Microsoft’s Office 365 Education is an amazing platform that provides a lot of useful features and tools to educators and students. Great tools like Teams, OneNote, Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Learning Tools, Forms, Skype for Business, Sway, Outlook, and OneDrive provide a robust suite that can have an immediate impact in the classroom for both educators and students. The volume of what is available, though, can be a very overwhelming sight for educators and students who are brand new to the product. I hope to highlight some great getting started tips in this post to help both educators and students dive in and take advantage of what they have available from Office 365.
Outlook is your hub for mail, contacts, calendars, and groups. It functions in the same way that the Outlook software does on the PC, Mac, and mobile devices. In Outlook you have the ability to read and send email associated with your Office 365 account, build up your own personal address book of contacts, see a “company-wide” directory of all users in your Office 365 tenant, build your own calendar and create new ones for various purposes, and have access to groups to share content, calendar items, and more quickly and easily with specific individuals who are members.
OneDrive is your central hub for storage of files in the cloud. Users are provisioned for 1 TB (Terabyte) of storage by default, but ultimately that number is unlimited based on account provisioning by the administrator. OneDrive allows you to share files with other users directly in OneDrive or via a sharing link you can generate. You also have the ability to open and edit those files directly in your web broswer using Office Online.
Office Online provides you browser based versions of the core Microsoft Office Suite programs you already know and use. Word, Excel, and PowerPoint are all here and ready to open existing or create new documents quickly and easily no matter where you are using the web interface. While not as feature rich as the desktop versions of the office suite, these web-based versions provide a great way to work on the go without the need to install the software.
OneNote is free for all users now from Microsoft and is built in to Windows 10 as a core component of the Operating System. With Office 365 Education you have access to your huge pool of cloud storage in OneDrive for OneNote so you won’t have to worry about going over your 5 GB (Gigabyte) pool in the free account provided by Microsoft for signing up for their consumer accounts.
You also have access to the OneNote Class Notebook as an educator. With this tool you can build a notebook with specific sections for your classroom.
- There is a content library to store content to share with students that only the educator(s) on the notebook can edit.
- There is a collaboration space where all users can edit and work together on ideas and topics. The educator(s) who owns the notebook also has the ability to lock this area down for specific purposes as well.
- Each student as a specific section for their work that only they and the educator(s) can see. This provides a private place where they can complete their work and receive feedback from the educator without having to worry about others being able to see it.
- The educator can also generate read-only share links to each student’s section of the notebook for their parent/guardian to be able to see what they have been doing and their progress academically.
- The class notebook controls are now built-in to the Windows 10 version of OneNote and appear when a class notebook is opened in the software. This makes it really easy to distribute content and score work submitted to the notebook by students.
Sway is Microsoft’s newest presentation tool. It will allow the end user to combine text and media to create a presentation website that can be viewed based on their sharing settings. Content to be used in a Sway can be pulled from the local device that the user is working on or from other Internet sources like Facebook, Bing, YouTube, and OneDrive. Sway sites/presentations are stored on Microsoft’s servers tied directly to the user’s account and can be viewed and edited from any web browser, the web app in Office Online, or from desktop and mobile versions available on PC, Mac, and iOS.
Forms is Microsoft’s version of the extremely popular Google Forms. In it’s simplest form it is an online survey creation tool. It allows educators to create surveys and quizzes with automatic scoring and the data collected can be exported into an Excel spreadsheet with the press of a single button. Since Windows 10 1607 (The Anniversary Update) Forms can be created to automatically open in Microsoft’s Take a Test app built into the operating system. This will lock down the computer and only allow the student to access the specific page where the form is located for assessment purposes.
Teams is a direct competitor to Slack and other workplace chat/productivity tools, but has additional features that make it very useful for the educational environment. Within a Team, members can setup channels. Channels are topics of conversation that allow the members of the Team to communicate without the use of email or group texting. Replies by users can include images, GIFs, and custom made memes. Direct messaging also allows users to privately communicate to discuss topics rather than in the open forum of the Team’s larger discussions. There are also connectors to third-party applications available that add additional functionality to Teams from tools like Twitter, Flipgrid, and more.
In education, Teams allows users to create different types of “teams” for their specific purpose. These team types are:
- PLC – Educators collaborating within a professional learning community
- Classes – Teachers and students collaborating on group projects, assignments, and more.
- Educators have the ability to distribute, provide feedback, and grade student assignments turned-in via Teams using the Assignments tab.
- Quizzes can also be assigned to students through an integration with Forms.
- Staff Members – Staff leaders and staff members collaborating on school administration and development
- Anyone – Students and school employees collaborating in interest groups and clubs
Microsoft’s learning tools are free and implement techniques proven to improve reading and writing for individuals with no respect to their age or ability. These tools are natively built into Office 365 and Edge. They help to improve reading, writing, and comprehension. This is all done thorugh the use of the Immersive Reader.
- Immersive Reader
- Enhanced dictation – improves the authoring of text by being able to hear it spoken by the software
- Focus Mode – sustains attention on the task at hand and improves reading speeds by blocking out distractions
- Immersive reading – improves comprehension and sustains attention
- Font spacing and short lines – improves reading speed by addressing “visual crowding”
- Parts of speech – support instruction and improves writing quality
- Syllabification – improves word recognition
- Comprehension mode – improves comprehension by an average of 10%
- The Immersive Reader is available on the following platforms:
- OneNote Online
- OneNote Universal App
- OneNote Desktop (as a free add-in)
- Word Online
- Word Desktop
- Outlook on the Web
- Office Lens
- Edge Browser (Windows 10)
- The Immersive Reader is available on the following platforms:
Yammer is a social-networking tool built into Office 365. This provides a place for all users of the Office 365 Tenant to connect and share things. Users and join and create different groups, post message to the entire Tenant, and more. Yammer is available based on permissions set by the Tenant admin and can be locked down to prevent access from specific parties to aid in the protection and compliance with the law.
Stream is slowly replacing two previous tools from Microsoft, Mix and Video. Stream is an internal video content delivery service (think YouTube) that provides the ability to quickly share content while also making it accessible through automatic closed captioning for the hearing impaired. Stream is currently locked to the users of the Office 365 Tenant only so that access to the content is under the control of the admin and cannot be accessed by the general Internet.
Planner provides an easy to use interface to create a plan, build a team, assign tasks, and update status on a project quickly. Each plan created has it’s own board where tasks can be organized into buckets. Tasks can then be categorized based on their status or on who they have been assigned to. Tasks can be dragged and dropped between columns to update their status making it very easy to keep everyone up to date with the most current information.
There are several other benefits to having Office 365 Education depending on which version your district or school has licensed for use. Here is a list of some of those:
- All users licensed for plans A3 and A5 (see here for the differences) hare licensed to install the most current version of Microsoft Office for PC or Mac, as well as on tablet and other mobile devices, up to 5 times! Office 2016 Professional Plus costs $399.99 and Office 2016 Home and Student casts 149.99 at retail (at the time of this posting). Microsoft offering these up as a bonus for those subscriptions is an amazing opportunity for end users to have access to the same suite of tools available to them at school and work while they are at home.
- Minecraft: Education Edition requires an Office 365 account to login and take advantage of this specialized edition of the game. Licensing is dependent on your organization but it allows the educator and students the ability to use Minecraft to augment and redefine their work in the classroom. You can read about it here: Minecraft: Education Edition.
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