Creating a Virtual Classroom: Microsoft Teams

Thoughtware Alert Apr 20, 2020
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Our new normal may be different than what most of us have ever experienced. In the wake of these changes, we can leverage technology to spur us forward in many environments. In education, this shift has been fast and widespread as classes move from in person to remote at a breakneck pace. This overview provides some insight into how Microsoft Teams can help support remote learning.

 In this article, we will take a high-level look at these topics:

  • Conferencing
  • Communication
  • Content Sharing
  • Compliance

Conferencing

Microsoft Teams offers video teleconferencing (VTC) software that allows engaging with students to create a dynamic learning environment. Recent “Zoom-bombings” (when an uninvited person disrupts a Zoom meeting) have led the New York City school district to ban the use of Zoom and switch to Microsoft Teams.

Audio & Visual

Microsoft Teams allows students to join from their phone or laptop to access the meeting audio, similar to other VTC software. They also can activate their webcams for a more interactive experience with the instructor.

From the student perspective, the video part of teleconferencing can be the most beneficial for accountability and engagement. The mere act of being on video makes you sit up a little straighter, engage more directly and focus more on what the other person is saying instead of multitasking.

Whiteboarding & Screen-Sharing

Microsoft Whiteboard is embedded into the screen-sharing capability, so educators can draw on the whiteboard to explain concepts the same as they would in class. In addition to the whiteboard, instructors can share their screens to show slide decks or other content.

To add to the ease of use, instructors can use a touch-screen laptop to dynamically draw on the whiteboard during class. The touch screen makes it even easier to share complicated concepts by drawing, which can stimulate visual learners and encourage deeper discussion.

Recordings

Recordings of Microsoft Teams’ video teleconferences can be more helpful than one may anticipate. These recordings are automatically saved to Microsoft Stream. Students can take advantage of the recorded sessions to reference later. Whiteboard notations, screen-shared materials and student questions can then be recorded for an enhanced learning experience.

Even before the SARS-CoV-2 virus and incidence of COVID-19 began to affect classes, some professors were already embracing this trend and using the computer to record markups and notes during lectures. Classes could then use recordings to reference back to any notations made during the lecture.

Dynamic Communication

Something that makes Microsoft Teams a dynamic solution, and perhaps a better contender for VTC technology in education, is that it combines the concepts of social media to create more dynamic methods of communication and collaboration among team members. This in turn allows for a higher level of collaboration between students and instructors.

Posts

Each channel within Microsoft Teams has a section for posts, enabling instructors and students to hold discussions and collaborate through conversations. Controls can be placed on who can initiate a conversation to mitigate unwanted conversations.

This follows the concept of social media. Replies to a post become a thread to easily reference a topic and the discussion. Posts and comments can be reacted to (thumbs-up, thumbs-down, etc.). @Mentions can be made to address a specific person.

Chat

Instructors and students can communicate directly with the chat function. This allows private messaging between specific individuals, allowing students to message the instructor with a question or concern.

Content Sharing

Microsoft Teams is very customizable when it comes to content sharing. The solution’s flexibility allows a configuration that best fits the user’s needs.

File Storage

Microsoft Teams’ file storage is SharePoint-based. Files can be uploaded to Microsoft Teams and linked into conversations for discussion.

OneNote

Microsoft Teams offers two notebooks for educators. The Class OneNote provides each student with their own personal workspace. In addition, it includes a collaboration space for lessons, handouts and creative activities.

The Staff OneNote provides a personal workspace for every staff member as well as collaboration space. This offers a location to store staff meeting notes, brainstorming sessions, etc.

Compliance

To eliminate the Zoom-bombings mentioned above, the New York City school district stated it is shifting to different platforms that have appropriate security measures in place and recommended Microsoft Teams as one of those platforms. Schools must consider security and compliance as well as functionality when selecting virtual classroom technology.

Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA)

Since FERPA does not require or recognize audits or certification, Microsoft recommends academic institutions assess for themselves whether Microsoft’s cloud solutions comply with FERPA standards.

Microsoft has made the following contractual commitments that attest to its compliance:

  • In its Online Services Terms, Microsoft agrees to be designated as a “school official” with “legitimate educational interests” in customer data as defined under FERPA (customer data would include any student records provided through a school’s use of Microsoft cloud services). When handling student education records, Microsoft agrees to abide by the limitations and requirements imposed by 34 CFR 99.33(a) just as school officials do.
  • Furthermore, Microsoft commits to using customer data only to provide organizations with its cloud services and compatible purposes (such as improving malware detection) and does not mine customer data for advertising.
  • Microsoft also contractually commits to not disclosing customer data except as the educational institution directs, as described in the contract, or as required by law. Schools that provide education records to Microsoft through their use of a Microsoft cloud service can thus be assured those records are subject to stringent contractual restrictions regarding their use and disclosure.

Security

Microsoft Teams is available via both the cloud and desktop versions of the application. Per Microsoft’s Security and Compliance in Microsoft Teams webpage:

“Teams enforces team-wide and organization-wide two-factor authentication, single sign-on through Active Directory, and encryption of data in transit and at rest. Files are stored in SharePoint and are backed by SharePoint encryption. Notes are stored in OneNote and are backed by OneNote encryption. The OneNote data is stored in the team SharePoint site. The Wiki tab can also be used for note taking and its content is also stored within the team SharePoint site.”

Compatible Hardware

Students and educators have a wide selection of Teams-enabled hardware to choose from to get the best experience. Headsets, speakerphones, desk phones, conference room systems, cameras and accessories are available from popular manufacturers to simplify hardware deployment and support. Out-of-the-box compatibility and ease of installation can be especially valuable with the need to rapidly provide a full Microsoft Teams experience without the benefit of direct physical contact. Schools can quickly enable students and staff to use Teams with simple hardware setup. Visit Microsoft’s website for a complete list of Teams-compatible devices.

Summary

Microsoft Teams functionality can drive collaboration in the classroom with enhanced communication tools for conferencing, content sharing and discussion. Microsoft’s available trial licensing, which allows for six months of free use, represents an opportunity for educational institutions to explore Teams’ capabilities and how they might support their remote learning objectives. For more information on Microsoft Teams and the available trial license, please contact Tiffany Bobbitt.

References

As with most topics related to COVID-19, changes are being made rapidly. Please note that this information is current as of the date of publication. If you have questions about this topic, contact your BKD Trusted Advisor™ or use the Contact Us form below.

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