The SharePoint team have created the Social Computing with SharePoint website. Although it is primarily designed to examine the use of social computing within a business context, it is relevant to universities in the UK, and there is an excellent video and written case study of the Washington State University’s use of SharePoint to create an e-portfolio and social collaboration tool for their students.
Nils Peterson, Assistant Director of the Center for Teaching, Learning, and Technology is quoted as saying:
Students using Office SharePoint Server 2007 will gain experience with collaboration and intellectual property management tools that will provide a personal foundation for the lifelong learning process.
The university gives each student their own MySite, which gives them an online storage space, as well as a personalisable site that they can use for a combination of document storage, document sharing, collaborative working and a social networking space which can be used for blogs, wikis and podcasting.
The use of My Sites created by students support WSU’s objectives of creating global outreach, by enabling students to collaborate with people outside the university and around the world. The university is able to control the limits of what information is shared outside of the university, as well as using the capability to provide effective security within the university with the linked user-management capabilities that are provided through the network.
By adopting SharePoint as a social networking platform, WSU are avoiding the challenges some universities are facing, where their individual members of staff (and students) are creating alternative virtual learning environments by ‘hand-stitching’ web-based systems together. Although this often creates a solution which can be setup outside of the control of the university IT team, that same virtue introduces challenges – for example, where staff export lists of students from their laptop to create user lists on a website. They often don’t understand the obligations that the university is under to protect and control the use of the data.
Doing the same thing through a SharePoint integrated into your IT systems delivers similar flexibility (and end-user control), but with the added safety of knowing that list of users, classes, and individual’s files, are all stored within your infrastructure (and if you delete or suspend a user, that immediately restricts them across all of your connected IT systems).