Peter, what do you do at Lund University?
I am Director of E-communication and I work half-time as a Professor of Economics and half-time in e-learning projects. I am project leader for our learning platform at Lund University based on SharePoint called Live@Lund.
How big is the University?
Lund University has about 45,000 students – I think it’s the largest University in Scandinavia.
Is SharePoint used in all departments?
Just in some departments so far. We don’t have a university-wide learning platform, but that’s changing now – more and more departments are beginning to use our SharePoint system.
What do you see as the benefits of SharePoint for a University?
The biggest benefit of SharePoint is that it’s a good middle ground between building your own system (which is expensive and hard to maintain) and using a Learning Management System (which is inflexible, stuck in one learning method and hard to integrate with other systems).
You get a lot of things in SharePoint that you don’t need to develop yourselves, in terms of managing documents, signing in of students, keeping track of rights management. But you still have the flexibility of integrating with other systems. That’s what I find is the biggest benefit of SharePoint, the combination of the flexibility and that it has a lot of built-in features that you don’t have to develop yourself.
What do you use SharePoint for? What do students see?
It has two parts. One part is in terms of student-professor communication, that’s where you see professors emailing students and posting documents and announcements, handling assignments online and all these kind of things. And then the other part is the administration; SharePoint at Lund is integrated with all the systems in the University. Everything is automatic, for example no-one has to create a site for a new course; it’s created automatically driven from the University’s central systems. The same thing goes for assigning students to courses; it is completely automatic. It basically means that SharePoint takes away most of the administrative work – it’s integrated for example with the scheduling / timetabling system – so students see timing information as soon as they are registered for the course.
What SharePoint version do you use?
We started with SharePoint 2007, but we migrated to SharePoint 2010 last fall.
Does SharePoint 2010 improve things for you?
Definitely. There are huge improvements. Particularly the social media functions are so much better – they are still missing a lot of things, and we are thinking of integrating Newsgator into SharePoint to get better social media. But the My Sites and new feed capabilities are so much better.
It sounds as though you’ve done some development around SharePoint. How big a team did you need to make this happen?
We hired an external company to start with. It took about 8 months for a team of 5 – 6 to develop the basic structure to integrate our systems and automate the process. After that, we have owned the project ourselves at the University and have spent about a year developing it forwards with a team of 2 people.
How do you use assessments within SharePoint?
We use assessments within courses to give online quizzes and also for course evaluation. Some quizzes are just for people to check they know things, others are to give grades.
For distance courses, it’s typical to use both models. The course is divided into modules. For each module, there is one practice quiz that does not contribute to grades and one quiz which does count in terms of the final grade.
The biggest problem with that is the possibility of cheating, but I think we’ve managed to figure out a decent solution to that in terms of creating a huge number of questions and randomizing them.
Do you use SharePoint native surveys for the course evaluations?
No, we use Questionmark Perception for these.
Why did you choose Questionmark to go with SharePoint?
We did a lot of investigation to find out which tool to use. The first criterion for us was the possibility to integrate with SharePoint. We didn’t want to have an external system that we sent our students to as a link from SharePoint. This would be very confusing for our students; we wanted to embed quizzes and surveys within SharePoint. So having good APIs were fundamental to us. And this really limited the number of choices.
We also decided that we didn’t need a complete LMS with SCORM capability, that it was enough to have an assessment quizzing tool that could collect student performance. We had to be able to integrate it into SharePoint seamlessly so that the students didn’t know they were working in a different system.
The next criterion was the possibility of a flexible system for randomizing questions. Most assessment systems aren’t as flexible in this respect as Questionmark are. The ability of telling Questionmark that you should pick, for example, one question from this folder randomly, and two questions from that folder randomly, was very useful for us.
What we do is that the professor thinks of a question, and maybe thinks of 20 distractor choices for that question. And based on this, we could create maybe 500 questions with choices randomized, asking the system to pick just one at random. Which means essentially every student gets different questions.
Another criterion was the ability to use questions with different numerical values. And that we can do in Questionmark by simply creating a bunch of questions with different numerical values.
How many students are taking Questionmark quizzes via SharePoint?
It’s growing a lot but at the moment about 1000 students a year do this.
How do you integrate SharePoint and Questionmark?
We created our own integration using Questionmark’s web services API (QMWISe) that embeds Questionmark within SharePoint. When students go to the SharePoint site, they do the quiz inside SharePoint as a web part. They don’t know that they are not using SharePoint; it’s a web part like anything else. We also use web parts to display results for students and professors to look at.
Do you make pages with half learning material and half quizzes, on the same page?
Yes. I do this a lot myself. I usually have a video on the top part of the page in SharePoint and a quiz on the lower part, and then a Next button. And so it’s divided into small modules.
Peter provided a screenshot as an example included below:
Is it successful embedding assessments on the same page as learning material?
Yes. Extremely successful, especially for distance courses. Because it is so hard to convince the students that they need to start working on the course right away. The students tend to be myopic, and believe they are much cleverer than they are!
They tend to postpone opening the books and beginning their studies. So with integrating quizzes in the learning material, they are sort of forced to do that. We have deadlines for various quizzes that they have to do, so we basically make them start working on their course, earlier than they would have done otherwise. I think that is the single biggest benefit of using quizzes – to get students engaged in their studies more quickly.
To make students realize that they have to work?
Yes, exactly. And not postpone it until later.
Can quizzes help with all kinds of learning?
When you talk to people who are academics in the field of pedagogy, they tend to be very critical of online quizzes, as they claim that quizzes are only good for shallow learning not for deep learning. They tend to be critical of doing quizzes in general. My feeling is that this is a bad way of looking at it. It’s sort of looking at it as either/or. If your entire course is based on short movies and quizzes, then sure that’s not going to be good enough; it will only be shallow learning. But if you complement this with clever assignments that students have to think deeper about the topic, then I think it’s really good. Because quizzes really help the student to learn basic concepts, and it’s really hard to learn about a topic in a deep sense without knowing these basic things – concepts, definitions, terminology. And for this, quizzes are really, really helpful.
Is SharePoint as popular in Sweden as other countries?
I think it’s even more popular. In terms of universities, as well as Lund, the other two large Swedish universities – Gothenburg and Stockholm – are also on the SharePoint wagon. And there is wide use in business.
I believe you blog about SharePoint in Swedish. What is the URL for your blog
Yes I do – you can find me at http://sharepointsv.blogspot.com/.