Office365

Enabling Remote Learning is a matter of wanting to and shouldn’t be a matter of cost.

Amidst the Corona outbreak, companies and schools alike are rallying to find solutions for keeping as much people as possible at home. But that is often not the case, and some people are rightfully upset about the “sudden change of heart” of their company, or in some cases their university. The reason I wrote this post in the first place, was a tweet by Jocelyn, a twitter user who was forced to suspend her academic career. The reason? Her university refused to enable her to follow her classes online.

Learning about her situation made me scratch my head, because I know that solutions exist to allow for remote learning. I mostly have an O365 background, so I decided to take a look at what it would cost to setup a basic setup using Microsoft’s O365 offering for schools and some super affordable equipment.

My research confirms what I already suspected. Enabling students to follow classes online should never be a matter of costs, because the investment that needs to be made to get started is so low it’s inexcusible not to. In this post I’ll detail the price of a basic setup, one which any school should be willing to purchase for students that are better served following classes online.

The ground rules for this post

I established some ground rules for this concept and they are as follows:

  • Students must (obviously) at least be able to follow an audio stream of the class.
  • If possible a video stream would be nice to have.
  • We’re assuming that the classroom has (decent) internet access.

With that in mind I got started. Since we chose to use the O365 platform the first decision was easy.

Office365 A1 and A3: $2,50 per classroom per month

Because of the educational setting, we are choosing to use O365 A1 licenses for all students. These licenses are free for students (bar approval of Microsoft) so there is no cost here for the school. These A1 licenses allow the students to use a variety of tools, but I’m most interested in allowing the schools to stream lessons online.

With these A1 licenses, the students have access to both Microsoft Stream and Microsoft Teams. Both offer the option to live stream lessons. Microsoft Stream might offer better options when it comes to producing the lessons, but for a very basic scenario Microsoft Teams would suffice.

For the classroom, I would personally choose Office365 A3. The main difference is that you can setup Live Events which gives you more options when it comes to producing the online classes (multiple camera’s, sound sources etc.). However, you can also choose to use Office365 A1 and use Teams to produce the online lessons.

Total cost: 0 – $2,50 depending on your preferences

PC and hardware

To make streaming the class possible you will need a computer running Windows or Mac OSX. You will be hard pressed to find a computer that can’t run Microsoft Teams. It is hard to give an estimate of the needed budget, because that’s not really my expertise.

Unfortunately just a PC won’t get you there. In order to offer a stream of decent quality, we’ll need to buy a camera and a microphone. Neither of those have to cost a lot of money. For example, the Blue Yeti costs about $125 and is a very high quality and easy to use microphone that’ll allow your teachers to be heard perfectly by the students at home.

If a fixed microphone isn’t an option, you can look into lapel microphones that teachers can wear. Surprisingly, you might be able to find these kind of microphones for less than what a Blue Yeti costs you.

Now that you’ve got the sound covered, all you need is video – assuming you’re not using the whiteboard and other functionalities in Microsoft Team to let students follow your lessons. A simple webcam will already get you far. You’ll probably be spending around €99 for a webcam or slightly more if you want more quality.

Hardware: Let’s say you’ll spend around $125 on a basic microphone and $125 on a camera and you can define your own budget for the PC or laptop, if you don’t already have one.

Conclusion

If we leave the PC out of the consideration – which really isn’t a market I pay a lot of attention to, a basic setup to stream lessons can be bought for a one-time cost of about $250 per classroom and a $2,5 monthly cost. It’s hard to justify not making this kind of investment, especially if it enables students with disabilities to easily follow and participate in their classes.