SharePoint 2010 addresses many of the needs for instructional technology, and one of the most popular uses is for classroom websites. Teachers need to connect and share information with students and parents, and with increasing emphasis on cooperative learning, students require effective tools for working together. This article outlines a few of the ways SharePoint helps educators and students work more efficiently and enjoy more engaging learning experiences.
Simplifying Communication with Students and Parents
Classrooms are dynamic environments, and keeping students and parents informed is a basic but often arduous task for teachers. SharePoint offers a number of easy and effective tools to help maintain a steady stream of important information. Using a simple form, teachers can post a quick reminder to an Announcement List about permission slips that need signed, upcoming due dates, or even current news items relevant to recent lessons. SharePoint Calendars help students stay on top of their work and provide parents insight into upcoming projects or exams. And since project outlines, lesson plans, and other classroom resources can be share in Document Libraries, parents no longer need to ask what their child did in school that day; they already know!
Of course, the way people consume information and stay connected is constantly changing. Logging onto a website may not always be convenient given the fast-paced lifestyles of today’s students and parents. SharePoint 2010 automatically provides mobile views of the classroom site, so announcements, calendars, documents, and other content can be viewed from a smartphone or tablet. (See image to left)
Users can even subscribe to alerts delivered as email or text messages. For the super cyber savvy, every list in SharePoint can be consumed as an RSS feed. This means that students can keep an always up-to-date list of assignments and due dates in a desktop gadget or on their phones. Teachers publish information once, using a simple form, and SharePoint ensures it reaches the target audience across multiple platforms and devices: Windows, Macs, Firefox, Safari, iPads, Android devices, and many others. (See image below)
Assignment Drop Boxes and Differentiated Learning
Online assignment submission is becoming standard in higher education and is a growing trend in K-12. Students love the efficiency of online submission, and teachers appreciate that assignments can be collected without using valuable class time. This also means teachers can grade assignments anywhere without lugging around a crate of papers.
SharePoint Document Libraries allow students to submit work using a web-browser and SharePoint’s robust but user-friendly permission and content approval settings ensure that student work is secure and remains private.
Beyond convenience, SharePoint Document Libraries provide educators a simple way to differentiate assignments and address individual learning needs. Turning on content approval for an assignment drop box library ensures that only the individual student and the teacher can see the student’s work. Teachers can therefore provide modified assignments, additional resources, or custom instruction based on the student’s unique needs without compromising the student’s privacy. Built-in Version History can illustrate progress and is useful for building a student’s confidence and offering parents insight into their child’s unique talents and needs.
Communication and collaboration among students is a core tenant of 21st Century Learning. Educators have embraced this approach and emphasize project based and problem based assignments to facilitate cooperative learning. SharePoint’s powerful collaboration capabilities help students work together in efficient yet engaging and meaningful ways.
SharePoint Discussion Boards offer a familiar forum environment which encourages deliberation among students. Built-in Wiki sites and Blogs afford opportunities for students to share, learn from, build upon each other’s ideas, and ultimately work together to create a dynamic collection of knowledge related to class concepts.
One of the most exciting additions to SharePoint 2010 is the inclusion of Microsoft’s Office Web Apps. These web-based companion versions of Word, PowerPoint, Excel, and OneNote are a component of SharePoint Document Libraries and allow users to view, edit, and share documents directly within the browser. Since the Microsoft Office client applications are not required, students have the freedom to work from any internet enabled computer.
The Office Web Apps are especially valuable for group based work. An entire class could record lab results in the same file at the same time using the Excel Web App. Students working on a research project can capture notes in shared OneNote section even if one student is using a browser on a shared library PC while another is working at home on a netbook with the OneNote desktop client. They would even see each other’s notes as they are captured. Since the author and date are tracked, the teacher can view and evaluate each student’s contribution to co-authored documents.
These are just a few of the many benefits that a SharePoint based class site can provide. Some colleges and universities are using SharePoint to offer e-portfolios for their students – allowing students to reflect on their learning experiences while building a personalized collection of their best work to share with potential employers. School districts are using SharePoint to facilitate collaboration among teachers located at different schools to create shared learning materials. The value of SharePoint is its flexibility to address the variety of ways people want to share information.