Since October 2019 I have been supporting a small team of academics in the delivery of a distance post graduate diploma.
The difference for them and the University was that it was delivered almost entirely using Microsoft Teams. This post aims to simply reflect on our journey so far…
Launching Teams from the VLE
First of all, I just want to make it clear that our Teams platform is in no way connected to our SIS (Student Information System) or VLE. This meant that, after enrolment, our students begin their digital journey by heading to a landing page in BlackBoard, where it is explained that, although they will use the VLE to submit their summative assessment, they will spend the ‘learning’ part of their course inside a Microsoft Teams environment.
Once students arrived inside the Team, they were immediately engaged by their course tutor and tasked with a number of activities, two of which were to upload a journal of interest to them into the collaborative space in the OneNote Classroom, the second being to use Flipgrid to introduce themselves to their new learning-community – the academic and follow students. Given the cohort was made up of time-poor, extraordinarily busy GPs and A&E doctors, we were amazed to discover almost the entire cohort used Flipgrid to introduce themselves to their peers. Given the potential for distance learners to become disconnected from their course, peers and institution if not properly supported, this enthusiasm and engagement from the outset was very encouraging.
To engage encourage further engagement, the award director welcomed students in a’talking-head’ style video, where he also set the students about their induction tasks (see above). A screencast orientating students to their new Teams learning environment was also introduced, as was a code of conduct tab…
After the students had settled in, the various readings and activities commenced. What we noticed, fairly early on, was the quality of analysis, reflection and discourse that was happening in the Teams environment. Spending a lot of time inside our VLE with various academics across a range of courses, is rare to come across such high levels of independent and collaborative learning and of such a high-quality. This continued, unabated, until the module tutor reported to me that students had begun organically creating their own mini-clusters of meaningful discourse and reflection without depending on the tutor to initiate any activity.
Students and teaching staff utilised and responded well to using both the public and private chat tools in pursuance of their learning/support and using the conversation panel to discuss items in the central earlier has also been engaged with well. Another communications tool – announcements has also been used effectively to notify students about deadlines, important new resources etc.
The first module in the programme has only just come to completion and we’ve yet to gather any data about student experience, grades etc. From my point of view, however, the entire module has hinged on excellent communication and collaboration between academics and students; communication which has been facilitated and amplified by the Microsoft Teams environment.
Thanks for reading,