Wednesday 8 November 2017

Teams v Classroom - when worlds collide - Part 3

This is the third part of a multi-part post that looks at Microsoft Teams with reference to Google Classroom. This post examines the role of Assignments.

Part 3: Assignments.
Assignments is a tool for teachers to create distribute, track and review student work that duplicates the a similar capability in Google Classroom.  In both platforms the basic workflow is the same and follows the paper trail common in most schools.

The teacher has the ability to set a task against a turn-in date which can be linked to resource such as a worksheet or a document template. Documents are automatically duplicated into each student's workspace and can be edited collaboratively using features such as commenting and chat.

Students have a turn-in option that returns the work to the teacher who can monitor the status in a dashboard view. The assignment can be marked and returned to the student with the platform controlling the process throughout.

The first thing that strikes you about Assignments is that up until now Teams have largely been organised through Channels but Assignments only work at the General level. There doesn’t appear to be anyway to link them to a channel/stream or classify them in the way that Labels work in Google Classroom.

So to create an Assignment you select the Assignment tab on the General channel and select “New Assignment”.

After naming the the Assignment, teachers can set a turn-in date, allocate a grading scale and attach resources. Reference materials are a common document set shared with all members of the team. Each Assignment can be allocated a set of MS Office documents that act as templates or worksheets which are duplicated for each student account. Only MS Office documents are accepted, copied from local storage or OneDrive, but not custom cloud storage at this point.

The Assignment can be saved as a draft but currently lacks the schedule option found in Classroom. Also in this early release there doesn’t appear to be any way to copy or reuse an assignment or issue the same assignment across multiple teams.

There’s also no way of supporting differentiated learning in Teams - other than a creating another Team. When an assignment is set it goes to all members of the team without the ability to limit the distribution to a subset of students.

Once set the task appears on the Teams calendar view (below) which acts as dashboard for all the assignments in the Team. This arrangement has a few interesting features.

Each assignment must have a turn-in date because without a date there’s no way to pin it to the calendar view.  Even if the task is open ended it must have a date and simply giving it a date well into the future requires the students to scroll forward in order to find it as there's no agenda style view. I suspect the short term solution is to set a recent time and date and then set “Late hand-in allowed”.

Because the Assignment dashboard is a calendar, the view of upcoming work for students shows every task pinned to the day before submission.

If a teacher sets work for Wednesday 8th November it’s visible in the student calendar on Tuesday 7th November. Unless the student gets into the habit of scrolling forward through the five day view to get some idea of upcoming deadlines he/she could be in for some surprises and possibly a few late nights.

The second point is that unlike Classroom, the Team assignment calendar does not currently update personal calendars.

You can gain a view of assignments across multiple teams from the Assignment icon on main menu, which works the same way for both student and teacher but this information can only be accessed from the Teams interface.

Opening up an Assignment from the calendar view displays a dialog which allows a Teacher to delete or amend any of the properties; including the title, turn-in date and the attachment set.

The Review button displays a dashboard that lists the status each student Assignment and a links to the working document set (below). Anybody familiar with Google Classroom will be completely at home with this style of presentation..

Like Classroom the document icon provides a link which allows the assignment to be edited collaboratively by both student and teacher. Using this on a student Chromebook with Office webapps works very well, with features such a in-document commenting and chat, creating an experience very close to Classroom.

However it’s important to realise that all this work takes place within the Teams sharepoint site - these files do not reside the students OneDrive. To work on the assignment requires Teams or Sharepoint Online which isn’t a problem but may need explaining to students (and staff).

Each student has a calendar view of the assignment that gives then access to all the resources needed to complete the task including a templated Office document (Word/Excel/Powerpoint) which can be worked on collaboratively up until the point of submission.

An assignment is Turned-in using the custom button on the main assignment dialog (above).  The teacher sees this action in the dashboard view as completed work with a time/date stamp.

Google Classroom handles this activity by changing permissions on the document. The student gets read only access and the teachers maintains edit rights.  While the assessment is in the teachers electronic ‘in tray’ the student cannot update the document.

Microsoft approaches the same problem by duplicating the document, giving both students and teacher update access to two completely separate documents. Interestingly the student maintains the right to turn-in the document multiple times up until the submission date. Every time the student hits Turn-In another version of the document is created in the Teams Sharepoint site. The teacher will always see the latest document in the dashboard but any comments or updates made to the earlier version by the teacher will be lost to view.
You can see the workflow in action by opening up the Team as a Sharepoint site. The assignments files are stored under the Site Content menu option and the the Student Work subsite.
From here you see two further sub-sites. The first is for working files where each student has a separate subsite containing a  sub-site for each assignment. These are the working documents for the assignment.
The second is for Submitted Files, with the same structure except each student assignment has a new sub-site called “Version n” which is created with a copy of the source document every time the student hits the Turn-In button. The teacher will always work on the most up to date version - until a new one is created.
Unfortunately with two versions of the same file it’s a little too easy for the workflow to get out of step. There’s very little point in a teacher commenting or amending the student file prior to the turn-in date as the student can ‘overwrite’ the feedback at any point by simply by hitting the ‘turn-in’ button and creating a new version for the teacher to assess. All the amendments in the first submission are lost to the student because they were made in the teacher's copy of the file which the student only get’s to see when it’s returned.

The action to return the work to the student is initiated from the Post button at the Teachers review dialog.

Any student assignment that has been graded is automatically selected which allows the work to be marked and returned in batches which is a useful feature. The teacher is also given the option to provide feedback in a separate input field.

The student sees the grade, the feedback and the updated status in the personal assignment view along with a link to the assessed document. The file version that’s returned to the student is the teacher mark-up in read-only mode. The teacher edits are visible as well as the feedback dialog but the comments are lost. From this point the editable version is not selectable from the student Teams interface. It just disappears from view.

Returning to the calendar view and selecting the document only returns the read-only Teacher version. There doesn't appear to be any way for the student to continue to work on the active document or re-submit for marking. Once the assignment is returned, it’s closed off.

The student can gain access to the editable version but only by dropping into the sharepoint site and navigating to

      <Team Name>  / Working Files / <student > / <assignment >/<document>

It seems odd that student work is editable after it’s been submitted but read-only once it’s been returned. Surely it should be the other way round?

Lastly, from a practical viewpoint there are some functional omissions from this release that I expect to see in future updates.

 - Teachers must to be able to export the grade marks or feedback into a spreadsheet for analysis or import back into an MIS/SIS database. This is popular feature in Google's Classroom offering and need to be addressed without involving a Powershell script.

 - There needs to be some way to manage the lifecycle of a Team. As you create more and more Teams they simply stack up on the console. Other than deleting the Team there is no way to hide or archive a Team. Deleting a Team only removes the Office 365 group. The Sharepoint site remains, as does all the data files and user accounts so this could be used as an option in the short term.

 - As mentioned earlier you cannot issue an assignment to a sub-set of your Team which makes differentiated learning an issue.

If I was to Turn-in Teams I think the assessment workflow element deserves a score of 60% with the feedback being “could do better”.

In the last post we’ll take a look at the cross platform mobile support and give a summary.


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