How to Organise Class Sites for SharePoint Learning Kit – Hierarchy of the Class Sites

8 June, 2011

How to Organise Class Sites for SharePoint Learning Kit – Hierarchy of the Class Sites


The posts in this series on how to organise class sites for SharePoint Learning Kit are:

  1. The Basics
  2. Using a Single Site, Don’t do it
  3. Use a Site Per Class or Teaching Group
  4. Hierarchy of the Class Sites (this post)

In the previous post I discussed the purposes of the class sites. So, once you have decided to create a site per class and have decided on their purpose, the question is how do you arrange them?

I’ve seen and implemented 2 main ways of setting up the hierarchy, both of which can have different ways of setting up.

1.  All Class sites created under a single Classes site

In this case every class site has the same parent site. This is how the original Microsoft Learning Gateway (MLG) release for SharePoint 2007 worked. The advantages of this are:

  1. It’s easier to script as the parent site is always the same.
  2. Easy access via a My Sites web part so the users (students or teachers) can navigate to their classes. This is either the MLG My Sites web part or our own free SalamanderSoft one.
  3. Having all class sites in a single place makes archiving them easier.

When using this scenario, you must ensure that the class sites aren’t in the global navigation. Not only will 100s of sites slow down the navigation, you’ll also end up with users not having all their classes visible in the navigation which is confusing. The reason for this is that the navigation bar only loads the first 50 sub-sites by default. At first site this seems like it would be plenty, however due to caching that’s before the security trimming is enabled, so the user will only see the class site they can access in the first 50 – for most users this is likely to be close to zero. You can of course set this limit to be greater, but that will cause performance problems as it’s evaluated on every page.

Archiving in this set up is very easy. You can either move all the class sites over to an archive area at year end or you can set up the class sites based on teaching period e.g. academic year. In this case, you could, for example have a hierarchy along the lines:


Then any links to the parent class site, such as when setting up the My Sites web part, would be to the academic year parent, rather than the root classes site. Archiving would purely consist of changing these links to the new academic year site.

2.  Create Under a Subject Hierarchy

In this case the class sites are built under your department site hierarchy. The 2 main hierarchies I’ve seen here are:




You can also combine the two and have Key Stage then Year levels, but that’s probably overkill.

Really the choice between these is a personal one, however the one split by years is probably quicker to navigate down to a specific class, which the Key Stage one can give you an easier breadth of sharing as you can share at the Key Stage level rather than the Year level.

This structure makes it quite easy to navigate to classes from within the department, but more difficult to get a list of your class sites without some custom coding or a third party solution.

I tend to think of this layout as teacher centric. They will spend much of their time in their department site and it’s easy to get to their class sites, however the students, who generally take multiple subjects, have to traverse each department site to get to their class site.


You can of course easily combine the two variants, have the subject hierarchy down to the year or key stage level as a library site, then have all the class sites in a central location, with links off from the department hierarchy. Of course this is really just the first option under a single classes site, with an expanded set of library sites.

Administration of the Class Sites

In order to set up the class sites, you will need a tool to automatically create and maintain them. For a whole school set up, it’s not possible to do it manually. Whichever way you create the sites, ensure that the teachers user web list – the list of their classes – is automatically populated as well. If you don’t populate this, you will loss a lot of the usability as the teachers will have to manually add their classes.

Possible tools to automate the creation of the class sites are:

  1. Provision from Excel which is included in the SLK source code and is hence free.
  2. Your own custom PowerShell scripts. Free except for your time to write and maintain.
  3. Salamander SharePoint which is our third party solution to provisioning SharePoint and which we consider to be as much of a service as a product. This is capable of setting up and maintaining all of the hierarchies discussed and any other you can think of.


Even when using a site per class, you still have several different options about how to organise the sites. There is no one correct way, what works for you will depend on how you want to use the sites in addition to using them for SLK. Hopefully this series of posts will help you to decide on how to do that.

Richard Willis

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