The introduction of Microsoft Teams as part of the Office 365 application suite has drastically changed the way in which learners can communicate, collaborate and access content online, underpinning ‘scholarly activity’ (K.Jordan and M.Weller 2018).
In an age where smart phones are becoming the essential device for students, it is ever increasingly important to address their needs for instant and more accessible learning. When students begin their journey, it is vital that they are able to connect with their peers and form meaningful relationships around their studies. For some students this can be challenging and there are number of different factors that can have effect. Building communities in an ‘asynchronous environment’ enables students to ‘learn at convenient times’ without having the need to physically host discussions (D. Duret et al. 2018).
The introduction of Teams was able to address two clear concerns for academic staff in relation to the learner experience:
1. A drop in student engagement with existing chat/discussion tools available via the Universities VLE. Following increasing student expectation in demanding ‘effective use of technology to support and enhance their studies’ (P.Reed 2014), students are no longer logging into a traditional desktop PC and instead seek much more accessible and instant learning experiences.
2. The creation of numerous social media sites e.g. Facebook, linking to academic courses and groups across the university. Usually brought about by students and sometimes staff, they have become increasingly difficult to police with no one quite knowing who has ownership. This leads to inconsistency across the student experience and puts staff and students in a difficult position; What if learners do not have an associated user account to engage with the platform? Supposing they do, what if they still don’t wish to interact with university groups in the same online space where they connect their own private social lives?
Teams provides a free to access mobile/desktop application which all students and staff automatically have access to through the universities Office 365 tenancy. This platform promotes digital professionalism and provides an opportunity for learner’s voices to be heard in a secure and private environment.
The accessible and appealing mobile interface of Teams has helped bring students together with staff, taking learning outside of the traditional ‘classroom’. The student buy-in lies with the parallels drawn between Teams and contemporary social media platforms. The new-look online communities galvanize the student learning experience by complementing the existing University VLE. Cohesion between these two core systems is key to overall engagement for both students and staff.
This proposal fits in directly with ‘Participation through Learning Technology’, as Teams has enabled academic staff to connect with students through a safe and professional digital environment. It also links with ‘Collaboration for Learning Technology’ as the app provides a collaboration platform for learners to share their views around different media/content and work together across projects.
Session content: evaluation and reflection
The session is based on a pilot project, which saw a Faculty wide roll-out of Microsoft Teams. Here we evaluate its effectiveness in student participation and the way in which learning has become much more accessible and able to take place outside the traditional classroom setting.
Looking at two different case studies in the School of Nursing, we focus on how Teams integration into the student learning experience has developed. Additionally exploring how the platform has helped aid student led study and how a student/staff panel has allowed the experience to be tailored to meet the learning needs of students.
Learning technology support throughout the pilot has proved an essential factor in both staff and student participation. Being able to support an initial in-class Teams induction, allows students to familiarize with the technology and resolve any technical queries and concerns at initial participation.
The creation of a Faculty-level ‘Digital Learning Community’ in Teams, has provided ample opportunity for colleagues to interact, engage and share good practice in using the application. This has generated the confidence needed for colleagues to successfully embed Teams into the student learning experience.
There is clear evidence from initial student feedback suggesting a wholly positive impact. Students recognise the ease of access and particularly appealing ‘social-media feel’ of the platform. Further research will be conducted along the way to analyse the impact of Teams at different levels of application; module/course level, distance/on campus learning.
By sharing approaches and practice, we hope to inspire and empower others in adopting such a platform to effectively connect with their learners and instill a real sense of community.
D. Duret et al. 2018 ‘Collaborative Learning with PeerWise’ – ALT Research in Learning Technology Vol.26 2018
P.Reed 2014 ‘Staff experience and attitudes towards technology-enhanced learning initiatives in one Faculty of Health and Life Sciences’ – ALT Research in Learning Technology Vol.22 2014
K.Jordan and M. Weller 2018 ‘Communication, collaboration and identity: factor analysis of academics’ perceptions of online networking’ – ALT Research in Learning Technology Vol.26 2018
Resources for participants
Post on UK Microsoft Educator Blog – https://blogs.msdn.microsoft.com/teachers/?p=16775
Post on ALT blog – https://altc.alt.ac.uk/blog/2018/06/cultivating-collaborations-with-learner-communities-in-he/
Microsoft Teams Overview – https://www.microsoft.com/en-gb/education/products/teams/default.aspx