Over the past few weeks, I’ve conducted 8 scheduled research consultations and answered 2 chat questions via Microsoft Teams. This is approximately 30 percent of the 27 patron reference transactions that I have personally recorded since school resumed on March 23. While my overall numbers are down likely due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the interactions that I have had with students, faculty, and other patrons have been positive and fruitful.
After each Teams encounter I’ve tried to reflect on how the session went, what worked, and what did not. What follows are my general observations about the benefits of using Microsoft Teams for research consultations and general chat reference.
You know the names of everyone you meet with
Since Microsoft Teams requires everyone to have an account, and since accounts are tied to the university, that means I have seen the names of every student I’ve talked to. From a direct chat perspective, this means that I’m not talking to an anonymous person who is on my guide page using my chat widget. I feel like this makes the interaction seem more like a conversation between two actual people, rather than just between me and some random person on the Internet.
Names have also been useful in meetings. Many of my consultations have been with teams of 4-6 students. For in-person consultations, I typically only know the name of the person who reserved the appointment with me. Once the team shows up, I have no idea who is who, and no way of keeping track of all of the names. With Teams, since everyone in the Teams meeting has a name, I can actually use their names when responding to questions. For me, this made the consultations more personal, even if they are at a distance.
Teams gives you a virtual paper trail
During many of my consultations, I would share links I found on the web, quick screenshots, links to searches, files, or additional search terms in the chat. Because I did not record any of the consultations, whatever I put in the chat (which is perpetual) could be referenced later by the students.
Also, because the chat creates a perpetual connection between student and me, the student can immediately reach out with follow up questions. This has actually happened on two occasions so far. Because I can see the chat history, I can more easily recall what I discussed with the student the last time. With conventional chat programs, in person consultations, and even email, the student may vividly remember the last interaction they had with me, but it is very difficult for me to remember ever encounter (especially since many are so similar).
You can follow up very easily
As is the way with many encounters, I sometimes forget to tell a patron or group something during a consultation. Also in many cases, I get similar questions over a period of time, and during that time period I discover new ways or different sources to answer the similar questions. As a result, the students I talked to a few days ago may not get the same answer as someone I talked to this morning. Microsoft Teams enables me to follow up with them if I remember or learn something that can help them. With in-person consultations I don’t keep detailed notes, so follow up is difficult. With my experience with Teams thus far, I have been successful in sending links in the meeting chat later, and the students appreciated the follow up.
By the same token, Teams makes it easy for the student to follow up with questions later as well. I have had two students in the past week chat with me on a few different times after our initial consultation. Because I had a record of our previous conversations in the chat, I was more prepared to give them help to their specific projects.
You can let the patron drive
For most of my consultations I have been sharing my screen with the patrons. However recently I had a student share her screen with me and I was able to tell her where to go in the database. This worked well with this particular student as she was able to build a report and a map on her computer, rather me demonstrating and her trying to replicate the steps later.
I also found this exercise useful as I was able to view a shared screen from the user’s point of view. Watching this student share her screen has helped me slow down and be more intentional about describing what I am doing while sharing my screen with others.
You can record your steps
In one of my most recent consultations, I used the “Record Meeting” feature in Teams to record my screen. This automatically generates a Microsoft Stream video file that the student could then refer to later. I was demonstrating one of our more advanced databases, and I figured the student might appreciate referring back to the video if needed. I did tell the student that I was going to record the next part of our meeting together, which I think is a good practice.
As we think about work and life post-pandemic, I have been thinking about how I will continue to incorporate Teams into my normal workflow (Will we return to normal? What will the new normal be?) Here’s some quick thoughts:
- Continue offering Teams consultations. Most of the students that I typically help live either on campus or close to campus, so in-person consultations have been the norm. However, I have thought about making Teams meetings an option, or may consider offering evening consultation hours which I would staff from home via Teams.
- Promote the Teams chat over my general Libchat. Since Libchat is web-based, I’m pretty guilty of failing to log in or out. I am in Teams all day every day. It’s just easier and the notifications are better than Libchat.
- Hold drop-in online office hours via Teams. I can create a meeting in Teams and link to it from my guides. Students could come and go during the time slot to ask questions.
- Record in-person sessions in Teams. This would enable the patron or student to refer back to what we discussed later. This could be especially useful for those consultations that require multiple advanced search techniques and sources.
What about you? Have you used Teams effectively? Please leave a comment and share your experiences with others.