Parents around Australia are learning what it's like to home school their kids. Unlike traditional home schooling, where parents get some guidance but are responsible for pretty much everything, the coronavirus is creating a new paradigm where trained teachers are working with parents remotely. And it seems the software of choice for making this happen is Microsoft Teams. Here's an explainer of what Microsoft Teams is for parents who may never have seen it before.
What is Microsoft Teams?
Microsoft Teams is a group chat and collaboration application. It allows people to share information, chat online, conduct video conferences and work together remotely.
It "glues" together a bunch of other Microsoft applications to make this work. It works with Outlook, OneNote, OneDrive and the rest of Microsoft's suite of programs making it easy for teachers to allocate tasks and communicate with students.
Students can submit work which can then be assessed and passed back to students without dealing with bits of paper.
Why have schools jumped to Microsoft Teams?
That's an easy one. It's free for schools – assuming they're already using Office 365 which is heavily discounted for education users.
It's also multi-platform so teachers and students can use it regardless of what computer, tablet or smartphone they use.
A quick tour of Microsoft Teams
As much as possible, schools are using Microsoft Teams to replicate the typical interactions they have with students. Obviously, this varies throughout different year levels. My family has kids in years 4, 6 and 12 and their needs are quite different.
My year 12 student is at a point in his education journey where the main thing he needs from his teacher and school is the ability to check in and ask questions. Most of the work he is doing can be self-guided. As long as he can contact teachers when he has a question, he's OK.
With the primary aged kids, they need a lot more structure and guidance. So their teachers are providing a lot more activities. But Microsoft Teams supports that. As you can see, students can have conversations with their teacher and other students.
Where there are multiple subjects or learning areas, schools can create channels for each one so information is separated.
My older school-age child's school also uses an application called Schoolbox for submitting work, sending feedback to students and communicating with parents. So, while that school is using Teams for classroom-type interactions, they're continuing to use Schoolbox.
The spread of the coronavirus will have widespread impact on schools, students and parents. We've already seen NAPLAN testing for this year scrapped and there's no telling what will happen with exams for students in their final year of school.
And while face-to-face teaching delivers the best outcomes for students, having text and video chat capability is a good option, and one that students are familiar with. For parents, talk to your kids and get them to explain what they're doing and how they're using Teams.
Students have been preparing for this for a week or more, in anticipation of the school shutdown so they should be able to show you what they're doing.