Guest post from Gerald Haigh on behalf of SharePointEduTech.

A high-achieving school uses a SharePoint gateway to create a learning hub for the school. It underpins a developing e-learning strategy which is moving towards each student having a personal device – ‘one-to-one’.

Dr Challoner’s High School is a large (1061 pupils) selective secondary school for girls. It has academy status, and at the last Ofsted inspection (May 2012) was judged ‘Outstanding’ in all categories.

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During 2011 the Senior Leadership Team (SLT) undertook a review of the school’s ICT policy. The ultimate aim was to move towards ‘one-to-one’ learning, whereby each student would have access to a mobile device – tablet or laptop. A pilot was run with one group of students in 2012/13, and the 2013 Ye30ar Seven intake will be provided with devices.

Caroline Russell, Assistant Head with responsibility for e-learning says,

‘We’ve chosen a lightweight Toshiba laptop. We didn’t want tablets as yet, because we have specialist software, we’re a Microsoft school, and feedback from the girls indicates that they like to have a keyboard. But for the future the device is of secondary importance, which is why we don’t want to call it a laptop scheme. It’s one-to-one learning.’

Caroline Russell was aware that a basic requirement, ahead of a ‘one-to-one’ policy, was the ability of students and staff to work seamlessly between home and school.

‘We had to have a school central hub. We had a VLE but we wanted something less cumbersome and the ability to provide us with a storage repository. The VLE is good for learning activities, however. At a conference I saw a presentation by SharePointEduTech of an existing SharePoint-based school gateway that was clearly the kind of thing we wanted.’

The SLT agreed, and SharePointEduTech was engaged to develop the school gateway during the winter of 2011/12.

Currently, the basic elements of the gateway are running and well used.

These include –

  • Staff areas including Elearning zone for sharing ideas
  • IT support
  • Calendar
  • ‘MyFiles’
  • Resource booking
  • CPD booking
  • Student area, divided by year group
  • Subject areas
  • Revision area

Importantly, any gateway of this kind is always work in progress, especially in the early days, so flexibility and continuing support is essential. As Caroline Russell says,

‘It evolves as you do it. For example when we’d used the calendar for a year we discovered the need for some tweaks. We’re looking again at the CPD booking system, and we’ve found too that the revision area isn’t much used because teachers put revision materials within the subject sites.’

At the same time as these tweaks changes to existing elements are being made, Caroline is looking to additional functions for the Gateway. One that has proved popular in other schools is GCSE Options, and Caroline, with the in-house IT team and SharePointEduTech, is currently working on this. Use of video and student voice will enable students and parents to make option choices on the basis of much more information than is usually available.

There are plans, too, for a mentoring site, the details of which are still under discussion with staff. Using the Gateway for this will provide a continuing record. The school also has student-to-student mentoring, in which the Gateway might have a role.

Also on the list of future developments is the possibility of using Microsoft OneNote within ‘one-to-one’ learning, for e-portfolios – ‘expanded CVs’ for Sixth formers for example, or even ‘paperless exercise books’.

The Gateway in action

Staff were receptive to the idea of the gateway. In a high-achieving school, it’s imperative that students are motivated to work seamlessly between home and school, and with Caroline Russell’s enthusiastic advocacy, it was apparent that the Gateway was going to be the best way forward. Asked how she explained the concept to the staff, Caroline produced a now somewhat battered collection of rectangular cardboard boxes of varying sizes, all fitting neatly together in a larger box.

‘The concept is quite difficult to explain,’ she says, ‘So I made this to help with the idea.’

As a visual aid it will undoubtedly help the many people who find any SharePoint installation quite difficult to grasp or visualise.

It’s to be expected that among the keenest users and most positive advocates of the Dr Challoner’s Gateway are the students. They have been very quick to grasp the importance and the possibilities of being able to log in from home. Lucy, in Year Nine, for example, spoke of being able to look, at home, at PowerPoint presentations used by teachers during lessons and download revision sheets also created by teachers.

‘It’s easy to use, and there are lots of sections not just the basic ones.’

Lucy was keen to be able also to upload new material from home, and during our conversation learned from Caroline Russell how to do it.

Students pointed out that before the Gateway was available they would routinely email lesson materials, including homework assignments, as attachments, from school to their home email addresses. They described the process of writing emails, attaching the right documents and, at times, dealing with an email system that was overloaded.

‘It could easily take up five or ten minutes at the end a lesson to do that,’ says Amy, also in Year Nine. Which means, of course, that a student might lose the equivalent of at least a whole lesson of teaching time in a week.

Another student, Eilidh, also in Year Nine, agreed that there were problems when the email system was heavily used.

‘But I don’t think the Gateway has ever been down.’

All the students were impressed with what several of them referred to as the ‘modern’ look and feel of their Gateway.

Experience shows that over time where there is home-school learning of this kind, parents become increasingly interested and involved in what their children are actually doing in class. There is a significant impact on home-school engagement and understanding which goes beyond the basic provision of performance and attendance data.

Conclusion

There are many lessons and messages from this implementation at Dr Challoner’s High School. Chief among them are:

  • The Gateway is not an isolated innovation. It plays a key role in a much wider ICT/e-learning strategy encompassing one-to-one devices, home-school learning and ready access to all regularly used software and online services. Beyond this, it is also part of an ‘Outstanding’ school’s drive to maintain and improve standards of teaching and learning.
  • The innovation is driven by enthusiastic leadership from SLT level. This is a consistent theme in the most successful implementations of this kind.
  • Once the vision was clear, support was engaged from a specialist SharePoint developer – in this case SharePointEduTech
  • The implementation is regarded as work in progress. It is constantly under review, and new elements are developed and added as necessary, always in line with the school’s teaching and learning plans.