With the Fall 2021 semester approaching, many at the university are gearing up for the school year. From instructors and teaching assistants to staff, many are preparing and organizing their courses for the start of September. Learning technology and the possibilities they bring are increasingly important with online and hybrid learning. The adoption of new technologies can be exciting when realizing the opportunity to utilize game-changing educational tools, including the Microsoft 365 platform. Discover how McMaster faculty members and staff are using these features to build a collaborative online classroom, plan and run an all-virtual conference and how to have an interactive, large class.
Use case: building a collaborative online classroom
Integrated Cornerstone Design Projects in Engineering (ENGINEER 1P13) is a full-year, project-based learning experience where students are placed in groups to complete projects and problem solve. Using Microsoft Teams, Colin McDonald and the instructional team created a virtual class space for students to meet with their group weekly, find support from instructional staff and have a single repository for their files.
Teams could provide a virtual alternative to the traditional classroom setting, specifically leveraging the collaboration and participation features. The instructional team utilized Teams functions so lectures and labs could be delivered in dedicated spaces, with learning material stored on Avenue to Learn. Because ENGINEER 1P13 is project based, various teams and private channels were created for students to meet within their groups. These private channels acted as a resource for students to chat and solve their problems efficiently. This also provided a space for the instructional team, including 100 TAs, to meet and share frequently asked questions. A central goal was to “foster an environment where students could connect with each other” and Teams created an environment that allowed for approximately 1,000 students in ENGINEER 1P13 to connect, communicate and share content and ideas on one singular platform.
For many professors and instructors, the idea of Microsoft Teams is overwhelming. Moving class content to a new virtual environment can be seen as an extra burden. Shelir Ebrahimi, a faculty lead for ENGINEER 1P13, adopted Microsoft Teams because of “how easy it can be to create multiple teams and multiple channels within a team.” Creating teams and channels offers a seamless platform for students to navigate meetings, collaborative projects and access files. More importantly, it allows for professors, TAs and students to be available for each other anytime, anywhere.
Use case: planning and running an all-virtual conference
In the Department of Biology, undergraduate coordinator Mihaela Georgescu organized a two-day event in March that hosted fourth-year biology students from all over Ontario to present their theses to a panel of judges. Mihaela was the only organizer of the virtual conference and used Microsoft Teams as the platform of her choice. Mihaela was able to run this event over a span of two days with no technical support.
With Microsoft Teams, anyone can create channels like Mihaela’s to organize participants through general and private channels. This unique feature can grant access to selected individuals to view private channels, versus the general, public channels everyone can access and view.
The interactive element of Teams enables people to share word documents, excel spreadsheets, forms, and comment on other people’s posts. Utilizing the platform is beneficial to both faculty members and students as it promotes an environment that prioritizes collaborative opportunities.
Use case: how to have an interactive, large class
Joe Kim, associate professor in the Department of Psychology, Neuroscience & Behaviour used both Microsoft Teams and Bookings to improve his class connectivity and personability. With in-person office hours no longer taking place in remote learning, Joe found that Bookings was an easy and simple solution to book online office hours to connect with students. It was important for him to build a connection that students need during a time of remote learning.
Having easily scheduled office hours meant students could book more time — and they did. Every office hour was fully attended through the Bookings app. Additionally, the ability to provide drop-in sessions for students on Teams to create a more inviting experience became quite popular. This feature is valuable for newer students that just want to connect and ask questions, even if they’re not relevant to the course. With the adoption of Teams and Bookings, Joe has built a classroom dynamic that is now collaborative and productive.
Both Joe and course coordinator & instructor Michelle Cadieux had many similar positive results when it came to holding Q&A lectures on Teams. Providing students the opportunity to ask questions about class content through Q&A’s was extremely vital to gage students’ understanding of content. Joe and Michelle highlighted that students seemed to be way more engaged via live events, asking more questions and providing more thoughts. Recording lectures acted as an opportunity to reflect and alter seminars and lectures to build a more communal and efficient learning space. Trying new technologies can be overwhelming, but the potential that new technologies bring outweighs the initial learning curve.
Finding support on the virtual campus
University Technology Services (UTS) has many resources to help guide and set you on a path of discovery. The Microsoft 365 Hub has updates, how-to guides, training sessions and one-to-one, personalized consultations with Christa Morrison, a business systems specialist for all things Microsoft 365 and Zoom.
There’s lots more to learn! Check out the Discover Microsoft 365 and Zoom site, a curated resource with more use cases and to see the latest information and use cases (you will be asked to sign in with your McMaster email and password).