The Microsoft Office suite has always had ways for different authors to work on the same document – but the reality for many people is that they often simply circulate a document via email, then people make changes and email the document back to the sender. And then somebody has to bring all the changes into a final document.
But you haven’t had to do it this way for years – Office has had collaborative features in it for ages – and it was always a bonus for me when I discovered them (for example, I used to collect changes from people, and then manually merge them into a final document until I found the ‘Combine’ feature in the Review tab in Word – see ‘Merge edits from different copies of a document’)
Using Office Web Apps, the potential for real-time editing is even more powerful, and we’ve just provided a sneak peak into what’s coming in the future, through the Office blog. The step ahead is moving from ‘same-time’ to ‘real-time’ co-authoring and editing. It’s already live for PowerPoint, where more than one person can edit a document at the same, and you all see each others changes almost immediately. And we’re adding those features to the rest of the Office Web Apps on multiple devices using Windows, iOS and Android.
The video below shows what’s coming (skip to about 5 1/2 minutes for the demonstration) – not just the collaborative, real-time editing but also some of the other new things coming to Office Web Apps.
And because the different users can see what others are doing in real time, you could do an exercise where a teacher puts their version up on the whiteboard projector in the classroom, and the whole class can easily see, and share, what’s being done and what needs doing next. It would allow you to mix individual work with whole-class collaborative activities:
- Take a Word document with a table of words, and ask each student to find synonyms for a Word in the table – and everybody could see progress across the whole table on the projector
- Give a class the task of measuring a science experiment and putting each of their results into a shared Excel spreadsheet – as they enter them, you can see a chart being updated in real time on the classroom projector, as well as on their own screen.
Education customers can get access to Office Web Apps in a number of different ways:
- Office Web Apps are included as part of the SkyDrive service – which means that individuals can load Office documents onto a SkyDrive in the cloud, share them with others, and edit them online. If you’re using [email protected] then you’ve already got Office Web Apps access. If you’re not, you can simply sign up for your own personal SkyDrive account, or enable it with your Microsoft Account online.
- Office 365 Education includes Office Web Apps with every level – including the free A2 subscription
The other thing to highlight is that the team are building Office Web Apps to work across a range of different devices, so if you are in a school with a BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) model, where you don’t have a standard computer in each student’s hands, then you can still allow them to work together on different devices. Or if you’re setting an activity for homework, they can complete it on their home computer without needing Office installed.