blog.frederique.harmsze.nl my world of work and user experiences

April 30, 2021

Teams Meetings are getting more and more user friendly

Filed under: Microsoft 365,New world of work — Tags: , — frederique @ 15:37

Nowadays, I spend a a large fraction of my week in Teams Meetings. I am meeting online with colleagues, clients and even fellow enthusiasts in non-work seminars. The meetings can be one-on-one, in small groups or in large groups. So I am happy that the tools to conduct such meetings keep improving, even though we all have to live through glitches sometimes.

Recently, Microsoft has added some options to Teams that I like: live reactions, dynamic view and PowerPoint live. Let’s take a look.

Live reactions

Especially in large meetings, with many people, live reactions are a nice way to give feedback in a compact but very visible way.

  • As an attendee, I like the way I can express my admiration, for example, without cluttering up the chat conversation.
  • And as a presenter, I like getting immediate feedback, even though I cannot keep an eye on the details of the chat. Then at least I know that my attendees haven’t all fallen asleep or left to grab some coffee.

Interestingly, the live reaction options only include positive sentiments. There is no button to shout “Boo!” Maybe Microsoft assumes that only great presenters will present in Teams, or that only charitable people attend them…

On the other hand, Microsoft used a different tool than Teams for the recent Ignite conference. There we did have a thumbs down icon for live reactions. Unfortunately, that button was placed right next to the switch for closed captioning. So in the discussion we saw a lot of questions why there were so many thumbs-down, and apologies from people who accidentally pressed that button. So maybe it is safer not to have a thumbs down option in Teams.

Dynamic view

In an online meeting, we often try to keep an eye on several things at once, including:

  • The information that is being presented. In my case, this is usually the desktop I share to show functionality, or a PowerPoint slide deck.
  • The video feed of the presenter. I am by no means a movie star, but I always switch on my webcam when I am presenting, because that makes my presentation more personal and easier to follow for the attendees.
  • Video feeds of other participants. When we attend a big meeting, we usually switch off all video feeds except the presenter’s, to avoid overloading the network and the tool. But in small-scale interactive meetings, seeing each other in the video feeds does make the discussion more lively and clear.
  • The chat, especially if it is not possible for (some of) the attendees to unmute their microphone and contribute directly. This is the case in large meetings, where this would result in a mess, but also in meetings with people that are in a very noisy room or – on the contrary – in a room where they are not allowed to make any noise speaking.

So it is important that all of the relevant elements are combined efficiently within the Teams meeting screen.

The Dynamic View that recently appeared in our tenant does just that, in a clearer and smarter way than before. For example, it displays the video feeds on the right hand side of the screen. Until you open the chat pane in that location, and then the video feeds move to the top of the screen.

The information that I want to share – the PowerPoint presentation or the demo – stays at the center of the stage. When I open the meeting up for discussion, I usually stop sharing, so that the video feeds take center stage and we can see each other more clearly during the discussion.

PowerPoint Live

In some meetings, I do most or all of my presentation with a PowerPoint slide deck. The interface for sharing a PowerPoint presentation in a Teams Meeting has been improved recently as well. It is called PowerPoint Live.

When I explicitly share a PowerPoint presentation in the Teams Meeting, the attendees see the slide I am talking about. But as the presenter, I also see my notes about that slide to the side, and thumbnails of the neighbouring slides at the bottom. And the thumbnails of the video feeds at the top. It is clear to me what is shared (namely: that slide), because it has the same red line around it as my screen has, when I share that.

One thing that does not work yet, in PowerPoint Live: animations to transition between slides and build up the elements on the slides. Sometimes the animations work, but most of the time everything gets dropped on the page all at once. When you backtrack, using the back button, the elements do disappear one by one, but I wanted them to appear one by one when I move forward. Oh well, it will be fixed soon, probably.

 

So the experience in our online meetings is improving all the time. Partly because we are getting better at them, but also because the tooling is getting better. We haven’t seen all of the improvements announced by Microsoft at Ignite in March yet, but we are seeing more and more of them. Hopefully more if the goodies will arrive soon, from What’s New in Microsoft Teams | Microsoft Ignite 2021.

February 28, 2021

Microsoft 365 Learning Pathways: some lessons learned

Filed under: Adoption,Microsoft 365 — frederique @ 23:59

Microsoft 365 offers a lot of applications that can help our users get their jobs done. But in order to take full advantage of the tooling, they need to understand what the possibilities are and how it all works. So we want to provide our users with an information portal, where they can find that out. But Microsoft 365 evolves all the time: new applications are added, existing applications are improved and expanded, new connections are added, tying these applications together. So how do we keep that information up-to-date?

We used to set up information portals and fill them with relevant content, but it is rather time-consuming to keep those up-to-date. It usually came down to one person managing the site. And when that one person leaves the company or gets another role, the information portal starts to fossilize…

Microsoft Learning Pathways helps us to outsource a lot of that work to Microsoft: they update the toolkit, and they update the information about the toolkit. See also Microsoft’s documentation Microsoft 365 learning pathways. I’m setting up Microsoft Learning Pathways for some clients, so let’s take a look at some lessons I learned when I got down it.

1.It is an information portal, rather than Learning Management System

When I started talking about Microsoft 365 Learning Pathways with HR people who are really in the learning business, they had expectations based in the name, that it would be a full Learning Management System, with courses, testing, tracking, certification and everything. It’s not.

Microsoft 365 Learning Pathways is more like an information portal, where you can find information about the applications and instructions on how to use them. Users consult the portal when they want to learn something.

So it went down a lot better when I called it an information portal. It actually is based on the Communication Site template, so it looks like the other information portals that we had in our environment.

Microsoft 365 Learning Pathways home page

Microsoft 365 Learning Pathways home page

2.The learning content is hierarchically structured with reusable assets

The content is organised in a structure that is mostly hierarchical, though the actual content can be used in different branches of that topic tree. The high-level structure is fixed, but we can add lower levels ourselves. 

The M365 Learning Pathways structure of Categories, Subcategories and Playlists

The M365 Learning Pathways structure of Categories, Subcategories and Playlists

  1. All of the information offered in Microsoft 365 Learning Pathways is organised in three main Categories for the end-usersGet started, Scenarios, ProductsPlus a category Adoption tools that is more geared towards Owners.
    We cannot add our own category.
  2. Within those Categories, we have Subcategories: the different scenarios and different products, like SharePoint.
    We can add our own Subcategories
    This hierarchy is strict: each Subcategory belongs to only one Category. 
  3. Within the Subcategories, we have Playlists. For example: Intro to SharePoint OnlineShare and sync with SharePoint. 
    We can add our own Playlists
    This hierarchy is strict: each Playlist belongs to only one Subcategory. We can create a copy of a Playlist to include it in another Subcategory though. 
  4. Within the Playlists, we have Assets. For example: What is SharePointFind and follow sites and news. The Assets contain the actual content
    We can add our own Assets.
    We can re-use an Asset in as many Playlists as we want.
The M365 Learning Pathways structure: the Playlists contain Assets.

The M365 Learning Pathways structure: the Playlists contain Assets.

3.The M365 Learning Pathways web part displays the content

What makes it the Learning Pathways instead of just a regular Communication site is the Learning Pathways web part that displays the actual learning content to the users.

As a user, you an browse the playlists: click on a playlist to open it and then browse the asset using the Next button or the pulldown menu.
Please note: we’ve experienced that not all users see that they can navigate through the playlist. So we have added a line of instruction at the top of the web part.

Browse the Assets in the Playlist using the Next button or the menu.

Browse the Assets in the Playlist using the Next button or the menu.

As the owner, you configure what you want to display on a particular page: the top level allowing the users to drill down the categories, subcategories and playlists. Or maybe a particular Playlist or even one Asset.

Configuring the M365 Learning Pathways web part to display the top level.

Configuring the M365 Learning Pathways web part to display the top level.

Configuring the M365 Learning Pathways web part to display a particular Playlist.

Configuring the M365 Learning Pathways web part to display a particular Playlist.

4.The Assets are bite-sized pieces of content stored elsewhere 

The Assets with the actual content consist of introductory videos and instruction videos of maximum a few minutes each, plus a short text version of the instructions. Some Assets are text only. By the way, the videos do not all have the same style: some have a voice-over, others do not talk but give their explanation in written text labels.  

Each Asset is a URL in the catalogue. Either in the portal, elsewhere in your Microsoft 365 environment or elsewhere on the internet. The standard content provided by Microsoft all lives on the internet, at https://support.office.com 

5.The content gets updated quarterly by Microsoft 

Microsoft updates the content four times a year; they don’t have fixed dates. For example, they will announce a list of content updates next week during Ignite (March 4th 2021) via Driving Adoption – Microsoft Tech CommunitySo the information about new features does not become immediately available in Learning Pathways. We have to wait for the next update. 

When the content is updated, it gets streamed to our Learning Pathways automatically. Not need to pull it in, because the Microsoft’s content lives on their site. 

6.Standard Playlists don’t work for us, so we use custom Playlists 

You can use the standard Microsoft Playlists offers in the catalogue. However, we found that they did not work for us. Usually we want to add something, remove something, change the sort order, change a title. And you cannot change anything in a standard Playlist. 

So we create custom playlists, often starting from a copy of a standard Playlist. In a custom Playlist, you determine the details of the Playlist as a whole, like the title, the summary and the image. Please note: you can select the level and audience, but you cannot add any choices. That is a pity, because most audiences don’t make sense to innocent users. 

A custom Playlist, with some standard Assets and custom Assets.

A custom Playlist, with some standard Assets and custom Assets.

In the custom Playlist, you can search for and add existing Assets.  

Add existing Assets to the custom Playlist: standard Assets and custom Assets.

Add existing Assets to the custom Playlist: standard Assets and custom Assets.

Or you can add your own Assets: add a title and a URL, for example of a page created in the portal. The custom Assets are indicated with the people icon in the Playlist.

A custom Asset: a page created in the same portal.

A custom Asset: a page created in the same portal.

7.Microsoft has more Assets than you can find in the catalog 

I could not find everything I needed in the catalogue. Fortunately, Microsoft has more Assets online, so I did not have to create the content myself. 

So, yes: Microsoft 365 Learning Pathways is very helpful. But is not “automagically” providing us a learning portal that meet our needs with one push of the button. We still have to do some manual work. 

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