Manage student profile pictures in Microsoft 365, Teams, Outlook and more

As the digital transformation increasingly affects education, IT administrators in schools all over the world have their hands busier than ever. With limited time available to get everything ready for online classes and modern communication between teachers, students and parents, every second matters.

One of the challenges IT administrators have to face when working with schools is managing student and teacher photos that show up across various platforms and communicators, such as Microsoft Teams. Even though this task seems trivial, it might surprise you just how long it takes to set up photos for everyone. With very limited time and resources that are devoted to IT in most schools, it is crucial to make things as easy as possible. I’ll show you the simplest and a completely free way to manage profile pictures for school staff and students in Active Directory and Microsoft 365, to make remote teaching more personal.

Student profile pictures - manage in Microsoft 365 and Active Directory

The importance of profile pictures

You might think that user photos are not a priority, especially when you have user accounts, groups, Teams and possibly email clients to set up. But the thing is, for users, having student profile pictures and teachers’ photos is really important.

Imagine students who haven’t had a chance to meet with their friends for a couple of months. Or even worse, freshmen who have been mashed into a new class without ever seeing their new colleagues. A photo in Microsoft Teams or Outlook might be the only way to identify and bond with others. It isn’t much but it can mean a world to new students feeling lost in their new environment. Imagine a real-life classroom in which faces of all people around you are hidden, covered with default placeholders. Name tags won’t help much either, since most people are used to associate names with faces.

For teachers, having their students’ photos in place is also quite important. Seeing student photos, especially when someone answers a question, helps them remember they are actually facing other human beings. What’s more, if user photos are managed centrally and you prevent users from changing their photos, it will be more difficult for students to feel anonymous. As the Internet taught us, feeling anonymous is a perfect catalyst for making life harder for others. Not surprisingly, it applies to classrooms, as well.

Additionally, if your bandwidth can’t handle video feeds from everyone, profile pictures are the only way to relate to the person who speaks. That’s why user photos are useful for everyone at schools and other organizations alike.

Finally, managing user photos in schools and making sure that students’ and teachers’ profiles are always up to date, proves high attention to detail. Such professional attitude helps everyone treat their school environment seriously.

The challenge

No matter if you have Active Directory or a Microsoft 365 tenant with Entra ID (Active Directory in Azure), you can manage student photos without any additional tools. After all, all you need to do is upload a photo of each user in your organization. A simple PowerShell script will handle it, right? Here’s what will really happen.

You ask all users to send you their photos, you specify the format, dimensions, file naming convention and where to upload them.

Let’s be super optimistic and assume your SysAdmin Day wish came true. Everyone read and responded to your request.

Not only will you get a ton of photos but also you will have them uploaded to various storages and with different file extensions. The picture dimensions will quite probably range from post stamp to billboard resolution. Obviously, quite a few of them will be named differently to what you asked for, and, of course, a number of them will be prank-photos with Pokémon.

As a result, you will have to:

  1. Get all the files in one place.
  2. Manually resize photos in a graphics editor so that their size meets the requirements.
  3. Unify images’ file extensions.
  4. Start a remote PowerShell session in Exchange or connect to Microsoft Graph with the right permissions.
  5. Make sure you can access each photo file via PowerShell.
  6. Prepare a ForEach-Object script which will use the Set-UserPhoto or Set-MgUserPhotoContent or Set-MgGroupPhotoContent cmdlets to upload pictures to Microsoft 365 or Active Directory user accounts. A CSV file with all users might come in handy (and remember that Set-UserPhoto is discontinued from Exchange Online).

When all this is done, you should document the whole procedure for anyone else who might happen to be handling photos the next time. Remember that this person might not be PowerShell-proficient.

Lucky for you, there is another way.

Manage user photos with CodeTwo

To make this less of a challenge for schools (or any other kind of organization, really), we have developed two dedicated freeware tools:

User photos uploaded using these freewares are distributed all over your organization. It means that they will be available in Microsoft Teams, Outlook, Global Address List, Skype for Business and pretty much any service connected to your AD or Microsoft 365 tenant.

How is it better than using the native method? Here’s a short list:

  • No need to use PowerShell or any other scripting language
  • Both tools can automatically resize photos, so that they meet image requirements
  • Match files with users automatically or manually
  • Import, export or preview user photos
  • Use a simple UI.

Long story short, those tools make user photos management quick & easy and let you focus on other challenges.

More resources:

Tools for Exchange Server

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