After 2 years of teaching online with Microsoft Teams, I have concluded that it must run on black magic and witch craft, but, it’s also a powerful teaching tool.
That’s not to say it was easy to learn or came naturally to me.
I learned Teams the hard way, and I have the mental scars to prove it.
In an effort to help others, these 5 tips can help you avoid the biggest pitfalls I faced when adopting this tricky online teaching tool.
1. Microsoft Teams is not intuitive. Don’t try to figure it out by clicking around.
Team is the most successful Microsoft product in the last 10 years because it’s one of the most daring in scope.
Beneath the wholesome UX and rounded borders is an extremely complex piece of equipment.
This is good news because of the crazy amount of options and customizations that are provided.
And this is bad news because all of these options have specific click paths to set them up correctly, and you will not be able to figure them out by guessing.
Tip: a click path is the buttons and/or settings you need to choose to use a program in a specific way.
You have to take a more prepared, professional approach with Teams – especially if you have been spoiled rotten by how easy it is to use Google.
There are 2 things I would recommend someone who is completely new to Microsoft Teams do:
This is not a short course, but it is thorough and will give you a basic understand of Teams as well as how it fits into Office 365 ecosystem if need be.
You can ignore this advice, but you’re going to be ten times more frustrated by the “learn as you go” approach with Teams.
However, some people are stubborn, and if you’re going to try and self-teach Teams then you need my second piece of advice:
#2. When are you are trying to find answers on Google, make sure you are searching within the last year.
This is easy to do, and will save you a few mental breakdowns right off the bat.
Teams changes very, very quickly.
A tutorial that looks amazing or a forum question and answer that’s exactly your query are only as good as how recently they were published.
Sometimes you will find answers that are a little bit older, however, 99% of the time you will want to only look at information published online in the last year to be on the safe side.
2. If possible, use Channels for student meetings instead of breakout rooms.
Not everyone will be able to use this tip as it requires a certain amount of maturity on the part of the students.
In my classroom context, it’s possible to teach the students how to start and join their own meetings in Channels that I set up for each group.
Why is this helpful?
Because when you use the breakout rooms, you are activating a giant stack of code.
All of that automated room generation and moving students from place to place comes from a mountain of code that you can’t see. While the features are great, there are some problems with taking this code-heavy option.
The main drawback here is more code equals greater strain on students’ internet connections and devices.
I also avoid breakout rooms to have less issues with students using cross-platform devices, especially Apple products.
For some reason, at least in my experience, some Apple devices simply will not play nice with Teams breakout rooms, but I’ve never had the same issue with student-led meetings in Channels.
The other benefit of Channels over breakout rooms is that it’s much easier to move groups around with a class list randomizer like namepicker.net.
I can simply display new groups directly from the namepicker.net website, or I can copy and paste it into a Google doc if needed.
After that, have the first person in each group start the meeting in their channel and the rest of the members join that meeting.
3. Share your screen instead of uploading files to Teams.
This one bothers me more than the others as it seems pretty straightforward.
I know how files are supposed to work when I’m teaching online with Microsoft Teams, but I have had continuous problems with it.
To the point where now I have given up, and just share my screen.
Open the file on your desktop with an app or in your browser.
Bonus points if you are using Edge browser and it’s built in PDF annotating tools.
I could be wrong on this one and there’s an easy fix, but my blood pressure has been significantly lower since I stopped uploading files and just shared my screen instead.
4. Turn your webcam off when you share your screen.
To avoid connection issues for you or your students, avoid having your webcam on while you share your screen.
The reason for this is that you would be sharing two live video streams at the same time, which is going to eat up a giant amount of bandwidth.
Even if your connection survives, it may have become a choppy audiovisual nightmare for students with slower bandwidth speeds.
Besides being more connection friendly, this tip can give a little more visual variety to your class as your face won’t omnipresent on the screen the entire time.
5. Keep an eye out for big updates.
Microsoft seems to be frenzied about adding features to Teams and watching the enhancements in the last two years has been impressive.
The catch with this is that there can be “buggy” periods where things can change overnight.
It could be a click path you are used to using or the way you had been doing something for weeks. Then one day, it has completely changed.
These aren’t giant inconveniences, but they can catch you by surprise.
The easy way to anticipate these periods is to do a search or two for “Teams updates” and the algorithms in your phone will start showing you related articles once in awhile.
On the bright side, almost all features or functions of Teams have two ways to active or set up. If the way you did something before changes – check online and there’s probably another way to do it.
There’s no perfect tool out there for conducting distance education in your virtual classroom. There’s always going to be issues or annoyances with any of the modern technology available.
Teams does have it’s quirks, but if you can follow the above tips, you will be ahead of the pack in using Teams skillfully (instead of willfully).
If you are uncomfortable with technology in general, you should have a look at my article about how and why you should learn a little bit of code.
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