Using Microsoft SharePoint for work collaborations – seamless when editing documents too

13 Jul 2021 – I pulled my head out of my files in Dropbox, iCloud and Google Drive folders for a bit to figure out the Office365 offerings of OneDrive, SharePoint and Teams, due to institutional collaborative needs. The options accumulated over the years and access was not always smooth but is much better now.

It just took one article – “The Document circle of Life” by MS’ Matt Wade (2019) explained the use of OneDrive vs SharePoint, amongst other things, and this sums it up: “OneDrive is for my stuff and SharePoint is for our stuff.

OneDrive SharePoint

Simultaneous collaborative use of Office documents has been robust now, and was very helpful during the staff recruitment exercises I conducted last year. I realised SharePoint had finally caught up with Google Drive and its precedents which I had been using since 2006.

Screenshot 2844Sharepoint interface on web, desktop and phone, syncs in seconds now.

The SharePoint web interface has clean lines and is syncing quite well with desktop and phone. And since both staff and students have Office 365 with 1TB of storage, I will shift research students from Dropbox to SharePoint – it will be especially helpful when reviewing their drafts close to deadlines, when there is often  simultaneous use. 

A couple of friends love MS Teams for project supervision but I am happy to avid it for now, although NUS adds our classes to that interface for us. 

Dropbox is the most seamless cloud platform for documents and revision histories, so I still use that. Google Drive seems best for collaboration with volunteers, especially for photo sharing. And after Dropbox messed up my Keynote presentations once, I keep those in Apple’s iCloud.

It is good to have all these options now, and I just need to step back to review capabilities every now and then. Like I do with backup!

“Lessons Learnt from the SingHealth Breach” – NUS IT shares highlights

NUS IT sent staff this “Refresher on Security: Lessons Learnt from the SingHealth Breach”. The video provides the highlights and so spares us having to read the Public Report published by the Committee of Inquiry in Jan 2019.

Many important (and surprising) lessons are embedded in this animation, and I congratulated them on producing it for us.

This two minute video is definitely a watchable primer in my “Digital Literacies for the 21st Century” class next year. Students  can watch this and then we shall discuss the wider implications.

Interestingly, at the core of all this are the same old problems because it stems from human behaviour.

 

In this part of the class I ask students about what they do for passwords and many confess to having just the one to two. And there is no password manager in use by for these folk.

Digital natives may not necessarily be digitally savvy, hence the class.

Educators can use Zoom safely – just explore the settings

Since the onset of COVID-19 in late January, I’ve been video-conferencing meetings. My go to for years have been Google Hangouts and Skype with students, and since last October, Microsoft Teams with staff. The latter was part of an effort to shift college colleagues from a bunch of unsecured Google tools to the more secure though less friendly Microsoft platform.  

One I started using Zoom though, these other tools were forgotten. Zoom was a delight to use, with an easy interface and single click invitations to a web interface for novice participants. For educators managing classes, the Waiting Room and Breakout Rooms were extremely useful.

So in the final instructional week of the shortened semester (Week 12), I scheduled some 400 students in two modules to present their final oral presentations. That worked out to more than 80 half-hour sessions with Zoom over four days, of which I attended almost 50.  

Since I was imposing a tool on so many of us, I read up, prepared guidelines (posted on Google Docs), and compiled this list below to train staff and myself about our hosting duties:

Zoom for Educators: Security responsibilities for hosts
Edit your settings at: https://zoom.us/profile/setting 

  1. Use the latest version of the Zoom app (check for updates)
  2. Generate a new Meeting ID for each meeting
  3. Generate a new secure password for the meeting
  4. Nominate a co-host when scheduling the session
  5. Keep the Meeting ID and password private to participants only. For large meetings, I have people sign up first and email them meeting details.
  6. Advice participants they can set a Virtual Desktop to mask their background.
  7. Disable File Sharing
  8. Use the Waiting Room to vet participants before allowing them into a session (participants must have recognisable usernames)
  9. Disable “join before host” but be 15 minutes early to the meeting in case participants need help.
  10. Enable the authenticated user mode, if possible.
  11. Lock the room when all are present and if connections are stable.
  12. Set the screen sharing default to host only; release as needed
  13. Respect your participants – inform them if you are saving session chats or video-recording the session.

Since students were new to this, I didn’t enable the authenticated user mode nor lock the room for ease of those with dropped connections.

So the homework was important.  

Zoom-mmm5-otters
Zoom’s Virtual Desktop was a fun tool with which to encourage others to use the app.

The National University of Singapore had initiated COVID-19 mitigation measures by Chinese New Year. And almost immediately, the Centre for Instructional Technology rolled out e-learning solutions. Amongst others, they promoted the use of Zoom, complete with training webinars. The staff I worked with attended these sessions, were familiarised with fundamentals for use and explored the pedagogical outlook.

I was still using Google Hangouts in March 2020 with research students and Teams with staff. However by late February (Recess Week), the shift to 100% e-learning appeared inevitable, which meant our student symposia in April would have to be held online. I had about 300 students in GEQ1917 Understanding and Critiquing Sustainability at RVRC and another 100+ in LSM1303 Animal Behaviour at Department of Biological Sciences. 

So I began reading about Zoom and the problems were highlighted by many tech sites. Some critical issues had been fixed the previous year, and several others could be circumvented by choices in the settings (hence the list above). While some didn’t matter, such as end to end encryption for what would otherwise be public symposia.

All that scrutiny was helpful, as it eventually forced Zoom to announce a focus of their engineering effort on privacy and security. Already a security

Many articles hysterically bemoaned the shortcomings, and while useful to carefully sift through for weaknesses, no alternatives were suggested. As with every tool, it would eventually be the examination of the purpose and settings that would decide if safe use was possible for my purpose.

I was glad to see that NUS’ CIT announce this position calmly twice, as did Tech Editor Irene Tham in The Straits Times. 

It was understandable that the Ministry of Education had to swoop in to ban the use of Zoom after a hacking incident, which made world news. But that ban is temporary, for as reported in The Straits Times “the ministry is working with Zoom to enhance its security and make security measures clear and easy to follow.” [Update: they have restored Zoom with some limits in place and will review in future – link]

Since practise with settings and short cuts is critical, I suggest you try this with friends, and incite the tech savvy ones help with an online tutorial. After preparing a friend for her seminar, I learnt a few more things myself.

Since January, a variety of COVID-19 mitigations have been in place in Singapore, and we now all have plenty of friends to experiment tele-conferencing tools with. I’ve had fun scheduling sessions in a jiffy with my secondary school buddies and it has also been a great way to support each other during this challenging time.

Useful links:

Turning off Office Intelligent Services to prevent data access (macOS)

Microsoft Office 365 introduced Office Intelligent Services at least as far back as 2016, These are cloud-enhanced features on the Office applications Word, Outlook, Excel and PowerPoint meant to aid the user. I only noticed this last month, i.e. September 2018, when Office 365 updates on my Macintosh each flashed a window about turning on “Intelligent Services”. I dismissed those but went on to check.

With the Office Intelligent Services option turned on, it appears that document content would be accessed by Microsoft. Even if it is Microsoft policy to not use this data for other purposes, this poses a problem for confidential data. I have kept that data off any cloud service, including the ones provided by NUS. This option, however, circumvents that control of privacy with any Office document.

Happily, Office Intelligent Services can be turned off within the preferences settings of each of the Office applications. Just go to Preferences > Privacy (in earlier versions this is “Security & Privacy”) > unselect Enable services, like so:

Word preferences

Office Intelligent Services

I process student data intermittently, so I keep this option turned off. After checking in on colleagues, a couple of Mac users had this option turned on, without them being aware of having opted in or of its significance. This is a problem, so I’ve suggested to NUS IT that they explain this to users.

It was suggested that I might be prompted every now and then by Office 365 to turn Office Intelligent Services back on. That would be terrible, but it’s been two months since, and not word from the suite!

Digital competencies with year 2 undergraduates at RVRC

The learning programme for second year RVRC students is made up of 12-hour forums in three pillars: resilience, reflection and respect. I offered RESL07: “Digital Literacies for the 21 Century” originally to a class of 15 but added the waiting list so there are about 30 students now which is unwieldy and its a struggle until I redesign the class.

This forum exposes undergraduates to a diversity of tools, to learn about selecting the right tool for a specific task or project, and then to appreciate competent use which amplifies ability. This is done through group work and comparisons which brings about the realisation that often a critical element to technological use is planning, communication and camaraderie.

They are quick to engage new tools so really it is about having purpose and being sensitive but also confident about the people they will work with.

nBox – a Dropbox-like 1TB cloud storage service for NUS Staff!

Staff were rolling up their sleeves to tackle the onslaught of students returning on the first day of semester. Well, we received some great news and it was about nBox, a 1TB cloud service for NUS staff.

This provides a secure service which Dropbox users were trying to work around and also relieved us of OneDrive which has restrictive name formatting issues. nBox has them too, but is slightly less fussy.

nBox has “team folders” which have independent storage allocation and adjust permissions per folder.

Even as @mammal_gram Marcus Chua was raving about the service over in Washington DC, I shifted over the teaching folders I share with the FTTAs.

That’s a relief – now to take it through its paces!

Screenshot 712

How I’m (still) updating the International Coastal Cleanup Singapore webpage

The International Coastal Cleanup Singapore webpage, originally prepared with Claris Homepage, was last revamped by Data Captain Airani in 2001 using Dreamweaver. I’ve been updating it ever since with Text Wrangler which allows me to write direct to the server. The ICCS page is a simple one so this is not really dangerous.

We lost the home page during the flurry of updating results and my recent hard disk changes and re-installations meant I had no recent local copy of the file. So I went to the Internet Wayback Machine to retrieve the cached version from April and updated the page.

After 20 minutes, all seems fine.

I realise as I typed that I have not progressed in my methods since a one hour class I took in 1999. I suppose the availability of embedded GDocs sheets and pages (around 2006 or 2007) for reports and guidelines has circumvented the need to learn more. Otherwise, updates with TextWrangler has worked fine with what I am able to recall of HTML.

I hope this doesn’t break any time soon as I need to shift the server in November. It is likely github might provide a solution.

I would love to learn more but there is so much to do. So I am really glad a short little coding lesson with just HTML and FTP has lasted me so long.

Screenshot 130

18 years of server hosting with the Faculty of Science IT Unit ends in 2016!

In 1999, I attended a two hour html class at Faculty of Science’s CITA, conducted by Frederick H. Willeboordse and assisted by Keith Phua. Each of us in the class was setup with a personal server hosted by the Faculty of Science and I was taught a few common HTML commands and very importantly, FTP.

With hosting solved, I experimented with my site to gain confidence. Soon NUS was granting all my domain requests to setup several websites. Anything was possible, it was just a matter of having enough time. It was the Dropbox, Google Drive and WordPress of that time. Some highlights are reflected here.

Today, the cloud has eased the process incredibly and I am fascinated – last week, from the bus, and with just my handphone, I was able to send my student’s theses to a colleague minutes after he emailed!

Well, today, I received the email I had been warned about – the Faculty of Science IT Unit (ITU) will cease its web hosting service from 31 Oct 2016!

So the probable plan off the top of my head is:

  1. Coastalcleanup.nus.edu.sg – likely merge with the existing coastalcleanup.wordpress.com. Critical pages are already have coastalcleanupsingapore.org subdomains, so I will update those.
  2. Sea.nus.edu.sg – shift some material to LKCNHM webpage or a subdirectory in sivasothi.com
  3. Staff.science.nus.edu.sg/~sivasothi/ (aka sivasothi.com) – shift to external host
  4. Mangrove.nus.edu.sg – subdirectory in sivasothi.com
  5. Chekjawa.nus.edu.sg – subdirectory in sivasothi.com
  6. Habitatnews.nus.edu.sg
    • blog content to blog.nus.edu.sg or wordpress
    • html pages to subdirectory in sivasothi.com
  7. Otter.nus.edu.sg – http://blog.nus.edu.sg/sgotters/ (is setup, just populate)

It is going to be tough, so I imagine I’ll go slow and steady:

  1. Update my local backups to be ready for transfer (mostly done).
  2. Find out about domain mapping to new host.
  3. Minor housekeeping to see what can be archived as pdfs into an indexed Dropbox folder.
  4. Shift the html pages, especially the guidebooks, magazines and bibliographies to the new sivasothi.com server.
  5. Shifting the Habitatnews (2003-2016) blog posts will be tough and will have to queue with Raffles Museum News II (2004–2007) project. Defunct image hosting servers like Skitch caused the most trouble,sigh!

I will try to get some help, and have some fun with this. There is still lots of precious information in there.

It was inevitable this day would come and it has happened later rather than sooner – thanks to the Faculty of Science, and especially Keith Phua, for 18 years of internet freedom!

Why do some of my students avoid their NUS inbox? They are being spammed by NUS groups and NUS’ anti-spam software!

Students are told they need to check their NUS emails for critical messages from modules. Yesterday, my honours student was unaware of a briefing email to TAs sent a day before. I was surprised as she is very efficient on Gmail and LINE with me.

So she looked sheepish when we found it in her NUS student exchange inbox from the afternoon before. However, as I examined her inbox, I marvelled at the clutter present in there. No wonder she is hesitant about venturing into her student account.

So I showed her two things:

1) Unsubscribe from irrelevant NUS groups.
She was on 30+ lists (we had removed a few before I grabbed this screen shot). She purged herself of all but two. Not all were active, but a few certainly were, and enough to suffocate her inhibit efficient use.

All she had to do was to go to https://groups.nus.edu.sg/NUSgroups/, login (nusstu\userid or if staff, nusstf\userid) and enter her password.

Mailing list groups rtf

2) Delete twice-daily spam digests from NoSpamMail@nus.edu.sg
All of us in NUS are subscribed to Proofpoint Protection Server, an anti-spam service. It delivers a spam-digest email into our inbox twice a day. This so you can check for false positives but these are rare, so I was essentially being exposed to junk mail subject lines twice a day. This delivery cannot be customised so I am ironically getting spammed by my own anti-spam protection!

An example of the spam-digest email. No, I don’t want to see this twice a day.Gmail NUS Staff

NUS IT Care will talk to the vendor. In the meantime, I told my students they could archive the emails from NoSpamMail@nus.edu.sg to a separate folder, and keep their inboxes clutter free – and now read the emails from their professors instead.

In my account, I set a rule which deletes the spam digests so I never ever have to see them. I can check for false positives at the server directly perhaps once a month. Or perhaps not at all – I can barely keep up with regular emails.

We barely have time to think. And inboxes are a stressful necessity in our fast-paced lives. So any method to relieve us of unwanted messages is a boon. Or maybe like my student, stop reading inboxes altogether.

Spam is quarantined efficiently in my account,
with no genuine emails labelled as spam and none getting through even without SpamSieve

Proofpoint sivasothi nus edu sg 1