Automate Teams for Education with School Data Sync

In this article I will show you how to setup School Data Sync to automate your Teams for Education environment, as well as discuss the benefits and highlight some important considerations.SDS.png

School Data Sync, from Microsoft, is a free service in Office 365 Education. It takes data about Students, teachers, class rosters and more, from the Student Information System, and use that data to create and license users in Azure Active Directory and Office 365, create classes in Microsoft Teams, complete with teachers and students, and more.

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School Data Sync, or SDS, integrates with 78 Student Information Systems at the time of writing. For Student Informations Systems not on the list, chances are you could still make it work, which I will discuss in a second.

But before we move on, I’d like to continue with why you should setup School Data Sync. First of all, Classes in Teams won’t necessarily update dynamically if you create them manually and add a group from Azure AD. When new students arrive, teachers will have to add them to every team. Same goes for students moving from one school to another.

If you have more than a few schools, you really don’t want teachers or IT admins spending the first week after summer break moving students in and out of classes in Teams.

School Data Sync also lets you get the term start and end dates from the Student Information System, which you could use to automate archiving of classes End Of Year.

There are a whole range of other use cases when SDS is up an running, like dynamic application delivery if you manage school PCs with Intune for Education, but that’s a story for another day.

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Most Student Information Systems integrating with systems like Learning Management Systems, have the option to do so using XML files in a format like IMS. School Data Sync however, if you’re not using the API, require six CSV-files in a proprietary format.

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Microsoft has a set of example CSVs on Github, which I have customized slightly below.

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The above examples show the bare minimum of what you need to get started with SDS, there are however a range of other properties you could add which I will cover later.

You should have all this information in the SIS XML file, so all you need to do is to create a script or small piece of software to parse the data in the XML file into six CSVs that SDS accepts.

When you have these CSVs, you’re ready to start syncing your Student Information System with School Data Sync. Let’s have a look at how you can accomplish that.

First you need to navigate to sds.microsoft.com and log on with global admin credentials. You can there click add a profile…

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…give it a name, choose to upload CSVs in SDS format and click Start.

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If your users already exist in Azure AD, choose Existing users. Otherwise, and you would need to have usernames and passwords in the teacher and student CSVs, choose New users and the service will provision accounts on your behalf.

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Click Upload Files followed by Add Files, browse to and choose your CSVs and hit Upload.

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Select school and section properties, remember that these must exist in the CSV files. As a bare minimum you need SIS ID and Name for schools and SIS ID, School SIS IS and Section Name for sections.

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ProTip: Term StartDate and EndDate could come in handy later for automation purposes.

When all that is done, you have the option to replace unsupported special characters that may exist in the files, to make sure that the synchronization doesn’t stop just because of a dollar ($) sign or a dash (/).

You can also choose whether or not section group display names should persist when changed by the teacher, and set a date for when students should be able to view their classes.

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Select the domain, properties and licenses for both teachers…

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…and students. And hit Next.

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The last page will let you review all your settings and finally create the profile. Setting everything up til take a few minutes.

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When complete choose Start Sync.

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Refresh the page after a while, please bare in mind that a sync like this can take some time, depending of the amount of users and groups you are syncing.

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When the sync is complete, choose Your Organization in the menu on the left, and pick your school to see what has been synced.

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You can also open either the Office 365 admin center and search for the teacher, students and classes…

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…or of course just open Microsoft Teams with a teacher account to see that everything is OK.

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You can see the classes are created, as well as teacher and students, and we’re good to go.

One thing I think is important for a successful roll out though, is to consider whether you should create class teams, subject teams or a mix of both. You need to discuss this internally before you setup School Data Sync, since your decision most likely will affect the configuration.

My experience is that it gets complex for the youngest students if they are assigned many teams, which is why teachers in lower grades sometimes rename one team to something like “Class 2B” and then add one channel for each subject.

This however introduces a few other challenges. The built-in assignments app is team centric, there is no way to add a math assignments tab in the math channel and so on.

Also there is currently only one class notebook for each team, if the class notebook is used a lot it could end up very large causing sync issues.

My point is that you need to think about these things before you roll out hundreds or perhaps thousands of teams, in order to avoid a bad user experience for students and teachers.

Make sure to also check the Microsoft Teams release notes, since these issues might have been resolved by the time you read this. You can also vote for the ability to add existing class notebooks on UserVoice, which would be a huge step in the right direction.

Again, if you appreciate my work please share on social media or comment below, and if there is something you think I should write about please let me know!

Learn Teams Conference 2018

Just a heads up to those of you who would like to learn more about Microsoft Teams.

On April 3-7 there will be a free online conference dedicated to Microsoft Teams, featuring brilliant Microsoft MVPs, MIEEs, Experts… and ME! 🙂

 

I will talk about How to Deploy and Use Teams for Education in Your School District, and cover stuff like automated class management using School Data Sync and how to organize staff teams to increase collaboration.

I will also show you how to distribute assignments into OneNote class notebook, as well as demo how a few great 3rd party tools integrate deep into Teams to deliver a unique learning experience.

 

So if you’re not to busy (if you are that is actually no excuse, you can just buy unlimited access) please register at LearnTeamsConference.com to join me and all the other great speakers for what is going to be a fantastic community event.

Hope to see you there! 🙂

Teams + Skooler, better together – part 2

In Teams + Skooler,  better together – part 1, readers were introduced to Skooler and shown how their absence and assignments tools integrate with Microsoft Teams. Today I will show you their Dashboard tab, the Week plans tool, and give you a sneak peek of the newly released Skooler app for parents.

 

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In the above screenshot I am logged on as a teacher seeing the Dashboard tab in expanded view. In the menu on the left you have access to all the learning apps from Skooler, and on the right you have a nice overview of todays absence, expiring assignments and more.

 

While access to a dashboard like this is nice, I prefer tabs focusing on spesific tasks. Let’s check out Skoolers Week plans tab for Microsoft Teams!

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Opening the Skooler Week plans tab within the class team will give you a nice overview of published plans, or week letters as Skooler calls them in this view. You get a simple list with columns for title, week, date and time published, the document attachment itself as well as the groups the letters themselves belong to.

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Clicking the New week letter button will allow you to create and publish a new week plan, I won’t go into great details but you need to add a title, choose week number and the number of weeks the plan is for, as well as uploading the actual week plan document(s) and add any links to online resources as well as learning goals.

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If one or more students have individual week plans, there is also an option in the bottom to remove students from the pre populated list.

The actual week plan document is typically created in Word based on a template and uploaded by clicking Upload week letter.

 

When the week plan is published it will be available for students within the class team (below image) as well as in the parent app.

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Student view of the week plan.

Teachers can also edit any existing week plans, as well as unpublish and then delete it.

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Skooler Parents app

The Skooler Parents app is available on iOS and android and as usual you download and install it from either the App Store or Google Play. My demo is based on the iOS version using an iPhone.

 

The first time you launch the app you will need to search for and pick your school.

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The app will open in the Assignments view, giving you a nice overview of next weeks assignments followed by coming assignments.

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If you click the name of the child you will be able to select another child if you have more than one at the same school.

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Clicking an assignment will open it in details view, where parents can see the title, due date, grade scale, what subject the assignment is in as well as a description.

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Navigating back and into the Assesments tab assessments from earlier assignments are available.

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Opening an assessment gives you a similar view as for the assignment, but instead of the description you see the grade and a comment section with feedback from the teacher.

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Choosing Weekplan in the menu in the bottom gives you list of week plans.

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Click one to see the details, these are the same as we saw earlier in the Week plan tab within the class team.

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If you click the attached document the app opens it in a Word Online view. Unfortunately it doesn’t scale that well, and there is no pinch to zoom, so you will need to scroll a bit in order to see everything.

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The app also has messages, there is no dedicated Skooler messages tab for Teams as of this writing, but you can reach it from within the Skooler Dashboard tab (shown in the beginning of this post).

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Click to open a message.

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A huge limitation of the messages feature is that parents are only able to read messages, and respond to actionable messages with a predetermined set of answers like yes or no, not write their own. There is an option to email the teacher, but two way messaging would be much better and could potentially eliminate the need for a dedicated messaging service.

 

Absence is a feature known from Teams + Skooler,  better together – part 1, in this view parents get a nice overview of their childs absence with any comments added by teachers.

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Last but not least is the Status page, giving a summary of reviews, assessments and more.

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That wraps up this second part of Teams + Skooler, better together. I hope to write more about Skooler when they release more learning tools in Teams, and also plan to write about other learning tools vendors integrating with Microsoft Teams in the future.

If you appreciate my work please share on social media or comment below, and if there is something you think I should write about please let me know!

Teams + Skooler, better together – part 1

So you’ve started using Teams for Education, but miss features for attendance, weekly plans, individual learning plans (ILP) and parent insights? In this blog post I will show you how you can supplement Microsoft Teams for Education with learning management tools from Skooler.

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Thougt Microsoft Teams could replace your current learning management system?

That depends on what you require for managing learning, many will however need more than what is currently available out of the box.

The good thing though, if you have already chosen Microsoft Teams as your hub for teamwork and collaboration, is that one of its true strenghts is the way partners can integrate deeply into the service with supplementing features like those listed above.

Let’s see how one partner, LMS provider Skooler, make their tools available inside class teams.

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Skooler consists of a dashboard and tools for attendance, weekly plans, assessment, ILP, student progress, assgignments and a parent portal.

At the time of writing the Skooler app for Microsoft Teams is in version 1.1, and includes a dashboard tab as well as tabs for absence, assignments and weekly plans. Tabs for the rest of their tools are scheduled for release in April this year.

The Skooler app is avalable in the Teams store. You can install it either by clicking the … button (show more) in the left toolbar and choose More apps.

In the store searchbar type schooler, and select the Skooler app.

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Or, even easier, is adding it as a tab directly in your team of choice. Just hit the plus icon…

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…and search for Skooler.

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In the Skooler app dialogue you will be able to choose the appropriate tab type and give it a name.

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Absence

In this example I chose Absence, and hit Save.

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Opening the tab will give you an overview with the students attending the class, and any absence already registered.

In the above screenshot you see the absence tool in the context of a particular course. It is however also available to add for the whole class, ie. in the General channel of a team organized with subjects as channels, showing absence from all subjects.

A grey circle is someone who has no absence registered, click once and it turns green which is documented absence, yellow is undocumented and blue is leave of absence. You also have the option to get a sneak peek of the full week (ie. to quickly see if a student was absent earlier in the week), and a description field on the right.

As you see above you get a minimal set of features, just enough to get things done, while not cluttering the view with unimportant details.

I’m often when demoing features like this, asked why teachers shouldn’t instead use the full plattform (in this case the Skooler web portal). While that certainly is a viable option, that would mean they either need to switch between two platforms or loose out of the superior collaboration features of Microsoft Teams. In my opinion Microsoft Teams should be used as a hub, connecting students, teachers and all their tools. Day to day tasks should be available through the Teams interface, together with the option to switch to fully featured apps or the original web portal for those who prefer, or need, that.

 

Students also see the Absence tab, but during my testing this led to the Skooler dashboard, not a student view of absence.

 

Skooler Assignments

While Teams for Education has an assignments app built in, this is quite basic in the current version (version 0.2), and lack the possibility to tie an assignment to learning objectives, curriculum etc. For those who prefer teams with subjects as channels, Skooler Assignments also has a lot more flexibility in the way that you can add different assignment tabs to different channels within the same team.

 

Let’s see what Skooler Assignments looks like within the class team.

When navigating to the Skooler assignments tab you will get an overview of recent assignments as well as buttons to create a new assignment or do a quick assessment.

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Opening an assignment will give you a nice overview of the status of the assignment, like how many students has returned the assignment and how many has been assessed. You will also see a nice real time graph of the distribution of grades.

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You can click to open the turned in document to review, or choose from a rich set of grading possibilities, add comments to the student, add internal comments just for teachers as well as read the students self-assessment.

Another nice feature with Skooler Assignments is the possibility to return a turned in assignment to a student with a comment, at any given time, allowing them to correct errors, adjust course or just give it a little more effort while continuously learning in a formative way.

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You can also unpublish the assignment, expand the due date and more. If you need to check for plagiarism you can do that with the click of a button, Skooler integrates with both Urkund and Turnitin.

Skooler also has an app for parents, allowing them to gain insights into assignments with assessments, week plans and absence, as well as receive actionable messages from teachers.

 

That’s it for the first part of Teams + Skooler, better together. Stay tuned as I plan to cover more integrated learning tools in an upcoming post, as well as the Skooler bot and the parent app

 

In the mean time, for more information, head over to http://teams.skooler.com/

Consumer Guest Access for Microsoft Teams

In this article I will show you how to add guests not subscribing to Office 365 to your teams, discuss why this is a big deal, and show you what this looks like both for you while inviting and for those invited.

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Let me start with why consumer guest access is a big deal. Up until now we have had guest access for users with a user account in Azure AD, which is the user catalog used in Office 365 and other Microsoft Cloud Services. While there were 120 million Office 365 users six months ago, the majority of those are business users.

Continuing with the education scenario, most parents certainly don’t have Office 365, and many school districts use GSuite or other services. Now that anyone with an email address can be invited into Teams, think about what that potentially could do to parent involvement and the school home relationship!

Or what about inviting coming educators from the nearby university, and teachers from other districts to collaborate on curriculum, tests, projects and more?

Teachers could create a team and share curriculum and weekly plans with parents, they could send messages using chat, publish announcements in coversations, have discussions with regards to school trips, get feedback using polls etc.

Looking forward this could be used as part of a parent portal, and when private channels become available parents could easily also be invited within the class team itself.

Consumer guest access certainly opens up a range of opportunities, let’s see how it works.

Let’s invite a guest

First navigate to the team where you want to invite guests, hit … (also commonly refered to as show more) and choose Add members.

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Fill in an email address and click the purple box below.

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You should edit the display name by clicking the pencil and correcting the name to avoid getting usernames as display names.

Admins can also edit user information using the Azure Active Directory portal, but these changes won’t come into affect immediately due to the way Teams sync and how the different clients caches such information.

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When the display name is updated, send the invitation by clicking the Add button.

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Team members will see a message informing that someone has been added.

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What about those invited?

Moving to the recipient end, those invited will receive an email with a link leading them into the account creation process if their email address isn’t already a Microsoft Account.

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Click the button Open Microsoft Teams (above), then Next (below) to begin the account creation process.

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You will be asked to create a password followed by a few personal details. The username will be the email address you were invited with.

In the next step you will be propted to enter a verification code, which will arrive in your inbox.

 

A captcha makes sure you are not a bot, and you should be forwarded to Teams.

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Inside the team guest will have a familiar experience, with conversations, files, chat etc.

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Well, what are you waiting for? Start inviting those guests and take collaboration to the next level with Microsoft Teams.

Guest Access in Teams on Android

Want to switch tenants, to check on teams where you are a guest, while working on a mobile device? Read on…

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While the biggest news lately regarding guest access, definetly was the announcement about guest access for consumer accounts (anyone with an email address can now be invited to join your team), another nice feature I was recently made aware of is switching tenants on an android device.

 

Not much to it, let’s dive right in…

First open your Teams app and hit settings in the upper left corner.

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In the settings menu expand Your accounts.

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You will get a list of available guest accounts.

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Pick a guest account and you will be signed into the appropriate tenant.

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There you are, enjoy your guest access on the go! That is if you have an Android device, since iOS isn’t supported as of this writing.

UPDATE March 14th: Tenant switching is now available also in the Microsoft Teams app on iOS.

Be productive on the go with Teams mobile apps

In this short tutorial I will show you how you can be productive on the go, using Microsoft Teams mobile apps.

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During the past year or so I’ve been using Teams more and more, communicating with my team, writing technical documentation and tutorials, answering Office 365 related questions from educators and more.

 

While the mobile apps used to have some weaknesses, recent updates enables you to be almost as productive on a train, at the beach, or anywhere else outside the office.

 

On iOS, version 1.0.30 of the Teams app enabled us to share text, pictures and files from other apps in Teams.

 

We’ve also for quite a while been able to do video conferencing from mobile devices, both on iOS, Android and Windows Phone.

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Following the education scenario, students working on a natural science project could take pictures of tree leaves, insert them into a private chat with their classmates in the same group to discuss things like what tree it’s from, and then finally save it into their class notebooks or a Teams assignment.

 

Let’s see what that would look like.

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Take a picture, open it in Photos and hit the share button in the lower left corner.

 

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Attach a message and hit Select in the lower right corner.

 

Search for and choose either a channel or a classmate as a recipient, once finished click share (see the above screenshot).

 

Choose whether or not you want to compress the image to save space, and the picture with the message is sent to the recipient.

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To learn more about how you can add images, text or documents into an assignment, please see my recent post about Assignments in Teams mobile apps.

Also, if you’re an admin wanting to perform administrative tasks on the go, make sure to check out my post Managing Teams on the go (like a boss…).

 

If you think this article has room for improvement, or you simply enjoy my work, please leave a comment below, hit the like button or share in social media.