Microsoft on Aug. 21 announced the launch of a new educational program called Bing for Schools. Under the initiative, which is currently in the pilot stage, select schools can access Bing without advertisements and other protections that preserve privacy and fend against adult content.
In a blog post, Bing behavioral scientist Matt Wallaert, noted the prevalent role of search engines in education. He noted that "a recent Pew poll found that 94 percent of teachers believe their students are very likely to use a search engine during a typical assignment." It's reason enough for Microsoft to get involved. "We believe that schools should have the choice to make sure those searches are safer, more private and ad-free," added Wallaert.
In addition, the program presents an opportunity to push digital literacy at a time when schools, like IT managers, "are being asked to do more with less." Wallaert stated that according to Pew's data, "91 percent of educators believe that content focusing on digital literacy should be incorporated into every school's curriculum."
Microsoft's answer: free coursework. Bing for Schools makes "it easier to incorporate digital literacy into the classroom by offering three learning activities every school day for the entire year, targeted at K-4th, 5th-8th, and 9th-12th grades," wrote Wallaert. The activities are "aligned with Common Core standards" and will leverage Bing's hallmark home page image to challenge students.
In contrast to Microsoft's consumer-facing search product, Bing for Schools removes all advertisements from search results. Further, it imposes automatic "Strict" filtering (versus the default "Moderate" filtering option) to keep adult content at bay. Finally, it features "augmented privacy protections" aimed at bolstering children's privacy online.
As a bonus, users of the Bing Rewards program can contribute their points to earn their schools Surface RT tablets and bring technology into the classroom. "We'll aggregate the credits for everyone supporting each school, and when they reach 30,000 credits, we'll convert those into a Microsoft Surface RT tablet with Touch Cover that will be sent directly to the school," announced Wallaert.
To date, participants include the Los Angeles Unified School District, Atlanta Public Schools, Fresno Unified School District and Detroit Country Day School. More than 800,000 students are set to take Bing for Schools for a spin at the start of the school year.
This opens a new chapter in Microsoft's efforts to broaden the appeal of its Bing search engine and narrow Google's lead.
In recent months, the software titan has been preparing a retooled Bing search experience for Windows Phone 8 and gearing up to take over search duties (from Google) for Siri in the upcoming iOS 7 update for the iPhone and iPad. During the Build 2013 conference in June, the company rolled out a new Bing Developer Center to stoke interest among the Windows development community.