I am sure you will not be surprised to hear that Microsoft Teams is the learning management system (LMS) of choice for nearly every CA BOCES component school district with the exception of very few. Teams is a dynamic application that allows educators to work productively in a digital environment.
Want a platform that can monitor student participation? Teams Insights has at-a-glance data. Need to video conference with one student, groups of students, colleagues, parents or guardians, or other stakeholders? Teams meetings “include audio, video, and screen sharing,” and “they're one of the key ways to collaborate in Teams.” Want students to submit their work but you struggle to store and keep track of physical papers? Teams Assignments are the solution you need. Whatever the problem may be, it is likely that a solution can be found in Teams.
Because Teams is so robust, it can also stir up strong reservations for educators who either struggle with integrating technology or those who need a simpler tool for their students. So if you are in one of these or similar categories, what do you do now that our school districts, for the most part, have gone all-in with Microsoft Teams? Microsoft still might have a solution for you.
Microsoft SharePointWhen you find that you are no longer struggling to keep your head above water in the midst of a pandemic trying to simultaneously teach students in your classroom and others at home, then I would strongly recommend exploring some of the other applications available through your Microsoft 365 account. My first recommendation for those of you seeking an alternative to Teams would be to spend some time in SharePoint. You can find this app by selecting the SharePoint icon (shown above) in your Microsoft 365 Home page.
SharePoint is the service that supports the other Microsoft applications. This is why you’ll see “sharepoint.com” in the URL when you share a file from your OneDrive (go try it if you haven’t seen this before). Another way to think of SharePoint is that it is a no-code, web-design tool. For example, the 3 Tools to Improve Results site was designed to replace the NYS Assessment Items OneNote file and allows members of the site to seamlessly transition from released assessment items to benchmark assessments to data analysis documents without the sync errors and delays that can often come with OneNote.
Also built on SharePoint, the Drone Education site was built with two objectives in mind: (1) to provide resources for educators seeking Part 107 Remote Pilot Certification and (2) to provide drone labs that can be utilized to teach content learning standards.
Once you are signed into SharePoint, you can create a new site by selecting the + in the upper left-hand corner of the page and then navigating through the prompts to get started.
After you pick an initial theme, you can start building your site by adding elements anywhere you find a +, or you can select the ⚙️ in the upper right-hand corner near your Microsoft 365 account initials and choose one of the options such as “Change the look” to get the theme that works best for you.
To make your site work best for you and your students, you can add a variety of media to your pages such as text, pictures, embedded videos, Microsoft Forms, and more. The best part is that your site will only include exactly what you want it to and nothing more (like that pesky Chat feature in Teams).
The biggest downside to SharePoint worth noting before you go exploring is the fact that SharePoint sites are designed to be used internally (i.e. users of the same Microsoft 365 tenant) as a means of security and protection. In order to enable access to guests such as parents, community stakeholders, or your friends at CA BOCES who may not have district accounts, you will need to get permission from your Microsoft 365 administrator who maintains the authority to change this setting.
For more help getting started with SharePoint sites, review Microsoft’s Create a Site in SharePoint resource or reach out to your friendly neighborhood CA BOCES coordinator.
By: Mark Beckwith, CA BOCES Professional Development
With Remote Learning plans factoring into many Districts’ plans for the upcoming 2020-2021 school year, one of the platforms that many teachers in the CA region will be using is getting some long-awaited and powerful updates to enhance learning remotely this fall.
Microsoft has announced over 50 updates for its Microsoft Teams platform, both major and minor, that will make the product a much more enjoyable software application for remote learning. Some of the new features coming to Teams are introduced below.
Meeting with students and other teachers just became a more supercharged, with the addition of Large Gallery view, that enables seeing 49 participants on the screen at once, as well as Together Mode, which strips away the boxes behind the video participants and puts them into a virtual assembly hall to make them appear as if they are back in the classroom together.
Alongside these updates, more features such as extended meeting Attendance Reports (up to 24 hours after a meeting has concluded), the ability to “hard mute” participants so they cannot unmute themselves, breakout rooms for smaller discussion-based settings, the ability to share a new collaborative Whiteboard experience with text, pens, and sticky notes, a raise hand feature to signify wanting to talk, and more settings for students to be “participants” (ability to chat and share), “attendees” (view only), or “presenters” (ability to share screen) will be hitting teachers’ screens soon.
Teachers will also see updates in the Assignments tab across the top of the General channel in their Teams. This includes the ability to now have students see a thumbnail preview of attached websites prior to clicking on the link, the ability to attach up to 500mb worth of file attachments to Assignments, “Anonymous Grading” as an option where the students’ names are stripped from their work to focus solely on grading the work and reducing any “grading bias” that may exist, whether purposeful or not. There will also be the ability to set a default due time for all assignments in that class, so you won’t have to change it every time! There are also lots of new kid-friendly animations when they turn in their work that are new to the Fall 2020 update.
For more details on the Fall 2020 updates to Microsoft Teams, or for more information about when to expect more of the announced update features, please check out this article https://techcommunity.microsoft.com/t5/education-blog/25-updates-for-microsoft-teams-for-education-for-back-to-school/ba-p/1554445
By: Ryan McGinnis, CA BOCES Model Schools
As one school year ended in an undeniably different fashion than years prior, so too is a new one set to begin under circumstances far different than the traditional expectations and norm. As schools create plans and explore various options to accommodate and connect students in both the face-to-face and digital formats, there has been a tremendous focus of time and learning dedicated to the exploration of various platforms that can effectively promote connectivity and collaboration among both teachers and students. One of these platforms is Microsoft Teams.
While Microsoft Teams is not a new product, the awareness and familiarity has become relatively new to many in the educational world as a shift to remote learning became a reality. This application is meant to enhance teamwork through enriched collaboration and communication. It has the capability of video streaming, document collaboration and sharing, one-on-one and team chat, and more. Additionally, since it is part of Office 365 suite, integration already exists with other Office products making access to cloud storage and files simple for the user.
The CA BOCES staff worked through the school closure and throughout the summer to offer varied training opportunities to cater to the familiarity and expertise of those desiring to learn more and gain deeper understanding about this application. Teams training was based on three different levels of users; Beginner, Intermediate, and Advanced.
Differentiation of these specific workshop trainings brought all those involved, teachers and administrators, a deeper understanding of not only the functional components and the customizable aspects of the application, but also the safety and security features that are built in as well. Through these targeted workshops that were open for any teachers who desired to participate, and through training offered to district level groups of staff, CA BOCES trainers worked to increase the ability of those using Teams across the region focusing on ways to effectively collaborate and communicate with each other and with students in an online environment. So, whether you’re a beginner, intermediate, or advanced user of Microsoft Teams, if you’re looking to increase your ability to help your Team, reach out to your Essential Partner at CA BOCES because we are here to support you!
By: Rob Griffith, CA BOCES Professional Development