Learning Tools – Using technology to support learning and facilitate collaboration in education

Yesterday Microsoft Ireland hosted a half-day workshop for second level students using technology for additional support within education. This workshop came about thanks to Tara O’Shea, Community Affairs Manager at Microsoft and Stephen Howell, Academic Program Manager. Tara has been a huge supporter of Enable Ireland Assistive Technology Service over the last decade and been the driving force behind many of the successful projects we have collaborated on. Stephen would be a very familiar face to anyone involved in that space where technology and education meet, not just in Ireland but internationally.

The goal of the workshop was to introduce some of the collaboration tools available to students using Office365, additional supports available to students with maths or language difficulties and to provide alternative ways to produce and present content. Obviously as Microsoft was hosting there was an emphases on their tools nevertheless Stephen was quite open about how similar features are available on other platforms. We (Enable Ireland AT) pride ourselves on providing independent recommendations; the best solution for the user is the solution they use best. The practice of schools forcing students down any particular route: Microsoft, Google or Apple, is restrictive and cause difficulties if there are specific access or support needs. Microsoft and Google though offer more browser-based tools that mean users are free to use any device. I should also acknowledged that Microsoft have really upped their game in the areas of Education and Accessibility over the last few years.   

Collaboration

Fostering collaboration is a cornerstone of modern education and promotes a vital real world skill (teamwork) that will serve students throughout their lives. The screenshot below from Facebook (Stephanie McKellop) and illustrates a way that tools we may have considered more for remote collaboration, can be used within a classroom or lecture hall.

Facebook screenshot from user
Stephanie McKellop.
I learned today that a group of students used a Google doc to take lecture notes -- they all took notes simultaneously in a collective file.
They would mark places they were confused or couldn't follow the lecturer. other students would see and explain.
at the end of the semester they have a massive document of note, questions and explanations from peers

Although this example uses Google Docs, Microsoft OneNote could also be used in this way. In fact there would be a number of advantages to using OneNote such as the ability to incorporate Ink annotations and drawings, audio & video and adding whiteboard or print text using Office Lens.

When it comes to collaboration, Microsoft Teams is at the centre. Teams is a unified communications platform, basically it’s like WhatsApp or Facebook Messenger but with tonnes of additional features. Through Teams you can not only instant message, video/audio call or share desktops but you can also work on shared documents, whiteboards or mind maps. There are also plugins for many third party apps and services, so if you are already collaboration app or service there is probably an integration available. Stephen demonstrated how a tool like Teams could be used in a classroom session by setting up a class team and getting everyone to work on a short Sway presentation (we mentioned Sway in a previous post a couple of years ago, don’t understand why everyone isn’t using it by now). Once everyone had completed their presentation they posted a link to the class message stream and Stephen showed it on the large screen. Okay, this exercise could have been done without Teams but using the service made it so much easier and more importantly everything was recorded for students to revisit in their own time.

Support

We have looked at Microsoft Learning Tools numerous times on this blog over the last few years (read this post is you want to know more about Learning Tools). Thankfully, since its introduction as a plugin for OneNote in 2016 it has gone from strength to strength. Features like Immersive Reader are now standalone apps and have also found their way into many other Office365 apps like Word and Outlook. Some other apps Stephen introduced are listed below with a brief description. They are all free so we encourage you to download and try them yourselves.

Microsoft Math: If you are familiar with the language-learning app Duolingo, this app takes a similar approach to teaching Mathematics. Short challenges with rewards and feedback. Gamifying Maths

Snip & Sketch: Lets you quickly and easily capture content from the web (pictures, text etc), draw and annotate it and share with other apps.

Microsoft WhiteBoard: Provides a blank canvas where you can collaborate with others and share with the class

Microsoft Translator: Useful for translations or transcriptions. Stephen also showed how it can be a great way to practice pronunciation when learning to speak a foreign language.