Snow Day? Try Office 365 for education on for size!

If you’re in the UK (other countries are available) you’ll probably look out of your window this morning and see something like this:

WP_20130118_001Teachers and pupils up and down the country tune into their local radio stations eagerly awaiting news of school closures, crossing fingers and toes that theirs is on the list. Traditionally when snow hits and schools close it’s seen as a free day because communication grinds to a halt.

I’ve heard stories of broadband connections to schools being swamped and failing as people scramble to get to the school website for updates, only to find an error as the server’s offline or the, hitherto totally reliable, mail server develops a problem meaning you can’t send any email. Maybe it’s time to look at different ways to keep the school functioning when the mercury falls below zero?

Office 365 for education

Office 365 for education can help get you out of this sticky situation in a number of ways:

  • Exchange Online gives every one of your pupils and teachers a 25GB mailbox hosted in a Microsoft datacentre that is accessible 24x7 from anywhere. You can even sync it to your smartphone, tablet device or pretty much anything that supports IMAP, or Exchange ActiveSync.
  • Lync Online provides everyone with the means to have instant message conversations, audio and video chats, share content, collaborate in a whiteboard, and gives everyone their own “presence” to let others know their availability. Clients are available for most major platforms and because Lync Online is hosted by Microsoft it is accessible anywhere, all the time!
  • SharePoint Online (with the Office Web Apps) is a great place to move your processes and documents. By making use of the libraries and workflows in SharePoint Online you can finally get rid of those paper forms and tiny file shares – it’s possible to store up to 25TB of data in the cloud. Teachers can set homework assignments, provide resources, share notes, and all sorts of other great things via SharePoint Online. Every user also gets their own personal storage space to keep their files, tag their favourite content, or even write a blog.

Just because you’re outside the classroom doesn’t mean teaching and learning has to stop! Here are a few examples:

  • The head teacher needs to call a meeting of all staff to brief them on the snow process. They send out a calendar invite using the Lync Online web scheduler and Exchange Online to all the teachers for them to join a meeting online using Lync. The head can then present some slides, and attach a hand-out to the meeting for the teachers to download. Also, the head can record the meeting and upload the recording to the staff area in SharePoint Online for people who couldn’t make the meeting to review at their leisure.
  • A sixth form teacher had planned to run a revision session for some A-Level students but due to the closure nobody can get in. Instead of cancelling the session the teacher can send out invites to the students using the web scheduler and host the meeting online using Lync. The teacher can share audio, video, whiteboard and presentation content – even the whole desktop if needed. Again, the session can be recorded and uploaded to SharePoint Online for later review.
  • A teacher who’d set a homework deadline of the day the school closed can still collect in homework assignments via SharePoint Online by getting pupils to upload their work from home, rather than print it out to bring in. The teacher can mark the work electronically using the Office Web Apps in SharePoint Online and send feedback to the pupils easily.

You can sign up for Office 365 for education for free today! Every signup gets a 30 day free trial of the enhanced A3 plan, which includes a downloadable copy of Office Professional Plus 2010.


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