WISE project on the road


(picture shows Learning Technologist Fawei Geng working with the Department of Social Policy and Intervention).

The WISE team have been talking to lecturers, staff and administrators to gather requirements for their new, or improved WebLearn sites.  The process normally involves:

  • initial conversations about requirements and current usage of WebLearn
  • designs for a prototype site
  • testing the prototype and gathering feedback from users
  • prototype version 2
  • launch to Faculty

Despite the challenges and work involved in reviewing information content and structures, the response from Faculty so far has been very positive and we look forward to working closely with more departments across the University.

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How is Sakai faring in the face of competition from Canvas? Quite well actually!

lti-ring-chuckDr Chuck (with a little help from yours truly) has written an excellent blog post outlining the (minimal) impact of Michigan, Stanford and Indiana’s ‘defection’ from Sakai to Canvas.

It makes an interesting read.

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WebLearn Plans for the Next Few Months

Busy Bees. Phtoto credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/nomindsvision/2333302342We thought it might be useful to outline what tasks the WebLearn team are currently working on. The focus at the moment is on 4 projects but we are also spending time inducting two new developers and two new learning technologists:

  1. WebLearn Improved Student Experience (WISE) project (see: https://blogs.it.ox.ac.uk/adamweblearn/wise-project/)  – The WISE project will support departments, faculties, colleges and units to fast-track the development and improvement of their WebLearn presence in order to deliver an enhanced (and consistent) student digital experience, as per recommendations from previous projects.
  2. Developing an Online Reading List Management System (ORLiMS) at the Bodleian Social Science Library (Innovation Project) – Major improvements to the design, functionality and user interface of WebLearn’s Reading List tool
  3. Researcher Training Tool Improvement Exercise (RATTIE) – Numerous improvements to the user experience plus big fixes.
  4. Rewriting the WYSIWYG HTML editor ‘item picker’. (This relates to the pop-up window that appears when you opt to ‘Browse Server’ from within the editor.) This work is being undertaken by a student intern.

In the future, WebLearn is poised to switch to switch over to using the IT Services Group Store as the provider of institutional groups (unit and course groups); this will happen in July.

There is some good news in that the Education IT Board has approved the Mobile Learning with WebLearn (MOLE) project brief. (A project brief is a pre-project phase where requirements are fully-defined and the project plan is made.) The full project will transform WebLearn into a fully responsive service meaning a much-improved user experience on a mobile phone. In addition, the project will develop a handful of ‘Learning App’s and the next few months will be spent mapping out exactly what Apps will be developed.

WebLearn will also be providing the back-end to the Humanities Division’s  ‘Frameworks: The Oxford Mobile Career Planner’. The project is in its very early stages so details may change but it is currently planned that WebLearn will act as a data store and present anonymised skills audit data to skills training officers who will be able to assess the effectiveness of Research Training at Oxford University. The project will also develop an App for students to record and reflect upon researcher career development in terms of skills accrued.

Another substantial piece of work is the rewrite of the integration code that links WebLearn and TurnItIn (the plagiarism awareness service). Turnitin are withdrawing the current interface (API) and moving to an IMS Basic LTI with extensions approach. The new integration should be invisible to the end user although we may be able to improve the range of options available via WebLearn’s Assignments tool.


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Sneak Preview of WebLearn (Sakai) 11



Members of the WebLearn team (and TWISA winner Lucy Tallents) have just returned from the annual Apereo conference held in Baltimore.

Aside from the delicious crab cakes, there were numerous other benefits not least being able to help define the shape of the forthcoming Sakai 11 release (expected around the turn of the New Year). We hope to start moving to WebLearn 11 as soon as the official release is made.

For the very first time, Oxford has contributed significant functionality to a single release of the software; institutions around the globe will now benefit from work undertaken in response to requests from our users.

What probably interests Oxford staff and students the most are new features that aren’t already in use at Oxford so I’ll describe a handful of the most interesting new features.

  • Responsive (Morpheus) Portal – the biggest redesign of the system since Sakai was launched, offers a fantastic user interface on desktop, tablet and mobile phone (notice the collapsible menu)home-fullhome-phone (some early screen-shots are included here)
  • Public Announcement System tool – allows important messages to be broadcast to users
  • Markbook (Gradebook) enhancements – provide easier and faster ‘speed’ marking capabilities via spreadsheet entry, to simplify and consolidate the grade import/export process, and to improve the overall user experience of the tool.
  • Dashboard – gives users an overview of activity and events in My Workspace, supplements the synoptic tools
  • MathJAX support – (mathematical notation / LaTeX) in the WYSIWYG HTML editor

Photo credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/39908901@N06/8362334111/Links

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New version of WebLearn released (v2.10-ox3.1) on 19 May 2015

WebLearn was upgraded on 19th May 2015 to version 2.10-ox3.1. If you want more details then please contact the WebLearn Team. For more detailed information and other minor changes, please looked at the detailed release notes.

If you would like to suggest further improvements then please do so by contributing to the WebLearn User Voice feedback service.

The following list also includes some issues that were fixed on w/c 25th May 2015 as part of the 2.10-ox3.3 release.


  • Deleted sites can be recovered, to do this visit ‘My Workspace’ > ‘Worksite Setup’ and opt to show “Softly Deleted Sites”, then select the sites that you would like to restore. You will need to attach any restored sites to your hierarchy of sites by using the ‘Bring Site’ facility within the parent site.
  • Site Members Tool: site participants with the ‘maintain’ role now see hidden site participants and email addresses by default
  • Lessons Tool: student comments can now be marked (graded) and pages from Resources (referenced via Content Links) now use the WebLearn style-sheet
  • Contact Us Tool: long messages can now be sent
  • Reading Lists:
    • SOLO search can be used to locate items within Internet Explorer
    • Recent changes to SOLO caused links on many Reading Lists to stop working – we have now made changes to fix the problems. We apologise for these problems, unfortunately we were not informed of changes to SOLO so could not assess any impact.
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WebLearn unavailable on Tuesday 19 May 2015 from 7-9am

It is planned to upgrade WebLearn to version 2.10-ox3 on Tuesday 19 May 2015 from 7-9am. There will be no service during this period.

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

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Introducing Replay – Lecture Capture

*Educational Media Services is running a pilot project, called Replay, using Panopto lecture capture software to record lectures as a revision aid for Oxford students. Panopto is easy to use and unobtrusive. It captures audio and slides, automatically synchronises them, and makes them available via WebLearn to students on the course. Video recording using a webcam or network camera is also possible. Academics and/or local support staff can view each recording through a simple online editor before releasing it to students. The option to release the recordings to the general public via iTunes U can be discussed as a separate service.

Surveys suggest that Oxford students value recorded lectures as a study aid; they can listen and concentrate during lectures, without having to take substantial notes. Students can review the recording on demand, particularly to go over difficult concepts and to revise for exams. They can search for particular words within the text on the slides, as well as in the audio track. The option to access the recordings after the lecture and view/listen to them as often as necessary promotes inclusive education practices, particularly for students with disabilities or special learning needs. Research conducted in the HE sector more widely suggests that the availability of recorded lectures does not adversely affect student attendance at face-to-face lectures.

Benefits for lecturers include the fact that the recording equipment is inexpensive and non-intrusive (usually only a microphone). A level of informality is acceptable, as opposed to a professional recording for public consumption. A lecturer can record supplementary lecture material in their own office, simply using a webcam and a microphone.

Departments who are interested in becoming involved in the pilot project, should contact replay@it.ox.ac.uk. There is no charge for participation during the pilot, although shared costing models are being considered for a future service.

More information and useful links:

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WebLearn user Dr Lucy Tallents wins 2015 Teaching With Sakai Innovation Award (TWSIA)


Dr Lucy Tallents from the Department of Zoology has won the Higher Education Online/Hybrid category of this year’s Teaching With Sakai Innovation Award (TWSIA). TWSIA, which is a worldwide competition, has been running since 2008 and recognises excellence in teaching and learning using Sakai (which is the software upon which WebLearn is based).

LucyTallents_WildCRUHeadshot_Apr2015Winning this prestigious award is a stunning achievement especially considering that Lucy only started her course in earnest from October 2014 and has only been using WebLearn since June 2013. What is even more impressive is that the whole course is constructed using the brand new Lessons tool which has never before been exploited to this extent at Oxford.

After receiving the award Lucy said, “Amazing news! I’m thrilled that the judges like my work! [....] I found the application process really useful to reflect on how I design my courses, and what I can aspire to in terms of better student engagement.

What the judges thought about course 

The judges assessed the TWSIA entries based on five aspects of a Sakai site: community-building and collaboration, communication, learning materials and strategies, learning outcomes and assessment, and learner support. Lucy’s course was judged ‘excellent’ on all five aspects.

The judges remarked that Lucy’s course was well-designed and soundly implemented in order to support a group of full-time professionals from countries around the world. They were impressed by the innovative course design – integrating technologies and tools with sound pedagogy. For example, the course encouraged students participation, intersection and self-reflection.

Through the WebLearn Lessons tool students were  given opportunities to negotiate their learning contracts by developing consensus on the responsibilities of themselves, tutors and peers.

Lucy has been invited to attend the upcoming Open Apereo 2015 conference in Baltimore to talk about her winning entry; she plans to deliver her presentation using the Lessons tool.

The Conservation Statistics Course

Lucy teaches a 9-week on-line WebLearn course called Conservation Statistics.This engaging course is centred around the newly added Lessons tool and employs many different tools sometimes in novel ways, for example, the Surveys Beta tool is used to conduct a skills audit.

Lucy has also used a Lessons student content page to ‘negotiate learning contracts’ by ‘unpacking expectations and…deciding which behaviours create a supportive and exciting learning environment…’.


Wildlife conservationists in the developing world are the keepers of biodiversity, yet they lack access to training in research techniques to support their valuable work. By studying on-line they don’t need to interrupt their work or pay the costs of overseas travel.

Lucy’s course is full of team activities, self-paced assessments and engaging learning materials. Students from around the world can work together to learn from each other about how solutions developed on different continents can help species in their local area.


Feedback from their tutor and fellow students helps them to self-assess their attempts to save species, using scientific methods to improve their approach.

Lucy also paid tribute to the support she received from IT Services’: “I’d like to say how supportive the WebLearn team has been. Their training and assistance boosted my confidence and curiosity to experiment with Sakai, and their advice was crucial to implementing some of my ideas.”


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WebLearn and Turnitin courses Trinity 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:

Express an interest!

The following sessions can be arranged if there is sufficient demand for them. Visit the link to express your interest:

  • WebLearn: Assessment and feedback – There are several ways to assess student work in WebLearn. This course looks at the e-assessment options available to lecturers and tutors: how to configure the tools, use them to mark student’s work and deliver feedback.
  • WebLearn Bytes: Tests and Quizzes – The WebLearn Tests tool provides a useful way to design and deliver informal tests to students for the purpose of ongoing formative assessment.
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Apereo Open Academic Environment Seminar: 8 May at 12:30 in IT Services


We are pleased to announce a special seminar about the Apereo Open Academic Environment (OAE) presented by our colleagues from Research Research (Research Professional). The talk will take place in ISIS room, IT Services, Banbury Rd at 12.30 on Friday May 8th.

Please visit the following URL to reserve a space: https://courses.it.ox.ac.uk/detail/OUOU

Apereo OAE, which has been developed by Cambridge University, Georgia Tech, Research Research and others, is a new platform currently being evaluated at Oxford which aims to support academic collaboration and academic networking – a number of other UK universities also use OAE. It is being developed by the same organisation that oversees the Sakai CLE project which of course is the software which underpins WebLearn.

oae-logoThe easiest way to explain OAE is by analogy: Universities have always had classrooms. But recently, many have invested heavily in new buildings with a mix of informal break-out areas designed to draw people together – faculty, students and administrators. This is the idea behind the OAE. It’s an informal collaborative online space that sits alongside the highly structured Learning Management Systems such as Sakai CLE designed to deliver courses to students.

OAE supports many types of collaborations, including research projects, ad-hoc student groups, committees, collaborative projects, etc. It’s a network of people, content and groups, where files, links and collaborative documents can easily be created and shared with other people and groups, whilst being able to provide feedback and participate in discussions.

OAE is a multi-tenant system, which means that it can support multiple universities on the same physical installation. Each university has its own tenancy with its own branding, skinning and users and a sort of permeable membrane around it. It’s easy to keep things private to your own institution or research group, or to mix things up with the rest of the world. It has a modern architecture that will scale to millions of users and a simple, intuitive interface that does not force users to behave in a particular way.


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