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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