shared workspace at a distance

What is SWAD?

CC BY-SA Antonio Cañas Vargas, 1999-2017


SWAD (Shared Workspace At a Distance) is a free platform for blended learning and teaching management. It has been developed and used at the University of Granada (UGR) since 1999 and since 2012 it is used in other universities.

SWAD integrates into a web tool various functions to support learning, teaching and management of data from students and teachers. These include access to information on the courses (teaching guide, timetables, bibliography,...), documents storage (notes, presentations, problems, practice outlines...), lists and record cards of students and teachers, social network, discussion forums, assignments, student's self-assessment through interactive tests, and individual consultation of marks. Some of its main features are also available as an app for Android and will be available in a future app for iOS.

SWAD is a very useful tool that has become an important complement to classroom teaching, with a cost of implementation very low even in large educational institutions.

The name SWAD originally stood for "Sistema Web de Apoyo a la Docencia" in Spanish ("Web System for Education Support"). Currently we prefer "Shared Workspace At a Distance". Furthermore, the main meaning of the word swad, barely used, is "bunch of things", a concept that fits the idea of a system that includes various services; and in Punjabi language swad means "tasty", which adds a positive connotation to the platform name.


The use of web applications to support learning, teaching and management of student data in an educational institution is interesting because it facilitates teachers performing some teaching and management tasks –for example the dissemination of documents or the query of students data–, and because it fosters student's autonomy and self-learning, who can access such services at any time and from anywhere.

Due to the complexity of implementation of these desired features on the web of the teacher, the department or the centre, it is desirable that the educational institution has a common tool for all courses and teachers. Therefore, since the late 90s the use of e-learning and blended learning platforms –also called LMS, Learning Management Systems– has extended, bringing together the necessary functionalities to support teaching and learning through internet. The most widespread example among privative platforms is Blackboard. As examples of free software platforms we can cite Moodle, Chamilo or Claroline, among others. In general, these systems allow the creation of courses that can be designed and managed as a whole by teachers without a highly technical knowledge. Its main drawbacks are the high cost of licenses (in the case of privative platforms), large computing needs of most of the platforms in institutions with a large volume of courses and users, the dependence on an outside company, and the difficulty of adapting to the needs and particularities of each organization.

Alternatively, some educational institutions developed their own platforms designed for their specific needs –for example, AulaWeb at the Polytechnic University of Madrid–. So SWAD emerged and developed over several years as a specific tool for the University of Granada (UGR).

SWAD began in September 1999 in the Department of Architecture and Computer Technology of the UGR, grew since 2003 until 2008 under three teaching innovation projects, and since 2008 until 2016 it has been one of the three tools of PRADO, the platform of resources to support teaching of the UGR, supported by the Virtual Learning Center and provided free to all UGR as a support to face-to-face teaching. So SWAD has become a complement to traditional learning and has been very well received by students and teachers at the UGR.

In recent years its functions have become independent of an individual institution, resulting in a configurable tool for any educational institution. In January 2010 the SWAD source code was released under the GNU Affero General Public License version 3 so that it could be installed at other universities or educational institutions. Today SWAD is not only used in the UGR. In April 2012 it came into use in the OpenSWAD project (openswad.org) as a free cloud platform for any institution.


The objectives addressed in the development of the platform SWAD can be specified depending on its potential beneficiaries:

  • For teachers and other administrators of the platform, the objectives were carrying through internet the management tasks related to a course and its students, and improved mentoring and general communication with them.
  • For students, the objectives have been improved access to materials and information of the courses, the possibility of self-assessment at a distance, and the improvement of the communication both student-student and student-teacher.

A fundamental criterion at the development of the platform has been to facilitate its use by users, emphasizing both the ease of learning and use for students and teachers (usability), and the time saving and quality improvement in various tasks related to teaching.

For the institution or company, SWAD has the additional advantage of being fast and efficient, consuming very little computer resources, so being suitable for low-cost installations. Compared to other tools used for the same purpose, since its implementation in C language, SWAD does not require a big hardware and software infrastructure, even in large universities, being sufficient a single server.

Hierarchical organization

SWAD can accommodate in a single platform one or multiple educational organizations. It uses the following hierarchical structure:

  • Countries
  • Institutions (universities, academies, organizations, companies,...)
  • Centres (faculties, schools, buildings,...)
  • Degrees (degrees, masters,...)
  • Courses (subjects)
  • Group types (lectures, practicals, seminars,...)
  • Groups (A, B, morning, afternoon,...)

The central element of this hierarchy is the course, which can register several teachers and students.


Each user has a role of student or teacher at each of the courses in which he/she is enrolled. In addition, some users may be administrators.

These are all available roles:

  1. Unknown: User not logged in
  2. Guest: User not belonging to any course
  3. Visitor: Student or teacher in other courses but not belonging to the current course
  4. Student: Student in current course
  5. Teacher: Teacher in current course
  6. Degree admin: Degree administrator
  7. Centre admin: Centre administrator
  8. Institution admin: Institution administrator
  9. System admin: System administrator (superuser)

Summary of tools and functionalities

The SWAD platform aims to achieve its objectives by providing the features listed below, grouped into 12 groups (tabs):

  • First tab, one of the following 6:
    • System: Global configuration and administration of countries
      • search institutions, centres, degrees, courses, users and documents
      • listing and editing countries
      • list of pending institutions, centres, degrees and courses
      • removing old unused courses
      • listing and editing types of degrees
      • listing and editing allowed mail domains for notifications
      • listing and editing banners
      • listing and editing institutional links
      • listing and editing plugins
    • Country: Management of institutions of the selected country
      • search institutions, centres, degrees, courses, users and documents
      • information about the selected country
      • listing and editing institutions of the selected country
    • Institution: Management of centres of the selected institution
      • search institutions, centres, degrees, courses, users and documents
      • information about the selected institution
      • listing and editing centres of the selected institution
      • listing and editing departments of the selected institution
      • listing and editing places (campuses) of the selected institution
      • listing and editing holidays in the campuses of the selected institution
    • Centre: Management of degrees of the selected centre
      • search institutions, centres, degrees, courses, users and documents
      • information about the selected centre
      • listing and editing degrees of the selected centre
    • Degree: Management of courses of the selected degree
      • search institutions, centres, degrees, courses, users and documents
      • information about the selected degree
      • listing and editing courses of the selected degree
    • Course: Information and documentation of the selected course
      • search institutions, centres, degrees, courses, users and documents
      • information about the selected course
      • teaching guide of the course
      • agenda / program of lectures and practicals
      • documents (notes, presentations, problems,...)
      • shared files between students and teachers
      • class schedule
      • bibliography
      • FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions)
      • links
  • Second tab, Assessment: Evaluation of students in the selected subject
    • information on the evaluation system
    • management of assignments
    • uploading assignments and other works
    • review of assignments and other works submitted by students
    • self-assessment tests
    • academic calendar
    • exam announcements
    • individualized marks
    • student record card in the course
  • Third tab, Users: Information and group management of groups and users
    • enrolment in groups
    • management of types of groups and groups
    • lists and record cards of guests
    • lists and record cards of students
    • editing fields of custom record cards
    • attendance control
    • lists, record cards and scheduling of tutorials of teachers
    • lists of administrators
    • management of requests for registration
    • user administration
    • lists of connected users
  • Fourth tab, Social: Social networks, forums, chat
    • social network (time line)
    • social network (users' public profiles)
    • discussion forums
    • chat
  • Fifth tab, Messages: Communication between users
    • event notifications to users
    • global announcements
    • notices
    • internal web messaging between users of the platform
    • email sending to students
  • Sixth tab, Statistics: Statistics and monitoring of visits
    • surveys
    • big figures (system utilization)
    • stats on degrees
    • course indicators
    • course access statistics
      • query by user, date, time, action,...
      • detailed list of access
    • global access statistics
      • query by user, date, time, action, degree, course,...
    • clicks in real time
  • Seventh tab, Profile: Personal information of the user identified
    • sign up
    • login and logout
    • changing role
    • list of courses
    • time table
    • account data (nickname, email, ID, password)
    • record card with personal data
    • photo
    • selection of the institution, centre and department
    • websites and social networking
    • personal preferences
    • briefcase (personal virtual drive)
    • frequent actions

A more detailed description of these tools and features is available.

Technical specifications


SWAD core is a CGI programmed in C comprising almost all the functionality of the platform. The core is supplemented with some external programs like photo processing module and chat module. The server runs on a GNU/Linux system with Apache and a MySQL or MariaDB database.


Being a web application, the client can be any modern web browser. To use the chat you must have Java runtime environment. Besides the web client, there is an M-learning application for Android devices called SWADroid, which implements some of the most used features in the web version.

More information