Challenge-based learning goes virtual with Microsoft Teams

Information Technology Program first at Aalto University to test the digital tool in learning.

Investing in the advancement of digitalization, Aalto University wants to empower its students with an environment that enables a more time-and-place-independent mode of working. Simultaneously, more and more teachers at Aalto are embracing collaborative and challenge-based learning in their courses.

At first glance, these two directions may seem in conflict with one another. Aalto University, however, wants to support teachers and students in taking learning and teaching in a fresh, flexible direction. Digital tools, such as Microsoft Teams, open up new possibilities for making teamwork virtual.

Over the course of the summer, the Information Technology Program (ITP) was the first at Aalto University to incorporate Teams in teaching and learning. Looking back, ITP coordinators Jukka Alestalo, Leena Tasala, Laura Kitinoja, and Project Manager Heini-Maari Kemppainen shared their thoughts on Teams as a tool for course collaboration.

Piloting Teams for learning

Challenge-based learning is at the very heart of ITP. Preparing for the summer, the ITP staff wanted an Aalto-licensed tool with end-user support that would allow the 16 student groups to tackle challenges and create solutions together online. The tool was also required to support the learning and virtual collaboration of another 10 multinational exchange-based and visiting student groups over the course of the summer.

They decided to use Teams, a platform for communication and collaboration that combines chat, video conferencing, content sharing, and even student assignments and feedback in one place.

“In principle, everything we wanted to do was possible with Teams,” says Kemppainen, reflecting on its benefits.

Still new as a learning tool, the coordinators pointed out that there were still technical hiccups in using Teams for teamwork. Features necessary for real-time co-working, such as simultaneous document editing, require some improvements. Despite these challenges, the coordinators believe Teams has potential.

“Many of the problems are solvable and require us to collaborate with ITS,” Kemppainen adds.

Tips on how to get started

When asked how teachers new to Teams can make the most out of the tool, the ITP coordinators recommend mapping out the objectives and creating a clear and consistent course structure in advance.

Creating a Teams working space is easier when you have a crystallized idea of what you aim to do.

“The structure of the course and the Teams working space should be synchronized along with its features beforehand,” suggests Alestalo.

Ready to get started?

Microsoft Office 365 services are now available for all students and employees, so incorporating Teams into your course is just a click away.

Check out the Microsoft Teams: Quick Guide for a short introduction.

If you have any questions, do not hesitate to contact Ville Rintala (, Collaboration Technologies Solution Owner.

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