Now that Microsoft has started rolling out its new 7x7 grid view for Teams as well as virtual breakout rooms, the company is releasing new features that aim to improve 'emotional connection' for students and teachers.
The latest Teams tools include 'praise badges' from the Praise app, which Microsoft suggests teachers can use to "recognize student social skills, grow emotional vocabulary, and give valuable recognition to the daily wins".
The badges will be available to over 230,000 education institutions that use Teams for remote and mixed learning.
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The default badges are available now in chats and class team channels, with more social-emotional learning (SEL) badges coming this month.
Default badges include achiever, awesome, coach, courage, creative, inclusive, kind heart, leadership, optimism, problem solver, team player, and thank you.
The SEL-focused ones include communication, critical thinking, curiosity and empathy, goal pursuit, motivation and so on. Users also have the option to create their own badges and picking their own image to accompany the text.
"The badges were developed through a human-centered design approach that brought teachers and students directly into the product development process, ensuring that we create useful and authentic tools that will aide in their existing classroom practices," says Mark Sparvell, the director of Microsoft Education.
IT admins can control what badges are available to users and need to enable the app in the Teams app settings page.
It's not clear how much badges will improve how students feel in remote learning as the COVID-19 pandemic rolls on. On the other hand, any tools that even slightly improve the remote-learning experience for educators and students should be welcomed, assuming students have adequate equipment for remote learning.
Zoom, which suddenly became the default remote classroom app for schools, has also been beefing up its features for education customers with improved 'security features to prevent zoombombing' and better controls to manage participants' audio.
In August, Zoom gave teachers the ability to selectively unmute students' audio whereas previously only participants, who might not know how to use audio controls, could select unmute for their device. Zoom this month introduced breakout rooms.
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Microsoft is also introducing the Reflect extension for Teams to allow teachers to conduct quick 'emotional check-ins' to ask, for example, how students are feeling. It's designed to encourage students to reflect on and identify how they're feeling.
Other recent features include 'turn-in celebrations' or animations that students receive after turning in an assignment, virtual backgrounds aimed younger kids, and 'together mode', which lets participants appear in a shared background.
Finally, Microsoft has released a new set of SEL sticker packs for OneNote and OneNot Class Notebooks. The set can be used alongside OneNote audio recording, inking and typed notes.