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I want to tell you a story, my story. It’s the story of a grown-up student who became a teacher during the past 18 months. But it’s also the story about a school and their teachers who had to find a way to teach their students remotely and to ensure that every student got the best options to learn and to develop his or her personal strengths.
May 2020 – We face an unknown challenge
I remember spring last year. We all had to change our life due to the dangerous situation with covid-19 and maybe some of us thought that it will end after a few weeks. In March, there was the first lockdown in Germany and schools had to close as well as many companies and nobody knew that this was only the first one. A few weeks later, one of my previous teachers asked for help as he knew about my expertise in Microsoft products and especially Microsoft Teams. The teachers of this school heard about the education edition of Microsoft Teams before but didn’t try it before. They were only using the Microsoft Office products like Word, Excel and PowerPoint. I wanted to help my school and I had a series of Teams meetings with a group of dedicated teachers and their headmaster. These meetings were an important first step to talk about the current challenges for the teachers as they needed to find a way to teach their students from home. I explained how to use Microsoft Teams for online lessons, and I presented the available options of this tool. This was a good starting point for the teachers to explore the tool by their own.
July 2020 – What can we do to prepare for the upcoming school year?
But it was not so easy to change the teaching methods from one day to another. More than the half of the staff didn’t feel comfortable in the new world. I was lucky to find one teacher who loved the new options and he told me that he created a team room for his class. He was using the class notebook to share information with his students and he was also managing the homework with this notebook. He was my first key user and we had a brainstorming how to involve his colleagues.
I was convinced that the other teachers need both; a training for the tool itself and (and this is more important as you may guess) real-life use cases. And this was the point where I needed my key user as he spoke the right “language” and was familiar with the tool. We planned a series of training modules starting with using chat and meetings up to managing a virtual class with a team room.
The trainings took place at my company’s office in a large meeting room but we were there together and for these trainings my teachers became students and learned everything they need for the next school year. This was the last week before summer holidays and now every teacher could decide on his own if he want to practice a little bit during summer.
August 2020 – We do a restart
The next school year started in August and for the first two weeks everything seemed like before covid-19. We didn’t know about it, but the next lockdown was waiting for us and with this challenges like homeschooling or hybrid remote schooling came up again. Most of the teachers now had an idea of using Microsoft Teams to face these challenges but standards (e. g. for naming of team rooms) were missing. It seemed not to be so important as online lessons were going well and the teachers accessed their students.
October 2020 – A short recap
Every year in autumn, schools are closed for two weeks in Germany and this was the time where we did a short recap of the current situation. The teachers told me that they were not only using team rooms for their classes, but also to exchange information between each other (e. g. the English teachers had their own team room to discuss the upcoming topics and the used methods for their classes). And they also created checklists together with their students. These checklists were the new rules how to work together and they contained aspects like
- … devices (students without any devices where the first ones who got devices from school)
- … using the camera (so that everybody could see each other)
- … using the mute function and raising hands (as you would do this on-site)
I was impressed by the engagement of students and teachers and I was looking for something where I could help to go one step further. I recognized some differences using team rooms and for me it seemed as it depends on the grade if a team room was used for all subjects of a class or if a team room is only used for a single subject. There were also differences in naming the team rooms; some teachers added the school year as some kind of prefix and some teachers added the name of the primary teacher of the class to the team room name. I mentioned this in a call with the headmaster and we discussed how to implement some governance rules (no later than the begin of the next school year). We would work on these rules for the following months to make it as easy as possible for everyone.
January 2021 – Let’s try to build a first digital form
Overall, it was a successful rollout of a digital tool for remote learning and we wanted to get feedback about what to improve. The first key user was not staying alone for a long time. We found more teachers who liked the new digital tools and wanted to improve their daily business. At the end of 2020 they created a survey with Microsoft Forms to ask their students what they are thinking about homeschooling with Microsoft Teams and what can be improved. They feedback was good, and they also got a lot of ideas what can be changed next.
One repeating aspect in the received feedback was about all the paper-based processes (e. g. to select optional subjects for the next school year). We did two half-day workshops with teachers interested in building these solutions. They learned how to
- build a mobile app with PowerApps
- create and extend workflows with Power Automate
- create forms or surveys with Microsoft Forms
We used real-life use cases of the school and at the end of these two workshops we had the first solutions ready.
April 2021 – We are digital
After these workshops the teachers where building more solutions and they explained their students how to handle these tools. They had a lot of fun while building more and more solutions and after two or three months most of the paper-based processes now have a digital solution.
August 2021 – The first school year with a prepared hybrid learning model
2020 to 2021 has been an exciting school year for teachers and students, and I am grateful that I was able to help my school. But we didn’t want it to end here. We hope that covid-19 will not have such a deep impact on the daily life in the future as it had during the past months, but we don’t think that we will come back completely to the world before 2020. That’s why we used the past summer holidays to think about a hybrid learning model.
Maybe, you are asking: “What do you mean when you talk about hybrid learning?”. That’s a situation where…
- … some students are learning from home while other students are sitting in the classroom at school.
- … the teacher must handle remote students via a Teams meeting at the same time as the students who are in the same room with him.
- … all learning material must exist in a digital format to be available for every student.
Managing the digital learning material is the easiest part. The teachers learned this lesson during the past school year. They learned how to support each other and to collect learning material for the different subjects. That’s an evolution as they now share the information and don’t need to create content by their own if it’s already created by a colleague.
The situation with the mix of on-site and remote students is the biggest challenge as teachers are only used in on-site teaching and they did online lessons only if they had no other chance. But why didn’t they do this before? In most cases, they were not familiar with technical options and didn’t feel comfortable with this situation. I helped with personal trainings (one-to-one):
- They learned how to speak to remote attendees by using the camera without forgetting to let their eyes wander in the room.
- We discussed how to use tools like a digital whiteboard so that every student could see what’s going on.
- We talked about the needed technical equipment in their classroom. In a few cases there was something missing, so I had to talk to the headmaster.
About 30 percent of the teachers used my offering. The others told me that they feel prepared for the challenge of hybrid learning/teaching. As you may know, it’s not allowed in Germany to decide if you want to go to school or not. But due to covid-19 and constantly changing rules my school is now prepared for all challenges which may show up and I will continue to accompany them.
Nicole Enders is a Teams MVP, Modern Workplace and Collaboration Expert and she works at CONET Solutions GmbH as a Managing Consultant. As a MVP for Office Apps & Services she shares her knowledge at many events, on her own blog as well as in her books.
As a consultant and developer, she has been dealing with the requirements for efficient collaboration in companies since more than 14 years. She is convinced of the advantages that Microsoft 365 (especially Microsoft Teams and the Power Platform) offers to improve collaboration.
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