Durham University Moves Fully Online with Microsoft Teams

Durham University now have the ability to conduct all classes online and for all staff and students to work remotely. Read this case study to learn more, then contact Paradise Computing to see what Teams can do for your business.

COVID-19 has forced many organizations to shift how they work and communicate. At Durham University, founded in North East England in 1832, classes had to move online, and staff needed to work remotely so that the university could continue to serve its students, academics, and departments. To respond effectively to the developing crisis, Durham University scaled up its use of Microsoft Teams to add to its online learning tool set, maintain community, and make it possible to collaborate and communicate remotely.

I am incredibly proud of the way my colleagues at Durham University have stepped up to the challenges of putting our education online, working from home, and making key decisions remotely. The rollout of Microsoft Teams across the university has very significantly enabled these changes—indeed, without Teams, we wouldn’t have made such progress in just a few weeks. 
Stuart Corbridge: Vice-Chancellor and Warden, Durham University

Like many organizations, Durham University had to quickly adjust in the face of challenges posed by the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) epidemic. Students could no longer attend classes in person. Professors had to adjust to a different learning environment. Departments had to work remotely while staying organized and effective. In response to the public health emergency, the university shifted classes to be entirely online, which helped ensure that people remained connected to the community and could communicate and collaborate effectively.

Durham University serves close to 20,000 students with more than 4,300 staff members. Looking ahead, the university is considering replacing traditional sit-down exams at the end of the academic year with online exams. It’s also thinking about solutions for potential logistical and educational challenges in the next academic year.

For now, though, the main focus is on making sure that everyone who works for or attends the university has their needs met. Departments at Durham University have adopted Microsoft Teams to collaborate and make it easier to have organizational and operational discussions remotely to make urgent decisions effectively.

It quickly became clear that adopting best practices and protocols for online meetings was important. “Our university executive committee is 16 strong, and as you can imagine, we're discussing quite significant issues at the moment,” says John Hemingway, Chief Information Officer at Durham University. “We recently had a four-hour planning meeting with 16 people on a Teams call with almost perfect interaction.” 

Durham University is also using a form that’s hosted in Teams to inform everyone about who is working from home and who is self-isolating or ill. When someone submits the form, an email is sent to the university’s administrator, and the information gets stored in Microsoft SharePoint. “The senior management team can see the status of everyone in our staff,” says Malcolm Murray, Head of Digital Learning at Durham University. “Little things like that are much slicker than our previous workflows, and that gets people to come in and say, ‘Hey, that’s interesting—how can we use this?’”

For many people, it’s been a pleasant surprise what features are available. “I was in a session where we turned on captions for the first time in a live Teams session. It was a revelation for many to see how collaboration tools have advanced and how it's much easier than before to offer an inclusive experience,” says Murray.

Professors can use Teams to interact with anyone in the institution. They can also easily share documents, work collaboratively, and invite and respond to student comments. 
Crispin Bloomfield: Director of Operations, Durham University

Starting from a solid foundation

Well-prepared organizations can more easily respond to emergencies than those that aren’t prepared. Durham University had already laid the groundwork for modernizing the way it works and to empower online learning. “We had heavily invested in awareness and adoption resources for Microsoft 365,” says Hemingway. The university had created a collection of articles, FAQs, and videos, many of which are accessible on its SharePoint learning hub.

Durham University had just completed an Office 365 pilot project, and it had decided to roll out the suite to more departments when COVID-19 hit. To help staff make an immediate transition to working remotely, the university stepped up support. “We're hosting classroom demonstrations in Teams, and the feedback has been very positive,” says Andrew Stansfield, Senior IS Specialist - Collaboration at Durham University.

Some professors had previous experience with online learning tools, but for others, it was all completely new. The university wanted to make sure that multiple tools were available for professors to move in-person educational experiences such as lectures or one-to-one sessions to an online environment. “Academics like to have options and the freedom to experiment with what works for them,” says Crispin Bloomfield, Director of Operations at Durham University. “Allowing them to explore is much more effective than for us to come in and try to solve all their problems.”

According to Bloomfield, Durham University greatly benefited from tools like Teams that are best of breed. “Professors can use Teams to interact with anyone in the institution. They can also easily share documents, work collaboratively, and invite and respond to student comments.”

Maintaining connection and privacy

Students now use Teams to attend classes, share resources, and interact with other students without physically being in the same space. “Teams is a very different experience and a lot more empowering than online learning tools that are based on an instructor-centered model. It encourages an independent approach to learning, which is what we like to see at Durham,” says Murray. The university is keen to find out if students will start using the app for student discussions and debates. “It will be really exciting to see how the students take it forward, and perhaps, start to use it in ways that we haven't even envisaged,” says Stansfield.

The university is also offering support services through Teams, including counseling and mental health, trying to maintain morale during a trying time. “We want people to feel they are being contacted regularly, that their interests are being looked after, and that we’re maintaining a sense of being a team,” says Hemingway.

Providing people resources that they need to get comfortable with online tools is part of how the university helps ease the transition. 

Building on success 

The shift to an online-only work and academic environment has naturally led to a spike in the use of Teams. “We had about 1,000 active users on Teams before, but we’ve seen a huge increase because of people working remotely,” says Murray. “In the last week, we've had 1,881 one-to-one calls, 10,000 channel messages, and 41,000 chat messages.”

Durham University’s transition to total remote work, learning, and teaching in the midst of an emergency using Teams and other Microsoft 365 apps was even smoother than it hoped. “I am incredibly proud of the way my colleagues at Durham University have stepped up to the challenges of putting our education online, working from home, and making key decisions remotely. The rollout of Microsoft Teams across the university has very significantly enabled these changes—indeed, without Teams, we wouldn’t have made such progress in just a few weeks,” says Stuart Corbridge, Vice-Chancellor and Warden at Durham University.

Find out more about Durham University on TwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn.

Teams is a very different experience and a lot more empowering than online learning tools that are based on an instructor-centered model. It encourages an independent approach to learning, which is what we like to see at Durham. 
Malcolm Murray: Head of Digital Learning, Durham University

For more information on MS Teams and to learn what it can for your business, call Paradise Computing on 01604 655900 or send us a message using our online contact form.

Guarding Against the Rise in Router and VoIP Attacks

01 June 2021

After a recent high profile media story highlighted how poor router security led to a police raid of the home of an innocent family, we take a look at how Wi-Fi piggybacking attacks against home and domestic targets, and VoIP hacking of businesses worldwide are growing threats.

Safely Moving Your Tech Hardware

31 May 2021

With many of us now owning tech items such as laptops, desktops, and printers, we look at the best ways to prepare tech hardware for a safe journey to a new home.