Deakin drives transparency and equity in teamwork through MS Teams

Associate Professor Bardo Fraunholz teaches a course in project management to a cohort of 280 Deakin University students – 80 of whom participate through Deakin’s cloud campus.

The challenge he faced was to ensure all students are fully engaged, equitably treated – no matter their location – and to help them develop the sorts of skills and experience that are prized in real world workplaces.

Fraunholz’s other role at Deakin University is director of student learning and analytics in the Faculty of Business and Law. While fully aware of the role that technology could play to support rich learning, communications and collaboration, the tools initially available to him – the University’s Desire2Learn learning management system, Facebook, and Slack – had limited value.

Instead Fraunholz became an early adopter of Microsoft Teams to drive communications and collaboration, using OneNote to create content, and Microsoft Planner to establish the accountability and traceability needed to ensure student participation in workgroups was properly identified and credited equitably.

MS Teams proved to be the authentic team management and communication platform that he sought, and was an instant hit with students, who appreciated the transparency and immediacy of the platform. And the fact that it could be used on mobile devices injected additional flexibility, allowing them to participate wherever they were located.

Such was their enthusiasm that when students were asked to evaluate Teams it scored a “clear 100” says Fraunholz – and 99 per cent of students were turning up to class because they enjoyed the Teams infused learning experience.

Students didn’t just like the platform, they embraced it. Fraunholz says that after rolling out Teams there was a ten-fold spike in student activity and communication compared to their LMS activity – but, because students were engaging with one another the number of questions that Fraunholz himself had to tackle was a tenth of what it had been previously; win, win.

To comply with university policy Fraunholz ensured that there was a link to Teams on the LMS, and some additional content – but pretty much everything else runs through Teams.

The Teams-enabled student ecosystem was quickly vibrant, supporting itself both in the classroom and in the cloud campus, and students were highly engaged and motivated to collaborate and complete teamwork thanks to the transparency and accountability that the environment affords. And Fraunholz believes that the cutting-edge skills being developed today will stand students in good stead when they seek a job in the future.

Microsoft caught up with Bardo Fraunholz recently to learn more about the transformative Teams initiative.

MS: Tell us a little about Deakin University.

BF: We are a reasonably young university – just over 40 years old. We have 56,000 students spread across four physical and one cloud campus. A quarter of our students are online and we seek to make that an immersive experience for them.

MS: What was the challenge you were addressing?

BF: My discipline is project management and applied projects. I don’t have a single group, I’m teaching across different campuses and the cloud – but I think of them as one cohort. The issue was how to let them communicate and ensure no one was left behind. That’s when I started using Teams.

MS: Why Teams?

BF: In my subject we work with real clients on real projects. I wanted a tool to get external clients into the conversation.  What convinced me was the ease of use – I could track my conversations, record, create a common workspace for students, have a document repository.

I did have to set up the Teams environment for the whole class, then teams for each group. Next time I think I can set up private channels in the group environment. At the moment I have 50 teams to run – every group is a separate team. I’m looking forward to running it in one environment.

MS: What has the student impact been?

BF: By the end of the first class when I introduced Teams, 80 per cent had downloaded the mobile app onto their phone. They love the mobile integration.

Also, this is a really good way of tracking student participation. I can monitor progress, give them OneNote as reflective journal. I can see what they are writing but it’s private to them. All the work is transparent and we also created accountability using Planner to document who in the group is responsible for what. It lets me nudge students that are behind.

And there is a seamless integration with the cloud cohort. Because all communications are through Teams they have the same material, same obligations and communication is seamless.

MS: What are your plans for the future?

BF: My vision goes a lot further. Teams has the potential to become the intelligent cloud learning platform and we can program bots in Teams to manage communications with students that study in an asynchronous way. We can use bots to help students have more engaged and less isolated experiences – support cohorts that work at different speeds, and create anchor points with people doing activities together.

MS: How will this help students when they graduate?

BF: When I saw this for the first time I said ‘this is the future of work and how you will interact with colleagues around the world’. For students, this is what you find in large organisations – it puts them ahead in an interview to be able to say ‘I know this tool, the ins and outs and the etiquette’.

I want them to have experience of best practice so they can become the change agent.

 

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