What is Microsoft Teams, and why should you use it?

Most careers are built on collaboration, and in uni world this translates into the oft-dreaded ‘group work’. Any uni student will tell you this: working by yourself in our connected, collaborative day and age is truly rare, and working in groups can sometimes be a pain. Whether it’s working on five different platforms for five different groups, waiting for replies to messages you never quite figured out how to send, or being unable to open, send or edit your group project due to mismatched software, no one leaves university unscathed by the perils of working together on something. Luckily, it doesn’t need to be this way! The fact is, half of the game of group work is organisation. Troubled uni students, meet Microsoft Teams.

Many students will be familiar at least in passing with Microsoft’s 365 Suite, which has many staple student applications like Word, Powerpoint and OneNote, and through which you access your student email on Outlook. What many students may not be aware of is that the university offers the entire Office 365 suite for students to download for free onto Windows, Mac, iOS and Android through the Student Advantage Scheme! Industry-standard applications like Word, PowerPoint, Excel, OneDrive and OneNote are available 100% free to savvy students in the know, and now Microsoft Teams has joined that list.

As a new-and-improved take on Microsoft’s previous application Groups, Teams makes for a perfect group chat and collaboration platform for students. The Teams program was rolled out only just midway through last year, and so it continues to fly under the radar for many students. However, the application boasts many important functions and features which make it ideal for group workers.

First and foremost, Teams is entirely integrated into the 365 Suite. Through 365 Suite’s storage and sharing services such as SharePoint, Outlook and OneDrive, Teams allows for integrated and collaborative use of all the 365 Suite applications; no more converting pages documents into word documents into PDFs and all back around again.

Alongside this, Teams offers a number of useful collaboration tools across these applications, making Teams a perfect midway point between all elements of group work and collaboration. Team members can switch seamlessly between text, voice and video chat, giving the Teams application wide usability. Users can collaborate on shared documents in real time, communicate in any capacity (file sharing, emails, instant messaging and even video conferences) and have everything neatly under the one roof for the first time. That last point is of some importance; instead of emailing for one group, texting for another, using this program for that group, that program for this group and so on, Teams allows users to create multiple separate ‘channels’, through which one user can access all the different groups they’re working with in one place. Likewise, students can customise their channels to suit various needs and types of collaborative work – whether it’s all business in one and spamming cat GIFs in another is entirely up to the users.

Beyond the many features offered in Teams, there are a number of other reasons why students may want to start making use of the application. Similar to how Word and PowerPoint are used today, it seems more and more likely that Teams will be an important collaboration tool in the years to come, whether it’s used in an academic, business or even a casual setting. Teams was rolled out as a central collaboration tool at the University of New South Wales last year, and the results were truly remarkable. Following the trial, it was found that exam pass rates jumped from 65% to 85%, and that Teams’ ease of use led to an 800% increase in discussion amongst students. Beyond this, Teams seems well set to become an important collaboration tool in the future. With Microsoft programs like Word and Outlook being so widespread in the professional world, Teams seems a logical next step.

Many early adopters are seeing the benefits of Teams ahead of the curve, and not just at UNSW; Teams has already made a splash here at the University of Newcastle with the university’s Nu Racing club. Established in 2003, Nu Racing is UON’s entry into Formula SAE, an international engineering design competition wherein competing groups design a prototype vehicle for small scale manufacture. The 2012 team were able to manufacture a successful vehicle with just 10 students, and the 2016 team finished seventh from 32 entrants. The 2016 team switched the focus of their design from internal combustion to electric propulsion.

As you can imagine, designing a viable, competitive vehicle is a challenge that goes beyond answering emails and converting files; it presents a veritable logistical and organisational nightmare. Given past issues, Nu Racing team leader Dominic McAtamney said that the rollout and use of Teams over the past year has been a blessing. “It’s all-in-one, it’s already there, it’s pretty, clean, easy to use. The fact that it’s all-in-one is probably the best benefit.” Dominic noted the need for the Nu Racing team to conduct themselves like a business, with a clear, defined structure to the team, and how the Teams application let them do this with ease. “It’s an opportunity for students to develop themselves in a professional environment,” he said. “It’s about building the team, not the vehicle.”

You’re likely to hear the term ‘Microsoft Teams’ more and more as time goes on. Lecturers are incorporating the platform into their coursework, businesses are using it to organise groups and workflows, students are using it to work on their group PowerPoints in between sending each other cat videos. It’s here, and it’s here to stay, and that’s a good thing. If you’re interested in learning more about Teams and its use at UON, an hour-long online training and information webinar will be held on the 8th of August at 4pm – check out the details below.

For the savvy, up-to-the-minute student, Teams is the bar-none best collaboration tool there is, with wide and easy usability and transferable skills for post-study work life. Troubled uni students, meet Microsoft Teams. Teams, meet world.

 An hour-long online webinar for Microsoft Teams training will be held at http://studentteamstraining.newcastle.edu.au/ on the 8th of August at 4pm. Topics will include: intro to Teams, how to integrate with the broader O365 tools (eg. Calendar, email, word, excel, OneNote etc), how best to set up and manage for group assignments/projects, how to best track and keep files for shared use including inviting lecture or tutors. The webinar will be recorded and will be available online afterwards.

You can access Microsoft Teams online, or by downloading the application through the University’s Student Advantage Scheme: https://www.newcastle.edu.au/current-students/campus-environment/information-technology/computers/student-advantage.