Microsoft Teams set the bar for digital transformation in education by wrapping its Office 365 suite of products in a collaboration engine unlike anything I have ever seen. It is surprising to see the agility of a company Microsoft’s size making these innovations seemingly out of nowhere and changing collaboration in education at its core. This is not to say the Google platform isn’t equally impressive in its own right with what some would say is a more robust management offering as well as a much more rapid deployment time; but in the collaboration space, Google pushes its base to platforms such as Slack because it has no offering of its own. A missed opportunity for sure as Microsoft has stepped up to the plate to own that space with the introduction of Teams.
At this point, Teams is nothing new. However, since it first appeared in November 2016 the application has rapidly matured, and as of June 2017 we see the first real advancements for its use in education. Billed as the “digital hub for teachers and students in the Office 365 for education space” – Teams is proving to be just that. With the recent updates, efficiency in the classroom can now be enhanced to levels never thought possible before without the addition of third party solutions like Blackboard or Moodle.
Teachers and students can access a synchronized plethora of school data which automatically populates classes with student rosters based on information passed from the schools SIS (Student Information System). Additionally, OneNote has gained valuable functionality by allowing teachers to create interactive lessons in Teams. These experiences can be highly personalized to ensure students receive much more than a boilerplate template that is uninteresting, out of touch, and ultimately unengaging.
Most exciting is the integration of applications into the classroom experience. Teachers can access Word, Excel, Planner, and PowerPoint directly within Teams and customize their classrooms with the applicable education apps. Management is simple too. Teachers can move rapidly from creating to distributing content in addition to the seamless grading and student feedback all within the application.
For example, let’s say a teacher creates a project for their students and traditionally would have had the students take notes, and then maybe have sent an email or blasts through the SIS with additional information. The teacher would then have braced for the flood of questions and comments both digitally and in person. Now the students can take their notes within OneNote in the classroom Team, and the teacher can provision all of the assignment requirements, digital materials, notes, etc. to the classroom via Teams. Then receive real time questions and feedback from students regardless of being on a PC, Mac, iPhone, or Android and manage that feedback in a structured manor. Once published, educators can then supply updates, milestone reports, and eventually grades all within the Teams application.
This one single application integrates with the entire Office 365 suite of products and pulls them all together to allow for a single pane of glass for all teachers’ and students’ needs. While Teams could be seen as a glorified “wrapper” around the O365 suite, the cornerstone feature that distinguishes it from being just that is the integration of conversations. Teachers can engage with students throughout the published content with text, video, interactive audio, and even more modern expressions like emojis and stickers. This breaks down the barriers between teacher and student by allowing communication that is both meaningful and relatable not to mention rapid and organized. In addition, all of this collaboration, feedback, file sharing, and personal information is safe and secure which provides schools and staff with the peace of mind. Educators that take the time to understand and leverage this powerful tool understand that it comes with no liability or danger to themselves or their students.
Beyond the classroom, faculty and staff can also have teams of their own that tie in to wider PLCs (Professional Learning Communities) that open up access to peers or just internal collaborations for school-wide programs and initiatives.
Imagine the benefit of the booster club being able to share vendor and order forms with not only one another, but also with the staff responsible for receiving the inventory and the students responsible for stocking the store. Then having the ability to converse in real time on feedback from those purchasing items to help make decisions on how to order the most effective and popular items or receive feedback on merchandise never before considered. Teams allows for this collaboration all the way down the line. These examples barely scratch the surface of other applicable uses from sports, clubs, volunteering, charity works, etc.
There is a fundamental shift happening in online collaboration in today’s businesses and schools. No longer are we interested in managing files, IMs, text messages, emails, and phone calls in separate applications. It is simply too much distraction and too disorganized to manage the increasing demand for data in multiple applications. We are now in an age where a seamless experience to convey all of our resources in a single location is going to win the bid for our attention.
Yes, Teams is new and requires discipline to plan a strategy to deploy and govern its use; however, at the end of the day, the benefit to providing a single pane of glass for campus wide collaboration is revolutionary to how we teach and administrate. This is the most impactful change on our road to education’s digital transformation that I have seen to date.
Microsoft has published guides to help educators, IT admins, and school leaders begin the adoption of Teams and I have included links to those below for reference, but first check out this video that does a great job showing how Teams is transforming lower education.
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