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

Seeking Examples of Innovative Technology Use in Teaching

man holding iphoneThere are so many innovative uses of technology in teaching occurring at Northern Illinois University, but not often a simple way for faculty to share their successes broadly with their NIU faculty colleagues. Simultaneously, if you are interested in using technology in teaching, it’s often most helpful to hear firsthand from fellow faculty on what tools and pedagogical approaches have been most successful.

The Faculty Development and Instructional Design Center strives to make it even easier for faculty to share instructional technology implementation successes with one another, by helping spread the word about innovative uses of technology in teaching. To that end, if you have a success story to share about your use of technology in your teaching, complete our brief survey at facdev.niu.edu/techsurvey to let us know about your innovative project.

Right now, we are just trying to gather information, but we may share this information with the NIU community in the future (with your permission, naturally). For example, your project could be an example that we share for using innovative technology in one of our workshops, or while discussing teaching with technology during a consultation with faculty. If you are ready to take it further, however, we may want to collaborate with you on a blog post, a newsletter article, or co-facilitating a workshop.

Let us know what you are doing that is exciting and innovative. Share it with a colleague, and encourage them to submit their work, as well!

Trends and Motivation for Blackboard Use at NIU

Supporting faculty and teaching staff’s use of instructional technologies at Northern Illinois University is one the major functions of the Faculty Development and Instructional Design Center, which requires us to keep up with trends in their use on campus so we can provide better support. Last academic year, the center focused on understanding how and why faculty at NIU use Blackboard Learn to support their teaching.

Blackboard Tool Use

NIU adopted Blackboard in 2002. As of the 2016 fall semester95% of enrolled students at NIU use Blackboard for at least one course, and 88% of NIU faculty use Blackboard to teach at least one course. The majority (64%) of for-credit course sections have some presence in Blackboard (learn more on trends in Blackboard usage). In addition to an increase in overall usage, there has been an increase in the use of many of the individual tools. The figure below shows the trend in usage for the top 10 most-used tools. Some interesting trends:

  • All of the top tools are being used more, over time.
  • Most tools in Blackboard are used at higher rates during summer semesters (compared to both fall and spring). Much of that increase is due to a greater percentage of online courses being offered each summer, as online courses naturally tend to use more of the tools within Blackboard.
  • During the 2015 fall semester, the number of courses using several tools for posting content and collecting assignments electronically dramatically increased. We believe this was likely a response to university efforts to decrease the amount of printing on campus.

 

percentage of courses using a tool, per semester

Motivation for Using Blackboard

Since understanding motivations for using Blackboard could provide greater insight than looking at simple tool usage, we sent out a survey to faculty and teaching staff in fall 2016. Based on the expanded Technology Acceptance Model, to see why those new to the LMS are using it, and why long-term users continue to do so. Several things initially stood out to us, including:

  • Sentiment about Blackboard among NIU faculty is generally high:
    • 82% agreed or strongly agreed with the statement “I feel confident using Blackboard features in general”
    • 66% agreed with the statement “I find Blackboard easy to use”
    • 72% agreed with the statement “Using Blackboard increases my efficiency”
  • 95% had adopted Blackboard. The top reasons were its perceived requirement (though the University doesn’t require use of Blackboard, some departments may, or respondents may feel that students expect it), the value it brings to their teaching, and its ease of use.
  • 5% had never adopted it, due to the perceived lack of need or because alternative tools are available.

Takeaways

  • As online course delivery grows at NIU, Blackboard will be used even more heavily, by more students and faculty.
  • Adoption is more than an initial decision to use Blackboard. It is an ongoing and continuous process of evaluating teaching needs and the wide array of tools available in Blackboard.
  • While the vast majority of faculty at NIU use Blackboard in some way (and many find it easy to use for their purposes), there still exists a need for high quality support.

These data will continue to inform the center’s decision-making for providing resources and support, to maintain responsiveness and a commitment to serving NIU’s faculty.

Using Lynda.com Courses in Your Teaching

NIU has an institutional license for Lynda.com, a leading online learning platform with courses in business, software, technology, and creative skills. All NIU students, faculty, and staff can access the courses to learn a new skill or explore a new interest. This makes them a valuable resource to include in your course design! Here are a few tips to help you go further.

click share then copy the link for use within your organization

Sharing Direct Links to a Course

Students must log in to Lynda.com in order to watch any of the videos. If you copy the URL for a Lynda.com video from your address bar to share the video with your students, Lynda.com will not know that they should log in via NIU, and students will eventually end up back at the Lynda.com home page. This is inconvenient, and makes it difficult for students to find the correct course to watch. Instead, click the Share button above the video, and copy the link to “Share this course within your organization”. When you post that link in Blackboard or send it to students, Lynda.com will know that the person who clicks that link needs to log in with NIU credentials, and will direct students to the course once they have logged in.

 

Create Playlists of Videos and Courses

You may want to have students watch specific videos, instead of an entire course, or to combine videos from several courses. In that case, you can create a playlist of videos (and courses) for your students. The playlist makes it easy for students to watch the specific videos you want, if there is no need for them to watch the rest of the course. For example, here is an Online Teaching playlist, with videos and courses which are relevant to online teaching. Learn more about Lynda.com playlists.

 

Have Students Submit Course Completion Certificates as Blackboard Assignments

If you have students complete an entire course (like this one on SPSS for Academic Research), they will receive a certificate of completion. Students can easily save their certificate as a PDF, and then submit that to an Assignment as evidence of completion.
To save a certificate as a PDF:

  1. Log in to Lynda.com at go.niu.edu/lynda
  2. Click your name in the upper right corner
  3. Click Certificates
  4. Click view/print for the certificate you want to save
  5. Click the Save as PDF button in the upper left corner

open menu, click certificates, click view/print, click save as pdf

 

Save Time with a Syllabus Review

Lynda.com can review your syllabus to determine which courses and videos would be appropriate resources for your course. This makes it much quicker for you to begin incorporating Lynda.com resources in your courses! To get started, send an email to Cindy Kozumplik at ckozumplik@niu.edu to request a Lynda.com syllabus review. The process will take a few weeks, so plan ahead if you want a review for a spring course.

Blackboard Tool Spotlight: Date Management, for efficiently updating Availability and Due Dates

With so many features in Blackboard, it can be easy to miss that one tool which could save you hours of work. If you’ve ever used the Course Copy tool to move materials from one semester’s course to the next, you may want to try Date Management. Located under Course Tools in the Control Panel, the Date Management tool can create a list of all content and assessments in your course which have Availability dates or Due Dates associated with them. From that one list, you can quickly and efficiently change all of those dates, instead of having to click through all of your content folders to find everything.

reviewing and updating dates using the date management tool

The Date Management tool can also be used to adjust all Availability and Due Dates at once, by specifying a new course starting date, or the number of days by which to offset the original dates. This can save even more time, as you will not need to change the individual dates. After the adjustment is made, however, you can still use the list of all of the dates to manually adjust any that need further modification.

automatically adjusting all availability and due dates in a course, using the date management tool
Have you ever tried the Date Management tool? Let us know in the comments!

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