In a previous post, we introduced School Data Sync and Microsoft Classroom, two recently released extensions to Office 365 for Education which can transform Office 365 into a powerful teaching and learning platform. This first article focused on School Data Sync which leverages the school or district's Student Information System ("SIS") to simplify the provisioning of Office 365 accounts for students and teachers, and most importantly creates special groups representing individual classes and assigns users to these groups in accordance with SIS class roster data. It is Microsoft Classroom (https://classroom.microsoft.com), the topic of this post, which "lights up" these class groups to enhance the teaching and learning experience by providing students and teachers ready access to class resources and assignments, as well as rich opportunities to connect with each other both in and out of the classroom.
Classes as Groups, Not Destinations
Before describing the capabilities of Microsoft Classroom and the experience for teachers and students in detail, it is worth taking a peek under the seams to better understand a subtle but important aspect of Microsoft's approach. It is tempting to assume that Microsoft Classroom creates a classroom site for each class, and adds the teachers and enrolled students as members. However, in a move that reflects the concept of the flipped classroom, Microsoft defines each class as a group of users, more specifically as an Office 365 Group ( which has been enhanced for education, rather than a destination. Unlike Exchange distribution lists, SharePoint Groups, and Skype groups, Office 365 Groups provide a single identity and set of permissions for a group of users which is recognized throughout Office 365. The following screenshot shows the Microsoft Classroom landing page with the list of the user's classes in the left hand navigation.
This same list of classes is available across the different Office 365 services and the results from selecting a class is contextually relevant. For example, if a student is reviewing her calendar and wants to plan for an upcoming test, selecting the class will open the class calendar next to her personal calendar. As another example, if a teacher wants to pose a question to his students, he could select the class within Outlook email and would be presented with the class conversation, a threaded discussion board. This pervasive access to class resources encourages and enables class participation and engagement outside of dedicated class time.
The Landing Page
Microsoft Classroom also includes a landing for each class which provides consolidated access to all of the shared services available. In the screenshot below, the user has selected their Biology class. From here she can work on current assignments, read class announcements, open the class calendar, review and participate in the class conversation, open the class OneNote notebook, and access class files and resources. Microsoft Classroom sets up all of these capabilities automatically when the class is created. While Microsoft Classroom can be used without School Data Sync, it is worth reiterating that School Data Sync leverages SIS information to automate the creation of classes, and ensures that students and teachers have access to their classes. Together these solutions save a tremendous amount of time for both IT and teachers.
The ability to create, collect or turn in, manage and grade assignments is one of the key enhancements of Microsoft Classroom versus standard Office 365 Groups. In the screenshot above, we see the list of current and future assignments for the Biology 8A class. In this case, we are viewing the class as a teacher. Note that each item provides a brief description of the assignment and quick snapshot of the assignment's status. For example, we can see that four students have turned in the Biology Homework 1 assignment and all of these have been graded.
Working on an assignment, whether as a student completing the work or a teacher grading submitted assignments, is simply a matter of selecting the assignment from the list to view more details and access links to assignment resources such as an online worksheet or a related OneNote activity. A teacher can create a new assignment in a number of ways. Perhaps the simplest method is selecting the Add Assignment option at the top of the assignments list which will open a dialog where pertinent details can be added. Assignments can also be created directly within OneNote which is described in more detail below.
We will continue this discussion next week with several other topics under Microsoft Classroom, including:
Microsoft Forms, Class Notebook, integrating 3rd
Party Learning Management Systems and Professional Learning Communities. Check back in next week!