Why Office 365 in Education?

PowerPointSpiderMan Wymondham High Academy is a Norfolk school based just south of Norwich.  It became an Academy almost two years ago and since then has been in charge of its own destiny.    I have helped shape that destiny since September by introducing Microsoft’s Office 365 as a simple way for students to share and collaborate with tools they know how to use.

This has meant our VLE system has been turned off (saving a big maintenance payment every year), we have been able to equip every student in the school with Office 365 Pro Plus to use at home. Every student also gets the ability to save in the cloud, share and collaborate with peers, as well as using Office Online on any internet connected device.   It has even given us the ‘glue’ for a sustainable BYOD policy in school.  Office 365 has also help address the Flipped Learning agenda in school by allowing teachers to easily share material and resources to students, so pre-preparing them for the next lesson.  This allows the student to get more out of class time, than either watching a video or researching things.

Office 365 also led me to the Bett Show 2014 where I spoke for four days on the Microsoft stand about our schools experience. More recently we have partnered with Old Buckenham High School to help them with the same transformational change that our school has been through.

So now I am detecting a real buzz about Office 365 in Norfolk,   from other high schools making enquiries with us, the Norfolk LEA now on the verge of deploying Office 365 and other services, plus  private schools also making big in roads into deployment.

So why Office365?  it seems the cloud version of Office appears to connect with the way teachers and students do business, and it makes the core fundamentals of good learning, sharing and collaborating very easy.

Office 365 does simplify things for teachers, who lead ever busy lives, and that’s got to be a good thing.  The days of a VLE rollout and people coming in to teach staff  how to post something in a room or indeed share something, meant teachers spent more time trying to learn and then remember how to use the product! This after a few weeks often allowed teachers to fall-back in to old ways of doing things.

Office 365 also  helps us address requirements for the employment market for the future. I am sure you have probably read the last IDC report highlighting the need for Microsoft Office skills in the workplace.

A recent IDC Study, which scanned more than 14 million job postings, found that the most in-demand skills for the top jobs through 2020 are the modern skills such as communication, problem solving and teamwork, coupled with the technical skills of Microsoft Office.  In fact, Microsoft Office is the No. 2 skill employers are looking for in the highest-paying jobs, and No. 3 skill in all jobs.

Even Google list Microsoft Office skills as required for there workforce !    So by embedding use in school, offering Office 365 ProPlus  at home with Student Advantage, we are equipping students with the right skills for the workplace.    Added to this our school is a Microsoft IT Academy, and offers student the Microsoft Office Specialist exams, to obtain industry recognised qualifications.  Google Apps is very much a standalone product in that sense and does not offer the ability to integrate to develop student skills.

Here are some top quotes from our students who use Office 365:

The best thing is saving to the cloud so I can continue working at home on the same document.  I use to use a memory stick to move work to and from school, and now I don’t need to!

Its great to have the apps in the cloud so I can use them with my IPad – but even better if I open a document in the webapp on my PC I can click on Edit in PowerPoint and suddenly its there in the full version.

Sharing works for me.   I use OneNote for organising my homework, and share it with my teacher, by simply clicking on the Share button in OneDrive and typing my teachers email address in.

Office 365 is a part of student life
Office 365 is a part of student life

Students live in a device agnostic world, who are quite happy to start a document on a PC in Microsoft Word, then maybe finish it a home on an Ipad, then amend it on a smartphone before handing it in.  Students views seems to be that the Office experience is all ‘part of one thing’ for them, which is really what we want cloud computing to be to the end  user.

Google has never natively tied in with the school environment from both the teachers and students in the way Office 365 has.   With Google its been a case of, saving work locally, logging into Google and signing in, uploading to Google Drive.  Sometimes during the upload it would fail being a .DOCX . Then reversed to access your data from another machine or at home.

In Office users get to save directly into there cloud space.  Students  were very keen on not having to do that extra ‘step’ to save in the cloud, finding it a ‘messy’ way of doing business.

Each student gets seamless access to the cloud from native applications
Each student gets seamless access to the cloud from native applications

A common theme that we have received from students is the ability to upload a document into OneDrive for Business, and the look and feel of the document remains the same on any device, Android, Windows or IOS.     Unlike Google Apps when students used to upload into Google Drive, formatting would often change, and only be rectified with several print offs later.

Talking to a parent at an open evening recently about Google v Office 365, I said ‘for us its really a  core skill that we have an opportunity to teach in a very subtle way’   Michael Gove said that using Office is not inspiring and everyone should code. Which coding is great, but its still an basic skill that needs to be taught, as the IDC report shows. Likewise I am yet to find any business in the county advertising for ‘Google Apps skills’, but that might be due to the lack of fast internet in the county.   Schools should be responsive to teach students skills that the employment markets demand.

From a teachers point of view a big find has been using Outlook 2013 as an email client and adding commonly used SharePoint feeds so staff can update sites very quickly.    Webmail is a very good and powerful tool, but teachers simply now click on Outlook 2013 and all the information is to hand, receiving email notifications without leaving the browser window open all the time.

A true time saver – I can get an idea from the notification if I need to read it now or later. I didn’t get that in the old system.

The ability to update files in my SharePoint site by using Outlook is great !

So in summary, Office 365 above all make things that were complicated simple, and that is good for everyone involved.   It inspires students as its a technology they know and understand,  and it doesn’t require that ‘extra step’ to upload docs in the cloud.       It also maintains the formatting of documents by keeping them in native Office formats (unlike Google) and you know your data is stored within the EU (unlike Google as far as I know!)

Its ability to plug in to your existing office system, and deliver real world skills in its everyday use, that students can use in college or their first job is a massive plus against any other cloud system at the moment.

The fact the Microsoft recognised the requirement for Office skills and through Student Advantage can equip every student with the latest version of Office to use, seems to me that they are ‘playing there part in developing the next generation of employees with the right skillsets’.      Now I am not picking a fight with Google fans but as an educator I do not get this  integration on so many levels as I do with Office 365, and I guess that’s why I am detecting a change …………………….

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