Microsoft Teams For Education Is Here – And It Is Awesome

Big news from over the weekend is that Microsoft Teams, already available in commercial Office365 Tenants, has arrived in Education with all of the new features dedicated to making this app the “one stop shop” for students and educators.

Read the official launch blog post here.

There are a number of major differences in Teams for Education (which replaces the Microsoft Classroom app that was in public preview) and these are designed to streamline the workflows for students and teachers.

Assignments:

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From assigning, through to submission and marking, assessment can be completed directly within the Microsoft Teams app.

Persistent Conversations:

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These allow students and teachers to share ideas on the fly, from anywhere and any device (iOS/Android/Windows Phones supported, along with native apps for Win10/MacOS and Browsers)

As a trained teacher, I can really see the benefit of setting up various channels for persistent conversation where links could be dropped for future reference/revision, video links for homework viewing and even just a fun channel where only semi-related content could be shared e.g. if you’re teaching a history class interesting facts about different periods of history that students enjoy but are not being covered in class could be shared.

What’s more, you can moderate content being shared in Teams persistent conversation to keep everyone safe. (Click here to learn how to run a Content Search on Teams. Click here to read ICT Admin FAQ for Teams).

Given students will be able to contribute to persistent conversations from any of their devices this opens up great opportunities for learning outside the classroom such as sharing a photo of your backyard if school is closed for snow; or take a selfie photo during term break and play “where in the world is….” with students guessing the location of each other.

Deep Integration With Other Products:

OneNote Class NoteBooks are, of course, built straight into the Teams app and this will likely be the central hub of Teams for many classrooms, with teachers populating content and students contributing their ideas and work into the Collaboration Spaces and their own sections.

However, one of the best parts about Teams is the ability to extend it with third party apps to plug in as Tabs in your team:

Teams Add Apps

Examples of some of the available apps already, with new, education focused apps being added regularly.

As blogged about earlier, the Meet Now function within Teams allows for both scheduled and ad-hoc video conferencing between students and staff.

Additionally, there are various types of Teams that can be set up and used and teachers and students can seamlessly switch between each team:

Teams Create

When creating a new Team you’re prompted for what type of Team you’re wanting to bring together to collaborate with.

The PLC (Professional Learning Communities) Team is based on the same structured inquiry based learning that was available in Groups and with the ability to add external team members from outside of your school/organisation coming before the end of the year, then these will be perfect for teachers that participate in cross-school professional development such as the Communities of Learning in New Zealand.

Omaha Schools District Case Study:

“Our students interact and socialize with a larger circle of influence than what we’ve ever had as a society. And when you look at how we prepare students for that type of environment, digital citizenship and literacy really come to the forefront. With technology in the classroom, we focus on the 4Cs – communication, collaboration, critical thinking, and creativity. Microsoft Teams really does all of them.”

I really like that focus on the “4Cs” when it comes to the use of technology in schools and using this as a way to evaluate the usefulness and effectiveness in the classroom:

  • Communication
  • Collaboration
  • Critical Thinking
  • Creativity

Ready To Get Started?

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If you’re ready to get started with Teams, then do check out this overview for ensuring Success With Teams or click one of the specific links below:

 

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.

 

Planning To Deploy MS Teams? Check This Resource First

With many businesses already deploying Microsoft Teams, and many educational institutes looking to follow along once Teams for Education in Office365 is officially launched, the following website is a great starting point to successfully start planning:

Success With Microsoft Teams

The website aims to provide practical guidance on best practice tips for deploying Teams and includes:

  • A link to download planning resources
  • Video tutorials including an overview/introduction, guide for deploying/operating teams, tips for ensuring success with Teams in your organisation and a bandwidth calculator to identify what impact Teams may have on your network
  • A link to download the Teams application for all the supported platforms including Windows, MacOS, iOS, Android and Windows Phone (and of course web browser platforms).

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Screenshot of the bandwidth calculator provided on the Success With Teams website

It is good to see Microsoft putting together companion websites for a new tool like Teams to ensure that organisations can introduce it smoothly. Here’s the other info from the website:

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Screenshot of the help topics available

Using “Meet Now” In Microsoft Teams

Video

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.