Author: Chris Melia
It’s been just over two years since the release of Microsoft’s collaborative workspace – Microsoft Teams, so what better time to share some advice and tips around how you can obtain and increase learner engagement with the platform.
- Organising your Team
Appropriately title the Team to reflect the related course/module, also indicating the cohort year. This makes things much easier in the long run!
In any Team, you will always have a General channel, so why not make use of it as a handy announcement/bulletin space? Within the Manage team option, you can change settings to make the General channel a space where only teachers can post.
Before creating any additional channels, think about how you want to structure the Team. Try maybe sticking to four or five channels initially, as you can always add more at a later point and even delete or rename existing ones. Remember, it is particularly important not to overwhelm learners the first time they visit a new digital learning environment.
Examples of commonly created channel types and titles, include: Introductions, Assignment support, and Interesting articles and websites. If you want your channels to appear in a specific order, you will need to number them accordingly by adding digits to the beginning of each channel name (they are ordered alphabetically/numerically).
- Tab resources
Did you know you can add any important files and website links as dedicated tabs using the Add a tab option? This ‘pins’ key resources to the top of a channel, making them readily accessible to all learners using Teams on a PC, laptop or mobile device.
Fully utilise the @mention feature to draw the attention of a particular individual, or group of individuals in your Team. Start by simply typing @Team @Channel or @the individuals name into a message or new conversation. Once your message has been posted, all tagged individuals will receive a notification/prompt that they have been mentioned, as well as a link to the related conversation.
It is important to actively acknowledge and respond to learners when they post. This builds up confidence and can be achieved in Teams by utilising the Like and Reply functions. These actions demonstrate positive online behaviour, which learners are then more likely to model and adopt themselves.
Finally, work closely with early adopters to really support and drive engagement with the wider group.
- Additional apps
Did you know that there a plethora of apps which you can ‘bolt on’ to the Teams experience? Some of the most popular ones, such as Polly and Flipgrid, promote student voice and provide a platform for learners to direct their own learning.
- Chat function
Make learners aware of the Chat function within Teams. This allows them to connect privately outside of the more formal course environment. They can collaborate in real-time on group projects and meet using the Teams built in voice/video call capabilities (just like Skype!). Chat provides a space very similar to contemporary social platforms such as WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger. The main differences here however, are that learners find themselves already fully connected and in a professional and safe space.
- Teach online with Teams
Do you deliver blended or distance learning? You can now teach online through Teams, using the Meet Now option that appears when starting a new Conversation. Learners can drop in and out of a live session and you also have the ability to present and share your teaching materials with them.
- Link Teams to your VLE
It is important for all learners to have a fully connected learning experience. Therefore, it can be useful to build links between Teams space and your institutions’ Virtual Learning Environment. All Teams have a unique web address that can normally be hyperlinked into a menu option on your VLE. Likewise, in Teams you can use the Website option under Add a tab, to provide a direct URL link back to your VLE.
- Induct your learners
Set aside dedicated time to fully introduce your learners to Teams. Remember, they are as new to the platform as you are and will need to be shown the ropes!
It is also important that by the end of the induction, all learners are fully connected to the Teams space and know how to confidently navigate and interact with it. This often includes helping them to: connect to the campus Wi-Fi, download the Teams app, and sign-in using their institutional credentials.
It’s always great to end an induction session with an icebreaker activity, providing a hands-on opportunity for learners to have a go at using Teams. An example of this, could be learners posting personal introductions along with their aspirations for the course/module.
- Obtain feedback
Actively seek feedback and work with learners, to develop and tailor the experience to their needs. Teams provides a wealth of flexibility and adaptability, so don’t be afraid of mixing things up and introduce some new ideas!
Microsoft have recently developed a new Teams University resource, which features case study examples from UCLan and a number of other institutions. UCLan colleagues can also contact the TELT team for help and support using Microsoft Teams.