Professional learning community groups in Office 365 Education

A professional learning community, or PLC, is a group of educators who meet regularly to share expertise and work collaboratively to improve teaching skills and the academic performance of students. Teachers around the world have started using Office Setup 365 Groups to make collaboration within a PLC a lot simpler and more streamlined. PLC groups are typically formed around interest areas (e.g., 9th grade math), grade levels (e.g., 10th grade teachers) or across subjects (e.g., science teachers).

Here are some barriers to engagement with PLCs today that Office 365 Groups is addressing:

  • Teachers can be isolated, time is severely limited and collaboration is difficult.
  • Professional collaboration tools are disconnected and don’t always support meaningful, sustained collaboration.
  • A challenge for many PLCs is extending the work and relationships in the times and spaces between physically coming together.
  • It can be difficult for new teachers to ramp up.
  • Information is often stored in personal spaces as opposed to one common place that can benefit others.
  • New members need to better understand the journey, story, exploration and history of a PLC, its activities and areas of inquiry.

As part of our April announcement, we mentioned how we are going to further improve our experience for PLCs. Today, we are excited to announce the PLC Groups Preview—tailored to meet the needs of teachers and overcome the above mentioned barriers to engagement today.

The new Office 365 PLC groups include one place to collaborate effectively in a community of practice. Each group comes with a:

  • Inbox for group email communication, including Connector for connecting your group to Twitter and following topics or Twitter handles that interest your PLC group.
  • Calendar for scheduling group events.
  • Document library for storing and working on group files and folders.
  • OneNote notebook for taking project and meeting notes.
  • Planner for organizing and assigning tasks and getting updates on project progress.

PLC groups are also available on all your mobile devices—both Outlook Groups and OneNote have mobile apps. This helps you keep track of your PLC conversations and PLC notebooks, making it easy to share relevant resources with your groups on the go.

A look at how one district implemented PLC groups

For an in-depth look at how Omaha Public Schools is using Office 365 Groups for their PLCs to streamline collaboration, read their full case study on the Customer Stories page and then watch this video:

Administrators at Omaha Public Schools developed some guidance for their staff on how to do PLCs in their district:

Here’s what Omaha Public Schools staff members have to say about their experience with PLC groups:

“Looking at what Omaha Public Schools’ needs are around professional learning, it was important to build around a platform that was consistent with what our teachers and staff use on a daily basis.”
—Rob Dickson, executive director of Information Management Services for Omaha Public Schools

I love the fact that I can create sections, that I can create pages within the sections, and I can upload anything I want, or do a quick snip from a page and throw it in there. Everyone knows the format, so we’re not trying to figure out somebody else’s way of thinking.”
—Laura Wray, 4th grade teacher at Wakonda Elementary School

“Using our PLC groups, everything is templated out, so you just add to them and it pops up in their Office 365 account and they’re rolling the next day…There’s so much asked of teachers. They can go home at night and say, OK, here’s an activity we did today and it really helped with that comprehension strand, and I want to make sure my teammates get that.”
—Rebecca Chambers, instructional technology coach

Office 365 Groups—integrated to support PLCs

Here is an example of how Office 365 Groups for PLCs integrates Outlook, OneNote and a SharePoint library:

Professional Learning Community Groups in Office 365 Education 1

In Outlook on the web, a faculty member chooses the PLC template to create a PLC group.

Professional Learning Community Groups in Office 365 Education 2

The PLC group collaborates, shares lesson plans and stores student data all in a shared group OneNote notebook.

Professional Learning Community Groups in Office 365 Education 3

The PLC group can store PLC reference material in the group’s document library.

Educators, increase collaboration and professional development with new Office 365 Education updates

Educator collaboration with PLC groups

Aside from getting started with the technology, we know there can be some barriers to collaborating and sharing knowledge between teachers:

  • Teachers can be isolated, time is severely limited and collaboration is difficult.
  • Professional collaboration tools are disconnected and don’t always support meaningful, sustained collaboration.
  • Information is often stored in the personal files of educators, making it difficult for new teachers to ramp up.

To foster collaboration, educators look to professional learning communities (PLCs), where groups of educators can meet regularly to share expertise and work collaboratively to improve teaching skills and the academic performance of students. In April, we announced how we were going to further improve our experience for PLCs by customizing Office 365 Groups to fit this PLC model even more easily.

Today, we are excited to announce the PLC Groups Preview—tailored to meet educator needs and overcome barriers to engagement. Office Setup 365 Education users who are faculty can now create PLC groups, similar to any other Office 365 group, and access shared conversation spaces, file space, OneNote notebooks and calendars. PLC groups also integrate directly with Microsoft Planner, released in general availability with Office 365 earlier this month. Here is an example of how one of our early adopters, Omaha Public Schools, is using PLC groups with Office 365 Education:

Interested in trying the PLC Groups Preview this summer? Office Setup 365 Education customers can sign up here and request to be added to the preview. Read more about PLC groups in this blog post.

Docs.com fosters knowledge and content sharing

We understand another barrier for teachers is knowledge and content sharing within a PLC or across the globe. Teachers are constantly searching for new lessons and their students want to share their work with parents and the world.

Docs.com is the easiest way to create a visually appealing online portfolio that can include OneNote notebooks, Word documents, Excel workbooks, PowerPoint slide decks, interactive Sways, PDFs and a host of web content. Docs.com retains all the rich formatting, animations and formulas of your Office documents and can be easily shared with your school and the world. We have been gathering feedback from thousands of amazing educators and students around the globe to ensure that the experience can meet their needs.

We heard from teachers about how some of their content is not quite ready to be shared outside of their school or district, many of which have Office 365 Education as a collaborative platform. Keeping things a little more private sometimes makes students and teachers feel safer about distributing their work. Because of this, today we are announcing the Organization Visibility feature—giving you more granular control over who can see your class content. With Organization Visibility, only people who sign in with an Office 365 work or school account from the same organization (i.e., school or district) can view your content.

Read more about Docs.com in this blog post.

Formative assessment gets easier with Microsoft Forms

Along with collaborating with other educators, we know that most educators’ time is spent in the classroom with the students. Microsoft Forms is the result of direct feedback from educators that they want to have a quizzing function with Office 365 Education. Educators told us they need an easy way to assess student progress on an on-going basis, an assessment solution that will save them time, help differentiate instruction for all students and provide quiz takers with real-time personalized feedback.

Since we announced Microsoft Forms in April, we have added two new features! The first is auto-grading, meaning teachers don’t need to download an add-in or do any complicated workarounds to do grading. The second is real-time, personalized feedback, which allows teachers to provide feedback to students for each answer and question.

Read more about Microsoft Forms for education in this blog post.

Office 365 now works with more of the technology you already use

Since we launched the original Class Notebook add-in assignment and grade integration with Learning Management Systems (LMS), Student Information Systems (SIS) and gradebooks, we’ve had many excited educators and schools try it out. We’ve also heard more and more teachers ask for Class Notebook integration with other systems they use. We’ve been busy working with partner companies from around the world over the last couple of months, and today we are announcing more than 35 partners who have committed to working with OneNote and Office 365 Education, with currently over 20 implemented and many more coming soon.

Chula Vista Elementary School District is a customer story that demonstrates how we are working with solutions that educators already use, featuring Microsoft Office 365 and Microsoft partner Edmodo.

If you don’t see your LMS, SIS or gradebook on this list below, be sure to let us know at classnotebook@onenote.uservoice.com. Download the latest version of the Class Notebook add-in to see the most up-to-date set of partners.

Class Notebook add-in assignment and grading partners.

Read more about new Office 365 Education and Class Notebook integrations in this blog post.

The Deferred Channel June updates for the Office 365 client now available

Improved versioning for the Deferred Channel

We’re improving our updates naming to help distinguish multiple Office updates. To help distinguish between major updates and their subsequent builds, we are implementing a versioning scheme that will help simplify how we refer to all Office updates.

Each Office update will be represented by a year and month. For example, version 1605 corresponds to the May 2016 update. To distinguish builds within each version we will add a build number, for example: version 1605 (Build 6758.1000). This versioning scheme is similar to what you see with Windows 10 and the System Center Configuration Manager and should provide an easier way to distinguish the different builds.

Get ready for the October Deferred Channel release

We will make version 1605 available in the October 2016 Deferred Channel update. You can also obtain this release though the First Release for Deferred Channel. We encourage you to download and start validating this build against your environment and line-of-business add-ins, applications and macros.

Announcing a new version of the Office 365 admin app

Today, we are happy to announce a design update for the Office Setup 365 admin app that will make it easier and more efficient for you to manage your service using the app.

Announcing a new version of the Office 365 admin app 1

More than just a tool for on-the-go

Since its first launch in November 2014, thousands of Office 365 admins have downloaded the app and use it to stay connected with their Office 365 environment on the go. It’s great to see how valuable it is to you! The app is available for Windows Phone, Android and iOS, and has a rating of 4+ stars across all platforms.

When we launched the admin app, it was intended to be a companion app for the Office Setup 365 admin center. Today, the admin app is so much more. Based on your feedback, we have continuously added functionality. Over the last 12 months, we shipped almost 40 feature updates including push notifications, mobile device management and partner integration. We’re now at a point where the app can stand on its own, and we have many customers—especially small businesses—who use the app as their main administration tool.

A simple and intuitive design

From the first version of the app, design and usability was a main focus. The admin app has a very clean and simple interface that makes it easy to use on a variety of screen sizes. And with the new update (for those of you who pay attention to version numbers, it’s V3), we are further improving and modernizing the design and UX of the app.

Quickly find what you’re looking for—With all the new functionality that has been added, we want to make sure that you’re still able to quickly find the feature you’re looking for. With the update, we are introducing feature grouping to the app. Similar features, such as quick actions on the user card, are now categorized and displayed together in one card.

In addition, new quick links on the dashboard give you direct access to settings that you use on a regular basis, such as users, groups and billing.

Announcing a new version of the Office 365 admin app 2

Spot important information right away—The update also makes it easier for you to identify areas that need your attention. Information that is important to you and that you might want to take action on, such as blocked users, is now highlighted in the app.

Announcing a new version of the Office 365 admin app 3b

One management experience across admin app and admin center—We also worked on aligning the design of the app with the design of the new Setup Microsoft Office 365 admin center. The app now uses the same color and icons, making it easier for you to move from one tool to the other.

Microsoft engineers seeks to broaden appeal of Office 365 to people with disabilities in new updates

Microsoft is to make it easier for people with disabilities to create content with an Office 365 accessibility update.

“As we make Office 365 accessible by design and make it easy for everyone to create accessible content, we hope that people of all abilities will feel empowered to achieve more with our productivity technologies, have equal access to digital information and have fulfilling interactions with each other,” said John Jendrezak, accessibility lead for the Office engineering team.

So what can we expect going forward? One of the key improvements will be to help visually impaired people with the screen reader tool for Word, Outlook and SharePoint.

Accessibility Push

 

The built-in screen reader tool is called Narrator, and was updated as part of the recent Windows 10 anniversary update earlier this month.

The update includes new voices that can speak up to 800 words per minute, and Redmond says it has “six levels of verbosity, so you can get varying indications of text properties and control over how much punctuation you hear, and verbal hints when automatic suggestions are available.”

Microsoft Office 365 WordJendrezak said that the Office 365 team continues to work closely with the Narrator team to enhance productivity experiences for screen reader users.

Another improvement is the Scheduling Assistant in the latest version of Outlook for the PC, which aims to make it easier to manage a calendar. The Scheduling Assistant can set up a meeting with others, search for an email and set up signatures for a particular account.

SharePoint Online comes with an improved screen reader experience, and the new SharePoint home page in Office Setup 365 includes headings for easy navigation across the major areas of the page.

There is also a new “search as you type” experience to alert screen readers when matches are found, and improved navigation of sites.

Other areas that have been tweaked are Document Libraries, which now includes headings for easy navigation across the major areas of the page. Keyboard shortcuts for all major functions can be viewed in the app by pressing the question mark key.

“In May, I shared details about work underway to make Office 365 more usable with High Contrast themes on PCs, which is critical to ensure that the people with vision impairments, such as cataracts, can interact with data and commands in our applications with less eye strain,” wrote Jendrezak.

“Since then, if you have been working in Excel Online on a PC with High Contrast enabled, you’ll notice that tables, active cell and cells-selection outlines are more visible, hyperlinks in sheets are respecting High Contrast theme colors and Sparkline, slicers, shapes and charts are rendered using High Contrast theme colours.”

Another additional is Editor, which is a cloud-based advanced proofing and editing service designed mostly for people with dyslexia.

Office 365

Microsoft is throwing a lot of development resources at Office, not surprising when there are one billion users of Microsoft Office. Last week for example Office for Mac received an upgrade that included improved performance.

Microsoft also recently brought artificial intelligence-powered scheduling service Genee, and plans to integrate the software with Setup Microsoft Office 365 to give users more calendar power.

Microsoft productivity apps will come preloaded on some of Lenovo’s Android-powered devices, expanding the reach of Microsoft Office, Skype and OneDrive.

Productivity and inclusion—Office 365 accessibility update

Over the past year, hundreds of engineers from the Office 365 team have been working hard to make progress towards the plans outlined in our 2016 accessibility roadmap. Key enhancements releasing this quarter bring us closer to two goals:

  • People with disabilities can communicate, consume and create content on any device.
  • Everyone can easily create content that is accessible for all people.

As we make Office 365 accessible by design and make it easy for everyone to create accessible content, we hope that people of all abilities will feel empowered to achieve more with our productivity technologies, have equal access to digital information and have fulfilling interactions with each other.

Here are some of the key accessibility improvements releasing this quarter:

Screen reader usability improvements in Word, Outlook and SharePoint

Narrator—our built-in screen reader—received several key updates as part of the recent Windows 10 anniversary update. These included new voices that can speak up to 800 words per minute, six levels of verbosity, so you can get varying indications of text properties and control over how much punctuation you hear, and verbal hints when automatic suggestions are available.

The Office 365 team continues to work closely with the Narrator team to enhance productivity experiences for screen reader users. While using the latest version of Word for the PC and Windows Store apps with Narrator, you might have already noticed improvements in documents with tables, lists, images and hyperlinks. With the latest version of Outlook for the PC, you will now find it easier to manage your calendar, use the Scheduling Assistant to set up a meeting with others, search for an email and set up signatures for your account. Learn more about accessibility enhancements in Outlook for PCs in this article and review this support article to get started with Narrator.

Screenshot of Narrator in Ease of Access Settings

Narrator, the built-in screen reader in Windows 10, can be started from Ease of Access settings.

In SharePoint Online, you will notice improved screen reader experiences as the most used features have been made accessible by design. The new SharePoint home page in Office 365 includes headings for easy navigation across the major areas of the page, a new “search as you type” experience that alerts screen readers when there are matches found and improved navigation of sites by either table commands if using JAWS or arrow keys for all other screen readers.

Document Libraries now includes headings for easy navigation across the major areas of the page, keyboard shortcuts for all major functions that can be viewed in the app by pressing ? and the ability to navigate lists of files and folders using arrow keys similar to Windows Explorer. Screen reader users can now hear announcements when uploads are in progress and confirmations for actions within Document Libraries. Similar enhancements are coming in SharePoint Lists as well.

Screenshot of keyboard shortcuts in SharePoint Document Libraries

Press ? to access keyboard shortcuts in SharePoint Document Libraries.

High Contrast mode allows people with vision impairments to see data more clearly

In May, I shared details about work underway to make Office 365 more usable with High Contrast themes on PCs, which is critical to ensure that the people with vision impairments, such as cataracts, can interact with data and commands in our applications with less eye strain. Since then, if you have been working in Excel Online on a PC with High Contrast enabled, you’ll notice that tables, active cell and cells-selection outlines are more visible, hyperlinks in sheets are respecting High Contrast theme colors and Sparkline, slicers, shapes and charts are rendered using High Contrast theme colors.

Screenshot of Excel Online in High Contrast Mode with active sheet, selected cells, table outlines and chart outlines clearly visible

Excel Online makes it easy to see the active sheet, selected cells, table outlines and chart outlines in the High Contrast mode.

Proofing and Learning Tools enable people with dyslexia to read and write more effectively

Recently, we announced Editor, a cloud-based advanced proofing and editing service. People with dyslexia who have tried spell-checking with Editor have observed significant improvements, including the ability to find spelling corrections even when the misspelled word is very different from the intended word. More Editor enhancements are coming in the next few months for Word on PCs—all inspired by the needs of people with dyslexia and beneficial for everybody. In particular, Editor will make it easier to choose between suggested spellings for a misspelled word. Synonyms or definitions will be shown alongside suggestions and it will be possible to have both read aloud.

Screenshot of Editor in Word for PCs with synonyms shown alongside suggested spellings and an option to have a suggestion read aloud.

Editor in Word for PCs will make it easier to choose between suggested spellings.

Recently, we also made Learning Tools for OneNote generally available. Learning Tools now gives you the ability to dictate text in Spanish, French, German and Italian and have text read back to you in multiple languages. Download Learning Tools for free and see if it transforms your reading experience as it did for these students with dyslexia.

Accessibility Checker available in Office for Mac and more

We know that some of you prefer to check and fix the accessibility of your content after you finish authoring it and find tools, such as the Accessibility Checker for Office on PCs, helpful to identify areas in your files with images or videos that are missing alternative text. You now have the ability to run the Accessibility Checker from more places including, Word, Excel and PowerPoint apps for Mac and Sway web and Windows Store apps. We are working to offer this capability for Word, Excel and PowerPoint Online apps and Outlook for PCs and Macs next. In apps where Accessibility Checker has been available for many years such as Word, Excel and PowerPoint for PCs, we are making it easier to discover and use.

Screenshot of Accessibility Checker in Excel for Mac, run from the Review tab with errors such as missing alt text for a chart shown

Accessibility Checker can be run from the Review tab of Office for Mac apps.

Export as tagged PDF from Word for Mac and more

This month, we also made available a highly requested ask from the Microsoft Accessibility Forum: Word applications for Mac now give you the ability to export documents as tagged PDFs and will soon be in conformance with the PDF/UA standard. We are working to offer this capability for Excel and PowerPoint apps for Mac next.

Screenshot of File -> Save As in Word for Mac with "Best for electronic distribution and accessibility" option selected

Export as accessible PDF from Word for Mac.

Ways for you to get more information

Eager to learn more about Accessibility Enhancements in Office 365 in person? Join us at the Microsoft Ignite conference next month in Atlanta for these sessions on Office 365 Accessibility Enhancements, SharePoint Online Accessibility and Strategies for an Inclusive Workplace. (Sessions will also be recorded and available to stream online.)

Responsible for ensuring that the products your organization develops or purchases meet accessibility requirements? You can now get conformance statements that demonstrate how Office 365 applications such as Delve, OneDrive, Outlook, Publisher, SharePoint, Sway and Yammer conform to the accessibility criteria of modern accessibility standards via our new pages for WCAG 2.0 AA reports and EN 301 549 reports. Voluntary Product Accessibility Templates continue to be published at the existing page for US Section 508 VPATs. Reports for more Office 365 applications will be added to these pages in the coming months as we make progress towards our publicly committed plans to meet the requirements of modern accessibility standards across the suite by the end of 2016.

React quickly to new data and information using Office 365 and Windows 10

An online immersion session is not your typical online event. These 90-minute interactive sessions start with an online roundtable discussing your business challenges and then launch into a live environment in the cloud. A skilled facilitator guides you through simulated business scenarios that are customized to your interests.

We will send you a link to connect your own device to a remote desktop loaded with our latest and greatest technology, so you can experience first-hand how Microsoft tools can solve your biggest challenges in a collaborative, fun environment.

Online immersion sessions help you discover how to:

  • Keep information secure while being productive—Make it easier to work securely and maintain compliance without inhibiting your workflow.
  • Capture, review and share notes from anywhere—Boost your team’s productivity by sharing documents and collaborating in real time.
  • Use social tools to find experts and answers—Break down barriers between departments to share knowledge quickly.
  • Quickly visualize and analyze complex data—Zero in on the data and insights you need without having to involve a BI expert.
  • Co-author and share content quickly—Access and edit documents even while others are editing and reviewing them—all at the same time.

Expect to leave the session with enough time-saving skills to more than offset your time investment within a few short days.

Office 365 Service Assurance—gaining your trust with transparency

As customers consider the transition to the cloud, we often hear that they want to ensure security, privacy and compliance requirements are met. At Microsoft, we believe that customers have the right to know how Office 365:

  • Safeguards confidentiality, integrity, availability and reliability of your data.
  • Let’s you control access to your data.
  • Helps you comply with various regulatory standards.

Service Assurance—Dashboard

We want to ensure that you have access to the information that is relevant for you to perform a risk assessment on Office 365 services—on demand. Access to this information should be seamless. To achieve these goals, we have released the Service Assurance Dashboard as part of the Office 365 Security and Compliance Center, which provides you immediate access to:

  • Details on how Office 365 implements security, privacy and compliance controls including details of how third-party independent auditors perform audits to test these controls.
  • Third-party independent audit reports including: SSAE 16 / SOC 1, SOC 2 / AT 101, ISO 27001 and ISO 27018.
  • Deep insights into how we implement encryption, incident management, tenant isolation and data resiliency.
  • Information on how you can leverage Office 365 security controls and configurations to protect your data.

Service Assurance—Audited Controls

While there are many detailed insights provided through Service Assurance, initial customer feedback indicates that Audited Controls are particularly helpful. The Audited Controls feature in Service Assurance helps you to understand how Office 365 protects your data by detailing:

  • Test status—Status of the Office 365 controls.
  • Control implementation details—Explanation of how Office 365 implements a control.
  • Testing performed to evaluate control effectiveness—How independent auditors test the effectiveness of our security, compliance and privacy controls.
  • Test date—When a control was validated.
  • Office 365 controls—How the Office 365 internal controls map to standard controls.

Service Assurance—Compliance Reports

Office 365 Service Assurance 3

In this open and transparent model, we don’t just tell you “what” controls we have implemented, but also give you insights into “how” Microsoft implements and tests these controls. The Compliance Reports and Trust Documents provide you independent audit reports, deep-dive white papers and FAQs that are relevant to your geography and industry. Service Assurance helps you to stay secure and compliant with an “end-to-end” view of controls implemented by you as well as by Microsoft. For controls owned by you, it provides actionable implementation plans for relevant features that help you to implement these controls and manage your risks.

Improve compliance with Office 365 E5 plan

Microsoft is the industry leader in cloud compliance for enterprise customers. With the Office 365 E5 plan, advanced compliance is integrated into the service, so organizations can meet their unique requirements using a single cloud service.

Microsoft recognizes that organizations want control over access to content stored in cloud services. To maximize data security and privacy for Office 365 customers, Microsoft has engineered the service to require nearly zero interaction with customer content by Microsoft employees. Access is obtained through a rigorous access control technology called Customer Lockbox for Office 365, which helps you meet compliance obligations for explicit data access authorization. In the rare instance when a Microsoft service engineer needs access to your data, access control is extended to you so that you grant final approval for access. Actions taken are logged and accessible to you so that they can be audited.

Office 365 Advanced eDiscovery simplifies the eDiscovery process, reducing the volume of data by finding near-duplicate files, reconstructing email threads and identifying key themes and data relationships. Leveraging machine learning and predictive coding, it helps compliance administrators intelligently explore and analyze large, unstructured datasets and quickly zero in on what’s relevant to save time and money.

Stay safe in the cloud with Office 365 E5 plan

Advanced Threat Protection helps protect organizations from unknown malware and viruses. Advanced Threat Protection includes three key capabilities:

  • Safe Attachments—Protects against unknown malware and viruses by opening documents attached to emails in cordoned-off virtual environments to detect malicious behavior.
  • Safe Links—Provides real-time, time-of-click protection against malicious URLs by wrapping external links in special URLs that check the destination URL for threats before opening them.
  • Click Trace—Provides rich reporting and URL trace capabilities by keeping a record of every user who has clicked a Safe Link-wrapped URL for additional protection.

With Advanced Security Management, security administrators have access to the granular controls and policies they need to monitor access and reduce the possibility of attacks. Advanced Security Management provides these three functions:

  • General Anomaly Detection alerts and granular activity policies—Helps admins react quickly to suspicious activity with Advanced Security Alerts.
  • App Permissions—Enables IT to approve or revoke access for third-party apps or services that users authorize to connect to Office 365.
  • Cloud App Discovery—Enables IT to monitor what cloud services users connect to, so they can gain insights, identify anomalies and manage risky behavior.