A School Site to Track Schedules, Assignments and Grades (Part II)

Guest Author: Trudy Hutzler

Welcome to part two of the School Site Overview.

In the last article I gave you some background about why we created the School Site, and I showed how we tracked classes. In this article we start to get into more of the fun stuff as I walk you through how we track homework and assignments.

The Home Page

Again starting on the Home Page, where we have used Easy Tabs version 5 to organize our data, I want to start with the “All Assignments” tab. Here is a list of all assignments that are due for the current quarter and their status.

This shows whether an assignment is submitted, late and by how many days, or how many days until it is due. To evaluate how many days till due, or late against the due date I used Christophe’s new Countdown/Countup formulas.

The priority of the assignment is indicated by the font color of the Assignment Title. I used the Color Coded Calendar tool from the SharePoint Users Toolkit for this piece and just tweaked it a little for my use.

The progress % is a visual indicator showing the percentage of the assignment that has been completed. It moves from Red to bright green as it moves across the bar. The actual color changes in 10% increments.

With online classes, it is not unusual to have classes with over 100 students, so as you can imagine it sometimes takes the teachers a while before they grade all those assignments and post the grades. Until they are all graded the assignment remains blank or at 0% making it hard to know if the assignment was submitted and being graded or was late. So we added the Submitted field so we as parents know if the assignment was submitted, and my daughter can be sure she didn’t forget to turn in the assignment after she completed her work, which if you have teenagers you know can happen a lot.

The Due Today and Due This Week tabs are pretty self-explanatory they are filter views of the Assignments list which list all assignments that are due. The image below shows the Due This Week tab.

The Late Assignments tab is another filtered view which gives us a list of all assignments that are past their due date, and have not been marked as submitted.

The List

As I said in my last article the Lists are the real work horse of the School Site and the Assignments List is really the nerve center for the whole site, everything else is just for support of this one list. In this list all homework assignments for the current quarter are tracked, and the grades recorded. We even track how many days until it is due, or how many days an assignment is late. We also provide access to any links needed to complete the assignment, and scheduled time for completing the work. It all happens here, and it all gets integrated from here as well.

Keeping track of the assignments is only one part of process; you also need to manage your time so that you can actually get the work done and submitted.  But as we all know clicking around between your to-do list and your calendar is a pain, even for the most disciplined of us, but especially for a teenager.  I knew if it wasn’t easy to move between assignment list and calendar and somehow tie the two together it wouldn’t be long before my daughter gave up and went back to her old tried and failed methods of doing her work.   So we needed to find a way to connect her Assignments list with the Schedule calendar.  You may remember the Schedule calendar from the last article.

This calendar color codes the entries by changing the background color according to the category you choose.  If you look at the figure above you will see some of the entries have a green background, another entry has a red background, and so on.  When you create a calendar entry there is a Category field where you can choose a category like “Holidays-No School” which would give the entry a green background and “Report Periods” which would give the entry a red background.  The category you choose will determine the background color of the calendar entry.

But that’s not all, if you call in and order in the next 30 minutes you will also receive the added feature of the Assignment List integration.  You can link your calendar event with an item in your assignment list by using a hyperlink that when clicked will open up the view list item dialog box from the Assignments list.

 Let’s say you are checking out your schedule in the calendar and see an assignment you are supposed to be working on, but can’t remember what it is you were supposed to do for the assignment.  If you open the calendar event, it will look something like the figure below.   You can now scroll down to the Assignment field and click on the hyperlink, which for this example is titled “Assignment 4”.  

This will open the View list item dialog box for this homework assignment from the Assignments list, which you can see in the figure below.  The Assignment List item will even open in a new window so you don’t have to navigate back to the Calendar page again. 

But wait that’s still not all, did you notice the Assignment Page link at the top of the calendar page?

Click that link and go straight to the All Tasks view of the Assignments List, as shown in the figure below.

The All Task, as seen above, is the default view for this list. Notice that in this view we are using the Title field that is linked to the edit dialog box. This gives us quick access to edit the item and update its information. We can easily see how much progress has been made on the assignment by the progress bar. If you click on any of the links in the Scheduled column it will open the dialog box for the calendar item associated with this assignment.

So if you need to reschedule your time to work on the assignment or extend it to another day you can do so easily from the list item itself without having to navigate away from the page. But what if no work time has been scheduled for this item yet? No problem, to schedule time to work on this item, simply select the assignment in the list, hover your mouse over the title of the item then click on the down arrow to open the drop down list item menu. There we have added a new action called Schedule Work using SharePoint designer.

Click on Scheduled work and you will be redirected to the Schedule Calendar where you can schedule time to complete this assignment. Then simply hit the back button on your browser, or click on the Assignments Page link at the top of the page to return to the Assignment list. Finally notice the last column Late Status, this is our newest addition to the site and is based on the Countdown/Countup Formulas Christophe debuted in his blog not long ago. Once I saw them I just had to have them, and Christophe was kind enough to let me beta test them. I of course altered them just a tiny bit to better fit my purposes. The formula you are seeing in this view is the system time formula; I will show you the Internet Time formula in just a little bit. I have used both for demonstration purposes.

So basically that is the list, I have used views to change the way the list looks and functions based on what I needed to accomplish. For example, to track late assignment I created the Late Assignment view that you saw on the Late Assignment tab on the home page. Or I have created a calendar view to show when each assignment is due on a calendar. Some views have a few more visual indicators, like the Details view.

I wanted to be able to see which assignments were more heavily weighted and therefore, should have a higher priority, but I didn’t want to add another column when I was already struggling to keep all the information from running together in a hodge podge. So I made a dual purpose field that would display the Title of the assignment and then color code its priority level by changing the color of the font. May not be real fancy, but it is effective.

Remember when I told you we would be seeing the Internet Time based countdown/countup formula later, well here is in the IsLate column. If you need to create more visual impact this is the one for you, it combines the countdown/countup information with an icon image to really get your attention. I also tweaked this formula a tiny bit to make it more suitable for my needs, mainly by changing the text.

As I have said before replace classes with projects, assignments with milestones, and grades for progress or performance indicators and you can see how these same concepts can be adapted to the business world.

In my next post I will cover how we track grades, because in the end it’s all about the grades.

Easy Tabs and accessibility

Adaptive Web Design is my topic of the day, with my RSS reader bringing me two articles on this theme: Responsive Layouts Using CSS Media Queries, by Kyle Schaeffer, and Now You See Me by Aaron Gustafson.

I am sure the Easy Tabs have a role to play in responsive layout, but today I’ll focus on the second article.

In this excerpt from his book, Aaron compares various methods to show and hide content – a standard pattern nowadays with tabbed interfaces, accordions and other widgets.

This gives me an opportunity to point out one of the changes I made to the Easy Tabs last year. In version 5, the show/hide behavior is now included in a stylesheet, in a class called “et-offscreen”. And the method I use is the one recommended by Aaron Gustafson: instead of changing the display to “none”, move the content off-screen. This way, users don’t see it anymore, but assistive technologies can still access it.

As we’re talking Web design, I should also mention that the Easy Tabs follow the progressive enhancement approach.

If you are not familiar with CSS, this post may just be as clear as mud. But the bottom line is that by adhering to the principles of accessibility and progressive enhancement, the Easy Tabs v5 are currently a solid solution to build tabbed interfaces.

A School Site to Track Schedules, Assignments and Grades (Part I)

Guest Author: Trudy Hutzler

Trudy currently works as a Senior Technical Architect for AT&T Hosting and Application Management, where she provides Windows Server and SharePoint support and administration.  She is also a contributing author for the new Mastering SharePoint Foundation 2010 book.

As a SharePoint Administrator I often get asked about adding visualizations and such to SharePoint to add that little something extra to the out of the box SharePoint experience.  As an avid follower of Path to SharePoint I find many of the solutions Christophe has provided are a great way to enhance the users SharePoint experience without requiring me, as the Administrator, to maintain a lot of code or customizations on the server.  As good as the solutions are on their own, when you begin to combine them and layer them you can create something that is user friendly and visually appealing.

To demonstrate this I am going to share with you a School Site that I created for my oldest daughter who attends school online.  Now obviously not everyone will have a need for a School Site to track classes, homework assignments, and grades, but if you replace classes with departments or projects, homework assignments with milestones or requirements, and grades with assessments or performance ratings, you can begin to see where this concept can be applied to many more business related activities.

To make this easier to follow I am going to break this down into several posts, the first few will be an overview of the site and what it looks like, and then later posts will cover how I created each part and tied them together.  When it is all said and done I hope to provide readers with a copy of my site, and all the formulas I used.  So let me start by giving you the nickel tour.

BACKGROUND

The high schools in our area are not all that great, so my oldest daughter attends a state chartered online school.  We love the way the classes themselves are conducted, but the homework and grade interface is difficult to navigate, confusing, and it is very easy to miss an important assignment simply because it is hidden deep in layers of folders.  After an entire year of missing and late assignments and a constant struggle to navigate the interface, my daughter came to me last summer and asked me to help her create a SharePoint site on my development farm I have at home that she could use instead.

What you are about to see is the current version of that site.  My daughter would like me to note that all names, classes, and grades have been changed to protect the innocent, and that no actual grades have been used in creating this demo.

This site is created on the Team Site template, and I am using SharePoint Foundation 2010, however most of the functionality will work on SharePoint 2007, with a few exceptions like calendar overlay which is only available with SharePoint 2010.

As we go through the series I will refer you back to the blog entries I used to create each feature, and make all of the formulas available.  I will also be adding them to a special document library I have added to the demo site which, with Christophe’s help, I hope to make a copy of the site available to the readers for their use.

ON THE HOME PAGE

The site itself has three main functions; track classes, track homework assignments, and track grades. In this post I will be walking through the parts of the site that we use to track classes.

For tracking classes, my daughter needed to know the days and times her classes were scheduled for and what each teachers fax number was for submitting work she was unable to submit in the drop boxes provided by the school.  She also needed to be able to keep control of her schedule by scheduling in time to do her assignments. As parents we needed to know when she was supposed to be attending her online classes, the name of her teachers and how to contact them if we had questions. We also needed to know when the grade periods started and ended, and when there was no school.  Most of all we needed a way for busy parents, as well as the student, to be able to track it all at a glance.  This is what we came up with.


 
On the home page of the school site we used Easy Tabs to create an easy way to organize and navigate through the information we wanted “at our finger tips”. Some of the views are for Mom and Dad’s information, others are for our daughter’s use, but it is all there in one spot.

This first tab “Class Calendar”, as seen above, is a view of her class schedule, but to make it even more informative we over laid her schedule and assignment calendar views to give it a more complete view.

Next we will look at the tabs pertaining to classes and schedules.  The Schedule tab, This Week tab, and the Today’s Schedule tab show a calendar view of the scheduled classes and events for the month, the week, or for the day.  This helps other family members know when she is busy attending her web classes and can’t be disturbed.  This actually comes in very handy on days when my other children have no school, like snow days, and they know when they need to be quiet and leave their Sister alone, however you can use something like this to tack meetings, or deadlines, schedule events, etc.

For this calendar we have added color coding so we can easily differentiate between scheduled classes, work time, and holidays.

The last tab is Print Preview click on one of the other tabs that you would like a printed version for, then click on the Print Preview tab and it will create a printer friendly view of that tab, click on your browsers print button to print.  Once you have printed out your page if you look at the Print Preview tab it now reads Back to Page.  Click on this tab and you will be returned to your regular view.

For us, this gives my daughter a printed copy to keep with her and refer to throughout the day, or a schedule to post of the refrigerator, or just a list of assignments to follow up on at the end of the day, but you can also use this feature to print out pages to add to a report or share with others who may not have access to your site.

LIBRARIES

We are using the Shared Documents library to keep copies of any downloaded forms, assignments, test, or home work she has written up and scanned to email to the teacher or upload to the Drop Box in the class web site.  This way if something doesn’t reach the teacher the work is handy and can be easily resubmitted.
She also has to keep an activity diary for PE, she didn’t want those getting mixed in with other assignments so we made a separate library for it.
Finally for this demonstration I added a third document library to hold text file copies of all the formulas and calculations used in creating this site.
                                             

 

LISTS

It is in the lists that the real action starts.  It is the Class Calendar, Assignments, Schedule, Contacts and Grades that are the real work horses for this site.  Since this post is all about organizing and tracking classes we will look at the Class Calendar and Contacts lists.

The Class Calendar is really just the Team Site Calendar renamed.  We added all her regularly scheduled classes in as events, and later over laid the Assignment Calendar, which is how my Daughter schedules in time to actually work on her assignments, to increase its impact and usefulness.


 
Next we needed to track information about the classes, teachers and contact information so we created a contact list.  We started with a basic contact list then removed fields that weren’t needed and were just cluttering up the place, and added a few custom fields till we got what we needed.


 
We kept the usual contact fields like First and Last Name, Phone Numbers, and such.  Then we edited the Category from your typical Work, Meeting, Phone Call, etc. to something more school oriented like Teacher, Advisor, School Staff, Student and Other.  Finally we added another Choice field and added in the name of her classes.

At this point my Daughter decided she needed a place to keep track of all her other dates and to schedule time to actual work on each assignment.  So we created another calendar called Schedule which, since it would track multiple types of events, we made into a color coded calendar.


 
This calendar color codes the entries by category.  When you create a calendar entry, along with all the usual fields like title, location, start and end time, all day event or reoccurring event check boxes you also have a category choice field.  The category you choose will determine the color of the calendar entry.


 
So now you can see how using calendar overlays, and color coded calendars, in conjunction with Easy Tabs can begin to create a very useful interface.  This same concept can easily be adapted to tracking projects, deadlines, meetings and other deliverables.  And you don’t have to be a code ninja to get the job done.

In my next post I will get into the real nitty gritty of what makes the School Site work when I show you how we are tracking, and scheduling homework and assignments.

Coming soon on Path to SharePoint

No post in more than a month, this had never happened since I started this blog in 2008! Yes, starting my new company, traveling across the US, and the tax return have taken their toll…

Mind you, the blog still remained very active, with more than a hundred comments posted in the past month. But now it’s about time I add new content. So what’s coming next?

My next tutorial will be about countdowns/countups. I already published a live demo in February. If you can’t wait, head out for the SharePoint User Toolkit, a first countdown-countup page is already posted there! (and remember to send me some feedback)

I am also working on the Easy Tabs v 5.1. One of the most common request is to have more branding options (colors, hover effects, etc.). I already made a leap forward between v4 and v5.0, and I hope to bring some more improvements soon. I already published an example of custom style (including a live demo), but the release of Internet Explorer 9 changes the game (for example IE 9 natively supports rounded corners, no need for workarounds).

In March, I spoke at the San Diego SharePoint User Group. After I clean up my slides, I’ll post them, along with some interesting Q&As from the session.

I also have a couple projects with my new company, User Managed Solutions LLC. In particular I am working on a new online training offer for this Fall – more details coming in May!

Last, but not least, I am honored to welcome guest blogger Trudy Hutzler for a series on creating a “school site”. Trudy is a Senior Technical Architect for AT&T Hosting and Application Management, and a contributing author for the Mastering SharePoint Foundation 2010 book. As this blog is user focused, she is not going to talk about her experience on SharePoint 2010 migrations, but about a custom site she built for her daughter who attends school online. Stay tuned!

Live demo: countdown/countup

Countdowns, and generally speaking comparisons with Today’s date,  have been a recurring theme on my blog.

SharePoint 2010 hasn’t brought much improvement to the “Today” issue, so the workarounds published on my blog in 2008 remain a good reference, either the one I wrote for Data View Web Parts or Alexander Bautz’ follow up article for list views.

A year ago, I blogged about two other solutions, one relying on jQuery, the other on Flash and ClockLink.com (the demos are not active anymore).

Today I am showing two new examples that are much simpler than the previous ones. The live demo is here:
http://sp2010.pathtosharepoint.com/Portfolio/Pages/Countdown.aspx

Why much simpler? Because the only thing you need in the page is my Text to HTML script – the exact same that is used for color coding calendars. The calculated column will take care of all the rest (for example the formula to calculate the difference between target date and Today, or the color selection).

Note that there’s a key difference between the two examples: the “Countdown” column relies on the local time of your computer, while the “TimeAndDate” column pulls today’s time from TimeAndDate.com. In the past, I have already highlighted this important choice (for example, don’t use the local computer time if you’re building an auctions site!).

The drawback of this new approach is redundancy – the current date is calculated for each item. So I would recommend to only use it for views with few items.

You’ll notice that the column filters also render the HTML (cf. above screenshot). That’s because the page uses a custom version of my Text to HTML. It is still work in progress, so please don’t copy this script!

Special offer: SharePoint 2007 Gantt workshop

I am still working on my new workshop series that I’ll launch in the beginning of next year. The workshop descriptions will be added under the workshops tab on http://sp2010.pathtosharepoint.com.

Some people have already contacted me several weeks ago about the Gantt solutions for SharePoint 2007. I understand that January 2011 is still far away, so if you are interested in this workshop here is my proposal:
– you register for a one hour one-on-one session
– we set up a meeting, based on our time zone
– I’ll provide my current solutions to address your immediate needs (typically the dynamic timescale)
– you’ll also get a free ticket to the January workshop, where you’ll get all the updated scripts (~10 solutions, for Gantt views and calendar views).

If you are interested, please register on my home page, and I’ll get back to you within 24 hours. Note that the solutions offered in this workshop are for SharePoint 2007 only (wss v3 and MOSS), and don’t apply to SharePoint 2010.

For a live demo of the dynamic Gantt timescale, visit this page:
http://www.pathtosharepoint.com/Pages/GanttTimeScale.aspx

If I could nominate a SharePoint MVP…oh wait, I can!

I am relatively new to the Microsoft world, and the MVP program has always been a mystery to me. Fortunately, Eric Ligman had the good idea to explain it all in a blog post published this week:
How to become a Microsoft MVP, find a Microsoft MVP, nominate a Microsoft MVP, and more

As I just lamented yesterday about the emphasis on IT professionals and .Net developers, this got me thinking. Yes, people who work on “User Managed Solutions” should also be represented in this prestigious circle.

I can think of a couple community members I’d like to see rewarded for their actions in the SharePoint End User community. But as a deep, technical knowledge is required for the MVP program, there is really one person who stands out. So I followed the instructions in this page and did my homework:

Nominee’s name: Marc D Anderson

Country where the nominee lives: U.S.A.

Nominee’s main spoken language: English

One or two Microsoft technologies or products that are the nominee’s area of expertise
SharePoint / SharePoint Designer

Specific examples of online/offline community activities in which the person you are nominating participates
Active participation in multiple SharePoint forums: MSDN SharePoint Design and Customization Forum , SharePointOverflow.com , Stump the Panel
Blog on SharePoint technologies http://sympmarc.com
Active Codeplex project, including regular updates and discussions: http://spservices.codeplex.com/
Speaker at SharePoint events (SharePoint Saturday DC, SharePoint Technology Conference).
Always makes himself available to answer questions via twitter or e-mail.

Marc, maybe I should have contacted you before writing this post, but hey, we have a 12 hour time difference and I didn’t want to wake you up ;-). Thank you for your amazing contribution to the SharePoint community!

SharePoint User Managed Solutions, a new LinkedIn group

I just started a LinkedIn group: SharePoint User Managed Solutions (SUMS). Its purpose is to share best practices, ideas and business opportunities, around the deployment of User Managed Solutions in SharePoint.

What are User Managed Solutions?

What I call User Managed Solutions, in the context of SharePoint, are solutions that can be installed, customized, maintained, upgraded, using only tools that are available to SharePoint users. These tools are mainly the SharePoint user interface and SharePoint Designer, but could also include desktop applications, like the Office suite, or other tools that rely on Web services.

The techniques used to build the solutions include:
– Client side code (JavaScript, jQuery, stylesheets, Web services, etc.)
– Page, list and site templates
– Themes
– Data View Web Parts
– Reusable workflows
– Metadata (Content types, Calculated Columns)
– etc.

A couple notes:
– “User” is not restricted to end user / business user, it means anybody who accesses SharePoint through its user interface.
– the solutions can run either on the client side (e.g. JavaScript) or on the server side (e.g. workflows).

Why a new social network?

In the past few years, several factors have pushed the development of User Managed Solutions:
– SharePoint environments where server side implementations are not possible (BPOS for example), or are prohibited (company policies)
– the evolution of Web design and browsers, making client side options more and more attractive
– Microsoft’ s move to open SharePoint customization to a larger public: SharePoint Designer free since April 2009, Web services and Object model, templates and themes, reusable workflows, etc.
– Increased visibility, thanks to the SharePoint blogging community showcasing more and more advanced solutions, involving in particular Data View Web Parts, scripts and Web services.

Still, these opportunities are not yet used to their full potential. SharePoint remains a world where the emphasis is largely on IT specialists and .NET developers. By creating a dedicated network, I hope to make it easier for those among us, who are interested in User Managed Solutions, to meet their peers.

Who could benefit from this new group?

User Managed Solutions involve different actors, creating a bridge between the business and the technical worlds.

Business users understand the immediate benefits of the solutions, but not necessarily the long term or large scale implications. they need more guidance to deploy the solutions in a sustainable way, and assess their value against other options.

Business analysts and consultants benefit from the versatility of such solutions, allowing them to better answer the business users’ needs.

Solution providers can deliver solutions that are more flexible and better tailored to specific needs. But to make this work, they need closer interaction with analysts and end users.

Why LinkedIn?

There are many ways to build a social network. I already rely on blogs, forums, and twitter. What interested me in LinkedIn was the business dimension.
In particular, there’s one issue I currently see with User Managed Solutions: many potential users are attracted by their versatility,  but are reluctant to pay the full price of a custom development. I hope that by mutualizing the requirements and developments, we can identify more win-win opportunities.
I also hope that by bringing the actors together, we’ll build a more professional approach, where solutions are actually managed and not just copy-pasted (think JavaScript/jQuery). This will increase their credibility and recognition among SharePoint professionals.

To get started, and show what I am expecting from this new group, I have posted a first discussion:
Lightweight, interactive charting solution