Connecting ThingLink to Microsoft Teams for synchronous content options in online simulation


Sam Pywell – Lecturer in Occupational Therapy, University of Central Lancashire

Dr Abhi JonesPhase 2 Evidence Informed Practice of Medicine Theme Lead and Clinical Lead for Interprofessional Education, University of Central Lancashire

Thanks to colleagues at Birmingham University, Shrewsbury Prison, Barnsley College, and all our other DigiLearn Sector colleagues who joined in the VR test of our HM PriSIM.

Working to create a prison simulation in Microsoft Teams (HM PriSIM21), I wanted to use an online platform as the base of the ‘game’, and add Teams hyperlinks to live meetings where students could complete tasks both under staff supervision and within the simulation. Via the DigiLearn Sector, colleagues at Birmingham University very kindly donated a ThingLink of a prison environment for us to use in the simulation.

The hybrid classroom in Autumn 2021 could look like students (and staff) accessing online simulation from wherever they want, either on campus or at home (pandemic depending). Ideally, they would also be able to access the simulation on any device, and in any format – including XR (AR, VR, MR). By connecting Teams invites to the ThingLink, it meant we could create an additional option for ‘players’ who wanted to see the prison layout in VR.  My colleague Dr Abhi Jones (UCLan), found that within ThingLink you could “add text and media” to a tag (see image below).

Thinglink screenshot displaying option to add text and media
Thinglink option to add text and media

This allowed me to first add a title “Ring the bell”, then add the link to the Teams meeting, and finally a picture as a background if needed (see image below).

Thinglink screenshot displaying link to the teams meeting
Thinglink displaying link to the teams meeting

I could embed the Teams meeting hyperlink within the ThingLink using this method, but was stuck on how to add more meeting links further into the prison (e.g. for a prison cell), and also how to view in Virtual Reality (VR). It was possible on my Surface Pro device to select the Teams meeting within the ThingLink, and then activate it to join. However, this didn’t work on my VR headset – which I had also added my mobile phone too.

Thinglink once the Microsoft Teams meeting had been embedded
Thinglink once the Microsoft Teams meeting had been embedded

After posting for help on the DigiLearn Sector, colleagues at Birmingham University kindly donated more content for the ThingLink of a prison – including the original sections before they were stuck together, in order to add the active Teams links deeper into the prison. Posting again on the DigiLearn Sector, meant I could encourage colleagues from both within UCLan and externally, to try this option with their own VR headsets (effectively a beta test). DigiLearn Sector colleagues tested a variety of Occulus devices (Rift, Go and Quest), and one colleague tried the Microsoft Hololens. ThingLink later confirmed that the hyperlink to Teams would not work, as that functionality is not currently supported. However, we did manage to get the Teams link to activate from within the 360 videos – which meant students could still access Teams meetings from directly within the ThingLink.

The ThingLink as viewed in Occulus Vive – identified by two overlapping spinning red squares.
Image above c/o Rob Lea and colleagues. The ThingLink as viewed in Occulus Vive – identified by two overlapping spinning red squares.

The image below is of some of the diary invites on 21st September – HM PriSIM day for us. Each of these were attached to the ThingLink, so ‘players’ had the option of going to certain rooms. The VR option meant ‘players’ could walk around the entire simulation if they liked – so they had a choice in what they wanted to learn.

Example of diary invites sent to participants
Diary invites sent to participants

These opportunities have the potential to open a whole new world of gamification within online simulation – with the ability to contain both synchronous and asynchronous content for online activities within a ‘game’. Our next challenge is to trial whether this will work for ‘players’ both within the organisation and externally, and for multiple ‘players’ to be playing at the same time within the simulation. For ‘hybrid’ and ‘hyflex’, we need as many choices as possible to enhance the student experience.

Thanks again to Birmingham University (Alison Gibson and colleagues) for sharing their ThingLink for the purpose of the #HMPriSIM21 simulation, and also to everyone who volunteered within the DigiLearn Sector to test whether the Teams link would work using VR in ThingLink.


Dr. Abhi Jones – “Make it Better…ThingLink it!” (ThingLink blog – 2020):    

Sam Pywell – “From ‘Floating heads’ to simulated prisons: Reflecting on the endless possibilities of the DigiLearn Sector for Technology-enhanced learning (TEL)” ([SS1] Technology Enabled Learning and Teaching blog – 2021):


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