Creating active learner communities with Microsoft Teams
Author: Chris Melia, TELT
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. In an age where smart phones are becoming the essential device for students, it is increasingly important to address their needs for more accessible and instant learning experiences.
It is vital that students 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.
Through a Faculty of Health and Wellbeing pilot, we have evaluated Teams’ 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.
We were able to address two clear concerns for academic staff in relation to the learner experience:
- A drop in student engagement with existing chat/discussion tools available via the Universities VLE. Student expectations have shifted towards a much more instant and accessible learning experience that meets their needs.
- The creation of numerous social media sites (e.g. Facebook) linking to academic courses and groups. 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 university’s Office 365 license. 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 galvanise 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.
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 familiarise themselves with the technology and resolve any technical queries and concerns during their 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.
Here are some of the things that students particularly liked about using Teams as part of their module:
“I can use it anywhere and I am able to share information quickly.”
“It’s handy for supervision; I don’t have to travel to University.”
“Accessibility and group support from peers.”
“Keeping in touch and sharing ideas. It’s easy to use and navigate.”
“The phone app is so easy to access! It’s useful for sharing information and seeking support.”
“It’s good to get to know people before I started.“
“Teams has allowed me to keep track of stages on the module and share questions or answers.”
“Discussions could continue from lectures and it enabled group supervision at any time.”
“Everyone is on the same page.”
“Very good for communicating with lecturers.”
So, if you are looking for a platform to communicate, collaborate and share content with colleagues or learners – Teams has the answer!
To find out more about Teams, book onto our ‘Introduction to Teams’ session via the e3hub.