Sunday 12 November 2017

Teams v Classroom - when worlds collide - Part 4

This is the final part of a multi-part post that examines the new Microsoft Teams for Education with reference to Google Classroom. This post focuses on mobile and provides an overall summary.

Part 4: Teams for Education on mobile devices.
Like Classroom, MS Teams has a set of mobile apps that provide a native experience on both Android and iOS.

Mobile is an important element of the overall strategy as Classroom is often used as a bridging technology across iOS and Windows devices. For those schools firmly embedded with Microsoft this  can act as an initial introduction to Google which this is a situation Microsoft is keen to avoid.
This highlights another key difference between the platforms.  Although Classroom is closely integrated with GMail - it’s also loosely coupled, which is a very clever trick.  This means that Classroom can be deployed using Office365/Exchange as the mail engine. The only core requirement is Google Drive and Classroom itself.
Teams for Education doesn’t have a specialist app, it just Teams along with Sharepoint, OneNote and OneDrive. On mobile it's a bit of a cooperative effort.

The Teams app only runs on  iOS10 which means there's no support for either the iPad2 or the iPad3.

This isn’t an problem in the corporate world but schools with class sets of the Gen3 models will need to plan for an upgrade.

Testing with the Android version lists the Teams and the corresponding channels in a functional, clean looking interface.

A Teacher gets the ability to create, delete and edit channels.  Students can be added and removed from the Team and muted from the chat.

From the students viewpoint they can list the Teams and contribute to the conversation thread in each channel. However there’s no visibility of the assignment calendar or any way to interact with the document store, in this respect the app acts mainly a messaging client.

Loading the SharePoint app displays the documents but there's still no Assignment calendar and as you might expect the Notebooks are only available using the OneNote app (below).

Falling back to the web interface is not option as both iOS and Android devices return an unsupported message when navigating to the Teams URL.

I suppose the conclusion is that it’s all there (except the calendar) but you just have to look for it.

Microsoft Teams: The End of Year Report Card.

Microsoft Teams for Education wouldn’t exist without the challenge of Classroom and it’s clear that first release is closely modeled on its main competitor.

This is both a good and a bad thing. Google has taken three years, a ton of feedback and dozens of minor iterations to slowly evolve Classroom into the platform we see today.  In contrast Microsoft has been forced to hit the ground running, trying to deliver a product which is  a marriage of a number of different technologies.

In this respect Classroom is similar. It’s build on top of Google Drive, Calendar, and Gmail but it doesn’t feel like that, it works and operates like a stand alone product. Teams on the other hand still looks and feels like a ‘mash-up’. The joins between OneDrive and Sharepoint are clearly visible and are glued together by elements such as the Calendar Assignments view which doesn't seem to live anywhere.

Teams also shows its business pedigree by including a number of features and configuration settings that are likely to ‘exploited’ by students.  I’m not sure what Meetings and Calls is supposed to add to a classroom environment ?

On the whole it just feels a bit disjointed, files are stored in multiple locations (Sharepoint sites and OneDrive), scheduling is  only visible in Teams, the workflow around assignments is a bit strange, the mobile strategy is still evolving and some key management functions are missing.

I can see Teams working with older year groups who have the patience to understand how all the elements fit together but for younger pupils, it’s just not that easy to use.  In the workplace you can get away with this level of complexity but in education simplicity wins every time.

In its defense you have to remember that is a early release and looking back to Classroom version one which was a bare bones product when it was first launched, it’s not a bad attempt.

There’s no doubt that Microsoft are playing catch-up but is also a game they have played many times before and emerged successful.

So how committed are Microsoft to producing an integrated platform to take on Classroom?  You'll know this time next year.

Update: 17th November 2017:

This time next year - or maybe earlier.

Microsoft has just announced a raft of updates and planned improvements to Teams for Education.

It looks like the Team mobile client will be getting an update to allow it to access assignments and the Assignments calendar is getting an agenda view with a search function, which is a big plus.

A future update will allow teacher to distribute assignments to multiple Classes as well as adding grading support for OneNote and a range of other features. 

Check out the Microsoft post for the full list.

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