Tag Archives: Microsoft Flow

3 essential resources for educators and school leaders

In this podcast episode, we spoke to Microsoft specialist and TweetMeet lead Marjolein Hoekstra about her journey with Microsoft, TweetMeets, MVPs, MSEduCentral and much more.

She reveals three must-have resources designed especially for educators and school leaders.

Marjolein first became connected with Microsoft after diving deep into OneNote and designing an example of what features she thought OneNote should have.

“I wanted to tell them about my desires for OneNote and they were so impressed with my ideas that they asked me if I wanted to become a Microsoft Most Valuable Professional. Of course, I was honoured,” says Marjolein.

“It was around this time I discovered how often OneNote is used in education, and I started to focus my efforts to showcase features of OneNote to educators and get involved in the Microsoft Education community.”




Microsoft asked Marjolein if she would like to organise TweetMeets for Microsoft educators, which she ran successfully until 2020 and has recently started back up in 2022.

“TweetMeets are a multi-lingual conversation on Twitter between educators globally. It takes place once a month and focuses on a certain topic. For example, previous TweetMeets have discussed equity and inclusion, hybrid learning and reading fluency and literacy,” explains Marjolein.

“Every TweetMeet is led by different hosts, who are experts in that month’s topic. It’s a chance to find like-minded people from around the world and connect with other educators and school leaders.”

You can find details about the next TweetMeet via the TweetMeet Twitter account.

Marjolein has also been building a spreadsheet of ‘Frequent Edu Links for Educators‘, which is a compilation of resources centred around certain topics or Microsoft products, especially for educators.

“We have topics for multiple different products used within Microsoft education. Teams plays a major role in this because it’s the underpinning platform for so many tools nowadays, but we have resources on Microsoft Edge, Whiteboard and other tools in the Microsoft suite,” Marjolein describes.

“The spreadsheet lives in your browser, so you can open this whenever you need to and share it with others.”

Microsoft Frequent Edu Links screenshot

The spreadsheet currently has a collection of 1,300+ resources that Marjolein and her team have been collecting over the past year and a half.

“We intend to keep updating the spreadsheet and we listen to feedback from users so that we can decide which resources to include,” she continues.

The third resource Marjolein talks about is the Daily Microsoft Ed Tech Newsfeed.

“This is basically a news page with blog posts, tweets, videos and other resources from Microsoft Education. It’s a mixed bag of the latest resources that could be of interest to educators,” says Marjolein.

“We also include announcements from the Office 365 IT Admin centre, so educators who are a bit more technically inclined can prepare themselves for what’s coming in the near future.”

Daily Microsoft EdTech News screenshot

Remember, Cloud Design Box also has an extensive library of resources focusing on Microsoft 365, SharePoint and Teams for education. Access all of our videos, podcasts, blogs, guides and more here.

Improving Communication Across a Multi Academy Trust with Microsoft 365 at PolyMAT

In this podcast episode on Microsoft 365 user adoption, we speak with Mark Guest, Director of Innovation at PolyMAT, a multi academy trust in Thamesmead and the surrounding areas.

Mark discusses how the trust uses SharePoint to improve communication across the schools and created dashboards with Microsoft Power Apps to save teacher time.

PolyMAT is a UK-based MAT made up of Woolwich Polytechnic School for Boys, one of the country’s largest boys’ secondary schools and its sister school Woolwich Polytechnic School for Girls.

Watch the full podcast episode here:



“My job as Director of Innovation has so many facets to it. I focus on how we can make the most of data, systems and technology in our schools to become more efficient and ensure we’re getting value for money,” Mark tells us.

PolyMAT has been working with Cloud Design Box since 2020, and they have created staff collaboration sites in SharePoint for each of the schools, plus the main one for the trust as a whole.

“Each page follows a consistent layout and includes relevant news, a calendar, announcements, Quick Links to things like policies, a class cover manager and information about room changes that are all pulled from SIMS,” Mark explains.

“We’ve also got an area where staff can ask questions and share feedback directly to the trust leadership team.”

The three calendars – one for the boys’ school, the girls’ school and trust are synced using Power Automate so that they always contain the correct, up-to-date information.

Staff can easily send out a quick announcement by filling out a form and selecting a target audience – this allows them to publish the information onto SharePoint and have the option to send an email to the right people.

“We’ve created a Senior Leadership Team (SLT) app that teachers can download to their phones. They’ll receive push notifications if a student is removed from a lesson or SLT is required.”

PolyMAT is also taking advantage of the endless possibilities of Power BI dashboards.

“Our various dashboards can be embedded into SharePoint and save teachers loads of time when they need to access information about their students quickly,” he shows us.

“An example is our Tutor Reports – they show things like attendance and punctuality, as well as the number of students who are off due to self-isolation and therefore need work to be provided while they’re learning from home.”

A specific example of the technology reducing admin time for teachers is gathering information about a particular student:

“A Head of Year may need to know who teachers an individual student. This job would typically take around 10-15 minutes to complete. Now, they simply bring up a student profile and can get the information in a couple of minutes.”

PolyMAT is committed to training and continuous development, always seeking feedback and helping teachers use the tools to save time and get back to teaching.

“Regular training is available, and we’ve got a long term plan to increase efficiency even further. For example, bring all our Power Apps into one place and relocating our resources in centralised document libraries that will get shared across the schools and trust,” he adds.

“As the trust grows and more schools join, we need to make sure that they have the same setup. During the pandemic, we’ve had a massive increase in using Teams and Microsoft 365, but if we don’t have structures in place and a long-term strategy, we won’t be able to sustain that level of usage. So we’re working with Cloud Design Box on a five-year plan to make sure we make the most out of this technology.”

If you would like to learn more about how we can help your school or trust, please contact a member of our team today.

SharePoint Virtual Summit 2017

The 2017 SharePoint virtual summit took place last week. The previous year had seen a brave new bold redesign of SharePoint into a modern experience. This year we had exciting new announcements building on last year’s vision.

New OneDrive and SharePoint Sync Client

The new version of OneDrive sync client will map out the entire contents of SharePoint and OneDrive libraries without syncing them across. Documents will only be synced when requested on-demand or when a document is opened and edited.

OneDrive Files On Demand

This is great news and solves two problems faced by OneDrive users:

  • Large OneDrive/SharePoint libraries consumed large amounts of local storage syncing across
  • Possibility of errors when large numbers of files synced at once

A new unified sharing interface will be rolled out across OneDrive and SharePoint for a simpler experience. This feature will also be available in windows explorer.

SharePoint Virtual Summit

Communication portals

SharePoint released a new experience team site last year. It has now matured with developers creating third party web parts using the SharePoint Framework. Microsoft have now released a new type of site called a communication portal. This site replaces the older publishing sites used for company intranets. Although the new site is responsive out-of-the-box, we can now apply custom branding and functionality extending this into a true intranet experience.

SharePoint Communication Portal

Integration with Flow and PowerApps

These two new Office 365 apps are gaining momentum as modern replacements for SharePoint Designer Workflows and InfoPath Forms Designer.

Microsoft Flow creates workflows that can integrate with almost any product including Google Calendar, Twitter, Slack and a whole host of other services. Flow will have tighter integration with SharePoint and Flows can be created directly from list views.

PowerApps empowers users to create useful mobile friendly apps with no code for SharePoint and OneDrive. This has now been extended to integrate directly into a SharePoint page. PowerApps can now act as the custom form for SharePoint list data. This was a task previously done using InfoPath Designer or custom code.

SharePoint with PowerApps and Microsoft Flow

There was also news of a more powerful personalised search and much more. You can read the Microsoft review from Jeff Teper here.

So, it’s another exciting year ahead for the SharePoint and Office community!

Saving Tweets to Excel using Microsoft Flow

Microsoft Flow is the new tool integrated with Office 365 which allows different services to interact. Such as social media providers like Twitter and Facebook or file sharing platforms like Dropbox, OneDrive and Google Drive, and many more services.

I wrote a blog post earlier this year about integrating machine learning tools and another post about syncing Google calendar data into SharePoint using Flow processes, but I thought I would get back to basics and provide a clear easy tutorial for Microsoft Flow newcomers.

In this example, I’m going to setup a Flow to put all the tweets made from the company (my) twitter account into an excel spreadsheet. This is a simple process but might be useful for keeping track of marketing or even leaving an audit trail of marketing activity by the social media owners within an organisation. The excel spreadsheet will sit in OneDrive for business but you can determine where you would like it stored.

To start, we are going to create a new excel spreadsheet with a table. In OneDrive for business, create a new excel spreadsheet called “tweets”.

Microsoft Excel Online

Add the following column headers:

  • Tweet Text
  • Location
  • Time

Select the column headers and in the insert menu, select “table”. This will make a new table in Excel which Flow can access to add rows.

Open Microsoft Flow. The Flow icon should be available in your Office 365 App Launcher if you have the licence enabled (alternatively you can just go to the website).

Search the templates for “Twitter”, and select the “Save tweets to an Excel file” template.

Microsoft Flow Templates

You will then be required to login to Twitter and Excel. When logging into Excel, make sure that you sign into OneDrive for Business with the correct account (otherwise you will get unauthorised access when trying to add rows). When both services are signed in, press continue.

Twitter trigger

In the twitter trigger, add the twitter account name to the search text box. This will fire off the process when that account tweets.

Excel action

In the insert row action, find the tweets excel spreadsheet in your OneDrive for Business by using the folder icon. The table will appear automatically under the Table name drop down. You can then select each column and add the appropriate tweet field.

Save the Flow and check that it is enabled.

In twitter, send a tweet from your account.

Twitter tweet

The Flow will run every 60 seconds, you can check the runs by clicking on the “i” icon next to the Flow and then filtering by “Checks (no data)”. After a couple of minutes, your spreadsheet should be updated with the tweet data!

Excel populated with tweets from MS Flow



Machine Learning with Cognitive Services API in Microsoft Flow

I recently attended a fascinating talk on machine learning by Martin Kearn and an implementation of this in Microsoft Flow by Mark Stokes. Did you know that there are APIs to access machine learning functionality via Microsoft’s Cognitive Services API? Did you also know that you can easily connect to these services in Office 365?

Microsoft Flow

Take a look at the available APIs and try them for free here.

The APIs give you access to computer vision, face emotion, face detection, text analytics, translators and much more. Microsoft have really opened up machine learning to the average developer (or non-developer)!

In this blog post, I’m going to show you how to use the text analytics cognitive API in Microsoft Flow without any code at all. If you are not familiar with Flow, check out some of my earlier posts.

Starting in Microsoft Flow, search the templates for “Text analytics”. Some interesting starter templates appear including analysing text for positive or negative sentiment via Twitter, Yammer and email. The returned sentiment value can then be used to start an action or chain of events. Have you ever wanted to be alerted to a negative email from the boss? Well now there is a template for it!

Microsoft Flow

In this example, I’m going to use the “Get emails for positive tweets” template. I want to get notified by email when I receive tweets which are very positive in sentiment.

Microsoft Flow

From this screen, you can see that the services involved in this Flow are Twitter, Text Analytics and Mail. Select “Use this template” and sign into each service.

When you get to the Text Analytics service, you will be required to enter a connection name and account key. To get this go to the Azure Text Analytics site and sign up for a free account (if you don’t already have one) by going to Getting started.

Once you have the account setup, navigate to your account keys in the Azure portal (as shown below).

Microsoft Azure Sentiment API

Copy and paste the account name and key 1 into the Flow connector.

Microsoft Flow connectors

In my Flow, I have used the hashtag #msflowtextanalytics as my trigger. If anyone uses that hashtag on Twitter, it will start the Flow.

Microsoft Flow

I’ve left the condition as 0.7. This means if the API returns a 70% positive sentiment rating, it will send the email.

Microsoft Flow Email properties

Finally, fill in the email details to complete the Flow. The template email will show who sent the positive tweet and the sentiment score from the API.

Publish the Flow and go to Twitter to test it out.

Twitter hashtag tweet

The Flow can take around 2 minutes to run but you should eventually receive an email with the name of the person sending the tweet and the score from the sentiment API.

Microsoft Flow Email

There are many uses for this in real world scenarios. Marketing and PR departments could use a very similar template to detect any negative tweets. That could then trigger an email for manual intervention or you could automatically direct message the user and open a support ticket. It could save huge amounts of time watching and sorting through thousands of tweets manually.

There are connectors for SharePoint, Instagram, Office 365 Email, and much much more. Imagine integrating all of these separate systems into one workflow (you couldn’t do that in SharePoint Designer).

Exciting times for machine learning and very powerful tools for those of us who are not developers or data scientists.

Integrating Google Calendar Data with SharePoint using Microsoft Flow

It can be time consuming to update multiple calendars. You can now setup custom flows using Microsoft Flow to copy and edit data between the two calendars.

Google Calendar to SharePoint

In the example below, I create a Microsoft Flow to detect when a new Google Calendar item is added and then create a new item in a SharePoint calendar.

First of all, open Microsoft Flow.

Microsoft Flow

Select “Create from blank” to open the flow editor

Search for the correct trigger by typing “Google” into the search box. You should see “Google Calendar – When an event is added to a calendar”. We will use this trigger to detect when a new item is added to the Google calendar.

Google Calendar trigger

When prompted, sign into your Google account and allow access to the calendar.

We are now going to add another step to the flow to add the items into our SharePoint calendar. Click “New Step” and then Add an action.

New flow step

Search for “SharePoint – Create item”, add the URL and list name. This should load up all the calendar new item fields.

Click in each field and select the output from the previous step (the google calendar data). You may wish to populate the Title, Start Time, End Time, Location and Description.

New SharePoint calendar item

Select “Create flow” when you are ready to publish the new task. It can take a few seconds for the task to run once the Google calendar item has been added. You can check the progress and status of the task from the Flow site.

There are other things to consider when setting this up such as all day events, recurrence, editing items and deleting items. However, you should be able to extend the logic in the flow to handle these data types. Below is a video guide going through the process.



Creating a simple Microsoft Flow for a SharePoint list

For anyone using the new style SharePoint lists, there is now a new action for Microsoft Flow integration. It’s a really cool product that integrates all the Office 365 products (and more) into your workflow.

SharePoint Designer workflows still have their place but the Microsoft Flow interface offers rich functionality and is easy to view and structure workflows.

One downside to using Microsoft Flow is the error messages. They come back as error messages from the REST API as headers which can be very confusing for non-technical users. SharePoint Designer errors were much clearer and easy to understand for general users.

In the video below, I go through quickly creating a Microsoft Flow from a new style SharePoint list in an Office 365 group site.



The future of SharePoint

The future of SharePoint event took place last night live from San Francisco. It was a live online event open to all which was watched by thousands of SharePoint fans across the globe. Microsoft renewed its commitment to SharePoint and the SharePoint brand by announcing the renaming of the sites tile in Office 365 to SharePoint and the release of a new SharePoint mobile app.

SP2016mobileteamsite

It was a very exciting glimpse into the future of SharePoint (both on-premises and online). A completely new revamped UI for team and publishing sites and a slick editing experience. One of the flaws with the current SharePoint experience is the inheritance of older SharePoint site templates and libraries which has only incrementally improved over time. Frustratingly this has left users with a poor mobile experience and a clunky, more complex editing process. Even the current SharePoint 2013 mobile site looks more like an ancient WAP site designed for a Nokia 7110. Below is a sneak peak as to what the new team site may look like. Above is a preview of the new SharePoint app.

SP2016teamsite

New document library experience

This has already rolled out to some tenancies. It gives a fresh look to document libraries which puts them in-line with the OneDrive experience and the SharePoint mobile view. The classic view will still be supported if you are using JS client side rendering, workflows or specific custom views. One downside to the new experience is the loss of any branding, however you could add document libraries to pages if you wanted to keep this. Users can pin files to the top of the page and get really nice previews of documents. Administrators can override end users to choose either the classic or new view of document libraries (see details here).

Design and development

The new improvements in the interface mean not only a fully responsive design but also a mobile app experience on iOS, Android and Windows. SharePoint is also moving away from the iframe app part model allowing more fluid and responsive web parts. For designers and developers there is now a new SharePoint framework (to be released later this year) which doesn’t depend on Visual Studio or any server-side development. Using JavaScript open source libraries we will soon be able to create design experiences which apply to both the browser and mobile apps.

There was several indications that design was moving this way over the last few years. Check out my earlier posts on moving from custom master pages to JS actions and client side rendering. Using these client side technologies was the first step in preparing ourselves for the new client side rendering experience for the next generation of SharePoint portals. I’m very excited to get stuck into the new SharePoint framework technologies (please release it soon Microsoft!). If you can’t wait to get started, you can start by learning the new technologies which will be used to develop against the SharePoint framework such as nodejs, Yeoman, Gruntjs and all the open source JavaScript frameworks which interest you. There is a good post on how to get hold of all these applications and packages on this blog post by Stefan Bauer. You can also view the full development lifecycle processes that Microsoft recommend in their latest video previewing the new framework below.



Microsoft Flow

Microsoft Flow is a new tool in the SharePoint toolbox. It’s a new way to get data into SharePoint and perform workflows using custom logic. It doesn’t replace InfoPath or SharePoint Designer but I can see many uses for it in a business process environment and sales. It extends workflow functionality out of SharePoint using templates or custom written apps. For examples you can have a flow which picks up tweets from Twitter and puts them into a SharePoint list. Very interesting to see how this product develops with SharePoint. You can find out more on the flow website.

Microsoft PowerApps

Create your own mobile apps in a few simple steps from lists and libraries in SharePoint without having to write any code. This could be a mobile app or just a web app. In fact you can do this from the browser from any list in a few simple steps. This could be a SharePoint list view or a web part. The PowerApps will be available from within the SharePoint app. I’m assuming you will be able to pin these apps to your start screen like you can with OneNote notebooks and pages. You can find out more about Power Apps on the website.

More updates to come…