There’s all sorts of information that schools need to provide to parents, and traditionally this has resulted in copious amounts of paper being given to students to put in their bag, often never to be seen again! Increasingly schools have turned to their websites, or even social networking sites like Twitter, to distribute this information but sometimes there are things schools need to distribute, but don’t want to make fully public. Let’s take a look at how we can enable parent access to SharePoint Online using PALs.

Scenarios

What sort of information am I talking about? Here’s a few examples:

  • Internal school contact information – this could be information on how to contact a particular form tutor, or an up to date staff listing, etc.
  • Event dates – some events like an open evening you want to promote to the world, but other events such as sports day or parents evening you might want to make available to a more limited audience.
  • School trip information – creating a dedicated team site for a particular school trip that you can grant parents access to in order to share important information such as the trip itinerary, contact information, blogs, photos, etc. can be a great way to keep in touch with home, but not tell the whole world about it!

Terminology

There is a lot of jargon in the IT world, so to make it easy here’s a few definitions:

  • PAL – partner access licence. Each SharePoint Online tenant in Office 365 for education gets 10,000 of these included.
  • External User – another name for someone that doesn’t exist as a licenced user object in Office 365. Typically your staff and students will have SharePoint Online licences, but as parents can’t be given these licenses they are external users. External users are invited by email address. The email address can be from any domain, but must be associated with a Microsoft Account. Each External User consumes one PAL.
  • External Contact – these represent people outside of your institution who can be displayed in the shared address book (GAL). They don’t have a mailbox in Exchange Online, and can’t sign in to your domain. They are also totally separate from External Users.

3 Simple Steps

Enabling this functionality can be done in three simple steps:

  1. Enable external sharing for SharePoint Onlineby default SharePoint Online does not allow external users. To enable the potential for external users to be invited to any of the sit collections in your environment you need to enable the feature.
  2. Activate external sharing for a site collection – after the SharePoint Online environment has been set to allow external sharing, site collection administrators can choose whether or not to allow external users to be invited to sites in their site collections.
  3. Share your site with external users – now that you’ve activated external sharing, and allowed it on your chosen site collection(s), you can start sharing it with people.

Considerations

Keep in mind that once you invite external users to your site, it is easy to grant them permission to other sites. Ensure that you know the identity of users who are invited through e-mail and consider confirming their identity before granting an external user access to content.

An external user invitation can be accepted only one time. The invitation email can be forwarded to another recipient who can use the invitation to access the SharePoint site. However, after the e-mail invitation has been accepted, it expires.

If you attempt to invite an external user to use your site when your company has set SharePoint Online to deny external users, you will see a note in the Share Site box that that says, “Invitations to users outside your organization are currently disabled.”

To use an email address, such as *.contoso.com, to log on to a SharePoint Online site, the email address must first be associated with Microsoft account. You can register an email address with your Microsoft account by following the steps at this website.

More Info

You can read up on this topic in a few different places: