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Running head: SharePoint and Collaboration

How does the use of SharePoint web services increase collaboration for teachers at Riverside Secondary School? Jeremy Brown University of Oregon

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ABSTRACT

Current thought in education often points towards effective collaboration between teachers as a transformative measure that directly impacts student learning and success. New digital forms of communication are challenging the many structures and beliefs that teachers have about traditional collaboration. In order to create a shift in global collaboration, a long term, effective group-based approach to professional development must be implemented for success. This study examines the how teachers at Riverside Secondary School in Port Coquitlam British Columbia have used SharePoint web services to increase collaboration between teachers, students, administration, between and within departments. SharePoint is a multi-use web-based framework that allows any participant to create on-the-fly collaborative websites.

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INTRODUCTION The Internet and the World Wide Web have dramatically changed the landscape of information and its spread throughout the world. Educators, who were once the keepers of knowledge have now become gateways; they search, filter and redefine vast amounts of information for their students. Emerging technologies created for the sole purpose of communication, sharing and collaboration have become common place during the Web 2.0 revolution of the past four years (Fletcher, 2008). Teachers have tentatively started using these systems in classrooms to improve the interaction between themselves, their students and the outside world (Chan, Leung, Yeung, Chow, Tsui, & Ng, 2005). The idea of having teachers and students collaborate together to create new forms of learning is not a new idea. Libraries, Universities and other centers of learning have been a focal point for this type of academia for thousands of years. Over the last decade however, the internet has lead to a diffusion of the world’s knowledge base. Collaboration, whether it is face-to-face or online, allows for teachers to share ideas and reflect on their teaching (Suntisukwongchote, 2006; Chan, Leung, Yeung, Chow, Tsui, & Ng, 2005; Vavasseur & MacGregor, 2008). The increasing need for a new type of collaboration comes from the speed and complexity of the systems that teachers are being asked to implement in their everyday practice (Lipponen & Lallimo, 2004). With the Web 2.0 revolution, a series of tools were developed (from several companies) to increase the collaboration between markets, companies, groups and individuals. Known collectively as Groupware, these systems support cooperative work between and among people (Pumareja & Sikkel, 2006; Househ & Lau, 2005; Barbour, 2007). These tools can

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be as simple as email or as complex as a server based collaborative tool such as Microsoft’s SharePoint, Facebook, Delicious or a host of other online applications. According to Andriessen (2003), all groupware systems share the following common aspects: -

Communication, i.e., exchanging signals Cooperation, i.e., working together, making decisions Coordination, i.e., adjusting the work of group members, leadership Information and sharing and learning, i.e., exchanging, sharing information and knowledge Social interaction, i.e., group activities, developing trust, cohesion, conflict handling and reflection

When these five components are brought together within a single piece of software, there is a potential to bring about dramatic change in the social interactions between individuals, groups and organizations. In 2004, Coquitlam School District (encompassing the cities of Coquitlam, Port Moody and Port Coquitlam located in Metro-Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada) chose Microsoft’s SharePoint Web services to fulfill this need within its school and administrative organization in 2004. Microsoft founder and past CEO Bill Gates (2006) described SharePoint and its uses as: It is a tool that creates websites for collaboration on specific projects. These sites contain plans, schedules, discussion boards, and other information, and they can be created by just about anyone in the company with a couple of clicks. SharePoint puts me in touch with lots of people throughout the organization. It’s like having a super-website that lets many people edit and discuss—far more than the standard practice of sending emails with enclosures. And it notifies you if anything comes up in an area you’re interested in (p.7-8).

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Within this new collaborative framework the Coquitlam School District looked for a School to lead its implementation. Riverside Secondary School was chosen as a Lead School and its teachers were given the opportunity to communicate, share, teach, learn and work together within a new framework. THE PURPOSE OF THE STUDY The purpose of this study was to investigate if using SharePoint leads to an increase in collaboration among the teachers, administration, students and departments at Riverside Secondary. Investigations were facilitated by using a comparison of website usage (specifically that of Riverside’s Professional Development Site) over a three year period provided by the Coquitlam School District. RESEARCH QUESTION This study focused on a single question: How does the use of SharePoint web services increase collaboration for teachers at Riverside Secondary School? The research was triangulated with data from the Professional Development website (over a three year period), survey results and notes from informal observations and discussions with staff members. It is hypothesized that as staff members become familiar to SharePoint web services (through direct instruction, familiarity and Professional Development) that teacher-teacher and teacher-student collaboration using this platform will increase. LITERATURE REVIEW The idea of having people communicate and learn over large distances has been around for hundreds of years (Ge & Tok, 2003), but the speed at which that communication and the sharing of ideas takes place and the tools which individuals can use to share ideas has changed dramatically. No longer do you have to physically travel 5


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to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to take a course or speak to an instructor; it can now be done online, free of charge (West, Wright, Gabbitas, & Graham, 2006). Never again will you buy an encyclopedia from a salesman; instead you will discuss, collaborate and contribute information into a Wiki (an updatable and editable webpage), where people from around the world can then edit and modify your work (Tapscott & Williams, 2006). The idea of collaboration is neither new nor revolutionary by any means however the instruments have evolved (Tapscott & Williams, 2006). When the tractor excavator replaced the shovel, the ability to dig holes wasn’t significantly altered but the speed and scale which the holes were dug increased astronomically. The new tools for collaborators are shrinking the world for anyone who has access to the internet (Codone, 2004). Wikis, Discussion Boards (virtual bulletin board), List-serves (a collection of email address linked to one another) and web forums (a place where particular groups exchange information without the need of complex software) offer both synchronous and asynchronous types of collaboration (Shneiderman, 2007). In education, collaboration is keenly tied to the professional development of teachers and the success of students (Fullan & Hargreaves, 1996). Collaboration allows teachers to share ideas, reflect on practice, share the burden of responsibility and get advice on issues of common interest (Suntisukwongchote, 2006). Websites with Wiki’s, Discussion Boards, List-Serves and Web Forums can be made public and information can be disseminated and updated easily (Bango, Levy, & Eylon, 2006). The web also allows for the breaking down of systemic and structural barriers to the collaborative process allowing people that would not normally have an opportunity to communicate the ability

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to share information with one another(Kirkpatrick & O’Toole, 2007),. For example, using a simple physics question pertaining to Newton’s 3rd Law, Bango, Levy and Eylon (2006) initiated an online discussion where teachers could share their frustrations and experience in teaching this often misunderstood concept. Much of the participation in the discussion was only carried out by few (16) individuals but over 250 passive participants continually visited the forum. This clearly indicates that collaboration among a few can benefit a wider audience even without direct contribution. The other product of this online collaborative process is the creation and construction of communities of teacher learning teams. First introduced by the 1990s by DuFour & Eaker (1998) and Fullen & Hargraves (1991), communities of professional learners are groups of teachers brought together for shared interest and learning. This model has seen rapid growth since it was first introduced because of the proliferation of the internet. With online tools, teachers are no longer tied to geographically isolated learning communities but can expand beyond physical boundaries and borders. Such is the case in Israel where physics teachers now have a single site to share instructional strategies that can benefit a whole population of students (Bango, Levy, & Eylon, 2006). One area garnering new interest is the communication between student and teacher as a reciprocal flow of information. Correspondence between student and teacher is as ancient as the practice itself and structured distance learning has been around for at least 150 years (Ge & Tok, 2003). This is a traditional model of education where the knowledge is passed from one person to another, often in a linear, unidirectional manor. Over the past decade this flow of information has gone through a paradigm shift where media rich content and real time interaction allow for the student to contribute to the

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conversation (Ge & Tok, 2003). Jennifer Bonds-Raacke (2006) reported that students and teachers have a positive attitude towards these types of course websites that contain collaborative tools. A traditional use of a course website would have an instructor place references and links up on the learning space (Codone, 2004). While many used the instructional material provided by the teacher, students also enjoyed contributing to the knowledge base. Webcasts, pictures, conversations and video captures associated with the course can be uploaded up by students and instructors (Ge & Tok, 2003). The collaborative nature of the course website allowed them to connect to the material in a much personal manner by sharing what they found with peers and teachers. Teachers are often overwhelmed with course management, virtual instruction and communication issues that often accompany online learning and teaching (Lazonder, 2005). Without a clear sense of community to support each other, many individuals will withdraw from the online environment (Codone, 2004). However, once that sense of community has been established, peer-to-peer collaboration helps articulate discussions of relevant material (Lazonder, 2005). This was especially true for new users to the online environment. Collaboration components allowed these new users to elicit help from more than their peers and mentors (Heffner & Cohen, 2005). Educators wanted flexibility where and how they communicate with one another and their students. Many students wanted to find new ways to complete their course objectives but also stated a clear preference for structured guidelines and accountability (Barbour, 2007). While Web 2.0 tools will not completely supplant traditional approaches to collaboration in the near future, it is important to look at how they can aid in the delivery and collection of knowledge (Orhan, 2008). Since collaboration has always been a face-

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to-face experience, new online models will be challenged to demonstrate their effectiveness when compared to the traditional archetype (Barbour, 2007; Fried, 2007). Structure and training are often cited as the two areas where most educators find lacking in the implementation of groupware software (Vavasseur & MacGregor, 2008; Chan, Leung, Yeung, Chow, Tsui, & Ng, 2005; MacDonald, 2008). Professional Development typically offered as a detached workshop activity often doesn’t produced the desired outcomes. Much of the research into the creation of the sites and ongoing evolution can only be successful accomplished with the introduction of a community of learners (Dufour & Eaker, 1998; MacDonald, 2008; Microsoft Corporation, 2002; Fullen & Hargraves, 1991). These communities of learners provide educators a place to come together (whether online or in person) to indentify similar challenges and to collaboratively discuss possible solutions. This model of professional development results in a long term, persistent growth in teacher learning and effectiveness in the development and implementation of collaborative websites (Vavasseur & MacGregor, 2008). Without the structure of continuous Professional Development, teachers have difficulty setting up and maintaining collaborative websites due to a lack of time and training (Fried, 2007).

CONCEPTUAL FRAMEWORK Collaborative websites cannot be brought into a school system and have expectations of success without prolonged and extensive professional development. This support must have the dual role of increasing the knowledge base of the educators and creating a team of learners who can navigate future difficulties.

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CONTEXT Riverside Secondary in Port Coquitlam, British Columbia, Canada, first opened in September 1997 and has a staff of 70 teachers and a student base of 1250. Riverside was billed as the Coquitlam School District’s first technology school and several systems were incorporated in the building process. An infrastructure of wireless networking, desktops, laptops, SmartBoards and tablet computers were integrated into the school allowing for instant access to email, making it a viable school-wide medium for the first time. While email was the main form (and still very predominant) of communication, in 2004, Riverside embarked on the School District’s Technology Initiative using Microsoft’s SharePoint Web Services and became a lead school in the program. The promise of what SharePoint could offer was an open platform that would allow teachers, administrators and even students to customize a website for any purpose or need. Many teachers at Riverside use the website as a virtual classroom, while departments created virtual depositories for documents and Wikis for sharing and constructing archives. The first SharePoint site that opened as a purely collaborative instrument in the school was the Professional Development (Professional Development) website, started in 2005 (see figures 1 and 2). Over the past three years, this site has been a focal point for instruction, support and communication between members of the Riverside staff. The benefit of this site became apparent with the introduction of two separate innovations to the school that was based on a broader school goal of introducing innovation in education. The first was a weekly study group held every Wednesday morning. Open to the entire staff, these sessions had the initial intent of being a book club but soon (and

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often) turned to matters of education and technology. The morning sessions often made it difficult for some on staff to attend due to a prior commitment or a school related issue even though they were anxious to be part of the group. Additions were made to the Professional Development site that allowed them to contribute to the school wide conversation without having to be in a particular place at a certain time.

Figure 1: Riverside’s Professional Development SharePoint site (part 1)

Figure 2: Riverside’s Professional Development SharePoint Site Part 2 11


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Learning-Teams (Coquitlam School District’s version of a Community of Learners) became an avenue for the introduction, implementation and continued evolution of collaborative websites. Within Riverside Secondary, eight Learning-Teams focused on technology and its implementation within and outside the classroom have been active over the last four years. Each team has designed and created a portal site for their team members to share, cooperate and support their teaching and learning areas. The English department has been a pioneer in this with an extensive application into the collaborative realm with their SharePoint site (see figure 3). As a group, the English department has included: a group calendar, task list, book sign outs, shared document libraries, wikis, suggested school and sequence discussions and much more. These specific components allow for the English teachers to coordinate their activities in a structured manner with every member of the department informed and involved.

Figure 3: Riverside Secondary’s English Department Collaborative Team site

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METHODOLOGY Results were gathered from three sources: a survey given through the Professional Development website, site usage data from Riverside Secondary SharePoint websites and written observations from collaborative meetings. Of the 70 teachers at Riverside, 40 chose to participate in the online survey (see figure 4) including both veterans of School District 43 Learning-Teams and others new to the process. The Professional Development website is accessible by teachers working at Riverside Secondary through a secure login controlled by Coquitlam School District. Total usage by staff and individual visits can then be tracked over a designated time period. The survey was given to the staff at the beginning of the school year (September, 2008) and figure 4 shows the basic gender demographic breakdown of the 40 survey participants. 25

Number of Teachers

20 15 10 5 0 Male

Female

Other

Figure 4: Which of the following best describes you:

The survey data indicates that most teachers who responded to the survey have significant experience in the public education system with an average of 17.0 years (see

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figure 5) and at Riverside Secondary an average of 7.9 years (see figure 6). The participants in the survey came from departments throughout the school including: Science, Math, English, Social Studies, Foreign Languages, Library Services, Counseling Services, Student Services, Technology Education, Art Education, Home Economics Administration and Physical Education.

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Number of Teachers

10 8 6 4 2 0 0 to 5

6 to 10

11 to 15 16 to 20 21 to 25 26 to 30 30 to 35 Years Taught in Public Education

Figure 5: How many years have you taught in the public education system?

Number of Participants

25 20 15 10 5 0 1 to 4

5 to 8

9 to 12

Years taught at Riverside Secondary School

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Figure 6: How many years have you taught at Riverside Secondary?

Each teacher had access to a minimum of 6 days of professional development time with at least one session on SharePoint instruction and practice on each of those six days. Beyond this, each participant had access to a once-a-week, year-long collaborative study group before school on Wednesdays and a district sponsored Learning-Team. Discussions on how the staff was using SharePoint was collected and added to the study. To measure the effectiveness of the websites and teacher collaboration, discussion questions were analyzed and coded. The discussions focused mainly on teacher’s feelings about the usefulness of SharePoint in their collaboration with each other.

RESULTS WEBSITE USAGE The use of the Riverside SharePoint sites has increased dramatically over the past three years by both students and staff. In particular, Riverside’s Professional Development Website has shown a dramatic increase in site usage over the last 3 years (see figure 7). This usage data includes all site visits, contributions and edits. In the month-to-month comparison, the site usage has risen from on average of 15% of the staff in 2006 up to 81% in 2008. The usage values for other sites used by Riverside students and teachers within show a similar growth potential. The number of distinct contributors to the site has also increased over the past three years from an average of 11.9 per month in 2006 to 68.9 per month in 2008.

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Number of individuals accessing Pro-D website

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80 70 60 50 40 30 20 10 0 Oct-06

Oct-07

Oct-08

Figure 7: The number of individuals accessing Riverside's Professional Development Website per month over a three year period.

SURVEY DATA The survey data shows that most teachers at Riverside Secondary are relatively comfortable with technology and standard practices such as email and broad internet use (see figure 8). Many of the new collaborative aspects tend to have a lower comfort rating such as external sites such as Facebook, Delicious and Wikispaces. SharePoint has a moderate comfort rating and bell shaped curve compared to email’s skewed high comfort rating.

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Figure 8: Trends in computer and internet use among survey respondents

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Number of Partcipants

40 35 30 25 20 15 10 5 0 Yes

No

Figure 9: Have you visited a SharePoint web page in the last 3 years?

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The number of contributors to various online websites (including SharePoint) shows a large amount of the respondents actively being a part of online communities (see figure 10). 35

Number of participants

30 25 20 15 10 5 0 Yes

No

Figure 10: Have you ever contributed to a collaborative website (SharePoint, Wikipedia, other wikis, discussion boards, social bookmarking or social networking sites) for the purpose of education?

Removing the extraneous websites and focus directly on SharePoint, we see a similar trend in contribution and collaboration (see figure 11) to that of figure 10. 35 30 25 20 15

Series1

10 5 0 Yes

No

Figure 11: Have you contributed to a SharePoint web site in the past three years? 18


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DISCUSSION DATA When teachers talk about SharePoint, their discussions and ideas about the software tends to fall into three distinct areas (see figure 12). There is the majority who find it useful and can see future benefits. Secondly, there is a smaller group who would like to know how to use it but still can’t see the benefits. Finally, there is a small minority who were not interested in non-traditional collaboration. 40 35 30 25 20 15 10 5 0 Positive response

Uncertain response

Negative response

Figure 12: How does SharePoint increase collaboration?

For those who see benefits in the software and process, much of the discussion is based on how they can share their work and learn from each other. One teacher said “I can create wikis, discussion sites and workspaces to facilitate the completion of common issues and goals. These facilities could also allow a greater integration with school administration”. Another staff member stated that “SharePoint collaboration allows colleagues to easily share and expand on lessons and assignments. SharePoint can be

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used to share resources through calendars”. The Riverside Librarian stated “CTLA (Coq. Teacher Librarians) use SharePoint site to communicate & share material, although many members still do this through their own websites or e-mail. As more and more Professional Development about SharePoint takes place, more use will occur”. The majority of the positive responses for SharePoint collaboration from the staff indicates the use of the following: document libraries for lessons and assignments, discussion boards for assessment, tips for effective teaching practices, calendar, wiki’s for ESL vocabulary, weekly bulletins, and a simple/safe place for people to share ideas. Interestingly, many teachers were as interested in collaboration with and among students as they were with their colleagues. A Science teacher stated that “I am excited about the opportunities that SharePoint gives me to in terms of student collaboration. Having a website that allows students to contribute to the course and help themselves completely changes the way I teach. I am no longer in charge of the information”. The undecided group was unanimous in their wanting more training in order to increase their comfort level/knowledge base with the software. Statements such as: “I really do not know. I find the process very cumbersome and time consuming, partly because I am still very unfamiliar with access and use. It is not something I would think of first. The little bit of SharePoint stuff I have created has been in a workshop setting and then forgotten about as it just seemed such a hassle. If I want to communicate my first reaction would be e-mail” and “I need to be taught more on how to use it. We should be instructed to use it more, that way we can try it more and we would learn more” were common with this group.

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A small minority of responses indicated that they either had other forms of communication available to them or preferred face-to-face collaboration. One teacher stated that “I don't have a need for this software. Often times it is an 'extra' source of communication that requires more time to visit and contribute when I am often already in communication with the key players anyway.” When asked a similar question, another stated that “I wouldn't use it (SharePoint). I think face-to-face collaboration is much better.”

DISCUSSION The website usage data, survey questions and discussions show that a majority of teachers at Riverside Secondary who use SharePoint web services feel that they benefit from the addition of online collaboration. Teachers who partook in professional development opportunities to learn and implement the software were more likely to use it on a regular basis. Those staff that participated in a learning team (to augment their Professional Development) were especially engaged in the online collaborative project and tended to be the most advanced SharePoint users. The teachers who chose not to participate, maintain a site themselves, or were part of a group collaboration site (such as the English Department), still often used Riverside’s Professional Development website for a variety of collaborative reasons. The site grew dramatically over the last three years with new users finding new applications for it each year. When asked about the impact of having an online forum to discuss, share or deposit information, and many staff members indicated a desire to have the software play a larger role in their daily school day. Teachers liked the ability to communicate, share

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and support each other without worrying about geographical, temporal or political barriers. Many were excited about students contributing and communicating more effectively with each other. Allowing team members to edit and add to the knowledge base was another prominent theme among those excited about SharePoint. Even those who do not choose to contribute can watch the collaboration unfold and still feel part of the process. SharePoint allows for conversations outside the confines a brick and mortar classroom of yesteryear. The implications of the study are significant to Riverside Secondary and to the Coquitlam School district, who both have invested vast amounts of time and energy into this new model. The study has shown that significant amounts of effective, sustainable and lasting Professional Development are critical for the successful implementation of a project of this magnitude. Secondly, if the framework for professional development is in place, teachers will take the opportunity to increase their collaboration using online software such as SharePoint.

LIMITATIONS OF THE STUDY Although this study shows that SharePoint is an effective collaboration tool for teachers at Riverside Secondary, there are limitations to its scope. All the respondents have had opportunity years of long term, continuous professional development and were part of a community of learners. Several of the respondents were part of Communities of Learners who dealt specifically with SharePoint. Riverside was designated a lead school in implementation of SharePoint across the Coquitlam School District. Teachers were given in-service training and time to work

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through many of the difficulties associated with the introduction of a new platform. Schools or individual teachers without this technical experience and support will have a difficult time wading through the intricate components and functions of the website. An individual teacher without a community of learners to share, communicate and cooperate with, will have difficulty seeing the potential of the collaborative aspects of the site. Current models of professional development (DuFour & Eaker, 1998) (Fullan & Hargreaves, 1996) (Vavasseur & MacGregor, 2008) all favor the effective role of a Community of Learners in the implementation and sustainability of these types of projects. While Riverside has had tremendous support in terms of time, technology and money from the district, not all schools will have the same level of commitment. The inequality in funding from school-to-school, district-to-district and province-to-province should be examined to see if this would impact the implementation of an online collaborative system. CONCLUSION More research needs to be done with other schools within Coquitlam School District to see if they have similar success, concerns or problems with SharePoint as a collaborative tool. Information about the relationships between professional development and collaborative websites needs to be clearly defined with alternative models. Despite the need for larger sample sizes and a more diverse group of educators, it is clear that most teachers at Riverside Secondary value the contributions of SharePoint to the collaborative atmosphere of the school.

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SharePoint and Collaboration at Riverside Secondary  
SharePoint and Collaboration at Riverside Secondary  

Terminal paper about the use of shrepoint at Riverside Secondary School in Port Coquitlam

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