Last week, we looked at best practices when using MS Stream. Today, we look at best practices in increasing engagement for MS Teams. Before we start into the Teams aspect, let’s take a look at engagement and what that could look like.

What do we mean by engagement?

One interpretation of engagement is ones willingness and ability to contribute to something. That could be a company’s success, a group presentation or other activity that requires someone to engage. Let’s expand upon this to consider learning engagement.

There are four types of learner engagement:

  • Procedural
  • Conceptual
  • Consequential
  • Critical

Procedural engagement can be thought of as using the correct procedure without understanding why the procedure is being used. Why does a procedure get implemented? For fun. Because it’s always been done that way. To keep people safe.

Learners may understand concepts but have little appreciation of why they are applying concepts to real-life scenarios.

When students engage consequentially, they begin to apply solutions and recognize the value of tools to achieve a result. For example, if I drive a car instead of walk, I can go further and/or get to my destination quicker and safer.

Finally, students may critically engage when they start to question if the tools are right for the scenario or problem being addressed. For example, do I need to drive a Range Rover to get to work or is a smaller engine car more appropriate as it will have less emissions, is cheaper to run, easier to park and it still gets me to my destination and within budget.

Engagement is important in learning. Through engaging students, this can increase their focus and attention, it’s motivational and encourages critical thinking. This leads to meaningful learning experiences. In face-to-face teaching, teachers challenge students with tasks and activities to do in class, between classes and to feedback on results, etc.

The same can be done online. Whilst online teaching feels different and sometimes teachers may feel students are not always present in an online lecture, we need to engage and challenge students slightly differently to help them be present and motivated during our talks.

Let’s have a look at MS Teams and how engagement can be encouraged during and outside of teaching.

What does MS Teams offer?

Much of our teaching has been online for the last 18 months. Many teachers may prefer face-to-face delivery whilst others are happy to teach digitally. For those digital warriors, how can we engage students more in MS Teams?

Think about all the features or tools MS Teams gives us. It’s like Batman’s utility belt, there’s different features which can be used to engage students. There will be new features on the horizon. What we currently have is by no means fixed and the offering just keeps getting better.


Think about the parameters of the team. Who should set up meetings? Is it OK for anyone to record or does the teacher (as host) retain that right and how do students know? Communication is key. Set parameters for online teaching and out-of-teaching hours communications.

If students ask a question in the team and it’s directed to the teacher, when can they expect a response? MS Teams allows us to add students studying the same discipline into the same digital space. This allows for online teaching, tutorials and other tasks in real-time. Can anyone add or remove a member? Again, check out the team settings.

Chat feature

Teams allows students to use the chat feature between themselves and/or pose questions to teachers. These chats can be synchronous or asynchronous. And people or teams can have an @ attribute attached, so messages can be directed to individuals or everyone.

The chat from a live-event will be held in the team and it’s in chronological order. This chat is searchable. Files that are uploaded into the chat can be found in the Files area (it’s quicker to find uploads in the files).

Credit: Volodymyr Hryshchenko
Credit: Volodymyr Hryshchenko

Using chat can be loose or more directed. For example, you might ask students to have a chat along a particular theme (a discussion) and to share their thoughts or opinions. If all students take part in this and it’s an in-class task, there can be a richness of information and debate springing forth. This allows students to take control of their learning and for everyone to learn together.

File / information sharing

The Teams space allows for the sharing of files and other resources from teacher to students or from students to students. This can be anything from a OneDrive folder containing information, to links, individual files, etc.

Uploads can be quickly found in the files tab.

Open / private channels

Teams offers open and private channels. These can be good as digital spaces for tasks, for setting up resources under different weeks, themes, groups, etc. Channels have their own chats / files areas and meetings can be held in each of these spaces too.

And of course, why not try setting up a fun channel in your Teams space? Why not task students to organise non-class activities like a book / movie / games club or virtual cafe, etc.? Give students some responsibility over and above their learning! It’s certainly one way to encourage students to get to know each other online but outside of teaching time.

Credit: Eaters Collective
Credit: Eaters Collective

This might help combat wellbeing issues and after a while, students will feel more confident contacting each other directly and have built some commonality between them too.

Live-teachings (online meetings)

Then there’s online meetings, what can you do to encourage participation whilst delivering live teaching? Breakout rooms spring to mind. Yes, these are great for group tasks, discussions and other activities. However, when you have all students on the main stage (in the virtual classroom), how can you encourage engagement whilst teaching?

Do you want students to have their cameras on 100% of the time? Are there issues with that? Could cameras be turned off after introductions and if students raise the hand icon, when they’re invited to ask a question verbally, is the camera expected to be turned on during that activity? Think about the etiquette and expectations you as a teacher need to set out for students. What are your expectations and what do students need to do?

We like to encourage the use of icons, emojis and GIFs. Aim to have a couple of low-stakes questions. For example, find an image that show’s your current mood. It’s a simple task. Students might see it as fun and creative. It gives students a minute or two to find a visual to describe themselves and share it with fellow students.

Credit: AbsolutVision
Credit: AbsolutVision

What about a chat-bomb? Ask a question, give students 10 seconds to type up and hold their responses until you say “GO!”. Then check out the chat feature for the myriad of responses that come flooding in. We’ve done this for questions such as ‘how are you feeling today?’ and ‘what’s your favourite food/pasttime?’.

When live-teaching, we like to teach a bit and check who’s listening. That might be asking a yes/no, true/false, agree/disagree question and telling students to show their responses using the thumbs up or laughing icons. Again, forms or polls can be dropped into the chat for students to engage with questions and results to update in real-time.

This interactions give teachers feedback and also builds confidence that students are on the other side of the digital space. It’s not uncommon for students to turn cameras off. This brings us back to etiquette and breakout rooms.

Breakout rooms

To be or not to be, that is the question!

Just to elaborate, is that to be on camera, or not to be on camera? When working in e-learning, we hear many stories around the use of digital spaces and what people feel comfortable with. It’s all in setting the parameters, expectations and etiquette for your teaching session(s).

One academic relayed a story of breakout rooms. He tasked students with a group activity and the breakout rooms opened. Students got underway with tasks. Now, if this was a classroom scenario, it’s normal the teacher would join each group for a minute or two to hear how the task is progressing and maybe make comment to advance discussion and/or challenge the group in another area of thinking.

Perfectly normal.

Credit: Matthew Osborn
Credit: Matthew Osborn

When joining each breakout room, he announced himself (rightly so) and he was a tad dismayed to see student cameras twinkling off like little clam shells snapping shut. Communicate. Tell students you’ll be popping into each breakout space and to keep their cameras on. If it helps, challenge students to use the funniest / most boring / cartoon or futuristic backgrounds they can. Make a game of it. That could be a daily or weekly challenge when using breakouts.

Yes, there are students who prefer not to be on camera for a plethora of reasons. But when learning, visual communications are a two-way street. When students are in-class, we can see understanding or confusion on their faces and this prompts teachers to ask questions, to explain concepts further and to challenge a students understanding.

When the camera goes off, that visual communication goes too.

Together mode

Now, we know it’s been a while since everyone has been in classrooms face-to-face. In smaller group teaching, why not use the together or gallery modes whilst cameras are on. This feels a bit quirky but the look of having classmates sitting beside you virtually does feel more inclusive.

This could be good for group presentations, debates, discussions, etc. As a speaker, you can see your audience. The raise hand icon (or real hand) can be put up if viewers have a question.

Again, there are a number of backgrounds to choose from in the together mode. Task a student to choose a background for that session. Rotate that task to another student the next time round. This not only builds up familiarity of the teams space but it gives students a choice in how something looks.

Accessibility features

MS Teams does cater for captions, transcripts and focus modes. Captions are hopefully self-explanatory by this stage but a nice added feature includes the name of the speaker coming up beside the text. This is nice in discussions as each speakers name will appear beside their dialogue.

The focus option allows students to ‘hide attendees’ and show the slides larger on screen. Again, for people with sight and/or sensory issues, this can be helpful in their learning and reduce distractions. Admit it, how many meetings have your been in whereby you’re more interested in who else is in the meeting than the content being covered? Use Focus to direct your attention tot he information on screen.

Another accessibility feature includes meeting transcripts. This is being perfected and picks up the audio of speakers and better yet, it will be available after the meeting as a download. This is super beneficial for audience members with disability needs. It can be read by sighted users or by screen reader users.

Screen sharing

Depending on the team settings, anyone can share their screen. Through using the Microsoft Apps, that also allows for students to collaborate in real-time. The results of collaborations can be shown in the breakout rooms and/or the main stage or other channels within the Team.

There are a few screen sharing options and they have varying degrees of pros and cons.

If sharing Apps, i.e., PowerPoint, only PowerPoint will show on screen so other programs can be open but not-viewable by your audience. Links in PowerPoint in this sharing mode are clickable by viewers in real-time. There does seem to be a slight anomaly if using animations for text with links to appear, these are not clickable.

If sharing a screen (and not an App), everything on the screen shows. For example, you can have different browser tabs open, then the screen could also house your slides, Excel and any other software you might need during your session. This is beneficial when demonstrating and teachers don’t need to un-share/re-share their screen. However, do be mindful when it comes to screen sharing, consider privacy. A two-screen set up is great as one screen can be left clear for sharing content with students.

Also think about popup notifications. There may be communications coming through which you might prefer students didn’t read.

Next time

In our next blog post, we will be looking at the benefits of MS Forms when it comes to creating quizzes / surveys to assess and gather feedback from an audience.

Remember, the DigiKnow blog posts are released at noon on a Monday.

Please do join us then to learn more and don’t forget to follow us on Twitter: @MDBSelearn.


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