Microsoft has an interesting history with education and SharePoint. But there’s never been a complete offering out of the box that education institutions could take advantage of. Does that mean you shouldn’t consider SharePoint for education services? Not at all. Here are six education features you can implement in your SharePoint environment.
Quick Note: There are new Education Services coming with SharePoint 2013, however, few details have been released on them. We do know, that SP2013 is at least six months or longer from general release and most organizations will not be ready to jump on that bandwagon out of the gate. As a result, it’s important to know how to leverage SharePoint 2010 to set up a Learning Platform today.
1: The Class Site
You can set up a class site based on a SharePoint team site. Features such as document libraries for course materials, shared calendars for lesson plans, discussions and announcements are all easy to create and make available to students.
In addition, you can integrate technology that allows students to complete class assignments online and mark them for grading or conduct quizzes all within the Class Site.
You can also set up the SharePoint Learning Kit if you want a free option for the e-Learning component. Check out this video showing you how to do it (watch it without the sound because there’s no voice over, it’s just the clicking of the mouse).
Students typically have more than one class once they enter middle school up through the university level. So implementing MySite for students is a great way to allow them one-stop access to all their class sites and a way to track their entire schedule and assignments overall.
2. Implement Ratings to Improve Course Material
Teachers are constantly creating course material and/or using material pre-defined for a class level. It’s important to know if the material is helping students or not. In SharePoint you can implement ratings and tags to get real time feedback of the material.
What’s nice about features like these, is that students who search for information will see the material rated highest in their search results first. This ensures that the most useful material is found easily. It also lets the instructor know what’s working and what’s not so they can change it.
3: A Parent’s View
How many times has a child come home from school and magically forgotten their assignment? Or maybe there are a few parents out there with kids who like to skip classes? Or a kid who hides his report card because he knows the D in math will raise the roof?
With a SharePoint VLE, parents can have their own log in -- where they can view information on their child, from attendance reports to assessments to report cards. SharePoint can also allow them to see lesson plans and class calendars.
4: Offer Email and Instant Messaging
Depending on the level of the education institution, you might want to provide students with access to email. If that’s the case, SharePoint integrates with Exchange to provide students with an email address. You may also want to offer instant messaging -- both as a way for students to work together virtually and as a way for teachers to support students outside regular class hours. Lync is your answer for instant messaging.
In this case, you are looking at more than SharePoint. In fact, you likely should be looking at Office 365 for education -- there is a free plan if you meet the requirements. The A2 plan is free for students, faculty and staff and includes not only SharePoint online, Exchange and Lync, but also Office Web Apps.
5: Integrate with External Systems
One of the selling points for SharePoint as a Learning Platform is its integration capabilities. You can integrate via the BCS (business connectivity services) data from external systems with SharePoint content, or you can add custom web parts that display content and/or functionality from other systems. For example, if schools or teachers want to give parents access to attendance, assessments and report cards, you’ll likely need to integrate your MIS system.
However, SharePoint can be more than a learning platform that offers class sites and parent information. Think of it as a complete education institution portal and integrate all the applications and information necessary for an education institution. Dave Coleman, SharePoint MVP and a consultant specializing in the education market, told me his company has built specific apps for a number of colleges and universities including applications for the CPD process, visiting tutor’s and health and safety processes.
6. The Teacher's Corner
As a teacher creates course material, there’s often information they need access to that they do not want students to have (e.g., test answers, teaching aids, etc.). In SharePoint there is the option for teachers to have a secure document library within the class site for the teacher’s documents. Or a teacher could have his/her own document library outside of the class site to store material. The approach taken will depend on how SharePoint is implemented as a learning platform.
Team teaching is another reason to have a secure teacher-only location within SharePoint. Teachers and staff share and collaborate on a lot of different types of information and will need a place for that material to exist and be searchable. It’s possible that not all material will be available directly on the SharePoint learning platform, but available in external systems. In this case, you can ensure those file shares or applications are included in your SharePoint search, enabling them to be easily found within the learning platform.
Customize SharePoint vs Use a SharePoint LMS
There are a few learning management systems (LMS) that integrate with SharePoint. Schools have the option of building their own platform from scratch or implementing an out-of-the box LMS. Either way both can leverage a wide range of SharePoint features including document libraries, calendars, My Sites, BCS and search.
The ability to integrate with external systems and make SharePoint a complete end-to-end system is appealing to many educational institutions. In addition, Office 365 for Education offers a lot of capabilities in a SaaS environment that may be less expensive than an on-premises solution. The options are there, so make sure you check them all out.
Image courtesy of David M. Schrader (Shutterstock)
Editor's Note: To read other thoughts on SharePoint and Education by Steven: