SharePoint Connect 2014 and SharePoint Saturday UK

This month I’m going to be at a couple of conferences: SharePoint Connect 2014 and SharePoint Saturday UK. If anyone else is going I’d love to meet up and discuss SharePoint, SharePoint Learning Kit and anything else we do.

The SharePoint Connect conference is in Amsterdam on 18-20 November. Due to flights I’ll be here all week.

SharePoint Saturday is a community run conference as is on the 29 November at Hinckley Island Hotel near Leicester and is free so there’s no excuse for not going!

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SharePoint Conference 2012

spc2012

I’m currently at the SharePoint Conference 2012 in Las Vegas, which is just getting started. I’m really excited to learn more about the new features and how they can be used in education.

If anyone wants to meet up for a chat about SharePoint Learning Kit or anything else we do in education drop me an email or tweet me (@rpwillis) and we’ll arrange a meeting.

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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.

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Implement Cascading Drop Down For Forms in SharePoint 2010

What are Cascading Drop Downs and why do we want them?

Cascading drop downs are where you have linked drop down boxes where the contents of the second drop down depends on the selection of the first one. They are used to target selections and make choosing them much easier. The canonical example is choosing a city where in the first drop down you choose the county/state and the second drop down is then filtered to the list of cities actually in that county/state.

SharePoint Support

SharePoint 2007 didn’t natively support cascading drop downs in list forms. There were a couple of workarounds which either involve adding a solution onto the server or building a JavaScript version using the SharePoint web services.

However, in SharePoint 2010 Enterprise version, you can implement Cascading Drop Downs out of the box with no code. The 2 features which make this possible are:

  1. InfoPath list forms.
  2. Browser based support for the cascading drop downs in InfoPath 2010.
  3. Background

    In this example I’m going to implement a system for listing after school activities. The school is split over 3 sites and as part of creating the activity the teacher needs to choose the site the activity is on, which will then allow them to choose the room the activity is in. In addition to this, we’ll add some finishing touches so that the room value is cleared when the site changes and the room drop down shouldn’t be enabled until a site has been selected.

How to Implement Cascading Drop Downs

 

Before you begin make sure that the site collection feature "SharePoint Server Enterprise Site Collection features" is activated or you won’t have support for InfoPath forms.

enterpriseFeature

 

1. Create the Lists

 

Firstly you need to create 2 lists to store the sites and the room. So create a custom list called Site and add some values to it, in this case I chosen Centre, East and West. No additional columns are required.

sites

Next create a custom list called Room and add a lookup column to the Site list. This column should be required and link to the Title column in the site list.

createSiteColumn

Next add some rooms to the Room list.

Room

Now we need to create the actual after school activities list. This can contain whatever columns you require for its use, but also a site a room column which are lookups to the Site and Room lists. Here’s the list with a couple of entries in.

activities

Now when we Add a new item you can see that the room drop down contains all the possible values, no matter what the site selection is.

newActivity

2. Link the Room Drop Down to the Site Drop Down

 

Now we need to modify the form so the the room drop down depends on the site drop down. To enable this select the list tab in the ribbon and click Customize Form. For this you need InfoPath 2010 installed on your machine to edit the form. Once the form is published your users do not need InfoPath installed locally.

customizeForm

Once you click on Customize Form it will open up in InfoPath.

form

There’s now several steps to go through to enable the cascading drop downs. In a nutshell you create a new data source pulling from the room list, then add a filter on the Room drop down to only show items from the room list with the same site as that in the Site drop down.

Create the Data Source

First of all right click on the Room drop down and select Drop-Down List Properties to bring up the properties for the drop down.

InitialDropDownProperties

First we need to add a new data source so click on Add next to Data Source,AddDropDownProperties

and step through the wizard. You want to create a new connection to receive data i.e. the defaults, and select the source of the data to be SharePoint library of list.

ddwizard1 ddwizard2

Next you select the location of the site which as we opened from within SharePoint should be already correctly prefilled, and in the next step select the Room list.

ddwizard3 ddwizard4

In the next step you need to select the fields you want from the data source. You need to select the ID field as that is the actual value written to the activity room column, the Title column to display and the Site column for the data to filter on. You can sort on any column you want, but in this case only Title makes any sense. You can then choose to store the data in the form template for offline mode, but this generally isn’t required.

ddwizard5 ddwizard6

Finally you need to choose a name for the data connection. As long as it’s descriptive and unique it doesn’t matter what you choose. The default name is the name of the list with a 1 on the end. When you finish you’ll be taken back to the properties form where the name of the data source will have been changed to the new one you have just created.

ddwizard7

Filter the Values

Next we need to filter the values in the Room drop down based on the selected Site. To start this we click on the button next to the Entries value, then on the Select a Field or Group window click on Filter Data at the bottom.

filter1 filter2

To add a filter click the Add button and then select the Filter Conditions.

filter3

For the filter we are looking to create one which limits the data to only those rows which have the Site value equal to the selected Site i.e. the site from the main data in the form. To generate this the filter needs to be "Site" "is equal to" "Select a field or Group".

filter4

This will pop up another window to Select a Field or Group. You need to change the Fields drop down to Main and then select the data field Site. Finally click OK and the result will display Site in the third drop down in the Specify Filter Conditions window.

filter5 filter6

Click OK to go back to the Filter Data window, OK to go back to the Select a Field or Group window and then OK again to go back to the Drop Down Properties Window.

filter7

Finally in the drop down List Box Properties you need to change the Value to d:ID by selecting it via the button to the right. This is because internally the lookup value stored is actually the ID in the lookup table. If you leave it as d:Title you will get an error when you try to save the list item. Once this is done click OK.

ddFinal

 

Final Touches

At this point you can publish the form and you will have a working cascading drop down. When you select a site the room drop down will be populated with the appropriate rooms. However, there are a couple of problems with it. Firstly, the Room value is not cleared when changing the Site. As the room value will not be in the filter for the new site value it will get changed to the id value which will be confusing for your users. Secondly if the Site is not a required field the Room Drop Down is still enabled if there is no Site chosen.

Both of these can be resolved with rules.

Clear Room Value When Site Changes

To clear the room value when the site changes you need to add a rule to the site field. In InfoPath select the site field then, from the ribbon use Add Rule | This Field Changes | Set a field’s Value.

clear1

Then it’s simply a case of selecting Room for the Field and leaving the Value blank.

clear2

Publish the form and test – It’s as simple as that.

Disable Room Drop Down When No Site Selected

To disable the Room Drop Down again add a rule, but this time you need to add a conditional formatting rule. To add this select the Room field and then from the ribbon select Manage Rules. This will open the Rules side bar. From this side bar select New | Formatting. This will then add the formatting options to the side bar.

disable1 disable2

Choose a suitable name for the rule then click on the "None" under condition. This will open the Condition window which is very similar to the Filter Condition one before. This time we choose "Site" "is equal to" and "Use a Formula". The Insert Formula windows pops up and just enter "" for an empty string.

disable3 disable4

Once you click OK to save the condition, just select "Disable this control" in the side bar and we are done. Publish the form and test, this time the room drop down will be disabled when no site has been selected.

Conclusion

SharePoint 2010 Enterprise Edition allows us to easily create powerful InfoPath forms incorporating cascading drop downs without any code or installing any additional solutions onto the server.

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SharePoint Saturday UK 12 Nov 2011

Im-attending-UK11_thumb There are currently still places available for SharePoint Saturday in November.

SharePoint Saturday is a free community event devoted to SharePoint, and this year is being held in Nottingham. There’s more information at Home – SharePoint Saturday UK. It’s got a fantastic line up of speakers and well worth attending if you have any interest in SharePoint, whether an IT Pro, Dev or End User.

I’m attending so if anyone wants to talk SLK or SharePoint in education, I’d be happy to meet up.

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Hiding Unexpected Response from Server Error when using SharePoint 2010 Calendar Overlays

The Calendar Overlays in SharePoint 2010 is a fantastic feature which allows you to display multiple calendars in the same view. This allows you to logically partition your calendar events into separate calendars and view them all together without having to lump them all in one calendar. This makes maintaining the calendars far simpler, especially as each calendar can have it’s own permissions limiting read and write access to the events.

An example from a school might be:

Calendar Name Read Permissions Write Permissions
Whole School All Calendar Editors Group
Exams All Calendar Editors Group
Staff Staff Calendar Editors Group

Here’s a sceenshot of the calendar’s overlayed in month view. The Whole School events are in green, the Exams in yellow and the staff in blue.

calendarOverlay  This all works great out of the box. The problem comes when you don’t have permission to one of the calendars. So when a student views this they can see all the events from the Whole School and Exams calendar, but also get the error message "Unexpected response from server".

unexpectedResponse

This doesn’t look very good.

Luckily there’s an easy solution to this. You just need to add the following css to the page. The easiest way is through a content editor web part, either directly in it, or my preferred method is to link to a text file with it in so it can be reused.

<style type="text/css">
.ms-acal-error
{
display:none !important;
}
</style>

This will hide the text and error image from showing so they won’t know that anything is amiss, or that there is a calendar they don’t have access to unless they look at the page source.

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