Yesterday I made my first ever visit to Keele University for their annual Digital Festival. The event, organised by Keele Institute for Innovation and Teaching Excellence (KIITE), usually brings together primarily local university staff for a one-day mini-conference. However this year’s theme covering the use of Microsoft Teams to support learning and teaching practices in universities had definitely piqued interest and attracted an impressively large contingent of external university staff.
Introduction by Lawrie Phipps (Jisc) & Dr Rafe Hallett (KIITE)
Rafe Hallett, director of KIITE, gave the first half of the introduction and welcomed us to Keele and our day exploring next generation learning environments. He asked us to think about what it takes to make learning social beyond contact time and how can we take the dynamic from face-to-face learning spaces and bring them online.
Jisc’s Laurie Phipps (who has begun to turn himself into Mr Teams through recent Jisc work exploring possible replacements for the traditional Virtual Learning Environment ☺️) followed with the point that what people really want a is digital ecosystem that is seamless and supports social learning. Not too difficult then!
Opening by Prof Helen O’Sullivan: Pro Vice Chancellor for Education – Keele University
Helen talked openly about some of the discussions had at Keele over whether to have a separate digital strategy or or to integrate aspects of it in their learning and teaching strategy. To her the most important aspects are: how digital impacts on the pedagogical, how the digital platforms we use constrain our creativity and digital fluency. After some musings about the new continuum of machine-centered > human-centred learning Helen suggested that some modules should be fully online – even in campus programmes. This could be useful for those who are unable to attend for certain reasons. However such an approach would needs a very strong programme design element, Keele are lucky to have a KIITE programme design framework. Helen concluded with some thoughts on how most us have an infrastructure built around a student records system and a VLE but are probably locked in to these systems due to inertia, cost and upheaval of change. It may be that our traditional digital teaching tools constrain rather than expand our imagination and teaching / learning.
Keynote: An analysis of Microsoft Teams at scale: experiences so far
Santanu Vasant – University of East London
Santanu Vasant and his hashtag #makeEDUbetter
In his very first plenary Santanu talked about UEL’s experience of rolling out Teams at scale in their Graphic design and Psychology departments. Teams is now being used by 26 modules with some level of success. They are using an institutional template which has been pushed out to all mental health modules, the tabs at top are the same for each module.
Some interesting points for me are that Teams now links up with CELCAT – the HE and FE timetabling system, and the discussion on activity data that can come out of Team. Also Santanu talked about some of the connectors they have been using (such as mindmap) and the different integration approaches – do you integrate Teams in your VLE or your VLE or your VLE in Teams? (As a Moodle house we may want to look in to the required plugin and Teams assignments can be run through Turnitin). Santanu’s explained that use of Teams relates to their graduate attributes and UEL want to make skills and project based learning explicit for their students. There was an aside mention of the Jisc digital pursuits game – definitely one for future staff CPD!
After one of the linked activities and a significant amount of cake we moved on to some case studies.
Using Teams to Deliver Teaching and Learning: An Academic’s Perspective
Dr Stephen Bateman – Staffordshire University
Steve Bateman is a lecturer in Sports Therapy at Staffordshire and has been using Teams (and other Office 365 tools) as a way to engage his students, making the most of the live broadcasting and other connectors. Like others Steve made the point that Microsoft tools will be what students will have to use once they join the world of work. Steve’s biggest takeaway was for us to join the Microsoft educator community (MEC) as soon as possible.
Group photo by Stephen Bateman
I’m not sure I was entirely convinced that Steve’s reasons for sector inertia are necessarily a bad thing (our VLE works, it is too much effort, if it ain’t broke…) but take his point that students really enjoy using Teams and it feels more like a useful skill than navigating a clunky VLE.
Using OneNote Classroom to Create an Escape Room Assessment Activity
Dr Emma Thirkell – UCLan
I think most people in the room were a little blown away by the brilliant idea of using OneNote Class notebooks in a more creative way to form a series of escape rooms. The class notebooks can be used as a collaboration space and content library and even have a student only area. The ability to password protect pages gave Emma Thirkell the idea of turning the notebook into a fun formative assessment that she uses in week 12 of her modules. The students love working together collaboratively on the problems and there is the added benefit that they are learning a digital skill. Microsoft’s accessibility features mean that international students can even translate the content on the fly. Emma’s comment that it only takes 2 hours to set up a series of rooms means it’s been added to my to-do list.
Using Teams to Deliver a Postgraduate Medical Education Course
Karl Gimblett, Tom Lovelock & Vikki Foley – Keele University
The Keele team took us through their lessons learnt in piloting a postgraduate medical course through Teams. Some of the tools they have been using include Adapt builder and Flip grid, a way for students to share short videos.
Preparing Modules for Teams Delivery
Dr Jessica Louise Macbeth & Jane Fitzgerald -UCLan
The UCLan team demoed more connectors and tools including Polly (polling software), Mindmeister and Forms. Their advice was to make sure that you have task based activities for your students to do, in class and outside class.
They also gave a shout out to the Teams-based DigiLearn community established by Chris Melia and others at UClan. The community now has over 400 members from 150 institutions. Read more about it on their TELT blog.
An Institutional Migration to Microsoft Teams
Nicky Bowen & John Billington – Hugh Baird College
In a more radical step the Hugh Baird College have ditched their unused Totara VLE and moved to Teams for their students. The Go live involved them automatically provisioning 1500 course teams and writing some Powershell code to get the correct students in to Teams (apparently only 3-4 lines of code!) All users are able to create their own Teams Despite the massive change they have had relatively few support calls, in mainly due to the huge amount of staff and student training they ran, a good communication plan and a lot of testing!
A sector perspective on the shift to digital ecosystems
Dr Phil Richards – Jisc
Phil rounded the talks off with a meander through the concepts of bio-diverse ecosystems (good) and how we need to shift our digital mono-cultures (bad) to digital ecosystems (good). His point that we musn’t let our data get locked in to any system (including Microsoft) in the same way we have allowed it to get locked in to Turnitin.
Panel: Phil Richards, Santanu Vasant, Helen O’Sullivan and Karl Gimblett,
The closing panel mulled over some of the big questions of the day:
- How prepared are we to let go of control of the VLE (with its templates and standards) and move towards more open learning?
- Is Teams the best way to fully engage our students?
- In time will Microsoft become another monolithic ecosystem or will it allow us to be more discerning about the systems we do pick? Begin the whole open source software discussion…
Thanks to the Keele team for organising the day, it was a great introduction to current practice in this area.
My journey home gave me some time to think about the implications for us at the RAU. We have spent the last two years getting our VLE in to shape and I think we would be reluctant to make any big changes at this point. Most institutions are currently using Teams as a complement to their VLE or are piloting it for particular groups, and there was recognition that some of the Teams functionality isn’t there yet for learning and teaching (e.g. assessment, file management – where do all the files end up?). The institutions that have committed fully to Teams instead of a VLE have seen it as a contender as part of a procurement process and have spent considerable effort implementing it. The most interesting aspects for me are:
- The employability angle – these are tools for work and learning how to use them will always be valuable.
- The ‘we pay for it so we should use it’ argument – which does make sense. But should we throw out other tools now that we have it? Or do they have a different value? It made me think of Jesse Sommel’s plenary at ALT (“Some tools have bad pedagogy baked in”). We just need to tread carefully here.
- Staff capacity is probably more important than student capacity at this point – we should start some small projects like using the VLE for Visiting Lecturers and academics to communicate and discuss.
- The tension between dumbing down and being driven by the innovators when it comes to staff ability. At this moment while I am reluctant to hold back those who want to be experimental I really want to make sure that all our staff have good digital skills and a structured approach is probably the most beneficial here.
- There are lots of great Office 365 tools out there and we need to get on with our roll out!
(From DigiLearn and the event)