When I first heard that Microsoft was bringing a ‘classroom’ option to the Office 365 suite of educational software, I was a mixture of excited to see what it looked like and worried it would be just another add on. I had also had a play with the teacher dashboard which was nice but a litle underwhelming. Google classroom has had plenty of praise and I have been impressed with what was possible on that platform. Then I started seeing what people could do with Microsoft classroom and I got very green eyed as one by one schools in New Zealand and around the world were getting picked for the preview option.
And then I got a glorious e-mail saying we had also been selected to preview Microsoft classroom and school data sync. I was so excited when I replied, I forgot to attach the questionaire and signed documents back.
The preparation for the data sync was sadly a bigger job than I had expected. We were wonderfully supported by Guy, Keith and Mike from Microsoft via 3 skype seminars where they walked us through some of the finer points. But as we are using Kamar as our LMS, we needed to prepare csv files, which had to be done manually, which meant a big job for Lyndon (our DP in charge of Kamar). So we opted for 4 volunteer teachers with about 8 classes between us to test – around 190 students mostly in our junior school (we have around 1050 students in our school). I also had to enter a promo code to get classroom installed on the tenant and turn on the licence for the staff concerned. Once that was set up, I downloaded the powershell set up tool and we got the sync underway.
(If you are planning a sync like this, make sure your csv files are saved some-where sensible. They can’t be in zip form either…. We are now investigating a more robust place to store these files than my surface’s hard drive – perhaps where the server for Kamar is run, or a specific computer for admin……And after some conversation with the connected learning advisory and other NZ teachers, it seems that there are sometimes similar issues with KAMAR and Hapara…. not sure about google)
Again, the team were great as the talked me through the set up process…. you can see my mistakes where I entered the wrong thing in the wrong place, or tried to use the zip file…..
The errors in red and black are due to me having installed the anniversary edition windows 10 update. So I had to alter the text files (helped by the crew…..) and then it ran fine
The sync errors were because we had students who were doubled up in multiple classes – so we had to go back to the student csv file and remove the double ups. The error reports where very specific about where the errors were and it took Lyndon no time to fix them (definitely not my area of expertise)
And then we hit go with classroom, and it was quite magical watching the classes populate. Calanders, onedrives, group e-mails, newsfeeds all just appeared. To get it visable on the students app launcher, we also had to turn on their licences in the admin portal. It took about 30 minutes for all of the classes to load – which is pretty quick really. If we need to update, the files with just scan for changes, so it is only the initial setup that will take a while.
So then I skipped off to my year 10 Science class, and there is was for my students 🙂
As I added a test they have on Monday, it automatically (and almost instantly) popped into their calendar (and mine too). It was great to see both classes this student was loaded into appear straight from the sync.
From my end, it looks like this – 10Be is the class that went through the data sync – L1Sci and L2 Chem are classes I have added manually. So I still need to activiate the licences on these students accounts to see if they have a different experience from the data sync students.
The conversations tab sends you to outlook, and the files tab sends you to a group Onedrive (so a sharepoint document library). The set up for the classnote book is al ready to go, just choose your sections and away you go.
So, once we had the preparation sorted, this really was a dream. And I can see a real benefit to students if they have all their classes loaded as they can use the calendar to organise their course work and assessments, and use the collaborative spaces to share resources and ask and answer questions.
This sync happened about 48 hours ago. So still very early days. My next steps are to
- support the other teachers using classroom preview to use it with their classes
- Investigate how we can improve the transfer of data from the SMS (Kamar) to either the CSV files or directly to classroom.
- Investigate a more long term storage place for the csv files…..
- Compare the experience of classroom users to the teacher in our school using groups and classroom notebook – I suspect for individual teachers they will have a similar experience, but the students will have a better experience via classroom due to the summaries on the home page.
- Compare synced student experience to manually added students – might save us a lot of time with the CSV files for next year if we can skip this step…. but then it might not encourage teachers to use it……
- Get some feedback from the students to see what they think
- Plan for implementation for the whole school next year if it goes according to plan
My first impressions are that it is a very user friendly overlay system that takes all the best bits of sharepoint and makes them much easier to use for teachers or students. More confident/competent or adventurous teachers might find they like the freedom of the sharepoint sites they already have set up, where as other teachers who have been reluctant will definitely enjoy the automatic population of their classes.
An enormous thanks has to go to the Microsoft crew who helped us out over skype (the time difference meant I think we kept them at work a bit late) for their patience and expertise, and to Lyndon for bearing with my when the job was bigger than I expected. But it looks like it was well worth the effort – watch this space