How to Organise Class Sites for SharePoint Learning Kit – Hierarchy of the Class Sites

slkIcon The posts in this series on how to organise class sites for SharePoint Learning Kit are:

  1. The Basics
  2. Using a Single Site, Don’t do it
  3. Use a Site Per Class or Teaching Group
  4. Hierarchy of the Class Sites (this post)

In the previous post I discussed the purposes of the class sites. So, once you have decided to create a site per class and have decided on their purpose, the question is how do you arrange them?

I’ve seen and implemented 2 main ways of setting up the hierarchy, both of which can have different ways of setting up.

1.  All Class sites created under a single Classes site

In this case every class site has the same parent site. This is how the original Microsoft Learning Gateway (MLG) release for SharePoint 2007 worked. The advantages of this are:

  1. It’s easier to script as the parent site is always the same.
  2. Easy access via a My Sites web part so the users (students or teachers) can navigate to their classes. This is either the MLG My Sites web part or our own free SalamanderSoft one.
  3. Having all class sites in a single place makes archiving them easier.
    I tend to view this set up as more pupil centric, as they can access all their classes for all subjects in one place and it’s my personal preference.

When using this scenario, you must ensure that the class sites aren’t in the global navigation. Not only will 100s of sites slow down the navigation, you’ll also end up with users not having all their classes visible in the navigation which is confusing. The reason for this is that the navigation bar only loads the first 50 sub-sites by default. At first site this seems like it would be plenty, however due to caching that’s before the security trimming is enabled, so the user will only see the class site they can access in the first 50 – for most users this is likely to be close to zero. You can of course set this limit to be greater, but that will cause performance problems as it’s evaluated on every page.

Archiving in this set up is very easy. You can either move all the class sites over to an archive area at year end or you can set up the class sites based on teaching period e.g. academic year. In this case, you could, for example have a hierarchy along the lines:hierarchyAcademic

Then any links to the parent class site, such as when setting up the My Sites web part, would be to the academic year parent, rather than the root classes site. Archiving would purely consist of changing these links to the new academic year site.

2.  Create Under a Subject Hierarchy

In this case the class sites are built under your department site hierarchy. The 2 main hierarchies I’ve seen here are:

hierarchyYear

and

hierarchyKeyStage

You can also combine the two and have Key Stage then Year levels, but that’s probably overkill.

Really the choice between these is a personal one, however the one split by years is probably quicker to navigate down to a specific class, which the Key Stage one can give you an easier breadth of sharing as you can share at the Key Stage level rather than the Year level.

This structure makes it quite easy to navigate to classes from within the department, but more difficult to get a list of your class sites without some custom coding or a third party solution.

I tend to think of this layout as teacher centric. They will spend much of their time in their department site and it’s easy to get to their class sites, however the students, who generally take multiple subjects, have to traverse each department site to get to their class site.

Combination

You can of course easily combine the two variants, have the subject hierarchy down to the year or key stage level as a library site, then have all the class sites in a central location, with links off from the department hierarchy. Of course this is really just the first option under a single classes site, with an expanded set of library sites.

Administration of the Class Sites

In order to set up the class sites, you will need a tool to automatically create and maintain them. For a whole school set up, it’s not possible to do it manually. Whichever way you create the sites, ensure that the teachers user web list – the list of their classes – is automatically populated as well. If you don’t populate this, you will loss a lot of the usability as the teachers will have to manually add their classes.

Possible tools to automate the creation of the class sites are:

  1. Provision from Excel which is included in the SLK source code and is hence free.
  2. Your own custom PowerShell scripts. Free except for your time to write and maintain.
  3. Salamander SharePoint which is our third party solution to provisioning SharePoint and which we consider to be as much of a service as a product. This is capable of setting up and maintaining all of the hierarchies discussed and any other you can think of.

Conclusion

Even when using a site per class, you still have several different options about how to organise the sites. There is no one correct way, what works for you will depend on how you want to use the sites in addition to using them for SLK. Hopefully this series of posts will help you to decide on how to do that.

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How to Organise Class Sites for SharePoint Learning Kit – Use a site per Class or Teaching Group

slkIcon The posts in this series on how to organise class sites for SharePoint Learning Kit are:

  1. The Basics
  2. Using a Single Site, Don’t do it
  3. Use a Site Per Class or Teaching Group (this post)
  4. Hierarchy of the Class Sites

In the previous post in this series on organising class sites, I examined using a single site to assign work to and why it was a bad idea. In this post, I’m going to explain why I think you should create a site per class or teaching group.

Usability

The reason to create a site per class is all about usability. The most usable way for a teacher to assign a piece of work is, once they have chosen the content to assign, to be immediately displayed their own personal list of classes, they can then select the class they want to assign to straight away, which will then show the members of that class. This makes it a 3 click process to drill down to the list of students they want to assign to – and one of those clicks is to display the drop down list.

Click one : Display the drop down listclickOne

Click two : E-Learning Actions/Assign WorkclickTwo

Click three : Choose your class

YclickThree

You will then be displayed all the students on that site you can assign to

userlist

Purpose of the Class Sites

Before we consider how to organise the class site, we first need to consider how you are going to use them, as this will drive how to organise them. There are 3 main possible uses of the class sites:

1.  To enable the effective use of SLK

If you are reading this series of posts, the you are going to be using them to enable SLK. In fact are unlikely to be creating them otherwise, so this is almost always a purpose of them. The other two are completely optional.

There are also many schools and sites using class sites purely for enabling SLK and the users never go to the site otherwise. They are hidden away out of the navigation so no-one come across them and in this case are usually created using a blank template so there’s nothing to do there anyway.

2.  As a place for students and teachers to collaborate and discuss

To use as a collaboration site, you need some collaboration features on the site. I like to use a template with a document library, announcement list, calendar, links list, wiki pages and blog sub-site. I then give students Contribute rights and teachers Design rights. classSite

Usually you’ll find the students will start using the sites straight away, even if the teachers aren’t using them. In one school I’m working very closely with, we created all the class collaboration sites and set up their timetable web part from the Salamander Online Reporting web parts to link to the class sites, then left it a couple of days before announcing the class sites. We found that the students had found the class sites and had starting collaborating in them without any training or even being told they existed.

If you are using the site for collaboration, make sure that any content stored in them is just relevant to the current cohort. If you have something that’s relevant over several academic years or classes, it would be better off stored in a library site, probably a departmental one, where it can be shared, and then linking to it from the class collaboration site using a links list, content query web part or similar.

More generally, content you want to assign to the class sites should be stored in a departmental or personal library so can be re-used and/or shared with other teachers. One of the beauties of SLK is that the place where you store your content can and possibly should be completely separate from the sites you assign to. In fact the content assigned to your students, doesn’t even have to be accessible to them in the course of normal browsing through SharePoint. SLK will manage viewing the work when appropriate. However, I tend to be of the view that unless it’s a test which you don’t want the students to see prior to taking it, then students should have access to your content, on the grounds that if they are keen enough to look for material on upcoming subjects, you want to encourage their learning. This of course is a personal matter and will depend on your teaching style.

When class sites are used as a collaboration site, they will very much be a temporal site for the current course, so you also need to consider what you are going to do with the sites at the end of the current course.

3.  As a place for the teacher to store content for the course/class

Although a valid option, I would recommend against storing general content in the class sites. They should be viewed as temporal sites for the course you are in, whether it is an academic year, term or semester. As discussed above, content should be stored in dedicated content repositories which can be used across courses and shared with other teachers. This will also make content easier to find and less prone to duplication.

Having said that if you have content that is class and period specific feel free to store it in the class sites. However, you’ll probably find that you’ll end up copying it to next period’s site when you realise that there is re-use in it.

Combinations of purposes

If you are using the sites for collaboration or content then you are probably using them for enabling SLK as well, and these combinations obviously work very well together.

Using the sites for collaboration and content does not mix together well though. The problem with this combination is that the collaboration areas of the site contain information and data valid for the current course, while the content areas are of more permanent duration. This then makes preparing the sites for the next course much more complex as you’ll need to clean out the temporal information while retaining the permanent content. Ideally you want to archive the temporal content away, which is easy in it’s own site as you can just move it around to an archive area, but is much harder if it’s mixed in and you’ll probably end up just deleting the temporal content.

If you want to use the sites for a combination of content and collaboration, you are better off creating 2 sites for each class, one for the content and a sub-site for the collaboration. This then really become a library site and a class site, where the library sites are more finely grained than departmental sites. In this case you’d probably assign to the collaboration class site as due to the temporal nature of it, it’s easier to change the permissions for the teachers and students.

Conclusion

Even though creating a site per class is by far and away the best way of using SLK, the additional considerations of how you are going to use the sites in addition to assigning work will affect what the sites look like, how they are built and how they are organised into a hierarchy. In the next post I will discuss different ways of setting up the hierarchy.

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How to Organise Class Sites for SharePoint Learning Kit – Using a Single Site, Don’t do it

slkIcon The posts in this series on how to organise class sites for SharePoint Learning Kit are:

  1. The Basics
  2. Using a Single Site, Don’t do it (this post)
  3. Use a Site Per Class or Teaching Group
  4. Hierarchy of the Class Sites

In the previous post in this series on organising class sites, I examined the process of assigning a piece of work and the basics of how SLK is provisioned. In this post, I’m going to discuss using a single site for all teachers to assign to, and why it’s a bad idea.

Reasons for using a single site

The main reason for using a single site would be that’s it’s easy to set up. You just need to fit one site into your hierarchy, and only need to set the SLK permissions on that one site. Nice and easy to get started, and actually not a bad idea when getting started and trialling SLK.

Setting up a single site

For a single site to work, every teacher and student will need instructor and learner permissions respectively. However, the students will need grouping otherwise it will be impossible in any practical sense for the teachers to find all their students to assign to.

So, because you can assign to Active Directory groups, you could create AD groups for every class and then give every one of those AD groups SLK Learner permissions on the site. I’m talking about AD groups instead of SharePoint groups as people have more experience creating AD groups than SharePoint groups.

This will theoretically work in that a teacher can assign to that site, pick out the class that they want to assign to and assign the work. Although there is still administrative work creating the AD groups and assigning them permissions on a single site, it is certainly a lot less than creating many sites.

Problems with a single site

There are 2 huge problems with this set up:

Usability is poor. Although the students are grouped into classes, the teacher has to search for their class amongst all the classes in the school, which can easily be more than 1000.

 singlesitelearners

It is slow. In it’s current format SLK doesn’t handle 1000s of user and groups particularly well (something I hope to fix in a later release).

Real World Example

I have actually seen this deployed in a live site which was created by a large Microsoft Gold Partner. It was obvious that they understood how to bulk create AD groups, but didn’t know much more about SLK above installing it and so took the single site approach. When assigning work it literally took several minutes for SharePoint to load the assignment properties page. Unsurprisingly no-one was using it!

When can you use a single site

When you are a small organisation with 10s rather than 100s or thousands of users. In this case the problems are minimised and the administrative benefits may outweigh the disadvantages. However, I would say even in a small organisation, use a single site only if using SLK is not a day to day activity. If using SLK a lot, you want to emphasise usability over administration.

When you only have 1 or a very small number of groups to assign to. If you only have 1 or 2 groups to assign to, then creating a site per groups isn’t going to help usability massively. However, if your groups are large i.e. 1000s of members, you would be better off splitting the groups and having multiple sites due to performance reasons.

Conclusion

Generally using a single site for assignment is a bad idea due to usability and performance issues. In my next post I will discuss using a site per class.

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How to Organise Class Sites for SharePoint Learning Kit – The Basics

slkIcon In this series of posts I’m going to describe my opinion on the best ways to organise your class sites for SharePoint Learning Kit (SLK). This will generally be from a secondary school perspective, but most of the ideas can be applied to primaries and other organisations as well. Originally it was going to be one post, but it rapidly became obvious that it was going to get pretty big, so I’ve split it into several posts.

I last wrote about this topic 3 years ago before I had a blog so it’s about time for an update. You can find my original articles at How to organise class sites in Microsoft Learning Gateway and How to Handle Rollover with SharePoint Learning Kit

The posts are:

  1. The Basics (this post)
  2. Using a Single Site, Don’t do it
  3. Use a Site Per Class or Teaching Group
  4. Hierarchy of the Class Sites

School Background

A typical secondary school will have between 500 and 2000 students and a similar number of teaching groups/classes. So you definitely need a plan about how to organise your sites for SLK, unless of course you only have a couple of users trialling it. You will need to consider how you are creating the sites, how you will maintain them, what happens at year end and how they fit within your overall hierarchy.

An additional consideration over any technical ones, is the fact that it needs to be as easy for your teachers to use as possible. The more work they have to do setting up, the less likely it will be used effectively. Plus if you are rolling it out across the school, it’s something that they will be using every day, so needs to be as frictionless as possible.

The Assignment Process

It is important to understand the assignment process before deciding on the structure. As this is how the teachers are going to interact with SLK, it’s about making this as simple as possible.

To start the process of assigning a piece of work the teacher has 2 options:

  1. Navigate to the document library containing the electronic document to assign. This is either a SCORM package, Class Server package or any other electronic document. Then use the E-Learning Actions item on the drop down menu. Note this can be localised to a more descriptive string, in the screen shot below I’ve changed it to Assign Work. eLearningAction
  2. Use the Quick Assignment web part to create an assignment which is not based on a document, just a title and description. quickAssignment

Once the teacher has decided what to assign, they are presented with the actions page which displays list of sites to assign to – the user web list. This contains all the sites they have assigned to before and an option to add sites to the list.  userWebList

The teacher selects a site from the list, adding it to the list if necessary, and then progresses to the assignment properties page, where they choose metadata about the assignment and who they are going to assign the work to. userlist

The list of instructors/teachers and learners/students is governed by the SharePoint permissions on the site being assigned to. When you configure SLK, you choose 2 permission levels which will indicate if a user is a teacher and/or a student. By default these are called ‘SLK Instructor’ and ‘SLK Learner’, but during configuration you can name these to whatever you want. At this point it’s obvious that you need to choose the site which contains the students you want to assign to. userlist

You can use SharePoint and Active Directory groups to give the permissions to as well as individual users. SLK will then enumerate all the members with a couple of exceptions – Authenticated Users and Domain Users cannot be used.

Conclusion

The structure of your class sites and permissions for SLK needs planning in advance, both for administrative and ease of use reasons. In my next post I will discuss using a single site to assign work to.

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Salamander My Sites Now Support Filtering By Site Url

I’ve added a property to Salamander My Sites so that you can now filter the site list by a regular expression on the site url.

MySitesRegEx

When the Site Name RegEx is set it checks the sites’ urls and only shows links to those that match the regular expression. In the case pictured only those sites with urls such as

  • http://moss/classes/Art1A
  • http://moss/classes/Art-b2
  • etc

This was prompted by a request from a school who wanted to link to a subjects class sites from their departmental site.

They wanted to keep all the class sites under the classes sub-site, as per the default Microsoft Learning Gateway set up as that’s the easiest way for students to get to them.

Salamander My Sites remains a free web part.

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