Slack and Teams and IT policies oh my!

The last few months have been a whirlwind. This is likely true for everyone out there on Covid Earth. For the three of you who actually read this blog (not you mom…) the gap between my January and April posts was a very dark time for me. The good news is I feel very much back, likely better for it all, but still careful about my time, my energy, and my health.

In the intervening months, I, like many others, have been challenged with a new way of working. Let me be clear – I have worked from home for nearly 20 years. From a home office, I have managed all the things a professor is supposed to do: publish, research, move up the ranks, chair thesis and dissertation defenses, administrate, participate in University committees and business, and socialize with my peers. For me, Covid’s “new normal” is the same “normal” it has been for decades. What has really changed for me is the rest of my day, where I go or don’t go, how I eat out (I don’t but we have ordered in a few times), and how much less I am spending on fuel. So where is my chaos? Technology.

Work has been a fiasco. We had a short battle with the IT department over the use of Zoom (honestly people, it just works!) and we lost that battle. What we got stuck with is Teams.

The upside of Teams:

  • Totally integrated with Office 365
  • Familiar ribbon interface – it looks like all other Office apps
  • It can do video and calls

The downside of Teams:

  • Totally integrated with Office 365
  • Familiar ribbon interface – it looks like all other Office apps
  • It can do video and calls

We had to implement quickly and extract a ton of material that had Zoom integrated, and swap in Teams. So we did. And it works. Kind of. Okay barely. In no particular order, here’s my bitching:

  • video is poor – choppy, audio often chokes and your call sounds like a Cylon (bonus points if you remember the original Cylons not the smokin hot variety as portrayed by Tricia Helfer (who BTW is an Albertan).
  • it duplicates every other collaboration space in Office – groups, Outlook, Onedrive, Sharepoint, Delve etc. So which one should you go into? I can get my Onedrive files directly from Teams (good) but I can’t manage my email there (bad). I can chat inside Outlook but I can’t tell if that is also a Team chat.
  • And really, how many Teams, Groups, can I belong to before I just close the damn thing and go back to being unreachable?

So what’s the problem? (Other than a new draconian IT policy which could actually see “formal action” (i.e., discipline/firing) taken against me if I use something other than Teams for work…?) Teams is not a video platform first and foremost. It is a communication tool, akin to Slack, that is designed to facilitate connections primarily internal to an organization. That’s the key. And it happens to do video. Not well.

And the other problem? We are being pushed to use Teams (forced, really) and it has major privacy issues that no one seems to have flagged. But then again, our use case is not what teams was made for. Imagine, you have a contractor (in our case, a sessional instructor). They come and go, not teaching every term. During their term away, they aren’t a contractor, but we don’t seem to be equipped or prepared to delete and re-establish O365 access every time someone comes and goes.

But

And this is a big but… all chat history is saved, all interactions are saved… remember what Slack stands for? Searchable Log of All Communication and Knowledge.” Teams is the same. If the history of all chats is forever, then how do we safeguard privacy for those who participated in the past, but not the present?

To be continued…

Post Script… our IT department has managed to take over everything and the tail now wags the dog. “Innovation” has been replaced with “subordination.” Try new things? Experiment with ed tech in your courses? Explore new ways of teaching with tech? Noooo! Don’t you dare. You could end up fired.

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