Microsoft Office 365 will support you as you broaden your repertoire of teaching skills, enabling you to find new ways of engaging students and significantly contributing to whole-school improvement. And who best to help you understand, implement and reap the benefit of Microsoft O365’s rich functionality than the uniquely qualified and experienced team of education and technology experts at RM Education?
If you are lucky – or wealthy – enough always to have a brand new top spec motor car on a rolling short lease, the chances are that there will be some buttons you never find, let alone get to press (lumbar massage? Bet you wish you’d known about that).
But then, that’s always been the way with technology. From the first significant appearance of computers in schools in the early Eighties – and, I have to say, both I and RM were there; me looking on in bewilderment, Research Machines helping to lead the charge -- teachers have always struggled to extract full value from new technology. Somehow there has never been enough time, and then there are all these children with their hands up clamouring for attention.
Much has changed over the years, of course, and the latest cloud-based technologies and applications are intuitive and classroom friendly. At the same time, though, they have also become capable of so much more than we ever dreamed of in those early days, so teachers still need time and, above all, support if they are to make the most of what’s on offer.
For me, the prime example is Microsoft’s Office 365 which achieves the feat of being several things at the same time – so while it’s a suite of different, familiar, Microsoft applications, such as ‘Word’, ‘Excel’, ‘OneNote’ and ‘PowerPoint’, it’s also an integrated platform that adds new functionalities and enables the separate elements to work together. Office 365 is also future-proof in that not only are existing elements kept effortlessly and instantly up to date via the Cloud, but new applications are made available as they appear. So, for example, we have seen the arrival of exciting new productivity tools such as ‘Sway’ and ‘Office Mix’ and there’s always more to come. It’s a powerful, far-reaching and highly cost-effective educational support system, which inevitably means that getting the most from it calls for experience, time, and knowledgeable support.
The potential rewards, though, are huge. Office 365 is an essential tool for all teachers who seek the confidence and support to extend their teaching repertoire beyond conventional teacher-directed instruction. The school that’s keen to promote collaboration and communication at all levels, provide students with rapid access to rich resources for independent learning, give teachers continuing feedback as their students work, and open up anytime/anywhere learning, will find all of that, and more with Office 365. Feedback, for example – always a key concern, with Ofsted taking a particular interest – becomes a true two-way learning experience, with interventions and student responses clearly recorded, showing the development of competence and understanding. And ‘Flipped Learning’? With Office 365, students are given personalised tasks, with links either to external websites or to resources stored in the school’s online banks. They work at home, sometimes collaborating remotely with each other or with the teacher, and come to class ready to share conclusions, iron out problems and go on to the next task. Or what about schools with multiple campuses, or academy chains? With Office 365, leadership and management will share documents online, have virtual meetings and cut down on time and travel. By the same means, specialist teachers of minority subjects can spread their expertise across a group of schools, either teaching directly online or by supporting less experienced colleagues.
The possibilities for students are equally far-reaching. The opportunity to share and present their work as a ‘Sway’ rather than an essay, for example, is liberating. Add to this the fact that, with the appropriate device, they can make notes and create assignments with pen or voice input as well as, or instead of, the keyboard, and the overall effect is to promote inclusion, independence and creativity. (Not all brilliant students are good at putting words together after all.)
Talking to teachers and leaders, particularly at the 2016 BETT Show, showed me that there are many out there who have enough knowledge of Office 365 to convince them that they need to find out more. Perhaps they installed it originally to replace their existing expensive and limited email system. Now, though, they realise that email is just the start.
And that, of course, is where RM comes in. As I mentioned in passing at the start, RM were in at the birth of school computing – they’ve been at every BETT Show since the first one in 1985. Specialising wholly in education, over time RM has built up a unique wealth of knowledge and experience not only of educational technology but of schools and those who teach and learn in them and beyond. Crucial to RM’s engagement with schools is the team of educational consultants, all experienced teachers, who make the vital contacts and continuing ink with school leaders and teachers. Working together, RM’s technicians and education experts will create for a school a responsive and accessible Office 365 environment, taking on the technicalities of migration and configuration, while at the same time working with staff on support and training, and responding to educational priorities — leaving not a single mystery button that no-one has tried to press.
And all of that is before we even touch on RM Unify – a groundbreaking tool for bringing together all of a school’s web-based resources under a single sign-on. I’ll be returning to RM Unify in future.
Gerald is a former head teacher and a writer on education.
Read his previous blog about Microsoft Office Mix and Sway.
To find out more about how RM can support you with Microsoft Office 365 please visit http://www.rm.com/products/office-365