Our College values face-to-face interaction and has no classes which are strictly online. We host a Moodle instance with a course site for every class and offer a WordPress multi-site for faculty, students, departments and organizations to host a blog or website. We offer Microsoft 365, but do not use a Google apps for education domain. One tool I want to practice, pilot, and promote is Microsoft Teams for Classes because finally Microsoft has made available via Teams much of the functionality that Google Classroom had years ago.
Just last week I worked with our Residence Life department on campus to demonstrate Teams. I had met with the Director two weeks ago to discuss some of their needs with their students. I created a Team and made the Director and several staff members owners of the Team. Then I enlisted my co-workers and two of our departments student employees to take on student roles in the Team. More time is necessary to create specific examples, but I almost always believe that the time invested in customizing models is paid back in a smooth implementation because users can quickly see how the tool might work for them. In that respect, I created a second Channel and named it for their Program. I created two assignments which include the use of a Microsoft Word document as a template with the Turn in and Review functionality (automatic permissioning on the file between staff/teacher and student). The department wants to use rubrics, so I created a sample rubric and asked the “students” to complete the assignment so that the staff can see the submissions and the grades. For my own department’s benefit, I invited my coworker to sit with me and our two student employees to watch them navigate and seek their reactions and input to the process. When the Director and his staff had time to explore, we added his student employee so that the Director could see how one of his students interacted.
We are hoping to meet face-to-face with his department to allow them to explore further and ask more questions. I intend to demo the OneNote Class Notebook which is automatically generated with each Class Team. While plenty of users may have seen a OneNote Notebook before, the Class Notebook has sections for shared collaborations, for read-only for students, and for each student that only the teachers and that student can access. I plan to demonstrate that in person so that they can actually create a template page, Distribute it to all students, and then Review students’ work.
Here is a screenshot of the Res Life Team’s Class Notebook and the annotations I added. You can see their student employee and my coworkers’ name listed on the left (as student roles).
To investigate this collaboratively with students in a class (or how I recommend this department will implement with their whole group of students in August), I would prepare the Team and the Class Notebook with some materials, but then add additional portions live on the fly together so that the students can explore their student side and see the Teacher/Staff side as well.
Teams was built for teams (as the name implies). The release of Teams for Classes does create a hierarchy of permissions different between teachers and students, but the underlying nature is intended for collaborations and as a hub for many of the applications that can make Microsoft 365 feel like one is wandering around lost in the woods.
Our department used the Class Notebook with our student employees (we don’t teach a class per se) this past academic year and found the tool a value. Students can be empowered for their own learning because they can create their own sections and pages to help keep themselves organized in addition to pages we distributed (for goal setting and reflection journals). The OneNote platform is flexible in terms of adding multimedia – each page is more than a word processing document, so if students want to draw with digital ink (better yet if they have a tablet device), add images, video, etc., the page can handle that.
Students’ own agency can be empowered via the Channel functionality of a Team because any team member can create a channel and invite team members based on a project. The General channel is the default for communication/chats that involve everyone, but members are free to create their own conversation channels, too. (I realize that students may very easily use their own chat method. However, we did find that when given a tool that actually had a chat feature, they used it. They may have still had chats other places, but they hosted at least some on the supported platform – perhaps out of convenience because the rest of the group’s work was housed there and perhaps simply because they could.)
I think the use of Teams has the potential to be a game-changer for faculty who want to expand their use of blended learning. Faculty are not required to use Moodle, and some have struggled with the platform. Moodle’s tools for co-authoring are limited. Likewise, for the same reason that Google released Classroom to do the heavy lifting of organizing folder structure and simplifying the permissioning of files, Class Teams has finally realized this need. Up until now a student would need to share from his/her own OneDrive account to share a document that the teacher wanted to be able to edit or comment on electronically. From the teacher’s perspective, ‘inheriting’ multiple shared documents from every student’s own OneDrive account provides no order or organization. If we are to define a blended learning environment as having an online presence that is more than just a dumping ground for documents that the teacher shares, we need to have a streamlined structure for collaboration.
The following ISTE Standards for Students might be met
1. Empowered Learner
Students leverage technology to take an active role in choosing, achieving and demonstrating competency in their learning goals, informed by the learning sciences. Students:
C. use technology to seek feedback that informs and improves their practice and to demonstrate their learning in a variety of ways.
2. Digital Citizen
Students recognize the rights, responsibilities and opportunities of living, learning and working in an interconnected digital world, and they act and model in ways that are safe, legal and ethical. Students:
c. demonstrate an understanding of and respect for the rights and obligations of using and sharing intellectual property.
6. Creative Communicator
Students communicate clearly and express themselves creatively for a variety of purposes using the platforms, tools, styles, formats and digital media appropriate to their goals. Students:
- a. choose the appropriate platforms and tools for meeting the desired objectives of their creation or communication.