4. Learning Technologies Group (LTG)

The LTG (http://www.oucs.ox.ac.uk/ltg/) provides IT Training and e-learning support for all the divisions within the University. It is overseen by an advisory committee, and is involved in strategic level decisions about the future of e-learning in Oxford. It works closely with the Director of Online and Distance Learning, TALL, and IAUL. It also has close links with national funding agencies such as JISC.

The LTG is charged with the following:

  • developing computer-based teaching and research packages in collaboration with Oxford staff and external bodies as appropriate;
  • researching the latest developments in the use of C&IT (Communications and Information Technology) in traditional university teaching and student learning;
  • providing all training of staff and students in IT literacy skills offered by OUCS, plus courses on how to effectively use C&IT in teaching and research;
  • disseminating information about the use of C&IT via the website publications, workshops and conferences, and acting as OUCS's formal liaison and point of contact;
  • providing user facilities for staff and students to work on projects;
  • providing access to specialised learning and teaching applications, and multimedia equipment;
  • running and developing the central VLE for the University.

The LTG has four main areas of activity: IT Learning Programme, the ACDT, WebLearn (the University's central Virtual Learning Environment), and LTG Services.

4.1. IT Learning Programme

Course attendance is increasing year by year as shown in the diagram below:

Year Courses Teaching Hours Attendance
2001/2 335 1,859 7,768
2002/3 427 1,568 10,714
2003/4 361 1,457 11,181

It is important to note that OUCS is training more people while using less teacher time, demonstrating the efficiency of the programme; user satisfaction feedback is extremely high. These are all medium to advanced courses(http://www.oucs.ox.ac.uk/courses/); OUCS is offering fewer and fewer 'introductory' level courses.

In some cases (such as the Active Learning suite for the ECDL) these are presented as online options.

In terms of a break down by divisions, taking last year as the most recent example, take-up has been:-

Humanities 13%
LES 18%
MPS 20%
Medical 25%
Social Sciences 22%
Continuing Education 2%

The spread here, Continuing Education aside, is roughly even across divisions, and although the Humanities is relatively low in general attendance it does make substantial use of courses offered specifically to faculties. The attendees are:-

Academic Staff 11%
Academic Related Staff 19%
Other Staff (Clerical, Admin etc) 21%
Students 46% (roughly 86% Graduate and 14% Undergraduate)
External 3%

During the year the ITLP continued to run ECDL and ECDL Advanced certification, including the piloting of ECDL testing for Oxford Brookes Staff Development. A new training program was licensed which now allows users to train at their convenience, using a web browser to access the materials.

4.2. Academic Computing Development Team (ACDT)

The ACDT (http://www.oucs.ox.ac.uk/acdt/) provides dedicated technical support and development staff to academics wishing to create innovative online teaching or research applications. It issues a call for new projects twice a year and receives expressions of interest, some of which turn into full project proposals. The latter are then assessed by a Project Selection committee drawing in representatives from all the divisions.

A recent survey of the project partners on past and present ACDT projects was conducted. The benefits of working with the ACDT were reported to be:

  • Provision of a useful learning resource for students, particularly in compulsory areas with many students to support;
  • Empowerment to create own materials;
  • Exploration of an innovative teaching technique;
  • A solid base on which to build further;
  • Attracting further funding (EU, Ford Foundation, AHRB, MRC);
  • Favourable appearances in the QAA;
  • Contribution the RAE;
  • Enhancing departmental image;
  • Improving accessibility;
  • Bringing together staff in a physically disparate faculty;
  • 'Supporting and maintaining excellence';
  • Improving electronic information provision;
  • Promoting the reuse of teaching material;
  • Software development that can be used across several departments;
  • A politically neutral base promoting collaborative work;
  • Attracting high calibre researchers and research students;
  • Creating collaborative networks (local and international);
  • Access to expertise not available elsewhere.

The level of up-take for ACDT services remains steady, but there has been an evening out across the divisions. Looking at the expressions of interest (i.e. people who contact the ACDT in response to their call) these number at:

2003-4 72
2002-3 40*
2001-2 79

The number of these that manifested themselves as full proposals was as follows:

2003-4 24
2002-3 16*
2001-2 27

[*Only one call was issued by the ACDT in AY 02/03 on the advice of the Selection Committee]

Across the divisions this is represented as:

Projects accepted HUMS LES MPS MED SS ASUC/other Total
Dec-01 0 1 1 2 1 0 5
Jul-02 1 0 0 1 1 1 4
Dec-02 1 1 1 1 0 0 4
Dec-03 2 1 0 2 0 2 7
Jul-04 0 1 0 2 0 2 5
Total442825 25

The ACDT is completing about 8 projects per year, as well as advising on numerous others. It should be noted also that about 25% of applications not accepted by the ACDT are accommodated within the other LTG groups. Details of completed and active projects can be found at: http://www.oucs.ox.ac.uk/ltg/projects/

4.3. WebLearn: the University's Virtual Learning Environment

WebLearn (http://www.oucs.ox.ac.uk/ltg/vle/) is the University's central Virtual Learning Environment (VLE), hosted by OUCS, and available to departments, faculties, colleges, and other units free of charge. The history of the VLE is as follows:-
  • The VLE came about due to requests to the LTG from various departments. It was also approved by the joint EPSC/ICTC Working Party on IT in Teaching and Learning; the OUCS Review; and is mentioned in the Revised Teaching and Learning Strategy;
  • The VLE offers a single interface and equity of provision of material to all students and staff;
  • The VLE system (WebLearn, based on the Bodington open source software) was chosen after a lengthy consultation involving several academics and representatives from the divisions and other appropriate stakeholders;
  • The VLE was piloted originally and there was growing petitioning for it to be moved to a core service;
  • The VLE pilot project was assessed by both ICTC and EPSC, and its move to a core service was approved by both bodies;
  • The VLE was also endorsed by the Heads of Divisions and also in the Institutional Audit.

Demand for the VLE has grown considerably. Between January and July 2004 the number of sections within the VLE rose from 2,935 (combined) to 5,415. That is to say, areas for course material (analogous to folders and subfolders) rose by 2,480 in this period, at a time it should be noted when for the early part the VLE was still in pilot stage. There is a trebling of successful log-ins per month.

4.4. LTG Services

LTG services (http://www.oucs.ox.ac.uk/ltg/) provides the backbone to many LTG activities, and also works closely with departments on select projects. This has included the Ruskin Teaching Collection project with the Ashmolean museum, and several projects funded by JISC. LTG Services is taking forward OUCS's work on interoperability standards, reading list creation, federated searching, and tools integration.

The LTG Services is also responsible for running a weekly series of seminars — Digital Projects in Oxford, Working Lunch, and our two annual conferences (Shock of the Old and Beyond…).

4.5. Funding Attracted by the LTG

Various projects were bid for, with primarily JISC funding, and the following projects were awarded during the year:

  • Creation of a chapter in the MLE handbook;
  • Overview of projects awarded funding under the D4L programme;
  • Web Services for Reflective Learning;
  • Middleware for Distributive Cognition;
  • Guanxi project with UHI and Leeds University.

Details of projects based at Oxford are available at: http://www.oucs.ox.ac.uk/ltg/projects/

In addition the VLE was awarded £200,000 for development under HEFCE SRIF2 funding.

In Michaelmas 2003 LTG hosted Professor Neil MacLean as a visiting fellow under the Vodaphone/ Royal Society programme, and his report on mobile learning is available at http://www.oucs.ox.ac.uk/ltg/reports/ (out of date)

Up: Contents Previous: 3. Technical Support Services Group Next: 5. Administration Group