student then takes that mark into the working world. Increasingly, however, academic credentials and transcripts become difficult for employers to compare, especially across geographic regions. A subject that is treated with rigor in one area may be offered in a more general or survey context. Employers need skill-standard baselines by which to evaluate and elevate job candidates and their existing employees. This requirement increasingly calls for measurable and meaningful bases of comparison, which has been the driver for the proliferation of standards-based skills assessment and certification in the digital literacy and computing proficiency domains.

At Perkiomen Valley High School in Pennsylvania, teachers were looking for a way to not just teach their students about Microsoft Office, but make sure they know how to use it. They decided to set up a testing center in their school and help the students get certified. Of this program Michael Balik, an instructor at Perkiomen Valley High School said, “[They] do a good job of presenting the topics and providing real-life scenarios to complete. Not only can you say you know a program, but you can prove you know it. You can't 'wing it' with these exams."


Years ago, Certiport instituted a competition to various countries around the world with localized content on Microsoft® Office certifications and invited current students enrolled in an approved, degree-seeking academic institution to compete. Historically, this worldwide competition started out fairly modest and was basically set forth to recognize countries that had done a good job in promoting the certification standards within academia.

Today, the competition that tests an individual’s desktop productivity skills on Microsoft Office Word® and Excel® continues to boom. As both Certiport and Microsoft gave the competition more exposure, more and more countries caught on and students got involved. From each of the participating countries a local winner is named to compete by taking another exam in the second and final competition designed specifically for the world championship event.

Six to seven years ago only a 1,000 individuals participated worldwide. Entering its sixth year, Certiport’s 2008 Worldwide Competition on Microsoft Office will boast more than 115,000 students from over 70 countries vying for the title of World Champion in Microsoft Word or Excel.

What that suggests is that academic institutions around the globe are, in fact, beginning to prepare students for proficiency in the Digital Age because these students do not require an enormous amount of offline education or training to enter the competition. Increasingly, student populations worldwide are at or near the proficiency level where they can pass, many times with flying colors, these very rigorous worldwide industry certifications.

In the case studies that have followed, students return to their locales and become heroes. The host sponsors and faculty members become champions of computing standards and digital literacy and have a positive effect on expanding and radiating the programs throughout their localities. This attracts attention from local governments and corporate entities that now look into how these types of programs help prepare future workers.


The reality that so many individuals from so many countries, backgrounds, and languages participate in the competition speaks to the fact that we really are in a global economy—that a baseline standard for proficiency and excellence across a widely used computing tool is ubiquitous.

If you can get individuals from 40 countries to represent themselves and perform just slightly different on something as sophisticated as an access database or a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet, then you know that educational systems around the world are all striving to obtain this same proficiency level.

Because change occurs constantly in our information-rich society, continuous learning is no longer seen as optional. Technology can serve as a causal agent in this process. However, what that means for those who are lagging behind is dire. The demarcation for the “haves” and “have –nots” in the future will be less about wealth and power and political where-with-all but will have more to do with who manages the information, the information technology and the information gap that a lack of that technology brings. The competition for desktop productivity shows that these kinds of programs can be successful virtually anywhere when they are embedded in strong educational programs that attach them to basic literacy and educational foundations. They are some of our best hopes for creating highly productive, highly competitive workers worldwide.


John Adamson serves as Director of Business Development of Certiport (www.certiport.com). The company prepares individuals with current, relevant digital skills and credentials for the competitive global workforce and is the industry leader in measuring productivity and efficiency.

After 15 years as a technology transfer management consultant in the health care, energy development and aviation fields, John followed the IT revolution from the ground up to become involved in computer-based skills, training and testing at the professional and desktop certification levels. He helped create and manage one of the largest IT skills certification programs in the world (Microsoft Office Specialist—four million customers and counting—serving 120 countries in 20 languages), and helped negotiate and launch new line of Microsoft Business Certifications. He is active in philanthropic digital literacy programs and campaigns aimed at underserved populations of dislocated workers, wounded veterans and single mothers.