Working with Microsoft

ShareThePoint has been running training courses for some time now, helping organisations and businesses upskill in using Microsoft SharePoint. Last year, Microsoft New Zealand gave us the opportunity to go back to school and we began to run a course to help schools use Office 365. For those who haven’t heard, Office 365 is Microsoft’s collection of their well-known communication and collaboration services, but they do all the hard work for you, running them in their data centres. Your business pays a subscription and you use their email, file and intranet, IM voice and video services and download the familiar Office software onto your desktops and devices.

Microsoft have always valued the education sector and they give a subscription of Office 365 to verified schools for free.

As you can imagine, getting Enterprise grade software and services for free can be quite overwhelming. “How do we start using this?” Much like New Zealand SMB’s (small to medium-sized businesses), schools began using the email services of Office 365 and leaving the file and intranet services in the “we’ll get around to it” basket. Which is where ShareThePoint enters.

The file and intranet services in Office 365 are known as SharePoint Online. When Microsoft began to talk to us about running a course for schools, we knew we could help.  SharePoint is our foundation.
So much so, the very word forms the best part of our name, Share-The-Point.

SharePoint in Schools

We ran our SharePoint in Schools course in four locations around New Zealand. We had an enthusiastic response and lots of excellent feedback. Not only were schools getting a good start understanding what SharePoint Online and Office 365 could do for their schools, they learned from each other’s ideas. While we had an extensive course outline to cover, on the day, we were flexible.  Often our time had a “workshop” flavour as we talked through the different scenarios in schools and the educators attending bounced ideas off each other.

Hagley-Community-College

Our 2nd Christchurch course with local schools, held at Hagley Community College.

 

 

Nelson-Boys-College

Working with Nelson schools, kindly hosted at Nelson College.

Collaboration

I said we received lots of excellent feedback. ShareThePoint is willing to learn too. By keeping in contact with schools and through work with Cyclone’s Arnika MacPhail and New Era’s John Phelps, we continued to refine our course. Feedback and discussion became even easier when Microsoft launched their external Yammer network – the Microsoft in Education NZ Cloud Forum. Teachers and schools were invited to join this easy-to-use conversation platform to engage in questions, conversations and ideas in the use of technology. This Yammer network has become a hub of chatter; floating ideas, announcing new services and features, organising events, and sharing what is and isn’t working well.

I enjoy the opportunities to work with schools in a number of different ways. One of my most memorable times was when Sam McNeill from St Andrews College used Twitter to ask questions of some well-known OneNote experts. We made quick use of Office 365 technology to shift the conversation from Twitter to a Lync meeting and shared a OneNote notebook for recording questions, ideas and findings. Read more about this on St Andrews College eBlog.

OneNote for Schools

One area of Office 365 that Microsoft has been putting a lot of work into, is simplifying the tools and experience of SharePoint Online. There has been a piece of Office software that has been on people’s desktops for years – OneNote. Over the past year or so, it has extended to many popular platforms and devices: iPad, iPhone, Mac and Android in its many forms. The OneNote application lets you create notebooks to store your tasks, ideas, notes, drafts and much more. The notebooks can be saved on your computer or on a server. But the greatest benefits are realised when the OneNote notebook is stored in SharePoint Online.

Last year, Microsoft released a tool for SharePoint Online that makes very clever use of OneNote notebooks.

The OneNote Class Notebook Creator app is installed in a school’s SharePoint Online site and is used to create a deceptively simple virtual learning environment (VLE). I say deceptively simple, because it is simple to set up and use.  But the more you learn about how to use it, you find that the possibilities and scenarios for using it are almost endless.

 

The Notebook Creator app creates a notebook-based VLE with three main areas:

  • A simple shared place for teachers to share lessons, resources, assignments, activities and links to other content.
  • A place for free-form collaboration, where students and teachers can create content on the same page at the same time.
  • A personal notebook for each student, shared with the teacher but kept private from other students. Students use it for homework, class notes, completing assignments and teachers can easily monitor and give feedback to students.

 

I came across an early version of the Notebook Creator app while it was still being tested. I began to introduce it to schools during our course.  I also had the opportunity to show it at an Education evening at Microsoft, during our 2014 SharePoint Conference. When the app was launched, I was well-prepared to share what I had learned. I have written a number of blog posts to help schools get started with the OneNote Class Notebook Creator. More recently, I have been involved organising webinars with teachers from around the world, looking more closely at OneNote Class Notebooks and creating resources for classes. In “The Superheroes of OneNote-based lessons” we interviewed three Microsoft Innovative Educator Experts; teachers who are internationally-recognised for their use of technology to support learning. These webinars have inspired more ideas for all who attend.

Superheroes-of-OneNote-based-lessons-ft

Learning some of the basics of SharePoint alongside using OneNote gives the teacher a good start to a very functional class site. The simplest scenario is to store documents in the document library of the class site. Use a OneNote Class Notebook for all your class work. Reference your documents by pasting a link to the document into your class notebook, to share with your students.

Initial Setup Package for Schools

ShareThePoint is embarking on a new direction with our SharePoint consultancy service. We’re offering an initial setup package, creating an intranet with schools based on a combination of templates and out-of-the-box features of SharePoint. Personally, I’m quite excited about this. I enjoy working with schools and I know the potential that SharePoint has, to make it easier for schools to work together in a more functional intranet.

We continue to go back to school, not just in a consulting capacity but through the learning experiences we share as we work closely with educators. I continue to be amazed at the creative ways teachers are using the technologies they have available to them.
2015 is looking to be another exciting year for us working with schools.