Microsoft's educational push has taken a new, more video-based direction.
The Redmond, Wash., software giant announced on June 18 that it has acquired Minneapolis-based Flipgrid, a social learning platform that leans heavily on video content to drive engagement in the classroom. Financial terms surrounding the deal were not disclosed.
Flipgrid encourages class participation using video sharing and collaborative learning techniques inspired by popular social media apps such as Instagram and Snapchat.
Teachers create "Grids," a virtual classroom or community, and spur discussions by introducing a topic or posing a question. Students then respond by recording short video clips of their own and sharing them on the platform, which in turn gather replies from teachers and other classmates. Extending beyond the classroom, Flipgrid features private sharing controls that allow teachers to invite family members, enabling parents to view their children's responses and become more involved.
Microsoft is no stranger to Flipgrid. In August 2017, the companies announced an integration that allows OneNote users to embed content from Flipgrid into their OneNote class notebooks.
Flipgrid's robust following suggests that Microsoft was interested in more than just the technology.
As a part of Microsoft, the Flipboard community helps expand the company's presence in the increasingly competitive educational technology market. The platform boasts more than 20 million users in 180 countries and across a wide range of learning environments, from pre-kindergarten classrooms to PhD programs.
For now, Flipgrid will be operated much as it has since it was founded in 2015, with one major exception.
"Fans of Flipgrid can rest assured the Flipgrid they know and love, in joining Microsoft, will continue to grow and thrive across the Microsoft, Google and partner ecosystems, all while retaining its distinct brand, culture and team," stated Eran Megiddo, corporate vice president of Microsoft Education, in a June 18 announcement. "Furthermore, Flipgrid will continue to be a safe, secure place for students and teachers to communicate in alignment with Microsoft’s GDPR, FERPA and COPPA compliant privacy architecture."
GDPR, short for the General Data Protection Regulation, is the European Union's stringent new data privacy law. Similarly, FERPA, the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, and COPPA, the Children's Online Privacy Protection Rule, place regulatory pressures on technology companies to secure data pertaining to kids.
Apart from new ownership, the other major change coming to Flipgrid is its price, or rather, the lack of one. Going forward, Flipgrid will be offered as a free product.
"All educators have been automatically upgraded to Flipgrid Classroom (we'll simply call it Flipgrid going forward)," wrote Joey Taralson, vice president of engagement at Flipgrid, in a blog post. "Additionally, Microsoft is providing a prorated refund to every educator who upgraded in the past year."
Schools are becoming a big battle ground for leading technology companies.
On June 14, Google announced the general availability of a low-code development tool called App Maker. Although it can be used to create custom line-of-business applications, the tool is also being aimed at schools, enabling educators to teach the fundamentals of programming or create applications that aid in the management or administration of their schools.
In the recent version 4.1 release of the Pages app for iOS, Apple added the ability to record, play and edit audio directly in the application, allowing teachers to add supplemental voice notes or explainers to documents or books. Apple also recently added a new toggle, allowing teachers and students to quickly switch between Drawing and Smart Annotation modes in Pages.