Creating an Inclusive Online Learning Environment with Office 365 Teams and the OneNote Class Notebook
The Office 365 OneNote Class Notebook is my favorite online tool for distributing course content as it greatly facilitates note taking and includes the Immersive Reader, which is a great tool for eliminating difficulties related to screen-based reading. By integrating my class notebook into the Office 365 Teams application, I have developed a very comprehensive collaborative and structured learning environment allowing all tasks to be completed in one place.
Benefits of Choosing Teams as an Online Learning Platform
By analyzing my needs and those of my students, I found that Teams met all my criteria:
- To provide an effective structure offering all the features needed to create an online course.
- To offer an environment in French (with the possibility to change the language for international students).
- To quickly have access to platform-specific IT support at my college.
- To design my course in a private space and control access by enrolling my students with their Office 365 institutional account.
- To have easy access to the course environment in the cloud, even on a cell phone or tablet.
- To use the OneNote class notebook to avoid downloading files while offering features related to inclusive pedagogy (access to content in different formats, note-taking, etc.).
- To have a space for uploading assignments that automatically compresses large files.
- To have access to a forum for my students to help each other.
- To use other Office 365 applications to complete their assignments, OneDrive to host their files; Forms to create questionnaires; Planner to manage a project, etc.
- To correct documents online and quickly return student copies and feedback.
Discovering the Teams Interface and Dynamic Teaching and Learning Strategies
Teams offers 4 possibilities to create a team; I chose Class (teacher and students), composed of the sections below, visible to the teacher and their students (except for the private Teacher-Only space).
The Microsoft Teams class interface and its main functions. Source: Microsoft
Conversations (Skype features)
I created several homework troubleshooting channels in the class forum area. Students can also use private messaging features from the left pane.
It is possible to do remote computer troubleshooting and teach a course synchronously or asynchronously. This function can also be used for several educational activities : a social media management exercise, a fake news hunt, a twittature contest to improve language skills and literary creativity, a silent debate, a vote and constructive comments on the best assignments, etc. Note that for me to be able to delete certain publications, my cegep's Office 365 administrator had to activate the corresponding function.
Files (features of a OneDrive space shared among all students in the class)
I used this space to host large Access files that my students had to download to do the exercises in class, because this software is not included in the Office 365 suite. All students can work online in the same Word, Excel or PowerPoint document.
The students consult their personal notebook in this section. They find all the pages that I distribute from my notebook located in my private area. However, to modify the content, they must open the document in a browser or on their computer. I can replace the use of the interactive whiteboard in class by projecting a page of my notebook in full screen and simulate writing on a board using a touch screen and stylus. I can host my PowerPoint presentations in my OneDrive and add them in slide show or PDF mode to the lecture notes page.
I teach this course using a flipped teaching approach and I have produced video tutorials with Active Presenter for each concept to develop the autonomy of students. In the Exercises section, I can use an option that compiles all their answers to correct them more quickly and provide feedback or ask them to copy and paste their answer into the collaboration space to debrief collectively. I only do formative exercises in this space, to promote note-taking. In the Homework section, I publish the instructions and evaluation grids for homework assignments and questionnaires that review the material seen in class, which I designed with Forms. It is possible to implement a communication system with students using the "?" tag. I use the Find Tags feature to look for any "?" tags students have added to their copy of the instructions and I can provide additional explanations using the Record Audio or Dictate functions.
I use the collaboration space (modifiable by all members) to carry out group-based formative activities, such as brainstorming ideas, finding and sharing resources or results of a case study, comparing work tools, etc.
I use the content library (not modifiable by students) to provide the course plan, resources (free image banks, reading materials, etc.) and additional information.
Assignments (functions similar to LÉA)
In this space, I create summative assignments, add the files to use and distribute the instructions in the students’ personal notepad. They can upload their file from their personal OneDrive or computer; once submitted, they cannot change it.
I particularly love this section because it saves me a lot of time during correction. I no longer need to download files (except for Access), since I can easily correct each student's copy directly on screen (using the Review ribbon). Afterwards, I can return the copy to him or her and quickly give written feedback. In addition, a new plagiarism detection feature will soon be offered, since Teams will analyze the degree of similarity between the submitted copies.
Other applications can be added; for example, Moodle to administer online exams.
Tips Before You Start Using Teams
The winning formula with my students has been to provide them with a specific procedure for using Teams 1 week before the first class and to give them a brief training in class.
I recommend using a dynamic approach with video tutorials for course content and a project-based approach in class.
I have also created custom digital badges to highlight the successful completion of the modules in my class and I award my students a badge for having mastered Teams.