“Classrooms” are certainly in session. Back in 2014, Google launched Classroom, a productivity and assignment management tool for teachers and students. This January, Apple followed suit with its own “Classroom App,” designed to help educators manage students’ iPads.
Now, Microsoft is launching its own “Classroom,” available for free to all Office 365 Education users.
Microsoft’s Classroom operates much like a lightweight learning management system—similar in some respects to what Google’s currently offers. Each Classroom is an online homepage where teachers can create student groups, distribute assignments and files, and share events and reminders via Outlook. The tool is also integrated with students’ OneNote Class Notebook, a digital binder where students can take and share notes, complete assignments and organize class materials.
Also, Microsoft Classroom is integrated with 25 different learning management systems including Canvas, Edmodo, Schoology and Brightspace. This means grades on assignments delivered via Classroom can automatically feed into supported third-party gradebooks. There’s also a “School Data Sync” feature that connects to schools’ student information systems, including two of the most popular choices, PowerSchool and Infinite Campus, and automatically updates class student rosters in Classroom.
“What is powerful is that Microsoft Classroom is integrated within all the Office 365 apps,” Tony Prophet, the company’s Corporate Vice President of Education Marketing, proclaims in an interview with EdSurge. “This means calendars, notes, conversations, emails are all tightly connected. We think this is going to be powerful for teachers and students.”
Classroom is just one of a dizzying platter of updates for Microsoft’s education customers announced today. Other new releases include “Microsoft Forms,” which allows teachers to create surveys and quizzes and analyze responses in an Excel spreadsheet. There’s also a “Take a Test” app that allows teachers to lock down students’ Windows devices so that they cannot access websites, local files, or have copy and paste privileges when taking tests online.
The company has also boasts an education-specific app store with thousands of apps, which can be provisioned to Windows devices.
To those who have been following Apple’s and Google’s education efforts, many of Microsoft’s new features may sound similar. But what Microsoft may lack in timing, or brand appeal, it makes up for with owning one of the most coveted sources of kids’ attention: Minecraft.
There are more details about Microsoft’s plans for its $2 billion block-building blockbuster. In June, educators can get early access to Minecraft: Education Edition, available for free on Windows 10 and OS X El Capitan in 11 languages and 41 countries. This version, designed for use in classrooms, allows teachers to keep track of students’ activity. Students will also get a camera tool to take photos of their creations and store them in online portfolios.
Will these updates help Microsoft get its groove back in the U.S. education market? Only 22 percent of all K-12 devices shipped in 2015 ran the Windows operating system, according to market research firm, Futuresource Consulting. The company fares much better in the global market, however, accounting for 43 percent of all devices shipped.