Monthly Archives: July 2011

But Sharepoint Is a Business Thing … We Are A School

Originally posted at Sharepoint365 – 

After reading the various blog posts from the great and good of the world of SharePoint you don’t need me to talk technical, about the architecture of the servers, about the importance of design and branding, about particular functionality in an education or business environment … so what on earth am I going to write about?

Well, I specialise in facilitation, introducing people and things, suggestions about how people can approach new technologies … oh dear … I am starting to sound like a special advisor to a Minister of the UK Government.

So where do we start with SharePoint? Well, I can tell you what it is not. It is not a Learning Platform. It is not a replacement for an aging file server. It is not a cheap way of getting Office applications. It is not a complex system. It is not a solution to the lack of ideas you have about how to manage your life and your work. It is not the only tool in the world that allows for collaboration. Ok … one of those statements is correct … and it is the last one.

Sharepoint is a complex, powerful, wide-ranging tool that can address a number of areas in your school … if you just sit and think for a few minutes. Go on … I’ll still be here.


Over the next couple of posts I will look at simple tools and simple ideas about how Sharepoint can be used to make a difference in how your school manages school business, and where possible I will make direct reference to blog posts that have already appeared to help you get a wider picture. Today I am going to talk about team sites.

What is a Team Site?

Well, we all work in teams in one form or another. We all tend to generate stuff during that work. Files, conversations, lists of information, meeting dates, minutes of meetings, lists of jobs / tasks … it can go on, and on, and on, and on … and whilst we all have years of experience of emailing stuff to one another, forgetting to email stuff to one another, emailing the wrong versions, emailing the wrong people, writing meeting dates in a paper diaries and then forgetting to change the dates when a meeting has to be rescheduled resulting in you being the person that turns up 3 hours early to a meeting and wondering if you have no friends because you are in a room all by yourself … go on, admit it, we have all been there.

So what is a Team Site?

Out of the box a Team Site has all the generic functionality you come across a Sharepoint site. It is a blank canvas, and one which is handy to play with to learn how to get around Sharepoint. But it is only as useful as you make it. So let us look at the needs of an average secondary school department, having a quick thought about a few important functions which go on behind the scenes and away from the classrooms.

Let us consider coursework for GCSE English. The co-ordinator will always have a massive job to do. This will involve the recording of coursework as it is completed, unit by unit, by each student, which teacher marked it, whether it has been moderated, who by, does it meet all the required criteria, have the results been passed to the Exams Officer, has it been selected for external moderation, has it been sent off, and so on. To make sure this happens there will be guidance documents on what each unit of work entails, where it ties into schemes of work and resources, staff training on particular units and resources, staff training on moderation, feedback sessions between senior teachers in the department and other teachers …

Where does this fit into Sharepoint then? And let us keep this as simple as we can to start with (no InfoPath or workflows yet).

The Team Site is available to those who teach GCSE English and to other key staff such as the Exams Officer and SLT. This gets you looking at permissions. It also means you are looking at who the data owners are (in data protection speak) and ensures accountability.

The Calendar is a shared calendar which can be used instead of a sheet of paper passed round with deadline dates. It contains the meeting times, dates and locations. The meetings can also include relevant documents just like an email attachment … but we will mention that again later. The meetings can have alerts so you know when work is due to be completed prior to meetings.

Now most logs and records of coursework and marks will be on paper or spreadsheets. It is the work of a moment to use a spreadsheet to create a list. The spreadsheet already has the information you want, or at least the headings. This then allows for records to be created or amended for students as their coursework as it is completed and then marked. The spreadsheet is viewable by all and creates an open atmosphere between staff as they look at who is late completing the work. It also allows senior teachers in the department to provide additional support to staff who are not meeting the targets or deadlines.

Document libraries will contain files, videos, etc from the exam board or versions of work to use for moderation comparison. These can be linked to within the meeting appointments rather than attached (see, I said we would come back to it).

And this isn’t even looking at Wikis … a fantastic collaborative tool for sharing best practice. And we also haven’t covered the use of discussion forums to allow for healthy and private discussions between the team without it being all email traffic and the risk of emails being spread outside of those who need to be involved.

Now, none of this is exactly rocket science, has been mentioned by many other educational sharepoint enthusiasts, it is flexible enough to allow schools and departments to say “actually … I like the list bit and the discussion bit, but we already meet on a regular basis so no need for that” and it is powerful enough to have more functionality to add as people become more adept at using the team site.

So, there we have it. Team Sites and why a business tool can mean effective and improved management of a secondary school English department.

The Mac FanBoi / Open Source Evangelist goes to Reading.

Most people who take a butchers at my blog, peruse my EduGeek posts, try to decipher my deliberations or are simply mindful of my meandering thoughts, are aware of my use of Apple products and my preference to ensuring Open Source Software is always considered when looking at options.

So I take great delight in mentioning that I have been accepted to join others at Microsoft’s Summer Camp on 23rd & 24th August in Reading, and a big thank you has to be given to Jan Webb and Stuart Ball for running this event again.

I’ve been to a number of Innovative Education Forum / Partners in Learning events now and I am always impressed with the number of ideas you see shared. Now I get a chance to be part of that sharing with a closer group and I hope to come away with a lot more to be able to pass on to schools and contribute to it too, if the output from friends who attended last year is anything to go by.

However, I will always be looking at this with a Geek’s head. I know that some schools have hit barriers when trying to roll out particular software, to make it do certain things or when making sure school systems are not put at risk when allowing children to do certain things. I hope to be able to work through a number of problems around this and give suitably sage advice (You want to give out the admin password to the kids???!!!! AAARRRGGGHHHHH!!!!!)

It is fun to see that one of the criteria is to bring along a Windows laptop. I *always* take a Windows laptop with me to Reading … that fact that it is a bit of Apple hardware just makes it more fun … the question is whether I leave it running Windows 7 or downgrade to Windows Vista … just because I can. (Look … I have already said I am a Geek … I don’t *have* to make sense!)

It’s an Awards thing!

It is lovely to see people truly get the recognition they deserve when they have done something good. It doesn’t matter whether it is the appreciation of children and parents at the end of a school year, that round of applause after presenting at a TeachMeet, seeing your blog referred to many times or the simple recognition by fellow educationalists.

There is also a bit of cynicism around awards for those in education or providing products / services in education. There are big awards for Teachers, novel awards via LWF, trade awards at things like BETT, Impact awards from NAACE and the old Excellence awards from Becta.

Say what you want about the TES Schools Awards, if you look at the schools and groups nominated for ‘Outstanding ICT Learning Initiative or Partnership’ in the TES School Awards you have to say that these are a good bunch, with folk nominated or winning awards previously … and this year we have a rather interesting group from Northamptonshire up there too.

I am so proud to see that Northants BLT is up there too. What started off as the brain child of two rather interesting characters has taken on a mind of its own … and it was designed that way.

The drive provided by Peter Ford and Tom Rees to create a grass-roots network of educators who wanted to try things, share things, improve things and keep doing that under their own steam has, in my mind, taken the best out of TeachMeets, school partnerships, Study Centres, area-based working and individual skills of those involved, so it is quite correct that it gets the recognition it deserves.

So as I travel down with the motley crew to the awards today I have to ask myself … will I be any less proud if they don’t win? No, of course not … and I already know that winning is not the reason they are there … in fact it is not the reason I will be going down either … I am going down to have a look at the wonderful things others are doing and taking it as another opportunity to share and network.