The future of SharePoint in Higher Education

Northumbria University’s Eduserv funded research project into the usage of SharePoint within UK Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) is drawing to a conclusion, and we are currently drafting the final report. The report will be published on Eduserv’s website early in 2010. Whlle drafing the report we came up with the following thoughts on what the future holds for SharePoint in Higher Education:

Beginnings of the adoption of SharePoint 2010
SharePoint 2010 will become available in the first half of 2010. Most HEIs will wait until a service pack has been issued before they think about upgrading to it, so it wll be 2011 before SharePoint 2010 starts to have an impact. SharePoint 2010 will bring improvements to the social computing functionality of My Sites, with Facebook/Twitter style status updates, and with tagging and bookmarking. My Sites are significant in an HE context because they are the part of SharePoint that HEIs consider providing to students as well as staff. We have hitherto seen lackluster take up of My Sites in HE. Some HEIs implementing SharePoint 2007 have decided not to roll out My Sites at all, others have only provided them to staff, others have made them available to staff and students but decided not to actively promote them. We are likely to see increasing provision and take up of My Sites from those HEIs that move to SharePoint 2010.

Fuzzy boundary between SharePoint implementations and Virtual Learning Environments (VLEs)
There is no prospect, in the near future, of SharePoint challenging Blackboard’s leadership in the market for institutional VLEs for teaching and learning. Most HEIs now have both an institutional VLE, and a SharePoint implementation. Institutional VLEs are accustomed to battling against web hosted applications such as Facebook for the attention of staff and students. They now also face competition internally from SharePoint. We are currently finding that SharePoint is used at the margins of teaching and learning, filling in for areas that VLEs are weaker at. HEIs have reported SharePoint’s use for one-off courses and small scale courses; for pieces of work requring students to do group collaboration work, and for work that can not fit within the confines of one course. Schools or faculties that don’t like their institution’s proprietary VLE have long been able to grab an open source VLE (such as Moodle) and build their own VLE in that. Now we are hearing of some schools grabbing SharePoint and building a school specific VLE in SharePoint. However SharePoint has a long way to go before it is anything more than marginal to teaching and learning.

Increase in average size of SharePoint implementations
At the point of time in which the research was conducted (summer and autumn of 2009) many of the implementations we looked at were at an early stage. The boom in SharePoint came in 2008 and 2009, as HEIs started to pick up on SharePoint 2007. We will see the maturation of many implementations which are currently less than a year old. This is likely to bring with it some governance challenges (for example ‘SharePoint sprawl’) which are not apparent when implementations are smaller. It will also increase the percentage of staff and students in HE familiar with SharePoint as a working environment. One HEI told us that some of their academics, unaware that the University are about to deploy SharePoint, have been asking for SharePoint because they have been working with colleagues at other institutions who are using it.

Increasing competition from Google Apps for the collaboration space
SharePoint seems to have seen off the competition from other proprietary ECM vendors in the collaboration space (though it faces strong competition from both proprietary and open source systems in the web content management space and the portal space). It seems that the most likely form of competition in the collaboration space will come in the shape of Google Apps which offers significantly less functionality, but operates on a web hosted subscription model which may appeal to HEIs that want to avoid the complexities of the configuration and management of SharePoint

Formation of at least one Higher Education SharePoint User Group
It is suprising that no Higher Education SharePoint user group yet exists. The formation of one or more such groups would seem to be essential given the high level of take up in the sector, the complexity of the product, the customisation and configuration challenges it poses, and the range of uses it can be put to. Such a user group or groups could:

  • support the sharing of knowledge across the sector
  • provide the sector with a voice in relation to both Microsoft and to vendors within the ecosystem around SharePoint
  • enable the sector to explore the implications of Microsoft’s increasing dominance within higher education, as domination of the collaboration space is added to its domination of operating systems, e-mail servers, and office productivity software.