Blavatnik School of Government iPad app: a new take on WebLearn

blavatnik logoIntroduction

The Blavatnik School of Government (BSG) is in its first year of offering the one-year Master of Public Policy (MPP). To support this course, the Blavatnik School provides iPads to all its students. Led by the project manager, Edward Long, the school has developed a highly specialised iPad app to support the delivery of course content and facilitate peer discussion. They used WebLearn to drive the back end of the app and developed a custom theme for their sites to help unify the user experience. For this project, WebLearn development was implemented by Matthew Buckett, Colin Hebert, Adam Marshall and Marc Savitsky; and Theodore Koterwas and Ben Dodson were responsible for development of the app.


The school’s student body comprises 38 scholars from 19 different countries. The course format includes a large number of guest lecturers, who often teach only one or two sessions in the year. Students need to be able to quickly access new readings and lecture slides, discuss study topics, submit assignments, and book drop-in sessions for technical support, careers advice and one-to-one meetings. The learning environment also needed to integrate with the iPad platform and offer a persistent login state, as well as offline storage.


WebLearn tools are used to deliver many of the features the Blavatnik School required. BSG  use the Resources, Forums, Assessments, Tests and Sign-Up tools for the student portal, and also developed two new products to improve the student experience:

bsg1. The BSG WebLearn Theme

Working with the WebLearn development team, BSG designed and developed a set of CSS stylesheets. As well as upholding BSG branding conventions, the stylesheets improved the readability of text and menu elements, and enhanced navigation on a touch-screen device.

2. The BSG iPad App

Through innovation by developers within and outside the University, this app brings a more intuitive front end to several of the WebLearn tools. It also allows persistent login states, offline storage and multiple ways of sorting content by context. As a result, for a BSG student, the home tab provides a convenient overview of the day’s timetable, as well as the reading materials set for that week. Essential and supplementary reading materials are marked with different coloured icons. Reading materials can be sorted by course module or by week of term, and picker menus allow the user to jump to a different week or module. A library tab provides availability information for all prescribed library books, including the location of holdings. Finally, two forum tabs provide a discussion space for course-related chat (open to students and staff), and a “Common Room” (open to students only).


As this is the first year of existence of the Blavatnik School and the programme, no student feedback is yet available. Nevertheless, other departments have expressed an interest in the BSG innovations for their own course administration. The app was also a runner-up for the OxTALENT 2013 Award in the category: ‘Use of WebLearn to support a course or programme of study’.

Tips for Success

  1. Being a new institution affords the opportunity for freedom of design, but it can be difficult to precisely gauge requirements, given that the course itself is under development. The BSG overcame this challenge by running a focus group session and three testing phases with graduate students and staff at the University.
  2. Prioritise features so that essential functions are delivered long before your deadline. This gives the flexibility to drop low-priority features in order to deal with bugs and improve the look and feel, closer to the delivery date.

Further Information

View the BSG WebLearn sites:

Blavatnik School of Government public site
MPP 2012 member access site

Watch the online user guide

Join the WebLearn User Group for guidance and collaboration.

Use the IT course catalogue to find courses to support the use of WebLearn. These include:
WebLearn: Fundamentals
WebLearn: Design and content
WebLearn: Surveys
WebLearn: Tools for creating interactive online resources
WebLearn: Tools to support teaching and learning
WebLearn: Using Mobile Oxford

oxtalent badge

Runner-Up for the OxTALENT 2013 Award for ‘Use of WebLearn to support a course or programme of study’.

Posted in Social Sciences | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Leave a Reply