When we were first approached to learn about how Microsoft could be used in the classroom, our first initial thought was “Why we have Google?” Honestly. We are Google groupies. We love the ease of use, the collaboration power and, of course, it’s free. However, not every district has Google Apps for Education (GAFE), which leaves us finding band-aid solutions that don’t always meet the needs of teachers and students. We opened our minds (and hearts) to explore what Microsoft can offer for teachers in Michigan.
Microsoft Office 365 is free for any teacher. Yep, you heard us correctly. Free. Not free like your admin team can set this up on the back-end. Free like you can set this up for yourself. No big deal. Go to bit.ly/MicrosoftFree365 and set up an account that gives you access to online versions of many Microsoft tools. Two of those tools are OneNote and Sway. We are excited to share a few ways we believe these tools bring value to teachers through Michigan.
Stacey’s Use Case: Student Portfolios
As a former 6th-grade teacher, I always struggled with having students curate and reflect on their work. I have tried many different platforms where students could put their work in a folder or on a website, but it seemed unorganized. What I wanted was for students to be able to organize artifacts by subject area, have the ability to add pictures, video and audio, and be able to reflect on their work using voice or text. I also wanted them to have an authentic audience; this portfolio was something I wanted them to be able to share easily. This was a tall order, and I never found exactly what I was looking for, until now.
Microsoft OneNote gives students a way to collect and display work in essentially a digital binder with tabs. You can attach files, record audio, insert pictures and share your notebooks with others. You can also collaborate in OneNote, providing even more opportunities for classroom use. Want to learn more about how you could use OneNote in the classroom? Check out blogs.office.com/onenote/education.
Jamie’s Use Case: eTextbooks
Many of us are on track for developing an eTextbook, where our materials are online, but final formatting and organization tends to be a challenge. We can, for example, use Google Docs, which do have a dynamic table of contents and the ability to have view-only access and other shareable states, but this can be cumbersome with a large set of curricular resources for an entire course. Within a Google Doc, content formatting can also be limited by the “word document” state of the tool.
OneNote has a few major advantages as teachers are developing eTextbooks. The canvas feels very liberating. Place pictures, links, text, inking and other learning tools wherever you want them to be. It’s an easy and flexible process, which is awesome. OneNote can also handle sections, pages and a way to deliver a whole curriculum in one organized space sophistically. The feature that excites me the most is the ability to share a OneNote notebook with students (in a class notebook or with a view-only link) or even to package up and send a copy to other teachers in a fully editable format. This allows teachers to share their eTextbook with the freedom for others to edit the eTextbook to suit their students’ needs better. Here’s a quick mock-up of how you could structure an eTextbook (view-only link): bit.ly/eTextOneNote
Stacey’s Use Case: Create a Classroom Newspaper Using Sway
Are you looking for a way to get learners engaged in the writing process? Want to share with parents all the exciting things that are happening in the classroom? Using Microsoft Sway students can build an interactive class newsletter for parents. With Sway, learners can add text, videos, pictures and audio. With an option to embed elements, you can share all those great projects students have created in one place. Sway is one tool I would highly recommend using with students. If you are looking for ideas for using Sway take a look at Microsoft’s Education Blog bit.ly/studentsway
Jamie’s Use Case: Creative Content Delivery
Microsoft has developed this content creation tool in just the past year, and I am pretty impressed! As one of their newest tools, this has great potential to be something new and useful for teachers. Teachers like to find small content components for students to do in pairs or groups, in rotations or a flipped learning model (engaging in content exploration before class). Sway has an easy drag-and-drop interface with many display options. It lets the teacher publish the content in many ways, as an iframe embed, a web link and even has Nearpod integration. There are many more integrations to come. Keep your eye on Sway! I am excited for the focus and direction of this resource. Want to see a sway example? Here’s one about graphing quadratic functions in a math classroom, bit.ly/SwayTeacherEx.
In full disclosure, we are still struggling with a few quirky Microsoft elements. While Office 365 is free, there are a few other levels of Microsoft that are not free. Some of those pivot points can be confusing to navigate (i.e., a personal OneDrive account has less storage than an organizational OneDrive account). While they have made great strides in interoperability, Microsoft continues to work on ways that their systems talk to each other and other educational tools. We believe this is an important focus for their continued work in education. They are trying very hard to keep up with Google, while also trying to create their own new and innovative tools. These creative stretches are where we see developments like OneNote and Sway.
At the end of the day, we value resources that help teachers support learning for their students. We are always looking for tools that support learning objectives and classroom challenges (not the other way around: finding ways to fit tools into our learning experiences). Microsoft does have valid resources for us to use and some very new developments that can help us personalize our learning environments to optimize student success.
Reach out to us if you or your colleagues want to learn more about office 365 or other Microsoft products; we love helping teachers.
Stacey Schuh (@stacey_edu): MVU Blended Learning Coach and MACUL Board Member
Jamie DeWitt (@jamiedewitt): MVU Director of Blended Professional Learning and MACUL SIG-OBL Director