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SharePoint and Collaboration 1

Running head: SharePoint and Collaboration

How does the use of SharePoint web services increase collaboration for teachers at

Riverside Secondary School?

Jeremy Brown

University of Oregon

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SharePoint and Collaboration 2

ABSTRACT

Current thought in education often points towards effective collaboration between

teachers as a transformative measure that directly impacts student learning and success.

New digital forms of communication are challenging the many structures and beliefs that

teachers have about traditional collaboration. In order to create a shift in global

collaboration, a long term, effective group-based approach to professional development

must be implemented for success. This study examines the how teachers at Riverside

Secondary School in Port Coquitlam British Columbia have used SharePoint web

services to increase collaboration between teachers, students, administration, between and

within departments. SharePoint is a multi-use web-based framework that allows any

participant to create on-the-fly collaborative websites.

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INTRODUCTION

The Internet and the World Wide Web have dramatically changed the landscape

of information and its spread throughout the world. Educators, who were once the

keepers of knowledge have now become gateways; they search, filter and redefine vast

amounts of information for their students. Emerging technologies created for the sole

purpose of communication, sharing and collaboration have become common place during

the Web 2.0 revolution of the past four years (Fletcher, 2008). Teachers have tentatively

started using these systems in classrooms to improve the interaction between themselves,

their students and the outside world (Chan, Leung, Yeung, Chow, Tsui, & Ng, 2005). The

idea of having teachers and students collaborate together to create new forms of learning

is not a new idea. Libraries, Universities and other centers of learning have been a focal

point for this type of academia for thousands of years. Over the last decade however, the

internet has lead to a diffusion of the world’s knowledge base.

Collaboration, whether it is face-to-face or online, allows for teachers to share ideas

and reflect on their teaching (Suntisukwongchote, 2006; Chan, Leung, Yeung, Chow,

Tsui, & Ng, 2005; Vavasseur & MacGregor, 2008). The increasing need for a new type

of collaboration comes from the speed and complexity of the systems that teachers are

being asked to implement in their everyday practice (Lipponen & Lallimo, 2004). With

the Web 2.0 revolution, a series of tools were developed (from several companies) to

increase the collaboration between markets, companies, groups and individuals. Known

collectively as Groupware, these systems support cooperative work between and among

people (Pumareja & Sikkel, 2006; Househ & Lau, 2005; Barbour, 2007). These tools can

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be as simple as email or as complex as a server based collaborative tool such as

Microsoft’s SharePoint, Facebook, Delicious or a host of other online applications.

According to Andriessen (2003), all groupware systems share the following common

aspects:

- Communication, i.e., exchanging signals


- Cooperation, i.e., working together, making decisions
- Coordination, i.e., adjusting the work of group members, leadership
- Information and sharing and learning, i.e., exchanging, sharing information and
knowledge
- Social interaction, i.e., group activities, developing trust, cohesion, conflict
handling and reflection

When these five components are brought together within a single piece of software, there

is a potential to bring about dramatic change in the social interactions between

individuals, groups and organizations.

In 2004, Coquitlam School District (encompassing the cities of Coquitlam, Port

Moody and Port Coquitlam located in Metro-Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada)

chose Microsoft’s SharePoint Web services to fulfill this need within its school and

administrative organization in 2004. Microsoft founder and past CEO Bill Gates (2006)

described SharePoint and its uses as:

It is a tool that creates websites for collaboration on specific projects. These sites

contain plans, schedules, discussion boards, and other information, and they can

be created by just about anyone in the company with a couple of clicks.

SharePoint puts me in touch with lots of people throughout the organization. It’s

like having a super-website that lets many people edit and discuss—far more than

the standard practice of sending emails with enclosures. And it notifies you if

anything comes up in an area you’re interested in (p.7-8).

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Within this new collaborative framework the Coquitlam School District looked for a

School to lead its implementation. Riverside Secondary School was chosen as a Lead

School and its teachers were given the opportunity to communicate, share, teach, learn

and work together within a new framework.

THE PURPOSE OF THE STUDY

The purpose of this study was to investigate if using SharePoint leads to an

increase in collaboration among the teachers, administration, students and departments at

Riverside Secondary. Investigations were facilitated by using a comparison of website

usage (specifically that of Riverside’s Professional Development Site) over a three year

period provided by the Coquitlam School District.

RESEARCH QUESTION

This study focused on a single question: How does the use of SharePoint web

services increase collaboration for teachers at Riverside Secondary School? The research

was triangulated with data from the Professional Development website (over a three year

period), survey results and notes from informal observations and discussions with staff

members. It is hypothesized that as staff members become familiar to SharePoint web

services (through direct instruction, familiarity and Professional Development) that

teacher-teacher and teacher-student collaboration using this platform will increase.

LITERATURE REVIEW

The idea of having people communicate and learn over large distances has been

around for hundreds of years (Ge & Tok, 2003), but the speed at which that

communication and the sharing of ideas takes place and the tools which individuals can

use to share ideas has changed dramatically. No longer do you have to physically travel

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to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to take a course or speak to an instructor; it

can now be done online, free of charge (West, Wright, Gabbitas, & Graham, 2006).

Never again will you buy an encyclopedia from a salesman; instead you will discuss,

collaborate and contribute information into a Wiki (an updatable and editable webpage),

where people from around the world can then edit and modify your work (Tapscott &

Williams, 2006).

The idea of collaboration is neither new nor revolutionary by any means however

the instruments have evolved (Tapscott & Williams, 2006). When the tractor excavator

replaced the shovel, the ability to dig holes wasn’t significantly altered but the speed and

scale which the holes were dug increased astronomically. The new tools for collaborators

are shrinking the world for anyone who has access to the internet (Codone, 2004). Wikis,

Discussion Boards (virtual bulletin board), List-serves (a collection of email address

linked to one another) and web forums (a place where particular groups exchange

information without the need of complex software) offer both synchronous and

asynchronous types of collaboration (Shneiderman, 2007).

In education, collaboration is keenly tied to the professional development of

teachers and the success of students (Fullan & Hargreaves, 1996). Collaboration allows

teachers to share ideas, reflect on practice, share the burden of responsibility and get

advice on issues of common interest (Suntisukwongchote, 2006). Websites with Wiki’s,

Discussion Boards, List-Serves and Web Forums can be made public and information can

be disseminated and updated easily (Bango, Levy, & Eylon, 2006). The web also allows

for the breaking down of systemic and structural barriers to the collaborative process

allowing people that would not normally have an opportunity to communicate the ability

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to share information with one another(Kirkpatrick & O’Toole, 2007),. For example, using

a simple physics question pertaining to Newton’s 3rd Law, Bango, Levy and Eylon (2006)

initiated an online discussion where teachers could share their frustrations and experience

in teaching this often misunderstood concept. Much of the participation in the discussion

was only carried out by few (16) individuals but over 250 passive participants continually

visited the forum. This clearly indicates that collaboration among a few can benefit a

wider audience even without direct contribution.

The other product of this online collaborative process is the creation and

construction of communities of teacher learning teams. First introduced by the 1990s by

DuFour & Eaker (1998) and Fullen & Hargraves (1991), communities of professional

learners are groups of teachers brought together for shared interest and learning. This

model has seen rapid growth since it was first introduced because of the proliferation of

the internet. With online tools, teachers are no longer tied to geographically isolated

learning communities but can expand beyond physical boundaries and borders. Such is

the case in Israel where physics teachers now have a single site to share instructional

strategies that can benefit a whole population of students (Bango, Levy, & Eylon, 2006).

One area garnering new interest is the communication between student and

teacher as a reciprocal flow of information. Correspondence between student and teacher

is as ancient as the practice itself and structured distance learning has been around for at

least 150 years (Ge & Tok, 2003). This is a traditional model of education where the

knowledge is passed from one person to another, often in a linear, unidirectional manor.

Over the past decade this flow of information has gone through a paradigm shift where

media rich content and real time interaction allow for the student to contribute to the

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conversation (Ge & Tok, 2003). Jennifer Bonds-Raacke (2006) reported that students and

teachers have a positive attitude towards these types of course websites that contain

collaborative tools. A traditional use of a course website would have an instructor place

references and links up on the learning space (Codone, 2004). While many used the

instructional material provided by the teacher, students also enjoyed contributing to the

knowledge base. Webcasts, pictures, conversations and video captures associated with

the course can be uploaded up by students and instructors (Ge & Tok, 2003). The

collaborative nature of the course website allowed them to connect to the material in a

much personal manner by sharing what they found with peers and teachers.

Teachers are often overwhelmed with course management, virtual instruction and

communication issues that often accompany online learning and teaching (Lazonder,

2005). Without a clear sense of community to support each other, many individuals will

withdraw from the online environment (Codone, 2004). However, once that sense of

community has been established, peer-to-peer collaboration helps articulate discussions

of relevant material (Lazonder, 2005). This was especially true for new users to the

online environment. Collaboration components allowed these new users to elicit help

from more than their peers and mentors (Heffner & Cohen, 2005). Educators wanted

flexibility where and how they communicate with one another and their students. Many

students wanted to find new ways to complete their course objectives but also stated a

clear preference for structured guidelines and accountability (Barbour, 2007).

While Web 2.0 tools will not completely supplant traditional approaches to

collaboration in the near future, it is important to look at how they can aid in the delivery

and collection of knowledge (Orhan, 2008). Since collaboration has always been a face-

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to-face experience, new online models will be challenged to demonstrate their

effectiveness when compared to the traditional archetype (Barbour, 2007; Fried, 2007).

Structure and training are often cited as the two areas where most educators find

lacking in the implementation of groupware software (Vavasseur & MacGregor, 2008;

Chan, Leung, Yeung, Chow, Tsui, & Ng, 2005; MacDonald, 2008). Professional

Development typically offered as a detached workshop activity often doesn’t produced

the desired outcomes. Much of the research into the creation of the sites and ongoing

evolution can only be successful accomplished with the introduction of a community of

learners (Dufour & Eaker, 1998; MacDonald, 2008; Microsoft Corporation, 2002; Fullen

& Hargraves, 1991). These communities of learners provide educators a place to come

together (whether online or in person) to indentify similar challenges and to

collaboratively discuss possible solutions. This model of professional development

results in a long term, persistent growth in teacher learning and effectiveness in the

development and implementation of collaborative websites (Vavasseur & MacGregor,

2008). Without the structure of continuous Professional Development, teachers have

difficulty setting up and maintaining collaborative websites due to a lack of time and

training (Fried, 2007).

CONCEPTUAL FRAMEWORK

Collaborative websites cannot be brought into a school system and have expectations of

success without prolonged and extensive professional development. This support must

have the dual role of increasing the knowledge base of the educators and creating a team

of learners who can navigate future difficulties.

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CONTEXT

Riverside Secondary in Port Coquitlam, British Columbia, Canada, first opened in

September 1997 and has a staff of 70 teachers and a student base of 1250. Riverside was

billed as the Coquitlam School District’s first technology school and several systems

were incorporated in the building process. An infrastructure of wireless networking,

desktops, laptops, SmartBoards and tablet computers were integrated into the school

allowing for instant access to email, making it a viable school-wide medium for the first

time. While email was the main form (and still very predominant) of communication, in

2004, Riverside embarked on the School District’s Technology Initiative using

Microsoft’s SharePoint Web Services and became a lead school in the program. The

promise of what SharePoint could offer was an open platform that would allow teachers,

administrators and even students to customize a website for any purpose or need. Many

teachers at Riverside use the website as a virtual classroom, while departments created

virtual depositories for documents and Wikis for sharing and constructing archives.

The first SharePoint site that opened as a purely collaborative instrument in the

school was the Professional Development (Professional Development) website, started in

2005 (see figures 1 and 2). Over the past three years, this site has been a focal point for

instruction, support and communication between members of the Riverside staff. The

benefit of this site became apparent with the introduction of two separate innovations to

the school that was based on a broader school goal of introducing innovation in

education. The first was a weekly study group held every Wednesday morning. Open to

the entire staff, these sessions had the initial intent of being a book club but soon (and

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often) turned to matters of education and technology. The morning sessions often made it

difficult for some on staff to attend due to a prior commitment or a school related issue

even though they were anxious to be part of the group. Additions were made to the

Professional Development site that allowed them to contribute to the school wide

conversation without having to be in a particular place at a certain time.

Figure 1: Riverside’s Professional Development SharePoint site (part 1)

Figure 2: Riverside’s Professional Development SharePoint Site Part 2

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Learning-Teams (Coquitlam School District’s version of a Community of

Learners) became an avenue for the introduction, implementation and continued

evolution of collaborative websites. Within Riverside Secondary, eight Learning-Teams

focused on technology and its implementation within and outside the classroom have

been active over the last four years. Each team has designed and created a portal site for

their team members to share, cooperate and support their teaching and learning areas. The

English department has been a pioneer in this with an extensive application into the

collaborative realm with their SharePoint site (see figure 3). As a group, the English

department has included: a group calendar, task list, book sign outs, shared document

libraries, wikis, suggested school and sequence discussions and much more. These

specific components allow for the English teachers to coordinate their activities in a

structured manner with every member of the department informed and involved.

Figure 3: Riverside Secondary’s English Department Collaborative Team site

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METHODOLOGY

Results were gathered from three sources: a survey given through the Professional

Development website, site usage data from Riverside Secondary SharePoint websites and

written observations from collaborative meetings. Of the 70 teachers at Riverside, 40

chose to participate in the online survey (see figure 4) including both veterans of School

District 43 Learning-Teams and others new to the process.

The Professional Development website is accessible by teachers working at

Riverside Secondary through a secure login controlled by Coquitlam School District.

Total usage by staff and individual visits can then be tracked over a designated time

period. The survey was given to the staff at the beginning of the school year (September,

2008) and figure 4 shows the basic gender demographic breakdown of the 40 survey

participants.

25

20
Number of Teachers

15

10

0
Male Female Other

Figure 4: Which of the following best describes you:

The survey data indicates that most teachers who responded to the survey have

significant experience in the public education system with an average of 17.0 years (see

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figure 5) and at Riverside Secondary an average of 7.9 years (see figure 6). The

participants in the survey came from departments throughout the school including:

Science, Math, English, Social Studies, Foreign Languages, Library Services, Counseling

Services, Student Services, Technology Education, Art Education, Home Economics

Administration and Physical Education.

12

10
Number of Teachers

0
0 to 5 6 to 10 11 to 15 16 to 20 21 to 25 26 to 30 30 to 35
Years Taught in Public Education

Figure 5: How many years have you taught in the public education system?

25

20
Number of Participants

15

10

0
1 to 4 5 to 8 9 to 12
Years taught at Riverside Secondary School

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Figure 6: How many years have you taught at Riverside Secondary?

Each teacher had access to a minimum of 6 days of professional development

time with at least one session on SharePoint instruction and practice on each of those six

days. Beyond this, each participant had access to a once-a-week, year-long collaborative

study group before school on Wednesdays and a district sponsored Learning-Team.

Discussions on how the staff was using SharePoint was collected and added to the study.

To measure the effectiveness of the websites and teacher collaboration, discussion

questions were analyzed and coded. The discussions focused mainly on teacher’s feelings

about the usefulness of SharePoint in their collaboration with each other.

RESULTS

WEBSITE USAGE

The use of the Riverside SharePoint sites has increased dramatically over the past

three years by both students and staff. In particular, Riverside’s Professional

Development Website has shown a dramatic increase in site usage over the last 3 years

(see figure 7). This usage data includes all site visits, contributions and edits. In the

month-to-month comparison, the site usage has risen from on average of 15% of the staff

in 2006 up to 81% in 2008. The usage values for other sites used by Riverside students

and teachers within show a similar growth potential. The number of distinct contributors

to the site has also increased over the past three years from an average of 11.9 per month

in 2006 to 68.9 per month in 2008.

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80

Number of individuals accessing Pro-D 70

60

50
website

40

30

20

10

0
Oct-06 Oct-07 Oct-08

Figure 7: The number of individuals accessing Riverside's Professional Development


Website per month over a three year period.

SURVEY DATA

The survey data shows that most teachers at Riverside Secondary are relatively

comfortable with technology and standard practices such as email and broad internet use

(see figure 8). Many of the new collaborative aspects tend to have a lower comfort rating

such as external sites such as Facebook, Delicious and Wikispaces. SharePoint has a

moderate comfort rating and bell shaped curve compared to email’s skewed high comfort

rating.

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Figure 8: Trends in computer and internet use among survey respondents

45
40
35
Number of Partcipants

30
25
20
15
10
5
0
Yes No

Figure 9: Have you visited a SharePoint web page in the last 3 years?

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The number of contributors to various online websites (including SharePoint) shows a

large amount of the respondents actively being a part of online communities (see figure

10).

35

30
Number of participants

25

20

15

10

0
Yes No

Figure 10: Have you ever contributed to a collaborative website (SharePoint, Wikipedia, other
wikis, discussion boards, social bookmarking or social networking sites) for the purpose of
education?

Removing the extraneous websites and focus directly on SharePoint, we see a similar

trend in contribution and collaboration (see figure 11) to that of figure 10.

35

30

25

20

15 Series1

10

0
Yes No

Figure 11: Have you contributed to a SharePoint web site in the past three years?

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DISCUSSION DATA

When teachers talk about SharePoint, their discussions and ideas about the software tends

to fall into three distinct areas (see figure 12). There is the majority who find it useful and

can see future benefits. Secondly, there is a smaller group who would like to know how

to use it but still can’t see the benefits. Finally, there is a small minority who were not

interested in non-traditional collaboration.

40

35

30

25

20

15

10

0
Positive response Uncertain response Negative response

Figure 12: How does SharePoint increase collaboration?

For those who see benefits in the software and process, much of the discussion is

based on how they can share their work and learn from each other. One teacher said “I

can create wikis, discussion sites and workspaces to facilitate the completion of common

issues and goals. These facilities could also allow a greater integration with school

administration”. Another staff member stated that “SharePoint collaboration allows

colleagues to easily share and expand on lessons and assignments. SharePoint can be

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used to share resources through calendars”. The Riverside Librarian stated “CTLA (Coq.

Teacher Librarians) use SharePoint site to communicate & share material, although many

members still do this through their own websites or e-mail. As more and more

Professional Development about SharePoint takes place, more use will occur”. The

majority of the positive responses for SharePoint collaboration from the staff indicates

the use of the following: document libraries for lessons and assignments, discussion

boards for assessment, tips for effective teaching practices, calendar, wiki’s for ESL

vocabulary, weekly bulletins, and a simple/safe place for people to share ideas.

Interestingly, many teachers were as interested in collaboration with and among students

as they were with their colleagues. A Science teacher stated that “I am excited about the

opportunities that SharePoint gives me to in terms of student collaboration. Having a

website that allows students to contribute to the course and help themselves completely

changes the way I teach. I am no longer in charge of the information”.

The undecided group was unanimous in their wanting more training in order to

increase their comfort level/knowledge base with the software. Statements such as: “I

really do not know. I find the process very cumbersome and time consuming, partly

because I am still very unfamiliar with access and use. It is not something I would think

of first. The little bit of SharePoint stuff I have created has been in a workshop setting

and then forgotten about as it just seemed such a hassle. If I want to communicate my

first reaction would be e-mail” and “I need to be taught more on how to use it. We

should be instructed to use it more, that way we can try it more and we would learn

more” were common with this group.

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A small minority of responses indicated that they either had other forms of

communication available to them or preferred face-to-face collaboration. One teacher

stated that “I don't have a need for this software. Often times it is an 'extra' source of

communication that requires more time to visit and contribute when I am often already in

communication with the key players anyway.” When asked a similar question, another

stated that “I wouldn't use it (SharePoint). I think face-to-face collaboration is much

better.”

DISCUSSION

The website usage data, survey questions and discussions show that a majority of

teachers at Riverside Secondary who use SharePoint web services feel that they benefit

from the addition of online collaboration. Teachers who partook in professional

development opportunities to learn and implement the software were more likely to use it

on a regular basis. Those staff that participated in a learning team (to augment their

Professional Development) were especially engaged in the online collaborative project

and tended to be the most advanced SharePoint users. The teachers who chose not to

participate, maintain a site themselves, or were part of a group collaboration site (such as

the English Department), still often used Riverside’s Professional Development website

for a variety of collaborative reasons. The site grew dramatically over the last three years

with new users finding new applications for it each year.

When asked about the impact of having an online forum to discuss, share or

deposit information, and many staff members indicated a desire to have the software play

a larger role in their daily school day. Teachers liked the ability to communicate, share

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and support each other without worrying about geographical, temporal or political

barriers. Many were excited about students contributing and communicating more

effectively with each other. Allowing team members to edit and add to the knowledge

base was another prominent theme among those excited about SharePoint. Even those

who do not choose to contribute can watch the collaboration unfold and still feel part of

the process. SharePoint allows for conversations outside the confines a brick and mortar

classroom of yesteryear.

The implications of the study are significant to Riverside Secondary and to the

Coquitlam School district, who both have invested vast amounts of time and energy into

this new model. The study has shown that significant amounts of effective, sustainable

and lasting Professional Development are critical for the successful implementation of a

project of this magnitude. Secondly, if the framework for professional development is in

place, teachers will take the opportunity to increase their collaboration using online

software such as SharePoint.

LIMITATIONS OF THE STUDY

Although this study shows that SharePoint is an effective collaboration tool for teachers

at Riverside Secondary, there are limitations to its scope. All the respondents have had

opportunity years of long term, continuous professional development and were part of a

community of learners. Several of the respondents were part of Communities of Learners

who dealt specifically with SharePoint.

Riverside was designated a lead school in implementation of SharePoint across

the Coquitlam School District. Teachers were given in-service training and time to work

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through many of the difficulties associated with the introduction of a new platform.

Schools or individual teachers without this technical experience and support will have a

difficult time wading through the intricate components and functions of the website. An

individual teacher without a community of learners to share, communicate and cooperate

with, will have difficulty seeing the potential of the collaborative aspects of the site.

Current models of professional development (DuFour & Eaker, 1998) (Fullan &

Hargreaves, 1996) (Vavasseur & MacGregor, 2008) all favor the effective role of a

Community of Learners in the implementation and sustainability of these types of

projects.

While Riverside has had tremendous support in terms of time, technology and

money from the district, not all schools will have the same level of commitment. The

inequality in funding from school-to-school, district-to-district and province-to-province

should be examined to see if this would impact the implementation of an online

collaborative system.

CONCLUSION

More research needs to be done with other schools within Coquitlam School District to

see if they have similar success, concerns or problems with SharePoint as a collaborative

tool. Information about the relationships between professional development and

collaborative websites needs to be clearly defined with alternative models. Despite the

need for larger sample sizes and a more diverse group of educators, it is clear that most

teachers at Riverside Secondary value the contributions of SharePoint to the collaborative

atmosphere of the school.

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