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Information Architecture …. what is it?

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Information Architecture …. what is it?

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And why would you need to know anything about it for your school?

Basically it’s all about the data you have in your school. Where is it? How is it used? How can it be structured to be more useful to you? How can it work for you?

Data is everywhere in your school. From the staff room notice board, emails right the way through to the worksheets given out to students in lessons. Wherever you can read something useful, it should be easy to find for anyone in the school.

Alex Pearce, Most Valuable Professional (MVP) has given some thought into a couple of ‘’roles’’ you would come across in a school and how data is used and why it is important to them.

Timetable Cover Manager

As you will know the Cover Manager position is very important for any school, ensuring a teacher is in every classroom whether it is another teacher from the school or calling in a cover teacher. Their job is all about data and passing data to the right people at the right time; ensuring students are taught and looked after in the classroom.

The kind of data they might receive includes short and long term notice of staff absence, cover work, members of staff on training courses whilst the data they would be exporting would include cover sheets, cover work and timetables of brought in members of staff. Capture

A Management Information System (MIS) for the school would hold all of this type of information in one place and prevent any miscommunication. What if a teacher didn't get that message to say they were needed to cover a lesson?

Using SharePoint, Lync and Exchange, the Cover Manager can easily pass on the information that is required. Cover work can be emailed to them and then uploaded to a Cover Site within SharePoint. When a cover member of staff then needs these resources, they know they are stored in a central location. If a member of staff is given short notice to cover a lesson or group, they are confident that they can teach a class as the work is already available and they don’t have to track down the cover work. To get hold of someone quickly, rather than send an e-mail with the chance that it won’t be read straight away, Lync can be used to send an Instant Message (IM) asking if they can cover a lesson last minute.

SharePoint can also be used as a workflow engine to send timetables from the external cover member of staff to be approved by the Cover Manager and then if necessary an invoice can be sent on to finance to be paid.

Year 11 student

One of the most important years for any student in education is Year 11, GCSE year. Ensuring the data they have is accurate, up to date and always available is so important and will help students stay relaxed, preparing for their exams. They need easy access to all their lesson resources over the last 2 years for revision, exam timetables and communication with a teacher.

magnifying_glassThroughout the year, a teacher will use hundreds of resources for teaching; some students will be missing due to illness, whilst other resources are just lost. Students should be allowed to easily find these resources and with SharePoint, can easily be done using two main features, search and navigation. A students can logon to SharePoint and use the navigation to find the subject, then year and then the resource they require as long as it has been uploaded in a well-structured way, all part of information architecture.

The possibilities of search within SharePoint in a school are endless, and this will be another post in the future, but imagine a search engine in your school for all your data. Students can perform a search for the subject they are looking for and find documents that are stored within SharePoint, your old intranet site and shared documents area. All of a sudden, data is easily found and accessible to anyone who requires it.

How many times are students losing their exam timetable (I know I did) and having to request for it to be printed off? Why not allow them to see their timetable in SharePoint or in their Exchange calendar? This way they can access it over the internet when they are panicking about if they have an exam that afternoon and they have no credit on their phone to text a friend.

The Head Teacher

Having an overview of all the schools lessons, student behaviour, predicted grade and value add are all important bits of useful information for a head teacher. They are always opening emails, speadsheets and the school Management Information System to see how each subject is doing. They can intervene if necessary, but also help them with any reports for governors, the local authority or Ofsted. They want the information fast, accurate and all in one place so they can turn on their computer and see everything they require.

SharePoint is a great integration tool already integrating with other Microsoft products such as Lync and Exchange, but it can also be used to integrate with Management Information Systems and other e-learning products.

Using WebParts (similar to widgets and gadgets), SharePoint brings all that data onto a single page in your environment allowing you to see the number of student absences that day and then breaking it down into year groups. They can then see all the school tracking sheets stored in SharePoint using Excel Web Accessing, Internet Explorer or any other browsers to see how classes are doing.

Conclusion

If you take anything away from this blog post I hope it is for you to think about your data in your school and how it used. Evaluate all the different bits of information around the school from display boards, to staff briefings and learning assets and how each member of staff and student may use this information. What is its search ability? Is exemplar work up on the wall useful for students doing homework at home or is there a process that can make signing off purchase order quicker and easily managed using a workflow in SharePoint? What other technologies can you use to improve communication and handling of data such as Microsoft Exchange, Live@edu and Lync?

Magnifying Glass – Image found here

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