4. Project Reports

OUCS attracts around £1m in external grants each year from bodies such as the JISC and Research Councils. These allow us to pursue important development and research projects of key importance to the future direction of the University, which we otherwise would not have had the funding to do. We also offer assistance to faculties and departments who wish to pursue funding applications with a considerable IT element. In this final section we present short reports on some of the projects we have led.

4.1. Accessing and Storing Knowledge

http://ask.oucs.ox.ac.uk/ask/index.php/Main_Page (out of date)

Accessing and Storing Knowledge (ASK) is a JISC-funded project due to be delivered in May 2007. The ASK project will develop a pilot repository service allowing users to store digital resources, e.g. reading lists and PowerPoint slides, in their own private area or 'briefcase'. By using this briefcase, users are able to finely control how they share each resource. For instance, an academic will be able to publish a discussion paper for anyone to find using Internet search engines (e.g. Google), whereas only a small number of peers are able to gain access to other resources, such as scientific data sets stored in the same briefcase. Interoperability is a key necessity of software development, as any new services must work with existing university repositories.

A pilot reading list service has been developed in conjunction with ACDT and has now been released and can be viewed at: http://flounder.oucs.ox.ac.uk/mdc2/ (out of date)

During the last year the following milestones have been achieved:

  • delivered the federated search service;
  • delivered the Shibboleth-compliant authentication service;
  • delivered the authorisation service;
  • delivered the group service;
  • delivered the reading-list management service.

Future project activities include:

  • building compliance with the federated search 'SRW' interoperability specification;
  • building compliance with the open archives 'OAI' interoperability specification;
  • build the user interface (CSS, JSP and Struts model);
  • linking the Shibboleth authentication service with the ASK Authorization and Group services;
  • demonstrate the finalised repository system to members of the University;
  • publicise the project findings through appropriate academic journals.

The project team is working closely with academics, librarians and students across the University to achieve the project goals.

4.2. British National Corpus


The BNC is an internationally famous 100-million word language corpus, representing the state of the English language as of the end of the twentieth century. OUCS has been responsible for its maintenance and distribution since 1994.

Work on converting the corpus from its original SGML format to a more up-to-date XML format was completed this year, and enabled us to undertake a substantial amount of work on correcting significant errors in the corpus, and on introducing additional linguistic markup to improve its usability. This work was largely completed by July, and we are now testing the new version of the corpus with a view to a complete new release by the start of 2007.

4.3. CLIC


The CLIC (Community Led Image Collections) national scoping study, sponsored by the JISC, reviewed the growth of community-owned digital image collections. It surveyed the socio-cultural, institutional and technical barriers owners face in image collection building and made recommendations on how national initiatives could help in sharing and embedding the collections within the wider national FE and HE sectors. The study comprised:
  • overview of current community image collections;
  • selection of community image collections to use as case studies;
  • survey of owners and users of community led image collections;
  • A two-day conference at Oxford exploring issues;
  • evaluation of the positioning of community collections relative to national and commercial alternatives;
  • key recommendations for technical implementation infrastructure.

Dissemination was to the JISC Image Working group and the related communities in a series of staged self-contained reports, culminating in a final recommendation document.

4.4. Constructing2Learn


Constructing2Learn is a project funded by the JISC Designs for Learning Programme. The 18-month project began in May 2006. The project aims to build and evaluate software and learning designs to enable university students to build computer simulations and games within their field of expertise. Oxford University academics in the zoology and a sociology departments are collaborating with us as domain experts. The software prototype consists of:

  • an interface for composing program fragments;
  • a component that generates and runs NetLogo models (http://ccl.northwestern.edu/netlogo/);
  • a code fragment browser component;
  • an interface to the forthcoming version of LAMS (Learning Activity; Management System http://www.lamsinternational.com/) to support the creation and execution of learning designs involving scientific model creation.

4.5. e-Science and e-Research in Oxford


The goal of e-Research is to facilitate better, faster, different research using a new type of computing infrastructure, often known as the grid. Grid middleware enables distributed computing resources to be linked and shared securely. The Oxford e-Science Centre was formed in 2001 and evolved into the Oxford e-Research Centre (OeRC) in 2006. The OeRC is a new unit within the Mathematics and Physical Life Sciences Division. The University funded the posts of Executive Director and Campus Grid Manager and began the construction of a dedicated building. The 2000 m2 'e-Science Laboratory' will be completed in December 2006, and will house the OeRC and other e-Science related activities.

The OeRC is one of four dedicated nodes within the UK core e-Science programme's production National Grid Service (http://www.grid-support.ac.uk/). A campus grid has been created which uses spare compute cycles from up to 1000 PCs across the University. This has become an important resource for some researchers within the University. Information is available at: http://www.oerc.ox.ac.uk/facilities/oxgrid.xml (out of date).

Within Oxford, the OeRC is becoming an important facilitator for interdisciplinary research, and for close collaboration with industry.

The OeRC has teamed up with the Oxford Internet Institute to create an exciting new centre within the James Martin 21st Century School - the e-Horizons Institute. Information is available at: http://www.e-horizons.ox.ac.uk/.

4.6. Evaluation of Shibboleth and PKI for Grids


The Evaluation of Shibboleth and PKI for Grids (ESP-GRID) project is funded by JISC to investigate whether and how Shibboleth offers solutions to issues of grid authentication, authorization and security. A further general aim is to investigate the requirements of grid security and whether (and how) the acceptance of Shibboleth assertions for access controls could be used within existing PKI based grids. Another focus is whether Shibboleth can contribute towards an interface between existing information environments and grid computing environments. The project began in August 2004 and is due to complete most of its work by June 2006.

The project began by analysing future requirements for grid computing with respect to security and access management. The project attempted to capture previously documented requirements and draw up a newer set, bearing in mind the need to expand the use or benefits of grid computing wider than highly technical computer scientists. A short thesis was written on the merits of Shibboleth and PKI for Grids. We also looked at virtual organisations (VOs) and reviewed the technologies available for (access) policy management in grids and in the information environment. The project out sourced the development of the Shibboleth-enabled grid demonstrator to the National e-Science Centre at Glasgow and this work was completed successfully. The project will report in Autumn 2006 and in January 2007. During the Autumn of 2006, there will be a mini-project conceived as a follow up to the main project and utilising some of the main project's under-spend. This will look at usability issues for grids and the types of new users who may become involved.

4.7. Humbul Humanities Hub (now Intute: Arts and Humanities)


After over 20 years of operation Humbul has regenerated itself once more and, together with Artifact, is now fully assimilated into Intute: Arts and Humanities. Intute, a new free national online service, was launched in July 2006, reflecting a complete overhaul and reorganisation of the Resource Discovery Network (RDN), of which Humbul was a part. The core business of Intute, like the RDN, is to facilitate access to the best of the web for education and research.

Intute: Arts and Humanities, is a national service which employs a distributed network of subject specialists to find and review websites suitable for research and study within the arts and humanities. Intute is funded by the JISC and Intute: Arts and Humanities also receives funding from the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC).

Achievements during 2005-2006 include:

  • celebrating the twentieth anniversary of Humbul, (started December 1985);
  • establishing a 'virtual team' for Intute: Arts and Humanities, led by the the Research Technologies Service, Oxford University Computing Services (OUCS) in partnership with Manchester Metropolitan University Library;
  • achieving more than 11,600 publicly available reviews of humanities websites by May 2006. We continue to concentrate on the quality of our collection through review, prioritization, and ensuring we highlight the 'best of the web' for each subject area;
  • improving our collection by the revision of existing catalogue records of online resources (especially in subject areas such as archaeology, literature, languages, area studies, philosophy, religion and theology);
  • revising five Virtual Training Suite tutorials on the Internet for Philosophers, for Religion and Theology (merging these two tutorials), for Historians, and for Modern Languages. A new tutorial for Archaeology was published during the summer of 2006;
  • publishing four booklets which highlight key websites for English, History, Modern Languages, and Archaeology. Print-runs of 3,000 each have been distributed and we also published online versions;
  • receiving positive feedback from users, not least in response to the replies to helpdesk queries and the distribution of subject booklets;
  • leading a cross-Intute study to discover how the service can better support research. This work has been very successful with good response to the initial user survey, and work towards a requirements report progressed at the end of the period;
  • developing the MyIntute service based around social/informal/collaborative principles and technology sometimes referred to as ‘Web 2.0’;
  • highlighting freely available peer-reviewed online journals across the humanities and the websites of AHRC-funded projects through the publication of two discrete collections.

A more detailed annual report for Humbul is available from http://www.humbul.ac.uk/about/reports.html.

4.8. Learning Design Projects




Two JISC-funded LTG projects which were started during 2005 reached completion in Spring 2006: a study of lecturers' use of generic tools in authoring learning activities, and an investigation of the use of LAMS and Moodle to design and disseminate support for study skills in East London schools (jointly with the University of Greenwich). The first of these has fed directly into the new JISC Design for Learning Programme, in which the LTG is actively involved in two projects. These are: Constructing2Learn (see separate section) and the design and development of a practitioner-focused pedagogic planner tool intended to guide teaching staff in designing effective technology-mediated learning activities (joint project with TALL).

Dissemination activities associated with the projects have included conference presentations and collaboration on a chapter for a forthcoming edited book on learning design.

4.9. National Grid Service

http://www.oerc.ox.ac.uk/facilities/ngs/ (out of date)

Following the transition of the Oxford e-Science Centre into the Oxford e-Research Centre (OeRC), the National Grid Service (NGS) is now operating as part of the OeRC. This enables the service to work more closely with OxGrid, the University Campus Grid, and with OSC, the Oxford Supercomputing Centre. The Oxford NGS cluster is accessible via OxGrid interfaces which provide University of Oxford users with a single interface to OxGrid resources across the University and to wider NGS resources across the UK. The number of NGS users has doubled (206 users in July 2005, 402 users in July 2006). A total of 134400 jobs have been run over the year (Aug 2005 to Jul 2006), consuming 913,633 CPU hours. This represents 81% utilisation for the 128 CPUs in the cluster. The National Grid Service partner integration activity has continued with other institutions donating resources to the Grid. In the past year, two additional sites have joined. There has also been discussion with partners who have different types of service offerings including dynamic service hosting, visualisation, access to data sources and repositories.

4.10. OSS Watch


OSS Watch is a JISC-funded national advisory service on free and open source software. JISC's open source policy, to which OSS Watch made a substantial contribution in drafting, was published in September 2005. During 2005-6 the staff complement was 3.2 FTE.

In April, OSS Watch held a three-day international conference in Oxford on Open Source and Sustainability. OSS Watch also participated in numerous conferences and workshops, notably Online Educa Berlin, SocialSource, Open Source VLEs: The Next Generation, AoC Nilta Annual Technical Conference, RSC Northern Ireland annual conference, Institutional Web Managers Workshop, UKUUG spring conference, and the annual Oxford IT Support Staff conference.

More than 20 briefing notes were published on the OSS Watch website during the year. Of special note is a series of five briefing notes on the most frequently used open source licenses.

In February and March, OSS Watch undertook fieldwork for the OSS Watch Survey 2006, the report from which was launched in July. During 2005-6, OSS Watch assisted OUCS in streamlining its procedure for staff contributing to open source projects. In August 2005, the OSS Watch website was substantially redesigned.

4.11. Oxford Text Archive



The Oxford Text Archive (OTA) was founded in 1976, and in 2006 is celebrating thirty years of collecting, distributing, and preserving electronic texts from institutions and scholars worldwide.

The OTA hosts AHDS Literature, Languages and Linguistics, one of the subject centres of the Arts and Humanities Data Service, and is funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) and JISC. In this capacity, the OTA plays a key national role in advising academics in literary and linguistics subject areas on the technologies and methods involved in creating electronic resources, and continues to build a digital repository of literary and linguistic resources.

AHDS Literature, Languages and Linguistics works in close collaboration with the AHRC, advising applicants to research grant schemes on technical aspects of their proposals, and assessing the applications. The AHDS offers its services as part of a coordinated provision for computing in the arts and humanities in the UK, in association with Intute Arts and Humanities, the AHRC ICT Methods Network, the Arts and Humanities e-Science Support Centre (AHESSC) and ARIA.

In the past year AHDS Literature, Languages and Linguistics ran a two-day conference 'Corpus Approaches to the Language of Literature' in Oxford, and a pre-conference workshop on the same topic at at the annual conference of the Poetics and Linguistics Association, in Joensuu in Finland. OTA staff participated in international academic conference, symposia and workshops around the world, promoting good practice in the creation and use of electronic resources in literary and linguistic research and teaching.

4.12. ShibGrid: Integrating NGS into the Academic Framework

http://www.oerc.ox.ac.uk/activities/projects/index.xml?ID=ShibGrid (out of date)

ShibGrid is one of the projects funded by JISC in 2006 as trials for Shibboleth-based access to the National Grid Service (NGS). It aims to develop a prototype system that will allow NGS users to access NGS facilities securely through the Shibboleth-enabled authentication mechanisms employed by their institutions. In addition to the existing 'medium assurance' access for current NGS users (via their 12 month e-Science certificate), 'lower assurance' certificate access and 'access not requiring certificates' will also be enabled by the project. It is expected that this project will provide a key component within the road map of security implementation within the JISC Infrastructure Programme and UK e-Science Core Programme.

The project is running in partnership with the Oxford e-Research Centre and the Council for the Central Laboratory of the Research Councils (CCLRC). Staff from the RTS is involved with the project planning and assisting with portal work and the setup of the local Shibboleth infrastructure.

To July 2005, the project had created tools for the upload and download of proxy certificates and had also developed Shibboleth-based access controls into the NGS portal. The next stages are to cover the rest of the expected user scenarios and develop systems for using temporary low-assurance certificates. The project needs to engage with communities of test users and to cycle code development so that the outputs (code and documentation) can enter production and be easily maintained. The project began in April 2006 and is due to finish in March 2007.

4.13. Shibboleth Aware Portals and Information Environments (SPIE)

http://spie.oucs.ox.ac.uk/ (out of date)

The SPIE project aims to demonstrate how and to what degree middleware standards such as Shibboleth and PERMIS (another authorisation system) can be used to secure web-based applications, with a focus on enhanced portals and portlets. This project has deployed Shibboleth at the University of Oxford as a 'real life' test-bed environment and investigated its potential to assist in facilitating access to resources on both local and remote services. In practice, this enables users from other universities to securely authenticate to Oxford resources without the need for a central access management system, as well as allowing Oxford's users seamless access to remote resources, making use of the existing Webauth single sign-on system.

Over the past year, SPIE has created reusable security components that allow tight integration between Shibboleth and Java applications, as well as tools that allow the management of privacy policies and to configure access controls. SPIE has collaborated with other related projects such as the Sakai VRE and Shibgrid projects (investigating secure research collaborations) or the WebLearn team. The outcomes from the project demonstrate the usefulness of a federated identity management system within Oxford, both for access to external resources (e.g. those currently protected by Athens) or even for secure access to on-line resources within the collegiate University.

4.14. Text Encoding Initiative (TEI)


Oxford is one of the four host organizations of the TEI Consortium, an international project creating detailed guidelines and XML schemata for the encoding of texts.

Our main role in the past year has been to bring the TEI Guidelines closer to a release of P5 (the next release of the TEI Guidelines ), due at the end of 2006. We have continued to develop work flow tools, and contribute to provide substantial input to the sections on linking, names and dates and manuscript description. The following staff from the RTS have worked on the TEI:

  • Lou Burnard (European editor of the TEI): Guidelines development and teaching
  • Sebastian Rahtz: infrastructure tools, publication stylesheets, Roma schema interface (http://www.tei-c.org.uk/Roma/), and teaching
  • James Cummings: teaching and the TEI wiki

A two-day course on the TEI was offered through the ITLP in February 2006, and staff offered papers and teaching at international workshops in Sofia, Wurzburg, Paris, Kyoto, Montreal, Forli and Besancon.

4.15. TReCX


TReCX (Tracking and Reporting in e-Learning ConteXts) was a six-month JISC-funded project which started in March 2006 as part of the most recent round of 'Toolkits and Demonstrators'. Two major scenarios of tracking and reporting are to analyse how much a given resource is being used, and to assess an individual's use of a number of resources over time. In a world where people are increasingly utilizing loosely connected groups of tools (such as wikis, blogs, assessment tools, etc) in order to deliver a course there needs to be some way of recording the actions of users within those tools and making this information available. Such tools may maintain their own stores of tracking data or may not retain this information at all. This project was concerned with creating artifacts that cover a number of scenarios, including enabling applications that do not currently maintain their own tracking stores to publish events to an external store, and deriving interfaces for applications with their own store to be queryable by reporting applications.

The software modules produced by the project were as follows:
  • /publish/ - enables an existing application to send events to a tracking store.
  • /store/ - a web-application that can store tracking events.
  • /reporting/ - a library to assist in the creation of applications that need to query one or more tracking stores.

The interfaces between the modules were defined as simple RESTful web services (XML over HTTP with PUT and GET requests). The implementations were written in Java.

4.16. UCISA


UCISA is the Universities and Colleges Information Systems Association. UCISA represents those responsible for delivering information systems and technology services in universities, colleges and related institutions. UCISA's main aims are to promote best practice amongst its members through events, awards, publications and a network of contacts, and to represent the interests of its membership through lobbying, responding to consultations, relationships with other groups and taking part in appropriate working groups and committees.

UCISA ran sixteen events last year. These ranged from one day seminars covering subjects as diverse as voice over IP (VOIP), job evaluation and public relations, to three three-day conferences for Directors of Information Services, Heads of Corporate Information Services and User Support staff. UCISA published the second edition of its Information Security Toolkit which provides template policies and procedures to help institutions comply with the BS 7799 British Standard on Information Security.

UCISA represented the community in discussions with a number of Government departments over 2005-6. These covered the introduction of digital television, the Terrorism Act, and the introduction of Shared Services. In addition, UCISA responded to consultations on the HEFCE Strategy, the JANET Service Level Agreement, and a review of the Leadership Foundation for Higher Education. Finally, UCISA worked with the Leadership Foundation to develop a programme targeted at potential leaders of information services in order to fill these mission-critical positions within Higher Education institutions.

4.17. Virtual Research Environments


OUCS, through the RTS, is participating in three JISC-funded virtual research environment projects. The Integrative Biology VRE (IBVRE) and the Building a VRE for the Humanities (BVREH) projects have focused on establishing the requirements of the research communities they serve, and both published initial user requirements reports in November 2005. The IBVRE Project, which is led by Comlab with the project manager located within the RTS, is building a VRE to serve the needs of the cancer and heart modelers within the Integrative Biology consortium. The project has undertaken activities within two key strands: deploying the portal and project management infrastructure to support the Integrative Biology consortium and performing a deep analysis of the research process. As part of the latter process, workshops were held at Tulane, Washington and Lee universities to assist the design of an in silico experiment repository. The BVREH Project was successful in obtaining additional funding to develop a pilot virtual works place for the study of ancient documents. Matthew Mascord, the IBVRE Project Manager, is a co-investigator on this demonstrator project.

The RTS is also contributing the Sakai VRE Demonstrator project, led by Lancaster. During this period, the project has investigated: the integration of the Shibboleth access management protocol with the Sakai software; deployed a test installation of Sakai; and undertaken a requirements analysis for the federated searching and resource discovery within a Sakai-based VRE.

4.18. Xaira Project


XAIRA (XML Aware Indexing and Retrieval Architecture) is an open source XML indexing system developed at OUCS, for use with the British National Corpus or any other large collection of XML texts.

This year, we have produced four further major releases of the system and completely revised the internal query language. Release 1.19 was made available on Source Forge in June.

A web-based delivery system using the system has been developed for the Clay Sanskrit Library and the software has been demonstrated at a number of conferences and workshops in Europe and Japan.

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