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GrinnellShare shifts intranet to the cloud

Over the course of the past year, Grinnell’s Information Technology Services (ITS) and Communications offices have been working together to launch the College’s first ever official intranet service, GrinnellShare. The project seeks to integrate otherwise disparate applications and programs used by students, faculty and staff on a daily basis similar to the way PioneerWeb (PWeb) is being used now.

GrinnellShare is officially introduced as the College’s first official intranet service in JRC 101. Photo by Chris Lee.
GrinnellShare is officially introduced as the College’s first official intranet service in JRC 101.
Photo by Chris Lee.

The College held several informational sessions in attempts to explain the new service, including presentations in ARH 102 and JRC 101 on Monday, Sept. 29. The change was proposed as an attempt to shift users from a learning management system like PWeb to a more secure and stable cloud-based platform.

“PWeb was initially meant to be used for classroom purposes only, but is now being used as an intranet platform,” said Renee Rockwell, the Associate Director of Project Management for ITS.

Rockwell said that ITS has received complaints regarding the functionality of PWeb and the College’s website as a result of its difficulty and general confusion.

“We had been trying to use the website as everything for everyone,” Rockwell said. “There was a call to bring it all together.”

The program itself borrows largely from the familiar design format of PWeb, with an “Announcement” section in addition to “Featured News and Events,” “Calendar” and “Dining Menu” sections.

“Every office department will have their own publishing page, and each department will be able to determine what information goes on their pages,” Rockwell said of the new service.

New programs, such as Office 365 and GrinnellShare, are all built on the foundation of Microsoft SharePoint, a web application framework. The original platform, Blackboard, atop which PWeb still functions, was never intended to be a community intranet system but grew into its role as one. SharePoint is related to GrinnellShare in the same way Blackboard is to PioneerWeb.

GrinnellShare boasts an increase in transparency and collaboration, not only between the program and its users but also among these various users, similar to Google Docs.

“One of our main goals was accessibility,” said Director of Interactive Communications Sarah Anderson.

Rockwell explained that GrinnellShare is still a work in progress, but ITS expects that it will eventually be very similar to PWeb from an end user’s perspective.

“At the moment, you would need to continue to log into everything separately, but in the long term we are looking at integration,” Rockwell said.

In its infancy, the idea of GrinnellShare was pitched and introduced to a committee of faculty and staff, who later also chose SWC Technology Partners, an IT consulting firm headquartered in Illinois, to hire contractors to work with ITS and the Communications team at the College.

“We were in the beta testing phase for a while and have begun actually developing the website as of February [2014],” Rockwell said. “This was not a quick decision at all.”

Rockwell and Anderson compared the process of bringing GrinnellShare to campus to that of building a house.

“The first phase is the foundation,” Rockwell said at a GrinnellShare presentation in ARH on Monday afternoon. “[That] is what SharePoint provides. Then we populate it, build the walls, and then fine-tune it, getting the walls high enough, and finally, phase four becomes a place for continuous and systematic improvement.”

Anderson explained that the goal is to have a significant amount of content in GrinnellShare before the spring semester of 2015.

“We’re in the training phase right now,” she said regarding how faculty and their departments are slowly being ushered into the new program. “Our hope is to have a majority of the content moved from these other systems [such as PWeb] into GrinnellShare by the end of this semester.”

Although SharePoint is more intricate and expansive than Blackboard, Rockwell said that there is no programming or coding knowledge required on the part of the departments using GrinnellShare and that the new features do not imply a steep learning curve.

“It’s just going to be point and click,” Rockwell said.

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