Accessibility Is At The HEART Of Microsoft & Office365

Update 23rd June:

Since writing this blog I see that the Microsoft Garage have also released a new product called MS Dictate which is a plugin for Outlook, Word and Powerpoint that allows you to dictate text using the same speech-to-text engine used by Cortana. You can download it for free here.

Recently I’ve been working with a partner that has a school for deaf and hearing impaired students as a customer. It’s been really interesting exploring how technology is used in environments like this, where the need for video communication to enable sign language is paramount.

As a result, I’ve been digging into the accessibility options within Microsoft’s Windows 10 and Office365 products and it has reinforced the observations I’ve noticed already since joining Microsoft at the start of the year: accessibility and inclusive design really is at the heart of all Microsoft products.

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Accessibility is a priority for Microsoft for three key reasons:

  1. We cannot realise our mission to empower every person and organisation to achieve more without accessibility
  2. Accessibility is our path to innovation
  3. Our public sector customers are required to procure accessible products

At every major internal Microsoft event I’ve attended this year there has been automatic transcription / captioning of speakers so that deaf or hearing impaired employees can follow along. 5% of the world population (around 360 million people) have some form of hearing difficulty, so the need to use technology to include them in business activities is very real.

However, hearing impediments is not the only area where accessibility in Windows 10 and Office365 is helping:

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As I’ve researched more about the various accessibility features I’ve come across some great customer testimonials and case studies about how Windows 10 and Office365 are making a big difference for them on a daily basis. Below is one about Ted Hart who works at Microsoft and was part of the team that improved Skype Translator for English captions/subtitles resulting in deaf people being able to take part in conversations normally:

The next case study is entitled The Power Of Visual Communication showing how Skype video allows students with disabilities to be able to communicate with each other, even when on work experience. The visual nature of Skype means they can use both sign language and also read body language:

Finally, Al Amal School for Deaf Students in the United Arab Emirates shares how the use of tools like Office Mix and video recording in OneNote is proving valuable with their students:

There are numerous blogs from Microsoft that focus on specifically on accessibility  and Microsoft has a dedicated Disability Help Desk that supports video calling with American Sign Language:

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Marlee Matlin, the only deaf performer to win an Academy Award for Best Actress, demonstrated how the help desk works:

Translator Tools:

Microsoft have leveraged a number of translator tools that use Machine Learning and the Intelligent Cloud to provide greater accessibility support for all users, particularly those that are hard of hearing:

  1. Skype Translator: not only does this do real-time translations between different languages it can be re-purposed to provide an effective transcription of an English to English conversation to support deaf participants.
  2. Microsoft Translator phone app: Similar in functionality to Skype Translator, this app for your phone allows you to do transcriptions and translations (over 60 languages) and you can do multi-person chats on the same device or with up to 100 participants by sharing a conversation code.
  3. Presentation Translator: A project from the Microsoft Garage, this looks to be a plugin for PowerPoint that will provide real-time captioning on the PowerPoint itself from the speech of the presenter. This is not available yet but is coming soon in a beta trial.
  4. Skype Broadcast: The premier Skype meeting tool (available in O365 E5 plans), this will provide real time transcription of the Skype meeting so all participants can follow along.

Other Tools:

Outside of the straight translation tools above, Microsoft are building accessibility into a range of other products that are available now to customers:

  1. Video Indexer: This was formerly know as Video Breakdown in the Azure Media Analytics Suite and is currently in free trial. This tool allows you to automatically transcribe speech in a video, OCR scan text contained within the video, provide facial recognition and then index and search across all this content. It’s incredibly powerful.
  2. Microsoft Stream: Announced only today from Microsoft as being Generally Available (GA), this is built right into Office365 subscriptions and is a video library tool that also offers speech-to-text, facial recognition and searchable indexes. With granular sharing permissions this is a powerful tool.
  3. Accessibility Checker: Build directly into Office365, this tool scans your documents and identifies ways you can make them more user friendly for all users, but specifically those that may fact accessibility challenges. There is no need for a third party plugin to achieve this – it’s baked in by default!
  4. Learning Tools / Immersive Reader: Hugely popular in education already, this started as an extra plugin for OneNote Desktop, before being built in directly and also supported in the Web/Online versions in a browser as well. This tool will read text back to the user, highlight adjectives/nouns/verbs and provide coloured overlays to assist dyslexic users.
  5. Office Accessibility Center: The one stop shop for Microsoft accessibility content and ideas.
  6. Surface Hub: When it comes to providing the best hardware / software combination for collaboration for deaf customers, I think the Hub the best choice given the fully integrated camera experience will provide the ability to use sign language to communicate easily and effectively with remote users. Two videos below show the ease of meetings in with Surface Hub:

It is not just Surface Hub that is helping deaf students, the Surface Pro was highlighted in a video showing how deaf students playing American Football used it to communicate and develop game strategy:

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Accessibility examples from Windows 10

As you can see, there is a huge amount of work being done to support all users to make Windows and Office365 a totally accessible product. One small thing I really like is the ability to replace audio cues with visual or text notifications in Windows, an invaluable addition to the user experience for a deaf person.

If you think I’ve missed something or have other suggestions feel free to drop a note in the comments below.

 

Using “Meet Now” In Microsoft Teams

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I just learnt about this feature in Microsoft Teams – the ability to “Meet Now” and have a spontaneous video conference with the added ability to do screen sharing within it.

Given that Microsoft Teams is going to be replacing Microsoft Classroom (previously in public preview for the last six months) this looks like a very handy feature for students to collaborate remotely with.

Guest Post: Integrating technology in class for great results: 6 tips from an expert

For many teachers, effectively integrating technology into their classes is the start of a journey in transforming their teaching practices. Most find challenges along the way, however there is always successes to be enjoyed when students engage meaningfully with their learning through the use of technology. Today’s post is a link to a recent article from the Microsoft Education blog where six tips from an EdTech expert are shared.

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Technology opens plentiful possibilities for students, but for teachers it can present a unique challenge. New tools should not only engage students and fit seamlessly into lessons, but also add value without taking away from the many “musts” on every teacher’s list.

Eileen Heller, Instructional Technology Trainer and Elementary Innovation Facilitator for Omaha Public Schools (OPS), is responsible for instructional technology training at 21 of Omaha’s 63 elementary schools. As a Microsoft Innovative Educator Expert (MIEE), she sees both challenges and opportunities in bringing technology into the classroom.

While recently working with a class of fourth-graders on Microsoft Teams (which OPS is piloting), Eileen saw first-hand how big a difference the right technology integration can make.

Read the remainder of the article here.

For those that don’t read the entire article above, below are the headings of the six tips (all expanded on in the article itself):

  1. Listen and learn from your students
  2. Shift to a student-centered environment
  3. Fall in love with the right tools
  4. Embrace instructional design
  5. Reflect and revise
  6. Showcase and share

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School Is Finishing – How Do I Keep A Copy Of My OneNote Class NoteBooks?

One of the most common questions that I get asked my students and teachers is “How do I keep my Class OneNote Notebooks when the school year finishes?” It’s a legitimate query given this was pretty easy in a non-digital age: you simply walked off with your ring binder folder or exercise book.

In a new blog from the OneNote Team, they have explained a new way to effectively save a copy to your personal Microsoft account so you always have a copy of your class notes. Here’s how to do it:

  1. Sign in to OneNote Online, our web version of OneNote.
  2. From the Notebook list, click Class Notebooks to display all your Class Notebooks.
  3. Right-click to select a Class Notebook and then select Save a copy.

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Right-click a Class Notebook and select Save a copy.

  1. Click Next. You are prompted to sign in to a consumer Microsoft account. If you don’t have one, go here http://www.live.com to sign up.

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That’s it! Your OneNote Class Notebook is copied to the consumer OneDrive and is available for you to use elsewhere.

On the blog, future developments are hinted at as well:

This is just the initial rollout of the Save a copy feature. In the near future, we will add the ability to choose any notebook type, not just Class Notebooks. We will also roll out the Save a copy feature to your own OneDrive for Business, which will allow students to save a copy of their Class Notebook from a teacher’s OneDrive for Business to their own OneDrive for Business.

If you’re a school leader please make sure you share this feature with your students so they can ensure they’ve kept a copy of their work.

Simple Addition To BYOD Laptop: A Retractable Handle On Spine

I’m seeing a wide range of devices aimed at the education market these days in my job with Microsoft and BYOD in particular is getting increasing choice of really good hardware designs.

One option that has stood out the most to me as a real benefit for students was a laptop with a built in handle that retracted into the spine of the laptop. I actually did not notice this for over a week after I received the laptop but now I use it all the time when moving the device around. Here are a few pictures of it:

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View from underneath the laptop with the handle fully retracted, it is flush in line with the spine of the laptop.

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Viewed from above, the handle is pulled out.

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Viewed from “behind” the device with the screen closed. The handle automatically retracts into place when released.

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Holding the laptop naturally with the handle taking the full weight of the device.

The other neat feature of this device is that it actually has a loop for the stylus attached to the keyboard side of the laptop (not the screen) as well as a lanyard tie to the loop on the laptop so the pen is always attached and can not be lost:

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It’s small design features like this that can add significant value to students in the BYOD market and it’s great to see innovations like this happening.

If you have seen a great feature on a device recently, leave a note in the comments explaining what it was and why you think it added real value to the device.

Enrolling a Windows 10 Home Edition BYOD Device Into Intune For Education

I’ve run a lot of demonstrations of Intune for Education  over the last few months and today I tried to see if I could enroll a Windows 10 Home Edition BYOD device into Intune for Education.

This is an important consideration because many of the devices that students bring to school typically only have Windows 10 Home Edition on them and this can not be joined to a local Domain or Azure Active Directory. It’s worth being aware, however, that schools can set up the Kivuto portal for free, and offer their students the ability to boost their BYOD Windows 10 version to Pro Edu for free and for the life of the device. You can see how to do this here.

Here are the steps to join a BYOD Win10 Home Edition device to Intune for Education:

1) Under settings, go to “Access work or school” and click the “Connect” button in the main view on the right:

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2) Alternatively, if you hit the Windows button and search for “About this PC” you’ll see overall device info like below. Note the Edition is Windows 10 Home and there is also a link directly to “Connect to work or school”

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3) When prompted, enter your full school email address as below:

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4) When prompted, enter your school password:

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5) If entered correctly, you’ll receive confirmation it’s been done:

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6) You will then be advised that the device is being registered and applications and policy is being applied in line with the settings in Intune for Education:

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7) Once completed, you will now be returned to the “Connect to work or school” screen and can now see your account listed as below:

 

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8) As a reference, below is the product licenses assigned to the demo user in my Office 365 Tenant:

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9) If you hit the Windows key you should see the various apps streaming to the device as per the policy in Intune for Education:

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For schools, knowing that they can can enroll Windows 10 Home Edition BYOD directly into Intune For Education is an important step as they don’t need to worry about upgrading the devices to Win10 Pro / Edu.

 

Azure AD B2B – Simplifying Collaboration With Users Outside Your Organisation

AAD B2BCollaboration is a buzz word that is hard to avoid in virtually every sphere of life these days, whether that is education, work environments and right through to team building exercises. This week I learnt about Azure AD B2B a new feature in Azure Active Directory that went into general availability in April 2017.

This feature solves a very real problem many organisations currently have: how to securely and easily invite users from outside your organisation and enable them to access key applications and resources that are only available to internal Office365 tenant users. Existing Microsoft customers have made it very clear that the ability to work with external partners is critical:

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I am particularly excited about this feature to enable better collaboration between schools in the Communities of Learning here in New Zealand. For those unfamiliar with what a CoL is, here is the summary:

A Community of Learning | Kāhui Ako is a group of education and training providers working together to help learners achieve their full potential. These include early childhood education services me ngā kōhanga reo (early learning services), schools, kura and post-secondary.
Each Community of Learning | Kāhui Ako sets shared goals, or achievement challenges based on the particular needs of its learners.

I’ve added the bold highlights above to focus on the fact that for these groups of schools (often 10-15 in number, clustered together geographically), and having the ability to access and share key resources is critical. This is where Azure AD B2B excels:

The key benefits of Azure AD B2B collaboration to your organization

Work with any user from any partner

  • Partners use their own credentials
  • No requirement for partners to use Azure AD
  • No external directories or complex set-up required

Simple and secure collaboration

  • Provide access to any corporate app or data, while applying sophisticated, Azure AD-powered authorization policies
  • Seamless user experiences
  • Enterprise-grade security for apps and data

No management overhead

  • No external account or password management
  • No sync or manual account lifecycle management
  • No external administrative overhead

Put in simple terms, schools can all sign into a “host” Office365 Tenant’s Azure Active Directory using their own school’s email address and password, or even a personal email address such as yahoo.com or gmail.comThis immediately removes any barriers to access of documents but retains full security and the application of policy to these external users is very easy too e.g. requiring Multi Factor Authentication (MFA) to ensure security around accessing content.

This is all explained in the following video which I do encourage you to watch through to the end to see just how easy it is to set up.

If you’re interested in getting started immediately, click this link for more information.

Other cool features (demonstrated in the YouTube video above) include:

  • Setting up a “request access” page so that external users can proactively request access and then have a nominated tenant administrator approve all requests in one go, reducing the need to manually set up external users one by one
  • Future plans exist to federate with popular third party identity providers as well such as Google/Yahoo to provide true Single Sign On (SSO) experiences.
  • Easily use AAD Groups to manage access and policy e.g. create an “External Schools OneNote” Group that teachers from other schools would be added to so that they can access and share OneNote resources (or Sharepoint, or Teams etc).
  • There is advanced feature such as MFA that can be applied, restrictions based on OS e.g. allow only iOS or Windows 10 but block Android, as well as detailed reporting around sign in and accessing of content from external users.
  • Access source code on GitHub published by Microsoft to support getting AAD B2B up and running quickly.

Setting up Azure AD B2B has a wide range of potential uses in school settings and I’m interested to see how this plays out over the next few months as it gets picked up and used by schools.