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TRANSCRIPT: Tales4Teaching ep. 64: Sustainable leadership using Microsoft Teams (feat Dr Anne Turner)

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Intro: Tales4Teaching: A podcast where we explore stories with purpose in higher eduction. We’ll share expert insights, engaging interviews and thought-provoking discussions that will inspire your teaching. On behalf of Deakin University I would like to acknowledge the Traditional Custodians of the unceded lands and waterways on which you are located. I acknowledge the Wadawurrong People of the Kulin Nation as the Traditional Owners on which this podcast was recorded. I’d like to pay my respects to the Elders past, present and future. My name is Joan Sutherland and this is Tales4Teaching, brought to you by Deakin Learning Futures.

Joan: Do you have a team that’s growing that is growing larger and operating at a faster pace? Do you have a team that needs to become more collaborative and less hierarchical? If your answer is yes, then stay tuned because I’m lucky enough to be talking to Dr. Anne Turner from the School of Exercise and Nutrition Sciences and how she has created a sustainable model for leadership of large teams using Microsoft Teams. Hey Anne, thanks for joining me on today’s episode. Welcome.

Anne: Hi Joan. Thanks for having me.

Joan: No worries. I’m really excited about this topic. It’s one that a lot of people ask about, especially in relation to Microsoft Teams and the sustainability side. So to get started, can you just tell me a little bit about yourself and the context of this team?

Anne: Sure. So I’ve been a Deakin in a teaching and research role now for about probably about 12 years. So when I first joined Deakin I came straight into teaching a really large first-year foundation unit with around 2000 students across all three trimesters. And the added complexity is that physiology unit it’s got prac labs. So those prac labs need to be quite small for OH&S reasons and so they’re limited to about 20 students and of course they’re on-campus. So of course this leads to having quite large teams of sessional staff. I’m no longer a teaching that really big unit, but I am still teaching a first-year unit with over 500 students and our second unit with over 600 students. And between them, I end up across the year I end up having 26 sessional staff to manage.

Joan: Right.

Anne: So going into Teams was a way to find a manageable and enjoyable way to manage those teams.

Joan: I love that you say that it’s an enjoyable way, so that’s a nice added extra isn’t it?

Anne: Absolutely, Absolutely much better engagement than we had before.

Joan: I’m imagining that you had a lot of things everywhere whereas Teams sort of brought everything into one space.

Anne: Absolutely. So much we can bring in together in that one space.

Joan: Then what were the design considerations to ensure the sustainability of the team across, you said, 26 sessional staff across the year. So what were those key design considerations when setting up your teams?

Anne: Well, one of the design principles at the moment is sustainability of teaching practices. So this was about making things efficient and not burning out. In the past, what we’ve done is most of our engagement with sessional staff and managing sessional teams was via emails. Email is great, but it has a lot of shortcomings. You can have email threads that get broken. Emails get lost in inboxes. And it’s very, it’s a very one-way type of communication.

Joan: It’s funny with the emails that you find now you’re getting inundated with a number of different emails. So whether or not people read it is another, I suppose component.

Anne: And you have no idea whether the mark and whether it’s reached its target and that kind of thing as well.

Joan: Yeah. So the problem was they initially it was one directional, I suppose you didn’t know what people were doing with that information and then you decided to bring it into Teams?

Anne: That’s right. It was very piecemeal, very lots of different threads and ways of doing things. So it was all over the place.

Joan: So why did you decide on using Microsoft Teams then another application, I suppose.

Anne: So Microsoft Teams has come in, at Deakin a few years ago. And it’s the beauty of Microsoft Teams is that you can bring together in one place, communication, information sharing, secure file-sharing, interaction, engagement, secure spaces for groups or subgroups, meetings. But also, one of the things that I’m most excited about is being able to create a community of practice around within a particular team. So it brings together all of those different things that we used to do in a really piecemeal kind of way through email.

Joan: So using something like Microsoft Teams, you’re leveraging the technology and one of the things that you just highlighted that I heard was around that security side of things. Why is that so important?

Anne: Well, within sessional staff team we often have a subgroup of those sessional staff which we involved in something in particular, e.g. it might be the unit leadership team that need to, which involves the unit chair or the campus chair who might need to talk about something particular. Or it might be something around exam marking, which typically uses a subgroup of the sessional or the whole sessional staff team. And then within Teams we can create private channels and those private channels have attached to them private file-sharing spaces where there’s security around that, so that information is not being shared beyond the people that need it.

Joan: Okay, So that information that’s sensitive is really important to be able to have that layer of security in there.

Anne: That’s right, That’s right.

Joan: So other than Microsoft Teams, what other applications or Microsoft applications are you using in that space or is it just solely Teams?

Anne: At the moment, it’s at the moment, everything that we need to do, we’ve found a way to do it within Teams. Even I’m still learning around creating and using meetings within a Teams space. So we might flick over to Zoom from time to time, but, um, but, yeah, basically everything has come, has been able to come into the Teams space, which is great.

Joan: That’s great. So you mentioned that this is for sustainable leadership and having all of the sessional staff in one space. How do you build capability in the Microsoft Team space so then people can use it effectively and efficiently?

Anne: Yeah. So I guess there’s a transition initially while people kind of get used to this being a space, but we’ve moved everything in here. So e.g. with recruitment of sessional staff in the first place. We’ve also been providing teaching materials and resources. And it has taken a little bit of time for people to come up to speed and become comfortable and confident in how it works and what to find there and what to go there for. But we’ve also been able through this platform to provide information about training opportunities. It’s great place if, if there are staffing changes and staffing cover needed it’s a good way to use, it’s a good noticeboard, make announcements, and then things down to the mechanics of teaching or around comparability of marking and exam marking can all come in here. And as I mentioned, one of the things I love about it is creating this community of practice. So moving away from the unit chair as the single source of truth and creating a space for the team themselves to discuss and come up with solutions. Sometimes they even before I even see that there’s a question there which is just lovely. So it’s a great, great opportunity to get the team more involved and it’s more of a flat structure or more of a collaborative approach, which is just fabulous.

Joan: Yeah, it’s funny, like before you mentioned around the emails being one one-directional, whereas this allows for that conversation and sort of takes the onus off the unit chair being that single source of truth. So have you seen that there has been a lot of discussion to take the information away from sort of email put it all in the space of Microsoft Teams and being able to answer those questions so unit chairs aren’t single source of truth and build that community of practice effectively?

Anne: I think we’re still getting there, yeah, I think that’s going to take a little bit of time and a little bit more encouragement on my part to really to really get there. But yes, certainly there’s certainly started there. I mean, I sometimes get questions via email which I answer in Teams. Yes, so that everyone can see the answer or I’ve even taken to, I’ll get a question via email and then I’ll ask that sessional staff member if they could please put that in the Teams site instead so that everyone can be involved in that discussion and see the answers.

Joan: So sounds like you’re leading that charge in the sense of practicing what you preach. So then people can actually do it and say the benefits of it as they’re going along.

Anne: That’s right. And I think I’d like to encourage more and more of that as well.

Joan: Yeah, I suppose that’s true with any technology until you start using it and see the benefits for yourself and the people around you, it is hard to get buy-in, but it is a behaviour change.

Anne: Absolutely. And people are still getting used to it and how it works.

Joan:  Absolutely.

Anne: Becoming more confident because it’s, it’s open. And so people need to become those who are possibly not as comfortable with sharing questions openly are still needing to kind of push through that resistance.

Joan: It’s a good point you make like that comfort and the confidence to do that, because that’s what we ask in teaching and learning from students as well. So it’s sort of putting yourself in the student’s shoes and having that perspective and that experience to actually do that as well yourself as a teacher.

Anne: Absolutely. And I think sometimes I’ve come to think of it as the like the CloudDeakin discussion boards, where we expect students to ask their general questions or the content-based questions in there so that everyone can be involved. Well, this was a kind of an equivalent version, but this has now for the team, the unit team, which I think is just fabulous.

Joan: Oh, absolutely. It sounds like you’re getting a lot of benefits from it. So how has your use of technology impacted the teaching and learning experience?

Anne: Well, I think this is two-fold. I think there there are benefits, I think for the unit chair and the unit leadership team. And they’re also benefits, but I’d say for the sessional staff, but for the unit chair and the unit leadership team it’s much more efficient. So there’s much less email traffic and lost to-ing and fro-ing via email and that kind of thing. So it’s much more efficient, there’s less double handling of information, there’s less to-ing and fro-ing via email. I’d say there’s better real-time resolution if problems pop up as well. Um, for the benefits of the impact, for I think, for the sessional staff, I think from a sessional staff perspective, I think there’s much more transparency of what’s happening. Yeah. There’s more involvement in the processes involved in running the unit, which I think is a benefit for the staff. I think I feel that the sessional staff are more in the loop on issue on the issues that are relating to the unit. They kinda more kept in the loop, more involved, especially now that more and more online. Some of our teaching is still on campus. But a lot of our communication and connection is online. So I think it’s great to be a part of and belong to a team like this with that sense of belonging and relating and being involved and in the loop.

Joan: Yeah, it’s funny you mentioned around that transparency for the sessional teaching team to be part of it in the transparency when I’ve talked to other people using it in teaching and learning from a student contexts as well, that’s one of the biggest things that they say is around transparency from the teacher’s perspective and from the student’s perspective so everyone can see what’s going on. So it’s interesting that’s transitioning into the teaching space as well.

Anne: Yeah, absolutely.

Joan: And so what are the challenges that you’ve had by implementing this in your team?

Anne: I think initially there is a transition while staff get used to a new platform. They’re not quite sure what to do, how to use it, what to expect. I guess almost what the etiquette is around using it. In the very initial period, part of the challenge was around getting stuff even to check Teams. It might not be something that was on their daily routine to actually check in and see what see what updates are there. Even just getting, knowing that staff are even looking at Teams was an initial challenge. But then again, I’m just probably increasingly these days, as we move forward with this new platform, a new way of working. It’s, it’s about getting staff to feel more comfortable sharing questions opening and being involved with the discussion and being confident in their own their own expertise that I bring to the role that they have.

Joan: I loved that, that is about confidence in the individual and building that digital literacy I suppose, and feeling confident to post in that big space rather than just the features and functionality of a technology itself. And that’s something that we hear a lot as well, so it’s good that you’re aware of that. One of the things you mentioned was around etiquette. And I’m interested in this because it’s something that I get asked all the time with emails, at least you can leave you don’t you can respond to them within 48 hours. If something if you’re tagged in something in Teams or a chat happens, what you’re etiquette around responding to it or what’s expected within the team?

Anne: We haven’t really set any rules. But I would I mean, for me it’s similar to email in that there’s never an expectation that somebody’s is switched on all the time and just, you know, I’m just responding. I mean, people have lives and people have other commitments. Some people have other obligations that they’re fulfilling. So there’s never any I don’t really expect any different kind of response to that that you get from email. I mean, email, we’ve had a change with email recently. But the thing I like about Teams is that you can put something out there and you might just get the thumbs up from one or two people, but at least you know that it’s kinda hit the target. To get some kind of response. And you can get that now with email but that’s very new. But you can also, with Teams at least you can also then get into a conversation that doesn’t become a broken thread when someone only responds to what one person instead of the team and you’re not clogging up email inboxes and that kinda thing. So I think there’s a lot of benefits on using Teams.

Joan: Absolutely. What do you and the teaching team going to do the iterate the use of Microsoft Teams in the future?

Anne: The sessional staff team bring enormous expertise and experience to teaching in my units. We’ve got many of them who already have PhD, so we’ve got others who are currently undertaking PhDs. And they bring their own unique and valuable perspective to teaching in this unit. And I want to bring that out more and harness more of that and as I say have more of a flat structure where there’s, where those unique perspectives that are coming out and being more involved in the teaching process of giving giving the sessional staff team, I guess that permission or that invitation to really let their own perspective and expertise shine and bring that out so the broader team, so that we can all benefit from that. Because I think that way it becomes a more enjoyable experience for the team. But also, of course, the students benefit by getting that broader perspective as well. I think, yeah, I’m excited about how we can develop this further and use it for a better experience, improving the experience for both the team and the students of course, themselves.

Joan: Absolutely. Well, it sounds like you’re onto a winner here for yourself and even around the efficiency, being able to create resolutions on the spot versus having to wait and being there at that time, point in time. You mentioned things around community of practice, security, and how you’re actually using it. One of the biggest things that shines through for me though, and I thank you for the empowerment of staff to use a tool like Teams, but to gain different perspectives so it’s not necessarily the capability of a technology, but it’s about the empowerment of the individual. So that was really nice to hear and it’s good to see how you’re harnessing that from a leadership perspective in sessional staff. I’d like to thank you for your time today. And is there anything else that you’d like to share or any nuggets of information that you’d like to share with the audience today?

Anne: I guess I would just encourage others to give it a go. I mean, it can be a bit spooky to embark on a brand new technology if you’re not familiar with it, but I absolutely encourage others to give it a go. I’m sure they won’t regret it.

Joan: Well, I hope not because that’s your advice, not mine, no I’m only joking and thank you for your time. It’s awesome to hear how you’re actually using it. And we look forward to hearing more in the later in the year.

Anne: Thanks for having me, Joan.

Joan: No worries. Thank you.

2 March 2023

Last modified: 29 May 2023 at 2:51 pm

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