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Example Solution Architecture: Blatchington Mill School

Office 2007

Updated: April 23, 2009

Applies To: Office SharePoint Server 2007

Updated: 2009-04-23

Photograph of Blatchington Mill School

Blatchington Mill School is a secondary school in Hove, UK, that specializes in the performing arts, mathematics and computing, and vocational studies. Blatchington Mill serves 1,800 students and has a teaching and support staff of 175. A priority for Blatchington Mill was to bring parents online. Mark Leighton, ICT Director, worked closely with Capita SIMS to engage parents by giving them access to such real-time data about their students as attendance, homework, behavior, and assessments. The school achieved this goal, registering more than 3,500 parents, bringing the number of Active Directory accounts to nearly 5,500.

This article describes the overall solution that Blatchington Mill School implemented and how reporting is woven into the architecture. Use this article with the following architecture diagram: Architecture Example: Blatchington Mill School (http://go.microsoft.com/fwlink/?LinkId=136714&clcid=0x409).

Servers and hardware

The Blatchington Mill School IT environment includes separate and dedicated server hardware for Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2007 (single server), streaming media, Management Information Server, and Microsoft Exchange Server. Additionally, the school uses Microsoft Internet Security and Acceleration Server (ISA) 2006 for its firewall.

The following table details the hardware that is in use.

Server role Hardware

Office SharePoint Server 2007

Installed on one server:

  • Dell PowerEdge 2900

  • 2 x quad core Intel Xeon 2.00GHz processors

  • 24 GB RAM

  • 2 x 73 GB 15000 rpm SAS drives — RAID-1 containing the operating system (OS)

  • 2 x 73 GB 15000 rpm SAS drives—RAID-1 containing the SharePoint application files

  • 4 x 300 GB 15000 rpm SAS drives—RAID-5 containing the SQL Server database files

  • The 64-bit edition of Windows Server 2003, Second Edition

Microsoft ISA 2006

  • Dell PowerEdge 2800

  • 2 x dual core Intel Xeon 2.80GHz processors

  • 4 GB RAM

  • 3 x 136 GB 10000 rpm SCSI drives — RAID-5

  • The 32-bit edition of Windows Server 2003

  • Microsoft ISA 2006

Management Information Server

  • Dell PowerEdge 2800

  • 2 x dual core Intel Xeon 2.80GHz processors

  • 4 GB RAM

  • 3 x 136 GB 10000 rpm SCSI drives — RAID-5

  • The 32-bit edition of Windows Server 2003

Streaming media server

  • Dell PowerEdge 2800

  • 2 x dual core Intel Xeon 2.80GHz processors

  • 2 GB RAM

  • 3 x 136 GB 10000 rpm SCSI drives — RAID-5

  • The 32-bit edition of Windows Server 2003

  • Microsoft Live Communications Server (used for staff instant messaging)

NoteNote:

This server hosts digital audio and video content—known in the school as the “EduTube”.

Microsoft Exchange Server

  • RM RackServ 200

  • 2 x dual core Intel Xeon CPU 3.40GHz

  • 4 GB RAM

  • 5 x 147 GB 15000 rpm SCSI drives — RAID-5

  • The 32-bit edition of Windows Server 2003

  • Microsoft Exchange 2003

Logical architecture

The logical architecture for Blatchington Mill’s school uses the minimum number of Web applications and application pools possible, which is three. The Web applications are used as follows:

  • Central Administration site

  • Default Shared Services Provider

  • School sites

The school sites are organized into four categories:

  • Portal sites for each audience

  • My Sites

  • Classroom sites

  • SIMS Learning Gateway sites

These are detailed in the following illustration.

Logical architecture diagram

NoteNote:

My Sites are currently used by the staff. Leighton plans to offer these to students beginning in January 2009. The other site categories are detailed later in this article.

Authentication is provided through two zones:

  • Intranet zone. Internal access is provided through the Intranet zone using Integrated Windows (NTLM) authentication.

  • Default zone. The default zone is also configured to use Integrated Windows (NTLM) authentication. However, authentication using Windows accounts for remote access is made possible by configuring Single Sign-on (SSO) on the Microsoft ISA Server. The ISA Server is configured to use forms authentication to collect Windows credentials. With SSO, users enter credentials one time to access all services, including SharePoint sites and e-mail. An SSL certificate is installed on the ISA Server and Web servers.

All content for Blatchington Mill School is contained in a single content database that is roughly 51 GB in size.

Portal sites

Blatchington Mill School targets each of its core audiences with a separate portal site. Each of the portal sites links users to relevant school resources and other data. Web Parts are installed on each portal site to expose data from the school MIS system as appropriate for each audience.

Staff portal

The staff portal is accessed by all teaching and non-teaching staff in the school. The staff portal includes:

  • Access to staff e-mail and teacher assignment diaries (described later).

  • Staff bulletin site. The weekly internal staff newsletter is archived here.

  • Subsite for each curriculum area in the school where teachers store resources and materials. Teachers can also assign homework to students from these sites using the e-learning actions of the SharePoint Learning Kit.

  • Sites for each non-teaching department in the school, such as Network Services, Finance, and Facilities Management.

  • Site that hosts video clips for teaching. This ensures that media is used appropriately and not available to general student access.

  • Document libraries for areas such as school policies, stationery “cupboard”, meeting schedules, photo galleries, staff contact list, surveys, and links to clubs.

  • Link to the staff member’s files. The files, which were formerly stored by staff on a shared drive on the school network, are now stored in department libraries on the staff portal.

Each site within the staff portal is configured with permissions for the target audience. For example, some department sites are restricted for the staff of that department only.

The home page of the staff portal features a Flash movie of the plasma displays located around the school corridors.

Student portal

The student portal is the online home for students of Blatchington Mill School. Students access their e-mail from this site, as well as their personal Assignment Diary (described later in this article). They can also view their “My Profile”, a set of pages that reports their personal profile information, attendance, and performance data. The student portal provides access to class sites where class materials and other resources are stored for student access. The home page of the student portal features a Flash movie of the plasma displays located around the school corridors.

Students are members of their Year Page, a site dedicated for students of the same grade or year level. An Options site is specifically targeted for Year 9 students to help them decide which options classes to enroll in. Options classes are related to the path Year 9 student want to take after they graduate from Blatchington Mill. Similarly, links to student online learning programs are targeted to the appropriate students at the school.

Also accessed through the student portal:

  • Student bulletin site where the weekly student newsletter is archived

  • Links to other student sites, such as the Student Voice site, Student Council site, and Student Matters site

  • Discussion boards for interaction between students and between students and staff

  • Club sites

  • Student guidance information

  • School policies

  • Exam timetables

  • Links to external Web sites and resources, such as Encarta Online

  • Blogs from residential visits

  • School surveys

Both students and staff can access their documents remotely through the My Documents Web Part, provided by SalamanderSoft Ltd. (www.salamandersoft.com). This Web Part provides a seamless connection to a student’s workspace on the school network, displaying the contents as a document library on the portal.

MyDocuments Web Part

The Online Rewards Web Part for students was developed by Blatchington Mill and is available through The Kraal (www.the-kraal.com), a Web site that supports the use of SharePoint Products and Technologies, Information and Communications Technology, and Internet Technology in education. This Web Part links rewards points issued to students by teachers (through the MIS system) to a graphic display on the individual student’s pages. Leighton reports, “It seems to provide quite an incentive to students of any age.” Negative behavior points are not displayed in the Web Part. The following picture illustrates the online rewards for a student (red star indicates one online reward).

Online reward for a student

The student portal is created, supported, and updated by the larger education community at Blatchington Mill and can be accessed by the teaching and non-teaching staff, parents, and governors of the school, in addition to the students.

Parent portal

The parent portal is accessible by parents only. Parents are invited to register by requesting a user name and password. Subsequently, parents can change their passwords by using portal functionality.

The parent portal home page includes the following:

  • Announcements targeted to parents

  • Link to the student portal

  • Links to a specific child’s profile information and performance data. Parents can view:

    • Class registration and lesson attendance

    • Assessments and targets

    • Achievements and behaviors

    • A specific child’s Assignment Diary, including homework, due dates, and links to the associated materials and resources.

  • Link categories for parents featured on the home page, including:

    • Other parent portal areas

    • School links

    • Local weather

    • BBC Education News

    • Useful Web sites

  • Left-pane navigation to surveys, documents, lists, and discussions for parents.

  • Flash movie of the plasma displays located around the school corridors.

The following picture shows the top-left portion of the parent portal home page. Links to a child’s data is prominent across the top of the screen.

Parent portal home page

Document libraries include school policies, newsletters, and other information that is important for parents. The parent feedback forum is moderated by the Blatchington Mill School Network Services staff.

Classroom sites and the SharePoint Learning Kit

Classroom sites are automatically created by a third-party provisioning tool and are replaced each academic year. There is a class site for every teaching group in the school. Data on users and permissions are collected from SIMS by the provisioning tool and permissions are automatically configured for these sites. Teachers can edit their class sites and are encouraged to use these sites with their group of students.

Classroom sites are required to operate features of the SharePoint Learning Kit, including the online Assignment Diary. The Assignment Diary Web Part is installed at the top-level site of the overall solution and also within the separate portal sites for staff, student, and parent access. The Web Part displays different data depending on the audience (student, parent, or staff member).

The following screen shot provides a view of a student’s Assignment Diary.

Student's Assignment Diary

The view of a teacher’s Assignment Diary, as shown in the following screen shot, includes more tasks. Teachers can view the homework they have assigned, due dates, and status of student submissions.

Teacher's Assignment Diary

The Assignment Diary works by assigning a document or other file to students. Leighton notes that the school uses a workaround to assign homework that is not associated with a specific document or file. For example, teachers often assign students to read specific pages or chapters of a textbook and to answer questions that are listed in the book. Leighton created a way for teachers to easily add a Word document that includes instructions for the homework assignment:

“We have a list Web Part which sits on the staff portal. When a teacher clicks on New, it opens a Word template into which they can type the homework instruction. They then close and save this file – it saves directly into the list on the screen. Now the teacher can assign the file sitting in the list to the class in the usual way, via e-learning actions.”

SIMS Learning Gateway and reporting Web Parts

The SIMS Learning Gateway is a discrete site collection that houses all pages and Web Parts provided by the Capita SIMS (MIS) system. This site surfaces data from SIMS.net for staff, students and parents. Additionally, a growing number of staff members from outside agencies that serve the students, such as career advisors, also have access to student data.

Capita SIMS SLG2 Web Parts are installed on target portals. Information that is displayed through each Web Part can vary depending on the user’s role. Web Parts in use by Blatchington Mill are listed in the following table.

Web Part Description

My Account

Manage account information and change passwords.

My Children (parents only)

Lists a parent’s children, allowing them to choose information for a specific child.

Basic Information

Displays student information, including contact and family information, medical information, and school history.

Classes

Lists a student’s classes and class times.

Registration Attendance

Reports attendance at registration sessions, short daily sessions with a tutor for guidance.

Lesson Attendance

Displays a lesson-by-lesson, real-time attendance grid for the current week. Parents can check student lesson attendance during the day from their workplace.

Achievements

Lists rewards, certificates, and other achievements.

Behavior

Reports behavior incidents and sanctions.

Assessments

Displays marksheets and reports.

Profiles

Reports full student profiles from SIMS Profiles.

Student Browse (staff only)

Search for a student and access student information.

Staff Browse (staff only)

Search for a member of the staff.

Marksheets

Extracts target and attainment data relating to the selected student. Staff can also enter new data.

Attendance Register

Staff can enter registration and student attendance data.

The following images show samples of reporting data that is available to parents.

Sample of reporting data available to parents

Summary

Blatchington Mill School uses a simple architecture to provide a sophisticated solution. The targeted portals bring together each of the school’s core audiences in practical and meaningful ways. By providing real-time reporting, parents are able to more easily participate in their student’s progress and accomplishments on a more regular basis.

Download this book

This topic is included in the following downloadable book for easier reading and printing:

See the full list of available books at Downloadable content for Office SharePoint Server 2007.

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