Microsoft earlier this month flagged that Teams would support 49 on-screen video participants at some point in the future. Now it has confirmed that a preview of the video-call feature will be available this month, with general availability due by the fall.
The feature couldn't come sooner for a number of users, including teachers who have been obliged to use Teams or Zoom to host remote classrooms during the global coronavirus pandemic.
At the outset of the pandemic's spread to the US and Europe in February, Microsoft Teams only supported four simultaneous onscreen participants. Then in May it bumped it up to nine in a three-by-three grid, a limit that a Teams engineer admitted was "not good enough".
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But as ZDNet reported this month, teachers and instructors have complained that nine on-screen participants doesn't match the reality that classrooms often have 30 students whom teachers need to observe.
Some teachers found clumsy workarounds, while others reported switching to a paid Zoom account even though they were Office 365 customers. Teams is bundled with Office 365 for Microsoft's enterprise and education customers.
"More than nine please. Our school classes need more. An idea of when this will be available would help," pleaded an anonymous user this week on the Teams user forum.
"Really, really need the ability to see all participants in a meet like Zoom. As it is, we are having to pay extra for the Zoom abilities," a user called Barry wrote on the forum.
It's been a glaring feature gap between Microsoft Teams and Zoom, which already supports 49 on-screen participants. Due to this capability and general ease of use, video-first Zoom has seen daily meeting participant numbers explode during the coronavirus pandemic, increasing from 10 million before the health crisis to 200 million in March.
To answer Zoom allowing free users to create video meetings, Microsoft earlier this month also started letting free Teams users create video meetings, rather than only being able to join video meetings created from paid Teams accounts. And last week it enabled custom backgrounds on Teams.
But the main gap for Microsoft's education customers holding remote classes is the number of classroom participants that are visible on screen.
"For educators, seeing all their students' faces at the same time makes a big difference in student engagement, as well as social and emotional connection," said Barbara Holzapfel, general manager of Education at Microsoft.
"That's why, coming to preview this month with general availability in the fall, we are expanding the Teams grid view to 7×7, which will accommodate up to 49 participants at once on a single screen. In the fall, educators will be able to create virtual Breakout Rooms so students can meet and collaborate in small groups," she added.
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Also coming this fall is a new trends view to bolster Teams for Education analytics features such as class attendance reports and Class Insights to show student engagement.
In the northern hemisphere summer, Microsoft is also adding new meeting options in Teams that prevents students from starting meetings when there's no teacher.
Since the pandemic, Microsoft has been racing to roll out new features aimed at keeping Office 365 users on Teams by boosting group chat in Teams from 100 to 250 participants and introducing Skype for consumer and Teams integration.
It's also improved broadcasting capabilities using Skype technology and made it easier to install custom Power Apps-based business apps to Teams.