Jul 02 2020

How Microsoft Teams Supports Inclusive Remote Learning

This digital hub comes with features that make learning more accessible — even beyond classroom walls.

When Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker announced mandated school closures in March due to the coronavirus pandemic, school districts such as Peoria Public Schools knew they’d have to lean on technology to teach remotely for an indefinite period of time.

But they were also concerned about how they would continue providing services from a distance to students with disabilities and unique learning needs.

Lora Haas, director of the Special Education Association of Peoria County, said that it was difficult for their therapists to give students who require an individualized education program IEP) plan the same services they get in a school setting, reports the Journal Star.

To connect with students and their families, the therapists had to stay in touch via video chats and phone calls. The special education department also held virtual IEP meetings. Meanwhile, special education teachers went over remote learning and access resources with parents on Microsoft Teams, a digital hub for collaboration and communication integrated with Office 365. They also used the platform to co-teach and develop lessons together, the newspaper notes.

Lorena Mora, an education technical specialist for Microsoft, says Microsoft Teams is all about ensuring accessibility and inclusivity. “It’s near and dear to Microsoft’s heart, and we’re working toward making sure that all of our products are able to fulfill that need to support and empower all of our students and teachers to achieve more,” she says.

It’s important for educators to ensure online instruction meets their students’ unique learning needs, especially as schools plan for the possibility of continued remote or blended learning in the fall. Here are three ways Teams supports personalized classroom learning for students of all abilities and backgrounds — even during remote learning.

1. The Immersive Reader Tool Makes Learning Accessible

Teams has accessibility features already built in, including the Immersive Reader tool. It’s a free screen-reader tool that assists all types of learners with reading, writing, math and communication.

Students using Teams can launch the Immersive Reader tool from their assignments, message posts and chat boxes, explains Microsoft Learning Consultant Adam Rummelhart in a CDW•G presentation on Teams.

Using this tool, he says, students can have documents, such as assignment directions, read aloud to them. They can even change the speed of the narration.

Plus, students can change text sizes, spacing, font and colors to suit their learning needs. The fonts featured on Teams have been designed by Microsoft to be helpful for readers with dyslexia, Rummelhart says.

The Immersive Reader can also break down sentences into syllables, highlight different parts of speech, show picture representations of words and translate documents into numerous languages — a huge benefit for multilingual learners.

MORE ON EDTECH: Learn about assistive technologies that empower students with disabilities in the classroom.

2. With Live Captioning, Videoconferencing Is More Inclusive

Another key component of Teams is its ability to create live captions for video calls. Educators can schedule and hold virtual meetings or lectures, and students with hearing impairments can follow along.

Teachers can even record video chats and share them with anyone who might’ve missed their lecture or save them for later access. They can also have real-time discussions with students during their videoconferences using the chat box, Rummelhart says.

READ MORE: Discover what factors administrators should consider when implementing e-learning.

3. Dial-In Option Addresses Equity and Access Gaps

Another benefit of using Teams is that you can use the applications across platforms and browsers, Mora says.

School districts can also opt for the Office 365 Education plan featuring the Office 365 audioconferencing system, which allows users call in to meetings from their phones.

This is beneficial for students who don’t have smartphones to download the mobile application or Wi-Fi access to go online, Mora says. Teams gives them the option to still stay connected with their teachers and classmates during remote learning.

“With Microsoft Teams being the hub for both collaboration and learning — remotely or inside a facility — educators become facilitators in a learning journey that students can lead on their own,” Mora says.

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