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.

Doing the Best with What I've Got

Or, What SharePoint has Taught  Reminded Me About the IBO

My school runs a Microsoft SharePoint portal. It’s okay, I guess. It’s a bit clunky, not very attractive and somewhat limited in terms of customization. Or so I thought…

I have been given the keys to my own little kingdom: I have been granted permissions above and beyond those of most teachers (but not fully admin rights) because of my spiffy new job title. And, like any geeky gadget-lovin’ guy or gal, I’ve spent a fair amount of time trying to see how far I can go before I break something. And that’s how I discovered that, with the proper design privileges, you can embed media-rich content into SharePoint web pages.

Notice that I did not say blogs or wikis. That is the one feature that is most missed in SharePoint. You simply cannot embed videos or any other script-based ‘widget’ into the SharePoint blogs or wikis. But, emboldened by my new discoveries, I did some more research and came up with this: the Enhanced Rich Text Editor. This just adds a new button to the WYSIWYG editor that allows for exactly the embedding features I’ve been looking for. It hasn’t been installed yet but my Tech Director seems keen on the find too.

I’ve just finished reading “Education Needs to be Turned on Its Head” which was Tweeted to me by my friend @amichetti. I think his words are relevant here:

It’s this: learn about what interests you, gets you curious, gets you excited. Figure out where to get the information you need. Read about it, talk to someone about it, find out about it. Try it. Do it, make mistakes. Figure out how to correct the mistakes. Figure out how to solve the problems you encounter. Repeat.

I’ve just done exactly what we want our students to do. Find a problem; solve a problem. It was my own natural curiousity that drove this inquiry and I was only able to be an inquirer because of that extra bit of tinkering room I was given. We need to take the shackles off the students, give them the room to play, to make mistakes and maybe even break something. Let them be a risk taker! But we also need to guide them down the path of being a responsible and principled memeber of their community. Did you see what just happened?

Image Credit: Kingdom Keys by LivingOS (CC BY SA)