Knowledgebase
Fall 2020 Technology Information

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A majority of our Fall 2020 courses will be taught exclusively online.
Get started fast with our Teams Quick Start Guide. See all of our resources from Spring in our COVID-19 tech publication repository.

COVID-19 is here and we're preparing our digital return this fall. The College declared online courses on August 4. The IT Department is coordinating with multiple groups to be ready for Fall. This page provides information about technology changes coming to instruction and operations. We'll update this page as we're able whenever significant new information is available.

This page is a bit different than our others in that we expect it to get pretty long. Instead of trying to make major sections or organize by audience we've opted for a (super) long-form layout. Check out the topic headers below to see if a section might be something you need to know. If not, skip it and move on to the next one.

Students - Getting Started in Teams

Are you new to Teams? Do you need to remember how to find or do something after last spring? Then you're at the right place. We put together a training video that takes you from download and installing Teams, to joining a class, to creating your own meetings. You may need to sign in to Microsoft Stream with your YoteNet ID to watch. If you have any trouble with the video below please try to watch it on Microsoft Stream instead. This video is about 40 minutes long.



Jump to a Topic

Need something specific? These links will take you right to that part of the video in Stream. All of these links open in a new tab.

Students - Getting Started in Canvas

Class sessions will be held in Teams, but what about your course materials? Syllabi, assignments, submissions, files, and more can be found in Canvas. We put together this training video to get you signed in and up to speed. You may need to sign in to Microsoft Stream with your YoteNet ID to watch. If you have any trouble with the video below please try to watch it on Microsoft Stream instead. This video is about 20 minutes long.



Students - IT Orientation

Did you know there's even more to know about technology at The College of Idaho? If you're a new student then please watch our IT Orientation video. Since we couldn't meet with new students in person this year we recorded our usual move-in weekend presentation instead. If you have any trouble with the video below please try to watch it on Microsoft Stream instead. This video is about 30 minutes long.



Computers Expected for Students

The IT Department is unable to provide laptops for student use this fall. Residential students are expected to bring a computer with them to school. Upon our future return to in-person classes all students will still be expected to bring a computer since it's an integral part of learning. Computer labs will still be open, especially for specialty software, but they do not have cameras nor microphones and have reduced capacities for physical distancing and sanitization. Having your own computer means you can work how you need to, when you need to, where you need to.

For the best outcomes we prepared this list of specifications to help you choose the right computer. We don't provide direct links to products for purchase since they change very frequently, but this list can either be taken to your favorite local store or used to check the tech specs on any computer you're considering online or in-person. We hope to someday offer laptops like this for purchase directly from us, but we're not yet able to do that.

Specifications

You don't have to follow these specs for your computer, but if you choose not to you may run into trouble accessing course materials, using required apps and software, getting help, or connecting smoothly. In particular, we know that Apple products and macOS are popular, but we have applications that only run on Windows. If any of your courses use this software you may be stuck using our labs (assuming the lab is open) or purchasing additional, complex software for your Mac in order to run Windows apps. And, we hate to tell you, but Macs do break and they do get malware.

We do not recommend Android-, chromeOS-, or iOS-based tablets like Chromebooks or iPads for your primary computing device. While it's possible to do a lot of work from devices like these, and we've had students do just that, there are performance and compatibility limits that are very likely to make the lower cost not worth the trouble. If you'd like to bring one of these devices in addition to a computer that's fine.

With care and no major accidents both our minimum and recommended laptops are expected to meet all of your needs for all four years. The recommended configuration is more expensive, but we also expect it to last a few years after college and still have decent performance.

Swipe to horizontally scroll the table.

Component Minimum Recommended Notes
Form Factor Laptop or Tablet PC A desktop will work, but you can't take it to class
Operating System Windows 10 macOS can work, but see the note above before deciding
Processor/CPU Intel Core i3 Intel Core i5 8th Gen or newer; more cores help with multitasking and multiple open apps
Memory/RAM 8 GB More memory won't hurt, but don't stress about it
Storage/Disk 120 GB SSD 250 GB SSD We do not recommend traditional spinning-disk hard drives
Connectivity/WiFi Dual-band Intel or Broadcom Newer options like WiFi 6 are fine, but our network is only WiFi 5 (802.11ac)
Display 1920x1080 Full-HD LED Size doesn't matter as long as you're comfortable; touchscreen optional
Webcam 720p HD 1080p Full-HD All laptops meeting our spec should already have a compatible webcam
Budget $700-$900 USD $900-$1100+ USD A computer can count as a Qualified Education Expense on your taxes

Purchasing Tips

If you need to buy a computer before arriving or need to upgrade yours after you're here, review these tips to get a good computer at a fair price.

  • Save a lot and don't buy Microsoft Office. We provide it to you for free.
  • If possible, try before you buy. Shopping online is easy, but actually seeing the laptop in a store can help you find the right combination of price, size, and fit.
  • Have a Costco membership? Costco always has great deals on laptops that meet our spec, and they include an extra year's warranty.
  • We typically recommend HP, Microsoft Surface, or Dell computers. We exclusively buy HP for our employees.
  • We typically do not recommend Sony, Acer, ASUS, or Toshiba. We've had issues with these brands.

Hardware for Online Learning and Work

A simple way to dramatically increase the quality of your online courses and calls is simply to use dedicated call hardware. That might sound pretty fancy but it's actually very simple. The items and advice listed here should be considered personal expenses (yes, for employees too). The IT Department is unable to purchase equipment for employees at this time and our loaner equipment is already distributed. Your department or division may have different purchasing rules. Please consult your department head/chair or division VP for additional options.

Students: to have the best possible online class experience you should purchase or acquire a few key accessories for your personal computer as well.

Upgrade Your Audio

If you need to choose one thing to help with your online experience then you need to choose audio. The most important thing you can do is physically separate your speakers from your microphone. Yes, the distance between the two helpa (which is why laptops frequently have issues on calls), but it's even better to totally isolate the input (microphone) from the output (speakers).

Headphones

The easiest way to do this is with a simple pair of headphones. It doesn't matter if they have a built-in microphone or not; just getting the sound into your ears and nowhere else drastically improves audio quality. Like wearing a mask to prevent the spread of COVID-19, getting headphones isn't primarily about you and it takes everyone participating for the best outcome. When you remove the echo and feedback created by your speakers and microphone all of the other participants benefit from far less audio distortion on their ends. It also helps you cut out background noise and focus on the conversation.

Headsets

For even more improvement of your audio you can buy a headset. This could be earbuds with a built-in mic (like the old-style Samsung and Apple models with a a 1/8" (3.5mm) plug). It could be a USB or Bluetooth headset with a boom mic. Or it could be full noise-canceling headphones. No matter what style you choose, headsets are designed to put the sound in your ears and the microphone closer to your mouth. A headset provides the best audio for a single user, and we recommend that everyone own and use one.

Conference Speakers

If you don't want to wear anything at all you can still improve your audio with a conference speaker. While this isn't ideal, and it's not what we recommend, it will help more than just using your laptop. Conference speakers are specifically engineered to listen to one or more people with a speaker/microphone combination unit. Since they do their own audio processing, engineered exactly to the device and its intended use, they augment any processing done by your computer and produce better audio.

Product Recommendations

We can't recommend an exact audio product of every type as there are so many styles, features, and price points that it's not practical. However, we do have two exact models that balance price and performance, and several brands that build quality devices if you'd like something else and have a higher budget. Please note that "standard" (that means recommended) headsets are likely to be out of stock at most retailers due to worldwide demand resulting from COVID-19. "Higher-end" options are more likely to be available but cost more.

If your laptop has Bluetooth connectivity (all C of I employee laptops do) then choosing a Bluetooth headset means you don't need to deal with a cable or dedicated USB receiver. Bluetooth options are widely available, both personal and commercial, but will cost more than our recommended options. If you have Bluetooth earbuds or headphones already then good news! Pair them to your laptop for instantly better meetings. Not all Bluteooth audio devices support pairing to more than one host device, so you may lose connection on your phone or other device after pairing to your laptop. Additionally, audio devices that do support more than one paired host device may not properly select the host device you want to use. You will either need to toggle pairings (consult your user manual) or turn off Bluetooth on the host deivce you don't want to use at the moment.

Important: we do not recommend using Apple EarPods with Microsoft Teams. While it's possible to configure them on both Mac and Windows we've run into multiple people with issues staying connected. This is well-documented online and while it's fixable it may not be reliable. We recommend buying something else for meetings.

  • Basic upgrade: any cheap wired headphones without a mic
  • Recommended: Logitech H390 Wired Headset (USB)
  • Recommended: Logitech H600 Wireless Headset (USB receiver)
  • Suggested Bluetooth earbud/headphone brands: Beats, Bose, Jabra, Jaybird, Poly/Plantronics
  • Suggested mic-only upgrade (you still need headphones): Blue Snowball Ice, Snowball, or Yeti
  • Suggested conference speaker brands (not recommended): Jabra Speak series

Upgrade Your Video

If you have an older computer, a desktop computer, or a faulty built-in camera then you need a new USB camera. You might also consider one if you've noticed that your camera quality (lighting, color, focus, etc.) is consistently poor. All employee laptops include an acceptable built-in camera so buying an external camera is not an approvable expense. You'll need to buy one personally if you want an upgrade.

Product Recommendations

We only recommend a single model. Other cameras are out there but we prefer and exclusively purchase Logitech. If you want to buy something else be aware that you will likely get what you pay for: cheap cameras are cheap for a reason.

Upgrade Your Workspace

If you'll be exclusively learning, teaching, or working from home then you should consider whether you would benefit from, and would like to spend money on, additional hardware for your workspace. An extra, larger monitor gives your more room to work or makes it easier to see what you're doing. A keyboard and mouse might help relieve joint stress or get a more comfortable working position. Workspace accessories are not approvable expenses and you'll need to buy them personally.

Product Recommendations

We're providing this information so that you have it available if you've been contemplating a change.

Upgrade Your Internet

We can't give you an exact recommendation since availability varies by street address. But in general, if you aren't able to consistently get speeds that are at least 5 Mbps download and 1 Mbps upload you probably need to upgrade either your plan (which will cost more) or, perhaps, your internet connection equipment (if it's several years old). If you pay for service of a certain speed and consistently have slower speeds you should contact your carrier for support. If you have multiple people using the connection for school and work you may need to upgrade to a faster connection (which will cost more) to ensure everyone can reliably connect.

Test your network speed at Speedtest.net.

Teaching Platforms

We will continue using Instructure Canvas and Microsoft Teams for online course materials, tools, and delivery. Other LMS or meeting applications are not supported by IT and may not be used for teaching. Canvas is available via web browser or mobile app. While Teams is available in a browser we require the full application for the best experience.

We recommend faculty adopt Canvas for all courses, pandemic or not. Canvas provides a number of digital tools to enhance your courses.

Sign in to all of our sites and apps with your YoteNet ID.

Automatic, Managed Team Creation with Microsoft SDS

Microsoft School Data Sync (SDS) is ready and running. We automatically created and will manage Teams teams and Office 365 Groups for each course section offered in a given term, just like in Canvas. All you need to do is activate a team to use it with your students. Groups take no special activations and are already available. Don't want to use the team or Group we manage? No problem. Just don't activate the team and your students will never see it, and tell them to ignore the Group. Remember that you'll be responsible for adding and removing students if you choose to create and manage your own teams.

SDS does not automatically create class meetings for you. You need to schedule the meetings yourself. Scroll down to find our training video "Scheduling Class Meetings."

Activation allows you to create Channels, upload content, make posts, work with your Class Notebook, and more before students see anything. It's just like Canvas's Publish function where you can prepare ahead of time and then open it to students when you're ready.

To activate your course team(s):

  1. Launch Teams on your computer
  2. Go to teams on the left
  3. Click on the team you want to activate (they start with 20_FA) to open it
  4. Click the Activate button

Having trouble? Please contact the helpdesk for assistance. Since SDS is a new product on our campus there may be some undiscovered issues.

The New Teams Meeting Experience

Rolling out just in time for class is the New Meeting Experience. This opt-in release brings preview versions of things like 7x7 Large Gallery support, Together View for a virtual auditorium, pop-out meetings, and new navigation. Get complete details, including how to enable the new meeting experience, in Microsoft's official blog post.

Important: preview releases mean features may have significant problems, change in significant ways, or be eliminated altogether with no warning. While we recommend trying the new meeting experience we may issue guidance to turn it off or you may run into issues that require you to turn it off and lose access to the new features.

Teams Meeting Recordings and Microsoft Stream

Many faculty like to record their class sessions, and we encourage this for students who can't attend class (especially in a pandemic) or who benefit from being able to see and hear the session again. Some students also benefit from captions on the video, which isn't just the law but also a great way to make your class inclusive.

Using stream is covered in our Managing Teams Recordings in Microsoft Stream video. Please note the following section as it modifies significant parts of this video.

Temporary recordings can be found near the bottom of the meeting chat. There's a quirk in Teams that may hide the video from you. To fix it, go to the meeting chat, scroll up a few full screens until you see Teams trying to load additional messages, wait a minute or two, then scroll back to the bottom. The video should have appeared.

Major Changes to Teams and Stream Recordings

Starting August 20, Teams recordings are no longer saved to Stream. As recently announced by Microsoft, users with a certain license level ("A1") no longer have automatically saved meeting recordings. This includes all users at The College of Idaho. Teams recordings will be available in a meeting's chat for 21 days and then deleted. If you want your recording saved longer you must download it and upload it elsewhere.

You may see an error message in Teams that says "Recording failed to upload to Stream. Download expires in n days." The meeting recording is still available in Teams and has not been affected, but due to these recent changes Teams believes the upload to Stream failed when, it fact, it didn't happen at all. This error message will be removed in a future version of Teams and you will just see the expiration notice.

Long-Term Storage with Stream

Stream is still completely available and recommended. Upload your recording, set your settings and permissions, and then share the link or embed it in Canvas. While this is a small extra step it gives you more control over your meeting video and should help reduce confusion about meeting titles, missing permissions, sharing options, and managing your video library. Very importantly, using Stream means your video gets closed captions and multiple quality options. If you upload the video file to Teams or OneDrive it's just a file. There are no captions for accessibility assistance and it's one single, large file for people to watch regardless of internet connection quality. We've had students ask about both of these issues already.

Learn how to upload videos to Stream.

Hint: you can add a Group (team) to the permissions list so that you don't need to type every person's name by hand. Type part of the name of the Group to search for it. If you want to embed your video in Canvas then students must have permissions to the video. Simply embedding it in Canvas does not give them permissions.

Teams Training

Scheduling Class Meetings - Faculty

When your courses are added to Teams and Office 365 they do not include any meeting times. It's not possible for us to create meetings for you, nor is it feasible to have us determine when your class should meet. Watch this training video to learn how to schedule a meeting with a team Channel so that it's on your students' calendars. Want to schedule your meetings via Outlook? That's fine, but we recommend (and are only documenting) how to schedule in Teams with a Channel. If you have any trouble with the video below please try to watch it on Microsoft Stream instead. This video is about 20 minutes long.



Introductory Training for Faculty

If you're a new faculty member you'll find answers to common Teams questions, and of course the basics of Teams, in our recorded training session. Staff, volunteers, and others are welcome to watch as well, but this training was heavily faculty-focused in its presentation and discussion. We'll have a true introductory-level Teams video soon. A YoteNet ID is required to watch this video.

Advanced Training for Employees

Advanced Teams Training was held at the end of July. If you missed the sessions or would like to re-watch any of them, the videos are available in Microsoft Stream. A YoteNet ID is required to watch content in Stream. If you're not sure which one to pick just go for Tuesday's session. Be warned: they are all over two hours long. Take a break in the middle.

Your Teams Questions, Answered

This is by no means a comprehensive list. If there is a popular question or something is related to something else on this page we'll try to post it here. Also, "question" may very well mean "open ended statement seeking a response" so we keep it simple and use just Q: with or without a ? at the end.

Q: If I join a meeting after it started I can't see the past/previous chat.
A: We've heard reports of this but cannot reproduce it on-demand. The problem may be resolved in the new meeting experience (see above) where we last tested it and could not break it. Or, it may be related to the use of distribution groups to schedule meetings. While we continue to investigate make sure that you accept and send a response to all Teams meetings invitations.

Q: How do I take attendance in a Teams meeting (class)?
A: We found and fixed a problem with the new attendance feature and it should now be available to all meeting organizers (not attendees). You can currently only download the list of attendees during the meeting. You can learn how here. Downloading attendance after the meeting ends is a roadmapped feature.

Q: I can't record a channel or private channel meeting.
A: The August release of Teams appears to support recording in both public and private channels. This issue came up in Spring 2020 with users of teams and channels, which is one of the reasons we didn't fully recommend it. While we haven't been able to locate official documentation confirming recording in both types of channels, we directly tested it and found it to work. Note, though, that the private recording does not take the name of the channel with it so the video owner (the person who starts the recording) will need to rename the video appropriately in Stream.

Q: How should I invite my class to class?
Note: most of this is covered in the Advanced Training videos. This Q&A reflects updated information on calendar behavior.
A: Starting in Fall 2020 we recommend using teams and channels within Teams. We are working to automate creation and management of all courses in Office 365 and Teams for you (see the Microsoft SDS section, above). Once you have a team created and students added as members you can invite the whole class to a scheduled meeting using the General channel. When you create a new appointment you can list the channel instead of a location and instead of inviting anyone by hand. Members of the channel (i.e. students) will receive an Outlook invite that they should accept in order to add the appointment to their calendars. Additionally, we observed the meetings to automatically appear as tentative appointments in the Teams calendar without any intervention from the user (i.e. student). This didn't work in any of the live Advanced Training sessions. We used the new meeting experience during testing and aren't sure if it's a new feature or if there were just service problems during training that prevented a live demo of the calendar. Either way, you should invite a channel from your course team to scheduled meetings in order to put all of your class sessions on your and your students' calendars. Using the calendar instead of sharing Teams meetings links by email or Canvas was very successful in spring, so we continue to highly recommend it.