Microsoft Teams for online classes?

Where I work at Oasis Digital, we teach a mix numerous (mostly advanced, developer-oriented) workshop classes. Historically these were mostly in-person, since March 2020 they are all online for obvious reasons.

For online sessions we’ve used various meeting tools, including Zoom, Google Meet, Blue Jeans, and others I’ve forgotten. Sometimes a customer’s IT department has our default choice blocked, we are always on the lookout for alternatives.

Today we tried Microsoft Teams, simulating use it class. Here are my experiences – the test-drive isn’t particularly proprietary and might benefit others.

Scenario 1: students are logged in

In this scenario, we “invite” each student to the a meeting in Teams. Every student has a Microsoft account by which they can log in to Teams; either because they already had an account for work, or because they created one especially for this use. The latter is considerably inconvenient of course.

Students can see the instructor’s screen and face at the same time (though the face is quite small), voice and video chat, screen share, and participate in the text chat.

The user interface layout is difference between Windows and Mac, enough that it could be a hiccup trying to talk a student through usage.

If students use just the web browser instead of the native Teams application, they lose the ability to see both the instructor’s screen and face at the same time, but otherwise (that we might have missed this bit in testing) seem to be still able to participate. The browser-only experience also loses the ability to see multiple people at the same time, making the workshop/discussion portions of our classes less fluent.

Net result: yes, Teams is workable for this scenario, but the lack of features in the web page version, and UI differences make it not particularly appealing versus the competition.

The process of setting up each class instance would be:

  • make a specific dedicated channel in Teams for that class
  • persuade all students to create a Microsoft account
  • collect the email address of those accounts, possibly different from the email address they used to sign up for class
  • schedule the meeting, inviting those specific student accounts to it.

Scenario 2: students not logged in

In this scenario, students don’t have a Microsoft account – we don’t add “have or make an account” as a speed bump when using the other online meeting tools, because doing so is not good at all for the student (customer!) experience.

(With Meet, Zoom, or Blue Jeans, students don’t need an account, they just need a meeting link.)

In this scenario, students are unable to participate in the text chat. This is for good security reasons around how meetings work with the rest of Teams features; but it’s a big problem for our training use case.

The other aspects are similar, with the native applications giving a better experience and the web only version giving a worse experience.

Net result: teams is unfortunately not workable for us, if the students won’t be logged into a Microsoft account.

Conclusion

We have recently been using Zoom, and will probably continue to do so as our default, while also investigating other tools.

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