4. Core activities

4.1. Teaching and Learning

OUCS provides advice and support related to the use of C&IT in traditional teaching, learning and research in all disciplines, as well as specific training for IT staff. The former is mainly through its Learning Technologies Group and the latter co-ordinated by the IT Support Staff Service (ITS3).

The LTG supports and develops the Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) for the University (WebLearn), tailored to the needs of students and staff. In 2009 OUCS launched the new WebLearn service, with new tools and features in response to user feedback. The WebLearn project is directed by a steering group comprising OUCS, college and faculty representatives. This is an ongoing development project, and in 2010 we will continue to offer services in response to new technologies and increasing demands from academic staff. The LTG promotes and supports the use of online multimedia for learning and teaching, particular highlights of 2009 were the success of the podcasting and Oxford in Itunes U projects. In 2010 we plan to develop this further, encourage re-use of these materials for teaching, and ensure that the high profile, high value media, assets created by Oxford staff and students can be managed and stored appropriately. We will be responding to the increasing use of mobile and handheld devices by developing appropriate interfaces and services for mobile learning.

OUCS also provides specific support to IT Support Staff in terms of training via its ITS3 service. This arranges the annual conference and a programme of training opportunities throughout the year. We are noticing increased demand for these courses by local IT officers, and our objectives list the ongoing process of constantly revising these activities to meet changing needs.

OUCS is not directly affected by the size and shape of teaching and learning, as it does not run matriculated courses for students, nor is it involved directly in student recruitment. However, a shift in the size or demographic of the student body will affect the demands on some of the services offered by OUCS (including the VLE and IT training programme) and needs to be reflected in the money given to OUCS to run its services (see ‘Finances’). As with all our services offered to staff and students we will be ensuring that our practice is inclusive, up-to-date and in line with user needs and that the services can meet any up-turn assuming appropriate funding is found.

Considering our activities since the last five-year plan we would note in particular:

  • Successful launch of the new WebLearn service. The new system was launched in June 2009 and has attracted new users across the University.
  • The development of training and support services adequate to support the rollout of new University services, in particular Groupware (Nexus) and the new WebLearn. Training plans and programmes for both of these new services are in place and ongoing, both are proving to be most effective in supporting new ways of working when tailored and delivered locally. Further work and resource, however, is needed to continue and extend the reach and deliver the benefits of these activities to Divisions.
  • Developing and opening the new Apple Teaching Centre with support from Apple. The formal launch event was in Dec 2009. A new programme of Mac courses will be launched for 2010.
  • The support and promotion of the distribution of open content via podcasting, iTunes U, and other appropriate media channels. Two large and successful JISC funded projects have been completed and stimulated interest across the University in the creation, publication and re-use of open content. This has resulted in a new, growing, collection of high value media assets which now need to be managed and preserved.

In recognition of the skills development and learning needs of all members of the University the OUCS training programme, and courses offered by ITS3, provide University staff and students with training in IT literacy and technical skills and how to effectively use C&IT in teaching and research. We promote the use of technology in teaching at Oxford via our user communities, websites, news publications, workshops and events and we provide well equipped teaching and training spaces for use by members of the University and external guests. In 2010 we will launch a new programme of Mac courses in our new Apple Accredited Training Centre and roll out tailored, discipline specific support for digital research skills and managing your online identity. We will continue to develop bespoke and discipline specific training courses, and support senior staff in their use of IT for management and decision making. We also seek to support departments and divisions in getting best value for money from the classroom technologies in which they have invested. We provide training and advice in the use of these and in the design of technology enhanced learning spaces.

To ensure that we continue to foster and support excellence, innovation and best practice, the LTG also carries out and disseminates research into the latest developments in the use of C&IT in traditional university teaching and learning. We also hold annual OxTALENT awards ceremonies to recognize and celebrate innovation at Oxford.

In 2010 the LTG’s focus will be on ensuring value for money for the University by making special efforts to target services equally across each Division. Particularly we will be exploring ways in which we can support students in developing their employability skills and staff in maximizing the impact in their work.

In Appendix A we provide a list of our major objectives over the next five years, but with reference to teaching and learning it is worth noting the following:

  • Target development of new tools to support the strategic learning and teaching priorities of divisions, departments and colleges. (e.g. student feedback, computer modelling in learning and research, interdisciplinary teaching, plagiarism detection, access and outreach, etc); Target: Ongoing throughout the five years.
  • Research and implement technology that provides teachers and learners with assessment and evaluation technologies that increases the quality and ease by which questions can be authored and marked. Target: 2010-12.
  • Migrate users from the old to new WebLearn; Target: 2010/2011;
  • Integrate WebLearn with Oak Authorisation and Groups Service and with existing student administrative systems where possible. Target date: 2010. New work to integrate WebLearn with student administrative systems as an online submissions system for summative assessment is offered as a pilot and new project for 2010/11-12.
  • Explore the integration of the new VLE service with the Groupware solution.
    Target date: 2010-12. Now that the functionality and features of both systems is better understood, a scoping study for possible areas of integration will be completed in early 2010 with a view to new projects of work in 2010-12.
  • Promote and support user created content and multimedia through initiatives such as: new tools in the VLE; graphical representation of activity data; use of multimedia by students to share and express understanding; use of multimedia by lecturers to share research based teaching for maximum impact. Status: this work is ongoing, building on success of podcasting projects and the development of the new WebLearn 2010-14.
  • Promote the effective use of ICT facilities in the classroom. Target: Ongoing.

Target our IT Learning Programme to keep up to date with the demands of the users. In particular, under the direction of the Graduate Skills Advisory Group (GSAG), look at the research and support skills that staff and students need. Integrate training for Macs into general courses and promote discipline-specific training. A new programme of Mac courses, the Graduate Skills toolkit pilot programme and online and classroom supported learning activities on agent-based computer modelling will begin in 2010. Target: Ongoing.

  • Offer training courses in a flexible mode (especially online and ‘at need’ training); Evaluation of the success and cost effectiveness of ‘online’ and ‘at need’ materials will be carried out in early 2010 to inform further developments in this area in 2011. We will also be migrating static web support pages, where appropriate, to screen casts and active tutorials; Target: 2010-11.
  • Expand our e-learning research activity in line with the targets identified in the OUCS research strategy, enabling blue skies work to be done in a cost effective manner as funded projects and sustain current themes of work/projects via new funding and follow up grants. By responding to relevant funding calls from research council and funding bodies and developing research partnerships with academic colleagues and groups in 2010-2014. Target: Ongoing.
  • Contribute to open-source, development and research communities of which we are members by working alongside other universities and appropriate business community engagement In 2010-2014. Target: Ongoing.
  • Provide an appropriate environment for research and to ensure financial sustainability of research within the group and research leadership within the team. Target: Ongoing
  • Further develop our programme of training courses and voluntary audit for IT support staff to ensure consistent standard of support across the university. Target: Ongoing.

4.2. Research

In 2008-9 OUCS developed its first ‘Research Strategy’ outlining the key areas that OUCS will target in the future for research and development projects (usually from external funds). It also developed a full process to assess new project bids to make sure they are in line with OUCS’s five-year strategy, and a project management methodology. Considered below also is OUCS’s services to research elsewhere in the University. One of the stated objectives in the mission statement of OUCS is to:

‘foster and support excellence, innovation, best practice, and value for money in the use of IT in teaching, learning, and research across the University’

OUCS has a cross-department initiative – the Research Technologies Service (RTS) which, through internal and external project funding, develops cutting edge applications to support research, and provides advisory services for the University and beyond. The activities of the RTS complement the infrastructure and other support services provided by OUCS. To assist with this and the development of OUCS’s own research strategy, we have a full-time Research Facilitator, and a half-time post liaison post with Oxford e-Research Centre, to take forward these activities and actively manage a research strategy. Members of staff in all the OUCS groups are able to offer support through the RTS; the Information and Support Group has a specific team set up to do development (for example of web sites and services, databases, and analysis) for internal and external clients; and OUCS hosts the JISC-funded OSS Watch service which offers support and advice on larger-scale software development.

The aim of the RTS is to work with other University departments to establish the ICT requirements of their research communities, offers services to research projects across the University (see http://www.oucs.ox.ac.uk/rts/rtsservices.xml). These range from project planning, through to offering advice to projects underway, assisting in development, and helping complete an exit strategy. In connection with this, OUCS particularly collaborates with the Oxford e-Research Centre (OeRC) and other relevant University units to investigate the development of tools to support the administration and auditing of research activity. This activity includes an emphasis on assisting with project management and the sharing of research information and outputs, especially across disciplinary boundaries. We expect this to be an important use of the Nexus groupware services, but recently OUCS has also been successful in attracting two externally-funded projects in this area via the JISC – Embedding Institutional Data Curation Services in Research (EIDCSR) and Supporting Data Management infrastructure for the Humanities (Sudamih).

OUCS also acts as a major bridge with national funding agencies such as HEFCE, JISC, the Research Councils, and seeks sponsorship for major IT projects through the Development Office, OUCS’s own Research Facilitator, and KTPs. OUCS activities and project outputs contribute to relevant research and software development communities. In turn it will seek to inform faculties, departments, and colleges about new funding opportunities; as well as bidding for external grants to cover some of its own new initiatives.

Within our research strategy we identify three major themes that shape our research direction. These are:

  1. Ubiquitous computing/networking
  2. New technologies and applications
  3. User requirements

Under these themes we have identified several key activities that we will attempt to pursue: e-learning, management of data, access and identity, infrastructure, security. Many of these are referenced throughout this report. In addition we also continually analyse data coming from use of our services to indicate levels of demand and changes therein. It is important to note all of this underpins development work at OUCS, but for the most part this can only take place if we attract new funding from the ICT Capital Envelope (internal) or research funding agencies (external) such as the JISC, ESRC, AHRC, etc.

In Appendix A we provide a list of our major objectives over the next five years, but with reference to research it is worth noting the following:

  • Exploiting Sharepoint by facilitating research, research groups, tools. Target: 2010 with roll-out of Sharepoint service (which identifies research groups as a main target for early adoption).
  • Wireless Computing and how this could affect research (e.g. always on research, exploiting fully operational and widespread wireless network). This coincides with the roll-out of wireless currently underway. Target: 2010-2012.
  • Mobile communications. We have already launched Mobile Oxford (m.ox.ac.uk) and seek to develop this. Target: 2010-2012.
  • Social networking tools. As a result of a series of projects, OUCS will be issuing guidelines on how social networking tools can be used to increase ‘impact’ for research projects arising from the developments with the REF. Target: 2010. This includes further work on podcasting (noted above in ‘Teaching and learning’) for dissemination of research projects).
  • 3D collaborative worlds. Again following on from a project in 2009, OUCS has good knowledge now of developing in 3D worlds. In 2010 we will be looking for external funding to take this forward.
  • OUCS has considerable expertise in analysing user needs and requirements, and profiling academic working practices and assessing how they could relate to IT service provision. In 2010 we will be applying these generally across our services, but also in the review we are assisting in for the Humanities division related to the ROQ project.
  • Visualising research data. This is a new area for OUCS but it is one that is emerging as a key concern for researchers. The EIDCSR project, for example, has a workpackage to facilitate browser-based access to very high resolution image sets. Throughout 2010-11 we will continue to monitor possible funding opportunities.
  • Research repositories and techniques for the management and curation of large research data sets. This is being investigated by two existing projects, EIDCSR and Sudamih, together with input to the UK Research Data Service (UKRDS) bid to HEFCE. We also have an objective to investigate the provision of federated, extensible, cost-recovery filestore service for research projects. Target: 2010-2011.
  • Continuing work in ‘community collections’ – OUCS is now recognised as a main centre of expertise internationally in crowd-sourcing for community collections. Target: 2010-11 we will be running a JISC funded project to continue this.
  • Low carbon ICT initiatives. OUCS successfully completed its Wake-on-LAN service and is now moving forward in other ‘green’ IT areas such as: green procurement and disposal; 2) energy monitoring and reduction tactics.
  • The above are specific projects that we will be taking forward. However, we are also aware of other activities that, if funding was available, we would wish to explore such as open notebook developments; semantic web developments, and access auditing (global analysis of audit trails to determine traffic, social networking, future provision)

4.3. Engagement with Society

OUCS’s primary focus is on supporting the needs of the collegiate University. However, in so doing it offers support to faculties and departments seeking to engage more with the wider society. As noted elsewhere we have specific objectives in mind to assist the University in engaging with the wider society:

  • Assisting projects and services to deliver to mobile devices through the development of Mobile Oxford. Target: 2010-12.
  • Development of Open Educational Resources and podcasting (see ‘Teaching and Learning’).
  • Advising projects on increasing ‘impact’ through new technologies such as the use of social networking tools, podcasts, etc; and assessing and evaluating user needs(see ‘Research’).
  • Leading community collection initiatives which bring the public to University research projects (see ‘Research’).

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