So, you think you know SIMS Learning Gateway?

SLG (SIMS Learning Gateway) is a product, or should I say product suite on the change. Since Ben Jones took over the management of SLG – there has been a concerted reassessment of the aims and purpose of the project. The world has changed since the original SLG came to market… BECTA has gone, the “cloud” has happened and the emphasis on data-savy schools has increased.

We live in a more connected world than ever, with the mass adoption of tablet and mobile technology. SLG was never designed with this in mind – it originally is from the “get the data out there” era, so that people who wanted to could see it. Parents and students alike are used to the concept of information at a glance – with dedicated mobile views of websites and apps.

Fear not, SLG now caters for this change in the market. It actually caters for it very well…the mobile views were developed last year, and are actually quite clever. I got the chance to talk to Ben Jones (SLG Suite Product Manager) about this and got a bit more detail on the architecture and difficult decisions that had to be made.

Of course, Sharepoint – the platform SLG is built on – natively support mobile views; but that isn’t quite the user experience Ben had in mind. I take you back to points from previous articles – the consumerisation of IT. There is a whole team dedicated to looking at the user experience, because it matters. Not that it didn’t matter before of course, but what you need to bear in mind is that the users in this case are external to the School. You can think of them as consumers, customers of the School. There are higher than ever expectations of how information should be presented, animated graphs, big clear buttons, easy scrolling and pinch to zoom.

SLG has had a fully developed dedicated “non-sharepoint” interface for just under a year; so it should come as no surprise that the next step was to take this to the next level and work on native apps for mobile devices. Many of you will have seen this demonstrated at BETT this year, and I have to say, it was very impressive. It was impressive even when it was only early betas and mock ups this time last year. To start with, we will only have a “Teacher App” – for registers, student information, timetables…but fear not, assessment and conduct are coming. In fact, it will go further than that, with a range of apps for Parents, and Students too. I take you back to being data-savy. The best tool for improvement is clarity of information – if you place the information in the hands of the right people and in an easy to interpret format, you stand the best chance of a result.

And getting results is where the SLG suite is headed next. I first remember talking about homework and diaries and lesson plans just over a year ago. It was very much about the joined up thinking perspective. How great would it be if teachers could reuse the assessment columns and mark sheets for homework, and that homework be visible to the students and their parents? Well, that is sort of where things are heading. Part of the SLG suite is now dedicated to Homework. Even better, it’s tied into Assessment Manager and the Class Register too…the jigsaw is starting to come together.

The good news about Homework doesn’t end there. Tasks are traffic light colour-coded, supporting the “at a glance” status of the homework assignment – whether it’s been handed in on time, was late, not handed in at all or whether it’s not yet due.The homework functionality isn’t just restricted to listing title, description and due date either. It has more capabilities, including the ability to hyperlink to other documents…for example stored in your VLE, or even better in SLG where you can take advantage of the Office Web Apps – displaying the Microsoft Word, Excel or Powerpoint document in the browser without needing Office on the machine (limited to Sharepoint 2010 upwards). But really, your resources could be anywhere. Nothing is stopping a teacher creating a homework diary in advance with all the linked documents…like a scheme of work. This area, if developed further could be so powerful in building that central repository that SIMS is for a School.

Think about a real scenario for a moment, and the difference this will make to the different stakeholders… the teacher, the pupil and the parent. And that’s just for starters; because once all the information is being stored in one place, it opens the doors for reporting and advising at a management level too.

Take homework hand-in time – keeping a track of who has and hasn’t handed in their work. This could be even more complicated when it comes to coursework, where pupils could be at different stages of the feedback cycle. The homework feature is embedded into the heart of SIMS so teachers can go through the class register and mark against each student’s name who has handed in their homework. Even better, as Ive hinted at – it is linked into Assessment Manager, so you an track all the marks too. We already know that SLG can surface assessment information (if a School chooses) completing the cycle. Coming soon, we would home that Discover will pick up some graphing tools for analysis tools surrounding homework.

The levels of work set to pupils, and their attainment can be monitored and tracked by department leaders, house staff, tutors and more.to monitor the levels of homework students are given and track their attainment. It helps them to support early intervention and ensure the success of assigned homework tasks. Intervention is the key point here, trends can be quickly spotted, both in terms of high and low achievers, allowing differentiated work to be set in future.

Now some of you may have read my post about SIMS Agora…if not, you should, because it gives you all the insight you need for what “could” happen with SLG. Certainly, some of the Agora “best bits” are coming backwards into SLG. The best one, the one which will really help with adoption, is the authentication model. With Agora, you can register (and then subsequently sign in) with your Windows Live (now called Microsoft) Account. Ideal…less details for your parents to remember, and it will reduce support calls. Even better will be when this is expanded to more than just Microsoft Accounts!

One other area being expanded in SLG actually relates to the SIMS Core experience rather than SLG per-se. One thing that has always bugged me about SLG is the lack of reporting of use. Sure – the Sharepoint-savy can play about in the main Sharepoint user tracking to see how much an area has been accessed, but that’s not real reporting. Soon, you will be able to have a SIMS Homepage widget, which will show you how many people have read reports for example, completed data collection sheets and more. Very useful for SLT, and showing adoption. I wouldn’t expect it to be long before we start to see views on Homework either. Next up, it would also be nice to see some enhancements around the new SIMS Personnel side of things…Employee Self Service for holiday, CPD etc.

There is still work to be done here, but we can see where SLG is headed. I wouldn’t expect it will be long before we see SLG becoming “Lite-Touch” like Agora, where the actual SLG components can be laid into any environment – whether that be main School Website, or Intranet. Agora shows us what is possible.

You can read more about the homework feature and SLG in general on the Capita SIMS website here http://www.capita-sims.co.uk/sims-learning-gateway-homework.

As ever, Im grateful to the staff at Capita for sparing their time to talk to me – particularly Ben Jones – Product Manager for SLG.

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3 thoughts on “So, you think you know SIMS Learning Gateway?

  1. Hi,

    a really good post, thank you. What is the “non-sharepoint” view and is the accessible / usable on the hosted version and if so how do i go about using it. This has never been mentioned to me by Capita.

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