Microsoft gives Immersive Reader the AI treatment

Microsoft is turning its Immersive Learning tool into an Azure Cognitive Service and partnering with do-it-yourself computer-building kit maker Kano to develop a $300 Windows 10 S Mode PC kit.

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Credit: Kano

Ahead of next week's ISTE EdTech conference in Philadelphia, Microsoft is unveiling some new features in its education-focused tools. Among the products getting updates are its Immersive Reader learning tool and Teams for Education, a version of its Teams group-chat product for students and teachers.

Immersive Reader -- which Microsoft makes available as a free standalone tool and also includes as part of OneNote Learning Tools --  is a full-screen reading feature that's meant to help those with dyslexia and other reading challenges, new readers and those learning new languages, to be able to improve their reading skills. 

Microsoft is integrating Immersive Reader into Minecraft: Education Edition so as to help with reading game text, character dialogue, chalkboards and more. It also is integrating Immersive Reader into Microsoft Forms and Microsoft Whiteboard.

Microsoft also is making Immersive Reader available in the form of an Azure Cognitive Service. Cognitive Services are application programming interfaces which allow developers to add various capabilities such as speech recognition, language understanding, sentiment analysis, and other AI services to their applications. The thinking here is to enable developers to help students and parents, including non-native English speakers, read text inside applications. A number of third-party companies have committed to integrating Immersive Reader in their applications, including Buncee, CollabCo, Follett, Oxford University Press, PowerSchool, Skooler and more. 

Microsoft also is enabling schools to download a bunch of new voices in 50 different languages in Narrator without having to download language packs. This is meant to support non-English speakers and English-speaking students learning new languages.

Microsoft is rolling out a number of updates to Teams for Education this month aimed at simplifying and improving the product. Among these updates are new, more focused ways to create and track assignments; a new "Share To Teams" button for sharing resources with a single click to classes from third-party sources integrated with Teams.

In other education-related news, Kano, a company that makes kids' Raspberry Pi 3s build-your-own computer kits, announced a new touchcreen laptop that runs Windows 10 in S Mode. The Kano PC is a $300 Atom-powered device with has an 11.6-inch touchscreen. It will come with Teams and Paint 3D (along with other apps) as part of the package. The device is available for preorder now and will be available first in the U.S., Canada and the U.K. at the end of October 2019.