Microsoft creates Office addins that take 1:1 to the next level

We all know that 1:1 is the holy grail of ed tech. A few people have made it work brilliantly, many more have managed to waste incredible sums on computers for kids, and even more have just kept doing things the old way, but with computers.
Written by Christopher Dawson, Contributor on

We all know that 1:1 is the holy grail of ed tech. A few people have made it work brilliantly, many more have managed to waste incredible sums on computers for kids, and even more have just kept doing things the old way, but with computers. By the old way, I'm talking about traditional stand and deliver instruction couple with computers for taking notes, easily writing assignments, and researching on the Net. In fact, all too often, 1:1 doesn't represent something that can't be done in a computer lab or even with pencil and paper.

Microsoft is looking to change all of that, releasing add-ins for Microsoft Office specifically designed to leverage Office in really innovative ways in a 1:1 computing environment, hopefully engaging students in ways that only the most savvy and progressive educators have been able to do before. While I'd love to promote cost saving on already expensive 1:1 initiatives by suggesting that schools not license Office and, instead, rely on cloud-based tools like Google Apps, wikis, and content management systems for students to generate and share content, these new Office add-ins are so compelling and useful that it would be unwise for schools to ignore at least the possibility of including Office 2010 in any 1:1 deployment.

Let's look at the add-ins first and then you can decide for yourself if they're worth the price of admission (in terms of licensing, use of proprietary software in general, use of Windows and Office in particular, and the use of laptops/netbooks instead of iOS/Android-based tablets). The add-ins are part of Microsoft's Interactive Classroom initiative and are fully supported by the company (meaning that they aren't beta or Labs features). They include elements for mathematics instruction, PowerPoint interactivity, classroom management, and direct connections to PowerPoint decks from within a student's OneNote instance. In fact, it wouldn't be a stretch to suggest that Office/Windows could almost pay for themselves in an academic setting by eliminatating the need for interactive response systems (clickers) and even displacing the interactive whiteboard as the classroom tool of choice for connected educators.

The most compelling add-in, from my perspective is a connector between PowerPoint and OneNote. Students can join a shared PowerPoint presentation (presumably the teacher's, but there is no reason that this wouldn't work for a student presentation either) from within OneNote. The connection happens seamlessly via peer-to-peer networking and actually just uses port 80, meaning that for those of you clamping down on P2P traffic, it should be a non-issue. It's largely automagic. In fact, the add-in (for both PowerPoint and OneNote) actually creates OneNote pages and tabs as needed to support the content of the slide deck.

Students thus already have a teacher's notes available to them in OneNote and can take additional notes, highlight, and add their own content on the fly. Similarly, students can connect to a OneNote notebook in this way and see highlighting, sidebars, and additional notes as they are added. Students can also share notes with one another and draw attention to questions, comments, and other content.

I mentioned that these add-ins have the potential to eliminate the need for interactive response systems. An additional plug-in for PowerPoint allows teachers to create polls and solicit student responses from their own computers, taking advantage of the quick, anonymous, formative assessment that only interactive response systems (or the use of external web tools) had previously allowed.

Finally, Microsoft has added a mathematics plug-in that significantly overhauls and extends the existing mathematics functionality in Office. While Office has supported equation editing for a while, this add-in provides 2D and 3D plotting capability and math tools appropriate through pre-calculus studies that can be leveraged in PowerPoint and OneNote. Suddenly, an area of real weakness in 1:1 (math and science notes and presentations) is an area of strength. Here's a video overview from Microsoft on the Math add-in:

It's been easy to overlook Microsoft as something of a necessary evil in education for some time. Everyone uses Office, therefore, our kids should learn Office, right? Which, of course, is precisely the wrong approach in ICT, where the emphasis should be on concepts rather than tools. However, with these add-ins for Office 2007 and 2010 (the latter already a powerful suite for students in its own right, especially with OneNote), Office has pushed to the forefront of mainstream 1:1 tools. While it certainly doesn't rule out 1:1 implementations that leverage tablets, phones, Linux, and any other hardware/software paradigm that might meet your needs, it is now a powerful tool that teachers can easily use out of the gates to engage students who have the advantage of 1:1 at their disposal.

Check out this video of the add-ins in use:

The add-ins can be downloaded now at www.microsoft.com/education/products/office/2010/default.aspx#add-ins.

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