By Troy Lambert
Technology, as a part of the everyday classroom, is no longer the exception, but the rule. Idaho schools began a program to use Chromebooks in 2013, which made Chrome and Google apps an integral part of the teacher-student interaction experience.
Other schools are deploying iPads in the classroom. Apple offers high-quality support and there are dozens of resource pages for schools, from elementary to the 9-12 grades.
While most of these large educational technology programs require robust IT support, many school districts feel the tradeoff is worth it. “When I passed my iPad around the room there was absolutely no instruction needed. Every student just ‘knew’ how to use it,” said Kelly Croy, who runs the blog Wired Educator.
So, where does tech giant, Microsoft, fit into this picture? They’ve entered the educational technology realm in a big way with recent updates. Here are five things you need to know about the “new” Microsoft.
1. Improved Compatibility
The Apple vs. Microsoft vs. Google/Android debate is slowly fading out of conversation. Under new CEO Satya Nadella, once proprietary apps are being released across multiple platforms; as of November 2014, Office for iPad had more than 45 million downloads, a staggering statistic for the often anti-Windows Apple culture.
This means that whether your school programs are PC or Mac driven, you can still harness the power of features like OneDrive and Office 365 apps, sometimes preferable to their Google App equivalents. Not only that, but Microsoft devices like Surface Tablets and Windows Phones are becoming more common, and can be used to drive tech-focused lessons in the classroom.
“One Note can be used to share notebooks, protect sections of documents, and record and share audio messages.”
2. Student Collaboration
Microsoft’s cloud-based computing products make real-time collaboration with students easy. For example, One Note can be used to share notebooks, protect sections of documents, record and share audio messages, among its many other useful classroom applications.
Much like Google Apps, OneDrive allows multiple authors to work together simultaneously on documents, spreadsheets and presentations. Content can be made available either online only, or both online and offline, and sharing files is relatively easy—even between different operating systems and devices. This allows instruction to take place almost instantly.
3. Colleague Interaction
Have you ever needed an easier way to share lessons with a colleague, co-teacher or substitute? Whether you’re sharing information or collaborating on a project, OneDrive and Office 365 apps make this process much easier: files can be shared with anyone with an e-mail address on nearly any device, and web apps allow even those without full access to the software to view and even edit content on a limited basis.
One Drive also provides a robust video library, allowing you to post, share, and discover video content as well. Consider using this platform for sharing and hosting your classroom videos and teaching screen casts.
4. Lesson Design and Sharing
With free plugins like Office Mix, teachers can create and share lessons, and even add quizzes to check student knowledge. Excel Survey, another part of the Office 365 suite, can be used to quickly take and record data using student questionnaires.
When you share documents and presentations to students, they can follow along, which we hope helps to keep the student focused.
“Knowing what is available and how to leverage several different platforms gives you the ability to work efficiently in a number of scenarios, an advantage no matter what direction technology takes your district in.”
5. Saving Time
Powerful apps, like these new products and apps from Microsoft, can be both helpful and distracting, or even frustrating, like when they don’t work as expected.
Luckily, the way you use this technology is up to you—the power of instant collaboration, real-time lessons, and other features used properly can result in fewer late night grading sessions, and more rapid and accurate communication with students, parents, and other staff.
As a teacher, you have a variety of options for what tools and apps you choose to use. This post is not an ad or endorsement for Microsoft: Google Apps offer similar features and at a lower cost overall, although they are a little less robust. While Apple offers equally useful software. All of these platforms are trying to bridge the device gap in one way or another.
Whether your classroom is Mac or PC based or whether your school is using Google Apps and Google Chrome, technology in education is here to stay. Microsoft is just one of the players.
Knowing what is available and how to leverage several different platforms gives you the ability to work efficiently in a number of scenarios, an advantage no matter what direction technology takes your district in.
Is the new Microsoft “better” than the other options? Only time will tell, but it seems to be more viable for educators than it used to be.