The 5 biggest factors in successful SharePoint sites Planning for and ensuring high user adoption

March 2, 2009 by · 3 Comments
Filed under: SharePoint, Twynham School 

I have had lots of responses by email, twitter and comment about yesterdays post on models for gaining user adoption. I even had a member of staff who was discussing the need to push something through say, ‘maybe we need a bit of Stalin on this!’. The SharePoint man in Microsoft, Tom Rizzo, has even posted on the topic to which I am grateful for his link into the blog. Tom goes on in his blog to identify Microsoft’s own support tools for user adoption and having looked at them this evening I can see that they are genuinely useful. Take a look at Gear Up here for more details.

As promised yesterday in this blog post I would like to identify what I think are the 5 most important factors to consider for creating successful SharePoint sites which gain high user adoption in Education. In truth the advice acts as an outline road map for the process we went through when rolling out and developing out SharePoint set up. If you havent read my post from yesterday you might want to read this first here so that this post makes more sense.

1. Create your SharePoint site with your users in mind.

The most important reason behind setting up SharePoint is the needs of your end users. In the case of education this will be predominantly students and staff but may also incorporate your wider community. For staff, supporting them in being efficient and collaborative will be the main drivers. Can all staff users get to everything that they need quickly and make their resources available to the community in the same way? For students collaboration and efficiency will also be important but there are other factors to consider. By far the most important consideration is thinking through what resources and tools students need to help them to make most progress in their education. A major consideration here are the learning styles of your students and working through which resources will meet their need. How will you achieve all this? In education student voice is key to developing online learning so talking to your students in as many forums as possible is essential. 

2. Develop your taxonomy

Organising the information you get from users and understanding what you want to achieve with your SharePoint site should lead you to considering your taxonomy. How many sites will your SharePoint contain and what will be the relationship between these sites? Think really carefully about this first phase of organisation as you will live with what you build for a long time. This is often where people get stuck in education thinking the model through. As a top tip, consider a relatively flat structure with sites for staff, students and parents. Do not tie your subjects into any of these but run them alongside the sites and use permissions to prevent access to the staff site and staff sections on the subject sites by students and parents.

Top tabs can be useful for linking sites

Top tabs can be useful for organising and linking sites

3. Map your navigation

When you have clearly identified your SharePoint classification in terms of sites you need to consider the hierarchy of the individual sites and the ways in which they link. Again some significant time spent mapping this out will pay dividends. Your navigation should be clear and logical on all sites to avoid confusing your users. When I started working with websites I was advised that your users should be able to get anywhere in 3 clicks or your site has poor navigation. This is largely true although don’t get hung up on this issue too much. I normally encourage people to go and look at the BBC site as I think it is an excellent example of how to organise a massive site. In truth having just done the test you can drill down 4 clicks from the homepage  but this is a reflection of the complexity and volume of information on this site. 3 clicks is a good rule of thumb to stick with.

Breadcrumb trail can support navigation

Breadcrumb trail can support navigation

4. Share and review with your users

Once you have built your useful, carefully mapped and well organised sites share them with a group of students and get feedback. You may have spent a long time building your sites but you may not get them right first time. Don’t take any negative feedback as criticism but use it to review and amend your sites so that they will gain high user adoption.

5. Evolution not revolution

Once your site is launched, working and being used by the end users you are at the beginning and not the end of your SharePoint implementation. Most successful sites are almost constantly evolving with minor changes to site pages based on the feedback from end users. It should be rare if ever that you fully change your entire site as this will most likely confuse your end users and switch them off. It also suggests the site has not been kept up to date and needs a major overhaul.

Whilst the advice in this post is not rocket science I hope it will act as one suggestion on how you might go through an implementation and development of any online learning set up. It would be great to here from others on how they have gone through their set up and I would be happy to post any thoughts or examples on this site as a resource for schools. Let me know what you think.

Creating a revolution in SharePoint User Adoption. Which model works: Lenin, Trotsky or Stalin?

March 1, 2009 by · 6 Comments
Filed under: SharePoint, User Adoption 

Over the last 6 months when we have been visiting many schools I have had a lot of time to talk about learning environments. We discuss so many interesting aspects of this work but by far one topic is asked by people we meet so much more than any other. How do you get get people to use the stupid thing?!! As a result I thought I would run a blog post purely to discuss user adoption as it is a genuine ‘hot topic’  In our visits to different schools we see so much exceptional practice and at the same time on dozens of occasions I have talked to frustrated leaders of e-learning who have put a platform in place which is not being used.

My own view is that working out how to gain high user adoption amongst students and staff (as well as parents and the community) is the single biggest hurdle you will face in creating a successful online learning environment. The rewards of cracking this issue come in the form of happier and more efficient staff and the potential for students to make greater progress which can lead to higher exam results. So to my title- as a Historian I have gone for three models for revolutions, in this case based on Communism but hopefully the analogy is perfect for this topic.

The Lenin approach to gaining users.

Those of you who have ever studied the Bolshevik Revolution will know that Lenin followed the writings of Marx in believing the proletariat would rise up, aware of their oppression and gain power. In the same way one approach to setting up your learning environment is to appeal to the masses- the students! They represent the most powerful and vocal (as well as numerical) group in your institution and getting them on board can drive your user adoption. At the same time Lenin was aware that the masses could not effectively lead the revolution in the first phase and required a ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’. As a result you will need a strong but pragmatic leader to lead the vision and bring about an environment where the state ‘withers away’. Lets call this your Utopia where users are freely engaged in the betterment of society- or as we call it in our time web 2.0! In this model all users become active participants through empowerment, engagement and structure.


The Trotsky approach to gaining users

In the Trotsky model a Charismatic leader rallies the troops as in the Civil War in Russia from 1918-1921. They lead from the front and are seen as a brilliant tactician. In this model to gaining user adoption your learning environment is sold to the staff as a vehicle to deal with most of their frustrations. It will radically alter the teaching environment and make the students more successful (and may cure global disease!). In the same way Trotsky believed in the idea of ‘Permanent Revolution’ your advocate of the learning environment will be constantly looking for new opportunities to move the work on feeling that it most grow or it will die. Reflection on where you are may not happen or be infrequent and most energies are centred around the next big thing which will make the learning environment a killer app.


 The Stalin approach to gaining users

In the final model your learning environment will arrive in the school in the same way as Stalin’s ascent to power. Stalin was known as an administrator and ‘that dull grey blur’. In the same way your learning environment will appear without any knowledge or prior expectation. It will quickly assume a significant position above that of any other. From here Stalin, set on ultimate and unquestionable power, administering a ruthless dictatorship based on totally loyalty and brutal killing. No wish to overdo the analogy here but in this model the learning environment is forced upon the people (in this case the staff) by the Leadership Team and must be used. The reasons and merits of the new technology are not explained or rationalized but failure to support the new regime is brutally dealt with! This third model demonstrates the ‘Revolution from Above’ which is typical of many learning environment roll outs.

 So which model do I think is the best for rolling out a learning environment that gains high user adoption? The Stalin model can have some success but it is rarely deep rooted and lacks dynamism. Resources will be uploaded because they have to be and students will use it when they are told to but the learning environment rarely becomes organic in these circumstances. The Trotsky model is perhaps the best intentioned but most prone to failure. Rarely is it possible to achieve anything significant in schools through one person. Whilst the advocate will work very hard to win hearts and minds teachers are busy people and they need time over inspiration! At times some successful roll outs develop from a hybrid of these two models. A charismatic champion inspires the staff and with the support of the Leadership Team in terms of time and priority a successful learning environment emerges.

From the experience of Twynham School I would however recommend following a Lenin based model to your learning environment roll out. If you can create a structured environment which engages students you will quickly win the majority of the battle. Allow them (and indeed encourage them) to lead the development through student voice but recognise that they will often need to be lead themselves in the early stages. Of course at times a little Trotsky (to engage staff who are early adopters) and even a smattering of Stalin (to encourage staff who are reluctant!) may be necessary but for us it is Lenin all the way. More of how we did this tomorrow when I will outline 5 steps for successful user adoption.

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