From the Editor’s Desk: Workflow and You

SharePointAn old quote back from my college days is “…Lecture is a process by which the notes of the teacher get transferred to the notes of the student without passing through the brain of either.” The quote is mis-attributed to Mark Twain, but probably has roots at least that old, implying that our disdain for the lecture has a great deal longer history than our student-centered, project-learning-based, technology-enhanced 21st Century classroom would imply. (That’s not to say that lecture isn’t a viable and useful tool – some of my most memorable classroom experiences were lectures. But that’s for another day…)

For most, and especially today, lecture (we call it “direct instruction”) is the easiest to design and control, an hence is often overused. Throw technology into the mix, and the whole thing gets worse – after all, how much “…passing through the brain…” happens when a student’s notes are copy/pasted directly from the teacher’s PowerPoint? It is because of this that online learning, or BYOD, or 1-1, or any program which provides instant and seamless access to information as text, sometimes has such a bad rap. But one can argue, that’s just because it’s following the “lecture” example.

Content/Learning Management
Systems in Fayette Co.
  • Fayette’s iSchool. This true learning management system has a great deal more than simple content management –  it offers online quizzes, assignments, and other interactive/collaborative activities for students (or teachers, for that matter).
  • Office 365/One Drive for Business. On the “My” side of Office 365 is everything from blog platforms to document storage. These are personal-use tools, but can be shared with others, including students.
  • SharePoint Online. This is the “institutional” side of Office 365. There, blogs/discussions/doc-sharing is associated with institutions (schools, IAKSS offices, etc.), which means that the district can support content creation and security, and things don’t go away when the person creating them leaves. Also look here for online learning communities in support of specific disciplines, such as ESL and LMS.
  • Edmodo.This learning management system “lite” has a few
    of the same tools as Fayette’s iSchool, and a “Facebook-like” interface and workflow. Being as it lives outside the district, it does not share login accounts with the above resources.

The delivery of
teacher-generated information (think “notes” above) through technology is generally handled by an online content management system. We have several available to us here in Fayette Co. (see at right). A few have a somewhat larger tool kit (quizzes, assignments, etc.), qualifying them as a learning management system. (Fayette’s iSchool is a true learning management system.) In our district SharePoint system, 95% of the resources there are simple document files. One might infer that, yes, it represents exactly the problem mentioned above (simple access to files which pass through no one’s brain). But content management systems can do so much more.

SharePoint is generally assumed to be a “workflow platform.” Dictionary.com defines “workflow” as…

“…the flow or amount of work to and from an office, department, or employee.”

…which is a “duh!” definition (“workflow” = “flow of work”  – …whoa…). But just like “cowboy” is a bit more than males responsible for bovines, Dictionary.com has more to add, courtesy of “The Free Online Dictionary of Computing,” specifically tied to technology. The
3rd is…

“…The movement of documents around an organization for purposes
including sign-off, evaluation, performing activities in a process and co-writing…”

This definition gives us a glimpse at the idea of workflow:

  1. “…sign-off” – not only are documents “consumed,” but folks must read, process, and understand them – and indicate that they have to others
  2. “…evaluation…” – no workflow can take place without determining the value of things.
  3. “…process…” – procedures and practices have their own reasons for being.
  4. “…co-writing…” – all work (and learning) takes place most effectively in a collaborative and social context, where things are negotiated between people, rather than simply built in isolation.

So technology which supports workflow should provide for reflection, evaluation, process, and collaboration/negotiation – all online. Sound familiar? Sounds like effective teaching! (Is your school SharePoint site doing that?)

A lot of teachers resist the use of tech tools to manage their workflow, since #3 above actually requires effort – learning how things work, and how to best leverage them. But the payoff is pretty high, especially as viewed from an efficiency aspect. Using Office365’s SharePoint Online as our standard…

  • Access from anywhere with anything. If you’re creating resources (PPTs, Word docs, whatever), or just simply obtaining them, putting them in a content management system like Office365 allows you to access/edit/share them instantly, from any device, anywhere that device is online.
  • Collaborate with anyone. By now, most of your friends and family are already connecting to each other through Twitter and Facebook. Connecting to specific people for the purpose of professional workflow is another benefit of content management systems. Those systems don’t
    have the benefit of a billion other users, but then, you can also actually work collaboratively on resources, without sending links, files, Pinterest posts, and other simple display options.
  • Implications for teaching. Did you look at the list above? Looks very much like what you might want to do with students! Learn online content management now, use to teach later.

Many schools have moved a lot of their professional workflow onto their
Office 365/SharePoint Online spaces. You, of course, can create your own site, and do much of what SharePoint does, directly through your own account on Office365. Want help? Look for PDs, help from your school tech coordinator, or contact me. We’ll get you started!

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