Learning is active and collaborative

Microsoft Teams as an Integrated Teaching Platform

Assoc. Prof. Bardo Fraunholz has been using Microsoft Teams in the Master of Information Systems Capstone for more than three years. According to him, it has been a very successful implementation from both, the student as well as the lecturer perspective.

What lead you to use this tool?

The key motivator to explore an alternative platform to our traditional LMS was the lack of engagement when students were required to conduct group work using the LMS discussion folders. One of the key challenges we faced was that students frequently, if not always, chose substitute platforms such as Facebook or WhatsApp to manage their group communication. This practise by the students prevented positive intervention in the teamwork process and poor reflection on teamwork by students. In addition to this challenge, we wanted a platform that not only captured all student communications but one that also facilitated effective collaborative work through document sharing. The included project management tools in Microsoft Teams proved an additional benefit for the efficient management of student teams and assisted students when learning about teamwork.

What Deakin Graduate Learning Outcomes (GLO’s) does this support?

The use of Microsoft Teams aligns with a number of Deakin Graduate Learning Outcomes (GLOs). GLO2 can be assessed in the context of digital communication where students experience and learn online communication in the workplace and more recently due to COVID-19 communication in the context of video conferences and even online presentations. GLO3 can be aligned with students’ ability to master an extensively used professional platform for business. Microsoft Teams is one of the most widely used collaboration platforms in the workplace (measured by active users) and has surpassed one of its major competitors, SLACK. While in the context of our capstone, we do not focus on the assessment of self-management and teamwork, the use of Microsoft Teams aligns well with GLO6 and GLO7. As a fully integrated communication and collaboration platform with project management tools, Teams provides transparency across the whole team process and encourages students to take responsibility for their work as both, the commitments, as well as the contributions are transparent to their colleagues as well as the unit team. This limpidity facilitated through embedded tools within Teams such as Planner not only teaches students to take responsibility but also encourages Agile Project Management work practices.

Workload for the academic team

A key inhibitor to the use of tools outside the LMS can be the cost of setting up the tool. While Microsoft Teams does not integrate with our LMS or Callista, it is part of the Microsoft Office 365 suite of products available to every student and integrated with the Deakin single sign on. This level of integration ensures that every student is identifiable and that the platform is secure.

A key benefit of the Microsoft Teams platform is its single user interface that once set up provides an intuitive and engaging communication interface and collaborative file management. Further, it is easy to add on other components such as OneNote Classroom (for content management and feedback), Planner (project management) and Whiteboard. The assignment submission boxes on the LMS can be linked easily so students can access these without the need to leave the platform. If desired the resources from the LMS can also be linked to make them directly accessible within Microsoft Teams.

The lack of synchronisation with the LMS and Callista means students do not automatically gain access to a unit Teams environment, but access can be semi-automated so that there is little effort necessary to enrol students into a unit Teams site. Setting up groups on Teams is straight forward but requires the manual addition of each student to a private channel. Probably the most trying component of the setup is that groups do not synchronise across to the LMS and therefore, for group assignments groups need to also be set up on the LMS to provide dedicated group submission boxes.

How can Teams be used as an assessment tool?

While the unit team maintains the submission of assessment through the LMS, the strength of using Teams rests in the integrated collaboration, project management and file sharing ability of Teams. Unlike a conventional LMS, Teams enables the co-creation of assignments. Students can develop assessment gradually on the platform in a transparent and equitable way, and feedback can be provided progressively. Each student can keep a reflective diary (or other individual assessment) that is only visible to them and the unit team.

Teams also provides insights into student engagement on the platform. These insights deliver some basic analytics where disengaged students can be identified quickly, and group related issues can be dealt with more efficiently.

What did students say about their experience?

After using Microsoft Teams over a period of three years, using Teams is the preferred option over the LMS. In trimesters where we have used Microsoft Teams student satisfaction, and the overall eVALuate for the unit have been consistently high. Students have made repeated comments, both in class as well as in the qualitative eVALuate feedback, that the use of Teams greatly contributed to the unit experience. Students also saw the benefit in using an industry-standard platform and appreciated the opportunity to refer to their capstone experience with Teams in job interviews.

We have seen a significant increase in discussion board activity on Teams compared to the LMS. Students are very responsive to posts made to the platform and frequently respond instantly. The availability of mobile clients for Teams likely accounts for the increased activity levels. Social media style forums on Teams and emoticons contribute to an overall vibrant and less formal communication. This and the ability to direct messages to the unit team have channelled almost all unit communications through the Teams platform with practically no email traffic for this unit.

While we never anticipated a move to cloud only teaching for COVID-19, our existing setup on Teams enabled an easy transition to teaching in the cloud as the platform is fully equipped for virtual work in teams, and therefore, we could continue all our work for the capstone within the Teams platform and sustained high participation rates for our synchronous cloud workshops.