At the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) Conference, taking place in Chicago June 24 -27, Microsoft is making a case for mixed reality in public and school libraries.
Mixed reality, Microsoft's Windows-based take on augmented and virtual reality, is already making inroads in the enterprise. Now, through the company's new Limitless Libraries grant program, Microsoft is hoping to spark adoption in learning environments and increase engagement by depositing students into immersive experiences.
Open to public libraries, along with middle schools and high schools (grades 6 to 12) in the U.S., approved applicants will receive two mixed-reality headsets and two computers along with technical training for staff. They also get email support, updates on new content and access to other grantees, according to a June 25 announcement.
Microsoft is accepting applications until July 9. Applicants focused on promoting STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) and who cater to underserved kids will be given priority.
Microsoft also used the event to get teachers and school administrators caught up on how Office 365 fits into today's classrooms, despite its corporate roots.
One example is Microsoft Teams, the chat-based collaboration app that the software giant adapted for school use in May 2017 and now offers teachers new ways to manage and grade assignments. In a recent update available in Office 365 Education plans, Teams now supports rubrics grading. "Utilize rubric grading and skills-based grading of your assignments making it easier to deliver feedback to your students," explained representatives of the Microsoft Education Team in a blog post.
"Students will also be able to see how they'll be assessed upfront, before they start working on the assignment," they continued. "Teachers can save a lot of time with a grading tool that’s easily applied to multiple assignments at once."
Microsoft's Learning Tools, AI-assisted software helpers in Word and other Office applications that are used by more than 13 million people, claims Microsoft, can now be configured to show symbols that represent nouns, verbs and other parts of speech in Immersive Reader. This comes in handy for color blind users who may have trouble discerning color-coded text in the distraction-reducing viewing mode. Responding to teacher feedback, Microsoft has also added adverbs to the parts of speech that Immersive Reader now highlights in more than 10 languages.
Other new additions include a new Math Assistant feature in OneNote Online. Acting as digital math tutor, the stylus-enabled feature helps guide students to the correct answer using step-by-step instructions. Teachers can also now use Microsoft Forms to create and distribute math worksheets and quizzes.
Helping students learn more about the Earth, particularly its waters, Microsoft partnered with BBC Learning on new STEM lesson plans that tie into “Oceans: Our Blue Planet,” a film from BBC Earth and OCEANX. The software maker has also enlisted “Minecraft: Education Edition,” a version of the popular sandbox video game used in classrooms, with an aquatic-themed update that helps students learn about sustainable fishing and maintaining coral reefs, among other underwater activities.