An educator works on a SharePoint page.

An educator works on a SharePoint page.

In a January 18, 2010 post on his eLearning Technology blog, Tony Karrer gave his list of the top 10 eLearning Predictions for 2010. Prediction #5 was “Lots of SharePoint.” The business world has embraced SharePoint, and rightly so. It was primarily designed for business use. For educators, jumping on the SharePoint ship has been much slower.

In 2006 at La Crescent-Hokah Public Schools, a small rural district in southeast Minnesota, Superintendent David Krenz and Director of Technology Greg Bergh saw a demonstration of this Microsoft application and decided it was what La Crescent needed.

After initially working with a consulting company to show us a proof of concept we could make of SharePoint, we jumped feet first into the deep end and have been swimming laps now since fall of 2007.

The installation of SharePoint on our server landed in the capable hands of our network manager, Brent Everson, a graduate of our school in 2005, a young man who loves a technology puzzle. He got it up and going and then I began the unending task of training our staff. I immersed myself into whatever books I could find to train myself–leaning on Brent many times for support.

We went live to the staff and community in December 2007 with training set up first for the secretaries and then the teachers who wanted to be involved. The web site we left was managed by a webmaster. But SharePoint, we decided, would be different. Everyone would set up and maintain their own sites–if they wanted to have one.

Staff members were, at first, slow to move to SharePoint, and they were not required to have a site. Over the past two years, we have moved to about 75 percent of teachers creating a site, and it is fast becoming the expectation by students and parents.

Why does SharePoint work well for us? We choose SharePoint as our platform because it had the necessary features we were looking for:
•    Tight security allowing a safe place for students to interact within a class shell
•    Flexibility for teachers to house a variety of content on their sites including wikis, blogs, and discussion boards
•    The ability to host online classes and hybrid classes including the ability to interface with Moodle
•    A survey tool to use for collecting data of various sorts and even used as a counselor concern drop box for students
•    A profile site for all users to house documents and learn to create sites (this one is still slow getting started)
•    An internal communication tool for committees to share agendas, minutes, discussions, and resource documents
•    Secure online forms for staff use including staff leave forms, absence reports, staff development requests, and many more under development
•    The ability for teachers to house content to access at home or school, serving as a personal space or profile area–eventually we hope to use their profile space for their home directory rather than a school network drive.
•    The same ability for students to house content of their own to access at home or school
•    An external portal for parents and community

All of these features help make SharePoint the powerful tool it is and also give it a complexity in learning to use it with ease and comfort.  The training has been in both formal classes and on an individual basis.

Here are some of the ways teachers are using their SharePoint site.
•    Teachers post newsletters for parents/students
•    Assignment calendar is available
•    Notes from daily lessons are shared, allowing students who are absent to keep up with their work
•    Sharing of student work through document libraries–teachers have shared podcasts, videos, and links to student work created with web 2.0 tools
•    External links for students to access at home for extra practice or study
•    Class discussions over current topics (open only to current students in the class)
•    Folders for students to upload their homework for the teacher to grade digitally (each folder only accessible to the teacher and one student)
•    Class syllabus and resources needed to complete assignments
•    Slideshows of student activities