Digital workspaces shared by teachers and students are becoming popular, particularly in secondary and third level and Microsoft is trying to carve out its own place in an increasingly competitive market.
In the last week, Microsoft announced a new platform for education — Microsoft Classroom. Having joined together tools from Office 365 and a series of learning management partnerships, Microsoft has high hopes that Classroom will become the central hub for the class experience.
According to Microsoft, Microsoft Classroom is “a tailored experience for managing classrooms and assignment workflows.”
Like Google Classroom, which integrates various tools from the Google Apps for Education suite, Microsoft Classroom works within the cloud-powered Office 365, giving educators and students a home page for their everyday classroom activities. The tool unifies Office apps in an educational context, creating a digital hub for all class activities like scheduling important events, delivering quizzes, starting class conversations and collecting and grading homework.
The platform has been piloted in several schools already, and one of the major benefits seen by educators has been time gain-back, according to Microsoft. “This frees up teachers so they can spend more time with students and less time administrating a classroom,” says Microsoft. It also empowers students, giving them a digital space to collaborate on work.
Through Microsoft OneNote Class Notebook, students can leave handwritten messages and sketches or place images and videos onto a shared canvas. Sway, a new app in Office 365, helps students create and share interactive reports, presentations and stories. Through another new release, Microsoft Forms, teachers can launch quizzes and surveys, with the results displayed on a spreadsheet. Microsoft Classroom is scheduled for arrival this summer, just in time to prepare teachers for the new school year.
Also coming this summer is a free preview of Minecraft: Education Edition. Microsoft acquired Mojang, the company that created the popular exploration and building game, in 2014 for $2.5 billion. In January, Microsoft also acquired MinecraftEDU, a version of the game often used in schools. This version of Minecraft, designed for use in classrooms, allows teachers to keep track of students’ activity. Students will also get a camera tool to take photos of their creations and store them in online portfolios. This version of Minecraft will be available in 11 languages and in 41 countries, and available to download and try for free. Across the summer, Microsoft will “be focused on working with educators on building lesson plans, sharing learning activity ideas, and creating re-usable projects.”
To date, over 7,000 classrooms in more than 40 countries worldwide use Minecraft with their students.