IT Services



WebLearn - The University of Oxford VLE


Contents



1. General Information

WebLearn: Collaboration - Content - Assessment - Information - Management View service level descriptions

WebLearn: Allowing members of the University to create and store materials to support their teaching and learning activities. Easy to create and upload materials, easy to foster collaboration and easy to secure access.

"All of our course outlines, timetables, lecture notes, reading lists, and resources are available on WebLearn. [....] It makes communicating information and sharing resources extremely effective since anyone in our course, including the administrator, can provide or receive up-to-date information at any time of day." - a Medical Sciences student



1.1. Announcements icon for the RSS feed



1.2. WebLearn Blog

Read the latest news and views in this blog centred mainly around WebLearn.



1.3. About the WebLearn Service

Figure icons/weblearn-qrcode.png [WebLearn QR Code]

WebLearn is a web-based Virtual Learning Environment (VLE), which can be used to both support and enhance teaching and learning. It provides tools to enable University members with very little web experience to set up a structured web site and provide an excellent resource for their students.

WebLearn is a free service offered to any member of the University - areas are available for all departments, faculties, colleges, schools and other administrative units to focus their electronic teaching and learning activity.

WebLearn can be used to:
  • make announcements;
  • share, protect and search for hand-outs, course notes, presentations, podcasts, movies and other multimedia resources;
  • set and submit electronic assignments (with optional Turnitin plagiarism detection);
  • disseminate reading lists with live links to OLIS;
  • promote groups discussion with forums and chat rooms;
  • carry out online opinion polls;
  • deliver course evaluation and feedback forms;
  • advertise and locate graduate training courses;
  • perform formative assessments with multiple-choice tests and the like;
  • publicise events via the course schedule (calendar);
  • enable collaborative authoring within a wiki (which also supports mathematical notation);
  • sign-up for tutorials;
  • store private files online;
  • work with collaborators from other institutions who can easily be issued with their own username and password;
  • host surveys;
  • and much more!

WebLearn areas can be made publicly available or restricted to specific individuals or ad-hoc and predefined groups. It is also possible to stipulate exactly what site members are allowed to do once they have entered a site. The system contains information regarding course and departmental affiliation for all staff and students, and it is this information that can be used to restrict access. As all areas are arranged in a hierarchy that matches the University's organisational structure, this promotes casual browsing.

IT Services offers training, support and advice for all of the above facilities, details are given later.

WebLearn is based on an open source Collaborative Learning Environment called Sakai CLE. Sakai CLE is used in many of the world's leading Universities such as Cambridge, Yale, UCB, Stanford, ANU and MIT and is administered by the newly formed Apereo Foundation.



1.3.1. Establishing a Presence in the WebLearn

To establish a presence in WebLearn, your Head of Department or College will need to authorise somebody to become a 'Local WebLearn Coordinator' and complete the Request for an Administration Site form. Once your department has an Administration Site, it is worth consulting with colleagues and deciding on a mutually agreed structure for consistency, for example, information could be provided by year, by course, by year or by tutor: there are a number of options. IT Services is very happy to offer advice on good practice in this area.

If you are unsure as to whether your unit has requested a presence or want to find out who your Local WebLearn Coordinator is then please consult this list of Administration Sites.

The Request for an Administration Site form also includes a set of guidelines for use of the system. For example, heed must be paid to copyright issues and there is a legal requirement that all material posted for download by students should be accessible (SENDA).



1.3.2. Help With Creating Material

IT Services is happy to offer expert advice about building up an effective departmental presence. To request a one-to-one meeting please contact the WebLearn team by email. Unfortunately, IT Services is not able to actually create course material for departments, however, a commercial service is available from the Technology-Assisted Lifelong Learning Unit (TALL) which is part of the Department for Continuing Education.



1.3.3. Linking to WebLearn from your web page

The following HTML code, when clicked, will load the front page of WebLearn. The target of the link can be manually edited to jump to a specific department of college area if desired. It is quite acceptable to change the size of the WebLearn graphic; alternative graphics are available from the graphical resources section of this document.

Link Code



1.3.4. WebLearn and Cookies

WebLearn does not use third-party cookies: for more information consult the WebLearn Blog which contains a thorough explanation of cookie use within WebLearn.



1.4. WebLearn and SharePoint

IT Services also offers a service based on Microsoft SharePoint. In order to make it easier for staff to know which service is most appropriate, the WebLearn and Nexus teams have written a paper entitled 'WebLearn and Nexus – which tool for which activity?'



1.5. WebLearn and Mobile Oxford

Did you know that you can have students complete a quick quiz during a lecture using their mobile phones and instantly see and discuss the results?

Did you know that students can use their mobile phones to sign up to a tutorial or seminar, read WebLearn announcements, listen to a podcast on the train, or access library, weather and travel information?

Visit Mobile Oxford to take advantage of these features.



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. Professional Development



2.3.3.1. Locate Graduate Training

WebLearn hosts a Graduate Training information site which advertises graduate training opportunities provided by all the academic divisions and departments as well as central services such as the Bodleian Libraries, IT Services (ITLP), Careers Service, Language Centre and Safety Office. Students are able to browse, search and book on training courses in order to develop academic, professional and personal skills and to help further their careers.



2.3.3.2. Professional Development Courses (commissioned by the University Skills Group)

WebLearn team has worked closely with the University Skills Group (USG) to offer a series of Professional Development Courses in WebLearn. 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.

The following courses are offered; you will be required to login in order to gain access.



2.3.3.3. Research Integrity Courses

A group of interactive online courses is now available, designed to provide an introduction to research integrity.

To practise research with integrity, you need to be aware of and meet the professional responsibilities you have as a researcher. These courses provide an introduction to these responsibilities and advice on how to meet them. By the end of the course, you should be able to:

  • Understand and explain the key responsibilities you have as a researcher
  • Identify the challenges you could face in meeting these responsibilities
  • Be aware of strategies for dealing with pressures and difficult situations.

What is covered – key information

  • Do you have a clear understanding what input you need to make in order to merit authorship and how to prevent possible disputes about this?
  • If your research involves human participants, do you know how to go about it?
  • What should you do if you see a colleague engaging in questionable research practice?
  • How can you identify and respond appropriately to conflicts of interest in your work?
  • Are you certain that the research records you keep are accurate and safely stored?
  • Have you considered the broader impact of your research on society?

This programme is designed to help graduate and early career researchers answer these and many other questions that will arise as they consider how to plan, carry out and report their research with integrity, and to themselves.

The following courses are offered; you will be required to login in order to gain access.



2.3.3.4. 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. 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.



2.4.3. 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


2.4.4. 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.



2.4.5. 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.



2.4.6. Case Studies

There are a number of case studies which outline how different people are using WebLearn. Here are some of the highlights:



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.



2.5.1. Useful Links



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. You can open your WebLearn area to all Oxford students, all Oxford users or even the public.
  3. Reduction in paperwork Handbooks can be stored centrally, they do not have to be photocopied, internal documents can be shared, and so on. WebLearn allows easy creation of student feedback forms online so feedback is automatically collected and presented as a formatted PDF report or an Excel download.
  4. Enhance teaching with e-learning tools WebLearn comes with built-in tools for you to use quickly and easily, such as discussion forums, electronic assignment submission (with optional Turnitin integration), tests for revision, and surveys -- all set up with a few clicks. You can build your own web pages, build and deliver interactive learning content, and embed existing learning materials such as links to websites, RSS feeds, podcasts, videos or other open educational resources.
  5. Allows you to keep in touch with students outside of the classroom You can use the Announcements 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. Sites can be set up so that students can browse beyond their own disciplines.
  7. Saving your work WebLearn can be regarded as a central repository for teaching material. It is backed up regularly and archive snapshots of WebLearn are taken at set intervals. WebLearn is centrally supported and free to use for all Oxford University members. Every Oxford member has a personal profile and storage space in My Workspace.
  8. Providing an area for cross-institutional projects WebLearn allows you to control access to certain areas and documents. You can add external collaborators working on projects, or international guest experts to hold online discussions with students.
  9. Keep track of student progress Devise formative self-assessment tests for students to test their own learning, or have them submit essays for tutors to read before the tutorial. Academics report that the Assignments tool supports them in providing more detailed feedback on student work.
  10. Free of charge and centrally supported WebLearn and all its tools are free to use for members of the university. The system is supported centrally by IT Services which offers support, consultation and training, including one-on-one sessions or presentations to your department or faculty on request. .


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



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:

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

Figure images/wl-icon/1_announcements.png [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

Figure images/wl-icon/2_assignments.png [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.

Figure images/assignments.png [Assignments screen shot]

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



3.1.3. Chat Room

Figure images/wl-icon/3_chat_room.png [chat room icon]

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

Figure images/wl-icon/4_drop_box.png [drop box icon]

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

Figure images/wl-icon/5_email_archive.png [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')

Figure images/wl-icon/8_email_sender.png [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

Figure images/wl-icon/40_find.png [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

Figure images/wl-icon/6_forums.png [forums icon]

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

Figure images/wl-icon/43_group.png [group manager icon]

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.

Figure images/group.png [group manager screen shot]



3.1.11. Hierarchy Manager

Figure images/wl-icon/41_sitemap.png [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

Figure images/wl-icon/7_home.png [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)

Figure images/wl-icon/9_markbook.png [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

Figure images/wl-icon/10_membership.png [membership icon]

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

Figure images/wl-icon/11_messages.png [messages icon]

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

Figure images/wl-icon/14_news.png [news icon]

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

Figure images/wl-icon/15_oxford_podcasts.png [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

Figure images/wl-icon/17_podcasts.png [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

Figure images/wl-icon/18_polls.png [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

Figure images/wl-icon/13_preferences.png [preferences icon]

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

Figure images/wl-icon/44_profile.png [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

Figure images/wl-icon/20_reading_list.png [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

Figure images/wl-icon/21_resources.png [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

Figure images/wl-icon/22_schedule_calendar.png [schedule(calendar)icon]

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



3.1.26. Search

Figure images/wl-icon/23_search.png [search icon]

Search allows users to search content created by most tools within the current site or across all sites to which a user belongs. It achieves this by creating an index of all content that the Announcements, Chat , Email Archive, Resources, and Wiki tools make available to the Search tool. This index is updated automatically, so as content is added to the site, it will be indexed after a short period of time. Filenames of material in Resources are also included in a Search index.


3.1.27. Sign-up

Figure images/wl-icon/25_sign_up.png [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

Figure images/wl-icon/26_site_info.png [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)

Figure images/wl-icon/27_site_members.png [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

Figure images/wl-icon/28_site_stats.png [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

Figure images/wl-icon/29_surveys.png [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

Figure images/wl-icon/30_syllabus.png [syllabus icon]

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))

Figure images/wl-icon/31_tests.png [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

Figure images/wl-icon/34_web_content.png [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

Figure images/wl-icon/45_webdav.png [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

Figure images/wl-icon/35_wiki.png [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:



4. Local WebLearn Coordinators (Departmental WebLearn Contacts)

Before a department or college can use WebLearn they must have an Administration Site and an associated list of Local WebLearn Coordinators (local administrators or contacts).

In the past we have tried to manually maintain a list of coordinators but as it has always been difficult for us to keep it up to date, we have switched to auto-generating a list from the membership and role stated in each unit's WebLearn Administration Site.



5. WebLearn User Group

Figure images/WLUG-logo-small.jpg [WLUG Logo]

WebLearn User Group (WLUG) meetings are held every term in the Thames suite in IT Services. The meetings enable WebLearn users to come together to share ideas and practices and to hear about recent and future developments in WebLearn. It is an opportunity for users to voice their ideas and suggestions in order to inform the ongoing development and support of the system. Guest speakers are always invited to come and give a short informal presentation about how WebLearn works for them. The cream tea after the meeting has become a popular tradition. The three meetings of the WLUG in the 2009/2010 academic year were attended by a total of 85 staff members.

Guest speakers are always invited to come and give a short informal presentation about how WebLearn works for them - if you are interested in speaking then please get in touch.

To listen to past meetings you may take advantage of the WLUG RSS feed display page in WebLearn. This page includes an in-page media player to make it easy to access a recording.

The group has a special site in WebLearn entitled WebLearn User Group; if you are interested then we recommend that you join the WLUG site. The site contains past agendas, notes and other useful snippets; the associated mail list is a useful way of learning about upcoming events and recent news. Being a member of the site means that you will receive email notifications, and it will appear under your 'My Active Sites' tab for ease of navigation.

It has been suggested that the WLUG meeting take place at the following times, we will do our best to stick to this schedule.

Future WLUG meetings are shown below; booking is required:



6. Help and Training

IT Services run regular training courses to help get started with WebLearn. These courses are run in conjunction with the IT Learning Programme, in order to attend you must book a place online. If any courses are scheduled then they will appear directly below; this list also includes WebLearn User Group meetings.



If you have already attended a WebLearn course then extra face-to-face help is available most Friday mornings by booking a place for the WebLearn Drop-in Surgery at Computer8.

There is also a special WebLearn Guidance site within the new system which acts as a gateway to all sorts of useful information including documentation and information about training courses.

The following ITLP training courses are either available or planned.

Name Topics Length Frequency
WebLearn User Group Meet with members of the WebLearn team; give feedback; share ideas and practices; hear about developments. 2 hours Once per term
WebLearn: Fundamentals Orientation; navigation; roles; tools; basic site management. 3 hours Twice per term
WebLearn: Design and Content After having attended the 'WebLearn Fundamentals' course, and / or having used WebLearn for some time, site owners need to know more about the planning, structure and design of WebLearn sites and the effective use of WebLearn tools. This course builds upon 'Fundamentals' and highlights how to use some more advanced features of WebLearn 3 hours Once per term
WebLearn: Surveys Use of surveys; comparison of online survey tools; overview of the WebLearn survey tool; three steps to create a WebLearn survey; build your own survey using the WebLearn tool . 3 hours Once per term
Learning and Teaching: Using Technology Tools This workshop is aimed at academic staff who are interested in making more creative use of technology tools, to the overall benefit of student learning. There is some reference to WebLearn, among other possible tools. 3 hours Trinity Term
WebLearn: Overview For Local WebLearn Coordinators This one-hour course outlines the function and responsibilities of Local WebLearn Coordinators. If you are a Local WebLearn Coordinator in your department or college, and are not sure what your responsibilities entail, then come and find out about Administration sites, managing your unit's WebLearn presence and how to support your WebLearn users. 1 hour Once per term
WebLearn: Drop-in Surgery One-to-one session available to all past course attendees. 2 hours 10am - 12pm every Friday during term-time
WebLearn: Tools to Support Teaching and Learning The aim of this course is to explore WebLearn tools that are designed specifically to support teaching and learning in the electronic environment, as a supplement to face-to-face teaching and tutoring. Tools include messaging and mail tools, tutorial signup, syllabus, Oxford Podcasts, reading lists, timed release, tracking and reporting, surveys (brief overview) and tests (brief overview). 3 Hours Once per term
WebLearn: Tools for creating interactive online resources This one-hour session gives an overview of three free, open-source, e-learning authoring tools: eXe, Xerte and GLO Maker. It emphasizes the strengths of each tool and suggests where each might be applicable. A short demonstration of an aspect of each tool will be given. 1 Hour Once per term
WebLearn: Assessment and Feedback Overview of assessment practice; Assignments; Tests; Markbook; Dropbox; Forums (to be assessed) Prerequisite: WebLearn Fundamentals 1 Hour Once per term
WebLearn Bytes: Assignments Writing essays and receiving feedback on submitted work is an important part of the Oxford student experience. Did you know that the WebLearn Assignments tool allows a tutor or lecturer to set up an assignment (essay), with instructions, attachments, a specified due date and marking options? Students submit their essay in WebLearn, which keeps track of all submissions. Tutors have found that using this tool enables them to provide more extensive and meaningful feedback to students. 1 Hour Once per term
WebLearn Bytes: Resources What is the best way to make learning and organisational materials available to your students so that they can find them easily? Come and experiment hands-on with the Resources tool, using features such as creating HTML pages, reading lists, web content links, group-specific material and permissions. 1 Hour Once per term
WebLearn Bytes: Site Management’ Are you making best use of your site management tool, Site Info? Do you know how to control site access and prepare or duplicate sites for the new academic year? Come and experiment hands-on with the Site Info tool. 1 Hour Once per term
WebLearn Bytes: Surveys Did you know that the WebLearn Surveys tool is freely available and can be used to create surveys for course or lecturer evaluation, research purposes, or general data gathering? Surveys can be delivered to site participants, ad-hoc groups, or the general public, with or without requiring login, and data can be exported for further analysis. 1 Hour Once per term
WebLearn Bytes: Tests and Quizzes The WebLearn Tests tool provides a useful way to design and deliver informal tests to your students for the purpose of ongoing formative assessment. Questions are entered into question pools, and you can create a test using manual or random selection of questions. Hints and immediate feedback can be provided to reinforce learning. 1 Hour Once per term
Plagiarism: How to avoid it (for students) Academic integrity requires authors to accurately record and acknowledge the source of words, ideas, diagrams, images, research results (all forms of output from others) that they use or refer to in their own work. This course supports students in learning how to avoid unintentional plagiarism. A customised version of the course can be delivered in colleges or departments, on request. 45 minutes Once per term
Plagiarism: WebLearn and Turnitin This lunch-time session is aimed at examiners, tutors and supervisors who need to use Turnitin plagiarism detection software to check assessed essays for originality and also for general formative purposes to improve student academic writing skills. 45 minutes Once per term
Plagiarism: Turnitin Fundamentals Accessing Turnitin; creating a class; advanced settings; enrolling students; submitting papers; originality reports; other tools in the Turnitin software suite Once per term
Plagiarism: Interpreting Originality Reports using Turnitin Lunch time session including overview of Turnitin originality reports; similarity index; viewing options; detailed look at originality reports Once per term

The following ITSS training courses are also available.

Name Topics Length Frequency (during term time)
WebLearn: For ITSS Demonstration for technically astute ITSS. 45 minutes Once per term

The above are supplemented by the following documentation which is available on the WebLearn Guidance site:



6.1. Book: Sakai CLE Courseware Management

Figure images/sakai-book-2.png [Sakai book cover]

The Sakai Foundation and PACKT publishers are proud to announce the Sakai CLE Courseware Management book. This is the official guide to the Sakai CLE.

This book is the officially endorsed Sakai guide and is an update to the previous book, Sakai Courseware Management: The Official Guide. From setting up and running Sakai for the first time to creatively using its tools and features, this book delivers everything you need to know.



7. Graphical Resources



7.1. Embedding a Link to WebLearn

Copy the HTML below and paste onto your website to provide a link to the front page of WebLearn.

Link Code

This will display: Visit WebLearn



7.2. Service Logo

Figure icons/wl-banner.gif []

The Logo uses Minion Pro font for the word "WebLearn" and Foundry Sterling (Book) for the 'strap line' underneath.



7.2.1. Black and White Text



7.2.2. Coloured Text



7.2.3. Adobe Illustrator / In Design Originals



7.3. Icons (Pentagon)

Figure icons/wl-low.png []



7.3.1. Low Resolution Version



7.3.2. Medium Resolution Version



7.3.3. High Resolution Version



7.3.4. Annotated Version



7.3.5. ICO Version



7.3.6. Tiny Version



7.3.7. Adobe Illustrator / In Design Originals



7.4. WebLearn Guidance Version

Figure icons/wl-guidance.jpg []



7.5. WebLearn User Group Logo

Figure images/WLUG-logo-small.jpg []



7.6. WebLearn Star Version

Figure icons/wl-coloured-star-big.png []

Figure icons/wl-white-star-big.jpg []



7.7. Annotated WebLearn Pentagon

Figure images/pentagon_new1.jpg []

This image was originally designed by Cultivate Learning and they should be credited wherever it is used.



7.8. Mobile Oxford (Smartphone access)

Figure icons/wl-mox.png []



7.9. Colours

Colour name Display Hex Value RGB CMYK Pantone
Green #005751 R=0 G=87 B=81 C=100 M=0 Y=61 K=68 330
Brown #592C35 R=89 G=44 B=53 C=30 M=82 Y=44 K=78 504
Olive #887B1B R=136 G=123 B=27 C=17 M=17 Y=97 K=52 620
Red #822433 R=130 G=36 B=51 C=0 M=100 Y=60 K=52 202
Mid blue #4B92DB R=75 G=146 B=219 C=63 M=36 Y=0 K=0 279


7.10. Front Page Top Banner

Banner found at the top of the very first page



7.11. Icon used within WebLearn

WebLearn uses the Creative Commons licenced 'Silk' icons. Before you ask, these are not available in any other sizes! On occasions, it may be useful to display these images on a WebLearn page, for example to give instructions on what buttons or links to click on, or to add a dash of colour to written instructions. As these images are stored in a public area they can be used in all contexts. They will never be removed from the system.



7.12. Advertising WebLearn

There area number of resources available for download and customisation allowing departments or colleges to advertise WebLearn in public areas. These are available in JPEG and PDF as well as INDD or PSP formats.



8. Development Plans

This is the latest list of implementation time scales; the tranches of work should be in production by the first week of the stated term (or vacation). We will do our best to meet these deadlines but it is often difficult to estimate the amount of work required before actually starting. In addition, some of these milestones are based on work being undertaken by other members of the Sakai community, obviously we cannot predict when their deadlines might slip!



9. Your Questions Answered



9.1. Why opt for an Open Source VLE?

In 2005 the erstwhile Head of LTG Dr Stuart Lee wrote an interesting article on this topic entitled Finally a free lunch: the benefits of an open source VLE/LMS; even though he wrote about Bodington, (which is the software underpinning the original WebLearn,) most of the points pertaining to the open source nature of the product he made are as relevant today, to Sakai, as they were then.

The main benefits of choosing an open source system are:
  • flexibility: Oxford's IT infrastructure means that 'one size certainly does not fit all'; commercial VLEs do not support Oxford's model of devolved administration.
  • responsiveness: the central VLE team can respond very quickly to performance problems, bug reports and requests for new functionality.
  • customisation: of terminology, interface and tool set.
  • no licensing restrictions: there are no restrictions on the number of users allowed to access the service; in a research-intensive institution such as Oxford it essential that external collaborators can have an account and work within the VLE without us having to worry about licencing restrictions.
  • integration with other Oxford IT systems: it is easy to modify the software and follow the recommended Service Oriented Architecture approach recommended by the JISC; for example, we have integrated Sakai with the Oxford Single Sign-On (SSO) service (WebAuth), the new Oak Authorisation service and various library systems; in the future we are committed to embrace the Oak Groups service, the institutional RSS service OxItems, Nexus (SharePoint / Exchange) and Mobile Oxford.
  • external funding: open source software is generally more amenable to the use of open standards and thus allowed IT Services to pursue external research grants through the JISC and the like.
  • clear exit strategy - no product lock-in: content can be imported and exported with comparative ease.
  • free from commercial risk: ironically because there is no company backing the system there is thus no risk of the company being taken over by one of its rivals and us being forced to move to a new platform against our wishes!


9.2. Why Sakai?

We surveyed a number of open source systems with a view to defining an exit strategy for Bodington (previous VLE). The criteria were that any solution at Oxford must:
  • be modifiable / extensible (for example, open source);
  • not be tied to a course-based content structure;
  • offer fine grained access control and flexible group definition to support Oxford model of learning;
  • have devolved administration;
  • offer equivalent tools and services as those supported by Bodington;
  • have distinct advantages over the incumbent system.
Some of the main reasons we chose Sakai were:
  • Proven scalability / reliability: Sakai is used in vast institutions with tens of thousands of concurrent users.
  • Other comparable UK research-led and Ivy League institutions use Sakai, for example, Cambridge, Hull, STFC (formerly CCLRC), Stanford, Yale, MIT, UC Berkeley and ANU, meaning that there is already a strong community who have very similar goals to Oxford.
  • Sakai's strengths lie in its collaborative features whereas others concentrate more on pedagogy; it is felt that the former is more appropriate for an institution such as Oxford.
  • The Sakai community have expressed a real desire to incorporate key Bodington features into the core code base, for example, site hierarchy, reusable groups, and fine-grained permissions. (Sakai 3 will embrace many of these ideas.) In addition, the process for ensuring that Oxford's additions to the code base is better defined for Sakai than for other comparable open source systems.
  • Sakai is similar in nature to Bodington, but has a modern service-oriented architecture (SoA) with a simple interface for plugging in new tools or third-party web applications. (This architecture is recommended by JISC).
  • Sakai is built using Java which maps very well to the core competencies within IT Services.


9.3. How Does WebLearn Relate to Nexus (Groupware)?

WebLearn and Nexus (SharePoint / Exchange) are complementary systems, both provided by IT Services. WebLearn is primarily focused on Teaching and Learning whereas Groupware is aimed more at administration and research groups. It is also true that Nexus SharePoint part of the service is only just becoming available to early adopters (late 2009), so if you are looking to get started now putting documents up for selected groups to see (and haven't signed up to be a SharePoint early adopter), WebLearn can help with that. When SharePoint is available, IT Services will provide clear advice on which system to use; nobody will be 'forced' to use either system against their wishes.

WebLearn contains Teaching and Learning focused tools such as assessment and tutorial booking; Nexus SharePoint will support version control and work-flow. Which system you use will be partly based on what you are trying to achieve but may also depend on which system your department and its users are most familiar with. In order to help clarify the situation, the Office of the Director of IT have produced a very useful paper entitled WebLearn and Nexus - which tool for which activity?.

We are happy to answer any specific questions that people may have, drop us an email: weblearn@it.ox.ac.uk

Integration / Interoperability: IT Services is taking the issue of integration very seriously, indeed the Nexus project has a whole work package dedicated to ensuring that it will talk to other IT Services systems. IT Services is well represented on the Nexus Project Board, so we are confident that the WebLearn user's voice is feeding in loudly. (As a point of note it is the Project Board who are driving the project with IT Services implementing their recommendations.)



9.4. Is WebLearn Secure?

WebLearn does not currently have any known security issues and all connections and data transfers to and from the WebLearn are encrypted using the secure HTTPS network protocol.

The WebLearn team are kept constantly up to date by the Sakai Security Team and will act swiftly to close any loopholes should they appear.

The most likely breach of security will occur if users reveal their account details (e.g. through a user being taken in by a phishing attack or by having a computer infected by a spyware virus).

It is also possible for a naïve or careless site owner / maintainer to manually grant access to the general public or to a user that should not have access. Care needs to be taken in providing access to materials; maintainers are strongly recommended to attend WebLearn training delivered by IT Services.



9.5. Is WebLearn more secure than email?

WebLearn is hosted on a secure server administered by IT Services. All transactions are encrypted so, in general, the biggest risk again is a user revealing their account details to a malicious third party.

Email, on the other hand, is said to be no more secure than writing information on the back of a postcard as much of the traffic is sent unencrypted.



10. The Apereo Foundation

The University is a member of the Apereo Foundation. As members, Oxford University staff are entitled to a number of benefits including a reduced rate for attending the annual conference. The Apereo Foundation host a number of educational software products (including Sakai), publish a regular Sakai newsletter and administer a YouTube video channel.



10.1. The UK Sakai Community

The universities of Oxford, Hull and Cambridge use it as their institutional VLE. It is widely used at Lancaster, Newcastle, Bath and STFC (Daresbury) as either a VLE or a VRE (Virtual Research Environment).

If you are interested in this or the European Sakai community then please take a look at the Sakai in UK Higher Education blog.



11. The WebLearn Team (including blogs)

For general WebLearn enquiries please send an email to weblearn@it.ox.ac.uk; this is group address and is a safer (and more desirable) option than contacting an individual team member.

Figure /ltg/images/people/adam-cuba.jpg [Adam Marshall]

Adam Marshall
WebLearn Service Manager
WebLearn Blog
Sakai in UK Higher Education Blog

Figure /ltg/images/people/buckett.png []

Matthew Buckett
Senior VLE Developer and member of the Sakai Maintenance team.

Figure /ltg/images/people/JillFresen.jpg [Jill Fresen]

Jill Fresen
Senior Learning Technologist
Turnitin At Oxford Blog

Figure /ltg/images/people/benholmes.jpg []

Ben Holmes
VLE Developer

Figure /ltg/images/people/fawei.jpg [Fawei Geng]

Fawei Geng
Learning Technologist
Fawei Geng's Blog

Figure /ltg/images/people/nick.jpg []

Nick Wilson
VLE Developer