Friday, 30 June 2017

Microsoft Stream - an important new widget in Office 365

Wish I'd added a ? mark to the name of that first test video...

When people talk about Microsoft Office 365 they tend to focus on products like OneDrive, Outlook and perhaps more creative tools like Sway. Products like Yammer and Delve create chances to work deeper. Microsoft themselves are really promoting Teams (and the education version which we'll blog about another day (spoiler: "unconvinced").

Office 365 Video is the unsung hero of their range. It has allowed us, at no cost, to create a video library organised into 100+ channels. Each channel has owners who can upload videos, and viewers who can watch them - it means a class or a team can produce some wonderful resources and means of engagement, all protected by a login to our system.

365 video - simple but it works.

It isn't pretty and it is limited in terms of the features you'd find in public services like YouTube (such as likes, comments, playlisting and sharing) but they don't matter so much to us.  We want lots of material that is easy to upload (through Mix, the iPad app or just the webpage) and searchable, that plays on any device.

The "joy" of working with cloud services is that change comes, like it or not.

A year ago Microsoft released Stream in beta and we looked at it and thought 'thanks but no thanks' because the model is much more like a "YouTube behind a login." The social aspect, comments around the material, was front and centre and for us in a school environment:

  • We don't want the comments all over the place - we want them where the learning is happening - so we embed the video in that place (typically Google Classroom) - Microsoft's approach always tends to lock you into working in their environment which is not what we are looking for.
  • Often we don't want comments at all. Make that usually.
  • We need to control who can create channels, groups and interaction - we're dealing with users from the age of 4 to 18.
Stream will soon not be a choice any longer - all users of 365 Video will be migrated over, like it or not - so we have gone back to the product a year later to see what it offers.

The good news is that for school use it is massively improved - to the point where we're really excited by it.

There are tools now for an administrator to limit who can do what. This means we can replicate what we do now in the new system - but anyone managing 365 for a school would be well advised to log in right now and change the settings to make sure that everyone can't create channels and start publishing. 

We're going to have to make some changes to the way we use Groups to make Stream work for us - but if we ever did decide to use Teams for Education, we'd need to rethink that anyway. It will means taking away some flexibility from students in how they make their own groups for project work but nothing too difficult as most use sharing around a folder of documents in Google Drive anyway. That isn't a bad thing - we have to do some tidying up and rethinking, but in return we get the ability to make who shares what in a channel linked into our directory of users and groups with far less effort.

Stream looks good to the user - it is modern and responsive. So we will end up with a far better looking and more usable system for no extra effort. It also adds some features (over and above the social ones that we've switched off) that promise to be interesting.

Video is transcribed automatically, so that how-to video from a teacher can have a written and searchable transcript alongside. It can also do captions using the same technology. We haven't uploaded enough content to really make a judgement on this but we know that the naming and comments of videos in the existing system is an issue unless the teacher takes time to properly label it - meaning that when users search across the several 1000 videos there the results tend to be the best commented rather than the best videos (although views helps as an indicator of value).

So staff and students in our academies - the web address next term will probably take you to the same videos in a new look and better service. Staff that run channels will gain some new options to use if they want to.

If you use Office 365 and haven't tried Office 365 Video, give Stream a go.

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