The tutorial system lies at the heart of Oxford’s educational experience. Supporting tutorial practices through the use of technology can enable both tutors and students to interact with each other and relevant content, before and after the tutorial sessions. Revd Dr James Robson is Senior Tutor in Theology at Wycliffe Hall. He has used WebLearn, the University’s Virtual Learning Environment, for tutoring and supporting his students in their learning and formation.
The student experience is not restricted to the classroom or tutor-contact. It is also not just about developing and contesting knowledge, but about character formation and growth. James was looking for a technology that would support students through their educational experience as a whole rather than supporting individual activities.
After attending a WebLearn Fundamentals course James saw a huge potential to use the environment to support his students’ educational experience. He thought carefully about the student experience, from receiving an assignment to receiving their feedback and explored WebLearn tools that could support and enhance these processes.
James designed his WebLearn site from the learner perspective and focused on the actions they need to complete rather than disseminating general information.
I carefully designed the site so that everything is no more than three clicks away; no page is too cluttered with text; the links between layers are logical and hierarchical, yet interlinked; navigation is easy and intuitive.
Students can register for tutorial sessions using the WebLearn Sign Up tool, which is also enabled via the Mobile Oxford platform. A QR 2-dimensional bar code (generated via the sign up tool) is displayed for students to scan taking them straight to the relevant WebLearn page to sign up for tutorial sessions. James sets up tutorial times for the whole term in advance, students can select which session they wish to attend and sign up electronically. This is much more efficient than having to contact students individually to find out which time slots are convenient for them.
Students can submit their essays electronically via the Assignments tool. They receive a digital receipt to acknowledge their submission and WebLearn keeps a record of who has submitted their essay, including the date and time of submission. James can assign marks and overall comments, which are seen only by the student concerned.
James has also made many enrichment resources available, with links built into the Home page for ease of navigation. Amongst this collection of rich resources are reading lists and recorded Sunday sermons which are available as podcasts. James uses the group functionality to partition the Wycliffe students into the groups and papers that he teaches. He also uses the Web Content tool to incorporate external freely available open educational content into the site. Customised announcements are posted in the site and also sent as emails to alert particular groups to relevant resources and let them know when assignments are available.
The WebLearn site has seen much activity since it was launched:
The outcome is that generally the WebLearn area is very successful. Beyond my own use, I’ve had 1700 visits, with 7800 instances of activity, and 87% of the 191 posted files were accessed by students. Anecdotally, I’ve had many positive comments from students using the site….they know that I’m making an effort with the teaching, so they make significant efforts with their learning.
Top tips for success
- Focus on the user, not on yourself. Make it valuable and accessible to students.
- Keep it simple. Don’t try to do too much too soon.
- Ask the students what they would like to see in your site.