WebLearn in the limelight at the University Teaching Awards 2015

The annual University Teaching Awards, co-ordinated by the Oxford Learning Institute, recognise the achievements of staff who are exploring different ways to engage students and help them learn.

Winners and guests assemble in the Milner Room, Rhodes House

Winners and guests assemble in the Milner Room, Rhodes House

This year’s ceremony in Rhodes House on 23rd November was particularly exciting for the increased prominence of digital technologies in the awards. Out of a combined total of 40 awards and grants made by the University’s main divisions, 35% were expressly for the innovative use of new technology. The WebLearn team is justifiably cock-a-hoop, as the University’s virtual learning environment featured in the citations for six of the award winners. Three of these received personal awards for excellence in teaching:

Dr Lynn Robson receives her award from the Vice Chancellor, Prof Andrew Hamilton

Dr Lynn Robson receives her award from the Vice Chancellor, Prof Andrew Hamilton

Dr Lynn Robson (Faculty of English & Regent’s Park College) uses the Forum tool to support self- and peer-review in her teaching of Shakespeare. These strategies are new to the teaching of Shakespeare at Oxford, and Lynn makes the forum a mandatory starting-point for class and tutorial discussions. She has been able to facilitate a deepening of students’ engagement.

Ms Christine Eckhard-Black (Language Centre) was honoured for her outstanding contribution to the teaching of German over 35 years. She has been a pioneer in the use of WebLearn and other digital resources in her language courses.

The eight-strong Bodleian Education Library team used technological solutions to help students find items on their reading lists and to cite and reference sources correctly in their work. These solutions include using files from the Mendeley reference management tool to build reading lists in WebLearn for each course.

Our three other ‘WebLearn’ winners received grants for projects to improve teaching and learning.

Prof Howard Hotson (Faculty of History & St Anne’s College) aims to transform teaching through objects. He will use one of the special subjects in History (on 17th-century science) to show how a new platform within WebLearn will enable teachers to make high-resolution digital images of texts, objects and artworks available to students.

Mrs Kirstie Vreede, Dr Damion Young and Prof Quentin Sattentau (Medical Sciences Division & Magdalen College – Prof Sattentau). have received funding to develop WebLearn in order to 1) decrease the administrative burden in collecting students’ feedback and 2) increase the return rates of online feedback. This project has the potential to benefit other divisions too.

Miss Lettitia Derrington (Department for Continuing Education) received a project grant to develop a WebLearn tool that will be made available across the University for the online induction of postgraduate students.

Dr Lucy Tallents receives her second certificate as an OxTALENT winner

Dr Lucy Tallents receives her second certificate as an OxTALENT winner

Members of staff who won the teaching-related categories in this year’s OxTALENT competition were also feted on Monday evening, They included Dr Lucy Tallents (WildCRU,  Zoology & Linacre College) whose innovative online course in statistics for wildlife conservationists came top in the WebLearn category.

Damion Young, Lettitia Derrington and the Education Library team have also received OxTALENT awards in recent years.

Warm congratulations to all of these WebLearn colleagues!

You can read more about the University Teaching Awards ceremony in the Week 8 issue of Academic IT News.

Portions of this article have been adapted from a report on the ceremony on the University’s News and Events page, from information on the OLI’s Teaching Awards page and from the awards ceremony programme.

Credits for all photographs: IWPHOTOGRAPHIC.

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Presenting WISE


The WISE team have given presentations at the recent Sakai 2015 virtual conference. Sakai is the open source software which powers WebLearn. Amongst the presentations by colleagues were:

1) On the Journey: developing templates
Steve Burholt and Xavier Laurent show how they have been working with faculties and departments to develop course templates.
YouTube video of the presentation

2) Active learning session – Student pages in the Lessons tool
Lucy Tallents facilitates a live session to explore the use of student pages.
YouTube video of the presentation

3)  Lessons: a tool for instructors and students, transforming user experience
Fawei Geng shows the potential in the Lessons tool.
YouTube video of the presentation

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WISE designs

Departments and faculties across the University have been busy launching their revamped WebLearn sites. The screenshots below show the variety of front page designs.

For more information including larger screenshots, see the project website.

Image of WISE pilot group sites as of November 2015

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WebLearn Unavailable on Tuesday 10 November from 7-9am

WebLearn will be unavailable on Tuesday 10 November from 7-9am. This is necessary to allow the back-end file store (OpenAFS) to be updated, there will be no service during this period.

We apologise for any inconvenience that this essential work may cause.

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Update on the WISE project


(text taken from ‘WISE Project: Update to Education IT Board’, written by Dr Liz Masterman, 22 October 2015)

Project aims

The WISE project aims to:

  1. Increase the uptake and optimise the use of WebLearn across the University to support and enrich teaching and learning.
  2. Increase student and staff satisfaction with WebLearn through improving the design, structure and usability of WebLearn sites.

To achieve these aims, a team of four learning technologists is collaborating with academic units across the University on the redesign of their existing WebLearn sites and on the design of new sites. The team is developing guidelines on ‘best practice’ in the design of WebLearn sites and fostering a community of ‘WISE champions’ to help disseminate these guidelines within the academic units.

The ultimate goal is a step change in the service offered by the WebLearn support team, through the development of a set of WebLearn templates and a support package for academic units who wish to redesign their sites in accordance with best practice. The templates and support documents are being progressively tested and refined through the team’s work with the units.


The project has been running for 6 months; 13 months remain. The team is currently working with, or has arranged to work with, 17 academic units (i.e. faculties, departments, doctoral training centres etc.). An additional two departments have expressed interest in becoming involved; faster than expected progress means that we should be able to accept them onto the project in early 2016.

The existing academic units represent all divisions and all course types: undergraduate, Oxford-based taught postgraduate, blended taught postgraduate and doctoral training. The size and complexity of the sites in different units vary, which is enabling the team to gain an understanding of how to scale its estimates of work in the future.

Positive feedback

  • ‘… the new site looks super. Thanks for all your work on it.’
  • ‘I’ve been pointing my new first-year undergrads towards the WebLearn pages on their papers and the ease with which they can now access this information is incredibly helpful, so thank you.’
  • ‘It looks so much better than before and I shall look forward to using it.’
  • ‘…even from a first glance I can see that it is significantly more user-friendly…’
  • ‘This looks fantastic. It’s a great design. This will really help to make the training programme exciting and ensure consistency across the courses.’
  • ‘The nice thing about Weblearn is that you can evolve it. You can build it up bit by bit.’

Contact the WebLearn team for further information:  weblearn@it.ox.ac.uk

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How the ‘Hide this tool’ (light bulb) works

The ‘light bulb’ tool on the Site Info > Page Order function

Have you used the light bulb icon to hide a WebLearn tool from access users?

light bulb

When a site maintainer uses the light bulb option to hide a tool from access users, it only hides the LINK to the tool from the left hand menu, so that the students can’t access the tool via the site in question. (Think of this as a ‘soft’ hide function, for cosmetic purposes…)


How to completely disable access to the content in a (hidden) tool

Material in a hidden tool is still accessible to a student (with the access role) in other ways, for example:

  • from the summary (‘quick view’) on the right hand side of the Home page, e.g. Announcements, Calendar, Forums
  • from the Resources/Announcements/Calendar area in their individual My Workspace — they can access Resources/Announcements/Calendar in all sites in which they are a member (even in sites in which that tool is hidden)
  • it is possible to ‘guess’ or formulate the applicable URL that will link directly to the tool in question.

There are several ways to ensure that student access to the content of a hidden WebLearn tool is completely disabled:

1. Remove the ‘read’ permission from the access role in the tool in question:

  • How to do this? In the tool, click on the Permissions link, then remove the tick in the ‘access’ column alongside ‘read’ or ‘view’:

remove read2

2.  If the tool is ‘group aware’, you can protect it (and also folders/files in Resources) to staff-only groups

  • How to do this? Site Info > Manage Subgroups > create a staff-only group; then go back to the tool in question and edit its properties to ‘Display this folder (or announcement etc.) to selected groups’. For example, to protect a folder in Resources to a group:

staff only

Resources is a little different in terms of permissions

In the Resources tool the ‘read’ permission is mandatory. Removing the ‘read’ permission from the access role in Resources would mean that the access user would not be able to read other files, such as attachments…. Therefore, instead of option 1 above, use option 3:

3. Hide the folders/files within Resources

  • How to do this? Resources>Actions>Edit details (Properties)> Hide this folder and its contents


More explanation in the interface

The new version of Sakai (Sakai 11) displays an explanation about how the’soft hide’ light bulb on the Page Order tool works. The central WebLearn team will implement some improvements to the current interface to make it clear that there are other ways for an access user to gain access to the content of a softly hidden tool.

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WebLearn and Turnitin courses Michaelmas Term 2015

A variety of taught courses are offered by IT Services to support the use of WebLearn and the plagiarism awareness software Turnitin. Course books for the formal courses (3-hour sessions) can be downloaded for self study. Places are limited and bookings are required.

Click on the links provided to book a place, or for further information. Bookings open 30 days in advance, but you can express an interest in a course and receive a reminder to book when booking opens.

WebLearn courses:

Plagiarism awareness courses (Turnitin):

Byte-sized lunch time sessions:

These focus on particular tools with plenty of time for questions and discussion

User Group meetings:

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WebLearn Phishing Attack (of sorts)

Fish: https://www.flickr.com/photos/laurelrusswurm/12395604404/Quite a few people have received a strange message (given below) about the need to reactivate an expiring WebLearn account.

I would like to assure you that this is NOT a legitimate message: users should NOT click or follow the link.

I have reported this to OxCERT but I would appreciate it if you could spread the word amongst staff and students that they should ignore this and any other similar messages.

By looking at the logs, we can see that quite a few people have already clicked on the link.

That message again:

From: IT Services [mailto:nsms@it.ox.ac.uk]
Sent: 26 October 2015 12:58
Subject: Access Services Manager

Dear User,

Your access to The WebLearn is expiring soon due to inactivity. To continue to have access to this service, you must reactivate your account. For this purpose, click the web address below or copy and paste it into your web browser. A successful login will activate your account and you will be redirected to your WebLearn page.


If you are not able to login, please contact the service desk for immediate assistance.


Access Services Manager
Computing Services and Systems Development
University of Oxford
13 Banbury Road, Oxford, OX2 6NN
tel: (+44) 1865 612345


[Image removed by sender. Powered by Hairyspire]

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ORLiMS launch – try our new Online Reading List Management System

Guest post by Tom Dale (Social Sciences Library) edited by Adam MarshallORLiMS-Final-Final-Oxford-Blue

ORLiMS – the new Social Sciences Online Reading List Management System – is going live this week. Work undertaken during the University’s  Innovation Fund ORLiMS project means new-look WebLearn reading lists can be created which can contain annotated collapsible sections containing improved links to live location and availability information.

Developed by staff at the Bodleian SSL (Social Science Library) in collaboration with the WebLearn team, ORLiMS provides real time information on the location and availability of the material you need. Every item will be linked to the corresponding entry on SOLO, so you will be able to see:

  • The number of copies held in individual libraries
  • Whether they can be borrowed
  • Whether they are currently available
  • Whether they can be accessed electronically

If a resource can be accessed electronically, ORLiMS will provide a direct link. The aim is simple: you spend less time searching, more time studying.

For their pilot, the SSL has started the data entry by inputting selected reading lists from four Social Sciences Division departments/centres for Michaelmas term 2015:

  1. Department of Politics and International Relations (DPIR)
    • MPhil Politics, Theory of Politics, International Relations, PPE
  2. African Studies Centre
  3. Centre for Criminology
  4. Department of International Development
    • MSc in Global Governance and Diplomacy

These new-style reading lists are available to every WebLearn site via Resources: simply select “Create Reading List” from the Resources tool “Add” menu.

There is still more work to be undertaken as part of the ORLiMS project including improvements to the display of real-time availability and the addition of links to multiple versions and different editions. We will be updating our help documentation in the very near future.

More information can be found in the ORLiMS FAQs.


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Staff IT Innovation Challenge 2015-2016

From Stuart Lee, IT Services

[N.B. There will be an open briefing session on the challenge 12.30-1.30 on the 27th October. Book at: http://courses.it.ox.ac.uk/detail/INO1]

Challenge(s): The University Strategy seeks to increase innovation across our key activities (learning, teaching, and research). In the strategy also are a number of specific priorities and commitments. For this round of the IT Innovation Challenges we welcome project ideas from any University staff member for digital initiatives that would improve the academic experience at Oxford (the ‘Open’ category), but we would particularly welcome, for this round, ideas that would:

  • assist in undergraduate admissions and access activities
  • make research easier for researchers
  • provide solutions for international collaboration in research

The site will close at midnight on 14 November for submissions, after which there will be a further week to discuss all ideas. Some ideas will then be selected to go to the next stage by the IT Innovation Group.


We would particularly welcome proposals for projects that focus on our undergraduate admissions and access activities. The University is committed to ensuring that we attract applications from students with outstanding academic potential whatever their background, and has set out ambitious targets (see http://www.ox.ac.uk/about/increasing-access). Do you have a project that would assist in this? It could be repurposing existing content or creating new content in a way that would reach potential undergraduates, a new app for providing interactive tools that provide exciting academic challenges, or a new way of using technology to reach out to an underrepresented target area.

We are also interested in new ways to assist researchers. In terms of tools that can make research, or the administration of research easier; or allow researchers to collaborate internationally.

So …

Do you have any ideas for innovative digital projects that could assist in undergraduate admissions? ['Undergraduate Admissions and Access']

Ease the burden on researchers? ['Making Research Easier']

Allow researchers to collaborate more effectively internationally? ['Research Collaboration']

Or do you have any ideas for innovative digital projects that would just improve the academic experience of staff or students at Oxford? ['Open']

If the answer to any of the above is ‘Yes’ then please ‘Submit Your Idea’ [above], or read the ideas of others and add suggestions or offer assistance to work up the proposal.

Even if you don’t have a proposal then you can still take part in the discussion or offer assistance to projects that may go forward as we would also ideally like to see projects that emerge from collaborations across dispersed teams or units. For more information on the criteria by which projects will be assessed see the FAQs on the IT Innovation Challenges Sharepoint Site [requires you to log-in].

Rememberthis process is aimed at the open discussion of ideas to allow them to build and grow into a project. You are not being asked to submit your final bid in its complete form.  If the idea takes shape you will then be asked to submit a more formal proposal.

Also we are not necessarily looking for new tools or systems. You may be able to identify an existing product to adopt or adapt that would lead to improvements or innovation.

Further Details

Projects can be of any size starting from a few thousand pounds upwards but the maximum amount of funding per project is £60,000.

For further general information please visit the IT Innovation Challenges web site; for more specific details on previous projects, FAQs, etc please visit the IT Innovation Challenges Sharepoint Site [requires you to log-in].

Please note we hope that there will be a second IT Innovation Challenge for staff this year running in Hilary-Trinity term 2016.

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