Rich Content in Teams? For little cash? No Problem!

I’ve seen a number of companies recently, focus on providing Microsoft Teams apps to embed rich, interactive content into Teams. The obvious content being SCORM (Shareable Content Object Reference Model). It’s a heck of a mouthful but it’s only ever referred to as SCORM ๐Ÿ™‚

This being a popular thing at the moment, I thought it might be useful to explore how we can do something similar ourselves for little, if any money (gasp).

Basically, SCORM allows us to build activities, complex learning objects etc. with lots of lovely, meaningful interaction and then export it in a way that it can be hosted, for example, in a VLE (Virtual Learning Environment) or a website. In order for us to track, let’s say, student completion of an assessment object we’d made, we would have to embed it into a VLE but if we just want our learners to explore our SCORM content, it can simply be treated like a bunch of HTML files and hosted in a website.

I know what some of you will be thinking – “YOU’RE MISSING THE POINT OF SCORM!” I understand this but content exported as SCORM can happily sit in a web folder and be interacted with, without being connected to an LMS (Learning Management System). We can then, if we need to at a later date, embed it into our VLE for tracking, marking etc.

Okay, hopefully the above argument I’ve had with myself hasn’t muddied the water so back to Teams. Behold, the below image!

A module page in Microsoft Teams

Here, some module content has been created using a e-learning system (Adapt Builder in this case), exported (as SCORM but I could have just gone with HTML pages).

Once the content has been created, it was simply stored in some web-space. All we need to do next is grab the hyperlinks that point to the materials.

Back in our Team, we just click the + symbol to add a new tab and specify Website (see image below).

We can then provide the website tab with the addresses (hyperlinks) of our lovely content (see below).

Once we click Save, the content would then display for our learners to interact with.

Anyway, certainly food for thought if you’re thinking of reusing some of your existing digital content in your shiny new Teams.

Thanks for reading, do get in touch with any questions,

K.

Pandemic + 2 Years: Possible Visions for the near future of HE class delivery.

Another brain-dump I’m afraid – apologies for digressions and tangents! My thoughts here are loosely around the use of more advanced forms of educational technology in the event face-to-face teaching becomes more rarefied.

So, here we are in May. Universities up and down the country are continuing to cope with this sudden, unwelcome change in practice. Curricula assessment are being revised to fit remote learning delivery and everyone is wondering if they must deliver synchronous lectures (answers on a postcard to this but I suspect the answer is very rarely yes)…

It’s working myself, as a supporter of educators, in these circumstances that has provoked the question: Will HE ever really see a return to the traditional, sage-on-a-stage form of delivery? Does it need to?

Even when the lockdown has eased, how long will it take students to feel comfortable sharing the same, close-proximity space with their fellows again? How many international students will be happy to sit in a British University lecture theatre when the UK has one of the highest Pandemic death-rates in the world? I appreciate none of this is particularly optimistic but I suspect these are the new urgent practicalities of running HE (FE also) courses, not just in the UK but across the world that need to be addressed.

But for the moment, many unis are asking educators to either deliver synchronously or create screen-recordings for their students but what about subjects that are more hands-on?

An academic delivering a lecture about, for example, the Crimean War will be able to deliver a incredibly good session using screen-recordings, webinars, some well considered active learning activities etc. It’s also possible to deliver an engaging, interactive JAVA workshop online using tools that are readily available.

How about a Chemistry practical? Indeed, any subject that requires supervised lab work or workshops? Biology, Pharmacy, it’s a long list for sure. For me, this is where the, shall we say regular forms of educational technology need to be either carefully reshaped and remapped against new curricula or upgraded altogether.

Perhaps microbiology students (I’ll be showing my subject ignorance here so I’ll apologise in advance), in the lab are required to manipulate a model of a protein and discuss certain elements of it as part of a formative assessment? What are the options of replicating something like this remotely?

A more expensive and involved solution could be one of the digital ‘realities’ (see below) but, what we can all do, with just a little effort is to find out what quality, pertinent resource we can deploy for our students fairly quickly.

Consider the below YouTube video. As demonstrated, we can use some of the newer functions offered by Microsoft PowerPoint to embed 3D objects in presentations and then allow the manipulation of these objects inside of the presentation. If this was combined with a live meeting inside of, say, Microsoft Teams, Google Meet or Zoom, would this suffice? Would we be able to measure certain competencies using techniques like this?

If you’re interested – I’m sure your nearest learning technologist would be happy to have a conversation with you about using this sort of entry-level 3D in your own practice.

What is this, Star Trek?

It’s education Jim, but not as we know it…

There are a number of ‘realities’ in technology that are currently available. Some are still in their infancy still and will take some time to mature to the point of inexpensive access and easy use.

Virtual Reality (VR); having come on in leaps and bounds, VR has fixed many of the problems that have plagued the platform, motion-sickness for example appears to have been all but resolved now and the cost of entry-level systems are a couple of hundred pounds. There are many off-the-shelf applications that can be used for education. Institutions could also invest in creating their own content. This does sound like a daunting task but virtual labs, field trips etc., customised to the context of a particular faculty or subject-area has the potential to add massive value and enrichment to student (and academic) experience.

Augmented Reality (AR); So, you embed a QR code or a launch image into a VLE, Teams, anywhere really. Your students use an AR app on their tablet or smartphone and, voila, they could, for instance, be able to take a self-paced tour of the human heart or the brain’s limbic system. Again, there are apps out there as well as the software platforms that would enable a faculty to build their own. The below video offers an insight into what is possible.

Mixed Reality (MR); The first time I heard the term Mixed Reality was at a talk delivered by Microsoft’s excellent Mike Taulty. Mike is a Hololens developer and he explained how MR is a combination of real-life, augmented reality and virtual reality. It’s a heady combination to be sure and it’s not the cheapest solution but take a look at the video below to see what’s possible.

A World of Opportunity

I hope I haven’t scared any of you with my meanderings. As I said, ’tis but a brain dump and I hope what I’ve blathered on about will just help some of you consider where we are and where we might need to be heading in the event things don’t get back to normal.

But there are many opportunities right now too which we can easily exploit. Have a 2 hour lecture normally delivered to a tiered learning space to 200 students? Why not consider breaking this up into ‘chaptured-chunks’ with ‘extras’ inserted between chapters?

When I say extras, I’m thinking of micro-activities such as reflections, chapter summaries etc. This is one way of not only managing to deliver a good approximation of your face-to-face lectures but also a way of adding important active learning strands to aid student comprehension. Perhaps even follow every series of these proxy-lectures with a live seminar event using Microsoft Teams or Google Meet?

Anyway, thanks for reading and I hope you’re all managing to stay safe and healthy in these most peculiar of times.

K.

Digital Education and Covid-19, a Brain Dump

I’ve been working from home for around 1.5 weeks now and, as well as performing my University job role, I’ve had some time to ponder over what is happening in these most peculiar of times and, perhaps, some of the consequences pertaining to education. Just my thoughts by the way, I won’t be referencing anything or using quotes etc.

I’m well aware many hundreds of others have been diving in and either telling the world how they (or their solutions) can save everything, offer water-tight guidelines for remote learning success etc. This piece isn’t one of those – in fact, it’s just my brain dumping a load of content onto a page so it can fit some extra stuff in!

However, I do hope my words are useful to someone…

The last week

Monitoring the activity in my own institution, as well as what’s going on in other institutions, countries etc. one thing was clear – Higher Education did not appear to be entirely prepared for the remote consumption of its learning. You can argue: “well, we were definitely ready and we…” of course but, as I’ve already pointed out, this writing is just a brain dump and no offence is intended.

What do I mean by ‘not prepared”?

Consider this: how many institutions are you aware of that use their Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) to actually engage students in learning experiences? I’ve worked for a number of institutions and the use of the VLE as anything but an expensive file store / dissemination tool is the exception rather than the rule.

Of course, there are always areas of excellence where a particular group of educators across the institution ensure that their modules incorporate a number of approaches, including active learning / PBL / Flipped etc. where the VLE plays a crucial role but this sort of behaviour is rarely replicated across an entire school / faculty / department / institution. Again, this is just a brain dump based on what I’ve experienced over the years and seen during the last week or two – no offence is intended…

So, when there is almost a nationwide directive (or at least strong suggestion) to pull all face-to-face lectures and to begin engaging students using ‘remote learning’ techniques, I can’t imagine many institutions were able to easily switch to this mode of operation…

Remote Learning or Distance Learning or Online Learning?

So what exactly is meant by ‘remote learning’? Does this differ at all to distance or online learning? Distance learning, in its many guises, has been going on for a long time although ‘online’ learning has been happening, at scale for what, 25 years?

What appears to have happened in the current climate, is that everyone appears to think Video Conferencing is somehow crucial to remote/distance learning … of course, the social presence of academics and students has always been an important element of distance learning (although far too few recognise this) but are educators actually required in live video form? Also, synchronous learning appears to have become essential to this recent take remote learning. Synchronous learning surely adds an extra layer of pressure to an already fraught academic body.

Many of my academic colleagues are dipping their toes into running class sessions inside of Microsoft Teams instances but I’ve yet to have any feedback as to how successful this is. Other academics are creating fine captured content objects such as screencasts, visualiser recordings and podcasts and embedding these in the VLE – all aimed at ensuring their students have the best possible educational experience given the circumstances.

And then there’s the learning curve – to academics who usually upload a bunch of files into the VLE, all of a sudden having to deal with engaging students with Microsoft Teams, Zoom, Snaggit, Lecture Recording, Podcasting etc. is quite a big ask.

The Future….

So, let us time-travel to 3 months hence… I’m fascinated at the prospect of institutions / communities of learners demanding / expecting more online provision. How many learners and academics will decide that remote learning should be the way to go and that face-to-face education isn’t really required for their courses? Just think – how many courses do you know of which could, in theory at least, be delivered entirely remotely, even if the student base remains on campus? What would the consequences be short / medium / long-term for the sector? It’s unlikely of course but one can certainly expect to see an increase funds for video conferencing / curation platform and Virtual Learning Environments.

If more teaching was migrated to remote/distance modes, would it be such a bad thing? The ‘chalk-and-talk’ method has been the accepted delivery method for around 800 years, will the recent crisis result in more academics and institutions to consider such a paradigmatic shift?

Lessons, lessons, lessons…

Personally, I think if institutions took their online delivery more seriously in the first place, they would be far better placed to react to situations like the one we’re all experiencing now. Codes of practice, online delivery policies/guidance documents, with buy in from University executives, Senior Leadership Teams etc. will pay dividends, far beyond the current situation.

I don’t think it’s too late to discuss the use of lower-tech forms of online learning with educators – I know this might be unpopular with the current passion/obsession with real-time video but surely the meaningful imparting/sharing of information to our students should trump any unproven/contingent use of technology.

EdTech / Technology firms should be using this time to support existing customers instead of trying to flog them extra services or upgrades. Something that has surprised me is the popularity of Zoom since, according to a recent BBC report (Google it) there are issues around security… has your institution checked the use of Zoom, or any newly adopted tool, against its GDPR / Information Security policy?

Finally, some of the unsung HE/FE heroes in the present crisis is the community of Educational & Learning Technologists, TEL Specialists, e-Learning professionals etc. who I know, from both my work and involvement in sector communities, have been working flat-out to help support their institutions during these most challenging of times.

Thanks for reading, I truly hope I haven’t upset anyone and, of course, if you’d like to respond to any of my thoughts, feel free to do so in the comments section.

Stay safe,

Karl.

Teams: our story so far

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.

Module Induction

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…

Moving on…

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.

Example of student / academic discourse

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,

Karl.

Academic Adventures in Microsoft Teams

Steve Bateman in action

[Disclaimer – these are my own words; any opinions or views expressed are mine and not those of Keele University].

Welcome.

Not only is this the first post of my spanking new blog, but I’ll also be reporting on the very first conference I’ve organised! Apologies in advance for the length of this post, I mean to offer some of my own, recent ruminations regarding Microsoft Teams too!

The event in question is Keele’s University’s 2019 Digital Festival which took place on October 30th 2019 at Keele Hall, Keele University. Before I touch on the event and the wider question of Microsoft Teams in Higher Education, we first need a bit of…

Background

I think it’s somewhat of an understatement to suggest that there has recently been a large amount of interest in Microsoft Teams. I’m not just talking about in education either, as of July 2019 Microsoft Teams had over 13 million active daily users – users in industry, retail, research as well in compulsory, further and higher education.

Teams has also been a burgeoning topic of discussion on informal, digital spaces such as Twitter, ALT and JiscMail with the odd brave academic-soul dipping their toes into the abyss and trialing Teams with small groups of colleagues and / or students.

The Keele University event on the 30th October, hosted by the Information & Digital Services (IDS) directorate and the Keele Institute for Innovation and Teaching Excellence (KIITE), in partnership with Jisc, was an opportunity to bring together around 100 academics, learning professionals / infrastructure leads, and to start a meaningful, sector-wide discussion and exploration of the challenges and opportunities presented by this already disruptive piece of technology. Note: I have covered the guest presentations only and have omitted the opening and closing talks for the sake of brevity.

The Presentations

We were very fortunate to have present to us a group of highly innovative and creative Microsoft Teams and Office 365 exponents from HE/FE: Santanu Vastant, University of East London; Karl Gimblett, Victoria Foley and Tom Lovelock, Keele University, Dr Emma Thirkell, Jane Fitzgerald and Dr Jess Macbeth, University of Central Lancashire, Nicky Bowen and John Billington Hugh Baird College and Stephen Bateman, Staffordshire University.

Keynote: Santanu Vasant – An analysis of Microsoft Teams at scale: experiences so far

The keynote of the day was delivered by Santanu Vasant and was titled: An Analysis of Microsoft Teams at Scale: Experiences so Far. Santanu took us on a journey which spanned the reasons why an institution may wish to deploy Teams to how Teams has been received from students and tutors, and ended with thoughts as to what UEL were going to do next with their Teams initiative.

Pedagogy First Slide
Santanu Vasant Keynote, Slide 3

I was greatly encouraged that Santanu opened his keynote with a handful of slides which contained messages emphasising the importance of learning design and pedagogy (see image above). These slides let the audience know that UEL’s Teams project was informed by the requirements of its learners and academics and wasn’t just a technical solution. Santanu and his colleagues have also made excellent use of short case-studies of academics talking about using Teams in their own practice (see below featuring Dan Duran).

One takeaway from the keynote was the amount of activity around the up-skilling of academics. A lot of effort has gone into ensuring that a multi-modal approach: face-to-face, self-paced video resources and opportunities to attend a Microsoft Boot Camp. Institutions often react to training requirements after a new system has been deployed (creating an immediate opportunity for academics to resist or disconnect with the the technology), it was great to see one which has put so much effort into digital skills well before the system goes live.

UEL Academic ‘Dan Duran’ Explaining how he uses MS Teams

Steve Bateman, Staffordshire University – Using Teams to Deliver Teaching and Learning: An Academic’s Perspective

Steve gave us an excellent insight into how he has used Teams (for the last three years) to deliver undergraduate sports science module, as well as broader thoughts on engagement (very popular word at the event). Steve described how, very early on in his role at Staffs, he began using the VLE in his teaching but that, of course, it was generally used to store files and that there wasn’t really much learning going on!

Steve made the point that students will very rarely be required to use a VLE beyond their time at university. It is worth noting that this point was made by various attendees throughout the day and is something I, myself also mentioned when I gave my own talk later.

I think the most notable part of this presentation was the actual description of how he was using Teams (I’ve also chatted to Steve over a coffee and was impressed by how he had developed his Teams practice over time to the point where everything, including class-based work, is structured within the Teams environment) and the impact reported by his colleagues and students. Steve uses OneNote Classroom (a default component of a ‘Classroom’ Team) to relay course structure, give students a place to generate notes, reflect, work on activities etc.

Inclusiveness was also addressed by Steve and he touched on students being able to easily join live lecture broadcasts (within the Teams environment) regardless of location which means that, if a learner is, for instance, bed-bound for whatever reason but still wishes to watch a live lecture and interact with his class they are able to do so using their smartphone, tablet, laptop etc. Also, Steve didn’t mention this, but I know that Staffs University are offering staff and students Microsoft Office User Specialist accreditation as well as access to Lynda.com to help engage the entire university body in the development of the University body with a variety of digital skills. This will no doubt have an interesting cascading effect on engagement with tools such as Teams, Sway, Forms, Stream etc, tools which lend themselves so easily to a variety of educational ues/

But is all of this working? Steve had a lot of figures but I think the slide below is one of my favourites – Student Perception reports that 93% of students reported the Teams environment was better than the VLE. Grades increase >20% compared to a comparative group. Staff reported a positive impact on efficiency while 98% of students report better communications with staff. Of course, this is just one academic school with one academic leading Teams usage but these figures, at the very least, should indicate that the platform is certainly proving popular with students and academics – at least in this use-case.

Steve Bateman Impact Slide.
Steve Bateman, Impact Figures from Teams Usage

Karl Gimblett, Victoria Foley and Tom Lovelock, Keele University – Case Study: Using Teams to Deliver a Postgraduate Medical Education Course

The Keele case-study, presented by myself, Victoria and Tom, described why and how we delivered a post-graduate online course using Teams.

The learners are all professional clinicians, working either as GPs or as A&E doctors. As such, our learners are time-poor which meant it was crucial we provided a carefully implemented platform that would allow them to maximise their time online engaging in meaningful interactions with their fellow students, tutors and resources.

We realised that Microsoft Teams, accompanied by our VLE (for summative-assessment purposes) could deliver a flexible and engaging online education experience for our learners. Critical requirements of the proposed course were: focus on discussion and collaboration; easy to engage with asynchronous and synchronous communication; ease-of-access; flexible to the pedagogic requirements of the tutors.

Looking to the first image below (I have removed student names and the module code), the General channel was used as a Landing Area where information such as the module handbook, Teams etiquette guide etc. were embedded. Underneath the General channel we created the Online Induction channel. Here, the course tutors answered questions and gave induction guidance for the two-week induction period. Learners were also encouraged to engage with training videos (which were also a tabbed resource in the Induction channel) – these consisted of generic Microsoft training videos as well as custom-produced videos designed for our learners.

The next channel is Technical Support. Since this was a new environment for both ourselves and our learners, we wanted to ensure we had resource to respond to any student or academic query, as quickly as possible, especially during the induction period when everyone was settling in.

The Unit # channels are where all the action happens! Each unit contains the subject materials required (in a responsive, digital format) as well as activities (to be completed in the learner’s own OneNote Classroom space). The conversation tab in the Unit channels is the hub of discourse and analysis of the student work around the activities and videos of clinical practice the tutor embedded.

The first module of the course is still live but, so far, the engagement from academics and students has been excellent. Very rarely on our University VLE, if ever, have any of us seen such high quality analysis and discourse, much of which has appeared unbidden by the tutor (see example below).

Another component of the course that was unexpectedly successful was the inclusion of a FlipGrid component in the Induction Channel (see second image below). In a nutshell, FlipGrid allows learners to post 1.5 minute, selfie-style videos. This is a perfect tool for personal introductions. Like many course designers, we wanted to enable our learners to feel connected to each other and to the academics. Almost all of our cohort has posted introductions of themselves, often in surgical settings!

We plan to investigate usage/engagement metrics after the module has run and invite some learners, and academics, to semi-structured interviews to explore their experiences of using this innovative approach to online learning.

An example of meaningful analysis and discourse
Induction engagement using FlipGrid

Dr Emma Thirkell, UCLanCase Study: Using OneNote Classroom to Create an Escape Room Assessment Activity

Dr Thirkell has developed an incredible assessment tool using the humble OneNote Classroom – an Escape Room! After a very useful overview of what both OneNote and OneNote Classroom are, Emma introduced us to the game-changing feature that allows the escape room – password-protected sections in OneNote Classroom.

So, each section becomes a locked room. In order for learners to escape their current room and unlock the next one they simply have to solve the puzzle in the room. Simple ๐Ÿ˜‰

Emma is a senior lecturer in Human Resource Management and she has used the HRM Escape Room as a way of testing end of semester subject knowledge with postgraduate students.

What do Emma’s students think? They love it! They reported that they feel more like they are playing a game rather than completing an assessment, whilst feeling that they’re also engaging with the learning materials.

Gamification is still a popular topic and educators of all types are eagerly looking into ways of transforming what can sometimes be quite challenging and dry theory into engaging resources. I think Emma may have struck gamification-gold with her work.

Dr Emma Thirkell introducing OneNote Class Notebook

Of course, creating any new resources takes time but Emma informed the audience that, once they have an understanding of OneNote Classroom, it could take just two hours to make our very own Escape Rooms!

Dr Jessica Louise Macbeth & Jane Fitzgerald, UCLan Case Study: Preparing Modules for Teams Delivery

Our second presentation from UCLan told an interesting story about how experimentation with Microsoft Teams led to using the platform within their courses.

Jessica and Jane explained how they fully investigated the range of tools that would allow them to build interesting, pedagogically-informed activities and interactions into the spaces they’re expecting their students to use. Students used Mindmeister (a mind mapping Teams app) to collaboratively develop ‘revision maps’ as well as creating their own mind maps around research design. These apps not only helped student engagement, they also encouraged the student voice. The ‘Polly’ app (voting/polling/quizzing) was used for establishing student understanding of topics.

Student feedback has been very promising, the slide below shows some findings from a survey of students’ perceptions of Teams across 10 different coursesย  within the Faculty of Health and Well-being.

Jane and Jess discussing considerations
Key considerations when delivering a module using Teams
Student Feedback after using Teams, all very positive.
Examples of student feedback

Nicky Bowen & John Billington, Hugh Baird CollegeAn Institutional Migration to Microsoft Teams

Nicky Bowen and John Billington – Lessons Learnt

I think this presentation, for me certainly, was one of the most eagerly awaited. This is because Hugh Baird College have stopped using a VLE completely and have pushed everything into a Microsoft teams environment (gasp).

As someone who has always worked for institutions that have been almost surgically attached to their VLEs, the idea of a college ‘going it alone’ without one really fascinated me.

Nicky and John took us on a journey which began with the reasons why they decided to consider teams. The VLE they had, called Totara (basically Moodle) simply wasn’t doing what their academics wanted and so they invited the larger VLE vendors to Hugh Baird to demonstrate their systems. Although impressed by these systems, the price tag was just too high for their college. So, they decided to look at what the main digital infrastructure platforms (Google & Microsoft) could offer and they trialled their existing VLE versus Google Classroom versus Microsoft Teams with their students.

They assumed that Google Classroom, a more established digital learning space, to have been more popular than both the VLE and Microsoft Teams but they were surprised to find that almost all students and staff taking part in the trial preferred to use Microsoft Teams.

Partnering with Microsoft, they began engaging staff very early on in the project by organising groups of staff to attend Microsoft Innovative Educator (MIE) Boot-Camps, as well as engaging staff with other, more localised training interventions. Also, senior staff at Hugh Baird were on-board with the Teams transition which meant the technology could be mentioned/discussed at lots of meetings to lots of different types of staff.

Hugh Baird have also been able to connect the Teams to their Student Information System which means that, unlike institutions that are running Teams alongside their VLE, they now have a fully integrated solution. Teams has been running as Hugh Baird’s primary platform since September 2019 – I’m sure I won’t be the only one to be keeping a close watch on their continuing journey.

Finishing with the Lessons Learnt slide (above), gave us all some valuable tips, based on an enormous amount of hard work, as to how we can begin to think about framing our own deployments.

One of the takeaways from this talk was the sheer amount of detailed testing Nicky and John had instigated at Hugh Baird. From the trials through to a number of proof of concepts, a massive effort has ensured a successful and stable paradigm shift in their digital education provision.

All Together Now

Clearly, both my own experiences with Teams and the testimony from all of the presenters, one of Teams’ strengths is its enhanced functionality around collaboration and communication. These are also likely the first elements that learners and academics will be introduced to and become proficient at. Little initial effort (post some text) – high-stakes response (engagement).

Much of the positive feedback, discussion and activity responses (I haven’t had time to transcribe the activity yet) from the attendees at the focused on student/student and student/academic engagement with several mentions of potential drops in email use and students learning how to collaborate with each other. Also, from my own experiences with the course we have run this year, it is clear the Teams as a hub for communications and collaboration really does seem to be a no-brainer since the platform lends itself so easily to these activities.

Although Teams HE case studies are still relatively hard to come by for usage, those that do exist invariably praise, if nothing else, how transformational the communications & collaboration tools have been:

It made life much easier. It’s quicker to communicate with all team members and supervisors at the same time and as mentioned before being able to share and access changes immediately have been very helpful.

Rachel Smith, Plymouth University Student

And from Edinburgh…

Teams is helping bring more flexibility to me and my students for one-to-one’s and has extended to live class chat which is a great benefit to the student collective as well as individually. 

University Lecturer in Science & Engineering (University of Edinburgh)

Back to Basics

I’ve worked in higher education long enough to recognise that new technologies appear all the time, each promising to enhance the student experience, improve marks, transform practice etc. These technologies are often purchased on the strength of these promises but then… they are perceived to have failed and the quest for the next Holy Grail of learning technologies resumes.

Of course, it’s not always the technology that’s at fault… think of a learning technology from your own institution that may have not received the levels of engagement expected… personally, I can identify a number of reasons why a new learning technology may fail: culture, training, awareness, unstable implementation, no consultation, no buy-in from key stakeholders (e.g. IT Services, Executive Team, Students’ Union etc.). Do any of these reasons sound familiar to you?

But how can we avoid such pitfalls if we decide to trial/deploy Microsoft Teams in our own institutions?

I’ve always believed that to fully engage with a learning technology, academics have to be sure that it adds value and quality to their teaching, whilst at the same time not being overly burdened with the administration of their module inside the platform. So, for example, if I was tasked with trying to engage a lecturer in biology with Microsoft Teams I would build a demo Team, populate it with mock Biology discussions, Biology resources, Biology Quizzes, Sways etc. just to provide a contextualised space for their own subject area. Just a plain, generic Team template really wouldn’t do but something highly relevant, a proof of concept like this would probably provide the hook I’d need to get the academic thinking about their own course design, plans, pedagogy, ideas around enhanced engagement etc. and this could then lead to a broader, more meaningful discussion.

Describing how great we believe Teams (or any other technology) is, sending email descriptions etc. is all well and good but to demonstrate how useful and potentially transformative a technology is I’ve always found that working prototypes are very useful.

Where is this all heading?

It really is tempting to see the increased interest with Teams as the harbinger of doom for the VLE. Having been both a student and professional user of several VLEs, I have to admit to spending more time being frustrated with the VLE rather than feeling empowered by it.

Certainly, the Teams (and the wider Office 365) platform offers an incredible degree of flexibility when it comes to building digital learning environments but there is a danger also that if not enough thought and design informs Teams course design, from a range of stakeholders, the flexibility can turn result in chaos. I’ve experienced this myself and so, I’d advise everyone to think, think, think and then design, test, design, test etc. Just like all of our event speakers have done in fact! ๐Ÿ™‚

Of course, one could just dump all of one’s PowerPoints into a Team for students to access but hey, we’re not really progressing then, are we?

I’m also finding the idea of the ‘Digital Ecosystem’ an increasingly useful mental-model to help me visualize how a core/hub with a dozen or so independent but interconnected components/tools/databases could change everything. Being able to add or remove, re-purpose these components ourselves to meet the ever-changing needs of our students, researchers, partners etc. is a power prospect indeed.

As I said at the event plenary session, Teams presents all educators with the opportunity to build their own digital learning environments, in fact, the opportunities available to us all at the moment are unparalleled I feel. But with these opportunities comes a lot of hard work… want something out of the box that (sort of) works okay? Perhaps a VLE is still for you. This isn’t bad, if the VLE still delivers everything we want it to then is there even a case to use Teams with your students?

To finish, I’d just like to leave you with the below video of Dr David Kellerman from UNSW Sydney, describing how he’s using Office 365/Teams… it’s an inspirational watch but we can be certain an enormous amount of resource has gone into realising this level of practice…

Thanks for reading.

Dr David Kellermann, UNSW Sydney

Sources

Edinburgh University IT Department (20??) ‘Teams’

Plymouth University (20??) Case study: Using Microsoft Teams for final year dissertation supervision

Vesant, S. (2019) An Analysis of Microsoft Teams at Scale: Experiences so Far. https://www.slideshare.net/santanuvasant/keele-digital-festival-microsoft-teams-for-learning-and-teaching-keynote