On Monday 18th March the switch was flicked on to give University of Bath staff and students access to a wide range of Microsoft Office 365 learning tools, such as Teams, OneDrive and OneNote. This was timely for me because the following day I arrived at Microsoft’s office in London to attend a three-day Microsoft Bootcamp for FE and HE Educators. From a Learning Technologist’s viewpoint, the Office 365 suite has the potential to transform the way we learn, teach, communicate and collaborate.
We heard from Esam Baboukhan from City of Westminster College who has fully embraced Microsoft’s digital learning tools to engage his FE students, and to reduce his workload. He no longer sees himself as a deliverer of content, but as a ‘learning facilitator’. He uses Microsoft Teams (group chat software), Flipgrid (a video tool for student engagement), ClassNotebook (an extension for Onenote that provides an e-portfolio like tool), Stream (an internal video hosting platform) and Forms to communicate with staff and students, give instant feedback, and to increase inclusivity and accessibility in the classroom. His students are now asking him: ‘Will our lecturers be using this when we go to University?’
In fact, the range of accessibility features that Microsoft are constantly pushing out is astonishing. We heard from Hector Minto, Microsoft’s Accessibility Evangelist. When he spoke into his microphone the PowerPoint presentation behind him was instantly captioned and simultaneously translated into a language of his choosing (in this case, Afrikaans), with a high degree of accuracy. Other tools enable you to convert written words into speech, magnify your screen,and generate alternative text – the possibilities that are powered by Artificial Intelligence seem endless.
To take full advantage of the Office 365 suite, staff and students must keep their training and knowledge up-to-date. Microsoft are updating their tools on a frequent basis. The shift to the cloud means that new features are quickly added, often as a result of user feedback, whilst others may be moved or taken away. We heard from Helen Holt at Staffordshire University who, as part of their digital strategy, have trained hundreds of staff and students using Microsoft Educator Community. This not only enhances staff professional development, but gives students employability skills. I would encourage all staff and students to sign up for free at https://education.microsoft.com. They have also rolled out a chatbot to students to improve their University experience by answering questions, signposting them to events and societies and predicting behaviours using Artificial Intelligence.
Over the course of the Bootcamp there was so much more discussed and touched upon that it is impossible to summarise everything in a single blog post. How does Office 365 open-up the possibility of remote working and learning? How do we train people when the content moves so quickly? How do we ensure we have access to the latest versions? Are staff and students aware of why we have bought into the Office 365 package? How does this impact on our current ways of working? How can we pull in useful data and analyse it to improve practise? We look forward to having these discussions with our colleagues at Bath, and the TEL team can be contacted at any time if you would like to explore these issues further.
I am now a Certified Microsoft Innovative Trainer (I have a purple t-shirt to prove it!), but to tell the truth, we covered only a small amount of the vast Office 365 suite. I am looking forward to exploring it further over the next few months, and I would encourage everyone to do the same.
Search for the #MSBootCamp hashtag on Twitter to see updates from the event.
Tom Brunsdon, Learning Technologist (Digital Skills), CLT