Does technology have a vital role to play in education? It’s a question that many have pondered and debated since computers first graced our classrooms. For a good amount of time this debate was quite evenly fought between both sides, but with advancements in technology and clear positive outcomes emerging, the debate has become very one sided: to thrive further, education needs technology.
It seems only logical then that the technological giants of today have taken this proverbial bull by the horns and are making the most of this ‘edtech revolution’. Every man and his dog seems to have tried their hand at making technologies, widely aimed at and available, to educational institutions. But as with most things, some organisations are making bigger inroads than others, Microsoft – in particular – being one of them.
But what does it take to be one of the best, and just what kind of software are Microsoft offering to institutions to take education to the next level? Let’s have a look at some of the best features that Microsoft in Education has to offer and how it’s helping push the boundaries within edtech to empower students to create the world of tomorrow.
Let your imagination take shape
First of all, I’m sorry for starting off with such a corny heading, but I promise there’s good reason. ‘Let your imagination take shape’ is Microsoft’s latest tagline for the new Paint 3D application that was released back in the Creators update in April, which is an indirect ancestor of the soon to be extinct MS paint.
But why is this new addition to the Microsoft collection so important?
Well for a start, we’re seeing Microsoft taking a 32-year-old programme, gauging what technology is both current and built for the future, then coming up with a product fit to serve both. Whilst it’s true that Paint 3D doesn’t hold a library of traditional educational benefits as yet, it does target some key areas in the curriculum, such as the development of creativity in students within subjects such as Art, Graphics and IT.
The ability for students to experiment in creating shapes and designs in both 2D and 3D, unleashes creativity and an understanding of different dimensions whilst also improving their artistic abilities. Whilst creativity and artistic ability is nothing new to education, the process to take these capabilities and transfer them to a platform that’s going to shape the world of tomorrow is important for students to begin doing now. This will then mean they’re not left behind when they enter roles in engineering, architecture or maths, for example, in the 21st century working world.
Office 365 for Education
Getting creative is a great aspect within education and undoubtedly helps to enhance the learning experience, but how about other Microsoft platforms that allow students and teachers to get the most of their experiences for maximised productivity and performance?
Office 365 for Education is a collection of services including Word, PowerPoint and Excel that allows your users (be it students or teachers) to collaborate and share work set in class, whilst also being able to access Office 365 on devices at home.
The basic version of the service is free to students and teachers who are working at or attending an academic institution, and lets them access products in an online format such as Word, PowerPoint, Excel and OneNote whilst also having unlimited OneDrive storage. This package is a clear indication of how Microsoft is empowering students to make the most out of technology, and adopt an anytime, anywhere learning approach whilst not having to pay the price tags that somebody outside of education would have to incur.
As a student that was able to benefit from the Pro version of this service, I can tell you that it was one of the most helpful resources I had throughout University. Not only was I able to have access to the entire Office 365 suite on my laptop, but due to support on up to 5 devices, I was able to also take notes and complete work both in lectures and on the move using my phone or tablet.
You may not at first realise it, but its small features such as Office 365 for Education that’s helping students throughout their learning experience make the most out of technology, becoming more in tune with the technologies that are going to help them in the future and prepare them for tomorrows world.
Windows 10 S
Earlier this year Microsoft launched Windows 10 S, a brand-new version of their Windows operating system to sit alongside Home and Pro. But why is this relevant for education?
The system is a full version of Windows that has been specifically designed for low-cost computers as well as education-orientated devices. Windows 10 S is also designed for some select ‘premium’ computers, such as the Surface Laptop.
So, we know it’s been designed for education, but can this latest version of Windows provide a good alternative to other Windows operating systems that are available?
If it’s fast boot up times you’re after then look no further. Windows 10 S will boot up 15 seconds – faster than a comparative machine running Windows 10 Pro. A cold boot can take an educational based PC anywhere from 30 seconds to 2 minutes, but with Windows 10 S you can cut this time and enable your students to get to work faster! Plus, according to Microsoft it will run as fast on day 1000 as it does on day one!
Systems sold with Windows 10 S will come with Microsoft’s BitLocker encryption system, which will secure your files in case of theft or misplacement, as well as protecting sensitive user data. With this being such a key area to consider, and with a particular focus on this from an Ofsted point of view, this is huge feature within education. It offers an added level of security which other versions are unable to offer.
If you’re wanting to achieve the levels of speed and security that Microsoft are priding themselves on, it does mean that you’ll only be able to download applications that are currently available on the Windows Store. It’s also true that as this version is being aimed at the low-cost and educational based PC’s, the Windows Store houses all of the applications that you’ll be needing through most tiers of education.
Minecraft Education: More than just placing blocks
Minecraft. Yes, that famous game from Microsoft that everyone’s heard about and is taking the educational spectrum by storm.
You’re probably thinking – how can Minecraft be more than just placing blocks, isn’t that the whole point of it? I’m sorry everyone, but you would be wrong. The education edition of Minecraft has a range of tools available for students to make the most of, from exploration and discovery to more advanced levels of coding.
But why take my word for it? Watch this short video and see what educators are saying about the advancements in classroom engagement they’ve seen since using Minecraft: Education Edition.
It isn’t until you see this level of engagement from the students that you can quite understand how something that started off as a game can have such a positive impact on education.
Back in 2014 when Microsoft acquired the games maker Mojang, the game was simply just that – a game. Since then, Microsoft have rolled out the educational edition across classrooms around the world, with students being able to do anything from travelling the Oregon Trail, completing STEM activities along the way to creating a museum of the future.
The lessons don’t just stop at that concept either, there are full lesson plans available to schools with access to the Minecraft: Education Edition, with activities ranging from mind-mapping to architectural design. To me, the immediate benefits of this are clear. Students can have a platform in which they can learn through whilst experiencing a situation, rather than simply being told what it is and having to imagine it, which has been proven to not suit all learners or particular learning styles.
If you’re still thinking that’s great but it can be achieved in a regular edition of Minecraft, Microsoft have an answer for that too – coding. Coding is fast becoming a key component in education, across the curriculum and even in the working world. With jobs in the field predicted to go up, the need for coders of the future is a very important topic. This is where the Minecraft: Education Edition comes into its own.
With the ability to code certain aspects, students are being given a much more hands on experience of coding, whilst using a game in which they know and love. And I’m not sure about you, but as a student I would definitely be more interested in learning code when playing a ‘game’ rather than being stuck in a classroom watching a teacher try to explain it with a pen and board.
As a bonus, Microsoft are now not only offering a free one-year subscription to Minecraft for Education with qualifying purchases of Windows 10 Pro, but also including qualifying purchases of Windows 10 home. If you think you may be able to make the most of this offer you can find out more here.
Microsoft Azure is a cloud computing service that can at first be very hard to get your head around, not due to it being a complicated service, but rather the sheer size of the service that it offers. Yet it does bring a host of great benefits and features to an organisation – be it education or corporate based. The service was created by Microsoft for building, testing, deploying and managing applications and services through a global network of Microsoft-managed data centres. Spanning Software as a Service (SaaS), Platform as a Service (PaaS) and Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS), Microsoft Azure’s offering covers a wide net of solutions.
So how does the service benefit education? Well Microsoft says that Azure will help developers and IT professionals build, deploy and manage applications through integrated tools DevOps and a marketplace in order to build internet-scale solutions. This means that you’re able to develop an infrastructure and application management system that is customisable to your specific needs.
As a bonus, Azure is what is known as a hybrid cloud system, meaning as a school you’ll be able to access data and applications both on the cloud as well as physically on-premise. What this means for you is increased flexibility to create the system that you want. As a hybrid system, Azure won’t force you to choose between cloud or on-premise, but rather let you build the perfect balance which suits your needs.
Don’t be mistaken thinking that Azure is only for the IT technicians either. In fact, Azure in education has benefits across the board, from teachers to students, researchers to IT professionals, Azure can benefit you. You may want to take an online course on the ins and outs of Azure and the cloud or create a reproducible coding environment for your students to access and with Azure you can! If you want to see the full educational benefits that Azure in education holds, check out the library here.
Similar to Azure, InTune is a cloud based service, but instead offers mobile device, PC and application management capabilities.
Microsoft InTune allows organisations to provide employees access to company data, applications and resources through a cloud based system, whilst also hosting security systems to match. What this means for education providers is that when deploying 1-to-1 or BYOD schemes, you’re able to manage what data is available to each device whilst also being able to customise them to the needs of the school.
Another feature from InTune is its Mobile Application Management (MAM). MAM gives InTune the ability to set up app restriction policies, which can restrict the applications which users are able to make use of. May it be certain games that you don’t want students to access or even apps causing safeguarding issues such as online chat rooms or dating apps, InTune’s restriction policies will have you covered. When it comes to 1-to-1 or BYOD schemes this is particularly useful as it means schools don’t have to worry about what students are installing or accessing on the devices as they are fully in control of what they can and can’t do.
One of the biggest bonuses of the InTune service for education is its security. As the owner of the service, you have complete control of the system. This means you can define comprehensive polices so that only the people you want to access your organisations data, actually can. This shuts the door on unwanted leaks both internally and externally. Check out this infographic from Microsoft that shows a more in-depth breakdown on the security features of InTune.
STEM lessons and hands-on activities
Perhaps one of the most hidden gems of Microsoft in Education is the library of STEM lesson plans and hands-on activities. Ensuring that your students are able to learn in the most innovative and advanced way possible is a goal for many schools and organisations in the UK. Microsoft has the ability to support you with this through their STEM library, which has full range of lesson plans, tools and resources readily available. These are free to download and try out with your students.
As an example, if it’s measuring speed to understand forces and motion that you want to teach, there’s a STEM lesson plan using Hot Wheels that’s available to download. Or perhaps its analysing windspeed with Anemometers, again there’s a lesson plan which utilises everyday materials for you to use.
There’s a host of ways to learn using these new and innovative programmes that will better educate your students and bring the classroom to life rather than using the more traditional methods of textbooks and blackboards.
What Microsoft in Education has already accomplished gives us a tasty look into some of the features and programmes that both students of today and certainly students of tomorrow will be using within education. The trend towards student participation in lessons and using technology that wouldn’t have been available in the past is clearly in motion. Only time will tell how much it will benefit education, but as a starting point, it could certainty revolutionise the education sector even further. Ultimately empowering todays’ students and preparing them for the world of tomorrow.