Virtual language classrooms enable staff and students to share resources and engage online

Looking for another way of working

At the University’s Language Centre, tutors teach approximately 200 different language classes a year. In every class there are about 15 students, often with very different backgrounds, since any member of the University can apply to study a language. Each class is fast-paced, and so it is essential that students catch up on missed content before they attend the next one. For the tutors, this entailed sending out hundreds of emails and letters a week to ensure that the students received the material they needed.

Having taught German at the Language Centre for several years, Christina Hell could identify with these challenges, and her experience inspired the concept of the Virtual Classroom for the Language Centre. The plan was to create a WebLearn site for every language class to help make tutors’ work more efficient and engage students in a better way.

A WebLearn solution

Christina began this work by carrying out an online survey in order to find out how knowledgeable the tutors were in using technology, how they currently utilised digital resources with their students, and what they would like to include in their future teaching. Equipped with these valuable insights and those gained from her own teaching, she selected some basic tools in WebLearn for the Virtual Classroom sites, along with a standardised home page. The tools include:

  • Syllabus –for the tutor to post an outline of the classes.
  • Resources – for students to access their learning materials, both those used in class and other recommended learning materials.
  • Announcements – for informing students about important events (e.g. exams).
  • Forum – for students to explore topics together and discuss them online.

Christina also created a Virtual Tutors’ room where teachers and other members of staff at the Language Centre can stay in touch, share material and discuss ideas.

Tutors are responsible for maintaining the Virtual Classroom sites for their weekly courses. To help them, and to give tips on how to customise their sites for learners, Christina created a user-friendly handbook with a task sheet for those new to WebLearn. She also organised three tutor development days, hands-on workshops and Q&A sessions.

In addition to setting up the individual Virtual Classrooms, the Language Centre’s WebLearn home page had to be redesigned. This was done with the help of IT officer, Martin Hurajt. As a result, the site is now more straightforward and easier to navigate. In addition, the Language Centre’s librarian, Lucile Desligneres has redesigned the WebLearn presence of the library, making it an important online space with additional resources for tutors and students.

Bildschirmfoto 2016-10-24 um 17.19.53

The redesigned home page on the Language Centre’s WebLearn site

The language of success

The Virtual Classrooms have become a useful educational tool that has added value to teaching and learning in the Language Centre. An evaluation conducted at the end of Hilary term 2016 showed that the majority of tutors had put in a lot of work and had embraced the new Virtual Classrooms. Site statistics also showed that students were using the sites and engaging online.

An additional survey carried out at the beginning of Trinity Term 2016 showed that tutors were enjoying working with the Virtual Classrooms and would not want to teach without them anymore. Student feedback indicated that they considered the Virtual Classrooms a valuable addition to their language classes at the Language Centre.

Further information:

  • 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.

OxTALENT 2016 Logo - web versionRunner-up, OxTALENT 2016 award for the use of WebLearn to support teaching and learning. The text in this case study has been adapted from Christina Hell’s entry for the OxTALENT competition.


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