Dr Thomas Jellis is a lecturer in the School of Geography and the Environment and a tutor at Hertford and St John’s colleges. He uses WebLearn to support a fieldwork class in Copenhagen. Fieldwork has been construed as a key, if not the key, geographical practice. The field is supposedly the place where novices become geographers. It is field work which sets geography apart from other, arguably more mundane, intellectual pursuits.
The challenge was to build, from scratch, a ‘one-stop’ site for students who were participating in a field trip to Copenhagen. The site had to provide information before the trip, remain useful and up-to-date during the trip, and provide a repository of information afterwards. Moreover, it needed to have a coherent structure that could be easily updated for future field trips to Copenhagen.
We recognised that we could use WebLearn to outline effectively the components of the course. We therefore designed a specific sub-site on WebLearn to accommodate this material. This was important in terms of enabling preparation prior to the trip, reflection on the themes and activities, and collaboration through group project wikis.
- The site can scale to whatever device is used, so that students can navigate it in a meaningful way on laptops, tablets, and smartphones.
- By creating a wiki for each group project, the site fosters cross-college communication and the development of research questions before the trip itself, and makes it easy to share material during and after the trip.
Thomas also uses WebLearn on mobile devices in ways which have surprised even the WebLearn team. We always like to hear about novel uses of WebLearn!
IT Team, Blavatnik School of Government: The WebLearn iPad App
The Blavatnik School of Government is a new institution, currently in its first year of teaching. Coinciding with the launch of the School, the School released a bespoke iPad app to support the delivery of course content to students and facilitate peer discussion. The developers used WebLearn to drive the back end of the app and also developed a custom theme for the Blavatnik’s WebLearn sites, in order to improve and unify the user experience when students access the service through a browser.
The development team noted that WebLearn provided tools which could be used to deliver many of the features that the School wanted in its virtual learning environment. They chose to use the resources, forums, assessments, tests and sign-up tools for the student portal, but invested in developing a bespoke ‘BSG’ interface for WebLearn and an innovative iPad app to improve the student experience.
Jeremy Howick and Lettitia Derrington, Department of Primary Care Health Sciences and Department for Continuing Education:
Evolution of Master’s Essay Writing: establishing the research-teaching link through innovative assessment with WebLearn
Jeremy and Lettitia designed a process using WebLearn forums that allowed students to interact as peer reviewers (i.e. provide formative assessment) of each other’s essay assignments. Studies indicate that when students review their peers’ work they display a greater degree of interest and engage more deeply with the learning material. Jeremy explained:
Traditional forms of summative assessment, while useful, do not optimize preparation for research, encourage ‘cramming’, and do not always encourage students to engage with all the course material. Virtual learning environments and electronic resources have evolved dramatically over the last few years and require innovative integration into core curricula. I had to map the actual process of writing a paper for peer review onto the WebLearn platform. This involved both a literature search of the reasons and advantages of student peer-review, and investigating and testing ways to facilitate and enable students to provide feedback to their peers.
At each stage of the exercise, students had to submit their work and also act as peer reviewers for other students. They communicated with each other using specially labelled WebLearn forums. The forum posts served the purpose of formative preparation for the students in writing their final essays for summative evaluation. The forums were supervised by the module coordinator, and the essays were submitted two months after the end of the course.
After the grades were given, student feedback was analysed to determine whether the process was effective. All of the students participated actively and the feedback was universally positive. One student wrote, ‘Thank you. I have never had a teacher give so much help and input before …I wish I had had teachers like you in the past.’
Other module coordinators have expressed an interest in using the model, and it is hoped that it might also be adopted across the the University.