Microsoft took aim at the classroom when it launched a version of one OneNote for students and teachers last October, and on Monday it released a handful of updates roughly a month into the current school year.
The new features for the service, called OneNote Class Notebook, primarily improve the process of sharing it among groups of students so they can start using it in class.
Class Notebooks offer a variety of features that help with day-to-day life in a classroom. Instructors can add information and assignments to a content library which is shared with the rest of the class. Students can use the Class Notebook to collaborate with classmates in a shared space, and have their own private notebook to take notes and work on assignments. Teachers can go into students' notebooks to provide feedback on those assignments, too.
The biggest update added Monday is the ability to share a Class Notebook to an entire group all at once. That way, IT administrators can set up Office 365 or Active Directory groups that include students for every class, and teachers can then just share a Notebook with the group.
Once a Notebook has been shared, teachers can easily update who it's shared with when students are added or removed from the group. It's a vast improvement for schools with larger classes and teachers with multiple classes. In the past, each student had to be added to a Class Notebook by hand. If an instructor teaches four classes with 30 students apiece, they or someone else would have to manually register all 120 students prior to this update.
These features are a boon to teachers this time of year, when students with control over their educational destiny have made their minds up about departing courses and adding new ones. In addition, teachers can now remove co-teachers from their notebooks, in the event one of their fellow instructors no longer needs access to class materials.
Finally, Microsoft added support for writing in Class Notebooks using Right-to-Left languages like Arabic, Hebrew and Persian. That may seem like a minor change, but it could help drive further adoption of the feature, since Arabic is the fifth most popular language in the world, per Ethnologue.
The upgrades come at a time when Microsoft is facing fierce competition in the education sector from other companies like Google. That technology giant made a handful of announcements last month focused on providing new features to educators using its productivity applications.
Getting a foothold in education can be important to companies' futures, especially in the consumer sphere, since early exposure could make kids customers for life. In addition, large contracts with schools and school districts can be a good source of revenue. These features are just the next salvo in what's sure to be a long tug of war over which technologies will be in front of the technology users of the future.
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