School Intranet Sites
School intranet sites offer schools the opportunity to share information and resources in a private and secure manner accessible anywhere anytime via a web browser. This means the sites are available from the internet but are not open to the public. Office 365 for Education users have the ability to create both public and private sites using Microsoft SharePoint. Many schools are using SharePoint sites through subject department sites, subjects hubs, and class sites for planning and sharing purposes.
The following is an outline of how a number of schools currently use Office 365 sites to administrate, communicate, plan, collaborate and share in a private and secure environment.
Virtual Staff Room, Department and Team Sites
The virtual staff room serves as a central access point for key school information such as the school plan, school documents, announcements, the school calendar, the extra-curricular calendar etc.. This is quite important for teachers in particular as most of their day is spent working independently in their classrooms. This often makes it difficult to stay up-to-date and in the loop with all school activities. In order to prompt teachers to changes or updates on a site, alerts can be set up. For example, teachers can be notified by email if an update is made to any part of the virtual staff room such as an announcement by the principal or when a document has been added or edited.
Since March 2015 the Department of Education is officially accepting subject department plans electronically. This is a very welcome policy update and allows for elements of the department plan to be updated and reviewed realistically and regularly. Office 365’s platform offers itself well to this end. With this particular set up of Office 365 sites, all teachers have access to subject department sites, created especially for planning purposes. Within each site a number of applications can be added including document libraries , taskbars, calendars, links, announcements, video libraries, discussion boards, etc.. These are all interactive applications, which offer valuable functionality towards communication and collaboration amongst teachers and management.
One important element of any site is the document library. A document library can host a number of file types and can be easily synced with your local PC allowing for quick access to and uploading of files. Once a new file is uploaded or created on the site the permissions of the site are extended to the document also. For example, a OneNote notebook or a Word document can be created and stored on a department site meaning all teachers on the school’s 0ffice 365 account can open and contribute to the notebook or doument as they would on the department site itself. What’s more OneNote offers the perfect package to replace the traditional ring binder department plan with an electronic Notebook accessible both online and offline ( once it has synced with your local PC ). OneNote is such a powerful teaching and learning tool it deserves a few future posts of its vey own.
Subject Hubs and Class Sites
Subject hubs allow teachers distribute learning resources and announcements to students in a convenient and consistent manner. With this particular setup of Office 365 each subject has a subject hub. Students can access all the subject hubs. The hubs are not broken down by year or class meaning students have access to the entire collection across the school. For teachers this encourages their creating or sharing common content across their classes and reducing repetitious designing of resources and study aids. This gives each student the opportunity to view various resources and information shared by the subject department. Students are free to explore topics and information at their own pace. Students are very much in favour of this style of resource sharing. They feel they are all on a level playing field and do not have to visit numerous sites on a class-by-class basis and like the subject-by-subject approach.
Of course, teachers may wish to distribute certain resources or applications on a class basis, class sites can be created for this purpose. Additionally, they can use OneNote notebooks to tailor and differentiate the learning resources for classes and individual students. OneNote is an ideal application to distribute and collect worksheets, homework and other tasks. Watch out for some future posts dedicated to OneNote alone.
Overall sites offer themselves as a great anchor for sharing, updating, and creating various file types. As a new teacher entering a school, access to a school’s Office 365 sites would mean you could quickly familiarise yourself with school policies, plans, schemes, resources etc. from a single location accessible in and outside of the school at anytime .
Further, department inspectors can get a very clear indication of the level of activity around planning and sharing. As there is no such thing as a teacher inspection, the subject hubs reflect subject inspections and allow for an insight into how students of particular subjects are taught across year groups and levels and not by individual teachers. The department itself plan does not remain shelved in the corner but is visited, updated and interacted with regularly.
Teachers and students can work together on projects in real time, because everyone has access to the documents and information they need from virtually anywhere
From a management perspective Office 365 offers a platform for genuine collaboration amongst staff and students, allowing for transparency and the breaking down of walls between classes, departments and indeed individuals themselves.