Introducing features of the course website

This section introduces you to the features of the course website, which you can access from the course homepage.

The Course content area

The 'Course content' area is the most important area of the course homepage as this is where you will find all the materials and activities that make up the online elements of your course. Remember you can get to this page at any time by clicking the shortened version of the course title in the navigation bar.

The picture below is an example of a 'Course content' area. The items in the top section, which in this example include the News forum and Common room, are usually generic items that will be used throughout the course. The other sections are divided into the units or sessions you will study during the course and include links to the course resources and related activities.

The 'Course content' area
The 'Course content' area

Depending on the type of course you are studying, you may also see dates beneath each unit heading, and the current week highlighted in blue as Unit 2 above.


On the left side of your screen, you will see a number of 'blocks'. These provide essential tools, resources and other information you will use to help you study online. Your course will contain some or all of the following blocks.

The ‘Navigation’ block

The ‘Navigation’ block
A hierarchical list of links.

The ‘Navigation’ block lets you navigate to parts of your course website and to other courses that you are enrolled on. Some features (illustrated next to this text) you may find useful are:

  • The ‘Dashboard’ link, which provides a summary page listing key details of all the courses you are enrolled on and provides a customisable view of the course site.
  • The ‘Calendar’ which includes key dates about your course, such as your assignment deadline and any scheduled activities.
  • ‘Participants’ which lets you see more about the other students on the course. Some classes will be divided into smaller groups for group activities. If your course has groups, you can see who is in each group by selecting the name of the group from the ‘Separate/Visible groups:’ drop-down menu at the top of the screen. (Note: We recommend that after you have viewed participants by group you select ‘All participants’ from the drop-down menu to display the full list of course participants.)

The ‘Search forums’ block

The ‘Search forums’ block can be used to search for text in the discussion forums of your course. To use the search, simply enter the text you are looking for in the box and then click the 'Go' button. For a more specific search, click on ‘Advanced search’. This will display a form with more options, enabling you to carry out more detailed searches. For help on search options, click Questionmark. Please note that the search facility only searches the discussion forums and not the course resources.

Text search form, with 'Advanced search' link.
The ‘Search forums’ block

Once you are in a forum you will see that the ’Search forums’ option appears in the top navigation of the course, rather than in the side navigation.

The ‘Recent activity’ block

The ‘Recent activity’ block displays a list of recent activity within the course, together with a link to the item changed and a full report of recent activity. The number and nature of the items displayed will depend on the amount and type of activities included in the course. You may find this block particularly useful to see if any new postings have been made to your course discussion forums since the last time you logged in.

'Recent activity' heading, and text summary.
The ‘Recent activity’ block

The ‘Activities’ block

The ‘Activities’ block lists the different activities available in your course. Clicking on the link to the right of an activity icon will display a list of all available activities of that type. The icons for the different activities are used throughout the course. For example, you will notice that the ‘Course content’ area illustrated above includes the icon for Forums: .

List of links to various activity types.
The 'Activities' block

The most commonly used activities are ‘Forums’, and ‘Resources’. Forums are used for class and group discussions, and resources are usually documents or sets of web pages. Discussion forums are a central part of an online course and, as such, they will be explained in more detail in the ‘Discussion forums’ section.

Access to subscription-based resources

Some courses provide students with access to subscription-based online resources. For example, many of the Department’s online short courses provide students with access to online resources from Oxford University Press. Access to subscription-based resources is often provided via a block on the course homepage. If you are studying a short course with access to Oxford Reference Online, you must access the resources either via the link in the ‘Oxford Reference Online’ block on your course homepage, or via a link in your course materials. Please do not attempt to access them in any other way

The ‘Administration’ block

This block provides you with context-sensitive information and, as such, the features within it display differently in different parts of the course. For example, if you are on a fully online course, it will allow you to print the content of a page (called ‘chapter’) or unit (called ‘book’) but only from within that page or unit.

Collapsing and docking blocks

To make more room on your screen, you may choose to ‘collapse’ or ‘dock’ individual blocks. Collapsing a block hides the content, leaving just the block heading displayed, and docking a block moves it to the far left-hand side of the screen. (See the diagram below where the ‘Navigation’ and 'Activities' blocks have been docked.)

Blocks docked on the left-side of the page.

To collapse a given block click on the Hide block button on the right side of the block to close it. You can re-open any collapsed block by clicking on the Show block button.

To dock a given block click on the Move this to the dock icon. To view the content of a docked block hold your curser over it in the side menu and the content will be displayed.

A docked block, opened, with the undock icon in the top-right corner.
Undocking a block.

If you wish to restore a block that has been docked to the main screen hold your cursor on it and then click on the Undock icon.