Trip report: EMLT – Moving Office365 from the office to the classroom

On Wednesday last week I attended the East Midlands Learning Technologists’ Group (EMLT) winter event.

The focus was on using Office365 within Teaching and Learning with four learning specialists from different institutions presenting their experience on implementing Office365 in teaching and learning. The afternoon was concluded by a demonstration from Microsoft focusing first on Accessibility within Windows tools and specifically Windows 10, then focusing on Teams as a tool.
I will detail below the benefits and issues highlighted by the presenters and the key issues discussed by the attendees.

At Nottingham Trent University, there seem to have a number of success stories using Office 365. Rachel Bancroft was the first to present their experience of using Office 365. Rachel highlighted how Yammer was used to help improve visibility of student for group work collaboration. The students found the tool easy to pick up (like Facebook), easy to use, part of the institutional tools. They are now using Teams for the same tasks, which allows for better document sharing and organisation of concept. As detailed in their blog, the Fresher’s week orientation treasure hunt using Microsoft Forms was very successful and allowed the students to find useful services such as the library and student support services, introduce them to sites of cultural interest in Nottingham and to help them to make friends with other people on their course.

Will Moindrot from the University of Liverpool gave us a contrasting story about two institutions’ approaches. The first example covered illustrated how the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine used Office365 for group work where PowerPoint presentations were created in OneDrive and shared in the VLE as a links.

Will also explained how his new institution, University of Liverpool, uses Office365 integrated and linked in every single course in the VLE; this integration means every course has an Office collaborative space automatically created. It also allows the automatic creation of a collaborative area in the Teacher’s OneDrive area. Teachers can therefore distribute templates and files.
In terms of implementation, the new VLE and Office365 were launched at the same time which means they feel like a coherent set of tools.

One key issue discussed was the complexity of using OneNote, meaning the students needed training, as well as some questions around making One Note documents read-only for submission to staff.

Susan Lowe, formerly of the OU, presented her experience of using OneNote to support students in Personal Development Planning. OneNote was used to provide structured ePortfolio-like templates and focused learners. However, there were some technological issues and users needed training. It needs support and guidance to be used effectively as portfolio tool.
In institutions where there are no ePortfolio systems, it may be useful; as we have the Mahara at the RAU for portfolio, using OneNote in that way would be of little or no benefits.

Matt Hope from Loughborough University discussed how Office365 can be used to facilitate the collaborative experience. The two main discussion points raised were that Office 365 users have been using different tools without the  Learning  Technologists  and IT’s awareness; this has led to their IT teams feeling like they were catching up on support needed. This was a common feeling with many institutions represented on the day.

The second point was a question as to whether Microsoft was set to ‘replace’ the VLE? That discussion revolved around the need for students to improve their digital fluency; the main argument is that students need to study using tools they will use in the ‘real world’ and that therefore they should be using Office tools for their learning. This created much debate in the room and subsequently on Twitter as I raised the question of the future of the VLE and the level of integration of Office tools with Moodle (Gateway) with the CEO of Moodle.

It seems that the overall feeling from the Moodle community and other institutions is that VLE still have a place, which is a different area from the Office tool, with a wider overlap than previously. The Microsoft representative in the room explained that Microsoft have no intention to ‘replace the VLE’ but there is a clear need for institution to identify which tools they make available for which pedagogical purpose, which tools they support and which tools they integrate. With Learning Technologists’ support, a good policy on tools and a good technical integration, those concerns could be minimised.

As a result of this discussion, Martin Dougiamas, CEO of Moodle (Gateway software) explained in his Twitter reply to me, that the messaging system in the latest Moodle version is going to be similar to Teams. They are making improvements to Moodle overall to help with, not only the technical integration but also the user experience  integrations of other tools such as Office365 apps.

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The first focus of the Microsoft presentation by Alan Crawford was on accessibility and inclusions. Alan demonstrated Windows 10 tools available to improve accessibility, colour filters, translator, eye control and dictation. Immersive reading was also discussed.

The second part of the demonstration was based around using Teams. This included sharing files and collaborative editing (wiki), assignments with marking including rubric (class notebook, OneDrive file etc.) and using the Polly polling tool.

The detailed recordings of the presentations can be found below:
https://derby.cloud.panopto.eu/Panopto/Pages/Viewer.aspx?id=9f5d1940-346f-4b13-87c4-a9a600d7f818

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