Twynham School, an innovative secondary school in the United Kingdom, wanted to provide students, staff, and parents with easy access to educational resources. The school implemented a Web-based learning portal that is based on Microsoft SharePoint Server 2010. Through this portal, users access study materials, lesson plans, grades, schedules, and more—anytime, from campus or remotely. The portal gives users the ability to design, create, and manage their own sites, with very little assistance from the IT department. And, students have the ability to rate portal content, which helps Twynham continue to improve its resources. Portal use has been high, and ready access to resources has contributed to a rise in student test scores, has helped Twynham implement a distance-learning program that lowers the district operating expenses, and has significantly streamlined development processes.
Twynham School is a state school that serves approximately 1,500 students age 11 to 18. Twynham is located in Christchurch, Dorset, on the south coast of the United Kingdom. The school specializes in technology and music, provides vocational training for students, assists in teacher training through partnership with universities and other teacher education programs, is a designated “Leading Edge School” in the United Kingdom, and has been rated by the government as an “Outstanding” school three consecutive times. In 2008, the school won an award for Innovation and Impact. This award comes as no surprise; Twynham School is an influential leader in the United Kingdom in regard to the use of technology in education. For many years, it has focused on taking advantage of innovative technologies to bolster the learning environment.
To provide the best possible learning environment for its students, the school decided to implement centralized, online access to learning resources. Mike Herrity, Assistant Head Teacher at Twynham School says, “Our objective is to listen to the voices of the students to discover what will help them learn better. Predominantly, students told us that they wanted to be able to get to their resources all the time, and from anywhere.” To prepare for annual standardized tests, students wanted to be able to access past exams with model answers, and link to external sites for test preparation and exam timetables. They also wanted to access multimedia files from the school’s digital library, lesson plans, teacher’s notes, and more—whether at school or from home.
In 2007, Herrity, with the help of his two-member IT team, designed an online learning gateway using Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2007. The portal-based solution provided access to a gamut of learning resources. Students used it to access personalized class schedules, attendance records, grades, lesson plans, study materials, and test-preparation resources. Teachers posted lesson plans and study materials, managed class lists, provided calendars, entered grades, and tracked student performance. Twynham also created a “Parent Zone” to provide parents with online access to their child’s grades and course listings. This access also lets parents partake in a mentoring system by which teachers can set performance goals for each student. Parents can monitor a student’s progress toward his or her goals, online.
Twynham used the out-of-the-box reporting capabilities of Office SharePoint Server 2007 to measure how much students used the system. “In the weeks leading up to exams, many students accessed the portal almost every night. We also discovered that the students who used the system the most achieved the highest overall improvement in exam scores from the previous year,” says Herrity. Students reported that having access to a range of different types of learning materials—including text-based resources, Microsoft Office PowerPoint presentations, streamed videos, and links to external Web sites—was more compelling than a standard textbook, and thus helped them to stay more engaged and cultivate better study habits.
Although Twynham achieved a high rate of adoption with the Office SharePoint Server 2007–based solution, it felt that it could make the experience even easier and more intuitive for its users. “We had a snow day last year during which 92 percent of staff members and 86 percent of students logged on from home. We had a phenomenally high user adoption but teachers weren't always shaping the context of their pages.” In 2009, Twynham decided to take some steps to further improve its learning gateway. “The Office SharePoint Server 2007 technology helped our developers build a great solution, but we wanted to put even more power in the hands of the users. We wanted students and staff to be able to very easily create and edit pages in the learning gateway, without IT assistance.”Solution
When a prerelease version of Microsoft SharePoint Server 2010 became available, Twynham School felt that it could take advantage of the product’s many enhancements, and add to the capabilities its learning gateway provided to the Twynham School community. “We’ve always tried to stay on the leading edge of technology,” says Herrity. “We wanted to capitalize on the improvements in the new version, as soon as possible.”
||By moving to SharePoint Server 2010 we have gained a genuine two-way experience where the end user is at the center of everything we do.
Assistant Head Teacher, Twynham School
In early 2010, Twynham upgraded its entire learning gateway to Microsoft SharePoint Server 2010. Developers used Microsoft Visual Studio 2010 Ultimate Edition and Microsoft SharePoint Designer 2010 to customize the portal. Enhancements to workflow design capabilities in SharePoint Designer 2010 make it easier for Twynham to reuse workflows, and to associate a workflow with a particular content type in a document list. For instance, developers designed a workflow for teachers to submit a form for taking a training or certification course. After being routed to the proper reviewers, the completed form is returned to the teacher. “We saw that we could easily apply a workflow to a SharePoint list using SharePoint Designer rather than design a workflow from scratch,” says Herrity. “There is a huge amount of power inherent in SharePoint lists.”
The solution uses customized Web parts, developed by the Twynham IT staff, to extract information such as attendance records, grades, details about homework and mentoring, and more, from the school’s management information system (MIS). The Web parts give teachers the power to draw detailed analyses about student performance. For instance, a teacher can see a student’s overall attendance record, and can also sort the information to see the student’s attendance record for the days that a particular lesson was being taught. “The Web parts we’ve created to connect SharePoint Server 2010 to our MIS system have been so successful that we’ve been asked to reproduce the Web parts for all of the different MIS systems used in the United Kingdom,” says Herrity. Tools for Students and Teachers
|Figure 1. Twynham School Learning gateway with page editing options and links to resources.|
SharePoint Server 2010 includes many tools that help students and teachers more easily engage with the learning gateway. SharePoint Server 2010 supports rich editing environments such as wiki pages that students and staff can take advantage of to quickly create their own content. Wikis support inline editing and multimedia management, so users can embed video into their pages. For instance, a teacher can quickly edit and upload a lesson plan page, complete with a video pertinent to the lesson. Multimedia file management is also simplified because, in SharePoint Server 2010, students and staff can view thumbnails and preview video files from the school’s collection. They can also watch videos directly in the browser rather than having to open a separate media-viewing application. Rich metadata tagging capabilities make it easier for Twynham users to find multimedia assets within the school’s extensive collection. (See Figure 1.)
SharePoint Server 2010 also provides tools for students to tag, rate, and comment on content in the learning portal. For example, if a student finds a learning resource (such as a sample test or a presentation) particularly useful, the student can rate the resource with a high mark, making it easy for other students to identity valuable resources. Teachers can also see how students have rated each learning resource (based on a one- to five-star rating system), and can use this information to develop new resources. Users of the learning gateway can also visit an individual’s My Site, a personal Web site that provides students and teachers with a central location to manage and store documents and photos, contacts, and profile information and social networking tools, to see which content the student or teacher “likes” or has rated as potentially “useful” to others.
The enhanced blog functionality of SharePoint Server 2010 also helps Twynham students and staff maintain blog sites more easily. Processes for creating, editing, and commenting on blog entries have been simplified, and users can easily upload images to blogs.Web-Based Functionality
In conjunction with its SharePoint Server 2010 deployment, Twynham also deployed Microsoft Office 2010. Office 2010 helps Twynham solve collaboration and remote access problems because it provides users with access to Microsoft Office Web Apps, which are online, lightweight versions of Office 2010 applications. Using Office Web Apps, users can edit and share documents, presentations, and spreadsheets that are stored in SharePoint Server 2010. A locally installed software client is not required, so students can easily access Office Web Apps from home, with just a browser and an Internet connection. Editing and Publishing Tools
New capabilities in Office 2010 also give Twynham users the ability to embed and edit videos directly in Microsoft PowerPoint 2010. “When I started teaching 10 years ago, it was close to a miracle when a presenter was able to successfully access a video through a PowerPoint presentation,” says Herrity. “Now, students can easily embed videos. It’s one of the many features that let students work in the mediums to which they are accustomed.”
Students and teachers also take advantage of the Broadcast Slideshow feature in PowerPoint 2010, to share presentations regardless of whether their audience has access to the Microsoft PowerPoint client software. Users can share a PowerPoint 2010 presentation using the PowerPoint Broadcast Service,
|Figure 2. Twynham School vocational training resources in the learning gateway.|
which provides the presenter with a unique URL to send in an e-mail message to viewers, who can then click the link to watch the presentation through a Web browser.Distance Learning
The Web-based gateway, Office Web Apps, and the Broadcast Slideshow feature of PowerPoint 2010 are just a few of the tools that Twynham has capitalized on to create a highly successful distance learning program. Twynham School collaborates with five other schools to deliver vocational training—including hairdressing, hospitality, catering, automotive studies, construction, and retail—to students. Students and teachers from partner schools can log on to the Twynham gateway to access teaching resources, and view attendance and grading information. (See Figure 2.) “The district doesn’t have the resources to offer each subject at each school,” says Herrity. “In the past, we bused students among schools for training, up to four times each week. The Web-based environment has helped us keep students learning without requiring them to travel as much.” District-Wide Deployment
Twynham School has already enjoyed so much success with its SharePoint Server 2010–based solution that it was asked to build a district-wide portal. “When we showed the learning gateway to the district, all the schools and administrators wanted to replicate it for the students who undertake vocational learning,” says Herrity. Twynham made the solution available to the vocational programs at all 22 schools in the district, and now, students can access tools, lessons, mentoring materials, and records, and maintain discourse with their instructors, remotely.
Twynham uses Microsoft System Center Operations Manager 2007 to manage its SharePoint Server 2010 environment. It also plans to implement Microsoft Forefront Protection 2010 for SharePoint to help safeguard the learning gateway. Finally, Twynham has integrated Microsoft Office Communications Server 2007, which provides instant messaging (IM) capabilities and allows users to see other users’ presence information directly within the portal’s pages, so they can immediately start an IM session.Benefits
With SharePoint Server 2010, Twynham School has taken its learning portal to the next level, adding self-service features that help engage students and teachers in the learning experience. The solution helps staff easily determine the effectiveness of teaching materials, so they can continue to make improvements and boost test scores. Finally, with easier-to-use development tools, and tools that promote distance learning, Twynham, and the district, can function more efficiently and reduce operating expenses.
Self-Service Tools Shape Learning
||Our objective is to listen to the … students to discover what will help them learn better … [they] told us that they wanted to be able to get to their resources all the time, and from anywhere.
Assistant Head Teacher, Twynham School
Building the learning gateway at Twynham has been an evolutionary process. “The vision for the learning gateway is constantly evolving,” says Herrity. “We listen to the voices of the students as the number one influence in how the gateway is shaped. We want the gateway to support learners in making greater progress, to allow teachers to be more efficient, and to improve communication among the broader community. SharePoint Server 2010 gives us the power to provide better tools to shape learning.”
For example, one Twynham class used the solution to implement a Web-based system for rewarding positive student performance and behavior. “Their reward program used to be paper-based. The students got involved, and made their program run in the gateway,” says Herrity. “This is an example of how the gateway has evolved to become much more central to student life.” SharePoint Server 2010 feature enhancements support this level of interaction. “Students and teachers can easily edit pages, quickly locate images and upload them—these capabilities make it so that the user can shape the experience,” explains Herrity. “This is enormously important to getting students and staff on board and doing things themselves, rather than having to ask a developer for help. SharePoint Server 2010 gives students and staff a sense of control and ownership. This is a big deal for us.”
Better Educational Resources
The SharePoint Server 2010–based solution helps Twynham improve the quality of its educational resources because it can take advantage of student feedback. “We were able to use out-of-the-box analytics tools in Office SharePoint Server 2007 to see which resources students used the most, but we had to spend time digging into the metrics to make those determinations. With SharePoint Server 2010, we can see which resources are used the most, and with features such as tags, ratings, and commentary, we can also see, very quickly, which resources students rate the highest.” Twynham can use this knowledge to develop more effective resources. “We can take the highest-rated resources and post them more centrally, and we can also use them as models, in terms of format or structure—for developing new resources,” says Herrity. “SharePoint Server 2010 makes it easy for us to identify the educational resources that truly work for our students.”
Further, the remote access capabilities that SharePoint Server 2010 and Office Web Apps provide are of great benefit to Twynham. Herrity says, “Students can connect to resources instantly and easily. Office Web Apps help students accomplish more. They can access applications through the browser, without needing software installed on their home machines. This removes many socio-economic issues.” Now, it does not matter whether students have the latest version of Microsoft Office installed on their home computers. Through the learning gateway, students can quickly and easily make changes within the browser-based Office Web Apps, which are covered by the school’s licensing.
Office Web Apps also make it easier for educators to review student work. “Students used to submit papers in all different kinds of file formats,” says Herrity. “With Office Web Apps, students can work from their home computers, and create files in our standard Microsoft Office document formats.”
Finally, the entire district benefits from the rich distance learning environment that Twynham created, using SharePoint Server 2010, Office Web Apps, and Office 2010 applications. Students who engage in vocational training are now bussed to the location of their primary training once a week versus twice each week. “We’ve reduced bussing by 50 percent,” says Herrity. “This saves money for the district, and gives students more time to focus on their studies. They can access lessons, videos, study materials, connect with their teachers, and other students—all through the portal. It’s a distance-learning system geared just for them.” Stronger Community
Twynham has used SharePoint Server 2010 to strengthen the school community, making it easier for students to connect with each other, with teachers, and for parents to fully engage in the learning process. “But just as importantly,” says Herrity, “SharePoint Server 2010 has helped us engage with the Christchurch community.” Twynham used the solution to build a community portal, to foster the Christchurch Learning Partnership, through which Christchurch residents can keep up-to-date with the school’s activities and schedules. “We see the SharePoint Server 2010–based portal as an essential part of the broader community,” says Herrity. “Schools and other learning establishments are now better connected through the collaborative tools in SharePoint Server 2010 which helps them to share ideas, vision, and resources.”Higher Efficiency
Development is also more efficient with the SharePoint Server 2010-based environment. “In the past six months, since we’ve been using SharePoint Server 2010, the amount of custom coding we do has been reduced significantly,” says Herrity. “With out-of-the-box tools, we can configure SharePoint lists to handle a workflow—without building a workflow from scratch. With SharePoint Server 2010 and SharePoint Designer 2010, developing a form-based workflow—that used to take us approximately four weeks—we can now accomplish in four days,” says Herrity. “What’s more, once we create the new workflow, we can easily modify it to accommodate a similar process with slightly different requirements. Office SharePoint Server 2007 started us on the journey to creating a rich learning environment, but, but by moving to SharePoint Server 2010 we have gained a genuine two-way experience where the end user is at the center of everything we do. SharePoint Server 2010 is the next logical step in our continual evolution and our striving to deliver better and better educational resources.”
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