Earlier this month, Microsoft announced several new Microsoft Teams features that will better target education users. Microsoft Teams is known as an enterprise-level collaboration tool that allows chatting, file sharing, and meeting in a centralized, secure location. Microsoft Teams already exists within the education space, but due to the rapid spread of COVID-19, many educators scrambled for a manageable and secure “learn from home” solution. This expanded feature set is timely, especially when considering the large number of students that are learning remotely or in hybrid environments. It is great to see Microsoft pivoting and expanding its education offering very quickly in response to crisis’ and competitive education collaboration offering like Zoom for Education. Like the future of work, the future of teaching and learning will happen not only in the classroom but also wherever the student is. I wrote more about Microsoft Teams as a platform earlier this year, and you can access it here.
Before we dig into the new features it is worth noting the massive demand for educational tools that drive this new feature set. Over 150 million students, faculty, institutional leaders, and teachers use Microsoft Education products for remote learning with Teams acting as the glue that holds all these products together. In 2020, Windows 10 Education usage is up nearly 40%. Since March, an average of 25,000 new educators from over 180 countries have signed up a day. These numbers are showing tremendous demand for Microsoft remote learning solutions.
The first feature Microsoft announced was its expansion to a 7×7 grid for video conferencing within Teams. This view allows up to 49 students to be visible via webcam within a single video conference. A large classroom full of students means nothing without the ability to interact and engage. Students will also be able to raise their hands virtually and indicate that they have a question to ask their teacher. These new video conferencing features allow teachers to engage with many more students at a time. Without the ability to raise your hand virtually, I would worry about a lack of engagement from students in such a large classroom. These features are not particularly new to video conferencing, but it’s great to see Microsoft expanding its feature set to match the best in the industry.
Microsoft also announced that Teams would support the ability to track class attendance and analysis engagement within the application. This feature will offer educators insight into when students have accessed documents, missed a virtual classroom session or turned in an assignment. The educator can also create a virtual breakout room for smaller groups of students to collaborate. What I like about these features is that they all seem to be educator lead and managed. Students can engage and work on the Teams platform at will, but only when the educator gives permissions and sets operating guidelines. The teacher also has the option to end meeting occurrences for everyone in attendance.
Another feature that is worth mentioning is the additions to background blur and preselected background images. Students and teachers can customize profile photos and personalize their learning space by changing the background to a different environment or terrain. I can see younger students getting a kick out of this feature.
Security, Privacy, & Manageability
For education, collaboration and engagement always seem to be top of mind. Things like security and privacy aren’t as sexy of topics when discussing remote learning solutions. When handling personal information and managing sensitive student and teacher data, the platform needs to be secure. Popular platforms like Zoom for Education work well for video collaboration, but it takes some serious hits in terms of security features. Microsoft Teams’ privacy and security for education seem to be compelling solution. The application allows educators to prevent students from starting meetings unattended and enables the teacher to manage sharing rights throughout the session. The lobby of meeting occurrences also remains secure because it can be set only to include a preselected group of students that can join. The efforts to secure the platform for education are backed up by the 90 regulatory and industry standards, including the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA).
All signs point to a world where remote and hybrid learning will only continue to grow. Most teachers had very little or no previous experience teaching remotely until three months ago. Unforeseen circumstances have pushed teachers towards remote learning and collaboration tools for teaching, chatting, and sharing. The testimonials I read about teachers switching from traditional to virtual classrooms were reassurance that Microsoft Teams as an educational platform has ease of use even with no prior familiarity. I do not see many situations where teachers can avoid teaching in a virtual or hybrid environment. Microsoft Teams offers a secure and manageable platform that educators with little to no experience can be conducting fully remote classes online in a matter of days. Talk about rapid digital transformation.
All in all, I am pleased to see a quick reaction and feature implementation from Microsoft in a rapidly changing “learn from home” environment. As remote and hybrid learning environments continue to evolve and grow, I am sure we will more features that can be added to Teams to foster more engaging and interactive virtual classrooms. Security and privacy of the platform are equally as important as engagement and collaboration. Microsoft’s privacy and security approach follows guidelines from the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) to ensure that Teams is a secure platform for learning for educators, parents, and students alike. Microsoft Teams as a platform initially seems to be a flexible solution for educators teaching virtually around the world. I look forward to following remote learning as it changes and evolves. In the meantime, Great job Microsoft.
Note: Moor Insights & Strategy writers and editors may have contributed to this article.