Sunday 29 October 2017

Teams v Classroom - when worlds collide - Part 1

After Microsoft pulled the preview edition of MS Classroom earlier in the year the focus moved to Teams for Education as the primary collaborative workflow platform. This places it up against Google Classroom,  part of GSuite for Education which has proved highly successful since its launch in 2014.

At the overview level the two competing software suites have a lot in common.

Both are cloud only and provide a blended learning platform that simplifies the creation, distribution and grading of assignments as well as creating secure, controlled communication areas using instant messaging type interfaces. Collaboration is a key feature of both offerings as well as anywhere learning and cross-platform mobile support.

And since they do the same thing, they must work in the same way, right?

Well, not quite and since I suspect schools will be looking closely at both platforms in the near future here’s a side by side comparison from the user and admin perspective. This multi-part post is not intended as a ‘smackdown’ but an impression of the Microsoft Teams platform gained from using both products, focusing on administration, usability and overall impressions. It might also prove a useful guide for schools who plan to use both !

Part 1: Administration.

Both platforms are managed through a web console and share a basic similarity - there’s not much you can control and see at the admin level. This to be expected because the whole idea is to place the day-to-day control of the Classroom or Teams back into the hands of the teachers.

Google GSuite for Education uses the membership of a reserved group (Classroom-Teachers) to determine who has rights to create a Classroom. Microsoft uses the allocation of the Office 365 A1 for faculty licence in the same way. This doesn’t prevent a student from creating a Team, it’s just that they don’t get access to the template that adapts the Team to provide the custom workflow.  The fact that you can’t easily stop students from creating Teams is a reflection of the fact that Teams is a product built for business that’s being adapted for education  - while Classroom is built from the bottom up for schools.

At the moment you can only control access to Teams at the Organizational/Tenant and User levels, there’s currently no equivalent of the control that a Google sub-organization provides. This might not  be problem for a small school or even a large one that’s all-in with Teams but managing a phased roll out or Multi Academy Trust or District could prove challenging. Microsoft’s long term solution is group-based licensing which comes closer to Googles approach but this feature is still only available in Preview. Until then the fallback is a Powershell script, as it it with most Microsoft products.

Teams are managed through the Office365 admin portal but without a dedicated management icon. Configuration information can be found in Settings - Services and add-ins - Microsoft Teams. All the control options operate at the organizational/tenant level.

For this reason not yet possible fix a setting for a subset of users that might represent a year group or class set.  Again this is more of restriction for an organisation with  differentiated user groups, like a school, than it might be for a business.

Even with this limitation there are a number of settings that are quite useful. The first is the ability to enable the T-bot proactive help messages.

In some respects this is a response the G Suite Training facility that offers simple training lessons to get you up and running with Google application set. Currently this seems to be limited to a chatbot style interface with embedded video but it will be interesting to see where this goes in the future.

Another section allows you to enable custom cloud storage provider to supplement OneDrive, an option that includes Google Drive.

The inclusion of Google Drive is pretty surprising and creates a genuine opportunity to integrate the two systems and we’ll investigate how this might work in a follow up post.

You can also remove the relationship between the licence and access to Teams. Using this it would be possible to ‘turn-off’ access to Teams to all students. This doesn’t remove the icon but give a licence error on selection.  Conversely if Teams are not working for the students accounts, this is one option to check.

Like Google Classroom, a Microsoft Team is really just a specialised group with a few application bolt-ons but unlike Google Classroom, Teams can be managed through the standard admin Groups dashboard appearing as type “Office 365 group”.

Users can be added and removed and the details of the Team (such as name) updated. You can’t create a Team using the Groups dashboard, only amend and delete it. The delete option may cause an issue as you cannot differentiate between a Team and a standard Office 365 group and since students can also create Teams with duplicate names you can see what’s likely to happen.

Turning off the ability for students to create Teams currently requires the version of Azure Active Directory Module for Windows PowerShell version which is still in preview.

In the next post we’ll examine Teams from the user perspective, see how Google Drive can fit into the picture and investigate a few more admin settings that might make your job a little easier.

Continue >