I have been pushing ahead with Office 365 in school for a few years focussing initially on email and OneDrive before moving on to Teams and OneNote. I didn’t give SharePoint online much of a look, until I started looking at alternatives to the often-pricey Learning Platforms or Virtual Learning Environments used by many schools.
I am not a fan of VLEs and haven’t been for many years due to the fact rather than being interactive and part of learning they often end up being little more than a repository of learning materials and resources. It isn’t the nature of the VLEs as a repository that bothers me but the significant cost, often related directly to student numbers, which they command. I recognise that many schools have them and need to continue to offer a nice and easy way for students to access resources ideally in a nice visual way so with that in mind I went searching for an easy solution.
Initially my thoughts alighted on MS Teams, as we use Office 365 heavily, but I felt teams is more a collaborative space for discussion, collaborative working, etc, rather than a repository of resources, plus Teams lacks the visual presentation side of things. It may be important to demark which online spaces are for collaboration and which are simply sources of materials hence I thought this another reason to avoid using Teams for this purpose.
So, I arrived at SharePoint. I was a little trepidatious initially as my previous interactions, albeit a fair number of years ago, with a locally hosted SharePoint installation had me remembering it as very fiddly and complicated.
Where SharePoint online is concerned these concerns quickly disappeared and I found myself identifying the below positive features:
- Its simple to use. Training staff to create pages and build sites therefore takes little of the limited time that is available. Yes, there are limits on design, layout, etc however this means the sites created simply work and display correctly across different devices and platforms. In my eyes this is an acceptable limitation.
- Its easy to integrate into Teams; I can make a SharePoint online document library appears as a tab in a Microsoft Teams so teachers can simply open the team and drag and drop files in, with these then appearing on the SharePoint site, via the appropriate document library webpart, for students to access.
- Its flexible and scalable; I can use one site or many interlinked sites as is defined by needs, easily adding additional sites as required.
- It supports several integrations with learning tools such as FlipGrid and Quizlet among others.
- Its included within Office 365 licensing so offers a saving on commercial VLEs.
I am not saying SharePoint is perfect but with limited effort a site or series of sites can be created to act as your repository for learning materials, all without the significant cost of a VLE.