Office 365 Groups – Tools to Facilitate Student Collaboration

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Student or group collaboration can be one of the most fulfilling learning activities university students can experience. Given that collaboration is the standard of practice for individuals in post college career settings, it is preferable that students have opportunities to develop and practice these skills during their college career.  Faculty can have a positive impact in this area by carefully considering the design of collaborative activities, monitoring group progress thru regular status reports, assessing the group dynamic and intervening when and where necessary.

There are many ways to facilitate student collaboration for learning activities. One suite of tools available to students is the Groups function in Office 365. The range, variety, and integration of its online tool set can facilitate collaboration, communication, and connection.

Groups can be created for a variety of purposes (i.e., academic or recreational projects, department collaborations, or academic course groups). It is relatively easy to assign members, and Groups can  be either public or private.

 

There are a number of collaborative tools that users can access in Office 365 Groups. Conversations, a virtual place to communicate with teammates, can provide documentation of communications shared with teammates, similar to an email Inbox. Group members have access to all conversations that have taken place, even those that occurred before they became a member of a group.  Based on the settings for the Group, you can permit individuals who are not part of the team to email the Group so that their message shows up on the Conversations tab, which is a great way to get feedback from outside sources.

The Files tool is a virtual place for group members to share files, and collaboratively edit Word documents, Excel spreadsheets, and PowerPoint files in real time. This simplifies file sharing (no more emailing files back and forth), and provides the sense of working together, despite not physically being in the same location.

The Group Calendar is integrated quite well with Outlook, allowing scheduling and coordination of multiple calendars (i.e., personal, professional, group).

Group members also have a shared Notebook, a place to share ideas and take notes that utilizes Microsoft OneNote.

Group members can also access Planner, a task management tool, to organize work, manage and assign tasks to one or multiple group members, create checklists for those tasks, monitor progress, and share that progress with group members who always remain “in the loop”.

Want to learn more? The Faculty Development and Instructional Design Center is offering a new workshop, Using Office 365 Groups to Enhance Student Collaboration, on Wednesday, November 29th, 1:30 pm – 3:00 pm. In this hands-on workshop, participants will explore the Office 365 Groups functionality, including the use of group email, conversations, sharing documents, simultaneously editing documents, and managing group tasks and responsibilities. Register Here! You can also explore the Microsoft Office Support page on Office 365 Groups.

For more information on this workshop, please contact Dan Cabrera, Multimedia Coordinator, at dcabrera@niu.edu or 815-753-0613.

Photo Credit: Jay Cross

Microsoft Office 365 Collaboration Tips for Faculty

o365 iconNorthern Illinois University subscribes to Microsoft for Education, a comprehensive service that provides email, calendars, Microsoft Office applications for both work and personal use, OneDrive for Business for cloud storage, SharePoint Servers for document management, and Skype for Business for instantaneous communication, plus much more. All faculty and staff have an Office 365 (O365) account; student email will migrate to Office 365 starting August 11, 2016.

 

The following list of tips and tricks will help you get the most out of the collaborative features of Microsoft Office 365.

Email

mIcrosoft outlook iconStudents will now send and receive email using Microsoft Outlook. This means it will be easier for students to contact you, because they can search using the Global Address Book. It also means it is easier for you to contact them from within Outlook, instead of looking up their email address in another system!

Another great benefit of students using O365 email is that Microsoft is HIPAA-compliant for students in health sciences study and practice.

Be careful with Clutter, however. Clutter helps you filter low-priority email messages out of your Inbox automatically by tracking what you do and do not read. If you delete messages without opening them, Clutter uses this behavior to determine that you do not want to see messages like that one. Unfortunately, this can catch messages you and your students need to see, such as Course Announcements from Blackboard or campus updates. You may want to turn Clutter off.

Tip: The Global Address Book will contain all faculty, staff, and students. There are 2 new address book lists: All Employees (contains faculty, staff, graduate assistants, and student employees) and All Students (contains all student Z-ID emails). If you email colleagues more often than students, you may want to change your default address book to All Employees, so that it is easier to find your intended recipient. Because students who work for the university (such as Graduate Assistants and student employees) have both student and employee email addresses, these lists will also help to differentiate between those addresses.

Calendar

As with email, students will be able to view your Outlook calendar like other faculty and staff can. This can be a great way for students to find a good time to set up a meeting with you—if you are using your Outlook calendar. It is a best practice to set expectations for communication early in your courses. Let students know if your Outlook calendar is accurate, and if they may send you meeting requests.

Tip: Check the permissions on your calendar to ensure they are set the way you want. By default, anyone at NIU can see whether you are free or busy at a specific time. You can change the default access to None, which prevents everyone (including your colleagues) from seeing your calendar information. Unfortunately, there isn’t a way to differentiate between what faculty/staff and students see.

O365 and OneDrive

microsoft onedrive iconWith Office 365, you get access to the latest versions of Office, including Microsoft Word, PowerPoint, Excel, and powerful new tools like Sway and Power BI. You and your students can install Office on 5 PCs or Macs, use the software directly on the web, or install the mobile apps on up to 5 mobile devices. This means every student has access to Microsoft Office at no additional cost – they do not need to purchase their own copy or use Google’s free tools. This reduces barriers for students to complete their assignments in your course, and removes issues of file compatibility from using different or out of date software.

OneDrive gives you 1TB of individual storage space in a secure environment that is FERPA- and HIPAA-compliant. You can share any file stored in OneDrive for easy collaboration among colleagues or with students.

Tip: You can use OneDrive for departmental collaboration, too, but an O365 Group or SharePoint site might be better choices, because the content is not removed when the employee who posted it leaves. You can use O365 Groups for classes and student organizations, too. Review What Does What? for more information.

Skype for Business

skype for business iconSkype for Business lets you quickly connect with NIU faculty, staff, and students. It is very similar to “regular” Skype, but with added features that help you work more efficiently. With Skype for Business, you can hold one-on-one or group conversations using instant messaging (IM), audio, or video. Unlike regular Skype, Skype for Business includes the ability to present a PowerPoint with others in your meeting, or to share your computer screen.

It’s easy to connect with others at NIU in Skype for Business. For example, you can easily add contacts from the NIU address book (faculty/staff for now, students after August 11). This makes it a great tool for holding office hours, or for impromptu questions from students. It is also a great replacement for an office phone, for NIU contacts at least. Your colleagues and students can call you using Skype for Business instead of dialing your phone number.

Tip: You are entirely in control of your availability in Skype for Business. You can set your availability manually, let it follow your Outlook Calendar, or you can sign out when you do not want to be contacted. With the free Skype for Business app installed on your iOS or Android device, you can even log in on your mobile device, so you can help your students when you are not in your office!

Training and Support

There is much more that you can do with Office 365, now that student email is migrating to O365 from Gmail. To learn more, consider attending one of the upcoming “Teaching with O365” workshops offered by the Faculty Development and Instructional Design Center. The Division of IT has compiled a list of useful courses by Lynda.com that cover the most common O365 tools. Finally, Microsoft has put together a wealth of resources in their Office Training Center.