New year news in School Data Sync

Read on to learn about all the new features coming to School Data Sync, like Parent Contact Sync, new EDU Security Groups, updated Section Usage Reports and more…

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What is School Data Sync?

For those of you who don’t know School Data Sync, it’s a free service in Office 365 for Education that read school roster data from the Student Information System (SIS) and use that data to provision and license users, create class teams with OneNote class notebooks and more. You can read more about SDS in my blog post on how to automate Teams for Education with School Data Sync.

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Microsoft recently announced a number of features coming to SDS, some of which will allow for new functionality in other services like Microsoft Teams, and some to enhance the admin experience. Let me go through the features one by one.

Parent Contact Sync

Parent sync in SDS is HUGE! Not by itself, obviously, but because it’s the first step in a long-awaited direction. The lack of ways to interact with parents in Teams for EDU has in my opinion been the Achilles heel of the education offering. While you could tweak permissions to allow sharing of parent and guardian links in OneNote class notebooks within Teams, it’s a cumbersome process which require admin permissions.

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For this reason alone, many education institutions have seen the need to invest in a learning management system. NowI’m not saying this will be the death of the LMS, innovative players like Skooler will keep adding value with their integrated solutions. But, for some schools, Microsoft Teams for Education will eventually be enough.

 

EDU Security Groups

EDU Security Groups used to be auto-provisioned in tenants using SDS while licensed with Intune for Education. These Azure AD security groups are however equally useful outside Intune, which is why this is great news!

These security groups are dynamic, meaning they will update as soon as something changes in your student information system. SDS will create groups for all teachers, all students, all teachers at school a, all students at school b etc.

In Intune these could be used in order to dynamically provision MDM policies, apps and more, similar to what I covered in my blog post on Microsoft 365 automation using SDS attributes, Intune & Graph.

Now we’re also able to use these groups for Group Based Licensing, Conditional Access and Scoped Search in Microsoft Teams. For those of you who don’t know Scoped Search, it’s a way to virtually separate users from eachother. Scoped Search use Exchange address book policies in order to hide users in one group from another, meaning you can separate students and teachers from different schools or even different grades, as well as separate students from other staff entirely.

Scoped Search (Address book policies) only provide a virtual separation of users. Users can still initiate communications with others by providing the complete user principal name (most often the email address).

Updated Section Usage Reports

Like the header says, section usage reports in SDS are getting an update. New reports will include synced class attributes, SharePoint usage, member count and more, to help you separate active and inactive class teams. Microsoft host a number of scripts to perform actions based on these reports, over at their O365-EDU-Tools GitHub repository.

 

And there’s more…

For admins the admin interface is beeing modernized to align with the experience found in the Office 365 Admin Center. There will be a People view in order to view students, teachers and parents, and  a Groups view for schools, classes and security groups synced by SDS.

The backend sync process itself just got improved performance, and in what’s more of a bugfix than a feature, error generation will be reduced to be more accurate. Previously an error on one sync element could produce 10-12 warnings, which was obviously confusing for admins.

That’s it for now, if you wish to stay updated on SDS make sure to also visit What’s new with School Data Sync.

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