Schools Turn to Microsoft Teams As Distance Learning Grows

The growth in Microsoft Teams usage over the past six months – while companies and organizations have moved to largely remote work situations – has been coupled with an increase in Teams usage by educators. With teachers at all levels looking for the best ways to connect with students to do distance learning, Microsoft Teams has grown into a trusted tool that can augment or even replace most of the capabilities of learning management systems that have been tailored specifically for education use.

Microsoft reports that more than 230,000 educational institutions are now using Teams for remote or hybrid learning in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic. In another bow to the importance of Teams in the virtual classroom, Microsoft recently announced more new features specifically aimed at educators.

One of the strongest features Microsoft Teams offers for distance learning purposes is the ability to tie in multiple other tools and serve as a center for both content and collaboration.

Betsy Webb, a former Microsoft general manager in education, said teachers have responded to Teams’ video capabilities and features that allow teachers to segment assignments to different groups of students.

“Microsoft Teams is growing broadly, phenomenally well. It is not just about having a video conference and its integration across services enables teachers to transform their classroom time and take more control of their lesson planning, give students feedback in real time… the connectedness it provides is what teachers are seeing as a benefit,” she said.

“There are services within Microsoft Teams that enable teachers to not only collaborate across classrooms, which we’re seeing in the distance learning context that you remain as the home room teacher but you’re also working with other teachers who are collaborating and working in different locations.”

Flexibility Provides Options

The possibilities for how Microsoft Teams could benefit educators during the pandemic emerged gradually in the spring as individual districts or groups of educators turned to its video conferencing function. Gradually the use of other collaboration features tended to increase as teachers saw a need to have an easy solution to merge class content and student communications in one place.

With those lessons learned through the conclusion of the previous school year, Webb said many districts saw what was possible with widespread Teams usage and have jumped on board to enable synchronous and asynchronous learning and create highly flexible lessons and projects. Webb said a hypothetical middle school teacher can break a class into three groups for a project based on students’ strengths, receive a video presentation from each group and then offer group or individual feedback afterwards.

“If the topic is a writing assignment and they have students who are at different capabilities, the teacher might have a baseline and then extension content they can make available by segmenting the assignment out into different groups and have groups of students work together based on their current strengths in a particular topic area,” she said. “All of that is possible with Microsoft Teams. Schools who learned a lot from the experience in the spring invested a lot over the summer and thought about if they had the right offerings in place that our faculty and staff can use that meets the needs of students.”

Monitor Many Vendors At Once

The move to Teams by schools creates an opportunity for Vyopta to help educators closely monitor their usage and collaboration quality, with new full support for Microsoft Teams as well as the ability to easily gather data from multi-vendor environments. That means schools using Teams, Zoom, Cisco products or other video and collaboration tools concurrently can go to one place to make sure their technology is performing well and that all students are present and receiving their lessons.

“The last thing anyone wants in these cases where everyone is remote is that the technology becomes the barrier. Much like businesses are very focused on analytics and monitoring to understand the employee productivity, activity and collaboration, a school is no different because they are trying to understand how was attendance, who is in class today or live on video,” said Webb.

“Schools might be using multiple systems and they’ll want to know, ‘How it is going with the integration of these systems?’ While it might have been easy to jump on in the spring with Zoom, I would say school districts had the opportunity to use the summer to step back and say, well we mobilized in the spring and now we need to systematize and be strategic about what do we need so we can be effective with the IT side in an ongoing way running the school.”

Chad Swiatecki

Chad Swiatecki is a business writer and journalist whose work has appeared in Rolling Stone, Billboard, New York Daily News, Austin Business Journal, Austin American-Statesman and many other print and online publications. He lives in Austin, Texas and is a graduate of Michigan State University. Find him online on LinkedIn.