Cloud Computing in Higher Education: Launch of IU SharePoint

IU SharePoint is a web application platform originally developed by Microsoft in 2001. During the summer of 2011, University Information Technology Services (UITS) at Indiana University integrated SharePoint into the Indiana University environment. SharePoint provides a set of key features for team collaboration and content management. IU faculty, staff and graduate students are provided with 20 GB space to store files in MySites (think about it as the current o-drive). While some features require some time to learn, many aspects that IU SharePoint offers seems to be promising. Here are the some of the main functions:

1. Collaboration and Project Management

When you are involved in a team project, you might have realized that even group e-mails are a cumbersome method of sharing information. At present, rapid advancement of information technology such as mobile devices allows for collaboration anywhere at any time. SharePoint allows users within organizations to collaborate and share work within a commonly accessed Web-site framework. Graduate student, faculty, and staff can create personal sites as private work places where a number of individuals come together to engage in a group work. Group members are not only able to share their documents and files but also have an active collaboration through group discussion forums. For example, instructors, who supervise a course with sections taught by graduate assistants, could repeatedly use the same resources stored on MySite. Therefore, archiving resources on MySite enables to save a large amount of time in communicating with graduate assistant and locating course-related files from a hard drive. In addition, built-in features such as calendar and announcement tools are also useful tools to update and remind necessary information in a timely manner. In the case of Twynham School, a comprehensive school in   England, students have developed increasing sophistication in how they interact and share information via forum collaboration. Although teachers initiate the discussions, the vast majority of discussions are taking place between students and this form of collaboration is growing through SharePoint forums. (For more information http://sharepointineducation.com/student-collaboration-in-sharepoint-forums)

2. Social Networking and Individual Space for Education

One of the biggest aspects in today’s computing environment is the influence of social networking, and its influences for educational uses. With that said, IU SharePoint is also current with the cyber social movement and networking. SharePoint MySites is quite straightforward and self-explanatory.

In Overview, a quick snapshot of one’s social contents is shown along with basic profile data, one’s picture and presence information linking back to Microsoft Lync (formerly MS Office Communicator).

  • Under the Organization, a bigger organization chart is displayed with more detailed information than in the Overview. It also shows an organizational hierarchy including your peers in parallel and your superiors above you. Colleagues and tagged notes are shown in the other categories as well as a distribution lists for to which one belongs.
  • Creating Blogs is also beneficial to keep others informed. SharePoint provides rich blogging functionality for both internal and external purposes. This blogging functionality provides all the features you’d expect, with blog creation and management, blog posting, support for multiple authors, and more.  Instructors could benefit from blogging activity, for example, one might create a course-specific blog and encourage students to use it for reflective journaling. By articulating students’ thoughts and opinions without strong restrictions, students could reflect on what they learned during a class activity or project which would lead to sharing ideas based on one’s own practice.
  • Furthermore, SharePoint provides users traditional wikis along with wiki-specific web parts for customizing the experience. Wiki allows collaborating with a specific group of peers and, therefore, is more private than blogs.

In conclusion, SharePoint provides users with plenty of options for social networking, web-portal function as it collects information from diverse sources on a central page, and content management tool for collaboration. Even though some features might not be intuitive for those new to SharePoint, anyone who is familiar with the current services such as Oncourse (IU’s Course Management System), Facebook, or Microsoft Outlook should feel comfortable with using these tools. As we are moving towards the Cloud Computing Age, we see some great potential in SharePoint for educational use. (For more information about IU SharePoint: https://www.sharepoint.iu.edu IU authentication required)

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