2. Using WebLearn

2.1. Introduction

WebLearn mirrors the organisational structure of the University. The front page contains links to the 4 Divisions, the Colleges and the other top-level administrative units. Each Divisional area then contains links to individual departments, in much the same way the College area presents links to the individual colleges. This logical structure should make it easy to navigate to the desired target if the web address is not known. It also promotes casual browsing which can be a useful form of outreach.

2.2. Browsing and Logging In

Best results are achieved by using the FireFox web browser; Internet Explorer is also supported and can be used if FireFox is either not available or cannot be installed; FireFox is strongly recommended and using Internet Explorer will result in a slightly degraded experience. Apple Macintosh users should also use FireFox in preference to Safari.

You do not have to login to look at WebLearn; however, most colleges and departments will have their course materials in areas that do require you to log in. To gain access you need your 'WebAuth' Oxford Single Sign-On (SSO) username and password. (These credentials are the same as those used for Self-Registration, course booking and many other services around the University.) If you have never used your SSO account then you will need to activate it. If you have forgotten your password then you will have to reset it.

2.3. WebLearn For Students

"It would be a lot more difficult to catch up on my work if I didn’t have WebLearn." Fresher, Biological Sciences.

Most departments and colleges have resources in WebLearn. Usually your tutor will provide you with a link or advise you where to find your course material, alternatively you may browse either system and navigate to the appropriate college or department area.

Your local IT Support Staff provide the first level of on-the-spot help. Links to local IT support pages, which includes a list of who to contact if you have a problem, are available for most colleges and departments.

2.3.1. Finding Your Course Materials: A Quick Guide

Log in to WebLearn, to do this click on Oxford Account in the top right corner and log in using your 'WebAuth' Oxford Single Sign-On (SSO) username and password.

If you already know the web address (URL) of your material, type it into your browser in the same way as for any website. WebLearn will take you directly to the correct location.

To find your course materials you can do any of the following:

  • Click on the 'My Active Sites' tab (top right). WebLearn will list the sites of which you are a member. Click on the link to the site that you want.
  • Click on 'Search my sites' in the menu at the left side of this screen. Then follow the instructions that appear.
  • Click on the link to your division in the list of sub-sites which are displayed at the left side of the screen and in the left-hand box below. Then follow the subsequent links to locate your department and course.

If you cannot find what you are looking for you should contact your course tutor.

2.3.2. User Guides

There are a number of student guides available in the WebLearn Guidance site. These include:

In addition, WebLearn also has a link to context-sensitive pop-up help on every single page; this is generally correct but may be out of date in some areas, please refer to the guidance site first..

2.3.3. Skills Development Courses

2.3.3.1. Career Development Skills (commissioned by the University Skills Group)

The WebLearn team has been working closely with the University Skills Group (USG - formerly the Graduate Skills Advisory Group) to move the former ‘Online courses’ (now called ‘Career Development Skills’) into WebLearn. The courses were previously hosted within a different VLE service (provided by Continuing Education) which required a special username and password.

Although the courses are aimed at graduate students and researchers, they are available to all Oxford users. Each course (with the exception of Avoiding Plagiarism 2) contains a test which has a pass mark of 80%; successful completion will trigger the dispatch of an electronic 'certificate' via email.

There are a total of 15 Career Development Skills courses. These are:

2.3.3.2. Research Skills Toolkit

The Research Skills Toolkit is a special area of WebLearn where researchers can explore a variety of IT tools and online services. Although the site has been designed with research students in mind, it is open to any member of Oxford University.

The Skills Toolkit is a joint project from the IT Learning Programme at IT Services, the Bodleian Libraries and the Careers Service. It complements a series of live events held at IT Services. Groups of research students are invited to try out a selection of IT tools and online services, and to talk to specialist IT teachers and Libraries staff.

2.4. WebLearn for Departments and Colleges

Please refer to the earlier section for details about how to establish a WebLearn presence for your department or college.

In relation to the institutional VLE, WebLearn, lecturers within the same course should: Provide students with the same “base level” of service (i.e. in making PowerPoint presentations, lecture notes and so forth available), even if they do not all use the other tools and features provided. A key recommendation taken from the Thema project.

2.4.1. Course-related Support

The classic use of WebLearn is for supporting courses. There are numerous facilities that may be of use ranging from the storage of lecture notes and reading lists through to the organising of tutorials or meetings.

Departments may like to divide their presence by course, or have separate areas for undergraduates, postgraduates and staff. Colleges often have separate areas for tutorials, (where each tutor would have his or her own site(s),) subjects, the library, specialist study centres and learning-related administrative information.

2.4.2. Pandemic Planning

Red 'Flu Flag

WebLearn offers many facilities which will be invaluable should parts of the University have to close due to a 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 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 and /or 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 on-line submission of essays, and tests can be conducted within the Tests assessment tool.

There are more details about the individual tools in the section entitled Tools in the 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 and infrastructure that can be brought into play should there be a need.

2.4.3. Outreach and Publicity / Open Days

We would like to recommend that all colleges and departments have totally public 'home pages' in WebLearn - this site can be used both for general outreach and to support the annual Open Day. The ease that one can upload documents and create or edit web pages will make the process of disseminating essential information painless.

One excellent use of such pages is to highlight teaching and learning activities. Example materials such as resource packs, podcasts, reading lists and course handouts could be made available on such sites to give a flavour of the quality of teaching in order to help with recruitment.

WebLearn also offers a survey tool for conducting free surveys, either to collect information prior to an event, or feedback after an event.

2.4.4. Liaising with Pre-arrival Students

Now that students are supplied with their Oxford SSO credentials before they arrive at University they will be able to access WebLearn in advance of starting their studies. Reading lists and documents can be circulated and formative assessment carried out so that new students are able to 'hit the ground running' when they arrive.

A WebLearn site for pre-arrival students could contain the following:

  • links to other University systems including the libraries
  • an outline of basic skills that will be needed
  • an electronic welcome pack containing:
    • links to departmental resources
    • a link to the Student Union
    • a link to the Newcomer's Club
    • links to relevant societies
    • things to do upon arrival
    • 'catch up' materials (for students who have taken a 'gap year')
    • a link to admissions
    • information about English language courses (often useful for graduate students)
    • reading lists
    • an electronic copy of the handbook
    • information about tutorials
    • maps and information about accommodation
  • an area for new students to converse with their peers; (obviously suitable volunteers must be identified to act as mentors):
    • a discussion Forum to discuss worries
    • a wiki with useful info built up by existing students

2.4.5. Training and Help

As well as the ITLP training courses, IT Services can provide special training sessions located within a department so long as there will be 10 or more attendees. Please contact the WebLearn team for more information.

There is also a very useful WebLearn Guidance site which contains guides to most of the WebLearn tools.

2.4.6. Advertising WebLearn

There area number of resources available for download and customisation allowing departments or colleges to create their own documentation or advertise WebLearn in public areas.

2.5. WebLearn For Staff

All University staff are entitled to an area within which to host teaching and learning material. To check if your department already has an area you should login to WebLearn and use the navigation menu on the lower left-hand side of the page to enter the division within which your unit is located. Similarly, use the 'Colleges' link to see which colleges currently have a presence. If an area exists, then enter it by clicking on the link, contact one of the owners listed in Site Info and ask to be given permission to create an area for your own material. Many tutors like to have area within their college site for material relating to their tutorials.

Help on getting started is available on the WebLearn front page which also contains a link to further help on getting started.

WebLearn also contains a comprehensive WebLearn Guidance site containing a variety of user guides, case studies, exemplar and showcase sites plus links to software packages that may prove useful when establishing a departmental presence. WebLearn also has a link to context-sensitive pop-up help on every single page.

Your local IT Support Staff provide the first level of on-the-spot help. Links to local IT support pages are available for most colleges and departments.

2.6. WebLearn for ITSS / Webmasters

Please refer to the earlier section for details about how to establish a WebLearn presence for your department or college; this website has a list of all units that have already requested an area in WebLearn.

There are regular briefing sessions for ITSS, these will be advertised through the usual channels and booking will be possible via IT Services ITS3 pages. There is a special 'Least You Need To Know' guide giving an overview of WebLearn for ITSS and there is lots of other useful information on the WebLearn Guidance site.

2.6.1. Advertising WebLearn

There area number of resources available for download and customisation allowing departments or colleges to create their own documentation or advertise WebLearn in public areas.

2.7. Ten reasons to use WebLearn

  1. A simple way to put material on the web Many staff put up their handouts, lecture slides, reading lists, and so on. WebLearn avoids having to rely on IT support officers mounting information, anybody who has been given permission to do so can easily create HTML web pages, upload searchable Word documents, PowerPoint slides, Excel spreadsheets, and so on.
  2. Easily control access to your material WebLearn contains information about affiliations of every staff member and student, these affiliations can be used to grant access to any area of the system.
  3. Reduction in paperwork Handbooks can be stored centrally, handouts do not have to be photocopied, internal documents can be circulated, and so on. WebLearn allows easy creation of student feedback forms online so feedback is automatically collated.
  4. Allows one to experiment with additional e-learning tools WebLearn comes with e-learning tools for you to use quickly and easily such as discussion forums, electronic pigeon holes, quizzes, and questionnaires - all set up with a few clicks. Common uses include formative assessment, surveys, essay submission via Turnitin, student feedback tools or tests to assist revision.
  5. Allows you to keep in touch with students out of class You can use the Announcement or Email Archive tools to contact students outside of class via email. Another idea is to aid last-minute revision by agreeing to be present in a chat room to answer questions at a set time in the days leading up to an exam.
  6. Helping the students WebLearn provides a single place for learning support material, which is all held in one searchable cohesive space, and students can browse outside of their disciplines.
  7. Saving your work WebLearn can be looked at as a central repository for teaching material. It is backed up regularly and archive snapshots of WebLearn are taken at set intervals.
  8. Providing an area for cross-institutional projects WebLearn allows you to control access to certain areas and documents. It lets you create usernames for external collaborators working on projects. Projects can create their own private intranets to hold important documents.
  9. Integration with other systems WebLearn is supported centrally and is integrated with a number of other IT Services systems including Oxford Single-Sign On (WebAuth), Oak access management services and Bodleian Library's SOLO.
  10. It's accessible The WebLearn team recently ran a project with the Disability Office to assess the WebLearn system. Users had very few complaints (although some minor changes were made) and most made the comment that it was "better than the old system". Interested parties may like to read the report about accessibility in Sakai (the software upon which WebLearn is based).

2.8. What People Have Said About WebLearn

2.8.1. General

"As academic colleagues we constantly discuss both the content of our research and research practices, but we rarely discuss exactly what or how we teach. Using WebLearn we can see each others' teaching materials and share our approaches to tutorial and class teaching, subject by subject. It helps us to exchange ideas and encourages each of us to reflect on our own teaching practices." Teresa Morgan

"WebLearn is a wonderful system with many features which benefit both teaching and the management of students' work. It is easy and fun to use. The most important thing is that you must stretch the imagination and try to explore the facilities to expand your teaching." Shio-yun Kan, a lecturer in Chinese Language.

"We believe the active engagement in the course is due to three factors: deep interest in the subject, engaging teaching methods, and the WebLearn Virtual Learning Environment." Dr Amanda Burls, Department of Primary Health Care

"I'm not an expert IT user but have found WebLearn easy to learn." Rita Rattray, Conference of Colleges

"Having worked my way through the basics, I have to say the New WebLearn is a great improvement over the old. WebDAV in particular will make life much easier. Thank you for all the work you have put into it." Rachel Crawford, IT Support Officer, Oxford Department of International Development

"It’s brilliant! I was up and running in half an hour. It gives you something you can start playing with instantly." Peter Darrah, Lecturer in Biological Sciences talking about site templates

2.8.2. Hosting Documents

"One of the reasons we are using the Wiki tool is so that we can put files up in this area that [...] members can edit without overwriting each other's work. At the moment we've managed to split our tasks in a way that we can keep track of the changes each of us makes, but once we've collected all the material we need and begin the editing process of the full corpus, we will need to work on a 'master' document that all of us can access and edit at different times. The wiki tool is perfect to meet this requirement." Dr Rohini Jayatilaka, Faculty of English Language and Literature

"WebLearn is bringing the whole of the Conference of Colleges together in a new searchable, legible, comprehensive and hierarchical series of sites and folders. On the Senior Tutors' site, facilities mean that new sets of information are now available - and can be readily used and shared. One small but powerful example of the greater access and control is the single click Senior Tutors' mail-list with archiving of correspondence. I'm sure that as it develops WebLearn will have beneficial effects on how the University does its business." Dr Nicola Trott, Senior Tutor of Balliol

"Using the drop box facility in WebLearn was perfect as a simple and secure way of allowing Exam Board Administrators to transfer the Results Spreadsheet to the Examinations team in Student Administration. It took one morning to set up. People in Departments have told us that this change to the process (they were using memory sticks before) was a huge improvement. They found it more convenient, easy to use (training consisted of a one page training HOW TO guide). It meant that time was saved in the process, staff didn't have to walk down to exams more than once. Everybody had access, it was easy to maintain, staff in the Examination Team found it ideal to manage spreadsheets coming in from 300+ exam boards." Victoria Clark, Change and Process Manager, Student Administration, Academic Administration Division

"Since the documents in our WebLearn site are essentially the raw material for our project, what WebLearn has enabled us to do is to make our work accessible to team members based outside Oxford, whilst keeping it secure until we publish it." Dr Rohini Jayatilaka, Faculty of English Language and Literature

"There are two important benefits of using WebLearn: 1. We can easily maintain and update it ourselves without having to ask a webmaster to change things on an intranet; 2. We can carefully control access to various areas and particular resources." Nicola Harvey-Cooper (Examinations Schools)

2.8.3. Communication

"The single most useful thing undergraduates in a tutorial group can do is to talk to each other. If they are not able to meet face to face over, for example, a cup of coffee, then WebLearn is the next best thing. I know very quickly which tutorial groups talk together as it shows in their work. By discussing the topics of lectures and tutorials they quickly discover alternative ways of looking at the subject by seeing it through the eyes of another undergraduate. I always encourage my tutorial groups to talk to each other, to perhaps divide up a reading list between them and then pool their resources and ideas, and also to share their essays. Anything WebLearn is able to do to enhance the undergraduate's learning experience can only be good." Anne Lee, social psychology tutor for the Department of Experimental Psychology

"It's easy to use and the fact that you are notified via email simplifies things." Sam Smith, Chinese Language student.

"I would say that the forums and resources tool has been really excellent and extremely useful for our Summer School students to use - we have a great amount of use particularly on the forums. Also, the Survey tool has allowed us to collect confidential data in a way which has substantially increased the productivity of our office. " Kathryn Spicksley, UNIQ Summer Schools Coordinator,

"I think that the fact it looks more 'grown-up' than [old] WebLearn is not irrelevant. The one thing I still miss about [old] WebLearn as it currently is, is the ability to group email every member of a class, so I am delighted that this is a key feature of the new WebLearn." Craig Clunas, Professor of History of Art

"We have found that WebLearn is a very effective way of communicating with our multitude of committees and is ideal for storing, protecting and distributing minutes, agendas and other important documents." Rita Rattray, Conference of Colleges

2.8.4. Assessment

"The way assignments are set up is good, with the deadline and grade once it's been marked. Chat-rooms and announcements are a good way to communicate with teachers and classmates, and bring important things to our attention." Marie-France Johns, Chinese Language student.

2.8.5. Surveys / Feedback

"I have been pleased with the trial we did using WebLearn for lecture feedback last term. It saved me a great deal of time in processing the results for presenting to the tutors, as we carry out feedback requests to undergraduates for each lecturer each term. The different formats of report was also useful." Elaine Sherrott, Earth Sciences

2.8.6. Mobile Oxford and WebLearn

[The WebLearn Poll session via Mobile Oxford was] "much better than normal CAL as this can be a waste of time, would be better to have a poll quiz like this every week during CAL time." 1st year Undergraduate Medicine student, May 2011

We were impressed at how enthusiastic those students with internet enabled mobiles were for the Mobile Oxford interface and observed that students were clearly engaged actively in the session. Helen Christian, teacher of 1st year Undergraduate Medicine, May 2011

2.9. Contact Information

If you cannot find the answer to your questions on the WebLearn Guidance site or by clicking on the help links or by speaking to your local IT support officer then send an email to weblearn@it.ox.ac.uk

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