Planning a resource-based learning website for students


This video is a presentation of how a Social Work Service User Participation website was planned. The site aim is to enable service users and students to interact and to provide a repository of information for students. It was developed by Pat Walton and Sue Lansley of the Department of Social Policy and Social Work at the University of York with my advice in planning for the student learning experience.

Available on YouTube


[Note, this is a transcript and therefore may not ‘read’ fluently]

Hello, I’m Matt Cornock, Web and VLE Coordinator in the Department of Social Policy and Social Work at the University of York. I’d just like to spend a few minutes talking to you about how you can go about planning a service user participation (web) site.

Aim, audience, purpose

The first thing to look at is the aim of your site. You need to be really clear about what you want to get out of the site. Why you’re doing it? What sort of content you want to put on? And… most importantly how it’s going to relate to the students’ course.

After your aim, you’ll start looking at the types of people that will be using the site. You’ll need to think about who they are and why they might be interested in the content you’re going to be providing. So, obviously the first sort of audience you’ll be looking at are the students. The students on your course. What sort of things do they want to get out of your site and why they are going to engage with it? You might also want to think about the service users. Why are they going to be wanting to put information onto the site? What will they get out of it as well? Then finally, think about the staff. How can staff use the resource that you’re going to be making available on your service user site? And how can they use that in teaching? So with a sense of the different audiences and your aims, you’ll be able to create a purpose for your site.

Once you have your purpose, that’s going to drive pretty much everything else you’re going to do. It’ll help you make decisions about the content you’re going to be putting on, and it will help you structure the site.

Structure for the user

Now the structure of the site is going to be very important. There are various ways you can do this. You might decide to structure your site based on topics, or perhaps relating to the modules you have running, or you might decide to structure your site on the types of materials you are going to be providing. Whether that’s video, audio or PDF guides.

Whatever you do, you’ll need to make sure that the structure is going to be useful for the user. So, if you put yourself in the position of a student, how is that student going to look at the site? How are they going to know where to go? If it’s not clear where they should be going and what they should be looking at, they won’t use the site. So having a very clear structure that’s going to be useful for the student, useful for your audience, that’s going to be very important. And that again will help you think about the purpose of the site and the sorts of content you’ll be providing.

Also, the other aspect is that you’ll have lots of information coming to you. You might have subject experts, your lecturing staff, deciding that they want certain bits of information to be on the site. The service users will also have their own idea of what the site will be for. Hopefully you’ll be able to speak to some students in advance and find out what they would like the site to achieve. It’s then up to you as the site designer to work out how you can best fit these elements, these different interests, in your service user site.


The content needs to be planned. It’s no good just coming up with an idea to interview a service user or member of staff and putting that up there. You need to think about why that content is going to be there and how it’s going to fit in with the structure. Each piece of content needs to have a purpose.

But don’t just think about the traditional forms of content, you could have: pieces of art, stories, photos, links to journal articles, biographies, interviews, music, words and pictures, links out to various websites and of course video. Every item though, needs to have a clear aim, a clear audience and that will help you identify its purpose on the site.

It can be tempting just to put a load of links on, but without additional guidance as to why that link is there, you’ll find that that part of the site probably isn’t used by students. So, you as the site designer will need to filter through what sorts of content you’ll want on the site and hopefully every piece of content should have a clear purpose.

Interaction (offline or online)

Content alone isn’t enough. You’ll need to create some form of interaction. The most basic of interaction will be that between the tutor and the student. The tutor might ask a student to go visit the site, look at a piece of content. That means you need to make sure your tutors are on board and they’re aware of the site and how it works. That’s the basic interaction, but there are other sorts of interaction such as the many-to-many interactions.

You might have students talking to each other on the site, perhaps talking with other service users. You could use a blog space for that. And, over a predefined period of time, the VLE site could be a very useful communication tool to bridge that gap between service users and the students.

There are also many-to-one options, so you could use the site as a way of collecting information from the students and from the service users. You as the editor, can then pick and choose the best bits and make that available.

Finally though, and probably most importantly, is how the interactions between the content and the student take place. If you just present information, chances are the students won’t engage with it. They’ll be presented with many links, many videos… how are they going to make sense of it all? You might decide, for example with a video interview of a service user, to incorporate some key questions for the students to think about. Designing-in an activity with the content you’re providing will hopefully encourage the students to engage with the content, and also gives a value to it as well. It’s not just, ‘watch this’ and see what happens, it’s ‘watch this and consider these themes…’ So you’ve got that option available. You might also want to think about how students will engage with content in other ways, perhaps how that’s going to relate to their course. And this is where it comes back again to the general aim of the site.

Relating to the course aims

Hopefully your aim of the site will be to inform your students of the perspectives of service users on a variety of topics. If the content is embedded within the academic programme, for example the tutor said ‘for this activity this week I’d like you to go and look at the participation site, pull off some service user points of view, and consider these questions, report back in the seminar.’ Use the content in a way that’s not separate from the academic material, but is actually part of it. So that’ll be your whole site pretty much, laid out and ready to go. But, as I’ve mentioned before, you really need to tie it up with the course aims and objectives. And, get your teaching staff on board as well.

Review and renew

Once you’ve got your site, every year or maybe more frequently than that, you’ll need to review it and you need to renew it. If you don’t, you might find that the purpose of the site goes away from the course aims or what you initially decided the purpose of the site was going to be. So review it, renew it, make sure all the links are up to date, make sure the content is relevant, and of course use the feedback from students to guide you as to what you need to change and how you can improve the site. That’s a very quick summary of some of the key points for a service user and student participation site.


This presentation was recorded for use as part of a conference presentation on service user participation by Pat Walton and Sue Lansley, University of York. This presentation is Copyright © 2011 University of York and is not released under Creative Commons.





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