Monthly Archives: April 2010

Why buy a SharePoint based learning platform

Originally posted at https://learningpossibilities.lpplus.net/Pages/Sharepointandweb.aspx for LearningPossibilities.
Sharepoint and web 2.0

I’ve always wondered what it is about web 2.0 that people in education are so fascinated about.  There are lots of articles out there about the history of the Web, of Darcy DiNucci originally coining the term (1999) and then Tim O’Reilly pushing the term in the O’Reilly Web 2.0 Conference in 2004. Google, Bing and Yahoo! them for more information or pop into your local library and dig out books like Where Wizards Stay Up Late (Katie Hafner and Matthew Lyons : Simon & Schuster, 1996 ISBN 0-684-83267-4). You will hear people talking about the read/write web, interactivity, convergence, folksonomy, mashups … the list goes on. Some of this will come across as buzzwords to a heck of a lot of people.

Some will take Web 2.0 as a lot of jargon (Sir Tim Berners-Lee has been quoted as such in fact) and I can sort of agree to that. I started off in the world of the internet mainly getting involved in things like UseNet, and the discussion forums. I read with interest about how Requests For Comments (RFCs) were all about people discussing and sharing ideas about what the standards needed to be to get things working on the internet (though there are a few ‘interestingly unique’ RFCs … http://www.faqs.org/rfcs/rfc1925.html is a good place to start!). Whilst it was done via email, fax, phone and face to face meetings … the key thing is the discussion and sharing. It is almost as if the Web is only just catching up to an idea that has been around on the internet for years, and that Sir Tim really did take it into account when the first ideas he had were put into practice.

So, we have the idea of communication, sharing and re-sharing which is now a reality. What does this have to do with Sharepoint? Well, it doesn’t matter what system you use, what platform you prefer, where you think the next step is in the wacky world of the interweb … one thing is obvious and that Sharepoint stands head upright and shoulders back when it comes to ticking the boxes and producing the goods. I’ve been around the block a bit and have used (and continue to use) a variety of systems … and I really like a lot of them, but Sharepoint still stands out for me. Ok, forget that it can look all too ‘business’ and that the backend side of things can get very funky, but that is why you have companies out there that do the design work and construction so that you can pick it up when you need to.  The discussion about whether you need to design something yourself or can be happy taking something off the shelf is a discussion for another day really.

Looking at the usual tools that people talk about … ok, Wikis – check, Blogs – check, Embedded objects – check, Surveys – check, Discussion areas – check, Assigning Objects – check … and then you start getting into things like document management (versioning, permissions, audiencing) and they sound a tad cold and clinical … almost business like, but we are talking about sharing stuff now.

Ok, so some of the mashup tools that people like to work on … take the API from one site and use data from another to do something funky … at that point you need to start having the tools built into sharepoint to make the most of it. To be honest, there are lots of tools out there that already do this and I am just looking for somewhere to drop the results. When I am blogging I tend to do it into my wordpress based site, if I want to get a bit of a discussion going on then into one of my sharepoint pages it will go … partly as stimulus and partly to fine tune the target audience … and yes that does mean that I don’t want all my worldly thought to be indexed by every search engine around. It might be that I only want to share items with a few people out of a group. Easy, pick up a content editor web part, drop in the embed code from whatever website I am on and then fine tune who I want to see it. It means I get to show teachers one things, techies another and colleagues something different again.

It can be made as easy or complex as you want … and since I am a geek I make use of Lists … a storage area for data, which can be tagged, overlayed with other data, has a range of tools for managing it and then putting it forward in a way that I want (for me or for others). I have a lot of information about what different bits of technology are being used well in schools. I am now working on how to share that with others and to allow people to update their own information … I am not having to code massive databases, create a lot of queries or fancy front-ends … I just have all the data, give the right people access to edit their own stuff, give them a selection of options to see and then let them get on with it. Information can be heavily tagged, can be re-used into other lists so that colleagues can use it for their own work … in fact … I’m pretty sure that you could call it a mashup (and yes … I know that Mashups are meant to be via APIs and different sites … but since it can all be done via RSS … then I could always use something like Yahoo! Pipes! to create a data mashup to publish on another site if you want to get really picky about it!) and the tagging can mean you get a great taxonomy … and it is yours to create and adapt.

So … I am trying to see what web 2.0 stuff sharepoint either doesn’t do directly or it can’t be the publishing portal for … and I am at a loss. Things I have published range from youtube, voki, ustream, flickr, etherpad, Frappr (though no longer free!) … and this is before I get into the other fun stuff I am now starting to do more of. Once you get into using Office Communication Server as part of sharepoint (MOSS) then you can start having more fun. Using a meeting space to share documents and discussions prior to a meeting is one thing, but to then use LiveMeeting to share those documents on someone’s desktop, pass control of it around and allow others to annotate on the fly … if that isn’t web 2.0 I don’t know what is.

And yes … I know what the final retort is going to be from some parts … you have to pay for it.Of course you do … in one way or another you pay for most things, with Google it is your browser environment being peppered with ads, with facebook it is you time to plough through all the Farmville stuff from others to see important things (weddings, births, etc) and having to deal with targeted ads, with some of the Open Source solutions it is your time to set up and maintain (or the cost of someone else to do it for you) or the time it takes for a new block / module to be coded (again you can always pay for stuff) … in fact the cynic can say that there is nothing in this world that is completely free, it gets paid for somewhere down the line … just not right now by you! Paying for something does not remove the web 2.0 credentials for something … and you have to balance off what you want it to mean for you.

For me, sharepoint is part of the web 2.0 world, and I want to look for more things to do with it.

Introduction to SharePoint 2010 Free Event

Courtesy of Mike Herrity … It will be a busy day for me, down to Reading and then dash back to Northampton for our TeachMeet!

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Free event for schools on Microsoft’s next generation Learning Platform

SharePoint 2010 is due to be launched on May 12th as Microsoft’s next generation Learning Platform. Many schools across the UK are currently using SharePoint 2007 and this event will help schools with their strategic planning, including when and why to consider moving to SharePoint 2010, regardless of whether you are planning to change this year or in the future. It may be that you are not using SharePoint at all but would like to see what the new version can do.

In the UK we are lucky to have schools who have been involved in Microsoft’s global Technology Adoption Programme, and as result have had a chance to influence Microsoft’s developments, as well as implement early versions of SharePoint 2010.

This SharePoint 2010 event is intended for ICT leaders, School Leaders and Network Managers and will be led by schools that have been using SharePoint 2010 during the last year and have significant experience. Places are limited and the session is completely free including all food and refreshments.

Microsoft UK have sponsored the event through the provision of their conference facilities

Event Details:

Microsoft Campus, Reading, RG6 1WG

Date: Friday 14th May 2010

Time: 10 a.m. – 2 p.m.

Key topics covered:

Why SharePoint 2010? 10 great features for teachers and students

Social in SharePoint 2010. Capturing students’ interest in social networking to help their learning.

Moving to SharePoint 2010- why, how, when and where?

SharePoint 2010 as a Leadership and Management tool.

Branding SharePoint 2010- how to make SharePoint look like your school, and work for your school!

Using SharePoint 2010 to hit government targets – online reporting to parents, managing absence, community cohesion and personalising learning.

To book places for this event for you and your colleagues please contact Mike Herrity, Assistant Headteacher at Twynham School by email at mike.herrity@twynhamschool.com

For further details go to Mike’s blog www.sharepointineducation.com

Ask not what your support provider can do for you…

Ask not what your support provider / technician can do for you, but what you can do for them.

I know that will sound very wrong to some people … putting the onus back on schools rather than the techies but when I am working with some schools who buy in their support from outside companies, whether for technician time, for support on a particular solution or as a managed service, I can often find that the ‘ownership’ of all things under the broad umbrella of technology gets thrown over to the support provider / techie.

It is one thing for a company to say “we will deal with all your technical worries!” but unless the school leaders have some ownership themselves they lose the ability to plan and make strategic choices.

My recent response to a few schools is to make them think about their relationship with their techie and how to get a better balance of ownership and direction. So, I have a very simple 3 point plan that can be used with or without FITS (ok, it is actually part of FITS but no taken in the usual order) and applies to both school and techies.

1 – Inventory
How do you know what needs to be supported if you don’t know what you have got? How do you know when it is likely to need replacing? How much do you need to invest over the next 3-5 years? All pretty pointless questions unless you know what you have … and how you are presently using it / plan to use it in the future. Here are my recommended things to have in your inventory.

  • Make
  • Model
  • Serial Number
  • School Asset Number
  • Purchase Date
  • PO Number
  • Cost
  • Supplier
  • Disposal Date

This would be the bare minimum required for insurance purposes but there are other fields that many will add in.

  • Asset name (which may change during the lifetime of the asset)
  • Hardware Specification fields [CPU, RAM, screen size, etc] (all of which depend on how much you use the asset register as a trueinventory)
  • Location
  • Principle User (which may vary, could be a department, could be whole school or could be a specific user)
  • Software Specifications [OS version, installed software, etc] (you could tie this into your software inventory and remember that you licences are actually assets too!)

This will give you a basis to look at investment using tools such as this.

The people that need to be involved in this are the Bursar / Business Manager, the ICT lead and the support provider / technician.

2 – Routine Maintenance

This is one of those areas that is open to negotiation. Realistically there are some things that will require a regular look at or regular action and others which can be reactive. This is where those who have had a long look at FITS can see things like change management, release management and patch management … but what does it mean to everyone else?

a) Software patches – These tend to boil down to 2 areas … those needed to fix problems or stop problems arising (eg security patches) and those which will change / improve functionality. Sometimes you will get both. Now what you have to decide is when to install these … and since we know that people like Microsoft tend to release their patches on a particular day it is not too hard to plan around this. If you are using particular solutions such as RM’s CC3/CC4 then you know that they will check and release versions of these for you … security patches get a priority of functionality patches … mainly because if you change functionality then you might want to prepare people for it … so the school can help by deciding when are the best times to look at releasing security and functionality patches.

b) Backups – you know that each school will have its own requirements for this based on what systems they run, the number of servers and users … lots of variations here. But one thing is surely needed … a log of when backups are done *and* tested. A school should be able to pick up a sheet of paper, look at an online chart and be able to answer this for any piece of data you store. The sticking point for some schools may be that there is not a backup policy (what is backed up, how frequently, how is it restored, etc) but even a basic policy can be generated quite quickly.

c) Hardware maintenance – Many items of hardware need a checkover on a regular basis. PAT testing can fit into here, cleaning out of filters on projectors, airdusting / vacuuming the debris that can collect in servers depending where they are, the same with desktops & printers … and let us not forget that this can include the cleaning rota for keyboards and mice.

d) Anti-Virus / Anti-spyware – I see a mixture of schools who have a centrally managed system where it is really easy to see what updates are pushed out to computers and also reports of viruses appearing on systems (and hopefully cleaned off too), and then we have schools which find that it puts too much cost on and just have a client on each machine. Either way you need to set some standards for checking that it is up to date or being updated on a regular basis. This needs some periodic checking and recording.

e) Purchases – This might seem a strange one to include in here but how many people have been frustrated to find out that they have run out of toner or ink for printers, that the few spare mice they had have all been used up, even things like stocks of paper for printers have been used up. This links in with the inventory  really … so is down to school need, but supported by the techie.

This is by no means an extensive list but a good starting point. Larger schools might include in here regular meetings with key staff to help identify needs and issues which can be used to help plan maintenance and future plans too.

3 – Communication

This is the bit where we can see that it is aligned to FITS more clearly. In FITS we see things like a single point of contact (the helpdesk) but for many schools this could be a log book where teachers put problems and the technician picks them up when they come in. The downside of this is that the technician may find 8 problems since they were last in but has to go to each teacher to get more information to try and decide what needs to be done first (and how many of us have pushed to get *our* problem as the number one task because *we* are more important than anyone else!), but that can leave the techie in a terrible position.

There are a couple of things that the school can do to make life a bit easier all round and they all centre around communication. Having a single point of contact between the school and the technician is a good thing, but don’t let it be a purely impersonal item such as a log book / job sheet. Where possible make it a person … someone who can manage IT and the support contract. Set some ground rules … things like priorities. Something affecting the whole school is the most important and this does not have to be that the server is down … it can be things like an update is require for you MIS. Without it then you cannot complete school activities such as attendance, termly returns, etc. Whilst this might be difficult to explain to some staff in the school as long as the senior leaders and the designated member of staff who is going to manage things (manage … not do the work I should add!) then it should be accepted by other staff. Clear information about the progress of jobs is handy too. Put a framework in place so that if the technician is in one morning a week then at the end of it the member of staff managing the IT support can clearly see what has been done and what is left to do. Some larger companies might have an online ticket system for this, but often the job book will be just as good. Again, this is not an extensive list but a good starting point that I would expect to see in schools.

So there you have it. 3 simple and basic targets that I would expect in each and every school, no matter how your IT is supported.