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?

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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:

 

Case Study: Jumeirah English Speaking School & The Value Of OneNote & Surface Pro

Video

Located in Dubai, JESS is a full K-12 school with around 2,200 students running the International Baccalaureate program. The school has deployed Surface Pro and Office365 at a Grade 7 level and are using OneNote Class NoteBooks, OneDrive, Sharepoint, Office Mix, Sway and Microsoft Classroom (soon to be replaced with Microsoft Teams)

Read the full case study here

Some of the teachers interviewed in the video above were very specific about the value they see from Surface Pro and OneNote e.g.

The advantage of the Surface Pro 4 is that it combines the ability to write text with all the computing power of a laptop, and that is a game changer.

I do encourage you to watch the video and read the case study above and learn more about how JESS started their Digital Transformation journey.

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

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.

A Digitally Mediated Conversation

I came across an article in the Australian Independent Schools magazine today that highlighted the value of Microsoft OneNote and the evolution of interaction between teachers and students in the areas of marking, feedback and feed-forward. Technology has been a massive enabler in this process and the article references a significant amount of research highlighting the value of this feedback loop and how staff at All Hallows School in Queensland, Australia have used this. Of particular emphasis is the flexibility that OneNote provided in terms of:

  • Digital Inking – hand writing feedback directly onto student work in their Class Notebooks
  • Audio feedback – recording voice notes for students (and students in turn providing “thinking aloud” on their work for their teachers to listen to)
  • Video / Screen recording – teachers recording their computer screen as they’re marking the work and talking, providing students the next best experience to being present with the teacher when marking is taking place
  • Typed Feedback – traditional typed notes alongside student work.
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Click the image above to read the article on the original website.

(click here to read the entire article if the above link does not work)

A teacher in the English department at All Hallows even created a short YouTube video showing the progression of feedback over the years at the school, starting with the humble “insert comment” option in Microsoft Word right through to recording audio and the screen in OneNote whilst handwriting feedback directly on student work. It’s worth watching the two minute video below:

What I love about this article is that it finishes by noting that teachers at All Hallows have been active in sharing at various professional development conferences for teachers on the changes to their digital feedback processes and the impact of technology on their pedagogical practices. Being part of a wider community that is continually adapting and learning and sharing the journey is a key strength and indicator of a healthy institute, especially when it has been based on solid research as evidenced in the above article.

Thanks to the awesome Mike Tholfsen from the Microsoft OneNote team for sharing this article with me via Twitter so I became aware of it!

Harvest: Making Marking Easy in OneNote Class Notebooks

Harvest2OneNote Class Notebooks remain one of the most popular features in the Microsoft Office365 Education offerings and teachers love the simplicity of seeing all of their students’ work in one place. This is especially important when it comes to quickly and efficiently marking the work of students and providing feedback.

The One Education team, creators of the Infinity One laptop for students, recognised the power and popularity of OneNote and created a brand new product called Harvest to supercharge marking and sharing of student work for teachers. This is hosted entirely in the Azure cloud and harnesses all the power of Office365 API and OneNote Class Notebooks, demonstrating innovative thinking by helping teachers reduce the time consuming work of marking and collating student work.

I’ve created a quick six minute introduction to the product where I walk through some of the key features and you can see this below:

As you will have seen in the video, teachers can install the plugin into OneNote Online (note that for now OneNote desktop does not support the addition of third party extensions, so Harvest only works in the browser version of OneNote Online) and can get started marking student work immediately:

Harvest1

Currently, Harvest supports a database of both New Zealand and Australian curriculum standards/strands meaning teachers can easily search for the standard they wish to mark student work against. This, in itself, streamlines the marking process for teachers as they do not need to manually enter the curriculum details that the student is studying.

Here is a simple example of marking a student’s Year 13 Calculus work:

On the left you can see the student’s Maths–>Calculus section in the OneNote Class Notebook has been selected and on the right the teacher has clicked “Browse” to identify the curriculum strand they’re assessing against. Mathematics and Statistics is selected.

Harvest Maths1

The teacher selects the curriculum level / year level to narrow down the selection of curriculum strands to choose from:

Harvest Maths2

The teacher then selects the most appropriate curriculum strand(s) they are assessing against:

Harvest Maths3

The teacher can now see the curriculum strand, give it a grade of “Below / At / Above Level” and can even add a comment of up to 255 characters (visible only to the teacher currently)

Harvest Maths4

Harvest Dashboard

Harvest Dashboard Link

What really sets Harvest apart is the use of existing API within OneNote to collate all of this work (essentially, these grades are Tags within OneNote) and then display them in a “single pane of glass” interface. This assists the teacher to get an overview of either a single student or an entire class based off the marking they have completed. To view this dashboard the teacher simply clicks the “Harvest” menu item and then “Dashboard” and it loads for them in a new tab in their browser:

Harvest Dashboard1

Some things to note in the above screenshot:

  • Teachers can select from multiple different OneNote Class Notebooks on the left hand menu
  • Teachers can also select from multiple curriculum areas within the same Class NoteBook which obviously makes a lot of sense for primary school teachers, or cross-curricular class environments.
  • Students are all listed in a grid (the columns), with a colour coded system showing whether they are Below / At / Above The Level based on each curriculum strand marked (the rows in the grid). Where a student does not have work marked against a particular curriculum strand it is grey indicating “No Rating”
  • Harvest will also generate a thumbnail of the student work when hovering over the grade in the grid – note at this stage thumbnails of digital inking is not available.

It’s not hard to imagine how beneficial the above view would be for a teacher when it comes to writing school reports or preparing for parent/teacher interviews – they would literally have ALL graded work collated into one place and able to show the parent at the click of a button. This is harnessing all the power of OneNote Class Notebooks, the associated API’s and the Azure cloud to streamline marking and reporting for teachers.

Harvest Dashboard2

Viewing larger thumbnails of student work in Harvest Feed, where the various grades are easily recognizable through consistent colour coding.

To top it off, teachers can choose to share selected student work directly to parents with a shortened URL (something Microsoft recently added to Class Notebooks):

Harvest Share

A teacher must first select “Student Feedback” along the top to make it publicly visible, and then simply copy the link to share with a parent.

I am really excited by the prospects of Harvest because it seems like a product that understands the challenges teachers have managing large amounts of assessment and aims to simplify the reporting process. With many schools moving to increasingly digital and paperless environments, leveraging the existing power within OneNote to support assessment and reporting is a smart move and something I’d imagine many schools will be very interested in.

For schools that are wanting to get started with Harvest straight away, check out these comprehensive set up instructions.

Create An Office365 CloudBook With Older Hardware For Improved Performance & Security

Microsoft recently partnered with Neverware, a company that have created a CloudReady OS to support Office365 Online apps. This can best be likened to a ChromeBook style interface where users sign in with an existing G Suite account and then use their Office365 credentials to access a “web only” interface.

Currently, it appears that you can not sign in directly with your O365 username/password (this would rely on Azure AD), but instead sign into the device locally using an existing Google Account. This is a downside for schools that are exclusively Office 365 for their identity management, as to make it seamless you’d need to also have users set up with a Google Account and then using ADFS for single sign on (SSO).

Nevertheless, you can learn more in this introduction video:

This is an intriguing concept, particularly because it allows schools to recycle older hardware that perhaps would not support desktop applications too smoothly any more, but could run a browser-based operating system. Neverware have created an extensive Supported Devices Catalog where you can easily search to see if your hardware will definitely run the CloudReady OS.

Schools can take advantage of the affordable pricing model outlined below:

CloudReady OS

Here is another video showing a webinar of the product from Neverware:

I deployed this to a Lenovo N23 device and it worked fine, aside from the above issue of having to sign into the device with my Google account first (and not directly using my O365 credentials). The knock on affect of this, of course, is that when you launch the “apps”, you need to sign into them in your browser as well.

For schools that have older hardware or who want to minimize the management of devices moving forward this could be an interesting option to explore.