19 April 2017

Scalable, Cost-Effective SharePoint School Solution

SharePoint iconA huge amount of information flows through a school, not only from teachers to students and vice versa but in all directions between students, administrators and other staff. Controlling and managing all this information is a daunting task, but in SharePoint it can be handled well.

During a recent series of remote control workshop sessions with the SharePoint admin at a chain of US sports schools, I have made some good progress. Below is a summary of what we have achieved within a rather low budget.

Base of site collections
For permission reasons we decided to divide the information into site collections, so we set up one collection for each school location and also some collections that were shared among all schools. In each site collection, we created SharePoint groups for students at the location, for staff and for Enterprise admins who should see everything.

We also created various document libraries with default Enterprise Keywords sets. Thus, users will be able to tag their information simply by uploading it to the proper document library.

Two site collections, with different editors, are intended for reading by everyone. The Enterprise collection has announcements from the company management, policy documents and a graphical site map. The main content of the Development collection is a video list and an Exercise Plans library, and I will share some details about both of them.

SharePoint iconTeachers and trainers in these schools often create videos to illustrate a drill, move or technique, and there are literally thousands of them. Managers had tried to organize the videos into folders, but the shortcoming of folders soon became obvious to everyone involved. The same video could be used to illustrate several different techniques, and having the same video in many folders is wrong in lots of ways.

Therefore, instead of using folders, we built a series of managed metadata fields. The metadata will make it easy to find exactly the right video for a specific subject. To make it easier to tag each video, the edit and display form of the list was customized to embed the video.

Office 365 has a Video app that would have been useful, but it demands a more expensive SharePoint license than the one this organization is subscribing to. Therefore it was decided that the actual video files should be placed on a 3rd party video host.

PowerPoint library
The Exercise Plans library contains PowerPoint files, and a special template is used for new files. This template allows for several special layouts. One of them shows an embedded video and its description. Another layout has a background picture of the sports arena, where the trainer can draw movements and patterns.

Each location site collection has been given a contact list, where users can drag and drop their contacts using Outlook. We have also put some work into a mobile friendly contact search page in the Enterprise site collection. It allows users to search for contacts and click-to-call the phone numbers of the found contact. The search results will be permission trimmed, so that each person only can see the contacts shared with him/her.

The school chain had a limited budget but huge needs, so it was a real challenge  to find the right solution. We went through several iterations and ideas and ended up with a cost effective, scalable and very useful solution. I am looking forward to working more with this school to enhance it further.

By Peter Kalmström
CEO and Systems Designer Business Solutions