A departure from my normal blog topics to something even more relevant to a lot of schools than my normal writings.
SIMS is a School Management database, written and supported by Capita Education Services. 6 months has passed since I was invited to join Capita at their Annual Conference to see and write about forthcoming changes, as well as report back on the year (and ask the awkward questions from the community). In this post, Im going to pick up on SIMS Learning Gateway (SLG for short) – which as I keep reminding them, needs to be renamed!
Before I get started, I would like to thank Product Manager Ben Jones for his time and the information he supplied so I could write this post. There will also be a follow up post to this as I will be interviewing Ben at the BETT show. If you have any questions you would like me to put to him, please send them to me via Edugeek or Twitter.
SIMS Learning Gateway in 2013
One of the biggest drawbacks of SLG has always been the very data driven view it offers. Now, in most systems, this would be great – but in this case, remember the target audience. Sadly, the viewpoint has been from most “users” that it is unfriendly and not very pretty or inspiring. I’d have to agree, even though I can apprieciate technically what is going on within the product and the restrictions it has on its method of surfacing the data from the SIMS database. People often forget that is all the webapps (well to give their proper title data view web parts) are doing. This inherantly makes them data driven and blocky as shown below…
This is pre Spring 2013. Im thankful to Ben and his team who have given me access to their entire rewrite of the way SLG brings data to the user. Rewind to last summer, and Ben gave me the inside information that he was revitalizing the SLG team with a big user interface overhaul; and reassessment of SLGs purpose. This started with the introduction of news and headlines which came in last year.
Then, attention turned data tidying. A data system is only as good as the data it contains. We know how quickly a database of contact details can get out of data – so the team refreshed the good old fashioned “Data Collection Sheet” for the 21st Century. This feature gave an indication of what Ben and his team had in mind for SLG. The new Data Collection Sheet was a complete break with the “boxy” SLG of old.
All data sent back into the School still needs to go through the approval process internally, so there is no fear of compromising the SIMS database.
The next quick win for the system would be to improve the main Student Details panels. These panels (well, web parts really) are re-used multiple times across the system. So, whether you are viewing Student Details as a Parent, Staff or the Student themselves – you get the same new view.
The timetable link opens the student timetable in a Sharepoint Calendar view – this screenshot has been taken from a Sharepoint 2007 demo install. Sharepoint 2010 looks a bit different.
Other parts of the Student details page webparts will launch similar details panes. For example, the attendance we can drill down to choose a term, and also then look at an expanded view.
All graphs on webparts can be panned back and forth and have their views filtered via the calendar button located to the top right of the webpart, and choosing the term or period from the drop down provided. The webparts respect the settings you make within SIMS.net, exactly as before, where you can control what information is shown (so hide conduct etc); or the periods of time that can be shown.
At the moment, Conduct details will still take you back to the same raw data “old style” view webparts.
Building on the success of the Key Performance Indicators used on the front page, development on a graphical view has also just been completed.
As with all of the new style webparts, hover over them and you can “slide” left and right to change your view. All the views are configured from within SIMS.net.
So, hopefully, this has whetted your appetite for a new SLG – where the emphasis is now on usability rather than the data. This year is going to be a big year for SLG, with lots more development in the pipeline. Migration for original 2007 installations to 2010; and support for the new 2013 version are well underway. Tie into that, the developments with Agora – which is all hosted on the Microsoft Azure platform; this speaks of a changing SIMS product.
Many thanks to Ben Jones and the SIMs Learning Gateway development team for sharing their information; and allowing me to publish it in advance.