Microsoft offers free cloud-based Office software for schools

“Students must be more than consumers. They need to be creators. They need to know how to communicate and collaborate with others,” he wrote in a recent blog post. “Office 365 is … used all over the world, and companies are demanding expertise in [these tools]. And [now] there is no compromise for going to the cloud with Microsoft. The experience and features that you expect on the desktop and offline are also there in the cloud. Schools can connect all devices to the cloud, and every student and teacher regardless of location, to realize the potential of online learning.”

It’s not just students whom Microsoft hopes to target with its latest release. Teachers also will be able to take advantage of different collaborative tools that can help with curriculum enhancement, the company says.

According to Salcito, teachers can create curriculum, record lectures, and publish them to online class sites in the cloud, where students are able to view, open, produce, edit, and share their work.

“Office 365 provides new ways to extend classroom teaching time. … Students can engage in ad-hoc instant messaging or video chats to collaborate on class projects in real time, regardless of where they’re working or on what device,” said Salcito. “They can create documents with Office Web Apps, share class notes by synchronizing OneNote notebooks, and create digital portfolios.”

And schools can save on IT administration costs, says Microsoft, by counting on the company to manage routine tasks such as applying server updates and software upgrades. The demands on school data centers will decrease, and with 25GB mailboxes, users won’t be forced to purge files.

“After extensive research, we chose Office 365 for education because it allows us to leverage the benefits of cloud-based services while readily meeting our security and accessibility requirements for eMail and calendar support,” said Ted Dodds, chief information officer for Cornell University. “The shift to the cloud allows us to focus more directly on our core missions related to education, research, and outreach.”

The feature Salcito says he’s most excited about is Lync Online, which will enable teachers to create personalized learning experiences. Already, the University of Massachusetts at Amherst and the National University of Ireland, Galway are using Office 365 to create virtual teams and prepare students to be more effective in the business world.

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Meris Stansbury

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