3. Tools in the WebLearn

The effective use of WebLearn to support teaching and learning in a face-to-face institution can be difficult to visualise. We see our students several times a week, in lectures and tutorials, they can physically access the library, they are digital 'natives' and are comfortable finding their own resources on the web, aren’t they?

Past experience has shown that it helps to develop a conceptual framework to visualise a VLE and the types of things it can do. Any VLE provides the following five main areas of functionality:

  • Information – providing organisational information and tools, such as Announcements, Calendar and Syllabus;
  • Content – Resources tool (containing a collection of electronic documents), Reading Lists, Podcasts, links to external Web content (web pages, videos etc.);
  • Communication – Discussion forums, Email archive and collaboration tools such as the Wiki;
  • Assessment – Assignments (including Turnitin plagiarism detection), Tests, Tutorial tasks, assessed Forum discussions;
  • Management – monitoring student activity, administering marks, course evaluation, sign-up sheets for meetings and tutorials.

Using this conceptual framework, one sees that the virtual learning environment, just as with the physical learning environment, demands thorough course design and planning. Once such a virtual site has been designed and created, it assists lecturers, tutors and students to collect course materials and access them in a structured, convenient and collaborative way.

WebLearn tools. (Image credit: cultivatelearning.com)

3.1. Tool Descriptions

3.1.1. Announcements

announcements icon
The Announcements tool is used to inform site participants about current items of interest. There is an option to advise all site participants by email that an announcement has been posted. WebLearn sites that use the Announcements tool show a synoptic Recent Announcements window on the site’s Home page; the Announcements tool in My Workspace shows all announcements from all the sites to which you belong.

More information:Step-by-step guide for Announcements; Video tutorials for Announcements

3.1.2. Assignments

Assignments icon
The Assignments tool allows students to electronically submit assignments and teachers to author, edit, publish and grade assignments. It is integrated with the Markbook tool for keeping track of grades and progress and the Schedule and Announcements tool for alerts and calendaring. Teachers can create assignments ahead of time and set a date for the assignment to be published. Teachers can also configure how long the assignment will be posted and when grades will no longer be accepted.
Assignments screen shot

More information:Step-by-step guide for Assignments; Video tutorials for Assignments

3.1.3. Chat Room

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You can use the Chat Room tool for real-time, unstructured conversations among site participants who are signed on to the site at the same time.

3.1.4. Drop Box

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The Drop Box tool allows tutors and students to share documents within a private folder for each student. Like Resources, Drop Box allows uploading of many types of files and multiple files at a time.

More information:Step-by-step guide for Drop Box

3.1.5. Email Archive

email archive icon
This tool allows email to be sent to the entire site membership using a single email address. Messages sent using the Email Archive tool are archived and searchable within the site.

More information:Step-by-step guide for Email Archive; Video tutorial for Email Archive

3.1.6. Email Sender (previously called 'Mailtool')

Email Sender icon
E-mail Sender allows a user to send an email message to site participants. Emails sent from E-mail Sender need to be composed inside the WebLearn site, but the tool allows emails to be sent to sub-sets of the site membership (e.g., by role, to groups, to individually-selected members). Emails can also be sent to Email Archive (if turned on) for archiving and viewing later.

More information:Step-by-step guide for Email Sender

3.1.7. Find Sites

Find site icon
This tool appears only on the Welcome page and the WebLearn Guidance site (maintainers cannot add it to their sites). It searches titles of WebLearn sites that are included in the public index of sites.

3.1.8. Forums

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Forums is a communication tool that site leaders can use to create an unlimited number of areas for asynchronous discussion. All site members are able to post, read and reply to messages from other members of the site.

More information:Step-by-step guide for Forums; Video tutorials for Forums

3.1.9. Graduate Training (aka Student Enrolment System)

The Graduate Training tool allows one to search for and read about courses and modules from all providers of graduate training within Oxford University. Graduates may use WebLearn to request a place on courses offered by the MPLS and Social Sciences divisions (although generally the applicant must at least be registered within the host division). Courses offered by other training providers offer a link to a third-party site when a place can be requested. The list of courses is updated on a nightly basis and also includes a number of on-line modules.

3.1.10. Group Manager

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WebLearn is integrated with the Oak person store. This store holds information culled from the University Card database, the Oracle Student System, the IT Services Registration Database and a number of other sources. Unit and course affiliation can be used to generate dynamic lists of users which can then be used to grant access (or protect) to WebLearn sites. This facility is accessed through the Site Info tool.
group manager screen shot

3.1.11. Hierarchy Manager

Hierarchy Manager icon
Users with the appropriate role can use the Hierarchy Manager to create new sites, reuse preexisting sites and organise their sites into a hierarchical structure. The Hierarchy Manager can also be used by departmental coordinators to devolve rights to their colleagues so they themselves can create sites.

3.1.12. Home / Worksite Setup

home tool icon
On the Home page of each site, there are areas for general information (e.g., Worksite Information) and ‘synoptic’ views for communication tools (e.g., Recent Announcements, Messages and Forums Notifications, and Recent Chat Messages) used in the site. If one has the appropriate rights, one may customise the front page of the site.

More information: Video tutorial for Home tool

3.1.13. Markbook (Gradebook)

markbook icon
The Markbook tool allows tutors to calculate and store students’ scores, grades and comments and distribute the information to students online. It communicates with the Tests and Assignments tools. Information can be imported from and exported to Microsoft Excel (in .csv format).

3.1.14. Membership

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In My Workspace, the Membership tool allows a user to see a list of all the worksites that they have created, as well as those to which they currently belong. It also allows users to browse through a list of joinable sites.

3.1.15. Messages

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Messages is a communication tool that allows site participants to communicate by composing and posting messages within the WebLearn site. The tool can also send messages to selected site members as email.

3.1.16. News

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The News tool uses RSS to bring dynamic news to a WebLearn site. It allows continuously updated content to appear in your site, for example, from a remote news site (e.g. the BBC News Channel or Twitter) or from something like Oxford Podcasts. It is possible to have more than one News feed appear in the tools menu.

3.1.17. OXAM

The OXAM database of past exam papers contains all Oxford University exam scripts from 1999 onwards and has a free-text search a 'browse by course and year' facility.

3.1.18. Oxford Podcasts

Oxford Podcasts icon
The Oxford Podcasts tool makes it very easy to embed items from Oxford Podcasts into a site. (The Oxford Podcasts Collection website contains exactly the same material as Oxford’s iTunesU presence.)

Browse Oxford Podcast Collection

Once the tool has been added it will render complete with in-page media players so users do not have to download the podcast.

Oxford Podcast in-page display

3.1.19. Podcasts

podcasts icon
The Podcasts tool allows you to store your own podcasts in WebLearn, control access to them (including timed-release) and manage podcast feed information. this tool is ideal if you do not want your podcasts to be publicly available.

Podcasts tool

3.1.20. Polls

Polls icon
The Polls tool is a simple tool for anonymous voting. Users can vote for one or more of any number of answer options. The structure of the vote is governed by a maximum and minimum number of options that may be selected. Site owners can choose when results are available to voters: immediately, after voting, after the closing date, or never. Participants may only vote once per poll. Polls tool

More information:Step-by-step guide for Polls

3.1.21. Preferences

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The Preferences tool allows users to customise features within WebLearn, including change how notifications from sites are received, reorder the list of active sites and change the current time zone and language. Preferences is found within My Workspace.

3.1.22. Profile

profile icon
The Profile tool gives basic information about users. With this tool users can view others' profiles, add information to one’s own profile, and specify what information is public.

3.1.23. Reading List

Reading List icon
The Reading List tool is actually part of Resources; select "Add Reading List" from the "Actions" menu in the resources tool. Improvements made at Oxford mean that it is possible to invoke SOLO, the Bodleian Library’s search interface, from within WebLearn.

Searching SOLO

SOLO has also been enhanced so that, at the click of a button, citations can be automatically inserted into a WebLearn Reading List.

Importing a search item into WebLearn

When viewed by a student, the Reading List will contain up-to-date availability information and, where available, links to full text versions of Journal Articles.

Student view of Reading List

More information:Step-by-step guide for Reading List

3.1.24. Resources

Resources icon
The Resources tool provides a flexible space for site owners to upload and manage site resources. These files could be Word documents, PDFs, and PowerPoint slides, but may also include images, video clips, and even web links. The Resources tool can also be used to create and edit both HTML and text files. Up to 10 files can be uploaded at once. New and existing files can be organised in folders. Site members can be notified via email that new materials have been added to the site.

Resources tool

More information:Step-by-step guide for Resources; Video tutorials for Resources

3.1.25. Schedule

The Schedule tool allows site owners to post items in a calendar format. Any calendar item can have multiple attachments; links can be made from items in the calendar to other files – for example, link to lecture or lab notes from a calendar entry. Scheduled events from all of the sites to which you belong are collated and appear in the Schedule tool in My Workspace. The calendar can be viewed in a range of formats within WebLearn or it can be printed as a PDF.

Schedule tool

More information:Step-by-step guides for Schedule

3.1.27. Sign-up

sign up icon
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 and the like.

It allows either single or repeated meeting 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 will be added to the site calendar and potential attendees can be notified of the details. The meeting can be displayed on one or more WebLearn sites.

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.

The tool will send email notifications and add scheduled events to the site calendar (Schedule).

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.

More information:Step-by-step guide for Sign-up

3.1.28. Site Info

site info icon
The Site Info tool provides information about the current worksite. If one has a role that allows it, this tool can be used to make changes to information about the site, tools available in the site, and access to the site.

More information:Step-by-step guide for Site Info; Video tutorials for Site Info

3.1.29. Site Members (Roster)

site members icon
The Roster tool shows a list of users in a site. The tool can show a picture of a user if they have uploaded one with the Profile tool. It also produces printer friendly views.

3.1.30. Site Stats

site stats icon
The Site Stats tool is designed to show summary information about site visits and tool activity, display visits and tool activity charts, and generate reports based on user visits, tool activity and Resources actions. Site statistics are only recorded after the tool has been turned on in a WebLearn site – it is not retrospective. Site Stats is only visible to those site members with a maintain or contribute role. It is strongly recommended that tutors turn the tool on in teaching sites in order to be able to monitor student activity and respond to students with low levels of activity. Site owners should be aware that the data collected by the Site Stats tool is protected under the Data Protection Act.

Site Stats tool

More information:Step-by-step guide for Site Stats

3.1.31. Surveys (Beta)

Survey tool functionality

surveys icon
The WebLearn Surveys tool (released as a Beta) can be used to design and manage electronic questionnaires to be delivered online. Surveys can be created to gather data for research purposes, general data gathering, or for course, lecturer or tutor evaluation, feedback and review.

Questionnaire templates can be created from scratch, or existing templates can be copied and modified. Various question types are available, such as Lickert scales, multiple choice with a single answer, multiple choice with multiple answers, and free text questions. Detailed settings control open and close dates, how participants access the survey, and who may view the results.

Survey tool options screen shot

A survey can be delivered to WebLearn site members, ad-hoc groups or the general public over a fixed time period. Although responses remain anonymous, the course administrator can track who has or has not completed the evaluation. The system can automatically notify users of upcoming surveys, and send reminders to complete an ongoing survey. The notification scheme is intended to increase the response rate.

Several reporting options are available – generate a PDF file showing frequency counts and bar charts, or export data to Excel to enable further analysis of participants’ responses.

More information:Step-by-step guide for Surveys

3.1.32. Syllabus

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If a tutor or department has prepared an online syllabus already, you can direct the Syllabus tool to link to it. Otherwise, it is possible to use the Syllabus tool to enter material to post directly to your syllabus. You can make your syllabus visible to the general public or just to members of the site.

3.1.33. Tests (formerly Tasks, Tests and Surveys (TT&S))

tests icon
The Tests tool enables the creation and management of a variety of types of online tests - it supports diagnostic, formative and evaluative assessment. It is strongly recommended that it is not considered as a means of conducting summative assessment. Whereas survey can be conducted using this tool, the dedicated Survey tool is much more suited to this task.
  • The Assignments tool offers multiple grading options for submissions, but does not support automatic marking of objective questions.
  • The Evaluation tool supports the construction, distribution and administration of template-based questionnaires with an emphasis on course based evaluation. Participants who have not yet completed an evaluation will receive reminders by email.

More information:Step-by-step guide for Tests

3.1.34. Web Content

web content icon
The Web Content tool allows you to display other websites inside the site’s WebLearn frame. You can use Web Content links for the most important or most commonly used online resources for your subject. Links to these sites will appear on the site’s toolbar. Online resources which are not needed as frequently can be placed in Resources instead of in Web Content items.

Web Content tool

More information:Step-by-step guide for Web Content; Video tutorial for Web Content

3.1.35. WebDAV

webdav icon
This is not a tool as such but is a more of service to allow users to treat a Resource tool or Drop Box as a desktop (or network) folder. WebDAV is a set of “http” extensions to that allows users to collaboratively edit and manage files on remote web systems. It is available on all the major operating systems (Windows, MacOS and Linux).

More information:Step-by-step guide for WebDAV; Video tutorial (under 'Resources')for WebDAV

3.1.36. Wiki

wiki icon
The Wiki is a tool that allows anyone with the appropriate permissions to read, create, and edit web pages (open editing). Students can use wiki pages to work on document production or other projects as a team. In this way the Wiki tool can be used to facilitate collaborative learning, group interaction, sharing and distribution of knowledge and expertise, and exchange of ideas.

More information:Step-by-step guide for Wiki

3.2. Primary and Secondary Tools

There are many facilities in the WebLearn, these are partitioned into Primary and Secondary Tools. The WebLearn Service Level Description details which category each tool falls into, see section 2.12. Section 2.21 explains the difference between the two classifications. In short, if a Primary tool is withdrawn then IT Services will endeavour to provide instructions on how to move the content of the tool to a suitable alternative; if a secondary tool is removed then there is no guarantee that IT Services will provide support for the transfer of content. The Secondary tools are:

  • Wiki
  • Chat Room
  • Syllabus
  • Messages
  • Survey Beta - Evaluations
  • Graduate Training tool (formerly known as the Student Enrolment System (SES))

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