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:

Teams Assignments 1

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

Persistent Conversations:

Teams Persistent Conversations.png

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?

Teams Getting Started.PNG

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.

blog 1.png

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:

blog 4.PNG

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.

 

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.

OneNote Save a copy 1

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.

OneNote Save a copy 2

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.

Microsoft Release New Surface Pro

Overnight Microsoft announced the new Surface Pro device, replacing the previous model Surface Pro 4. With this new model it appears that the numbering has gone, i.e. this is not a Surface Pro 5, rather it is simply known as a Surface Pro.

These are available for pre-order today from as low as NZ$1214,10 including GST for the entry level unit with student/educational pricing and this gets you an Intel Core M3 CPU, 4GB RAM and 128GB SSD. Here are some details from the ordering website:

Description

• Transforms from PC to tablet to Studio Mode

• Powerful Intel Core processor

• Create, study, work, and play virtually anywhere

• High-resolution PixelSense Display touchscreen

• Up to 13.5 hours of battery life²

• Ships by 15/6/2017

I know that a lot of schools were looking to replace the aging Surface 3 device and the above could be a great option for that. I’m particularly excited to see the 13.5hr battery life as that is something that students/teachers are demanding now in any device – all day battery life.

There has also been a focus on getting the device even flatter with the kick stand going to a “Surface Studio-like” degree for easier writing/drawing on the Surface Pro’s screen.

You can read the full release from Microsoft here

New Surface Pro Pen Video

Additional announcements relating to Office365 and tight integration with digital inking and touch, especially the Surface Pro range of devices, were announced in a separate blog that you can read here.

OneDrive Files On Demand – Perfect for BYOD

ssd-vs-hdd

Credit: TechoFAQ

Over the last couple of years it has been evident that increasing numbers of BYOD laptops have transitioned to Solid State Disks (SSD) which is terrific since they are significantly faster than traditional Hard Disk Drives (HDD), have lower failure rates and also improve battery life.

However, due to their higher price point, the actual available storage volume of SSD is often markedly lower than equivalently priced HDD.  This means students are faced with the difficult decision around what content do they store locally on the their device versus using selective sync in the OneDrive cloud and/or storing on an external USB drive.

Selective Sync effectively allows you to upload content into OneDrive that you don’t access frequently, and then download it when you do need it. Critically, however, this content will not appear in your local File Explorer browser so you can’t “see” it unless you log into OneDrive via a web browser and choose to sync it locally to your device.

OneDrive Files On Demand Coming In Windows 10 Fall Creators Update

This is why the announcement last Friday at the Build 2017 conference was so exciting. A new feature will allow you to see all of your content in OneDrive in your File Explorer, irrespective of whether it is stored locally on your device, or only in OneDrive in the Microsoft Cloud. Then, if you want to access any content that is only in OneDrive it will automatically be downloaded “on demand” when you click to open the file/folder.

You can optionally choose to then “always keep on this device” if you are going to be requiring regular or off-line access to this file.

Read the full blog post about this here.

Here are some images from the original blog post to show you how this works:

1

Note that the selected folder takes up 1.37TB of storage in the OneDrive cloud, but that locally in File Explorer it shows 0 bytes on the local device.

2

The various status of each file and folder is shown in the “Status” column, indicating whether it is in the OneDrive Cloud only or stored locally on the device. Right mouse clicking allows you to choose to “Always keep on this device”

3

If a file is not stored locally, simply double clicking on it as you normally would to open a file will immediately trigger a download to open the requested file.

My Point of View:

I see this as being a massive aid for schools, helping both teachers and students maximize the performance of their devices. Getting more SSD into teacher and student devices will drive longer battery life, lower failure rates and faster accessing of content. However, by being able to seamlessly see what is in the Cloud and what is stored locally removes any barrier or confusion around the location of content for end users.

With many BYOD devices starting with 64GB of storage, this opens up the vast OneDrive storage capacity to students and teachers in an easier, more seamless way, meaning there is even less reason to use USB hard drives for storing content.

This feature will be available in the Windows 10 Fall Creators Update as well as new OneDrive features for iOS/Android devices.

Microsoft’s May Education Event – Overview

As many readers will have caught up on, Microsoft had a major education event yesterday with the key announcements of a new member of the Surface device family, Surface Laptop, and a new variation on Windows 10, called Windows 10 S.

Keen readers can watch the entire launch event here however the 101 second summary is below:

At this stage, I’ve not got my head across all of the implications for schools from these announcements so I’ll just refer you to the official blog posts here:

For an independent view you can read Dr Joe Sweeney’s initial thoughts on his LinkedIn post here. Joe is an industry analyst for mobility, education and digital innovation and offers an outsiders view of these latest announcements from Microsoft.

If you’re a real device nut and want to see some very cool animations of the internals of the Surface Laptop then this video is for you:

If you’re an ICT Admin in a school and interested in how you can easily manage Win10 devices (including Win10 S) then this might be more for you:

Microsoft is clearly also pushing for affordable STEM resources to support teachers in preparing students for the jobs that “don’t exist yet” – lots of stats about this but some suggestions are that as many as 65% of students will be working in jobs not yet created … interesting stuff! Here’s a video around STEM engagement from Microsoft:

Related to this, of course, is Minecraft Education Edition and with a new release allowing you to integrate third party coding tools (such as Scratch by MIT and Tynker  to teach computational thinking for students, this is a powerful addition to an already great product:

Whilst many schools in New Zealand and elsewhere around the world have already jumped into using the public preview of Microsoft Classroom, we learnt yesterday that this is now going to be discontinued and replaced with Teams for Education:

If you’re a school using Microsoft Classroom and wondering how you will be affected it’s worth reading the below:

1). End-of-support for the Northern Hemisphere school closing July 31, 2017 and for the Southern Hemisphere school closing January 31, 2018.
2). Class structures themselves will not showup in MS Teams. Various data component – files, calendars, OneNotes will be accessible through Office Groups.
3). Classroom experience in MS Teams is expected to be available before the dates mentioned in item#1 above in the respective regions.

Lastly, Mixed Reality gets a boost and focus in education with Pearson Education investing big in this area – have a look at the video below that shows Canberra Grammar School using HoloLens and Pearson Education immersive content:

With more affordable mixed reality devices coming from OEM partners such as Acer and others, schools will be able to utilize this more readily than being required to purchase the more expensive HoloLens.

Clearly a lot to process – exciting times for Microsoft and as I start to get hands on with some of these technologies I’ll be sure to post back thoughts here.

Major OneNote Class NoteBook Announcement: Sharing With Parents

onenote-class-notebooksOne of the things that has really impressed me over the last couple of years has been the responsiveness from the Microsoft Education team to the requests of teachers and how they want to use OneNote in their classes.

Today, in a new blog post that you can read here, the OneNote team have announced four new features that make it even easier for teachers to securely and flexibly share the learning of students with parents at home.

The four new features announced are:

  1. Parent or guardian access to Class Notebook (read-only links)
  2. Parent or guardian access APIs (e.g. if you have a Parent Portal or LMS that you want to generate these links automatically from)
  3. Permissions in the Collaboration Space (control which students can see which sections in the Collaboration Space – great for Project Based Learning)
  4. Delete student content when removing permissions (keep it tidier when removing students from your Class Notebook)

Of these, the first is the biggest “win” for teachers in my view as this allows them to achieve a feature request that has been around for a while – bringing the parent/guardian “into” the digital classroom by selectively and securely sharing the relevant sections with them.

Another scenario where this could work is if you have a teacher aide that wants to see a student’s work in a particular class, they could access it in read only through this method.

To see how easier it is to achieve this, have a look at the following animated GIF:

OneNote-Class-Notebook-updates-include-read-only-parent-or-guardian-access-and-collaboration-space-permissions-1b

From the original blog:

Teachers now can quickly and easily generate read-only links to both the Content Library and individual student notebooks. A parent or guardian can click the link to open OneNote on the web and view their student’s notebook. The teacher can also easily remove these notebook links if desired. This new capability is located under the Manage Notebooks area of the Class Notebook. To try the new parent and guardian features, a school simply needs to have guest access enabled for their Office 365 site. Find additional details here.

The other major point from this update is the ability to control the Collaboration Space more effectively by assigning students in groups to sections. Again, from the original blog:

OneNote-Class-Notebook-updates-include-read-only-parent-or-guardian-access-and-collaboration-space-permissions-2

Teachers can now sub-divide the Collaboration Space—based on student permissions that the teacher assigns for each section—into groups allowing project-based learning (PBL), among many other new scenarios. This new permission, located under the Manage Notebooks area of the Class Notebook, enables a teacher to create specific sections in the Collaboration Space assigned to specific students.

For example, say you have four groups of six students each. The teacher assigns each group of students to a specific section. Group 1 can work together in the Group 1 section, but cannot see that the Group 2, Group 3 or Group 4 sections exist in the Collaboration Space. This is similar to how in Class Notebook students cannot see each other’s private notebooks.

Don’t forget to check this out in it’s entirety by going to the original blog post here, and better yet, given that these updates are available immediately, go and have a play with them.

Finally, I know there will be a lot of happy teachers with these announcements as I’ve had numerous discussions over the last few months with teachers trying to work out how to create ePortfolios for their students/parents to access and now this gives that functionality in a very simple, controllable manner.