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Expanding the classroom to global proportions with Office 365

Lindsay Parenteau, senior student, University of Massachusetts, shares her experience with Office 365.

Lindsay ParenteauIt wasn’t until my senior year as a biochemistry student at UMass that I experienced the potential of cloud computing. I had signed up for an elective course called Decision Making in the Age of Cloud Computing. It’s a combination of biology and business studies where we work with students from around the world to research the efficacy of different biotech companies. We used productivity tools to literally erase the geographical and time zone barriers of working with team members in Russia, Egypt, and Ireland. It was as if our classroom expanded to global proportions to offer an experience that I didn’t think was possible without studying abroad.

My first impression of Office 365 was how intuitive it is to use the cloud-based tools—email, shared calendars, video conferencing, instant messaging, and a collaborative online portal. We went to the portal to get our assignments and readings, submit our executive summaries, communicate with our prof, Gino Sorcinelli, and upload our profiles, résumés and pictures.

My team focused on the surgical instrument industry. We researched the good and bad business decisions made by two companies. On Monday morning, we had a kick-off video conference to divide our research tasks, which I recorded to review later. Team mates kept in touch all week through instant messaging to make sure we were all on track and we stored our assignments in the cloud. If someone wasn’t sure how to summarize his or her assignment, they could read their team mate’s synopsis to get an idea of how to formulate their arguments. It was a very collaborative approach to problem solving and getting work done and I couldn’t believe how accountable we all were.

Everyone was more productive because we could work on our parts of the assignments whenever it fit into our schedules. Our Irish team mates had another class scheduled when we were in our Cloud Computing course. So I worked on assignments in the evening and connected with them using instant messaging. I left informational notes in our documents or presentations so we could all see them the next morning.

Six of us needed to work on our Executive Summary simultaneously, before submitting it to Gino. We used OneDrive for Business to collaborate on the document and this really improved the quality of our writing. Working together so closely meant we could easily contribute in our area of expertise to raise the overall quality of our assignments.

Office 365 tools are available anywhere you have an Internet connection. Everyone on my team loved the freedom this gave us; it certainly helped to balance a busy school schedule with the rest of our lives! It’s also great to know that I can work anywhere on my documents on my laptop and that when I next connect to the Internet, all my edits are synced with the version I have stored in the cloud.

Even though our team mates from Egypt and Ireland couldn’t be available for the final live presentation, we recorded their parts and went through several live practice sessions, sharing desktops and slides. It was as if we were in the same room together. This significantly reduced the pressure on all of us and when the time came, we were able to deliver a great final presentation.

Because this experience working with Office 365 emulates many workplaces, I feel better prepared to step into a job when I graduate. I’ve seen how global collaboration helps bring team members’ international perspectives to the table to help solve problems. These are valuable skills in our connected, global economy. I’m excited to graduate and join this new way of working: I already know how satisfying and productive it can be!

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