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The Lenovo 300E, a two-in-one, device that you can write on with a pencil. (Microsoft Photo)

Microsoft is doubling down on the education market, a competitive arena for the world’s largest tech giants, with a series of new low-cost laptops and tools to help students and teachers work together.

At the BETT education conference in London Tuesday, Microsoft unveiled seven new laptops and two-in-one tablets made by partners like Lenovo, Dell and Acer and a new Microsoft Classroom Pen designed for the smaller hands of kids. Starting at $189, the low-cost devices are designed to stand up to tough treatment of being dragged around in a backpack everyday.

“We know that schools continue to operate on very limited budgets, and everywhere around the world they need affordable, easy to use devices,” said Barbara Holzapfel, general manager of Microsoft education marketing.

Here’s a look at the new hardware introduced this week:

The newest education-oriented Windows 10 devices. (Microsoft Photo)

Holzapfel called out the $289 Lenovo 300E as a standout among the new devices. Students can actually write on the screen of the two-in-one device using a No. 2 pencil.

Students are lighting up 1 million new Windows 10 education devices every month, according to Microsoft. Windows for years has been the dominant operating system in the education market outside the U.S., accounting for about 60 percent of device shipments as of the end of 2017. In the U.S., Microsoft is losing marketshare to Google Chrome OS-powered devices.

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Also at BETT, Google disclosed its latest usage numbers, saying there are 30 million Chromebooks used in the education market. Google boasts 80 million users for the education edition of G Suite, and the Google Classroom management tool has 40 million users.

Microsoft says it now has 155 million monthly active users for Office 365, and the company’s learning tools within Office boast about 16 million monthly active users. Microsoft is looking to bolster those figures with new additions to some of its highest priority projects and recent acquisitions.

Microsoft Teams, the company’s collaboration hub and Slack competitor, is mostly talked about in the context of large corporations. Microsoft is positioning the program for students and educators as well, and today it unveiled 13 new capabilities for Teams. Here are some highlights;

  • Grade Sync automatically sends grades from Teams assignments directly to a teacher’s Student Information System.
  • A new mobile grading feature lets teachers score assignments on the iOS and Android Teams apps.
  • An integration with plagiarism detection service Turnitin allows teachers to see red flags on assignments within Teams.

Flipgrid, the education startup focused on video discussions that Microsoft acquired last year, has become an important piece of the company’s education strategy. Microsoft says 80,000 new teachers are joining the service each month.

Microsoft developed a variety of tools for different types of learners as well. It is working with the American Printing House for the Blind to further a project called Code Jumper, a physical coding language for people who are blind or have impaired vision. For more visual learners, Microsoft is teaming up with VictoryVR to give schools that purchase Windows Mixed Reality headsets access to 25 free hours of lessons.

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