Microsoft details new Minecraft, PowerPoint, and Teams features for students and teachers

What you need to know

  • Minecraft: Education Edition gets Immersive Reader support.
  • Immersive Reader is now open to third-parties thru Azure Cognitive Services.
  • PowerPoint now has a Presenter Coach.
  • Teams for Education gets a simplified view.

Microsoft is getting a jump start on the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) 2019 conference happening June 23 in Philadelphia by announcing some big news around Minecraft and PowerPoint.

The news follows the company's push for inclusive design and accessibility for all to help students learn in the classroom, all powered by Windows 10. Microsoft has been making a big push in the education market since CEO Satya Nadella began refocusing the company, and for this year, Microsoft is again setting the bar even higher.

Minecraft and Immersive Reader

Minecraft: Education Edition, a special version of the game that can teach history, chemistry, coding, and other skills, is getting Microsoft's Immersive Reader support. The new feature will let the game "read in-game text, character dialogue, chalkboards and more."

Originating from a 2015 hackathon, Immersive Reader is a vital tool to help students with dyslexia participate in modern learning. Starting in OneNote, Microsoft has expanded the service to more apps over the years.

Related: How Microsoft's Immersive Reader tackles Dyslexia — and wins

Beyond just Minecraft, however, Immersive Reader is becoming another tool in Microsoft's Azure Cognitive Service – prefabricated skills and tools that companies can leverage in their own apps without having to invest in coding, research, AI, and more.

Microsoft points to Skooler – a service for teachers, students, and parents that also connects to Office 365 – which successfully piloted Immersive Reader in its app. Now, more companies are getting on board with the tech including Buncee, CollabCo, DigiExam, Follett, JogNog, Kortext, Lifeliqe, Mindsets Learning, Nearpod, OhBot, Oxford Press, Pear Deck, PowerSchool, Skooler, Squigl, ThingLink, and Wakelet.

Immersive Reader and Microsoft's continued expansion of the service should prevent students with reading challenges from being left behind in those critical school years. By meeting kids where they are "at," such as gaming in Minecraft, it shows learning can be fun.

PowerPoint and Presenter Coach

Next up, PowerPoint, which is the go-to app for presenting reports and analysis for students and adults of all ages, is getting a new Presenter Coach. The app is built into PowerPoint and lets presenters practice their presentations while receiving instant feedback on how to improve and what to avoid. From Microsoft:

Presenter Coach allows teachers and students to enter rehearsal mode and receive on-screen guidance about pacing, inclusive language, conciseness of language, profanity, filler words like "um" or "uh," culturally-inclusive words, and originality as they speak into a microphone. At the end of each rehearsal session, the presenter receives a detailed report with metrics for additional practice.

Presenter Coach should be available on PowerPoint for the web later this summer.

Microsoft is also announcing that Narrator can have a new voice, with voices "in 50 different languages without having to download language packs". The tool will be especially useful for English Language Learners (ELL) and English-speaking students who are trying to learn a new language.

Teams for Education gets simpler

Following the earlier announcement on June 10 regarding new features in Teams for Education, Microsoft is going into more details about what teachers should expect in the coming school year.

The main new feature is a simplified view of teams within the app itself. Initially, Microsoft Teams was meant for corporate and enterprise use, but with the turn two years ago towards schools, Microsoft is now tailoring the experience based on teacher feedback.

The new simplified look makes it easier to move teams around and manage workloads. Additional features include:

  • Big, easy-to-find visual icons for each of your teams and classes.
  • A more focused way to create and track all of your assignments.
  • A new grade book so teachers can view and grade all of their assignments for a class directly from the channel's Grades tab and view a single student's progress across assignments.
  • A new "Share To Teams" button that allows teachers to share resources with their classes directly from a learning source like Brittanica, Kahoot, Buncee, ThingLink, or Wakelet.
  • The ability to import existing OneNote content into your Class or Staff Teams, allowing you to access all your information from a single location.

The "Share to Teams" button is a significant advancement as it means Teams is getting so popular that external websites are now adding dedicated buttons for the app and service. This feature lets students and teachers with a simple click import a news article, image, or other research right into the app.

These new features should help solidify Microsoft's presence in schools.

For more information, Microsoft encourages educators to try its site dedicated to student-centered learning and to try using the Immersive Reader. Additionally, educators can sign up to become a Microsoft Innovative Educator to dive deeper into Microsoft's education services.

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Daniel Rubino

Daniel Rubino is the Editor-in-chief of Windows Central. He is also the head reviewer, podcast co-host, and analyst. He has been covering Microsoft since 2007, when this site was called WMExperts (and later Windows Phone Central). His interests include Windows, laptops, next-gen computing, and watches. He has been reviewing laptops since 2015 and is particularly fond of 2-in-1 convertibles, ARM processors, new form factors, and thin-and-light PCs. Before all this tech stuff, he worked on a Ph.D. in linguistics, watched people sleep (for medical purposes!), and ran the projectors at movie theaters because it was fun.