As we all know, the best way to learn about something is to take on the task of explaining it to someone else. So when I started on blogs for Microsoft Partner RM Education, about Office 365 in general and then Office Mix and Sway, I did so knowing that I would discover new insights.
RM Education provide schools with technical and educational support as they adopt Office 365 and suit it to their particular needs. In my two blogs I cover the benefits of Office 365 in general and particularly of Office Mix and Sway. On reflection, though, I feel I should add some emphasis to an aspect that’s easy to miss, which is their potential to promote inclusion.
- How RM can support your transition to Microsoft Office 365
- Are you using Microsoft Office Mix and Sway to their full potential?
The children we meet in class differ widely in intellectual or physical ability, emotional development, prior knowledge, understanding of the language, or any of a host of other variables. Over the years, schools have become steadily better at including all of them in the business of learning. In fact ‘inclusion’ has become a fundamental principle of education, although making it a reality remains a mighty challenge for which teachers need all the help they can get.
Office 365 has great potential for bringing students into the learning loop through collaboration (student to student, student to teacher, and beyond) . The opportunity for creative, live and supportive feedback is also a step towards personalisation and a culture of inclusion.
That said, I’m struck by features of Office Mix and Sway that I feel are particularly significant for inclusion.
One is that if a teacher uses Office Mix in presenting a topic to a group, she can, if she chooses, make the whole of her lesson available for study later. This means not just slides with notes and diagrams, but the full experience, with all the inked additions and comments that the teacher added live. Crucially, there can also be her actual spoken words recorded with audio or video. The whole can then be available to the student anytime, anywhere, on any enabled device.
Think what this means for the child who has a shaky grasp of English, or needs a bit longer to absorb an idea, and yet feels inhibited from constantly asking for clarification. The learner can return to the formulae, theorems, historical and geographical principles, replay and dissect them, look for further information on the internet, contact a classmate or a specialist teaching assistant to help (both looking at the lesson) all as painstakingly and often as the he or or she wants. All this can be done either before the lesson in ‘flipped learning’ mode, or afterwards as revision. And what I say is if this is not a significant contribution to inclusion, then I don’t know what is.
It doesn’t stop there either. Office Mix has what it calls ‘analytics’. Put simply, the teacher can see who looked at what and for how long, and so is able to see who needs encouragement, help, or a kick in the pants.
Then there’s Sway, which, say Microsoft -
‘…makes it quick and easy to create and share polished, interactive reports, presentations, personal stories, and more.’
The key phrase there is ‘and more’, because it seems clear to me that although many attractive and ingenious Sways are being created globally by teachers and students, the possibilities are much greater than we can at the moment imagine. Like all good software, Sway will be picked up and used in ways that its creators hoped for but could not immediately envisage – and the driving force will come from students and children of all ages, from every culture and background.
Sway is inclusive because a child can enter it from a wide choice of starting points, and go on to play with ideas and knowledge in entirely new ways. In a classroom such as the one I described earlier – multi-cultural, multi-lingual, multi-ability – every single child, freed from the limitations of essays, will seek the clearest, most satisfying and illuminating way of expressing what’s important to them. Here, too, their work will be saved and shared; ideas will be built on and I would suggest that within a year from now, teachers will be proudly showing student-created Sways that challenge our assumptions around what it is to be an ‘able’ or ‘less able’ learner.