WebLearn User Group 6 Dec 2016, 14:00


Join us at the next meeting of the WebLearn User Group to share ideas and practices:

Date: Tuesday 6 December 2016
Time: 14:00 – 16:00 followed by tea and cake
Venue: IT Services, 13 Banbury Road
Please book to secure your place: WebLearn User Group booking


  • Kate Lindsay (Head of TEL, Academic IT Services): VLE Review
  • Heath Rose (Dept of Education): Using WebLearn to create a user-friendly, interactive workflow for students learning at a distance
  • Wulf Forrester-Barker (NDORMS): Opening the toolbox
  • Adam Marshall: WebLearn updates

Join the WebLearn User Group site in WebLearn: https://weblearn.ox.ac.uk/info/wlug for regular updates and access to audio recordings of previous presentations.

Any questions? Contact weblearn@it.ox.ac.uk

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WebLearn v11-ox3 released on 29 November 2016

responsive-sakaiWebLearn was been upgraded to Version 11-ox3 on the morning on Tuesday 29th November, we apologise for any inconvenience caused by the disruption.


  • Images, iframe, videos and the like should now auto resize on a mobile
  • The “Tools & Subsites” menu on a mobile has a better design – it now matches other WebLearn menus and text is not truncated
  • Resources
    • The file upload limit is now set at 100MB – this means larger files can be uploaded without having to use WebDAV
    • The hyperlink to information about copyright (in Resources) now goes to a special Bodleian Libraries information page
    • One can no longer accidentally edit a Reading List whilst it is loading – this was causing problems
  • You can use the Lynda.com ‘video embed code’ within the Lessons tool and Forums – this makes it easier to use lynda.com videos as part of a course.
  • Lessons
    • Embedded calendars now shrink correctly when viewed on a mobile phone
    • “Blockquotes” are now displayed correctly
  • Surveys
    • can now be completed on a mobile phone
    • the “stepped display” now has the correct “tool tip” (ie, mouse-over) text
  • The ‘Select Login Route’ page now has the WebLearn logo
  • The Sign-Up tool “Reminder Email” now comes from meeting organiser
  • The Account Validation page (for external users) has been overhauled, it now
    • contains the WebLearn logo
    • has a password strength meter
    • only reports on password mismatch once two passwords have been entered
    • has a better layout with checkboxes aligned correctly
  • “My Home”
    • The “Account” page now has the ‘Cancel’ and ‘Update’ buttons in the expected order
    • Mentions of “My Workspace” have been changed to “My Home”
  • Long lists of Favourite sites now wrap in Internet Explorer
  • Fields in the “Contact Us” tool now have the correct all labels and the browser tab has a name
  • Calendar
    • The tool now has better colours
    • The “synoptic” calendar on the front page of a site (and in My Home) now uses the correct icons
    • The Oxford event types have been added back to the Calendar
  • Suspended students are now removed when the related Participant Group is removed
  • OXAM (the database of past exam papers) is now fully responsive, it will resize correctly on a mobile phone
  • The superfluous “Create New Site” links at the top right of every page have been removed
  • All links to the now defunct Mobile Oxford – WebLearn Gateway have been removed

In addition, all WebLearn work for the “Anonymous Essay Submission” project is now complete – watch this space for more information when the student data becomes available

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Schematic of WebLearn Infrastructure

Dave Stewart from the Infrastructure and Hosting team in IT Services sent me this diagram which details all the various hardware components that go to make up WebLearn. I thought it would make an interesting blog post.

Here’s an explanation:

  • Netscalar is a load balancer, it is the fist point of contact when a user goes to WebLearn. It will create a session on the “Sakai Worker” with the smallest load, this worker will be used for the duration of a user’s session
  • Two workers reside on one physical machine
  • WebLearn’s physical machines are split over two data-centres “just in case”
  • Apache is the web server that acts as a front end to the WebLearn instance that is running inside Docker
  • Docker is a “parcel” that contains everything WebLearn needs to run: Tomcat servlet container, WebLearn code, runtime, system tools, system libraries – anything that can be installed on a server
  • We generally only use 6 of the 8 worker nodes so we have spare capacity
  • AFS is the filestore where uploaded documents reside
  • Solr is the “search engine”
  • MySQL is the Database
  • The diagram doesn’t show all the other services that WebLearn uses, the Oak LDAP, Oak Groups Store, HFS back-up and so on



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The Digital Education Strategy and SHOAL

Guest post by Dr Lucy Tallents

We are keen to make SHOAL relevant to the university’s new Digital Education Strategy, and the ongoing consultation on the DES in divisions and departments.  We hope that the SHOAL portal will support staff to make informed choices about digital learning opportunities they could develop for their students.

SHOAL aims contribute to the Digital Education Strategy in these ways:

  • Demonstrate effective and novel uses of digital tools already developed in Oxford
  • Facilitate experimentation through hands-on interactive examples (not just descriptive case studies), encouraging wider uptake and reducing time spent developing new online activities
  • Increase learning opportunities for students by giving them access to tried-and-tested online learning activities beyond their own courses, enabling them to experience a wider array of digital tools
  • Emphasise the variety of feedback mechanisms and student collaboration opportunities offered by digital tools
  • Connect staff and facilitate peer support through greater awareness of innovative digital teaching across departments and divisions

For more information on the Digital Education Strategy in general, please visit www.digitaleducation.ox.ac.uk.

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New series of videos highlights key enhancements in WebLearn 11

Following the successful upgrade to WebLearn 11 during September 2016, the Technology-Enhanced Learning team has been working with Education Media Services to produce a series of videos to promote WebLearn and inform users of the recent enhancements.

The first video is aimed at staff users of WebLearn and is available on YouTube:

The second video in the series will focus on benefits and new features for students, and the third one will tell the story of ‘A day in the life of a tutor and a student’. Watch this blog for more information on the forthcoming videos.

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Vive l’entente cordiale! Oxford’s learning technologists meet their counterparts in Bordeaux

Learning Technologists Xavier and Steve from Academic IT have met with their counterparts at the University of Bordeaux to compare notes on the challenges and opportunities in supporting technology enhanced learning.

Bordeaux University

The original University of Bordeaux was established in a papal bull by Pope Eugene IV on 7 June 1441. It came into being in its current form on 1 January 2014 with the merger of former universities Bordeaux 1, Victor Segalen University (Bordeaux 2), and Montesquieu University (Bordeaux 4). The University of Bordeaux is part of the community of universities and higher education institutions of Aquitaine. It has about 60,000 students and 5,000 staff; this why they concentrate very much on learning technology to help with the high ratio of students to staff.

Learning Team (MAPI)

The learning technology team at Bordeaux is called MAPI (Mission d’appui à la pédagogie et à l’innovation) and comprises 22 people. It is attached to the equivalent of Oxford’s Learning Institute (OLI) and its main point of focus is pedagogy. Although the learning technologists (LTs) are attached to the central institution, each person is specially dedicated to one division. This means that the academics working in a specific division know exactly which LT to contact.

The LTs spend Mondays and Fridays together with the larger team in the same office. On Wednesdays and Thursdays they are based in the divisional offices. The LTs all have a different set of skills, and each one is paired with the academic responsible for the learning in each faculty.

We met with Marthe-Aline Jutand, Scientific Assistant Director of MAPI and Julie Lavoinne (Training officer and responsible for the IDEX project, a collaboration with research bodies and partner institutions). We spent the morning discussing the way we work in our respective universities, and the afternoon with an academic to exchange views on learning technology. By the end of our meeting we had identified some ideas for engaging academics:

How to wow academics?cafe-pedagogique

  • Run a monthly cafe pedagogique: an informal exchange during which everyone can give examples of learning situations in which they would like to innovate.
  • Propose a research output that will lead to publications. The aim is to highlight successful learning experiences, broadcasting the information and putting the experiences back in a conceptual framework. Specialists in pedagogy research will work with the academic to help to describe and analyse the situation and to publish in journals.
  • Work with academic developers to integrate technology enhanced learning into courses on academic practice for new teachinf staff.
  • Work on a project with a new academic who wishes to develop a new pedagogical strategy. A recommended period is six months.
  • Support the integration of doctoral students in the development of pedagogical innovations. The aim is to help them develop their pedagogical skills and improve their use of technologies. In return, we benefit from their closeness to students.

The politics of learning technology

  • Many academics perceive working with technology in teaching to be in conflict with their professional identity. In other words,  they are rewarded through their research outputs and so teaching can be a distraction.
  • Technology should not be seen in isolation; the whole context must be considered.
  • The University should follow teachers who are actively using technology and promote their work


A lecture using learning space at the university

Future collaboration

  • MAPI will report back to their management on our visit and will write a summary proposal for each university: e.g. to compare our strategies with other services (academic development, human resources…) for each university.
  • Members of MAPI plan to take part in our next LT away day with Oxford Brookes University.

We thank Marthe and Julie for their hospitality in the beautiful city of Bordeaux and we look forward to future collaborations.

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6 Tips For Good Web Design

Photo: http://www.flickr.com/photos/24661759@N05/8477029116

Photo: http://www.flickr.com/photos/24661759@N05/8477029116

We found a very interesting resource developed by usability guru Jakob Nielson which gives some points about good design. Here’s a condensed summary:

  1. People cannot use information they are unable to find: try to situate material in the most obvious place – try to think how users will navigate through your material.
  2. Do not have small bits of information scattered around the site with little or no connection between them: try to consolidate information or connect related items via hyperlinks.
  3. Try to link directly to related items: people like to be able to access related material with the minimum number of clicks.
  4. Always present a route back to where the user started: unfamiliar users find it easy to get lost – the best way to achieve this in WebLearn is to use the Lessons Tool which has its own breadcrumb navigation
  5. Do not overwhelm users with too much information: less is sometimes more (!) – there are links at the bottom of this post to a couple of posts outlining good techniques to employ when “Writing for the Web”.
  6. Try not to hide links: do not change the text or background colour of hyperlinks; the fancier the design around a link, the more likely a user is to miss it.


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Pasting from MS Word into WebLearn

We often get complaints about ugly and poorly formatted text in WebLearn which appears as a result of cutting and pasting from Microsoft Word. (All advice in this blog also applies to MS Outlook as it uses the same text editor as MS Word.)

The first point to note is that there seem to be no difference at all between pasting directly into the main HTML WYSIWYG editor window and pasting via the “Paste from Word” button.

Here’s an example of a simple paste from a MS Word document.


As you can see it’s pretty ugly and doesn’t look very professional, however, salvation is at hand with the ‘magic’ Remove Format button (highlighted below).


After selecting the text in the edit window and clicking the Remove Format button, our ugly document now looks a lot more presentable.


Elements such as hyperlinks, headings and tables are preserved but formatting such as font, text size, bold and italic are removed.


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SHOAL project swims into view

SHOAL_FishImageA message from Lucy Tallents and Jocelyne Hughes 

We’re excited to announce that the SHOAL project has begun!

Jocelyne and I are spreading the word about the project through various university channels, but we welcome direct contact from interested people, so do get in touch if you’d like to learn more or get involved.

We’re currently working with Adam and WebLearn colleagues to develop and refine the portal specifications ready for code development to begin in November.

The project is funded by Oxford University’s IT Innovation Seed Fund, and will run for 6 months from October 2016 to March 2017.  There are four phases:

  1. Project scoping and identifying partners, Oct – Nov 2016
  2. Portal specification and creation, Nov 2016 – Jan 2017
  3. Testing the portal and populating it with activities, Jan – Feb 2017
  4. Portal promotion to staff and students, Mar 2017

If you would like to see your own online learning resources featured in the portal, or recommend an academic whose work should be showcased, please contact the team leader, Lucy Tallents (lucy.tallents@zoo.ox.ac.uk).  We’re also keen to connect with both staff and students who want to adopt more online learning in their own work and study – you could help us to test the portal before the release date, and give us feedback on how useful you find it.

We’ll keep you posted on our progress here on this blog, but if you’re interested in online learning at Oxford in general, we recommend the new Digital Education website (www.digitaleducation.ox.ac.uk) as a central hub for inspiring case studies and information about Oxford University’s Digital Education Strategy.

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Planned maintenance, Turnitin, TurnitinUK, iThenticate, WriteCheck and Integrations -Saturday November 5

We have just received this announcement from TurnItIn

As a reminder, next Saturday November 5, the following services will be unavailable from 1pm – 6pm GMTdue to necessary scheduled maintenance:

  • Turnitin (including mobile)
  • TurnitinUK
  • iThenticate
  • WriteCheck
  • Integrations

This maintenance will be performed on internal network hardware to increase capacity and ensure continued dependable service to our customers.

Where applicable, please be aware no submissions or grading will be possible through any of the services listed above during this time. We therefore advise that submission deadlines be set outside of this maintenance window.

Stay up to date with Turnitin system status by following @TurnitinStatus on Twitter. Follow @TurnitinStatus

NB the outage will not affect essays submitted through WebLearn, these will simply be queued and processed once the service returns.




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