I’ve had this post on the list for a while. Microsoft Classroom is an up and coming part of the Office 365 Education suite. I’ve been playing around with, and it’s useful. The product is still pretty much in beta so I would not recommend getting on board with it at the moment. Might want to wait a while.
Microsoft will provide the Global Admin with some test licenses that will allow it to be tested out. It’s still in preview mode so it can’t be used in production, but there are some features that most will need to start exploring now.
Most colleges will already have a method to providing online courses, if not read this post on MOOC’s. Even free Moodle would be a lot of work, but it may still have things that Microsoft classroom will not have. I should point out that is you don’t have some pretty good engineers on staff then Moodle will be hard to keep up.
So, it would seem that Microsoft Classroom may be a good option for schools who may not have a current method of actually creating Online learning portals for their students.
I had a copy and took a few screen shots of getting started with Microsoft Classroom.
Microsoft Classroom Start Page
When you first create a Microsoft Classroom and add an assignment, you will see a screen similar to below. Notice the Class Notebook this is an application built on the Microsoft Office 365 OneNote product. It has roots in their desktop office application, and the two integrate together well. The Class Notebook is the central part of what allows Microsoft Classroom to work when delivering instruction. Since its an older product the integration with other Microsoft Products, including both the desktop versions and Office 365 versions. This creates a flow within the app, that just seems to work for me. You will need to spend some time playing around with all the features to get a feel of how these products can best help you deliver instruction to your students.
Microsoft Classroom ClassNotebook allows you to add students to your class notebooks with a variety of permissions. As you are setting up your Class Notebook, you have the option to add students then. This part is a little basic, and I’m sure Microsoft will do better before Classroom ships to everyone.
Here is a screenshot of adding students to a class notebook
You can create as many notebooks as you need. You will probably want one for students and then a separate notebook for Faculty in the class.
Creating a Microsoft Classroom Notebook
You can create your class notebook the first time you visit the area. It will create you three different notebook areas. The first is for collaboration between the faculty and students. This is where you set up discussion questions for students and allow them to participate.
The second is the content library. This is where you add your content for each of your classes. They content within this notebook can be copied to other notebooks, for additional classes. You can also create a generic notebook outside the Microsoft Classroom environment that will allow you to reuse the content in your library between classes.
The third is student personal journal space. Each student has a location where they can keep their notes and maintain needed information to do well in the class. The teacher can edit content within the students’ class notebook, so it you can use it as a collaborative teaching device. This is very useful in flipped classroom type strategies.
Install Classroom Notebook AddIn
Microsoft Classroom Notebook has an add-in for one note that allows you to manage your online class notebook from your computer. This makes it easier to manage your class notebook and insert elements from other of the Microsoft Office 365 applications. After your class is set up, you will be presented with a link to download this add-in or if you do not have permission to install your IT staff can likely push it down to your computer.
Microsoft Classroom Sharepoint Site
Since Microsoft Classroom is part of the Office 365 suite, each classroom also gets a SharePoint site created. This is integrated with the rest of Office 365 suite, so you create class pages for each of your classes. This ensures all your students have permission to the content in your classroom SharePoint once they are added to the class.
Microsoft Classroom SharePoint Site Pages
If you are familiar with using your Personal site as part of Office 365, then the Sharepoint site within Microsoft Classroom will look familiar. You can create pages for your site and then insert web parts, such as Documents, Custom Sharepoint lists, etc. within your classroom SharePoint area.
You can even create your Web part to hold needed data, and that data can come from a variety of sources. If you are a long-term reader of this blog, then you know we are big on integrating social media into your instructional workflow. Microsoft has given you the tools within the Microsoft Classroom product to do just that.
One of the Web parts you can add will bring your Yammer Social Network into your classroom. We will talk later on how you can utilize the Yammer Social Network in your classroom. Yammer is under active development at Microsoft, so I’m sure we will see a lot of improvements in Yammer over the next couple of years.
Yammer in Microsoft Classroom
If you have not started using Yammer yet in your school, then you may want to take a look at it. Yammer is a social network and has all the essential elements that provide advantages to social media. Each classroom gets their Yammer social network group. Within this group, only members can see the content shared within the group. The Yammer group allow for
Yammer is a social network and has all the basic elements social. Each classroom gets their Yammer social network group. Within this group, only members can see the content shared within the group. The Yammer group allows for faculty to ask discussion questions as well as attach documents or presentations if needed.
Students can also use Yammer to create their private groups within the classroom. This comes in handy when they need to collaborate on a particular group project. Since the Yammer Group is just an Office 365 groups, each group has One Drive storage and even their SharePoint site they can use to complete the assignments.
The faculty member does have the ability to change the look of their Microsoft Classroom Yammer Group. You can control the colors and theme of the Yammer Group and make it a reflection of the actual class. Having a color scheme for each class you manage can help you with keeping track of which Microsoft Classroom your are working in at the time. Once you have multiple classrooms, then it may get difficult to keep track of which you are working in at the time. Having different colors will help you keep them straight and improve your efficiency.
Microsoft Classroom Integration with Student Information Systems
Microsoft Classroom is developed with an interface into Student Information systems. The documentation says you can import a list of classes and create those classes in bulk. You can add students to the classes based on their enrollment in the student information system at your institution.
This peaked my interest in Microsoft Classroom and convinced me I needed to take a deeper look. One of the main weaknesses with Google Classroom is its interface to add students. There is not the same level of interaction between the database that holds the class information and the student enrolled in that course. This is why we can never really identify Google Classroom as a Learning Management System
The initial preview of Microsoft Office 365 Classroom still has a lot of work to do with this integration, but they seem to be taking steps in the right direction. They refer to this as Data Sync and it allows your system administration to set up conduits between the systems. This provides an application programming interface that allows you to connect to their services and transfer data.
The approach taken with the SDS Data Sync will allow the college to develop applications not only work with Microsoft Classroom but the entire Office 365 suite. They system comes with built-in support for PowerSchool and Cleaver. These are two student information systems that I have not used, so I can’t really comment on those integrations. They have a couple of K-12 systems as examples on this home page, so I’m sure those are K12 student information products.
If they add Ellucian Banner to this list, then I’ll get real interested. I’m sure with the API’s a little Oracle code to export, I will be able to set up a Banner interface. It’s something I will be working on over the summer in my free time.
Conclusion Microsoft Classroom
Microsoft Classroom may become a great tool for institutions to offer an element of Online learning for a very affordable price. Since Office 365 is free for schools, then it just needs to be activated. The product is still in preview mode and its not clear if there will be an additional charge for the product.
Since this is just a preview, Schools should not implement the product in a way that creates a dependency at this point. The preview is set to end in the Fall of 2017 and as that date gets closer, we should get some information on what the finished product will look like as well as any costs required.