Transforming the Classroom with Microsoft Teams!

Microsoft announce a host of new education focused Teams features ahead of The Bett Show

Transforming the Classroom with Microsoft Teams!

London’s Excel will be hosting The Bett Show for the remainder of this week. For anyone unfamiliar with Bett, the show is the first event in the annual calendar of industry gatherings focusing on technology and its use within educational environments. 2019’s show will welcome over 30000 attendees from around the globe, more than 800 leading technology companies and over one hundred ‘edtech’, educational technology, start ups.

Microsoft have been heavily invested in The Bett Show for a number of years. You might think that their involvement in educational technology was limited to the more traditional Office applications but that would be only one aspect of their huge influence. As well as providing heavily discounted front end application’s, such as the Office suite, for education affiliates, Microsoft also provide the same discounts for background infrastructure software. Microsoft’s continued investment and partnership with educational establishments is hugely valuable to the industry and this year they have been heavily investing in making their latest application even more valuable to educators globally.

Microsoft announced last year that their Teams collaboration platform was their fastest growing business application ever, but you might be forgiven for underestimating its relevance in an education environment. Within enterprise business organisations Microsoft Teams, and other rival collaboration tools, have garnered huge interest, promising to enhance and improve working habits in evolving businesses. Arguably the principle of collaboration has even more relevance in an educational setting. UC Today spoke to Justin Chando, who is the Principal Product Manager for Education at Microsoft, about Microsoft Teams and its latest education focused developments.

Justin Chando, Microsoft EDU

Justin Chando, Microsoft

Justin took us through some of the latest features that Microsoft have added into their Teams platform as well as telling us about the importance of the education market to the global tech giant. They have seen 251% growth in the usage of Teams within schools and universities but the scope and use of collaboration platforms is slightly different within educational environments as Justin explained.

“Teams in the enterprise space really is that hub for teamwork. But when we think about it inside of classrooms around the world we really do have this opportunity to allow educators to connect with their classes and their students but also customise the Teams experience for the types of groups schools collaborate with.”

Microsoft Teams can cater for various groups within education establishments: staff or faculty groups, particular classes or departments and even individual study parties. Microsoft, as well as adding education templates, have also added some new features that cater for the specific demands of the education market. Justin detailed some of the latest features that will be on show at Bett.

First up is Grade Sync which has been designed to connect Teams to a Student Information System. Grade Sync automatically sends grades, or marks, from Teams Assignments directly to a teacher’s Student Information System. This has been implemented to try and reduce the time that teachers and lecturers spend logging marks in multiple systems. A key factor in Microsoft’s feature development has been direct feedback from the education community, using various methods including: surveys, direct sites visits and feedback from shows like Bett.

“We are really lucky to have so many different mechanisms available to us when we are building products. We visit schools directly, to see what’s actually going on in the classroom, and we have even hired a number of former educators in our development team that help support and formulate features”

A direct result of that is a new feature called Mobile grading. This allows teachers to grade, or mark, Teams Assignments from anywhere on an iOS or Android phone, using the Teams mobile application. They have also collaborated with Turnitin, the anti-plagiarism software to integrate it within Teams. Turnitin is used by teachers and lecturers globally to identify potential plagiarism from students by cross referencing work submitted with resources from the internet to detect any duplication. With this latest Turnitin integration, Turnitin subscribers will be able to see alerts in a single view within Teams Assignments.

“We are trying to bring lots of different tools together, within Teams, to save educators time and effort when it comes to managing admin so they can focus on their students”

“We have taken what has worked really well with Teams for the enterprise and then focused very specifically on the needs of this particular vertical in education.”

Another area of development which aligns closely with Microsoft’s own background is MakeCode. MakeCode is Microsoft’s development framework for creating beginner programming experiences. They will be launching a beta which will allow teachers to access MakeCode within Teams. It will provide a free library of computer science curriculum where students can use drag-and-drop blocks, or JavaScript, to build their own games and tools.

Microsoft’s continued commitment to developing educational tools within the office suite is clear and the latest Teams features on show at Bett will undoubtedly be welcomed by potential users. With the news around MakeCode, where coding is obviously a developing area within educational environments, Microsoft’s own expertise could be invaluable for developing the budding Bill Gates of tomorrow.

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