They may have taken their time, but the educational offering from Microsoft certainly has matured in recent times – arguably becoming a serious challenger to the offerings of Apple and Google. Yes, they arrived at the party late, but the collaborative, creative and innovative nature of what is available to educators now is legions ahead of the restrictive, slow and unreliable systems of old.
Under the hood, the speed and reliability of the Microsoft operating system has come on in leaps and bounds. No longer do you need to power up and wait for 10 minutes for the system and programs to load. Additionally, the reliability of operating programs has improved, previously a bugbear with classroom teachers, helping maintain the flow of lessons without concerns that programs won’t load, go missing in action, or fail to save the progress of ongoing classroom work.
Many schools are still stuck on the XP roller-coaster, thwarted to develop due to outdated school management programs where the vendors have failed to update, or support schools to upgrade their server and/or operating systems. Not only is this a shame, but also very dangerous as an older server, platform and program versions are more susceptible to malware or virus attack, making the data held vulnerable and open to misuse by hackers with malicious intent. You only need to see what happened to the computer systems within the National Health Service in England to understand how older systems (where updates or patches failed to be applied) to see the danger of failing to invest in the time and management of keeping up-to-date with software developments.
Beyond the familiar Office products – such as Word, Excel & PowerPoint (all themselves receiving much-needed updates that allow online collaboration, and also support inclusive technologies) – the suite of programs available for education also now include Minecraft and OneNote. The acquisition of Minecraft indicated how serious Microsoft was with engagement and learning, with educators globally seeing the potential of including key objective within creative design subjects, religious education, and the sciences, to name just a few.
As for OneNote, the introduction of the inking capability enhancing the experience, as educators can now create a specialised notebook for their students, allowing for real-time feedback in a space managed by the teacher, offering personalised feedback opportunities as well as offline working – syncing when back in range of an online network. As OneNote is also freely available on most devices, teachers and students have the flexibility to work on familiar technology without the need for any further expenditure. The investment and improvements made on OneNote over recent years has really made it a useful tool for teachers, creating ideal portfolios for resources, progress and feedback for their classes.
With so much catching up to do, Microsoft has admirably vastly improved their educational offering. Whereas Google and Apple arguably own the education market in terms of their offering, Microsoft has incorporated much of their suite available on other platforms (such as Android and iOS) but as software and hardware developments improve and reduce in price, the services, apps, and engagement opportunities to enhance teaching and learning are worthy of serious consideration to those who remember the sluggish, unreliable systems of old. So yes, Microsoft is a modern key education player – but whether the systems, management and teachers in schools are equipped to utilise the developments is worthy of another article within itself.