Investigating SharePoint as a Learning Environment: Initial Development

Peter’s SharePoint project has now reached the development phase. In the post below, he summarises his initial work on this phase of the project:

What everyone wants

After spending a chunk of time researching the capabilities of SharePoint, and beginning to understand the system and how to use it, the next thing on the agenda was to speak to staff and students about what the new VLE should actually look like, and what should be on it.

By far the most important things for everyone were that firstly there was genuinely useful content on the VLE, and secondly that it was easy to use.  That ease of use was important for students in terms of accessing the content easily, but also for staff in terms of understanding how to add and change content, as well as being confident in how the students should access content so that this information could be shared.

Addressing the first concern was straightforward because we already had an existing VLE filled with content, so it was quick and easy to add content which had immediate value to our students.  Making sure that all of that content was quickly and easily accessible has been more of a challenge, but SharePoint is such a flexible system that it has actually been much simpler than I expected, and massively easier than it ever was to create and share content on Fronter!

What that looks like

The simplest way to tell you how I achieved this is by showing you, so here are a couple of screenshots of what the Maths faculty SharePoint site looks like now:

sharepoint1

The black circle highlights the Office365 navigation bar.  This is the same across the whole of Office365, which means that it feels familiar as students are used to seeing this interface when checking their e-mail.  This navigation is also the same when using SkyDrive Pro and the Newsfeed features.

The red circles indicate the navigation within the Maths faculty site; I have created these to make it easier to find your way through all of our content.  The horizontal navigation at the top is the same no matter where you are in the Maths area, but the left navigation changes depending on the page you are on.  This allows contextual navigation on the left which will show you other related pages, whilst keeping the main site navigation so you can always get to every part of the site quickly.

The above screenshot shows the main page, so there are some general announcements and information for students visible.  The screenshot below shows a very basic page which contains A-level resources.  Ultimately I plan on creating a “prettier” interface for accessing all of the content, but this very quick approach means that with minimal effort I can give students quick and simple access to the content they need.

sharepoint2

This is nothing more than a folder structure containing a series of files which students can open in their browser or download.  It takes a few minutes to create and very little time to add content into, but is very easy for students to access and use!

Next Steps

I have already put lots of content into SharePoint, and am beginning to use it across all of my classes.  The next phase of development really involves me tidying up what is already there and getting feedback from staff and students on any changes which could be made to improve the system.

I am also beginning to use the social features of SharePoint as tools for students to collaborate on work, and as a way for me to pass on important information quickly.  These have been generally accepted by students, and some of them are already finding helpful ways to use them which I had not even thought of, which is fantastic!

One particular instance of this recently was when I asked my year 9 class to all create a word document in SkyDrive Pro to record some work.  The idea was that they would then share the document with me so that I could view it during the lesson whilst they worked, and afterwards to see what they had done and collate the whole classes responses into a single file.  A group of boys decided that they wanted to work together, so instead of making 4 separate documents, one of them made the file and shared it with the others.  They then spent the lesson working together collaboratively in the same document, adding their own work and at the same time viewing and improving on their friends work.  I now wish I had organised the whole class into small groups like this so that I only had to look through a few files instead of nearly 30!​

Further Reading

If you are interested in the more technical side of how I implemented these things, and what I am doing at the moment, I am keeping a more detailed blog on my development work in SharePoint.  This includes posts about specific things I have done, and walkthroughs on how I have created and edited content.  I am also more than happy to communicate directly about working in SharePoint!  You can find the blog here: http://sharepointinschool.wordpress.com/ and I can be contacted via e-mail to pwilliams@cityleicester.leicester.sch.uk

 

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