SharePoint Diaries – Soliciting Feedback

A huge decision has been made to upgrade from SharePoint 2007 to SharePoint 2010. These SharePoint Diaries are meant to help me flesh out some ideas and to help others who may be going through (or about to go through) a similar transition.

Now that you know what we’re starting from, it’s time to start thinking about where we want to be.

To start, I asked the Middle School/High School teachers to fill out a shared Google Doc, answering the following three questions:

  1. What functions of the current portal do you use or ask/expect your students to use most often?
  2. Ideally, what would you like to be able to do with your students that cannot currently do easily? (I also asked them to keep in mind the work we did earlier on our Tech and Learning Plan to help guide them.)
  3. Any other comments?

The first question was to ensure that we don’t discard something that teachers find useful. With the second question, I purposefully avoided phrasing the question in terms of “What do you want SharePoint to do?” and instead wanted teachers to focus on the bigger picture ideas embodied in the NETS, such as collaborate, communicate, and create. The third question was included mostly to help keep the first two questions on track!

Once teachers had a chance to voice their thoughts, I asked for volunteers to come together face-to-face and discuss them in more detail, sort of like a focus group. In total, there were 5 teachers present and myself. I shared the objectives of the meeting that I had identified prior to the meeting:

Group Objectives

  1. To consolidate the general feelings of the MSHS staff with respect to their wishes for the new portal.
  2. To attempt to re-imagine what our school portal will/can be used for.
  3. To offer suggestions and concrete examples as to what the portal could/should/might look like on August 1, 2011.

To help us meet those objectives, I framed them in three questions which I will include, along with the collated notes, in their entirety below.

What I found, or rather what was reinforced, through this process were some major takeaways:

  • Our SharePoint implementation must be student-centered. As you can probably tell from my previous post, it currently is not. Students need spaces and permissions to create and collaborate. They need ownership and control and an audience.
  • Whether through SharePoint or some other means, we must address the issue of portfolios.
  • Teachers are concerned about the proprietary nature of SharePoint, both for themselves and for the students. Can the work that they put into SharePoint be exported? Can it then be imported into something else? Our community is highly transient and this is important. Portability is an issue.
  • In order to teach differently, we need the tools/access/flexibility to do so.

This, of course, is only the start. Now that we have an idea of what is needed/wanted, the question becomes: how can we meet these needs/wants? Environments matter. And currently, our virtual learning environment is, to some extent, shaping how we teach because of its limitations.

Later this week the Redesign Task Force will be meeting to discuss the feedback given by teachers across the school and to come up with some ideas of what that might look like. What can we do to create a learning environment that allows us to teach the way that we would like to teach? That allows us to fulfill our mission statement of encouraging “independent lifelong learners”?

I anticipate that this is also where we will begin discussing the different add-ons or modules that have been developed for SharePoint as well as think about how any changes in the structure will affect the migration of existing data. Exciting, isn’t it?

What do you think of our takeaways? What have you done to make your VLE student-centered? How does your VLE encourage innovative teaching and learning?

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Below is a copy of the notes from our small ‘focus group’.

Questions:

1. Looking over section one, what are the two most important features to be kept?

  • Wiki
  • Storage
  • Dropbox
  • Portfolio – bucket of work

2. Looking over section two, what are the three most recurring themes of the comments?

  • editable/collaborative spaces for students (wikis, blogs, whatnot)
    • student centered
  • Portfolios – defining what it means, how it is accessible, what goes in it
    • This goes beyond the current repository for all summative tasks.
  • Permissions
    • if you don’t allow common spaces, then more people will go off the reservation.
    • Allow for spontaneity.
    • “get out of the way”
  • There is a difference between a CMS and learning environment
  • Portability of work – 3.5 years average length of stay
    • For teachers
    • For students
  • Dynamic, embedded content
    • Locally hosted
    • internet access

3. How can we address one or two of those recurring themes?

  • Separate the tools: find the best tool to do the job well instead of relying on one tool to do things mediocre
    • Define acceptable external alternatives if SP cannot do what we want/need.
  • Class blog, discussion board, teacher controlled wiki, student based wiki – basic tools that need to be accessible (one example)
  • personalized dashboard
    • Can front page be different for different populations.
    • Create shortcuts w/in the portal
  • Sharing – local and global collaboration
    • Interactive learning spaces
    • External permissions
      • Scaffolded approach to open access
  • “We have to teach differently” – We need the tools/access/flexibility to teach differently
  • Class activities within Moodle
    • anybody create wikis
    • anybody create discussion boards
    • various activities
    • change the views; teachers can turn elements on and off

SharePoint Diaries – Our Current Portal

A huge decision has been made to upgrade from SharePoint 2007 to SharePoint 2010. These SharePoint Diaries are meant to help me flesh out some ideas and to help others who may be going through (or about to go through) a similar transition.

Here’s a brief rundown of what our current SharePoint portal looks like.

In addition to the top level site (UNIS Home), there are sub-sites for major areas within the school: MSHS, ES, Community, Curriculum and Training.

Looking deeper in the MSHS site, there are libraries for public information as well as staff-only information. There are also sub-sites for each of the departments and other important services such as the library.

Looking further into the Science departmental site, there are subsites for each of the classes taught: G06, G07, G08, G09, G10, IB Bio, IB Chem, IB Physics and IB Environmental Systems. Each class has its own homepage. This page (which is currently the homepage of the class wiki) uses a department-wide template and should include all of the course background information such as course expectations, units of study, initial resources and assessment information.

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Each unit of study also has its own wiki page – again using a department-wide template – that includes the general overview of the unit (unit question, significant concept, area of interaction focus), assessment and links to the content needed for the unit.

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Apparently SharePoint gets a bit wonky when the overall size of a site (Science) approaches 2 GB. Something about the web page aspect stuffing up: as you can tell, this isn’t my strong point!  To help with this, we have another side of the portal – Digital Resources. It is organized in much the same way: each department has a site with subsites for each of the classes taught. But because this is used only for storage and retrieval, there is essentially no limit to the storage quota. There is, however, a maximum file size of 20 MB.  Also, everything in the Digital Resources is accessible to all students, teachers and parents.

Science Digital Resources
Digital Resources for Grade 8 Science

Ideally, student and parents should never have to wade through the thousands of documents in the Digital Resources. The required documents should be linked on the appropriate wiki pages with the appropriate context to make sense of those documents. For the most part, our class wiki pages serve as elaborate Table of Contents pages for each unit.

There is other functionality within SharePoint that is available but rarely utilized: discussion boards, class announcement, timelines. One feature that is heavily leveraged is the integrated calendars. Each year group has a deadline calendar where teachers keep major summative assesssment due dates. This is to help students from getting to overloaded (only 2 assessments can be due on the same day) as well as helps parents keep track of what is coming up for their children.

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In terms of permissions, things are very controlled. Only teachers within the Science Department can edit science wikis, add or edit science documents, or access the Science Office. The default permission is that students have read-only access everywhere. The only exception is if they have their own blog within SharePoint.

I wanted to brief; I don’t think I managed that! But I think this is a pretty good general overview/introduction to our starting point. There are some other aspects to our portal but I think I’ve rambled on enough. If you have any questions or comments or would like some clarification, drop them in the comments below. I’d love to hear how other schools are using SharePoint and what the benefits or drawbacks are.

SharePoint Diaries – The History

A huge decision has been made to upgrade from SharePoint 2007 to SharePoint 2010. These SharePoint Diaries are meant to help me flesh out some ideas and to help others who may be going through (or about to go through) a similar transition.

When I first came to UNIS, in addition to a desktop in every classroom (I was lucky and got a shiny brand new Dell!), there were two computer labs and a class set of laptops on carts. We had a system (and I use that term very loosely) of network folders that were shared amongst the teachers. The best example of collaboration that I can remember is a unit plan that was nothing more than a Word document in a shared folder that had hyperlinks to other Word documents in other shared folders. That was innovation!

Oh how far we have come.

In less than 5 years, every teacher and all students in grade 5 – 12 have TabletPCs. The entire campus is wireless (although there are still connectivity issues – we do live and work in Vietnam, after all). Students and teachers are enhancing and transforming their learning through creative uses of technology. And we moved from network folders to SharePoint.

There are lots of arguments about which VLE/LMS/CMS a school should choose. Should we go Moodle? SharePoint? Finalsite? Something else? These posts aren’t really going to touch on that debate (that’s the plan, at least), although it is a discussion that I would love to have at some point. These posts will be more focused on our process of moving from SharePoint 2007 to SharePoint 2010 and the opportunity to re/design our school portal that this move presents.

If you work at a school that is currently using SharePoint, or one that has recently migrated from one platform to another, I would love to hear your views and experiences. Of course if you have any background in educational design or SharePoint development, I would love to hear your ideas too!

Next in the series: Our Current Portal