Colleges Embrace Microsoft Office Live Workspace for Collaborative Learning

REDMOND, Wash., March 3, 2008 – Matthew Jett Hall’s role at Vanderbilt University finds him on the go at the Nashville, Tenn., campus much of the time.

As assistant vice chancellor for information technology services and associate chief information architect for enterprise infrastructure, Hall wears several hats at once, overseeing portions of Vanderbilt’s IT infrastructure. Meanwhile, as a faculty fellow in the English department, he teaches classes on the phenomenon of massively multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPGs) and the finer points of Web 2.0.

This semester, however, he has a new tool to help him manage his workload, access critical documents while he’s out and about and collaborate with colleagues and students. Hall is in the vanguard of a growing number of people – led by students, faculty members and administrators on college campuses – turning to Microsoft Office Live Workspace to be more productive and efficient.

Award-winning actor Jeremy Piven, star of the television show Entourage, with students who have been using Microsoft Office Live Workspace through its limited beta phase. From left to right: Andrzej Waszkiewicz,Rutgers University; Jasna Dumicic, Rutgers University; Michael Yu,Cornell University; Entourage series creator and executive producer Doug Ellin; Jeremy Piven; Entourage executive producer Rob Weiss; Rommel Medina,Cornell University and Krissie Nagy,New York University, March 3, 2008 at Microsoft’s New York City lounge.

Office Live Workspace is a new web-based extension to Microsoft Office, being offered at no charge, which enables people to set up their own workspace online to which they can save more than 1,000 typical Word, Excel and PowerPoint files. Wherever people’s work, studies or lives take them, the documents they need access to are available to them in their own 500 MB, password-protected, secure workspace accessible from any Internet-connected PC. People can also share their workspace with co-workers, classmates, friends and family, turning it into a collaboration platform for sharing information, brainstorming ideas, coordinating group projects and editing each others’ work.

Free Service Now Available to Everyone

Microsoft announced broad availability of the beta version of Office Live Workspace today. The service is now available in English worldwide. Since announcing pre-registration for the beta back in October, hundreds of thousands of people, including staff and students at numerous colleges and universities, have signed up and received invitations to the service. Schools such as the University of Pennsylvania, the University of Washington and Vanderbilt, are using Office Live Workspace for collaborative learning in the classroom and more broadly across campus to coordinate extracurricular activities. At the University of Wisconsin at Parkside, the campus is promoting the service across its 16,000 active, continuing education and incoming students plus alumni as well as more than 700 faculty members and administrators. To mark the general beta release, Microsoft is launching a sweepstakes with a jackpot of US $100,000 and more than 30,000 additional prizes, including Xbox 360 Elite Video Game Systems, Samsung Blackjack II Smartphones, 30-gigabyte Zune devices and Microsoft Office Professional 2007, up for grabs for Office Live Workspace users.

Many early adopters of Office Live Workspace are undergraduate students, so-called “digital natives,” who have grown up with the Internet and are accustomed to sharing pictures, music and other media online, and using the web for social networking and to form ad hoc communities.

Access Documents and Files Anywhere

For Hallie Page, a 21-year-old finance major at Ohio’s Miami University, Office Live Workspace ensures she has anywhere-access to the notes she generates from the 20 to 30 hours a week of study she puts in as a senior nearing graduation in May.

“If I’m typing up notes in the library, I just put them on Office Live Workspace, so I can get access to them from home. And, vice-versa, I can save documents to Office Live Workspace at home to work on in the library.”

“It’s just really easy having Office Live Workspace in the toolbar on my laptop. Nothing has to go on my hard drive at all. Before, it was a lot more time-consuming to back up data; with Office Live Workspace it’s instant.”

Back at Vanderbilt, Office Live Workspace is helping Hall to manage his teaching load.

He’s been developing his Web 2.0 Computer Science course, Beyond the One-Way Web: From Publishing to Participation, from scratch. “Every week, I create a PowerPoint presentation on the desktop in my office at Vanderbilt then save it to Office Live Workspace,” he explains.

“This allows me to access it at home, where I have Office Live Workspace integrated with Office 2007 on my PC, in order to tweak it without having to carry a flash drive home or send myself emails.”

Back on campus on the day of class, he just reaches for the nearest computer to access his presentation. “The classroom is not near my office — I have to walk across campus – so having a workspace allows me to access my presentation on any PC or laptop right there in the classroom with no need to worry that the version I have isn’t the very latest.”

In an upcoming class, the medium will become the message itself. Hall intends to introduce Office Live Workspace as a prime example of Microsoft’s Software plus Services strategy and as a case study in Web 2.0-style online collaboration, social networking and mobile productivity capabilities.

Providing a New Way to Collaborate

This fall, Hall plans to debut Office Live Workspace as an instructional tool for students in the class on MMORPGs he co-teaches, using it to facilitate peer review of students’ papers to engage them in each other’s work.

He tried other online collaborative solutions, but they didn’t cut it, Hall says. “My teaching assistant was using another service to share basic spreadsheets, but it’s difficult to do anything more complicated. You need the document control, editing capabilities, powerful human-computer interaction and rich functionality that Office offers.”

Working Together with Live@edu

At the University of Wisconsin at Parkside, campus leaders are embracing Office Live Workspace. Along with promoting the service across its campus, the University is also integrating Office Live Workspace into the Microsoft-hosted Live@edu suite it implemented in April 2007 for its email and messaging needs. “This gives us a one-stop shop for students and staff to get email, calendaring and now document creation, storage and collaboration in a single environment with a familiar interface,” says chief information officer Ann Marie Durso.

Parkside is already piloting Office Live Workspace as a collaborative hub for a class on the ethical issues raised by computers and the Internet, in which students can post their work within Office Live Workspace and garner feedback from their instructor. It’s sizing up Office Live Workspace for other classes as well.

Officials at the school believe Office Live Workspace will catch on broadly, especially among the sizeable contingent of Parkside students who hold down jobs in addition to their studies, limiting their ability to be physically present on campus.

“A good percentage of our students are commuters who work in the community as well as attend college,” explains Durso. “Office Live Workspace gives them the ability to interact and do group coursework and collaboration in a platform environment that Microsoft provides. It extends our network.”

Rusty Gardner serves a similar student population at Florida Community College in Jacksonville, Fla., where he’s director of learning innovation.

Gardner will deploy Office Live Workspace later this month, in the class he teaches on marriage and the family. Working in small groups, Gardner’s 35 students will be assigned research projects on topics as diverse as dating, relationships, long-term marriages, divorce and single parenthood. They will use Office Live Workspace to exchange ideas and data toward devising hypotheses that they’ll test out empirically.

“We’ll be able to set up shared workspaces for each class project group and I’ll be able to go in and out of the workspaces to check on the progress of each one,” relates Gardner.

Extending Microsoft Office

A key feature of Office Live Workspace is its seamless integration with Office – the look and feel of which it also replicates, making the learning curve minimal, says Gardner. “It’s intuitive and user-friendly, the interface is straightforward and clean, and because it’s built to work with documents within Office, it’s simple for end-users.”

These are key attributes for the students with whom Gardner works, most of whom juggle work and family commitments with their studies giving them little time to master complicated proprietary systems.

According to the most recent figures from the National Center for Education Statistics, 39 percent of all US postsecondary students are 25 years or older and the same proportion held down full-time jobs in addition to their studies.

It’s a cohort that’s driving the growing popularity of online learning and so-called hybrid or blended courses combining both online delivery and traditional classroom-based instruction. In fact, 61 percent of undergraduates polled recently by Student Monitor® said they took at least one course partly online.*  

Enabling New Learning Models

E-learning is an educational model in which Office Live Workspace really comes into its own, says Gardner, ensuring students’ educational experience online is every bit as rich as classroom learning and that they don’t lose out on peer interaction.

The ability to offer an easy, intuitive, powerful online learning experience can make all the difference between students persisting, putting themselves on the path to professional advancement and personal fulfillment, or dropping out and becoming a statistic, Gardner says.

“Let’s say there’s a single mom returning to college and she has to take many of her classes online to fit them in beside childcare and working. If her experience is positive, there’s a better chance that she’ll finish, so technology can really make a difference in her life.”

Gardner also sees Office Live Workspace catching on as a forum for virtual communities, journalism clubs, administration offices, sororities and fraternities, and dorm committees. Rather than being co-located in one building, Florida Community College math students, for example, are scattered across multiple campuses, he notes, making collaboration otherwise prohibitive. “Office Live Workspace can be used as a way for students to come together, interact and share their learning even though physically they’re dispersed.”

Engaging Students Through Technology

Peer collaboration instills critical thinking, debating skills and the ability to refine ideas amid feedback from others, Gardner says. “One of the most important functions of education is not the capacity to memorize facts, but the ability to think through concepts and collaborate.”

For Gardner and Durso, the fact that Office Live Workspace is available at no charge enables universities to catch a technology wave despite limited budgets that make investment in pricey new IT systems difficult.

“We have a number of faculty toying with the concept of collaborative learning,” explains Durso. “But we don’t have a big budget, so if they can use a platform that advances this and does so in a cost-effective way, we’ll gladly take advantage of that.”

“Collaborative and interactive learning are the future,” says Durso. “They resonate with students, improve retention and provide a much more powerful educational experience. Whatever we can do to enable this is in the best interest of our students and their education.”

* The Fall 2007 2007 of Student Monitor’s® COMPUTING & THE INTERNET study

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