A guide to Microsoft EdTech in 2016

By 25th January 2016Blog

It promises to be an interesting year in IT, especially as the rivalry between Microsoft and Google heats up. Microsoft in particular are looking to significantly advance their technology in the education space. Here’s some of the things our experts think you should definitely keep your eye on over the next 12 months…

OneNote Class Notebook

OneNote Class Notebooks gives education establishments a personal workspace for every student. It allows teachers to create and deliver interactive lessons as well as collaborate and provide feedback on one digital learning environment. The recent update to OneNote saw the following improvements:

  • Automatically transform your drawings into shapes
  • Move/copy pages and sections to keep everything organised
  • Share a copy of a page from your phone to other apps like Outlook
  • Quickly insert a photo into a page from your phone’s camera
  • Easier copying and pasting of content on your phone

A big feature coming out soon is the launch of ‘Learning Tools’ for OneNote. This is an add-on that gives students access to advanced dictation and an immersive reading mode. It’s aimed at people with dyslexia due its variety of tools to assist with reading and writing.

Another update on the horizon, which is being rolled out especially for teachers who rely heavily on OneNote for their educational resources, is the ability to crop images directly in OneNote – this should save teachers loads of time everyday.

Office 365 app extensions

The Office 365 app extensions in particular are where you’re likely to find some great innovation. In case you missed it, Microsoft opened up extra API functionality in Office 365 last year, which allows software developers to create extensions to MS applications ranging from Word to Skype. These extensions are now available in the Microsoft Office Store. There are already some great apps here, so if you have Office 365, it’s definitely worthwhile keeping these in mind.

Sway

Sway is a relatively new application available from Microsoft. It’s basically a giant online canvas that gives you loads of new tools to share information and show off work. We’ve been having a play with it and come up with a few ideas on how you can use it in your classroom:

  • Presentations – teachers and students can use Sway as a presentation tool for learning

  • Workbooks – create a cool workbook with content, links, videos and images

  • Picture books – get students to create their own storybook with images and photos

  • Book. film or field trip reviews – Enable students to be creative with their literacy focussed tasks for reviews and analysis pieces

  • Flipped learning content delivery – Create a unit of study and allow students to view it at home in one space. Share the link and away they go

Minecraft for education

In 2014 and 2015 Microsoft purchased all versions of the poplar game and is now updating it to help schools in a range of subjects. It’s already being used for reading, writing and problem solving, but here’s our take on why Minecraft will be a big hit across education.

  • Minecraft gives students the freedom to create, pushing their imaginations to the limit and allowing them to be creative in ways not possible in the real world.
  • Inherently about problem-solving, Minecraft can inspire students’ higher-level and critical thinking.
  • Minecraft is also a very social game, where students can rely on other players for help in the sometimes-unforgiving Minecraft world. When students work together, it builds positive classroom climate, teaches the benefits of collaboration and facilitates teamwork in a way that’s more organic than, say, being assigned to work together on a project. Students who might not get along in the real world can become allies in the Minecraft world.

In 2016 Microsoft have said they will be improving the Minecraft experience by:

  • allowing characters created by the children to retain their characteristics between sessions.
  • letting pupils take “photos” of their progress via an in-game camera, and then store them in an online book alongside their own notes. These can then act as tutorials for other children or be used by the teacher to score their progress.
  • permitting children to download software that will allow them to continue playing the educational version of Minecraft outside school without having to buy their own copy of the game.

Windows 10

Windows 10 has arrived, providing a refreshing look and feel that is replicated no matter what device you’re using it on. Here are a couple of the new features we think education establishments will benefit from the most:

HoloLens

Microsoft HoloLens is the first fully untethered, holographic computer, enabling high-definition holograms to integrate with the world.

Create and shape holograms with gestures and communicate with apps using your voice. Microsoft HoloLens understands your gestures, gaze, and voice, enabling you to interact in the most natural way possible.

Microsoft have now teamed up with Case Western University in the USA to show us what this might look like in an actual human anatomy class, we think this tool could completely revolutionise how certain lessons are taught in schools.

About Leon

Leon is a Director at IAM Cloud with nearly 10 years of experience working in and with the education sector. Leon is a major advocate for the role of education in society, health and economic growth.

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