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Microsoft focuses on reading skills in Teams for Education

The latest Microsoft Teams for Education features will hone student reading skills, let teachers set up assignment groups and centralize student calendars

Microsoft plans to introduce in the fall a Teams for Education feature aimed at improving students' reading skills.

Microsoft said this week that the feature, called Reading Progress, will be one of a slate of upcoming Teams for Education enhancements. Educators can access a preview version of Reading Progress within Teams' settings.

Reading Progress lets teachers assign a written passage to students, who then record themselves reading the text aloud in Teams for Education. The feature can analyze the recording to provide an overall accuracy rate and measure how quickly a student reads.

Teachers can manually flag mistakes in a student read-through and override anything the program has marked as an error. Teams will take the data accumulated over time and create graphs to show a student's progress.

In announcing the feature, Microsoft cited research from Stanford University that showed students struggling with reading aloud accurately and at an appropriate speed. According to the report, reading skills in the second and third grades were lower than for students before the pandemic.

Microsoft said Reading Progress will allow for more instruction during class time. That's because teachers can assign a passage to an entire class and review the recordings later, rather than having one student at a time read aloud to the class. The recordings also spare students the stress of practicing their skills in front of their class, the company said.

Reading Progress is reminiscent of Presenter Coach for PowerPoint, which helps workers improve their presentation skills. Both features use Microsoft's Azure AI capabilities to evaluate speech pace and mispronunciations.

Reading Progress in Microsoft Teams for Education
The Reading Progress feature in Microsoft Teams for Education helps teachers evaluate students' reading skills.

In addition to Reading Progress, Microsoft said it will make other features available before the school year, such as letting teachers put students in assignment groups and provide links to content from educational apps. Microsoft will also add a central calendar for classes and due dates.

This month, Microsoft plans to add a Supervised Chat feature that lets teachers monitor chat sessions and prevent students from starting chats unless an educator is present.

Zeus Kerravala, founder of ZK Research, said the features will help teachers but likely not change Google's lead in the education market.

"Google dominates the education sector, as their products are just generally easier to use and work better," he said.

Kerravala said the Google Workspace for Education suite works well on the Chromebooks that Bloomberg reported make up 60% of the 2019 education computer market. A student using Teams on a Chromebook will be limited to the browser-based version or an app designed for mobile devices.

Mike Gleason is a reporter covering unified communications and collaboration tools. He previously covered communities in the MetroWest region of Massachusetts for the Milford Daily NewsWalpole TimesSharon Advocate and Medfield Press. He has also worked for newspapers in central Massachusetts and southwestern Vermont and served as a local editor for Patch. He can be found on Twitter at @MGleason_TT.

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