Microsoft Teams is a great way to increase interaction among students in your classes. It provides such functions as instant messaging, file sharing, and video chat, and provides an easy way to create interaction areas for groups.
Let’s look more specifically at how you might set Teams up for your classes. This is hardly an exhaustive list. It is simply intended some to provide some ideas to help you get started.
Strengths and weaknesses
A couple of things to consider first: Teams does not integrate with Blackboard. That has both good and bad aspects. The good part is that because Teams is separate from Blackboard, students are more likely to integrate it into their day-to-day activities. It has desktop and mobile versions, and it does a good job of notifying everyone of new posts and updated materials. It also doesn’t require log-in for each use the way Blackboard does.
The downside of being outside Blackboard is that the Blackboard gradebook is not integrated into Teams. That means you will have to enter any grades manually in Blackboard if you grade work that students complete in Teams. You will have to decide for yourself whether the added interaction is worthwhile.
Discussion and file sharing
This is where Teams really shines. Within a Teams site, you can create as many sub-areas, or channels, as you need for your class. A channel contains a communication area just for that group, and members can interact through instant messaging, threaded discussion, videoconferencing or phone calls. Each channel also has a separate area for file storage, so groups can work together on Word files, spreadsheets, PowerPoint presentations, and material accessible through any Microsoft app. Individuals can also use their Outlook calendars within Teams.
This is another big strength of Teams, which allows you to send messages, make calls or have videoconferences.
- Phone calls. The phone system is built into the Teams app, a function that will eventually replace Skype for Business. A contacts page makes it easy to find people for calls and messages, and voicemail and a call history are integrated into Teams.
- Videoconferencing. You can set up a videoconference with individuals, small groups, or everyone on your Teams site (an entire class, for instance). Each channel within Teams also has videoconferencing capability, so your groups could set up their own video calls. Teams also has a live transcription option, so students can have audio converted to live captioning in English or other languages.
- Instant messaging. This allows you to send quick announcements or to set up threaded discussions. It’s a great option for helping group members stay in touch, or to send material to everyone in a class. Links included in the message box show up as previews of web pages, and you can add photos, video, audio, emojis, documents, and other files to a message. There are also options for creating polls, alerting users to high-priority messages, and sending chats to Outlook. The messages area also allows you to provide quick responses with smiley faces and thumbs-up emojis.
Creating a questions channel on Teams is a great way to allow students to post questions in a place where classmates can see them. This allows students to answer each other’s questions, too.
Just about any Microsoft app will work within Teams, and dozens of other apps have extensions that can be added to Teams. For instance, you can create a poll or quiz with Forms, set up a work-tracking area with Planner, or create a class notebook with OneNote. You can add news feeds, maps, wikis, Kahoot games, Trello boards and Wikipedia searches. There are add-ins for Kaltura, Zoom, and Creative Cloud, among others.
This is a separate Microsoft app that can be used during videoconferencing. If you have a touch screen, you can write on the board just as you would in class. If you use the Whiteboard app on your computer, you can upload photos to your board, and add sticky notes, stickers, and documents. It also allows you to create templates, grids and lists.
An analytics page allows you to track some functions on your Teams site. For instance, it shows the number of posts, replies, mentions and reactions within each channel, providing a a bar chart you can view by week or month.
The popularity of Teams, Slack and similar communications platforms has grown considerably during the coronavirus pandemic, largely because of the interaction they allow among people in nearly every time zone. They can’t replace in-person interaction, but their combination of communication tools, file sharing and app integration make them great ways to stay in touch with colleagues who are working remotely.
If you are worried about having students use additional technology in your classes, consider this: Nearly every organization has some sort of communication platform like Teams. By integrating Teams into your class, you can give students practice in an environment they are very likely to encounter when they move into jobs. Teams is also supported by KU IT. That is an added benefit over Slack, another popular platform.