Creating a central learning space
The OxLAT programme makes it possible for students at Oxfordshire state schools where Latin isn’t taught to receive free tuition ab initio through to the GCSE examination. Students attend lessons each Saturday during school term-time at the Faculty of Classics and are taught by two professional school-level Latin teachers. This intensive schedule places high demands on the teachers when it comes to giving students timely feedback on their work. The teachers soon found that pupils needed a better means to consolidate their learning outside lessons, and that email was an ineffective and unwieldy system for managing homework submissions.
To address the problem, Emma Searle and her colleagues in the Faculty of Classics decided to create an online learning hub in WebLearn that allows teachers to store and distribute classroom materials and revision resources. It also enables tutors to receive homework in a more organised way, with pupils’ work filed automatically.
Selecting the best online tools for staff and students
Most schools have some form of virtual learning environment for sharing resources and information with students and parents. Informed by the design of such VLEs, the team created a sub-site in the Faculty of Classics WebLearn area which students access using external WL user accounts. They decided on three key functions, to enable students to:
- upload their homework;
- view lesson plans and the material covered in each class, along with links to download any relevant worksheets; and
- access further supporting materials and revision resources for individual papers as recommended by their tutors.
Each of these functions has a corresponding WebLearn tool, which is one of the reasons why the team chose to use WebLearn to host the online learning hub. A learning technologist from the WebLearn team in Academic IT gave advice on which tools to use, which meant that the OxLAT team could focus on optimising the layout and structure of the site.
In particular, staff use the Assignments tool for managing homework submissions. Students are set mini-assignments each week with details of the homework and what resources they need to complete it. The tool allows students to upload their work (in either PDF or Word format) and teachers to access it quickly and efficiently from any location. Additionally, the teachers find the Lessons tool helpful in giving students structured (lesson-by-lesson) access to the material covered in each class (with page references to the textbook), together with downloadable copies of worksheets, handouts and/or tests used in the lesson.
Useful way to monitor student performance and promote independent learning
The online learning hub has made several positive differences to those involved in the OxLAT programme. It has made collecting and marking homework more efficient, and the teacher can collate everything into one easy-to-use place. They can also view details about students’ activity, including whether or not homework has been submitted on time. This allows them to spot patterns in students’ behaviour and, hence, to identify who might need extra help and support, not just with academic content but also with managing their time on a very demanding course.
Furthermore, the hub has had an encouraging impact on the students, who are able to access information from earlier classes independently and take the initiative when it comes to their own learning: an important, transferable life skill.
Important to guide students first
Whether you are setting up a WebLearn site for outreach purposes or for supporting your own students, Emma Searle counsels against assuming ‘a high level of computer know-how and efficiency.’ She recommends organising an induction session to guide students through the site.
For the OxLAT programme, the team led an orientation session to ensure that students knew how to access the site, log on and navigate around it. In particular, it was beneficial to demonstrate how to upload their homework. This is because most students said they would not have understood the WebLearn terminology by themselves or known how to find the right file on their computer to upload. Thus, the session helped them feel confident that could find the information they needed.
- Read other case studies in this collection describing outreach activities with schools by University staff.
- Read other case studies in this collection showing the different ways in which WebLearn can support your students’ learning.
- To find out more about WebLearn, contact the WebLearn team at firstname.lastname@example.org.