3. The New WebLearn - Launch 30th June 2009

WebLearn: The Future

WebLearn advert

3.1. About the Changeover

The WebLearn service will soon undergo a major overhaul: the underlying framework which supports the WebLearn service is to be changed from the Bodington VLE to a Collaborative Learning Environment (CLE) called Sakai.

Both Bodington and Sakai operate in a similar way but the new service will have better usability and a larger number of tools applicable for Learning and Teaching as well as for Research and Administration.

Sakai is in use at Lancaster, Cambridge, Newcastle and Hull Universities in the UK and Yale, Harvard, MIT, NYU, Princeton, Stanford and UC Berkeley (plus many others) in the United States. There is a large user community which encompasses more than 100 institutions offering excellent support for sharing and development.

At Oxford, the service will be still known as WebLearn; a year-long pilot phase started in June 2008 and is known as the WebLearn Beta service. We have recruited a large number of early adopters of this service who are giving us feedback on required enhancements and documentation as well as trialling a number of the available tools.

The production service will begin in June 2009 and will initially comprise both systems running in parallel: this is to give users the options of migrating their courses, projects or other materials over a reasonable period of time. The dual service will run for two years. You can access the old service but not add content, for a further year before it is finally switched off.

OUCS will offer full support and training for the new service from June 2009 onwards, as well as providing tools to help with migrating content to the new system. We hope that staff and students will see this move as an opportunity to improve and rationalise material rather than moving all existing material wholesale.

We recognise that local IT support staff are vital to any innovation and are training them during the pilot phase. Training events are publicised on the front page of the new service and a ‘Getting started with WebLearn Beta’ guide is also available from the front page.

3.2. About WebLearn Beta

WebLearn Beta is an easy-to-use accessible web-based service which supports teaching and learning, research and other day-to-day activities. It offers protected spaces that can contain a searchable document store and tools such as discussion forums, calendars, email distribution lists, announcements, wikis, tutorial sign-up sheets, formative assessment tools and electronic pigeon holes.

WebLearn Beta is a free service offered to the University, and areas (known as sites) are available for all departments, faculties, colleges, and other units. All sites are arranged in a hierarchy that matches the University’s structure and each site offers a variety of online tools designed to enhance the learning experience and / or promote collaboration.

WebLearn Beta sites can be made publicly available or restricted to specific individuals or groups. It is also possible to stipulate exactly what site members are allowed to do once they have entered a site.

Oxford University members can access the system today, all that is needed is a valid Oxford Single Sign-on (SSO) (‘WebAuth’) username and password.

3.3. WebLearn Beta offers:

  • an effective way to share online multimedia resources with predefined course-based, departmental or custom groups (including non-University members);
  • a central place to focus electronic teaching, learning and research activity;
  • an online searchable file store for private use or to share with colleagues, research partners or students;
  • formative assessment, opinion poll and survey facilities;
  • a course calendar;
  • reading lists with live links to the libraries;
  • group communication, including discussion boards, chat room, announcements and an email list with web-based message archive;
  • tools for collaboratively writing documents;
  • on-line submission of electronic materials;
  • a tutorial / seminar sign-up sheet.

For more information contact: weblearn-beta@oucs.ox.ac.uk

3.4. WebLearn Beta: Recent Enhancements

The Tutorial Sign-up Tool produces a ‘sign-up sheet’ for meetings, seminars or tutorials.

The Search Tool has been improved; in addition to searching the current site, the search tool will now search over all the sites to which a user belongs.

Site access can be restricted by predefined Departmental, Faculty, School or Collegiate groups. On the ‘Add Participants’ page of the ‘Site Info’ tool, there is a new ‘Add Group’ button; this allows one select an automatically updated list to add to the site.

Lists of site members can be copied from one site to another. At the bottom of the ‘Add participants’ page of the Site Info tool there is an ‘Export Users’ button. Clicking on this will open a pop-up window containing a list of usernames which can be copied and pasted into another site. Use this facility to duplicate custom groups between sites.

Files accidentally deleted within the Resources Tool can now be recovered by using the ‘Restore’ link in the ‘Actions’ menu of the containing folder. Improvements have also been made in the area of Accessibility; screen readers will now relay far more information about page content.

3.5. Moving Content into the New WebLearn System

For existing users, a major part of moving to the new system is the migration of the content out of the current WebLearn service. Due to the differences between the two systems, a totally automated process to move material is not feasible, and we anticipate that a far better result will be achieved with some intervention by the resource owners. Moreover, a recent survey identified that most users expressed a desire to tidy up their material as part of the move.

For the change over to be as smooth as possible for both staff and students, we recommend that a cohesive approach be adopted, and that departments (or equivalent administrative units) move all their teaching materials at the same time or, if that’s not practical, in logical sub-sets. This will avoid the situation where students are unclear where to go to find their course material.

We’d also like to encourage resource owners to start thinking about a strategy, and to plan key dates in conjunction with the local Floor Manager. The first step in the migration process, which can be taken far in advance of the actual migration, is to start mapping out the structure of the new areas. The VLE team has a lot of experience to offer, and we recommend that you ask us for advice in this regard.

We have analysed the different types of content in the existing WebLearn, and have produced tools to aid users to move content. During this term we will be working with users helping them to use these tools to move materials. As a result of this, we will be developing case studies of good practice and producing associated (paper) guides for migration. We will also be holding regular ‘drop-in’ sessions in OUCS to give people face-to-face help – these will be announced in due course.

The current WebLearn service has been enhanced to provide two new tools:

Export content: allows content from one or more sites to be wrapped in a ZIP file which can be moved into the new WebLearn. Can include uploaded files (Word, PowerPoint, Excel, PDFs, multimedia files etc), Web documents, EasyWriter documents, Structured documents, Resource introductions, Resource descriptions.

Content can be moved to the new WebLearn by navigating to the appropriate site, uploading the ZIP file into the Resources tool and then selecting ‘Expand ZIP archive’ from the ‘Actions’menu next to the file.

Export group membership: this allows the members of custom groups to be copied from one system to the other. Centrally provided groups should not be moved as they are already available in the new service.

Custom groups can be recreated within the new WebLearn by pasting the exported list into the ‘Add Participants’ page in the ‘Site Info’ tool.

In addition to the above, Questionnaires and MCQs can be individually exported from the current system; this is done within the tool itself. The corresponding import facility will only be available in the new WebLearn (in the Tasks, Tests and Surveys tool) from July 2009.

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