Episode 1: IT IQ Series – Every class should teach collaboration. Here’s how.

Summary: Collaborative skills play a vital role in students’ prospects. Educators can use digital platforms to develop those skills no matter what subject they’re teaching.

Do our classrooms encourage collaboration? They certainly ought to: research suggests that highly-skilled jobs in Australia require higher degrees of collaboration than ever before, particularly as the workforce becomes increasingly digitised. On average, professionals with higher collaborative tendencies are worth around $2000 more per year to businesses than those who struggle to work with others–yet around 45% of employers can’t find people with sufficient communication skills to fit their needs. In other words, educators can and should do more to get students working together, especially online.

“Digital learning poses certain challenges to collaboration, despite the obvious benefits of always-on communications on any device,” says Jesse Cardy, one of Microsoft’s Solutions Specialists for the education industry. “As learning activities go digital, we need to adapt the way we structure group-work and team-based assignments so that students can focus on working together productively, rather than struggling with a range of different, disconnected platforms.”

“At the same time, educators and their IT managers should also seek to minimise silos and fragmentation in how they work together online, not only to stay productive but to also set the right example for students under their guidance.”

For educators, that means taking steps to bring their various productivity and communication tools under the one platform. The same rationale informed Microsoft’s recent development of its collaboration platform Teams, which now operates across the full suite of Office 365 apps including OneNote, SharePoint, and Assignments. Through Teams, groups of students or teachers can see all resources relating to the group, from OneNote notes to calendars and documents, in the same place as their ongoing forum-style discussions.

“Today, Teams functions as the glue between different parts of the Office 365 suite, as well as apps like Assignments which we’ve brought in from other Microsoft platforms,” Cardy explains. “The goal is to put all the various functions that students–and educators, and even business leaders–might need in the one place, essentially creating a digital version of the classroom or office environment.”

Building the A-Team

When choosing a platform for digital collaboration, however, teachers need to consider both the size and purpose of their groups. A large school-wide community of students or parents, for example, requires vastly different functions than one for a single class of students.

“You really have to know what the objective of your group is, and which platform will help you meet it as quickly as possible,” Cardy says. “Whole-of-school groups, for example, benefit most from platforms like Yammer where you can quickly form and dissolve connections as and when you need them. For classes, something like Teams will typically work better: the shared workspace and resources support more intimate, goal-oriented groups where every individual has a well-defined role to play at any given time.”

Despite this, educators should look out for a few basics in every collaborative platform. Compatibility with any device, especially mobile, is a must. So too is the ability to structure users according to various roles or community types: a faculty-wide team may resemble a classroom group in terms of numbers, but the two bodies of users will need very different permissions to accomplish their goals. And every collaboration platform should, as the name suggests, work well with other apps.

“Access to a range of plug-ins or add-ons means your groups won’t be left in the lurch as their needs change,” Cardy points out. “Microsoft Teams, for example, runs on the core Office 365 infrastructure but plugs into Assignments so that teachers can administer, mark, and grade tests within specific groups–making it even easier to assess how well individuals are working with each other and help them improve.” The more compatible the platform is with other apps, the more ingredients students and teachers can add to improve collaboration–including some age-old tricks for raising morale.

“One of my favourite modules for Teams is Giphy (for adding GIFs to posts),” Cardy admits. “It’s important for teachers to remember that effective collaboration is as much about relationships as it is achievements. That banter–and the emotional intelligence it brings with it–can end up being one of the most important soft-skills for students to learn.”

Watch Jesse Cardy talk about how Microsoft Teams continues to evolve:

Find out more about Microsoft Teams for schools, including how to apply it to your existing Office 365 infrastructure.

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