As part of my research into the SharePoint Protocol documentation, I’ve been particularly keen on learning about a major new feature of SharePoint 2013, namely SharePoint Education.
In my ongoing USP Journal subscription series called SharePoint 2013 Beta ($14.95 for the entire series) I posted some initial findings on the SharePoint Education component for the second issue.
Over the course of a few blog articles, I’ll repost some of the findings presented in that issue, and even provide some additional insights. I’ve rewritten it slightly but the bulk of the content remains the same.
This article provides a deeper detail into some of the SharePoint Education features mentioned in the first article. Look towards the bottom of this article for further articles as they become available.
SharePoint Education introduces a new grouping mechanism called a community. Communities are parents of courses, and hold memberships, status, and site information for the course.
The parent relationship means that courses are a sub-type of communities. This is important to understand for two reasons, one firm and one speculation.
The firm reason is that everything that applies to communities, including its state, memberships, and so on, also applies to courses. The second and speculative reason is that communities may be meant to be extensible (they are extensible, but are the meant to be used as extensible entities?) and can thus form the basis for custom community development.
Communities are either in a planning, active, or inactive state. Provided the ‘communities are classes’ assumption holds, this would mean that teachers and faculty can set up classes prior to class start and then activate them at the appropriate time.
When transitioning from ‘planning’ to ‘active’, members are granted access, and when the community transitions from ‘active’ to ‘inactive’, the community (or course) becomes read-only.
Users are added to the community through memberships, and have roles as members, although it’s not said in the documentation whether these roles are normal SharePoint roles (like contribute, read, and design) or whether roles are unique for communities (like student, teacher, and so on).
Courses can also be tagged, and the client object model states that these tags should have a text string format. This may be meant as a method of categorization of different communities and courses, but may also be a method for allowing users to add social tagging for courses they like.
Finally, a community has a SiteURL property that points to where the community resides. For a course (see below), this could be the course home page, and for a study group, it could be a page containing libraries of material, discussion groups, and so on.
Courses are the main method of delivering learning material.
In addition to the above description of communities, courses contain additional properties. Courses contain a course code, name, description, assignments (including assigning assignments to users), documents and academic documents, events and schedules, grades, lessons, course materials, and submissions, plus a few others.
Lessons are exactly what the name implies, a unit of learning.
Lessons are organized in a hierarchy, so each lesson can have child lessons. Lessons also have sequences to control delivery of information. Lessons contain assignments, documents, and events, and are connected to a community (or course).
Assignments are also exactly what the name implies; tasks for students to perform to demonstrate or practice their understanding of a topic or lesson. Assignments are assigned either to a list of users or to all users in a course. The format of an assignment is either document or quiz.
Note I’ll talk more about the quiz option in a later issue; I’m rapidly running out of time and space…
Assignments can be set up in a specific sequence to arrange the delivery of multiple assignments in a specific order. In addition, you can specify a start date and time to indicate from when an assignment is available to student. Of course, you can also set a deadline, at which point the assignment is due for submission.
The life of an assignment goes through several states. Initially, an assignment is Unassigned before moving into the Assigned state. When the assignment becomes assigned, all those who are targeted for the assignment gets the assignment added to their list of tasks.
When the assignment moves to the next stage from Assigned, it can take three paths, either to GradingStarted, to GradesPublished, or back to Unassigned. If moving to the GradesPublished state, any assignment grades are published.
Of course, there’s nothing to point in assigning anything to students if there are no submissions. SharePoint Education has a dedicated object for this purpose.
Submissions are what users send as a response to an assignment. When students begin a submission, SharePoint will automatically create a folder to hold the submission.
The student can work on the submission in SharePoint before actually submitting the documents for the assignment.
Upon submitting, the submission automatically becomes read-only for both students and teachers, and the date of submission is set. In addition, the assignment for the student gets a status of ‘submitted’.
Finally, when the teacher has graded and published the grade, the status of the assignment for the student becomes ‘Graded’. Optionally, the teacher may provide a feedback document to the student.
Speaking of grading, SharePoint Education supports grading on multiple levels and in multiple formats.
Grades can be assigned both to individual assignments and to the entire course. You can set grades in numbers or as a text (A, B, F, and so on, possibly also arbitrary grades like ‘passed’ or ‘failed’ too), but the documentation does not state whether there is any correlation between the two, for example by saying that any score over 93 is an A, any score between 85 and 92 is a B, and so on.
Further, you can aggregate data about a user across multiple courses and assignments to produce reports such as grade reports, completed courses, and so on.
The Event in SharePoint Education remains somewhat elusive. It’s not that it’s difficult to deduce what an event is; it’s just that it is not clear exactly how SharePoint Education will use these events.
The Event object, according to the protocol documentation, represents a scheduled event, a logical description, and it has a start date, an end date, a category, and a location, a name, and a description, to name a few properties that are also natural.
In addition, and to indicate that events have very generic usages, an event may also contain assignments, documents, and lessons, and can be tied to a community. In other words, it seems that an event in SharePoint Education may be as generic as ‘something that happens’.
At this point, however, I‘m not sure further speculation improves the clarity, but I’ll keep digging to find additional information.
Disclaimer: Everything about SharePoint 2013 is speculation at this point. Don’t make important decisions based on preliminary speculation. If you do, you may find yourself in trouble, such as, but not limited to, your open-faced sandwich always falling face down.
If you still want to get the insights into what’s likely coming in SharePoint 2013, there’s no better way than subscribing to the SharePoint 2013 Beta series for $14.95.
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