Tuesday, February 17, 2009

SharePoint: the Infinite Jest

SharePoint: to buy or not to buy, that is the question.

Ostensibly, the purpose of SharePoint is to help people collaborate more efficiently. And to achieve this goal, one need only pay a few thousand dollars and wade through page upon page of tech "help" mumbo jumbo.

The sad truth -- and I say this as a former SharePoint user -- is that there is nothing you would use SharePoint for in a classroom setting that you can't do via Web 2.0 applications. And whereas SharePoint costs an arm and a leg, Web 2.0 apps are by-and-large free.

A few things in comparison between SharePoint services and free apps on Google:

1. Calendar -- In SharePoint, all of your classes are located on different cals and each requires log-in or shifting between classes. In Google Cal, all of your classes can be accessed on the same calendar in one click. And Google Cals are subscription-based, so information entered into the cal can automatically be sent to subscribing students' inboxes with the click of a button.

2. Dropboxes -- These are the bane of my existence. Why upload a text document when you could just as well post on a blog? We're talking minutes of your day being wasted, people. Not to mention the fact that all of those documents are more than a bit unwieldy. I know folks who have quit using SharePoint on the basis of the dropboxes alone.

3. Help -- First of all, I've never really encountered anything I've needed any serious help on in the world of Web 2.0. SharePoint, however, is a whole other story. Here's the SharePoint help-desk; you might as well get started reading now...

Ok, so where were we? Oh yes, SharePoint: needlessly time-consuming calendars, stone-age dropboxes, and a Byzantine help system. Oh, and you get to pay for it.

But that's not the real problem with SharePoint. My issue with it is that it's a platform that has "the past" written all over it. New Web tech is all about the free flow of information and an open and dynamic way of thinking. It's rooted in customization and the ability to use technology in your own way. SharePoint is proprietary to the nth degree. If technology is a tool, then SharePoint is a hammer that chooses its own nails to the constant chagrin and annoyance of the carpenter.


  1. Sharepoint? Its "use" has killed the technology progress we've made at our school as far as I can tell. And we're a decade-old 1:1 tablet/laptop school. We "implemented" it at the beginning of this school year and the level of communication and the depth of information available to faculty, students and parents has been horribly affected. The learning curve is tremendous -- just putting up a picture on to a page requires considerable effort. It's a system built for database programmers, not teachers.
    After complaining all fall, two weeks ago our IT director finally relented and allowed us to use other tools other than those offered by Sharepoint. Of course, the faculty had already invested a considerable amount of time fighting with Sharepoint and so few are making the change. A whole year of work and an astonishing amount of momentum and good will evaporated by this monstrous system.
    Bitter? Yeah, a little!

  2. Dear Alchemist and C,
    I think you point about the calendar etc. are all great arguments against SharePoint. But even though I am happy to use Web 2.0 tools, for fun, I feel much more secure in my classroom with SharePoint. I feel the same way about free apps as I do about open source, if you have nothing better to use, they are amazing tools. And when I want to play, I love using them.

    The fact that the kids prefer to Blog and instant message makes me want a tool that has a whole different feel for academic work.

    Just following this flow of information in this Blog is so awkward for me compared to my well constructed discussion boards.

    Still rather than being judgmental about one tool or another, I am open to allowing each educator to use the tools he is comfortable with. I am not about to put anyone down for their choice. Hey, we are all in this together. Whatever works for you is the best tool.

    Carole Redline


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