Microsoft Office Cozies Up to Professional Learning Communities

Collaboration isn't just for companies. Microsoft wants to help teachers connect and share their knowledge just ahead of the back-to-school season.

Microsoft Office 365 Education

Imbuing Office 365 with collaborative capabilities has become a cornerstone of Microsoft's enterprise productivity software strategy. Now, Microsoft is betting that schools can also benefit from software that makes it easier for teachers to connect and sharpen their skills.

This week, Microsoft announced a PLC Groups beta for Office 365 Education, the free version of Microsoft's Office software and cloud services suite for teachers and students. PLCs, or professional learning communities, are groups that foster engagement among educators, helping members share their expertise and approaches to creating an effective classroom experience for students.

Adapted from the Yammer-inspired Office 365 Groups feature in the enterprise versions of the software, the new PLC Groups' functionality is customized for the way teachers work, according to Ari Schorr, product marketing manager at Microsoft Education.

"Office 365 Education users who are faculty can now create PLC groups, similar to any other Office 365 group, and access shared conversation spaces, file space, OneNote notebooks and calendars," wrote Schorr in a blog post. "PLC groups also integrate directly with Microsoft Planner, released in general availability with Office 365 earlier this month.

Microsoft Planner is the company's answer to Blossom, Trello and other team and project management solutions. The application takes a visual approach to assigning tasks, prioritizing assignments and other team-related tasks by organizing projects into a board- and card-based layout.

Its Organization Visibility feature provides more granular control over who can see class content. With Organization Visibility, only people who sign in with an Office 365 work or school account from the same organization (i.e., school or district) can view the content.

Microsoft is also adding a new Organization Visibility control to its public Office content repository. The feature allows schools or districts to limit access to class content stored on the service to Office 365 accounts that belong to the same organizations.

Microsoft Forms, a tool for creating and conducting surveys, registrations and quizzes, gains a new auto-grading feature. Also new is real-time personalized feedback, enabling teachers and students to focus on a particular portion of a quiz.

Other Office-related updates this week include the addition of conditional columns in Excel 2016. The feature allows users to create new columns based on the contents of another column while using the software's built-in Power Query data exploration tools organized under the Get & Transform section. Instead of juggling if-then-else statements, users can now use Query Editor's Conditional Columns tool under the Add Column menu to add new rules using a mouse-friendly interface.

Pedro Hernandez

Pedro Hernandez

Pedro Hernandez is a contributor to eWEEK and the IT Business Edge Network, the network for technology professionals. Previously, he served as a managing editor for the network of...