Teams-work Makes the Discussion Dream Work: Microsoft Teams as an Online Learning Communication Solution

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Brief Abstract

Online education and learning environments struggle with students feeling isolated from their instructors. The discrepancy between student engagements with online materials and the achievement of learning outcomes has also been problematic. The authors will be attempting to apply the use of a novel communication tool and building an Online Community.


Dr. Ryan Straight is currently Assistant Professor of Educational Technology at the University of Arizona where he is also a Faculty Fellow and Honors Professor. He holds a PhD in Instructional Technology from Ohio University, where he also earned his MEd in Cultural Studies in Education and a BS.Ed in Integrated Language Arts. He teaches fully online at the undergraduate and graduate levels in topics like game design and development, human-computer interaction, designing online learning environments, and statistics and data visualization. Dr. Straight also serves as a Social Media Advisor for ISTE and writes for the Chronicle of Higher Education on mobile learning technologies, augmented reality, and social presence in online education. He lives in Tucson with his wife and three dogs.

Extended Abstract

Online education and learning environments historically struggle with students feeling isolated or distant from their instructors, colleagues, and the material. Various mitigations have been considered and applied to varying degrees of success like:

1.    Text-based discussions forums

2.    Voice-based discussion forums

3.    Synchronous video conferencing

4.    SMS group chats, and others

The discrepancy between student engagement with online materials and learning outcomes has also been problematic, with some research demonstrating an improvement in assessments, but no impact on achieving learning outcomes. Discussion forums, likely the most ubiquitous form of online student-student interaction, do not entirely mitigate struggles with class engagement. However, highly structured and guided discussion forum prompts and posts from students appear to lead to better demonstrations of content mastery and critical thinking. Research has also shown that more organic, conversational interactions can lead to higher levels of reinforcement of previously acquired knowledge and improve social presence. This leads to a stronger sense of community, agency, and a more personalized sense of learning. Current research on the application of social networks strongly points to the high value of social interaction as an indicator of academic performance.

In the current study, the authors will apply the use of a novel communication tool (Microsoft Teams) to create a fully online learning environment in an attempt to address concerns and pitfalls pointed out in the literature. We plan to shorten the transactional distance by providing an online space that is social, building a Community of Inquiry Framework that allows for a space to improve teacher-student, student-student, and student-content interactions, and serves as a “home” outside a learning management system.