Only 26% of HE, and 23% of FE students enjoy using the collaborative features of their VLEJisc Digital experience insights survey (2018)
I would like to start by acknowledging two excellent posts: one by Dale Munday, and another by Lawrie Phipps – both of which are extremely relevant and insightful pieces, that inspired me to write this particular blog post. I would absolutely recommend having a good read of these, if you haven’t already had the chance to.
Microsoft Teams has promptly become a topic of critical discussion across both the Higher, and Further Education spheres. This is partly due to emerging questions around the suitability of some existing and potentially ‘outdated’ digital learning platforms – often referred to as Learner Management Systems (LMS) or Virtual Learning Environments (VLE).
Note: For the purpose of this blog post, I will try (where possible) to avoid using such ‘labels’…
One distinction that could be made between said ‘traditional’ learning platforms and for example, Microsoft Teams, is the transition to an environment not driven by content or data, but by people, communication and collaboration.
“As technology is developing so rapidly, we, as a course team, are committed to harnessing these developments and embracing the technologies which provide a meaningful and effective learning experience. Our students immediately engaged with the online learning platform, and it has already proven extremely useful both for classroom-based activities and independent study.”Andrew Sprake – Lecturer in Sport and Physical Education, UCLan
Now, before I talk any more about Teams, I would like to get something out of the way… well, a confession of sorts…
I am absolutely and unapologetically, a proud advocate of Microsoft in Education.
On more than one occasion over the last year, I have been asked a variation of the following question:
“Why is it all about Microsoft?”
Well, just as a starter, here are four areas where I feel Microsoft products really excel in an educational context:
- Accessibility – Microsoft are putting learning firmly in the hands of students, with impressive app compatibility on all devices. Not forgetting the outstanding ‘built-in’ Microsoft Learning Tools, which are now readily available across the full Office 365 suite of applications.
- Responsiveness – From personal experience, the MS product teams are extremely responsive to feedback and subsequently, the needs of learners and educators. In fact, my own ‘wish list’ of Microsoft Teams features from the last academic year, are already on the product’s roadmap and scheduled for release later this year.
- Relevance – MS applications, including Teams, actively support students to develop digital literacy skills that will prepare them for future employment. Also, we now know that there are 13 million daily active users of Microsoft Teams worldwide, with over 500,000 organisations now having adopted the platform for workplace communication and collaboration.
- Integration – The applications are also extremely well integrated. Not just with each other, but also with a vast array of 3rd party tools and connectors – some of the most recent examples of which, include: Turnitin, Kahoot and Moodle.
In June 2018 I wrote articles for the Microsoft Education and ALT blogs, around our institution’s early adoption of Microsoft Teams in learning and teaching. I identified two initial areas where the introduction of Teams had successfully addressed some common challenges.
- A lack of engagement with the often ‘static’ discussion tools that sit within ‘traditional’ learning platforms.
- The use of contemporary social media (e.g. Facebook), to facilitate community/discussion spaces.
At the University of Central Lancashire, Microsoft Teams was first introduced to students in a learning and teaching capacity from September 2017. Since that time, a wealth of case studies have emerged from the academic community, identifying further potential scenarios and use cases. Colleagues have been particularly generous in sharing their experiences through the University’s Technology Enabled Learning and Teaching (TELT) blog – short excerpts from which, have been featured throughout this post.
“I saw the benefit that Microsoft Teams could have, by being able to communicate with students in one place and allowing them a space where they could share positive experiences, questions and worries whilst out in the clinical environment. We could all communicate on one platform, share evidence, research and information that we feel may be beneficial for our students, and allow discussions to occur within this community space. A challenge we often experience on the midwifery course, is keeping in touch with our students, especially as they spend 50% of their time in clinical placements.”Neesha Ridley – Senior Lecturer in Midwifery, UCLan
So, what can we take away and learn from all of this? Well, firstly, we need to think carefully about the ways in which students actually learn in the current educational climate. Secondly, we need to be aware of the importance around supporting students to develop transferrable skills for their future work environment. The Jisc digital experience insights survey – published in September 2018, identifies a number of eye-opening statistics in relation to both of these areas, which I also touched on in a blog post from earlier this year.
Picking up on the blogs identified at the start of this post (and labels aside!), I do particularly like Dale’s reference to a “Hybrid Learning Environment”, and Lawrie’s notion of a “Digital Ecosystem”. To me, these identify the concept of a much more flexible learning environment, and one that can evolve in line with both course curricula, as well as the needs of the learners themselves.
“A short introduction session delivered with the Faculty Learning Technologist, proved to be all we needed to empower the students and realise the benefits on offer. Whilst online discussion groups are not a new concept, I do believe that the use of Teams has significantly contributed to the experience of this particular student group. In the spirit of andragogy, they have taken ownership of the Team and found ways to use it to their advantage. The impact of the community of learning on these students has been truly motivating, as I endeavour to find ways to better support this inspirational group of learners”Alice Thompson – Senior Lecturer in Palliative and End-of-life Care, UCLan
There is increasing evidence to suggest that students are figuratively, and literally taking learning into their own hands with the effective use of Microsoft Teams in teaching. Ultimately, this has led in increased learner engagement, both in and outside of the classroom.
“My particular interest in using Microsoft Teams, was to increase connections between students and extend the learning environment to wherever they were at any time. The result has been brilliant. In one group of postgraduate students, we have had over 1000 posts from 25 students, in the first 3 months of the course.”Nick Bohannon – Principal Lecturer in Mental Health Nursing, UCLan
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Featured image sourced from pixabay.com