These two words may not have made it onto the shortlist for Oxford Dictionaries’ Word of the Year, but they have gained currency in certain quarters of Academic IT as a shorthand for the activities of the WISE (WebLearn Improved Student Experience) project. The formal activities of the project completed, we reflect on the extent to which we have achieved our goal of effecting a step-change in our service to the staff and students who rely on WebLearn in their work and study.
Working closely with academic units to fast-track their use of WebLearn
We developed a 5-step model of engagement (see right) with participants and worked closely with 19 units – i.e. departments, faculties and doctoral training centres – through whole process. The extent of work varied from a simple revamp of the top-level page(s) to a complete restructuring of the site hierarchy and extensive use of Lessons tool to give students a proper learning pathway.
Providing improved tools and templates
We developed, and refined, ‘best-practice’ guidelines for the design of WebLearn sites, as well as four site templates, in an iterative process throughout the project. The guidelines are now incorporated into online support materials for WebLearn and underpin four new WebLearn templates created by the project team. These outputs will make it easier for units to redevelop their sites either by themselves or with normal support from the WebLearn team.
Enhancing students’ experience of WebLearn
The ‘box’ design for the higher-level site pages (see right) has proved very popular in all units. Usability testing and focus groups with students confirmed that using images in the ‘boxes’ and minimising the use of the tools navigation menu on the left side of WebLearn pages are more efficient for navigation.
Interviewees in the project-level evaluation reported anecdotally that students were responding positively to the new site designs, but none had yet had an opportunity to conduct gather feedback formally.
Promoting staff engagement with the tools and features offered by WebLearn
In many units administrative staff look after the WebLearn site, including uploading learning materials on behalf of academics. Even so, we achieved substantial success with a number of academics, especially in encouraging them to use the Lessons tool to provide students with a structured pathway to the resources and activities needed for their learning.
We have been gratified to learn of the expansion of WebLearn use in a number of units as a result of WISE, and the team has already received requests for guidance on ‘wiseifying’ sites as part of its business-as-usual WebLearn support. For more information, contact the WebLearn team: firstname.lastname@example.org.