For the online learning world


Some Office 365 favorites

O365, in use at many educational institutions, offers a lot more than Word and PowerPoint for modern work.

A few years ago the University I work at transitioned from using a mix of on-premises email servers (for staff/faculty) and Gmail (students) to using Office 365 for our whole campus. At the time I helped to lead the roll-out and transition so I became very familiar with the tools in the 365 suite. Of course, there are standards like Outlook and Word that we all know. But what struck me were the tools that I could use to streamline and organize (perhaps needed because I was finishing grad school and a new dad at the time)…If you think of Outlook tasks and Excel spreadsheets are the height of collaboration tools, well, 365 has a lot more to offer these days. I want to highlight some of the simple and modern O365 applications that anyone – teacher, student, or elearning specialist – might find helpful. 

As my job responsibilities have changed, I find myself depending on these tools for knowledge and project management more than ever. The move to remote work and all online learning during the COVID-19 pandemic has further highlighted this for me.


OneNote has been incredibly useful to me as a knowledge management tool. There are just too many details to keep in my head, and digital notes are the best way I know to save some of that cognitive capacity. I keep notes about all of the systems and processes I’m responsible for, separated into sections for each. I’ve also used it to study for certifications or take notes during professional development sessions. The hierarchical structure makes it straightforward to organize notes on each topic, and I also make use of tags and the powerful search feature to find what I need, when I need it.

It’s also very easy to get data into OneNote – there are apps for iOS, Android, Windows, Mac, and the web. There is even a Chrome and Firefox extension to clip webpages or PDFs into your notebook.


Planner is a kanban-board style task management app for collaboration. It’s simple, versatile and easy to use with colleagues to help provide clarity on who will be handling each part of a project and what progress has been made. You create a task, and then can assign people to it, set due dates, attach files, etc.  I use it in a number of ways:

  • To track updates and changes I make to servers or applications
  • To audit and keep knowledge base articles fresh
  • As a ticketing system for managing course related requests in our LMS
  • To track progress on one-off or recurring projects

As a nice bonus, if you need to assess or report on a project status, Planner has a nice charts view or you can export the data to a spreadsheet.


If Planner is an app for group projects, ToDo is the day-to-day checklist for an individual. The first thing I really like about ToDo is the “My Day” list. This is a checklist that encourages you to focus on the things you want to get done today. The app will make some smart suggestions based on priority or due dates you’ve set, but it’s up to you to choose your goals for the day. The next day the list resets and is blank again, giving you a fresh slate.

The other thing I like is that this app integrates well with the other O365 tools. For example, if I’m using Planner on a project and am assigned a task, or if I flag an email in Outlook, those tasks sync with ToDo and I can add them to my daily list.

Project for the Web

I’ll make one final special mention of Project for the Web. Microsoft is pretty bad about naming things and the name of this app is quite confusing. When I think of Microsoft Project, I think of extremely complex project management professional (PMP) software with a very steep learning curve. But this new app looks promising for non-PMPs. I’ve not had a chance to use it yet myself, but essentially this is a new offering that is a simpler alternative to the traditional Microsoft Project. It looks similar to Planner with some extra features like task dependencies, timelines, and Gaant charts that would let a non-project manager handle a more complex project.

Photo by Scott Graham on Unsplash

Ben Kahn

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Ben Kahn

Ben works as a systems administrator, systems architect, instructional designer, and technologist at the University of Portland, managing Open Source tools for learning, including enterprise Moodle & WordPress installs.

2 thoughts on “Some Office 365 favorites

  • Great post Ben 🙂
    I gave up using Microsoft products around 10 years ago.
    That was an interesting decision, because I was a Microsoft Office Master, and completed many MCSE courses.
    But one day I looks at my Windows computer and realised almost half the software on there was security related.
    Firewalls, virus checkers, pop-up blockers, spam filters, etc. etc.
    So I switched to using Linux for all professional tasks, and Mac as my personal environment.
    The Mac decision was good, and having MacMini at home, MacBook Pro laptop, iPad Pro, and iPhone creates a personal work environment that is SO integrated and smooth it has made a huge difference.
    Like you, I find the equivalent Apple Notes and Reminders help me stay organised.
    But for those in a Windows world at work, your post is useful.
    I always loved working with MS Project, and Outlook was always a very good email client 🙂
    And that MS Project for Web sounds interesting indeed !

    • Stuart, I totally get why folks make that decision to go the non-MS route. For me, Im inclined to just use Google Docs or things like SimpleNote for my personal use. But at work over time I’ve just been more inclined to use the stuff that my university provides as it makes it so much easier to collaborate and integrate tools. In the U.S. that typically means either Office 365 or GSuite. One thing I will give MS credit for is that they are much friendlier to non-Windows folks these days. I use a Macbook Pro and iPad Pro as my work devices and all the MS apps run really well on MacOS and iOS. They even have developer focused apps like VS Code and Teams available on Ubuntu. So I think for most folks it would come down to “what has your organization adopted” to see if there are more useful things available for your in the suite.

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