The Virtual Campus Community: Using Microsoft Teams Effectively
Teaching, learning and working from home has been a major transition for all of us at Ursinus College. Let’s face it: we had to give up our routines to stay at home and achieve the impossible on short notice. Kudos to the entire campus community from all of us in Library & Information Technology (LIT) for stepping up to the challenge and making it work.
LIT supports many tools that facilitate remote teaching, learning and working. We’ve also created guides, videos and training sessions to help the community in its journey. One of the tools that we want to highlight for the benefit of the entire campus is Microsoft Teams. Faculty, Staff and Students can benefit from downloading Teams to their computers (Macintosh or Windows) and, if they so choose, to their mobile devices (iOS/Android/Windows). Teams allows you to collaborate in groups, communicate through video (or voice) calls, ask quick questions without cluttering e-mail inboxes, chat with each other informally and more.
Teams by The Numbers
Currently, about 44% of the campus is using Teams in some form. This represents a whopping 543% growth from before Spring Break. User counts are up to 1,409 of a possible 3200 (as of 4/13/2020), with chat and channel messages topping 88,000 during the COVID-19 disruption. There was a rough average of about 140 active users per day on March 1st. Now, there are about 900 active daily users on an average work weekday. Other entities such as College Communications, Staff Assembly, Advancement, Admissions and the Covid-19 Task Force are all using Teams successfully.
Want to get started with Microsoft Teams? Download it and join us so you can “Get To Know Teams”. If you want to talk further about possibilities, opportunities or the right design for your team to take advantage of the trend that’s helping us all win for Ursinus College please reach out to James Tiggett or Tech Support.
Keep reading for case studies from across campus of how Teams is successfully being used by faculty, staff and students.
LIT: A Smooth Transition
Although some of us in LIT were using Teams in a pilot mode for months, it had not yet become pervasive in our organization. With increasing concerns over the outbreak and its potential effects, we quickly reviewed the challenges we faced and decided on a set of 14 channels (groups, teams and/or projects) that would represent our in-person work in a digital space. Within the course of a single day (Friday, March 13, 2020), we all set up our remote offices at home and became fully productive using Teams, while we simultaneously prepared ourselves for supporting the transition of the rest of the campus during the extended spring break. In particular, LIT has been able to capitalize on Teams to:
- Meet with each other as teams and as individuals to work collaboratively on projects, messages and strategies across the full range of our personal and college devices and differing operating systems
- Allow urgent video meetings to occur in-the-moment with the click of a button, avoiding the typical logistics required to set up a meeting and agree upon a meeting “location”
- Participate in threaded discussions where the interactions on a single topic are kept in one place, allowing members to see the whole conversation, including the full history and most recent additions
- Meet with members of the faculty and staff outside of the department for video conferencing calls and screen sharing for training, remote control and more
- Create student worker opportunities and facilitate remote student work (for example, with the DLA Fellows)
- Promote cross-functional interactions that increase productivity and enrich effectiveness
- Help individuals better focus on their most important work
- Give opt-in access to “stay in the know” about other departmental information thereby increasing transparency for agile, better-informed decision making and efficiency improvements
- Seamlessly move to a digital workplace with Office 365 suite at our fingertips
- Get new team members up to speed quickly on many topics
- Send fun and inspirational messages to the entire LIT organization so that we all stay connected and supportive of each other during this time
- All of these were accomplished while dramatically decreasing the amount of email messages flowing among and between us!
The benefits we have experienced using Teams in this remote/distributed work environment are significant. We can see how these advantages might still benefit us when we once again can work together physically, therefore, we expect to continue to use Teams when we return to campus.
“One of the big take home lessons for us in LIT is that our early ‘playing with Teams’ produced some benefits, but the overall power of Teams was not fully revealed to us until our March 13, 2020 push for the whole operation to be using Teams. As a ‘hobby’, Teams provided some interesting enhancements; as a new way of working across the organization, Teams became a powerful tool for organizational collaboration and productivity that was not obvious before we dove in fully.”
College Communications: The First Team to Go “All-in”
As a department, College Communications, was already working in the Slack environment (A Teams competitor) before choosing Teams. The downside was not having the connections to the rest of campus or the cloud environment for files, and not having the backing of more people using the platform. There was also the hurdle of additional functionality that Slack couldn’t provide without financial engagement. LIT worked with the department to figure out a solution to these issues and come up with a plan to implement Teams. With commitment from their leader and a small group who “bought-in” combined with consistent effort to recruit the remainder of the department, College Communications was equipped to seamlessly continue work though the start of the COVID-19 Shutdown because of their early adaptation to working in Teams.
“As an office, we were using Microsoft Teams before the pandemic made it the ‘go-to’ tool for the entire campus. That head start probably gave us a chance to get better acquainted with it, which has helped us navigate the past weeks with a bit more ease than we originally thought. I have no doubt we cut back on email by about 40-50%. We use it both for collaboration and productivity, and set up the different teams in a functional way that allows us to share updates in real-time for our website, COVID-19 communications, news articles, and all the copywriting for admission materials, for example. Our CASE team has managed all major virtual event planning and updates through it. And it’s been incredibly important as a central repository for all things related to Admitted Student Day, allowing us to transition that into a unique virtual experience and keep all components in one central, living destination. It’s a team-wide commitment to make it work for you; we embraced it and went ‘all-in’ to make Teams the central productivity tool for the entire office, which has made working remotely a more positive environment for all of us–I think more than anyone thought was possible just a few weeks ago.”
Teaching with Teams: The Faculty Perspective
Prior to the semester, Eric was using Teams for:
- His research group (started as a Microsoft office group)
- One class per semester that consisted predominantly of majors
- His CHEM-315L lab
- A “control center” for collaborative research projects with Tony Lobo
- A core communications area to interact with Erin Hovey on the catalog and Nicole Smith
- Occasional video conferences with students
For the second half of semester, with the transition to remote learning, Eric has now been:
- Recording class meetings
- Having many more Individual video or audio chats with students or groups of people to answer questions
What Eric has seen change with using Microsoft Teams:
- Integration: Having tools such as chat, video and audio meetings, OneDrive, SharePoint, Outlook Mail, Stream, and Office documents in one area rather than having to move between tools. He makes a lot of videos for classes to have students view outside of class or to answer student questions. Teams integrates well with Stream. Class meeting recordings are available very quickly after. The ability to easily send a conversation from a Teams site to Outlook (so he doesn’t have to copy the message into both Teams and Outlook) and to forward an email into a Teams channel so he has a complete record.
- Chat: This means of communication is often better than email when interacting with students. The ability to keep all communications with a student or group of students together instead of having to search in a larger group of emails.
- Video and Audio Meetings or Calls: Video and audio has been very good, both for class meetings and working with students. The ease of sharing screens during these meetings has been very useful in class.
- As a Historical Record: He’s served on committees such as Academic Council where it is useful to have a memory of previous discussions, many of which may have occurred many years in the past. Minutes of past meetings are useful but have not been complete enough. Using Teams is an easy way to have that information in one place, including some conversations which might not make it into the minutes (if taken). He’s found it useful in keeping track of information flow in ensuring that Core historical info has been sent to everyone who helps in disseminating this information. This information will be even more useful as more groups and committees do their work in Teams. Having this information can be useful to new members of a committee or group to determine what has been occurred before they joined the group.
- Searching within Teams: The ability to do a global search within Teams to find information (Chats and Channel messages) has been useful in decreasing the amount of time to find information. He hopes they continue to develop Search capabilities to include better filters.
- For research groups: Having a central place for all information as many research projects span multiple students and years.
- Data Store: In CHEM-315L, students do a project and Teams works well as a place to have students share data and communicate in one place
- Mobile Device Use: Having a computer (Surface) and iPad on which he can write during or between classes.
I knew quite a bit about Teams prior to this second half of the semester, but I’ve learned much more over the past several weeks. Before the past several weeks, I had some difficulty in having students use chat to interact with me, except for my research students. I have had much better success the past several weeks, and I hope that continues when we get back to “normal”. I’ve been interacting more with some students using chat and video meetings than I did during the first half of the semester.”
Rich Wallace has also had significant success after vetting multiple options. Here’s what he had to share:
“Having tried Zoom, Google Hangouts, MS Teams and others, I settled on MS Teams as my preferred secondary platform for class meetings (secondary to Canvas). This is for a number of reasons: it’s flexibility in allowing various types of interactions in real time or asynchronously, its uniformly high quality of video and audio (so far, in my experience), and the excellent support I’ve had from Christine Iannicelli, Greg Skinner, and others in answering every question and solving every problem that has arisen. My real-time video chats with students–both individually and in groups (largest group so far has been 12) have all gone without a hitch, which I’ve really appreciated, since before the pandemic I had never taught remotely using any video conferencing technology. I currently have scheduled in one of my classes a real-time video meeting with our U.S. Congressional Representative, Madeleine Dean, who also uses MS Teams (as does all of the U.S. Congress), so the familiarity of folks outside of Ursinus was a bonus as well.”