Keele Digital Festival 2019

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

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.

This is what you look like from up here folks... thanks for listening. let’s get #engaged . @KeeleInnovation #TeamsUKEd @MicrosoftTeams @StaffsUni @SUSTclinic @StaffsDigital @MicrosoftEDU

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.

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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,

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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!

Resources

(From DigiLearn and the event)

Using MS Teams to support group working

I have mentioned before that we are taking a more proactive approach to our use of Office365. rebeccaAs part of this work we are piloting some small scale O365 activities with staff and students.

One of our academics, Rebecca Marshall (a lecturer in Rural Land Management), has written about her experience using Microsoft teams for group work. We hope to build on Rebecca’s work to come up with some clear guidance and procedures to enable other staff to take a similar approach to group work.

Here is Rebecca’s story:


Group work grumbles

Reflecting on a piece of coursework that I set the Rural Land Management 3rd year students, the usual grumbles about working in groups get repeated year on year.  However as this module was entitled ”Professional Practice” and group work being a fact of working in industry as well as a module outcome, Group work needed to stay.  However I wanted to meet the challenge of making group work more palatable for the students.

This year, due to some complicated scheduling requirements in RELM, this coursework was going to fall over the Christmas holidays.  I could see that this was going to make group work even more unpopular.

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I had initially considered including a session on the use of Google docs, to encourage the students to use online collaboration tools. I’ve never particularly enjoyed using Google docs and I was not wedded to the idea.

I had heard about Slack from friends in project management and was aware that there were other remote working business collaboration tools available.  A timely article in the Sunday Times business section outlined the tools that were now available, including Slack; outlining additional benefits over Google docs.  These tools promised to make team management easier and as an additional benefit, experience of them could prove useful in graduate job interviews.

Trying out MS Teams

I am lucky to have an IT expert at home (a member of the University of Southampton’s iSolutions team) and ran through the suggested apps that the article listed.  He was using Microsoft Teams already. We have access to Office 365 at the RAU but are still in the early stages of roll out.  My husband and I set up a team between us and had a play with it.

Teams was launched in November 2016 and is a “Chat based workspace in Office 365”, allowing dispersed teams to work together and share information via a common space.  It included tools such as document collaboration, chat/messaging, video conferencing, meeting organising.

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After some initial playing and discussions with RAU IT services I realised that Teams would be the solution to my group work problem.  I could include a section on Teams within a session I usually ran in the computer room.

The other benefit of Teams, was if there was a falling out within a group, usually as a result of uneven involvement by members, I could be added as an administrator and see what each group member had contributed.

However in my naivety, I thought that if Teams was available on my computer it would also be available to the students, unfortunately it had been turned off for the students.  [Editor note – this was due to some changes to default licensing by Microsoft.] This took the wind out of my sails for the launch.  I had got the students hyped up by mentioning I had the solution to all their group work problems prior to the launch of the assignment and showing a video of Teams in the session. Teams was made available within 2 hours (thanks IT Services), but I had lost momentum for the students to adopt it at the launch.

Student feedback

Despite this start – 54% students did use Teams for the assignment (50 students surveyed).  The most used tool was chat/conversation (30), followed by sharing files (23), working on a single document at the same time/together (20 & 19)

The students rated the tool that allows you to work on a single document at the same time as the most useful.

93% of students that used it would recommend it to other students (and 43% of those who didn’t use it would still recommend it!)

Some student comments about what was most helpful within Teams:

  • “ Working on a single document at the same time, As there is less confusion with sending documents back and forth”
  • “means you don’t have to worry about who has the most up-to-date version”
  • “Allowed us to work over Christmas break with only 1 document rather than lots of individual documents”
  • “Allowed us to distinguish areas of improvement collectively”
  • “the chat/conversations had an easy interface”

The video conferencing tool was rated as the least useful tool but it was only used by 4 students (1 group) so its unpopularity was understandable, but a number of comments showed that the students were not aware of the tool.

Things to think about

There were some problems: Students found compatibility issues when some of the group were using Macs.  The word version that is in Teams is different to desktop version.  Another issue to address is that Teams works by creating a new email address for the group using RAUs email system e.g. Pete&Linda’sgroup@rau.ac.uk so there may be issues if group is named inappropriately.

The students discussed some alternatives to Teams: Closed Facebook Group, Google Docs, Emails, Face to face meetings (i.e. finishing before the holidays!)

RAU students carrying out group work. Picture by Mikal Ludlow Photography 2019 - Licenced to The Royal Agricultural University tel; 07855177205 20-3-19

RAU students carrying out group work. Picture by Mikal Ludlow Photography 2019 licenced to the RAU

Next steps

I’m using Teams for dissertation supervision, but not to its full capacity.  Just file sharing and the messaging.

For Teams to be used for all RAU group coursework I would recommend the following:

  • Run an hour long training session in a computer room for staff to use Teams (and make online session available)
  • Ensure students have access at time of launch
  • Have further guides/ online help recommendations available for those who need it, hosted in the IT section of Gateway (our VLE).
  • Emphasis on the single document real time collaboration when launching as this was identified as the main benefit by the students in my pilot.

Further work:

  • Investigate the issues with using Mac and how a mixed user group can function
  • Include as part of the new Study skills module in year 1 and more detailed use in year 2.

[For RAU staff]. If you are interested in using Teams I would recommend watching these 2 videos:

  1. an introductory guide on what Teams can do
  2. How to start using Teams

You can also have a play around with it and are welcome to add me as a user to your team.

I was overwhelmed with how helpful the students found Teams for this group coursework. It has turned me into an advocate for Teams to help solve student group work problems and am very pleased that it is going to be included in the new study skills modules.

Our IT team are in their infancy in looking at Office 365 usage within the RAU. There will be lots more on Teams in the near future.

Trip report: EMLT – Moving Office365 from the office to the classroom

On Wednesday last week I attended the East Midlands Learning Technologists’ Group (EMLT) winter event.

The focus was on using Office365 within Teaching and Learning with four learning specialists from different institutions presenting their experience on implementing Office365 in teaching and learning. The afternoon was concluded by a demonstration from Microsoft focusing first on Accessibility within Windows tools and specifically Windows 10, then focusing on Teams as a tool.
I will detail below the benefits and issues highlighted by the presenters and the key issues discussed by the attendees.

At Nottingham Trent University, there seem to have a number of success stories using Office 365. Rachel Bancroft was the first to present their experience of using Office 365. Rachel highlighted how Yammer was used to help improve visibility of student for group work collaboration. The students found the tool easy to pick up (like Facebook), easy to use, part of the institutional tools. They are now using Teams for the same tasks, which allows for better document sharing and organisation of concept. As detailed in their blog, the Fresher’s week orientation treasure hunt using Microsoft Forms was very successful and allowed the students to find useful services such as the library and student support services, introduce them to sites of cultural interest in Nottingham and to help them to make friends with other people on their course.

Will Moindrot from the University of Liverpool gave us a contrasting story about two institutions’ approaches. The first example covered illustrated how the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine used Office365 for group work where PowerPoint presentations were created in OneDrive and shared in the VLE as a links.

Will also explained how his new institution, University of Liverpool, uses Office365 integrated and linked in every single course in the VLE; this integration means every course has an Office collaborative space automatically created. It also allows the automatic creation of a collaborative area in the Teacher’s OneDrive area. Teachers can therefore distribute templates and files.
In terms of implementation, the new VLE and Office365 were launched at the same time which means they feel like a coherent set of tools.

One key issue discussed was the complexity of using OneNote, meaning the students needed training, as well as some questions around making One Note documents read-only for submission to staff.

Susan Lowe, formerly of the OU, presented her experience of using OneNote to support students in Personal Development Planning. OneNote was used to provide structured ePortfolio-like templates and focused learners. However, there were some technological issues and users needed training. It needs support and guidance to be used effectively as portfolio tool.
In institutions where there are no ePortfolio systems, it may be useful; as we have the Mahara at the RAU for portfolio, using OneNote in that way would be of little or no benefits.

Matt Hope from Loughborough University discussed how Office365 can be used to facilitate the collaborative experience. The two main discussion points raised were that Office 365 users have been using different tools without the  Learning  Technologists  and IT’s awareness; this has led to their IT teams feeling like they were catching up on support needed. This was a common feeling with many institutions represented on the day.

The second point was a question as to whether Microsoft was set to ‘replace’ the VLE? That discussion revolved around the need for students to improve their digital fluency; the main argument is that students need to study using tools they will use in the ‘real world’ and that therefore they should be using Office tools for their learning. This created much debate in the room and subsequently on Twitter as I raised the question of the future of the VLE and the level of integration of Office tools with Moodle (Gateway) with the CEO of Moodle.

It seems that the overall feeling from the Moodle community and other institutions is that VLE still have a place, which is a different area from the Office tool, with a wider overlap than previously. The Microsoft representative in the room explained that Microsoft have no intention to ‘replace the VLE’ but there is a clear need for institution to identify which tools they make available for which pedagogical purpose, which tools they support and which tools they integrate. With Learning Technologists’ support, a good policy on tools and a good technical integration, those concerns could be minimised.

As a result of this discussion, Martin Dougiamas, CEO of Moodle (Gateway software) explained in his Twitter reply to me, that the messaging system in the latest Moodle version is going to be similar to Teams. They are making improvements to Moodle overall to help with, not only the technical integration but also the user experience  integrations of other tools such as Office365 apps.

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The first focus of the Microsoft presentation by Alan Crawford was on accessibility and inclusions. Alan demonstrated Windows 10 tools available to improve accessibility, colour filters, translator, eye control and dictation. Immersive reading was also discussed.

The second part of the demonstration was based around using Teams. This included sharing files and collaborative editing (wiki), assignments with marking including rubric (class notebook, OneDrive file etc.) and using the Polly polling tool.

The detailed recordings of the presentations can be found below:
https://derby.cloud.panopto.eu/Panopto/Pages/Viewer.aspx?id=9f5d1940-346f-4b13-87c4-a9a600d7f818

Scoping our Office 365 roll out

Last week we had a visit from IT consultants Jerry and Corrine Niman who are helping us scope our Office 365 implementation.

For those who are unfamiliar with Office 365 it is (in Jerry’s words):

“A cloud-based suite of office productivity, collaboration, communication and automation tools provided by Microsoft from its datacentres in Dublin and Amsterdam. It provides extensive support for collaboration both internally and with partners, and can be used on PCs, iOS and Android mobile devices, Apple Macs and on any device with an up-to-date web browser. It is constantly updated with new features and improvements and is widely used in the UK Higher Education community.

The Office 365 platform includes an ever-growing range of facilities, currently including:

  • Exchange (email, calendaring, to-do lists etc.)
  • SharePoint (document storage, workflow)
  • OneDrive for Business (a personal file storage space with the ability to share files and folders and to synchronise files across devices)
  • Online Office Applications (web-based versions of Word, Excel etc.)
  • Skype for Business (teleconferencing and videoconferencing)
  • Stream (video file management, storage and delivery)
  • Teams (group collaboration, shared document storage spaces, team web sites)
  • Yammer (social networking for the organisation)
  • Sway (digital storytelling)
  • Delve (searching across Office 365)
  • Flow (process and task automation across apps and services)
  • Forms (creation of quizzes, surveys, questionnaires, registrations etc.)
  • Planner (tools to organise teamwork)
  • Project (project management)
  • PowerApps (building custom Apps)
  • Power BI (powerful reporting tools)
  • Dynamics 365 (Customer Relationship Management and Enterprise Resource Planning)

The diagram below (from Matt Wade) sets out the relationships between the Office 365 components in terms of a ‘periodic table’.

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Currently at RAU our students are issued with Office 365 when they join us but our staff continue to use the old Microsoft desktop based tools. We’d like to migrate them as soon as possible.

The main drivers for this change are:

  • The Catalyst project
  • The strategic imperative to improve the digital environment for staff and students
  • The need to replace our telephone system
  • The potential opportunities that the office suite could offer us (for example with our telephony)

During their visit Jerry and Corrine spent time speaking to four stakeholder groups in order to better understand our requirements. These groups were:

  • Technical Group – Those responsible for the technical implementation of Office 365 who will also have understanding of existing technical dependencies and upgrades required
  • User support Group – Those responsible for user support, training, marketing, connections with Intranet etc.
  • Governance Group – Those responsible for ensuring we comply with any regulatory frameworks
  • Users of the system Group – Those who will be using and exploiting the tools in the Office 365. Both exemplar users and standard users.

They have now shared their scoping document with us which suggests a four-phase approach with some degree of overlap between the first two phases:

  • Phase 1 – Project Initiation. Detail planning, investigation and review. High level communications with staff.
  • Phase 2 – Preparation. Set up infrastructure. Generate support material. Specific communications with staff.
  • Phase 3 – Migration. Migrate users to Office 365.
  • Phase 4 – Mop up. Decommission on-premise servers. Archival copies of servers and data. Capture lessons learned. Cancel any redundant software / maintenance contracts etc.

Our first steps will be writing a project plan for the implementation and agreeing the proposal with internal management. We will then need to decide upon the elements of Office 365 to be implemented and set up a pilot group to begin the implementation.

We are working to a very tight time line – so all steam ahead!