3. WebLearn - Updates, New Tools, Guidance Site, Pandemics and WebLearn, Courses, etc.

Weblearn logo

3.1. WebLearn Launch Event – 30th June 2009

On 30th June 2009 OUCS hosted a special “red-carpet” event to officially launch the new WebLearn service. Dr Stuart Lee, Director of Computing Systems and Services, presided over the event which was attended by over 50 invited guests from a wide variety of departments, colleges, administration and libraries. Dr Lee, who is also a National Teaching Fellow (2009) and Lecturer in Old English, uses new WebLearn to support his teaching. He spoke enthusiastically about the new service, focusing on some of the facilities that he has used effectively.

He put WebLearn into context with other University systems that support teaching, learning and research, and highlighted some of the new facilities such as the tutorial sign-up tool, wiki, announcements and online assessment system. He described a number of tips on how he made his Old English WebLearn site lively and engaging by integrating up-to-the-minute technologies such as Twitter and You Tube.

Photo of audience at Weblearn launch

For those who missed the event but want to experience the excitement for themselves (!), Dr Lee’s talk was recorded and is available for download via the WebLearn area of the OUCS website (www.oucs.ox.ac.uk/weblearn). After his introduction, Dr Lee officially launched the service by pressing the button to open a set of rather novel electronic red curtains projected onto the wall of the recently refurbished Isis lecture room.

Next up was an invited speaker, Ian Dolphin, who is the Joint Information Systems Council (JISC) International Director of the e-Framework for Education and Research, and former Sakai Foundation Board member. (Sakai is the open source software system upon which new WebLearn is built.) He gave an excellent presentation about the international Sakai Community (which includes Cambridge, Yale, Stanford and MIT) and outlined the benefits that will accrue to Oxford by being a member of, and contributing to such a vibrant development community. (This talk is also available for download via the OUCS website.)

The launch was followed by the annual OxTALENT awards which recognise excellence in learning and teaching. Guests then enjoyed a champagne buffet where they had an opportunity to see demonstrations of other services offered by the Learning Technologies Group. For more information about the OxTALENT awards and LTG, see: www.ict.ox.ac.uk/oxford/groups/oxtalent and www.oucs.ox.ac.uk/ltg.

3.2. Improvements to the New WebLearn Service

There have been a number of improvements to the WebLearn service since the last OUCS News. The most obvious is the introduction of the dual service: this comprises old and new WebLearn running in parallel accessed via a single URL (weblearn.ox.ac.uk). This arrangement will continue until September 2011 at which point the old service will become read-only for one year before being decommissioned.

New WebLearn received a “make-over” at the same time as the dual service was launched. The new branding draws attention to the five main uses of an online learning environment: Collaboration, Content and Information provision, Assessment and the Management and administration of courses.

Recent improvements to the functionality of new WebLearn include:

  • The introduction of a comprehensive guidance site
  • A new version of the (Tutorial) Sign-up tool with repeating events
  • Integration of the Assignments tool with the Turnitin plagiarism detection service
  • A new tool to search site titles
  • Integration with other student services (Oxam, GSS, OxCORT etc.)
  • The ability for site owners to make their sites either public or available to all logged-in users

In addition, there have been many smaller enhancements suggested by our growing user community. If you have any ideas on how to improve the service then please drop us a line at weblearn@oucs.ox.ac.uk.

3.3. Updated WebLearn Website

In conjunction with the launch of the new WebLearn service, the WebLearn area of the OUCS website has been radically overhauled and moved to a new URL.

The website contains a lot of useful information about the service (as opposed to how to use the service) including: a new Service Level Description; a section on getting started; a description of available tools; details of all upcoming training courses; implications of recent system changes; answers to some frequently asked questions and a link to the brand new unmissable Adam’s WebLearn Blog.

The website also contains customisable resources for departments or colleges to download and modify - including copies of the new branding for use on websites, customisable posters, documentation, and flyers.

Screenshot of Weblearn website

3.4. The Sign-up Tool

The Sign-up tool is available to all site owners and allows users to organise and sign up for tutorials, study groups, annual reviews, seminars, courses, interviews, etc.

It allows either single or repeated meetings to be scheduled and will automatically partition time slots into any number of equal-length sessions with an optionally specified maximum number of attendees. All meetings are added to the site calendar and potential attendees can be notified of the details by email. The meeting can be displayed on one or more WebLearn sites.

Screenshot of sign up tool

Attendance is confirmed by visiting a site which displays the meeting and clicking on the “Sign-up” button; if a time slot is full, participants can add themselves to a waiting list.

This deceptively simple tool should prove to be very powerful and will be of great use at Oxford in a large number of different contexts.

3.5. Pandemic Planning Using WebLearn

New WebLearn offers many facilities which will be invaluable should parts of the University have to close due to a Swine flu pandemic.

WebLearn has many tools that will allow teaching and learning to continue in the absence of face-to-face meeting between students and tutors. The most obvious approach is to set up a site with all members of a course or tutorial group listed as participants. This site can then host learning materials in the Resources tool within a WebLearn site; any documents stored in Resources can be found by the Search tool.

The document repository can be backed up by the use of the Chat and Forums tools for synchronous and asynchronous communications respectively. The Sign-up tool (see opposite) could be used to arrange a series of online tutorials in much the same way as it can be used to organise face-to-face tutorials; alternatively, the site Schedule (calendar) can be used to indicate when a tutor will be present in the chat-room to answer student questions.

The Email archive (mail list) and Announcements tool also facilitate easy communication within a course. The Assignments tool (with optional Turnitin plagiarism checking) can be used for the online submission of essays and tests can be conducted within the Tasks, Tests and Surveys assessment system.

There are more details about the individual tools in the WebLearn area of the OUCS website in the section entitled Tools in the New WebLearn.

We would recommend that departments and colleges begin planning now; the first thing to do is establish a WebLearn presence and begin setting up infrastructure that can be brought into play should there be a need.

For more information please visit: www.oucs.ox.ac.uk/weblearn

3.6. WebLearn Guidance Site

Need some just-in-time help and support right at your desk? Consult the WebLearn Guidance Site (weblearn.ox.ac.uk/info) which is located right inside new WebLearn. The site contains detailed step-by-step guides, short video tutorials, FAQ's, and many other tips and resources. Its sub-sites include a showcase, with written case-studies and sample WebLearn sites built by Oxford users, a WebLearn Community that you can join, and information about plagiarism and copyright. The site is growing all the time and we welcome your comments and suggestions (email weblearn@ox.ac.uk).

3.7. WebLearn Courses

Two formal WebLearn courses are available in the ITLP portfolio: WebLearn Fundamentals and Migrating your Content. Both are aimed at non-IT staff, in order to provide user-friendly, medium-paced courses with the opportunity for hands-on practice. Book your place at www.oucs.ox.ac.uk/itlp. Shorter, more technical sessions are offered for IT support staff, to enable them to manage and administer the WebLearn presence of a department or college (book at www.oucs.ox.ac.uk/its3). Departments, colleges and other units need to nominate one or more Local WebLearn Coordinators, by completing the “Request for WebLearn Administration Site” form which is available on the WebLearn Guidance site.

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