Originally posted at Sharepoint365 – http://sp365.co.uk/2011/07/but-sharepoint-is-a-business-thing-we-are-a-school/
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.