Using Microsoft Teams for undergraduate groupwork and the development of digital skills

Gill Holden, Lecturer in Accounting and Finance

Newcastle University Business School

Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences

What did you do?

I first embedded Microsoft Teams (Teams) into my group work module and introduced the students to Teams at the start of the academic year in 2018/19.

Graduate Framework

This approach develops the following attributes:

  • Socially Responsible
  • Future Focused
  • Resilient
  • Critical Thinkers
  • Confident
  • Digitally Capable
  • Curious
  • Collaborative
  • Engaged

Staff can find out more about the Graduate Framework on the University intranet.

Who is involved?

The main people involved are me, as module leader and Marc Bennett, Learning Technologist, NUIT, in addition there is Ben Dickson-Green, Lecturer, assisting with the module.

How did you do it?

In 2018 / 19 I introduced the students to MS Teams, organising workshops and training in computer clusters at the start of the year. As this was a pilot for the University in using Teams for a UG group work module I was supported by Marc Bennett, Learning Technologist, NUIT. At the workshops I ensured that all students were following and getting used to Teams. We ran the workshops again at the start of 2019/20 as this is an opportunity to ensure that the students meet their group in person as well as set up the Team and familiarise themselves with Teams.

In the first year we did not enforce the use of Teams but in 2019/20 I said that Teams should be used for compiling their work as a minimum including their meeting minutes and also ideally for communication rather than social networks such as Messenger and WeChat.MS Teams is extremely easy to use and has a great many benefits for staff and students involved in group work modules. The easiest way to embed Teams into a module is to download Teams and familiarise yourself with Teams using the Microsoft 365 Learning Pathways Office 365 guides.

Screenshot of Microsoft Teams learning pathways site
It is then possible to introduce the students to Teams by sending them some preliminary information and then running some quick getting started tutorials at the start of a lecture / seminar / workshop. Or for a more immersive user experience you can run workshops in a computer cluster. Whichever method you choose there are resources and guides available to help you. The students can then create their own Team to manage their work, as module leader I don’t join each Team although this could be done if required.

Why did you do it?

The reason I am using teams in my group work module is to enhance the student learning experience, Teams allows students to work collaboratively on files, to share information and plan and manage their project over a period of time.

The second reason is to improve engagement in group work, the use of Teams enables Students who may be shy or for whom English is not their first language to fully engage with the module without feeling disadvantaged in group meetings where they may not be comfortable in speaking up.

Finally, the use of Teams develops Student’s digital skills so that they are ready for the Future of Work, they learn to communicate, through chat and @mentions, they learn how to edit files simultaneously and manage their project in a collaborative online environment. This replicates how many organisations are now working across national and international sites both internally and with external suppliers and partners.

In the module there are usually around 25 groups of 6 internationally diverse groups to manage. Students were previously left to meet up, organise meetings and work as they wished. In the past students have relied on using third party collaboration platforms, primarily using social media tools to communicate and share files because there was not a suitable alternative available. They also raised concerns about feeling pressured to join these platforms just to participate with their peers when they would really like to keep their social and academic life separate. A key benefit of using Teams for collaboration means that all students have access to an enterprise level collaboration tool, and they are not having to join or rely on third-party apps that the University doesn’t support.

The Teams app gave us the flexibility to start at scale and be supported technically, this was not done on a small pilot group of students. At the start of 2019/20 we ran the workshops and stated that Teams should be used for the module, benefits of this are the security of their work as it is backed up by the University systems, GDPR compliance, transparency of contribution and team management is available to me as module leader if necessary.

Throughout the module we were in contact with Microsoft who gave help and support and have followed our work and incorporated it into a case study on the use of Teams in Higher Education: University challenges tradition with connected, collaborative culture.

My story is also included in the Microsoft Teams Scenario Library.

Student Voice 

“In terms of group work, I think that there is not much that can be improved, it made such a difference.”

“It was good to have all of our work on one system and peace of mind that everything was backed up.”

“Teams works in the module to keep all of the teams work in one place and allow multiple people to edit the final report.”

“I like that it’s a platform with a chat and a space for everyone to post questions and submit files, etc.”

Feedback from students

Does it work?

Previous challenges in the module that I, as module leader had to manage were: engagement of students, difficulty in arranging physical meetings, File sharing – access, security, transparency in terms of contribution, differences in culture / background.

The embedding of Teams into the module has helped students to collaborate on their work. This is evidenced by the fact that the number of student complaints during the module has reduced over 3 years from 2017/18, when we were not using Teams, through 2018/19 when it was introduced to students but not enforced through to the current year, 2019/20 where I have so far had no issues to deal with other than genuine PECs.

After introducing Teams into the module we talked to the students during the module and surveyed them at the end and found that the students who had engaged with Teams had collaborated and engaged with their group better than if they had not had Teams. They told us that it had facilitated their work and learning. Students find the ability to share and collaborate on files extremely useful.

Contact details

Gill Holden, Newcastle University Business School

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