11 components for the ideal digital workspace for education
More and more educational institutions are turning to a digital learning environment, or digital workspace. They do this to improve education, processes and cater to needs and wishes of both teachers and students, as well as other employees. But how do they create a digital workspace that perfectly suits them? In this article, we explore what the ideal digital workspace for education needs, and the elements they can use to create it.
The digital workspace for education: the basics
Digital workspaces offer many opportunities for education. For teachers, students, educational organisations and school boards alike. But what are the basic requirements of such an environment, in order to truly benefit from it?
It needs to cater to all user groups
Within an educational organisation, you’re dealing with different user groups; students, teachers, administrative staff, etcetera. All using different systems, all having different needs and wishes.
You could use one platform and set it up for all these groups in the same way, resulting in – you may guess it – chaos. You could also use a different digital workspace for each user group, but that would cause misalignment within the organisation, not to mention maintenance efforts and costs for not just one, but several different workspaces, which are all disconnected from each other.
You therefore want one platform which can be customised to fit several user groups, and fit them perfectly. It needs to offer role-based applications and information, without being disconnected from people in other roles.
It needs to put the user first
This requirement is similar to, but not the same as catering to all user groups. It’s a matter of mindset; how you handle the process.
You can cater to a group from your own perception, offering them what you think they need. However, the correct approach is to offer them what they actually need. Therefore, research is required to uncover the exact needs and pain points from these different groups, in order to set up the ideal workspace for them.
Everything needs to be united in one place
People use all kinds of different systems, from different suppliers, for different tasks, processes and information. It’s no surprise then that the search process of students in higher education is often confusing, takes a long time and requires many steps. Which is also one of the biggest frustrations among students, besides the fact that information is not readily available on a smartphone, and the endless referrals before they can get to the right information. This also results in employees spending a lot of time answering questions, which wouldn’t have been asked if the information was provided better.
A digital workspace for education has to unite all this information and these applications in one place, with no extra logins, so that they’re easily accessible. According to students themselves, it needs to give access to the right information quickly, be available anytime and anywhere, and be clear.
11 components to create the ideal digital workspace for education
Now that we’ve covered the basics, let’s get into the specifics. What components can you use to create a digital workspace that actually lets you derive value from it?
1. A schedule app
One of the most important pieces of information for both students and teachers, is which class they have, when, and where. With a schedule app in the digital workspace, they’ll instantly be informed on their class schedule in one glance.
Within Workspace 365, we have developed a Schedule Micro App to bring information from your scheduling software straight to your adaptive workspace, reducing the amount of times you spend switching between applications. Right now, we have a connection with Zermelo, but it’s possible to connect other scheduling systems to it as well.
Do you want to connect your system to the Schedule Micro App? Request your connection on our Support Portal.
Didn’t we just cover this? Though a calendar may seem the same as a schedule, in this case it’s not. Because classes are not the only important moments to remember. Think for example of internal meetings, exams, resits, project deadlines and homework; the times and dates of these are very important as well, and need to be noted – as well as easily and instantly insightful. Ideally, your calendar and schedule are available in one overview. However, we have a solution if this is not the case.
We would recommend to also use a calendar application within your digital workspace. We have a Calendar live tile for this, in which you can instantly view your appointments and important dates. The great thing about using our Calendar live tile with your Outlook calendar, is that it’s connected to other elements of your workspace, (which we’ll go further into later), and you can use it to instantly join online meetings on Teams and Skype.
You could also integrate other types of calendars, for instance a Google Calendar, with the use of an iFrame.
3. Service systems and tickets
Many educational institutions have moved process such as financial administration, personnel and payroll in-house, instead of working with an external administration office. This saves money to spend on the primary process: education.
For this, you can integrate your ERP and/or your HRM system. This way, the administration office can unite their systems with everything else they need to work, while teachers can, for example, easily submit expense claims or leave requests. Performing these tasks and seeing this information straight from the workspace saves valuable time.
4. Microsoft Power Apps
We’ve mentioned adding applications through iFrames and discussed some possibilities of Micro Apps. Now, let’s talk Power Apps!
With Microsoft Power Apps, you can create powerful online forms and applications – without using code – that interact with your data from different platforms. For this component, I’d like to refer you to this great article from Microsoft about a school teacher creating his own Power Apps to automate processes that would otherwise cost valuable time, and improving the overall quality of the education he offered.
Teacher Brian Dang for example created a banking app, with which students have a fun way to earn points for certain achievements and reaching milestones.
Power Apps are great to save teachers time on routine tasks, such as pairing up students for assignments. Add up all this time over the course of a year, and you’ve got yourself some significant time-savings.
Naturally, these Power Apps can also be used for other (such as administrative) processes. All of which can be integrated right into your workspace!
5. Microsoft Power Automate
Another compelling feature from Microsoft to bring your digital workspace for education to the next level, is Power Automate. With this, you can easily create your own automated workflows. Subsequently streamlining routine tasks and improving productivity.
You could use Microsoft Power Automate to simplify submission and review processes, and set up automations such as “Notify me when a student completes a quiz”. This can save teachers, as well as students and administrative staff significant amounts of time.
There are several flows that are readily available; you can check them out here. The great thing about many tasks, activities and notifications created with Microsoft Power Automate, is that they can be connected to the Workspace 365 Activity Feed.
6. Activity Feed tasks and notifications
The Workspace 365 Activity Feed is a powerful feature with endless integration possibilities. It enables you to bring your most important tasks, notifications and news to your workspace, so you’re instantly informed and able to perform actions with them.
Besides notifications from the workspace itself, such as appointments from your Calendar live tile (and the ability to instantly join online meetings) or announcements from the Announcement Centre (which we’ll cover later on), you are also able to connect your external applications using an API. This makes it possible to connect countless systems to your adaptive workspace, display important information without having to constantly open and check other systems and sites, and enables a more task-based way of working.
- For students, you could think of notifications on available grades, new assignments, cancelled classes or changes made to group project documents.
- For teachers, a student’s grade average dropping below a certain point, resubmitted homework or invitations to co-teach a class could be interesting.
- For other employees in education, such as administrative staff or the support desk, notifications can be set up around, for example, new requests for teaching materials, employee illness or leave requests, or when changes need to be made in payroll.
As long as your external system allows it as well, you can integrate it into the Workspace 365 Activity Feed. With tools such as Zapier, you can create “if this, than that” kind of actions to customise your notifications. You could also use Microsoft Power Automate for this, as we’ve mentioned before.
7. Intranet and communication
Of course, means of communication can’t be missed in the ideal digital workspace for education. The line between the intranet and the digital workspace is fading, and you see them becoming more and more the same thing in the market. At Workspace 365, we believe everything should be united in one place, including the intranet.
Here are some examples of communication tools and intranet elements you can integrate into your digital workspace:
Microsoft Teams: with over 115 million daily users, Microsoft Teams is one of the most popular communication and collaboration tools on the market. Within Workspace 365, you are able to use the Microsoft Teams live tile. From here, you can easily access your Team Channels, Team documents and Microsoft Teams itself. It’s noteworthy that if Microsoft Teams is the starting point of your day, it is also possible to integrate Workspace 365 into it. This will give students and teachers one central location in which they can access all their information, documents and applications.
Yammer: another powerful communication platform. With our Yammer Micro App, you bring the social feed from your communication platform straight to your dashboard. Here you can for example organise polls to retrieve feedback from staff who work in multiple locations, or communicate with classmates.
Announcements: an important component that benefits people at any level of your educational organisation. While students can be brought up to speed on important school events and developments, either school-wide or at class-level, teachers can post these announcements for their class(es), and receive them as well. Think for example policy changes or staff news. Announcements can also be utilised organisation-wide, to alert all staff on news. To do so, Workspace 365 offers the Announcement live tile and Announcement Centre.
Contacts: have the contact information of teachers, staff and students at your fingertips; no more searching through endless lists to find a person’s email or phone number. Quickly search people based on name or function, and instantly contact them with our Contacts live tile. This can be linked to your (Azure) Active Directory.
(SharePoint) RSS feeds: with RSS feeds, you easily integrate relevant external news feeds into your digital workspace. You can even integrate your SharePoint news feed.
Videos: video has proven to be an efficient way to get a message across. Integrate videos or entire playlists into your workspace to emphasise your message! Whether it’s a video to enforce school spirit, explain this week’s subject or provide important instructions. SharePoint news feed.
Existing intranet: already using an intranet platform? No problem, just integrate it into your digital workspace! Add your intranet to a tab in your workspace, and access it instantly.
Birthdays: school is not solely about learning; it’s a social hub as well! With the Birthdays live tile you see when you should congratulate your students, classmates or colleagues (and perhaps expect a treat).
8. Statistics & data
Business analytics tools can be very helpful to everyone in the organisation. To compare multiple sources of data, recognise relationships between them and to be informed well enough to act on them accordingly. In fact, the majority of students (61%) indicates that they perform better when they have insight into their study progress.
For this, you could integrate dashboards from for example Power BI or Tableau. From here you can get insight into matters such as enrolment data, course grades, GPA, annual course performance, class grade averages and attendance statistics. And possibly find connections between these different statistics, to improve performance for everyone.
9. Office applications
Let’s not forget about the basics! It’s always good to include some staple office elements into your digital workspace.
Think for example e-mail, which is still one of the most important communication/messaging tools around.
What also can come in handy: a helpful to-do list! With the To-Do live tile, you manage all your different task lists from one point in your workspace.
10. Document Management System
Also vital are documents. Offer a document management system in which people can easily work with, collaborate on, store and access their files from anywhere, and on any device.
In the Workspace 365 Documents App, you unite all your documents from SharePoint, OneDrive and the file server in one simple and easy-to-use interface. This can enable significant cost reductions on licensing as well when transitioning to the cloud, but when you still have a file server.
Admins can also use it to pin and highlight certain important documents and folders for others. This is a helpful way to make things like policies easily accessible.
11. Customise and personalise with shortcuts and iFrames
With Workspace 365, we offer many options to further customise your digital workspace, whether that’s on an organisational, or on a personal level.
With shortcuts, you can provide easy and instant access to important resources, such as grading systems or learning materials. Here, you can use Single Sign-On to ensure people don’t have to login again.
With iFrames, you can create your own web content live tiles – which means that you have almost endless integration possibilities. You can use them to integrate for instance Microsoft Forms to do a class survey, lecture presentations from SlideShare and even let people take a virtual class trip through a museum with Google Maps.
You can give people the option to personalise their own workspace with shortcuts and web content as well. This enables them to customise it to their exact needs.
Some people may want to add a public transport schedule to view right beside their class schedule, or a Spotify playlist with study music or an informative podcast. They can also be used to add (shortcuts to) resources they personally find helpful, such as Thesaurus or an online dictionary.
The digital education workspace of the future
When (planning on) building your ideal digital workspace for education, it’s important to consider that people’s needs and the market are constantly changing. You don’t want to constantly keep making major investments in new systems, and completely change the entire system over and over again – wasting time, money and resources.
Any workspace you build, requires a certain amount of flexibility and adaptability to move with these changes and stay future-proof.
Workspace 365 is constantly adapting, evolving and improving. With consistent updates, we continuously release new features and improvements to the workspace, in order to enable you to stay future-proof.
Moreover, with Workspace 365 you are able to easily mix up and switch components, such as different kinds of software, without changing the entire system. Whatever technology you use underneath, on the surface it will always remain the same, user-friendly interface.
What components and integrations would you like to see in your digital workspace for education? Check our Roadmap to see if your integration is already on it, or submit a Feature Request to submit your idea!
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