As Microsoft continues to march to its ‘empowering’ drum beat, the company has been steadily overhauling its approach to how its products get distributed and implemented. In the past, Microsoft would offer blanket enterprise tools for educational purposes, and it would be up to educators to manipulate the tools to fit best their needs. For years, a contentious relationship between teachers and Microsoft grew as the company seemingly ignored the shifting nuances in education. However, it is beginning to look like a more thoughtful Microsoft, is ready to deliver resources for teachers that streamline their workflow and allow them to focus more on teaching and less on technical acrobatics.
Shanen Boettcher, the general manager for Class Dashboard and School Information Sync, is announcing the first phase of a Preview program for two new educational driven services. As of today, Microsoft is welcoming Microsoft Class Dashboard and Microsoft School Information Sync into the fold of Office 365 Education. Office 365 Education users will now have preview access to two new tools intended to help simplify connections between existing systems as well as simplify communication and collaboration amongst students and fellow teachers. As an added kicker, the new tools will come free of charge to current Office 365 Education accounts.
We wrote briefly about Microsoft Class Dashboard a few days ago. As a brief refresher, “Class Dashboard is an easy-to-use website that brings together familiar Office apps including Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote and Outlook in the context of the classroom. Teachers can get the most out of the tools they know and content they have, keep materials and classes organized and accessible, and engage students in new collaborative learning experiences to achieve better outcomes,” according to Shanen. Microsoft’s School Information Sync attempts to simplify the complexity of connecting school Student Information System (SIS) data with educational apps and class websites through automation. Part of its usefulness comes from its vast array of sync options. “It syncs user profiles and class rosters from a school or district SIS, provisions groups and class websites, enables single sign-on (SSO), and allows learning apps to access student data over an encrypted connection. Because security and privacy are so important, schools and districts determine which apps can access student data so that they can remain in compliance with their policies,” Shanen says.
School Information Sync also offers a single API for education vendors and district approved 3rd party solutions to access data and integrate apps while providing a more personalized learning experience. Students also benefit from SIS, by using a single sign-on with Office 365 no matter the device. With the use of cloud APIs, Shanen believes that School Information Sync will be able to deliver SIS independent applications much faster to ISVs.
Microsoft’s overhaul of educational tools is already being met with enthusiasm. “Two-thirds of U.S. school districts use our assessment and instruction programs, and we are excited about the single sign-on and data sync benefits Office 365 offers students and teachers,” said Jack Lynch, CEO of Renaissance Learning. “We are always looking for ways to make educators’ work easier, and streamlining the use of programs like ours with information systems and productivity tools is a win-win for schools and the organizations that serve them.”