Category Archives: Microsoft Teams

Matrix: What’s it all about?

I’ve recently come across a new piece of software that could revolutionise communication – and yes, you have probably heard that before, in many articles on the Internet! However this one might actually be useful (although maybe not revolutionary yet), and be a significant improvement on the many different systems we have for instant messaging (IM). At the last count I regularly use Teams, Slack, WhatsApp and Signal and also sometimes use texts, Skype, Facebook Messenger, Telegram for IM, and there are probably some others I have forgotten as well.

This is really helpful, to avoid situations like this:

XKCD explaining why a system like Matrix is important

Matrix is something that might be able to replace all of these, and bring them into one interface, so you can have all of your IM communication in one piece of software. Matrix is an open source, distributed protocol for instant message communication. It’s a bit like email, but for IM. The email analogy works really well – because Matrix is the protocol (like email) and you can get many different clients, like you can for email (Outlook, Thunderbird, Gmail, …). You also have a Matrix address, much like an email address.

Within Matrix you also can have specific chat rooms (think like Slack Channels, IRC rooms, Teams teams, etc.) as well as 1 to 1 messaging. The big advantages for me are that it is open source (the only open source option for this, I believe) as well as being end-to-end encrypted. It also has bridges which allow you to join in other platforms from your Matrix account, and this is the big thing for me. Now when people send me messages in WhatsApp, Signal, Teams, Slack or anywhere else, I can a) actually find their message easily when I hear a sound and b) reply to it all in one place!

The other key bit of the puzzle is the client. I use a program called Element, which is one of the main clients for Matrix. There are others available as well, and you can use whichever one you like. You can also switch between platforms and all your messages and rooms you have joined will still be there.

The Element interface

This is my Matrix address: and if you go to in your web browser, this will open up the (Matrix) client of your choice (Element by default), give you the option of signing up for an account on Matrix and then allow you to send me an instant message.

You can also join rooms in a similar manner, e.g. the recently created OSGeoUK chat room on Matrix, to discuss Open Source Geo things: If you are in to open source Geo, please join us there!

There are also lots of other resources including Matrix’s FAQ page, this post explaining what Matrix is, and this much longer post discussing how Matrix could be really useful in open source software development, and some background info on IRC too.

Matrix also updated the XKCD comic above with their current bridges, so you can talk to all of these through Matrix

Give it a go and let me know how you get on!

*For bridging to other environments, you need admin access in Teams / Slack to set this up, which requires the organisation who admins the system to allow you to use the bridges on their system!

Online teaching: The new wave

Using Microsoft Teams for delivering remote teaching

I’m sure there will be many posts about the online teaching we have been doing as a response to the coronavirus outbreak, and subsequently working from home. For my teaching at UCL, I have only had to do one session, and this was completed as a video call on Microsoft Teams.

I had relatively little time to change my teaching plans, with the decision to remote teach being made on Friday 13th, and my lecture scheduled for Tuesday 17th. My teaching group is small, only 7 students, so I decided to teaching the session live, as planned, but over video conference rather than in person. Setting up the team for the module on Microsoft Teams was straight forward, and I added all of the students on Sunday afternoon – and asked them to confirm, via Teams, that they have installed it successfully.

By Tuesday morning, all but one student confirmed through the chat on Teams that they had it up and running. I contacted the student who couldn’t, and they were unavailable for the session, and asked if I could record it. Recording has its’ own pros and cons discussed in many other places, but I decided I would be happy to record this session, and then delete it after it had been used. I messaged the other students to see if anyone objected, and nobody did.

I did a test call to experiment with the recording options (which were new to me). I have used Teams for video calls before, but if you haven’t I would recommend you have a test run through before the real thing.

I started the session 15 min before it’s scheduled time, and it took that long to get everyone added and check they could all hear me, see me and see the slides. Whilst actually giving the lecture, I found it a bit disorientating, as only 1 student out of the 6 had a video camera, the others were on audio only, so I couldn’t see them. It was hard to get visual feedback that they could see/hear/understand what I was talking about. I did stop a couple of times during the session to check all was being seen/heard/understood, and got some ‘yeses’ back, so that was working as planned.

This is a screenshot from my setup (with names and initials blanked out). I have a laptop with a separate monitor, so had the video chat on the external monitor and the slides on the laptop. My webcam is built into the laptop, so this meant I could look at the slides and be looking directly into the camera.

I didn’t have the opportunity to complete a discussion session in this format, so I don’t know how well that would have worked. I did ask for feedback on how the session went.

  • The feedback was positive, although sometimes there was a delay between when I changed the slide, and when it changes on the students screens (I used screen-sharing for showing the slides, as I couldn’t see how to do PowerPoint slide sharing within Teams, although supposedly it is there).
  • Students’ impression of Teams is very positive, particularly for modules with group assignments and the ability to add staff to chats.
  • One student said to me that they would definitely support additional lectures in this format!

My key hints and tips:

  • Test the software with plenty of time to spare
  • Make sure the students have good notice on which software you are going to use
  • If possible, confirm with the students that they have the software setup and working
  • It is better if students have video as well as audio, but audio only will work
  • During the session, make time to get feedback from the students – is everything working as it should be?
  • Be patient with yourself – we are working in extraordinary times and everyone understands this, so it won’t be perfect

So overall, it went fairly well I think. It’s not the same as in person teaching, but worked at short notice in a pinch. Any comments are welcome, and please do share your own experience.

Cross-posted at