The need for collaboration and teamwork is a common theme across the various roles that the thousands of individuals in the University holds. With this need, comes a natural demand for streamlined communications between collaborators, to ensure that the task at hand is accomplished in the most efficient manner.
It is by recognising this need that Information Services presents Microsoft Teams, a chat-centric platform that integrates with other Office365 features. Microsoft Teams allows users to create private or open channels of communication whilst inviting others to participate and share digital files all within the same chat.
Piloting Microsoft Teams
So far, Microsoft Teams has successfully piloted with several groups across the University during July to September of 2018. Since then, ISG has collaborated with several more departments to take them up as new Pilot Groups, several of which include:
- Business School: Piloting teams for two MSc courses to allow collaboration between students and tutors
- School of Biology: Looking to use Teams as a platform for students to communicate with each other
- HSS: Project proposal to pilot teams with class reps – as part of the student voice initiative
- ISG: As a replacement to Hipchat and an Alternative to Slack
- LTW: Remote technician call-out to teaching spaces and real-time availability to attend site jobs, location etc.
In total, we have around 30 pilot groups have (over 600 users) comprising of tutors, students, and staff across campus. Disciplines include teaching, research, IT, clerical, and strategic roles across campus. In each of these groups, Teams has been identified as a unique program to enhance communications between members of the same group. Whether these relationships include student and tutors, or colleagues in the same office, it is evident that there is extremely active usage of teams across departments:
“We have staff members in several physical locations and one of the attractions of teams was that it allows the helpdesk staff to keep in contact with the folk back in the office. It does this well and also allows me to keep a handle on what’s happening over in the Ops side of the team…In the same vein, having our system alerts go into it has streamlined things a lot”
“Planner integrates and works well in Teams.”
“Here at Little France, we’ve been using Teams for a while now instead of Slack. I don’t think we’ve run into any issues. We access the app from our phones too.”
“Feedback is generally positive – students seem engaged.”
User feedback has been tremendously positive so far. Many users cite the usefulness of Teams as an alternative to other chat programs such as Slack and Hipchat. Additionally, another incentive for its adaptation is its single chat space format, which proved very useful for remote team members. Tutors and other teaching staff also found that Teams provides a more efficient means of communicating with students, allowing for a more interactive and cohesive learning environment.
“The only criticisms I have are from the user experience perspective – often the messages don’t load up and it’s hard to read threads of messages. Teams seems to shorten the message so you have to click to SEE MORE, which is not that user friendly compared to Slack.”
However, the launch of teams has not been without criticism. User criticism often revolve around learning the new interface of teams and lagged loading times. Information Services Teams Pilot staff are exploring the options with the Microsoft user community and Microsoft by conveying student and staff feedback. This allows us to drive forward improvements to the University of Edinburgh student user experience.
Continuing on from the pilots, Service Management in ISG are also still actively collaborating with a number of the original pilot groups to further collate data on the potential impact and intensity of usage for Microsoft Teams.
While the service is currently available on a request-only basis, and has yet to be launched as part of the standard package with Office365, Service Management are looking for additional pilot groups to see the impact Microsoft Teams would have following a full-scale launch across the university.
In general, we can see that there has been an overwhelmingly positive response from the pilot users engaging with the survey: 80% of respondents said they had a positive experience with the platform, with a general score of 2.40 over 3.
Another clear trend that has emerged is the ease of use of the platform, with only 25% of respondents declared having any need of special guidance through the University web pages, Microsoft demo videos, or Lynda, and most find it fairly intuitive, only occasionally having to do a Google search for specific features.
What has been abundantly clear throughout the consultation is that consistent, universally used communications technology is important among various university staff and student groups, where they would normally settle for a variety of tools such as emails, Facebook, Skype for Business or even Yammer, with various degrees of success in terms of collaborative use and response rate.
Teams has filled this gap within our pilot users by providing, for example, the ability for tutors and students to create Teams spaces for Honours project supervision, prompt alerts reception for frontline workers before deployment and information share within their assigned service teams, project and activities management for businesses or even simple chat spaces between group members. You can view our summary of the results here.
Our user engagements have shown that the university has some real need for the sort of platform that will do conversations around the workplace with embedded features for collaboration like co-authoring documents, sharing notes, planning & schedules with apps to enrich the conversation spaces without needing to know ‘where did I save that document’ or ‘where do I schedule a meeting’, which Microsoft Teams easily delivers.
One of the real highlights of the respondents’ experiences with Teams is their surprise and delight at how quickly they adapted to the platform, some of them having switched over from Skype, Facebook or WhatsApp due to increased flexibility and ease in communication and sharing of resources with classmates or colleagues.
· Several pilot groups have already made plans to expand its use. Some examples include departmental communication and project work, or default communication tool between tutors, lecturers and students
· One pilot group in particular that initially used it as a simple collaborative tool have now decided to launch it as the foundation for their remote support service desk
· Overall, people found it pleasant to use, with a seamless transition from other platforms. They were also pleased with the fact that integration with 3rd party systems, such as Planner, could easily be setup
· Several respondents expressed their desire to see Teams rolled out to the entire university as soon as possible to become the de facto chat platform.