Channels are really the backbone in Microsoft Teams. Early last year I remember being at a conference and someone saying to me, “I don’t really get channels. What’s the purpose?” I shared my understanding of standard and private channels. I was delighted to see her in a video recently claiming that channels are one of the best things about Teams! t is my hope that you find this description of channels just as convincing. Welcome to Day 123 of 365 Ideas for Microsoft 365.
Why use Channels?
This is the second of “Why” articles I’m writing. Normally my posts are more of a how to, with tutorials, directions with screenshots and the like. This time around is more focused on the philosophy behind, and uses for, channels. I’m also focusing on Class Teams, although it is equally applicable to the very similar Staff Teams.
Lessons from OneNote
It occurred to me recently that the structure of a team has a lot in common with the structure of a OneNote Notebook, although maybe with fewer levels. One digital binder on a topic, broken into general sections, in turn divided into specific pages. The pages are where the content exists. In Teams, you have one Team, with content organized into general groups called channels, and the content is under the tabs in each channel. Not a perfect match, but roughly the Team is the Notebook, the channels are the sections, and the tabs are the pages.
There isn’t a clean comparable to section groups and subpages in Teams, but there are ways to further separate content, like the fact that if you start a channel meeting, then under the Posts tab, the link to join the meeting, all of the chat from the meeting, the recording of the meeting, and the attendance are all threaded together, and other conversations are likewise threaded together.
What sets Microsoft Teams Class Teams apart from other platforms is this concept of threading. When you create a channel, you are setting aside everything related to the topic of the channel- conversations and chats, assignments, files, websites, videos, discussions- everything related to that topic is in that channel. And under the Posts tab in a channel, everything related to a specific “conversation” is threaded together. This keeps together not just comments and replies, but polls, documents, presentations, videos, even meetings and comments about revisions to a file.
Standard and Private Channels
There are two types of channels in Teams, Standard and Private. You are free to use either in any way you choose, but I basically think of each having one natural function. Standard channels are to organize content. Private channels are to organize people. There are many variations and you may have good reason to use them in an entirely different way, but these are their natural, or default uses. We will address some exceptions in a bit.
Every member of the Team can view every standard channel. Chunking is good for learning, and also for organization. A standard channel make sense for topics like units of study, chapters or broad concepts. Younger grades should at least have a separate channel for Language Arts, Science, Math and Social Studies, if they aren’t actually in separate Teams. But it would be helpful to break them down further, with well chosen names. It would be helpful in this scenario to still keep a subject identifier. For example, channels named LA-Poetry, LA-Spelling, MA-Addition, MA-Subtraction, MA-Regrouping.
Keep in mind that any channel can be Showing or Hidden. So once you are done with a certain unit or topic, it can be hidden. It’s still there to refer back to, but not cluttering the list of channels currently in use. Channels also appear alphabetically, but you can manipulate that by placing numbers or emojis at the front of the channel names. The General Channel will always be listed first, followed by all standard channels alphabetically, then all private channels alphbetically.
Only individuals assigned to a Private Channels can see that channel. They will see a lock next to the channel name. That doesn’t mean it is locked for them; that’s just the symbol for a private channel. If they don’t have access to a private channel they won’t even be able to see it. (They won’t know what they are missing.) Private channels was Microsoft’s answer to all the teachers that wanted to implement small group work in Teams.
The teacher sees all the groups, but students only see the ones they are in. Like standard channels, private ones have their own Posts tab for threaded conversational chats and their own Files area to share and collaborate on word, PowerPoint and other files. It’s a great pace for one member to post an editing link to a Sway for the group to work on. So, yeah, group work is the main reason for private channels.
Additional uses of Private Channels
So let’s dig a little deeper. What else can you do with private channels? They’re great for differentiation. That could mean one or more private channels with specific IEP accommodations to share differentiated content and additional resources for scaffolding. That could mean a private channel with content in Spanish or Korean. Students can be in any number of private channels, too. One for a temporary small group, and another year-long one for accommodations.
Teams is soon rolling out secure chatting. Meaning students can only chat with each other (using the chat icon on the left handrail) with a teacher creating and owning the chat. (This is different from meeting chats and chats in a channel.) But while the bugs are getting worked out, consider setting up a private channel for each supervised group chat. When it is time for the chat to end, the teacher can just remove the students from that private channel.
Additional uses of Standard Channels
How about other ideas for standard channels?
A teacher may want to organize content differently, like chronologically. Maybe a channel for the month, or even a new channel each week. Or there could be a channel for types of content, like a channel for meetings, a channel for videos, a channel for homework help. Even if you keep the basic structure of channels for units of study, you may want an additional channel just for socialization. How about a special channel for Q&A, or for passion projects? The options are really only limited by your creativity. Ask your students if they have any needs they think a separate channel would be good for.
The General Channel
I still think you should change the settings of your General Channel to read only for students, so you can use it for announcements that won’t get lost amidst other posts. (No, you cannot delete or change the name of the General channel). If you have questions about how to actually set up channels, refer to this previous article that covers more of the how to aspects of setting up channels.
And remember that each channel can be completely customized. They all have a Posts and Files tab, but beyond that you can add whatever tabs are needed for the purpose of that channel. More on tabs tomorrow, but recall that tabs can be a quick link to a specific file, website, or video, or apps. They can be long-term or you can rotate through short-term tabs as needed.
Looking for more? How about the Remote Learning with Microsoft Teams Course Sign up to learn how to go from a complete novice in Teams to using Teams for your complete solution for remote learning.
If you like this style of directions and screenshots, walking you through ideas for using Microsoft tools in your classroom, check out my new (2nd Edition) book,
All the Microsoft Tools You Need to Transform Your Classroom: 75 Ideas for using Microsoft Office 365 for Education available on amazon in both Kindle and paperback.