Every day in this corner of London, Newham College students are logging in to their classes on whatever device happens to be available. They are determined to continue their education during what is without question, the most challenging period for education, in recent history. And that is why they reached out to us - to design an intranet that allows their students success.

Newham College is a thriving institution in this area of London that isn’t financially affluent. Many of the over 22,000 students are learning in “digital poverty”. They log into classes on any device that works, primarily mobile ones. Not unlike other educational institutions, Newham’s IT department is working to not only maintain learning continuity and keep students engaged during a seemingly never-ending pandemic.

No one understands this better than Darren Evans, head of Information Technology at Newham College. He is uniquely positioned to deliver the technology to meet the needs of Newham’s diverse student body.

Bringing life to online learning community

A longtime customer, Darren began working with BindTuning products back in 2014, for a different institution. Back then, he was looking at an outdated SharePoint 2003 intranet and with a desire to bring life to it, he found BindTuning. Darren went from what he calls “zero skills”, to rolling out an intranet that was showcased to 14 colleges by JISC a higher further education organization in the UK for digital services and solutions. The college went on to receive academic standing from the OFSTED - Office for Standards in Education in the UK - in large part because of their intranet.

Now fast forward to his current role as Head of Information Technology for Newham College, and Darren was yet again facing an “awful” intranet. The out-of-the-box SharePoint on-premises, that only 4 users were capable of updating, never evolved further than that of a file repository. It linked users to files and the effort to do this demanded a generous amount of time from their staff.

The goals for the Newham college intranet were quite familiar; create a visually appealing, easy-to-use space where users can add content directly for themselves. Turning again to BindTuning, they utilized the Design and Build features, allowing for content to be easy managed by their staff.

Easy distribution of news and alerts

Today, the Newham College intranet has not only transitioned from on-prem to Office 365. Over 40 staff members keep the content fresh because it does not require high technical skills to manage. No longer do they struggle with communication. One of the biggest drivers for the intranet was easy distribution of news. Using the Quick Links web part, they cater news to users using audience targeting.

“I’m quite passionate, and for me BindTuning has been absolutely fantastic.”
Darren Evans. Head of Information Technology, Newham College of Further Education

The Alerts web part is widely used on the site as well. “What an amazing product, because you do get blind to what you are looking at and people really take note. We don’t overuse them but utilize alerts when we have something important,” said Darren Evans. All COVID communications are driven by BindTuning products and those running COVID communications do all the updates because they are able to do it themselves without IT support.

“Using an intranet in the right way, saves you so many man-hours answering the same questions – finding the right document, finding the right member of staff,” said Darren Evans. Using the People web part, they launched Staff-Finder a user directory and it is one of the most heavily used products. “It just works. We set it up and leave it," said Darren Evans.

As for which web part is their favorite? Newham has all BindTuning products in use on their intranet. “We use all the web parts. Can’t say one is best. The only one we don’t use is the Stock Ticker. Otherwise we use them all,” said Darren Evans.

Making impressions, maintaining interest

Of course, first impressions are always important for an intranet and the Newham College intranet is always evolving, always changing to maintain interest and usage.

“I’m not that creative but I don’t need to be. BindTuning does the creativity for you. We’ve gone thru every theme in the subscription because I get bored, and it is so easy to change. Keep it fresh or you lose people’s interest.”
Darren Evans. Head of Information Technology, Newham College of Further Education

When help is needed, BindTuning is there. “The support is absolutely second to none. Francisca is timely and the guys on tech support are unbelievably amazing. Pedro is unbelievable. He is a bloody genius. The level of support before and after we purchase products is the same. You can’t buy that,” said Darren Evans.

“To be honest, I expected it to not be as useful as it has been. And as it has progressed over time, it’s gotten better and better. Not all products take a good route, and some become unusable, but not BindTuning.”
Darren Evans. Head of Information Technology, Newham College of Further Education

Teams and Accessibility

As for what’s on the horizon, Microsoft Teams and the Accessibility Tool for SharePoint. Microsoft Teams is the most used product in the organization for all 25,000 learners and Darren looks forward to implementing BindTuning products in Teams. “We love Teams, and if we can enhance it in any way or form, fantastic,” said Darren Evans. Adding assistive technology to their intranet is a priority.

Having earned recognition as an expert within the education community for SharePoint intranet development, Darren has introduced BindTuning to many other institutions and he does so with the sole intention of helping others who struggle along a similar path.

“I’ve been to 30 different colleges now and they don’t have SharePoint skills. There’s not a key person on staff and it is a difficult skillset to learn. But I could not have done 20% of what I’ve accomplished without BindTuning products. It doesn’t take me away from my normal job.”
Darren Evans. Head of Information Technology, Newham College of Further Education