Teacher Tools Day 4 – SharePoint

sharepointTeachers are constantly faced with the necessity of posting something, be it pictures, lessons, pdf files, or especially videos to the web and then allowing students access to those resources. SharePoint, from Microsoft, is the best tool for that job, bar none. While a Google drive or other cloud service may allow you to share a file and grant permissions to your students, SharePoint simplifies the process and takes sharing documents to a new level.

What is SharePoint and do I have it?

Microsoft SharePoint is a business server application that allows users to post and share almost any type of file or media and then grant access to that material to anyone they choose.  The application integrates with Microsoft Office in a way that Google drive or other cloud storage applications can not hope to match.  It allows the user to post documents, set permissions, and then edit directly with Word, Excel, or other applications simply by dragging and dropping onto a webpage or folder.  SharePoint can be mapped as a shared drive to bypass the browser or it can be accessed as a web page.  SharePoint takes care of hosting and sharing video so that putting content on YouTube, which is often blocked in schools, or filled with inappropriate images, is not necessary.  SharePoint allows for the creation of sites for groups, teams, classes, and other units, and allows the creator to set permissions for those units down to the document level.  When combined with OneNote Classroom Creator, SharePoint becomes a Learning Management System in it’s own right.  It is fully customizable and allows users to create and publish apps that others can access if they are given the necessary permissions.  In short, SharePoint is a great solution for document control for any type of data.  SharePoint also contains a social media piece that allows students to collaborate and communicate while still being fully monitored and controlled by the network administrator.  SharePoint is fully accessible from outside the school network as long as login credentials are available making it an excellent way for parents to monitor the work their students are doing.  SharePoint is fully integrated into Outlook and can be used to create calendar entries for students to post assignments and reminders.  Finally, SharePoint is easily integrated with any school web site to allow secure access for anyone with school login credentials.

The online version of SharePoint is usually included with an educational subscription to Office 365.  If your school has Office for all of its students and teachers (and it should) then you very likely have SharePoint available.  The easiest way to find out is to ask your network administrator.  If not, then he is also the person to lobby for it.

I am often asked why I prefer Microsoft Office to the free online Google applications that offer similar services.  I am preparing my students for college, and/or the business world.  They will very likely not see Google docs again after High School.  By far the majority of the  market share of business document creation software belongs to Microsoft Office.  Why not start now teaching them something they will use throughout their careers?  Most corporate workers in America will be familiar with SharePoint, Office, and the other common Microsoft business applications.  It seems a waste to teach them something that they will use only temporarily, or at least, that is my opinion.

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OneNote Classroom Notebook Creator

onenoteiconAs you may know, I am a huge proponent of the OneNote®Classroom Notebook system created by Microsoft®.  I realize that it was not originally intended for education and that it is primarily a business application, however, it works really well for information presentation as well as storage and evaluation.  Serendipitously it is ALSO a great business application that students will be familiar with when they enter the workforce in a corporate environment.

To teachers who have SharePoint® available it could not be easier to install and use the product.  Classroom creator is available as a free download in the SharePoint App store.  Someone with admin. permission can install it and then it is available for all to use.  It took me, with no previous experience, about 10 minutes to get it up and running on our domain.  Once the app is installed it is incredibly easy to follow the instructions to create notebooks, add students and teachers, and publish your class notebooks to the system.

Students find the application to be intuitive and easy to work with.  They really enjoy the collaboration area that allows their contributions to appear in real time.  I generally open that section of the Notebook on the class smart board during topic discussions.  All entries are labeled with the student’s name so inappropriate comments are never a problem.  Once discussion is complete, I direct the students to the Content Library to begin the day’s assignment.  I can either create a worksheet or lab page individually for each student or I can simply create a page in the Content Library and have the students copy and paste the questions into their personal homework sections.  The sections are completely private and available only to myself and the each student.  They do the work, I grade the work and enter a grade on the homework page that they create.  Once the grade is entered, any further entries onto that page are labeled and time-stamped to prevent students from changing grades or answers.

It is very easy to create content for lessons in OneNote.  Images can be copied and pasted easily into pages.  Video can be embedded or even recorded directly into the page.  Audio can be synchronized to follow along with text and images and other embedded objects can be made searchable with OCR.  There is a very friendly community of users accessible online to provide help, and, as a member of the Office Suite from Microsoft, the control ribbons will be very familiar to most people.  Objects like Flash or other presentation content can be linked and will open in their native players at a click.

There are some features that I wish were available, perhaps in a special educational version of OneNote.  I would like to see OneNote support OLE (Object Linking and Embedding) to allow ActiveX controls or other native support for different formats.  I would like to see VBA support so that Macro creation could be made simple.  I would really like to see a way to lock pages within the student’s notebooks to prevent unauthorized or accidental editing.  These are the only real complaints that I have with an otherwise excellent application.  Microsoft really found a winner here.