Twynham School, in Christchurch in Dorset, are a school which tends to be at the leading edge of technology – they are often one of the first schools in the UK to implement a school-wide deployment of new Microsoft releases, and the ICT team in the school always seem to be champing at the bit to take the school’s ICT forward. Twynham have been rated “Outstanding” by Ofsted three consecutive times, are a 'Leading Edge School’, training school and last year they won a Harnessing Technology Award from Becta. So they’ve definitely doing many things right – and have been for a long time.

All of this contributed to them becoming part of the global Microsoft Technology Adopter Programme (TAP) for SharePoint 2010. Mike Herrity from Twynham School

We run a TAP for each major product that we develop and release, and normally it’s multi-national corporations, such as big banks, that take part. The TAP participants get very early access to beta versions of the software, and direct support from the developers. It’s definitely good for a UK school to be invited onto the TAP, as it means that the development team get feedback directly about the way that schools will use the technology that’s being developed.

As SharePoint 2010 was launched, they worked with the SharePoint 2010 product team in Seattle to produce an extensive case study, which told an interesting story of their ICT development strategy. I’ve pulled out some of the key information below:

Twynham School’s case study

Mike Herrity, an Assistant Head Teacher at Twynham School, talked about the overall goals of building their Learning Gateway based on SharePoint 2010:

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 exams, 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.

Twynham have implemented a Web-based learning portal on SharePoint 2010. Through this portal, users access study materials, lesson plans, assessments, timetables, and more—anytime, from within school 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. Even in the early days use has been high, and ready access to resources has contributed to a rise in student exam results.

Twynham had learnt much from their original SharePoint 2007 system, and 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. 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.

SharePoint 2010 includes many tools that help students and teachers more easily engage with the learning gateway. SharePoint 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 for the lesson. Multimedia file management is also simplified because, in SharePoint 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.

Allowing student voice

SharePoint Server 2010 also provides tools for students and staff to tag, rate, and comment on content in the learning portal. For example, if a student finds a learning resource (such as a previous exam paper or a presentation) particularly useful, the student can rate the resource with five stars, 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.

Twynham School has already enjoyed so much success that it was asked by Dorset to build an authority-wide portal. As Mike Herrity said:

When we showed the learning gateway to the authority, all the schools and heads wanted to replicate it for the students who undertake vocational learning.

Twynham made the solution available to the vocational programs at all 22 schools in Dorset, and now, students can access tools, lessons, mentoring materials, and records, and maintain discourse with their instructors, remotely.

Community Cohesion

Twynham has used their learning gateway 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, and according to Mike “as importantly, it has helped us engage with the Christchurch community.” Twynham built 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. As Mike put it:

We see the SharePoint 2010–based portal as an essential part of the broader community. Schools and other learning establishments are now better connected through the collaborative tools in SharePoint 2010 which helps them to share ideas, vision, and resources

If you want a quick peek at some of the work in progress at Twynham School, the team have created a simple SharePoint 2010 site with external access at http://ict.twynhamschool.com

imageRead the full Twynham School SharePoint 2010 case study