Classrooms in the cloud? A look at Office 365 for Education
For anyone over 35, a high-tech lesson back in your school days meant the teacher used an overhead projector rather than a blackboard and chalk or, if you were lucky, showed a video-taped documentary on an aging television. But classrooms have changed a lot since then; today’s students have grown up with IT incorporated into every lesson, and think nothing of emailing homework assignments to their teacher. In fact, the advances in computing have revolutionized education, and students today have more information and learning tools at their fingertips than any library could ever hold.
Like businesses, schools, colleges and universities are now moving their IT to the cloud and taking advantages of the many amazing communication and cooperation opportunities that this brings. One of the biggest Cloud players is Microsoft’s Office 365 suite, which has long catered to the education sector with resources and tools that enhance learning inside and outside of the traditional classroom environment. With that in mind, let’s take a look at the many benefits of using Office 365 for education.
The basic package for Office 365 for Education brings together email, document sharing and collaboration tools, but more expensive versions include scaled back web-based versions of the primary MS Office applications that many students will be familiar with from home computing. And it is this familiarity of use that gives Office 365 the edge over other cloud service applications on the market, such as Google Apps for Education.
The most useful applications for education in Office 365 are the same ones that are beneficial to businesses too. This means free email, online document editing, and the Microsoft range of applications such as Word and Excel.
Business users of Office 365 will be familiar with Exchange. It’s the heart of the software suite and offers email, calendar tools and contacts, along with built-in antispam and antivirus protection. Students will benefit from having a 25GB mailbox and 25MB limit for attachments, space that they can use to save projects. What’s more, there will be no more excuses to forget homework assignments, as students can access Exchange from home as well as school, and even via their iPhones and iPads; meanwhile, the calendar tool can be used for scheduling classes and the like.
If there is one Office 365 tool above all others that will enhance the learning process in both schools and universities, it is Microsoft’s SharePoint application. This gives students the ability to share documents and other information with each other and their teachers. Even parents can use it to contribute to creating a collaborative environment, which is great for younger learners. Some schools may have already implemented their own Virtual Learning Environments (VLA) such as Moodle and Frog, which are geared exclusively at the education sector and classroom use. SharePoint is great for educational management, too. The centralised system of management and control keeps teachers and staff on the same page when it comes to schedules, policies and plans.
Obviously it is one of the duties of a school to keep children safe from harm, and few would refute the assertion that there’s a lot of undesirable content on the web that young people shouldn’t be accessing. With Office 365 you can protect students by restricting web access, and protect their own privacy with permission and policies. Office 365’s own social networking site, Yammer, also means students can connect socially online both in and out of school in a controlled environment away from dangers like online predators.
With Sway, one of the latest Office 365 apps, teachers have the ability to create polished interactive web-based lessons for students. It is similar to PowerPoint, which many teachers already use, but there is the ability to pull content from many sources including YouTube, Facebook and Flickr, as well as from your own desktop. This means teachers can make highly personalized lessons that are conveyed quickly, easily and clearly.
There are other applications within Office 365 that make it a good choice for educational centres, and it’s even possible to sign up for a free trial. So if you are a head teacher looking for a cloud solution and want to know more about your options, get in touch with the experts at Empower IT and we’ll give you more details.