Some of the developments have been directly visible to our users, for example the introduction of Webmail, the new web-based interface to the Herald Email system. Others, such as the bandwidth upgrade to the network backbone, have been equally significant, but less immediately visible.
OUCS's role in supporting users to make use of IT has continued to grow, both through its programme of training courses, and its information and support provision. Use of the Help Centre and user registration services rose significantly during the year. There has been substantial activity in the areas of high level security and virus protection, and OUCS produced a free CD for distribution to all new undergraduates to help protect their computers and the University infrastructure.
In line with University policy, OUCS's support efforts are increasingly targeted towards the distributed IT support staff community. Support, too, for the use of IT by academic staff is increasingly important, for example as shown by the growth in the use of WebLearn Virtual Learning Environment, and also in the development of new online teaching and research projects.
Table of contents
- 1. Information and Support Group (ISG)
- 1.1. IT Support Staff Services (ITS3)
- 1.2. The Help Centre
- 1.3. Database and Registration
- 1.4. Information Services
- 1.5. The Research Technologies Service (RTS)
- 2. Infrastructure Group
- 3. Technical Support Services Group
- 3.1. Network Systems Management Services (NSMS)
- 3.2. Desktop Services
- 3.3. Personal Computer Maintenance Service
- 3.4. PC Repair and Upgrade Service
- 3.5. Anti-Virus Service
- 3.6. Computing Services Shop and Media Services
- 3.7. Software Licensing
- 3.8. Printing Services
- 4. Learning Technologies Group (LTG)
- 5. Administration Group
The ISG undertakes a wide range of activities in supporting the University's use of IT, ranging from the management of users' accounts on the various central systems to the management and development of online information services and digital technologies, and providing assistance for problems — both for end users, and for distributed IT support staff.
In addition to new activities highlighted below, ITS3 (http://www.oucs.ox.ac.uk/its3/) continued to:
- run hands-on technical courses and workshops;
- organise regular seminars for support staff;
- run specialist events informing support staff of new or changed services;
- liaise with support staff and keep in touch with their needs;
- run a dynamic web site with useful information and access to essential support staff tools;
- provide regular induction workshops for support staff;
- promote OUCS, University, local and national events of interest to support staff through the ITS3 Calendar;
- develop links with other universities and relevant national organisations such as UCISA;
- provide staff for the Helpdesk rota;
- provide staff for the PC Consultancy service.
During the year ITS3 purchased a network of 20 laptops plus cables, power supplies, switches, router, extension leads, etc. to enable courses to be run in any networked room. This was to eliminate the difficulties associated with OUCS lecture rooms being in high demand, the often short lead time for a technical course, and the set up requirements for returning machines to a stable state after a course.
The network proved very popular and has enabled ITS3 to run many courses with minimal disruption to others. A printer and projector were subsequently added, and the network has been hired out to individuals and colleges for a range of uses.
ITS3 was asked to take on the investigation and implementation of recommendations 5 and 6 of the OUCS Review Report, which asked for the setting of basic minimum standards for IT infrastructure provision and IT staff skills. A working group was set up with broad representation from colleges, academics, departments, OUCS, ITSSG, ICTC, personnel, etc.
The working group co-ordinated a series of briefings, consultations, and interviews with support staff and others, both to inform the IT community and to seek feedback and input. On ICTC's recommendation, the two aspects of the project (infrastructure and skills) were split and effort was focused initially on developing the IT Infrastructure Metric. This metric was designed as primarily a data gathering exercise, enabling each unit to carry out an objective self-assessment of its IT infrastructure provision. Following this, it will be possible to identify patterns and levels of provision in different contexts, and to propose appropriate norms for different types of unit.
ITS launched a new initiative to equip all support staff with the information and advice needed to face the new term. This included updates on many OUCS services and new initiatives, what support staff might expect to be asked, and where to go for help. It also provided an opportunity for support staff to share experiences and suggest solutions.
The existing IT Support Staff Group (ITSSG) was reconvened as the Advisory Body for ITS3. Reflecting this change of role, its membership was adjusted to include more elected support staff, a departmental administrator and a senior college figure. Members of ITS3 were no longer to be full members but would be invited to meetings.
In its second full year of operation, the Help Centre (http://www.oucs.ox.ac.uk/helpcentre/) has continued to consolidate its role as OUCS's front-line support service. Help requests from in-person callers, by phone, and by email showed an increase. The number of problems emailed to the Help Centre rose by around twenty percent over the previous year.
To help deal with the growing demand, the afternoon Help centre staffing was increased slightly. Helpdesk staff also had an improved appointment-booking facility for passing on to consultancy staff those problems that could not be resolved immediately. A new seated waiting area was also created for the use of in-person visitors.
The resources in the Help Centre itself were upgraded in a number of respects during the year. The PC workstations were upgraded to run Windows XP and provided a significantly more reliable service as a result. The flat-bed image scanners were also replaced. The Centre's PC and Macintosh systems continued to be heavily used, especially printing, CD-writing and scanning facilities. The system of usernames issued for use in the Help Centre was changed to bring them in line with standard Oxford usernames and also to last for the lifetime of the University card, rather than for a term at a time.
The Database and Registration section (http://www.oucs.ox.ac.uk/registration/) continued development of the WebReg web-based user management software. Lost passwords for all OUCS-administered services can now be reset at any time the Help Centre is open, and functionality needed for specialist Registration tasks is being migrated from proprietary software. As well as improving openness, this supports new TSM (Tivoli Storage Manager) and Athens interfaces, also the Webauth system which is now used by Herald and is the basis for future University-wide Single Sign-On mechanisms.
Staff have served on various Isidore and University Card Replacement working parties. Data in the current student record system is now available electronically to OUCS, as is Sports Federation data now used for the paperless registration of student sports club accounts. OUCS provides information in various forms to divisions, departments, colleges, the Card Office, Payroll, and projects Isidore and Osiris.
University computer facilities are now being provided for large numbers of non-resident students, most of them on part-time courses. User management procedures were developed for an alumni email service, run by OUCS Registration in the early stages of the service, before being handed over as a production system for the Oxford University Society.
This last year has seen major increases in Registration activity,
following a three-fold increase in online requests for usernames, from
8873 usernames in 2002/3 to 23,296 in 2003/4. Only further automation
of registration procedures has enabled us to cope with this level of
demand. The further development of the self registration pages (
https://register.oucs.ox ac.uk - out of date), especially the automation of
Athens account creation, has significantly reduced waiting-time for
personal callers and simplified access for all users, as has the
introduction of pages for registering and downloading popular software
such as Sophos and VPN.
OUCS now routes mail for most units of the university. Although the
number of units concerned has stayed much the same, the number of
accounts handled has gone up from 41,485 to 46,600. The number of
generic aliases (for example,
postmaster@unit) have also risen from 3,638 to 4,015 (11 percent rise) with roughly the same portion per division as last year.
http://www.oucs.ox.ac.uk/internal/strategy/isg.xml- out of date) has as its primary goal the development and maintenance of a coherent publication strategy for OUCS. Its main activities during the year were:
- management of public web sites for OUCS;
- management of internal web sites for OUCS;
- processes for creating printed documentation;
- provision of information in accessible formats, including Braille;
- production of leaflets and newsletters as needed;
- provision of in-house teaching and support for publication systems;
- liaison with similar University-wide initiatives.
- continued refinement and development of the course booking system;
- checking all web sites for accessibility;
- taking part in the University web audit working group;
- the development of a system for automatic on-demand conversion of web pages to PDF for printing;
- conversion of information sources for delivery via the experimental uPortal framework as well as conventional web servers;
- continued investigations of more friendly systems for authoring in XML, including use of Microsoft Word 2003.
The experimental portal, based on uPortal, has reached a
production level service, with a localized look and feel (
http://portal.ox.ac.uk/ - out of date); work on developing local services
is now a priority for 2004/2005.
The RTS (http://www.oucs.ox.ac.uk/rts/) has had a productive year in its aim to seek external funding to pilot new digital technologies relating to specific strategic initiatives within the University. In February 2004 we successfully submitted bids to JISC in response to the Core Middleware programme for two projects to implement and evaluate the Shibboleth protocol for the inter-institutional sharing of online resources. The Shibboleth-aware Portals and Information Environments (SPIE) Project (in partnership with Bristol University) will test the effectiveness of Shibboleth in providing integration between institutional and national information environments, especially via enhanced portals and portlets. The Evaluation of Shibboleth for PKI and Grids (ESP-Grid) Project is seeking to investigate what solutions Shibboleth may have for access management within grid computing, alongside or as an alternative to the current use of Public Key Infrastructure. For both projects, which started in July 2004, we were able to redeploy existing staff from within the RTS.
In July, the RTS was awarded a $75,000 grant by the Andrew W Mellon Foundation to finance further development of the XAIRA (XML Aware Indexing and Retrieval Architecture) system (http://www.xaira.org/).
Staff from the RTS have worked with the Humanities Division to establish the ICT requirements for humanities research projects. Towards the end of the year we were pleased to learn that three bids to the JISC Virtual Research Environments (VRE) Programme involving the RTS were successful, namely: the Integrative Biology VRE; Building a VRE for the Humanities, which was informed by the requirements analysis mentioned above; and the Sakai VRE Portal Demonstrator Project.
The DCOCE project (http://www.dcoce.ox.ac.uk/) entered its second year of operation. The team made great progress towards establishing a process for recruiting a potential network of registration authorities (RAs) from within both the University and colleges, together with a sample of end-users and service providers. Services included: two web sites at Worcester College; the "Admit" system used to share admissions data between colleges and MIS; and the Athens single sign-on system. The evaluation methodology and tools were also developed over this time, ready for rolling out during July-October 2004.
The Humbul Humanities Hub (
part of the national Resource Discovery Network. Over the past year the
RDN has been restructured with a new Executive Director appointed and a
national Management Board established. In this period Humbul's content editors created
over 3,400 descriptive records, especially within Modern
Languages. Much of the year has been occupied by a collaborative project
with the humanities Higher Education Academy
(HEA) subject centres to
ensure we can share information relating to digital learning objects.
The AHRB also awarded a grant which enabled the cataloguing of
AHRB-funded research projects and freely available peer-reviewed online
journals in the humanities. The Subject
Portals Project (
http://portal.humbul.ac.uk") entered its final year and Humbul continued
to contribute to the development of
of access management functions (with a notable partnership with Eduserv Athens),
and the implementation of a humanities-specific version for user evaluation.
In May 2003, Oxford made a successful bid to run a national Open Source Advisory Service for the Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC). OSS Watch (http://www.oss-watch.ac.uk/) began operations in July 2003 with a staff of 1.2 FTE, drawn from across the Research Technologies Service. OSS Watch's remit is to provide unbiased advice and guidance on free and open source software for UK higher and further education.
The initial task of the service was to investigate the current state of open source deployment and development in UK HE/FE. The OSS Watch Scoping Study 2003 (http://www.oss-watch.ac.uk/studies/scoping/), the largest of its kind ever undertaken in the UK, helped set clear objectives for OSS Watch, many of which were themselves achieved in this first year of operation.
During 2003/2004 OSS Watch organised two successful national conferences (deployment and development; and support models for open source development) and brought together experts to focus on the issues relating to intellectual property rights and open source licensing. The service inaugurated a series of roadshow events for further education and overall delivered more than 20 invited presentations.
The Oxford e-Science Centre was notified in mid-August 2003 that it had made a successful bid to JISC to host a part of the Grid Infrastructure Testbed Facility (http://e-science.ox.ac.uk/ngs/) which has become the core resources for the National Grid Service (NGS). The equipment (a 128-CPU compute cluster) was delivered in December 2003 and the NGS went into early adopter production phase in April 2004. Initial plans for a University campus grid were also initiated in this period.
The OTA (http://ota.ahds.ac.uk/) hosts the national AHDS Centre for Literature, Languages and Linguistics. The Centre has continued to provide a service to a range of humanities subjects focussing on the preservation and dissemination of digital research outputs; advice on the creation of digital resources and promoting the use of ICT in research. The Oxford Text Archive has also contributed to discussions within the University relating to digital preservation strategies and the development of digital repositories. Highlights from this year include the completion of a detailed report for the JISC on the use of free ebooks in teaching and learning within the UK (http://www.ahds.ac.uk/litlangling/ebooks/). During the course of the year AHDS Literature, Languages and Linguistics acquired fifteen sets of digital outputs from various research projects (including five from AHRB-funded projects).
The RTS is one of the four international hosts of the TEI Consortium (http://www.tei-c.org/), which maintains and develops the TEI Guidelines for scholars worldwide. During the past year, the TEI in Oxford has worked extensively on the technical framework for the next edition (P5) of the Guidelines; given a range of presentations and courses in the UK and beyond; and continued to maintain the TEI web site, including a new Sourceforge project site (http://tei.sourceforge.net/)
During the summer of 2004 a major exercise was conducted to upgrade the backbone network from 1Gbs to 10Gbs, and allow individual unit connections at 1 Gbs. This was successfully completed with minimal disruption to service. The basic configuration of the backbone network, a double star network consisting of two central switches and 10 edge switches, connecting to about 190 departmental and college subnetworks, remains unchanged.
The purpose of the upgrade is to meet the steady growth in demand (as illustrated in figures 3 and 4), and to be prepared for the inevitable increase in demand which will be brought about by new applications, in particular new Grid-related projects. The number of nodes connected via the subnetworks continues to rise, with an 8.5% increase over the year resulting in 55,186 nodes at 31 July 2004.
The central web servers hold the University's top-level pages, the OUCS web pages, many departmental and college pages, and those for many individual users. In all they support about 170 domain hierarchies and pages for about 5,000 individuals. In total that amounts to about 700,000 files, occupying some 35 GB. The number of web accesses now exceeds 1.5 million per day. Response time remains excellent.
The email relay service (
http://oucs.ox.ac.uk/network/smtp/ - out of date) handles the vast majority
of the University's incoming and outgoing email, and inter-system
email within the University. It directs email to the appropriate email
server, performs address checks and rewrites addresses to the standard
form (where requested by the relevant department to do so), handles
distribution of multiple-recipient email, spools email intended for
non-responding recipient systems, etc. The number of messages handled
during the year averaged more than 615,000/day, with the volume of
traffic amounting to over 12.6 GB/day on average. Each of these
figures is more than double that of the previous year. Regrettably,
unsolicited email, or ‘spam’, contributes a large part.
At the beginning of August 2003, new methods of scanning email to determine whether it was likely to be spam were introduced on the central mailers. The method adopted assigns a score to each incoming message, which is contained in an extra header added to the message. The central Herald mail store gives users the ability to sort or discard mail based on these scores, as do other email client systems that may be used by people whose mail does not pass through Herald. These scanning techniques take into account both the content of the message and its original sender; these factors in combination give a good rate of accurate spam detection. In many cases, as much as 90% of spam is automatically detected and flagged.
Since August 2003 the mailers have also scanned mail for known viruses; over the past year an average of about 18,000 infected messages have been detected and rejected every day. This figure is however very variable, with huge peaks when major international outbreaks occur.
Many people need to work from locations not directly connected to the Oxford network, but still have use of facilities available within the network, and OUCS supports two such remote access methods. Registration for use of these services is through a common route, and nearly 7,000 people have obtained remote access accounts. Some use them frequently, but the majority make only occasional use.
The Virtual Private Network (VPN) Service (http://www.oucs.ox.ac.uk/network/vpn/) provides a way of giving computers that are connected to the Internet but not to the Oxford network a "virtual" connection to the University network, so that they can be used to access restricted web pages and services. These restricted services include many of the library electronic resources, such as OxLIP and WebSPIRS, together with OXAM (Oxford Examination Papers Online), and various departmental and college pages.
This service is becoming increasingly popular as more people get internet access from home, and regularly achieves a concurrency of 70-80 users. It is planned to enhance this service to meet the increasing demand.
The dial-up service (http://www.oucs.ox.ac.uk/network/dialup/) provides a direct link over the telephone lines, so can be used by anyone working from home without the need for broadband access. Although it continues to be popular, the fall in usage noted last year has continued this year as shown in the figure below, presumably because of the increased broadband coverage available from commercial providers. The service will be kept under review, and line capacity reduced if appropriate.
The University decided that it would provide an email forwarding service for University Alumni (http://www.oxon.org) and OUCS was asked to develop a suitable service. The specification and implementation was carried out between the Infrastructure Group and the NSMS section of the Technical Support Services Group. In June 2004 the service was made available to all leaving undergraduates and in September leaving postgraduates were invited to join.
The HFS service (http://www.oucs.ox.ac.uk/hfs/) provides large scale central filestore services to the University community. The HFS runs IBM software named the Tivoli Storage Manager (TSM) which supports both a backup service for desktops or Departmental and College servers and a long term data repository service for the university's digital assets.
Since the original procurement of the HFS systems in 1995, a rolling programme of upgrades to the principal hardware components has kept system capacity in pace with demand. During 2003, significant funding was made available from the HEFCE Capital programme (supplemented by University funding) which enabled the first major upgrade to be made to the server, storage and network infrastructure of the system. The upgrade to the systems was planned in four main stages to take place throughout 2003, the first three of which were completed and reported on in the last Annual Report. The final stage, in 2004, was the installation of twelve IBM 3592 tape drives, which followed participation in an early-release programme.
The 3592s are the follow-on technology to the 3590s (installed first in 1995, subsequently upgraded to the current third generation with a capacity of approximately 100GB per tape). The 3592s can be used in the IBM 3494 tape library along-side the 3590s. The roadmap for the 3592 subsequent improvements foresees an uncompressed tape capacity of a terabyte (TB) on a tape by the end of the decade. The current first generation technology will write tapes of up to 300GB (uncompressed) capacity, up to 500GB compressed, typically. The capacity of the tape library, were it to be populated with 3592 tapes, would be approximately 1.5 petabytes (PB).
During the extensive hardware upgrades over the last year, the user service was maintained with only brief interruptions, and the growth in demand has continued unabated. During the summer of 2004 an additional TSM server for the Departmental/College Server backup service was introduced, taking over the backups for the very largest and most demanding of the servers.
Figure 7shows almost 60% growth in the desktop backup service over the year, measured in TB of data held on the server, and broken down by division. Figure 8 shows nearly 50% growth for server backup data, and is similarly broken down by division.
NSMS (http://www.oucs.ox.ac.uk/nsms/) has continued to expand its work steadily over the last year with the help of two new staff members recruited earlier in 2003. Detailed planning has taken place to develop services based on the VMware ESX virtual machine environment running on an IBM Blade system to provide the basis for a utility computing environment, which provides ease of implementation of new services and very high resilience to failure.
- 55% increase in income compared to the previous year;
- 17 external organisations, including colleges and associated institutions, using the service;
- 53 different University departments or sub-departments using the service;
- operation of 22 University web sites;
- operation of 6 firewalls;
- operation of 52 servers (Netware, Windows, Linux, OSX).
The Desktop Services Development Section (
http://www.oucs.ox.ac.uk/internal/strategy/tssg.xml?ID=body.1_div.1 - out of date)
supports the desktop infrastructure (both PCs and Apple Macs) for a
number of OUCS services, specifically: the IT Training Services, the
Help Centre, the majority of internal OUCS Staff PCs, the WINS
servers. They also provide anti-virus support and second level expert
technical support for distributed and local IT support staff, for
example via the PC Consultancy Service.
Four new servers were brought into service to support in an integrated way a total of nearly 300 desktop machines used by OUCS in its four lecture rooms, the Help Centre, and the staff offices. The new servers provide both Netware based filestore management facilities and an imaging facility based on a product called Altiris Deployment Server, for which a University-wide site licence has been obtained. Despite some initial problems due to its complexity, Altiris now provides very flexible facilities which greatly reduce the maintenance overhead of supporting our PC desktop systems in a reliable way.
14,000 CDs were produced and distributed to new and returning students at the start of Michaemas Term 2003 in order to deal with a serious Windows security problem that had arisen during the preceding summer. This greatly assisted the IT community in dealing with the problem and prevented what might otherwise have been a serious and disruptive compromise of the University's network.
The Personal Computer Maintenance Service (http://www.oucs.ox.ac.uk/pcms/) continues to provide a valuable service to the University. OUCS monitors callouts and reports of unsatisfactory service, and for the most part service (offered by an external company) has been exemplary. There are over 5,600 items of equipment registered. This is a significant reduction from the previous year's 7,500 total, probably caused by the removal of the free service that was available to a number of departments.
In the last year, the PC Repair and Upgrade Service (http://www.oucs.ox.ac.uk/maintenance/) dealt with a total of 171 machines: 137 repairs and 34 upgrades.
Viruses (of all forms) continue to proliferate and increase in sophistication. Only constant vigilance can prevent massive outbreaks and damage. Consequently a significant effort is devoted to support. The service (http://www.oucs.ox.ac.uk/viruses/) provided includes:
- monitoring the latest information sources for new viruses;
- involvement with beta-testing new products;
- ensuring the latest protection tools are acquired and distributed;
- keeping documentation and advice up to date;
- constantly endeavouring to raise the level of awareness of the need for vigilance;
- responding to outbreaks;
- installing the latest virus detection and eradication tools in all OUCS computers and, on request, in departmental and college computer clusters;
- recovering infected computers where necessary.
- A sales outlet for computers, printers and other peripherals, consumables, software and other products;
- An over-the-counter service for accepting cash, cheques and credit card payments for any chargeable service;
- An over-the-counter registration outlet for software licences;
- A media copying service for shop stock and other purposes.
The Shop takes advantage of the special pricing negotiated as national deals for the HE sector. In addition, it has been possible to negotiate improvements on these deals from some suppliers. The Shop also provides the vehicle for making available all the site-licensed and bulk-purchased software, with most of it on CD-ROM (media copying, for the most part, is undertaken in-house by the Media Services section). Details of all items for sale through the Shop, together with price lists, are available on the department's web pages (http://www.oucs.ox.ac.uk/shop/).
OUCS undertakes a variety of activities to make the acquisition of software (primarily) for personal computers more straightforward and less costly. The various arrangements it has made save the University over £5m a year.
19,468 software licences were issued during the year, 6,548 for Microsoft products and 12,920 other products. A full list of software agreements is provided on the web page at http://www.oucs.ox.ac.uk/sls/.
The Microsoft Campus Agreement was renewed for the fifth year. The savings on the Campus agreement have been significant compared to the alternative Select agreement: if all copies that have been registered with OUCS were to be paid for at Select rates, the cost would be over 30% more. In addition, there is the saving in staff time administering the agreement and distributing the licences and media.
There have been a number of new or renewed software agreements taken out during the year under the Software Site Licence Scheme (http://www.oucs.ox.ac.uk/sls/):
- Lift for Dreamweaver: An agreement for Lift for Dreamweaver, web accessibility software, was signed under the EduServ Grants Programme;
- NAG Genstat: The Department of Zoology signed up for the NAG Genstat agreement. The agreement and software distribution is administered by the Zoology department. NAG have subsequently sold Genstat to a third party and the current agreement will cease at the end of July 2005;
- Opera: A Site License for the Opera web browser has been taken out, this allows for the "nag" screen to be removed from the product;
- SPSS Text Analysis for Surveys Version 1: This product is now being distributed under the terms of the SPSS Agreement;
- SAS: There were some delays in a formal renewal of the licence for this software so its licence was extended to July 2004 pending completion of negotiations;
- Macromedia Fireworks & Flash: New agreement;
- CopyCatch Gold — Plagiarism Software: We currently have a licence, ending in June 2005;
- Adobe: Renewed;
- Corel Licence for Learning: Renewed;
- EndNote: Renewed;
- ERDAS Imagine: Renewed;
- MapInfo: Renewed.
- SAS: SAS is no longer available for use on the Macintosh under our site license;
- XMetal: XMetal Author is no longer available under the Corel Licence for Learning. A new version from Blast Radius Software, version 4.5, is now available from the Computing Services Shop;
- F-Secure: The agreement funded by OUCS came to an end on 31st March 2004 as OUCS felt it could not justify the expense of renewing the agreement along with the existing Sophos Anti-Virus software agreement. The F-Secure agreement was subsequently renewed by the Engineering Science department.
- Self service A3 and A4 colour and black and white printing is available via the Help Centre;
- HP DesignJet 5000: This device produces high quality A0 and A1 posters for display purposes;
- Monotype Panther Pro Imagesetter(http://www.oucs.ox.ac.uk/typesetting/): This device supports a high precision phototypesetting/imagesetting service. It outputs on film and, as well as its traditional use for high quality typesetting, it is suitable for generating precision masks and circuit diagrams for physics and engineering applications;
- OUCS also runs a high quality offset-litho printing service, including full colour printing, to OUCS and other departments. The printing jobs range from leaflets, forms and stationery up to books. A total of 718,000 impressions were made during the year.
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.
- 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 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 Related Staff||19%|
|Other Staff (Clerical, Admin etc)||21%|
|Students||46% (roughly 86% Graduate and 14% Undergraduate)|
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.
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.
- 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:
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/
- 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.
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.
- 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 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)
The Administration Group includes the Finance and Accounts, Personnel, and Buildings Management offices. Much of the work of the Administration Group is to provide support for the operating groups in carrying out their jobs. There have been some important changes throughout the year which will continue to impact on the way we operate in the future.
2004 saw the successful introduction of the University's new financial system, OSIRIS, which the Finance staff managed almost seamlessly to the extent that we, as a whole, were not unduly affected adversely by the change. It is planned to provide wider training to managers to enable them to access relevant financial information, which is becoming increasingly important as the University moves towards a full economic costing model.
Major projects this year included the refurbishment of the office which is now used by the VLE Project. This was made particularly difficult by local environmental planning considerations which had to be complied with because of the new window construction. This year also saw the completion of a secure Forensics Laboratory for use by the Security Group. Due to space constraints, serious consideration will be given to plans to develop our flat roof space at the rear of the building with a view to increasing the amount of available office space.
Recruitment continues to figure highly in the day to day work of the Group with 13 new posts being recruited this year. Our full time equivalent (FTE) staffing commenced the year at 115 and now stands at 122.
Training and staff development continued to feature highly in our activities and we are pleased to be working closely with the IAUL in introducing the Certificate in First Line Management to the first group of our Managers.
We are currently working with the University’s Personnel Services on developing new job descriptions for IT jobs within the University as part of the introduction of HERA – Higher Education Role Analysis. HERA will involve similar jobs throughout the University being graded in the same way and is aimed to simplify the grading structure by reference to “standard” duties.