SharePoint vNext to include Education Component

Note: This is all based on preliminary documentation and could all change and so the following is pretty much just speculative. The information below is all from publically released sources. It may well be dropped before final release.

Summary

Earlier this week, preliminary documentation was released for the next version of SharePoint. One of the really exciting features from our point of view is a new educational component. Buried away in the mass of documentation is a document about the Client Side Object Model access to the educational features.

This functionality seems to have some concepts similar to SharePoint Learning Kit (SLK), but then expands it and obviously it’s built into to SharePoint as a first class component. Whether this is a core part of SharePoint at one of it’s license levels, or an additional product with or without additional licensing costs is unknown at the moment.

As the document I’m working from is about the Client Side Object Model access to the educational features so it’s all a bit of my guess how it all works. It may well all change of course, or even be dropped.

Core Concepts

Reading between the lines it looks like everything is stored in standard SharePoint lists and sites, rather than a separate database like SLK. There seem to be 2 core concepts:

  1. Academic Document: "An education entity that represents any document stored in a SharePoint library for a course. An academic document includes, but is not limited to, lessons, assignments, submissions, events, and grades."
  2. Education Community: "Represents an academic collaboration site (2) for a course. An education community includes, but is not limited to, courses and study groups, and also includes a collection of education entities."

An education entity is anything to do with the education functionality.

My reading of this is that the teacher and learner roles are going to be controlled by access to SharePoint sites, whether this is custom permission roles as in SLK, or some other mechanism linked to the site is unclear.

Then all the artefacts associated with learning are going to be items in lists and/or document libraries. This makes a lot of sense as it makes transitioning to the cloud and Office 365 vNext, much easier. One of the things which stops SLK working in Office 365 is the necessity for an additional database, and one of the ways I could see round that was to rework it to run off lists rather that a DB, which is obviously a huge amount of work.

Sites

So, just like SLK, it looks like the groupings are based around sites in SharePoint, where these are defined as Education Community and a sub-type of that called Course.

A Course looks like the type of site you would normally use as it has the associated entities you would expect to teach with such as assignments, lessons, grades, events, documents and more.

The base community site really just has memberships so is probably just used as a building block in the object model to build other types of communities off. Although study groups are mentioned above, that’s the only mention of it I could find. Maybe you would use a base site for storing content for self directed learning.

Finally, an education community can have a status of Planning, Active, InActive or Archived. It looks like the students only get permissions when the status changes to Active, and the site turns read only when changed to InActive.

Archived is an interesting concept for classes/courses from previous years, but there’s no more mention of it.

Notes on Academic Documents

Assignment

This is a similar concept to an assignment in SLK.

  • You can assign to all members of a community or a subset of them.
  • It has a start and a due date. No clue as to whether the assignment is available after the due date or not.
  • It has a format which is one of None, Document, Quiz and NonDigital. Does this mean that there will be a quiz creation tool built in? My guess is that it does and that packaged content such as SCORM packages will be a document type.
  • The assignment result can be numeric or a grade which are separate objects.
  • There is a property to show if they need submitting or not, which would handle assignments such as read chapter 3 of your book.
  • There is a sequence property which specifies the order in which it is used for content delivery. Presumably this allows you to chain assignments together to create a course delivery structure.
  • Status. An assignment has various statuses it goes through: Unassigned, Assigned, Grading Started, Grading Published. This seems very similar to how SLK handles it, just more explicit. Category.
  • An assignment can have a category. These look to be specific to a community (site) and have a weighting, which must be used in giving an overall grade for the course.
  • CourseMaterials. A collection of documents associated with the assignment. Looks like you can have multiple supporting documents.
  • Events. A collection of associated events.
  • Lesson. The associated lesson for the assignment.
  • AssignedAssignments. The assignations to students.

AssignedAssignment

This represents an assignment as assigned to an individual. The concept and most of the properties are similar to SLK. Differences are:

  • Documents. These are of type PersonalMaterials which are presumably documents personal to the student and no one else can access, except potentially the teadher. Must be a similar concept to the SLK drop box.
  • Submissions. What the student has actually submitted. There’s not much information on what this actually is, but when submitted it becomes read only to both students and teachers.
  • Status. One of Unsubmitted, Submitted or Graded.

Lesson

This looks fairly self explanatory. It basically has a name, description and sequence. It can have assignments, documents, events, child lessons and a parent lesson.

I imagine that it will be based around a core document, although what format that is and how it displays is anybody’s guess.

Grade

Assignments can either be marked as a numerical value or be assigned a grade.This have a name and a score – the score presumably for giving a score across the course. A grade is associated with a course (site). I don’t know if they can be shared across courses.

Event

Represents a scheduled event. I’m not entirely clear what role this plays.

That was a short summary of the core types in the education component. There are many more, but hopefully it’s enough to give us an insight a feel for how the component is going to work.

Package Formats

The object model has methods for importing Common Cartridge packages. The precise text is "Application-layer request to initiate import of a common cartridge or content packaging file". So potentially other formats can be used as well.

The import looks like it will import it into a specific Course (site) and create lessons based on the content, which makes sense to me as that’s basically what Common Cartridge is designed to model.

There is no mention of SCORM in the entire document. However, the object model doesn’t seem to cover actually performing the assignment as such, so any package player would seem to be out of scope of the Client Object Model. I would be highly surprised if SCORM packages were not supported given that it’s the most common assignment format (of packaged formats of course) and the entire US military electronic training runs on them.

Overview

This looks like a fantastic addition to SharePoint for educators. First class support for a learning environment built in to SharePoint with features above and beyond what SLK delivers.

I’m really looking forward to getting my hands on it when it’s released to Beta.

However, where does this leave SLK?

Well that all depends on the licensing model. If it’s free in all versions, then SLK will be pointless for anyone on SharePoint vNext. If there’s a cost to it, even if it’s just because it’s in a higher edition to that which you have licensed, then SLK may well continue to be a useful tool, especially if you need to play SCORM packages.

Of course, as the concepts seem to be very similar, there’s a great argument for using SLK now to get used to this type of functionality. After all it’s not going to be available until late 2012 at best, probably more like 2013.

Richard

I am Managing Director of SalamanderSoft Limited a company devoted to improving IT in education. I am also the project co-ordinator for the open source projects SharePoint Learning Kit and Microsoft Learning Gateway.

2 thoughts on “SharePoint vNext to include Education Component

  1. Hi Richard,

    Do you have any classroom or instructor led training for using and administering SLK 1.5.2

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