The future of the classroom is taking shape through digital workspaces shared by teachers and students, and Microsoft is carving out its own place in an increasingly competitive market.
Today, Microsoft announced a new platform for education — Microsoft Classroom. Having stitched 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.
"Classroom is deeply integrated into the fabric of Office 365," says Tony Prophet, Microsoft’s corporate vice president of education marketing. "It's a tailored experience for managing classrooms and assignment workflows."
Microsoft has faced stiff competition in the U.S. education sector. Google's Chromebook notebooks have gained tremendous ground in the market over the past five years, but Microsoft still dominates worldwide, according to a recent FutureSource Consulting report. Microsoft Classroom is the Windows giant's latest bid for maintaining that dominance in the classroom.
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. From scheduling events throughout the month to delivering quizzes, starting class conversations and grading homework, Classroom automates the everyday paper workload that can slow down a class.
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 our teachers so they can spend more time with students and less time administrating a classroom," says Prophet.
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, educators can launch quizzes and surveys, with the results displayed on a spreadsheet. Security features can be enabled to ensure students don’t switch apps to peek at answers online.
To facilitate Classroom's launch, Microsoft also unveiled a series of upgrades and tools. School Data Sync will give districts a running start when launching the new platform. The process streamlines the transfer of existing class and student information from 25 other learning management systems, including Edmodo, Canvas and Moodle, into Microsoft Classroom, easing the transition onto the new platform.
Microsoft will also be offering classroom enhancements to Windows 10 in the forthcoming Anniversary Update, including dramatically improved login time. Prophet says the average first login time for teachers will drop from 120 seconds to less than 30, with subsequent logins for students taking about 6 seconds.
Microsoft Classroom is slated for arrival this summer, just in time to prepare teachers for the new school year.
Also coming this summer — 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. More information on Microsoft’s new version of Minecraft will be available closer to its release.