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


The JISC-funded Accessing and Storing Knowledge (ASK) project was completed in April 2007. The project successfully created a pilot repository system that demonstrates the integration of open standards within the repository domain. The system allows students, tutors, and librarians to create and share reading lists using federated library searches, as well as store files that can be accessed through the Internet.

We have secured further funding for a follow-up project called Bridging the Interoperability Divide (BID). The new funding will allow the project team to work with Oxford eResearch Centre (OeRC) and Systems and e-Research Service (SERS) to continue implementing interoperability specifications between learning, library and e-science technologies.

4.2. Bridging the Interoperability Divide

The Bridging the Interoperability Divide (BID) project received funding from April 2007. The project, led by OULS in partnership with OUCS and OeRC, is building interoperability between three digital repository systems: Fedora (OULS), Storage Resource Broker (SRB) (OeRC), and ASK/Sakai (OUCS). The creation of a joined-up set of repository applications will support workflows between e-science research, academic publishing, and learning support. The project is focussing on a selection of repository services including:

  • Metadata harvesting (e.g. harvesting metadata from SRB to Fedora);

  • Federated search (e.g. to discover relevant resources);

  • Access management (e.g. Shibboleth across organisational boundaries);

  • The use of persistent identifiers.

The project is contributing to the planned migration of Weblearn from Bodington to Sakai, and is part of a wider set of activities under the aegis of the Oxford Digital Repositories Steering Group.

4.3. British National Corpus (BNC)


The British National Corpus (BNC) is a major linguistic resource, developed at OUCS and still widely used by language learners and teachers worldwide, as a unique snapshot of British English at the end of the 20th century. This year we completed a complete revision of the corpus, converting it from SGML to XML, reviewing and revising several aspects of its encoding, and correcting some long standing errors. Production of this new edition was carried out by Lou Burnard and Ylva Berglund, with input from many BNC users worldwide.

Distribution of the new version began in March 2007, and within four months we had distributed nearly 300 copies in over thirty countries under the terms of a new licence.

4.4. Constructing2Learn

http://dfl.cetis.ac.uk/wiki/index.php/Constructing2Learn Constructing2Learn is a project funded by the JISC Designs for Learning Programme. The 18-month project began in May 2006. The project has built and is evaluating software and learning designs to enable university students to build computer simulations and games within their field of expertise. Oxford University academics in Zoology and the Said Business School have collaborated with us as domain experts and are testing our software with their students. We have developed student handouts that provide detailed instructions for building models of artificial societies and the spread of infectious diseases.

The software prototype consists of:

  • An interface for composing program fragments;

  • A code fragment browser component;

  • A library of program fragments capable of being assembled into serious models of animal behaviour, epidemics, ecologies, and economies;

  • A component that generates and runs NetLogo models (http://ccl.northwestern.edu/netlogo/);

  • An interface to LAMS 2.0 (Learning Activity Management System — http://www.lamsinternational.com/) to support the creation and execution of learning designs involving scientific model creation.

This research will continue for another two years within the Modelling4All project funded by the Eduserv Foundation.

4.5. e-Infrastructure Use Cases and Service Usage Models


The e-Infrastructure Use Cases and Service Usage Models (eIUS) project aims to gather and document concrete evidence of how e-infrastructure is, or is planned to be used as a facilitator of the research process across all major disciplines, in order to broaden participation in the use and future development of e-infrastructure services. The project's overall objectives are to:

  • develop a deep understanding of the e-Infrastructure services that are currently available in the UK, as well as how they are used by the research community in all major subject disciplines;

  • establish a self-sustaining community process to contribute to this shared understanding during and beyond the lifetime of the project;

  • contribute to the International e-Framework Initiative whose primary aim is to facilitate technical interoperability within and across education and research through improved strategic planning and implementation processes.

The project received funding from the JISC in April 2007 and, during this period, has developed a methodology for the gathering of usage data and the construction of narrative use cases. The project is led by OUCS in collaboration with the e-Horizons Institute and National Centre for e-Social Science (NCeSS — University of Manchester).

4.6. Frockle


Building on the successful introduction of MyWebLearn personal spaces in the institutional Virtual Learning Environment (VLE), the Frockle project’s overall aim was to provide a means of:

  • creating personal profiles;

  • discovering other users' profiles and personal spaces;

  • linking to other personal spaces and resources within the VLE.

This was achieved by integrating Friend of a Friend (FOAF) capabilities into WebLearn, and making use of the eProfile toolkit developed by the University of Essex. A graphical interface is provided to allow easy navigation and creation of linked users as a social network. User profiles are stored in a separate database and accessed via web services, allowing the potential for other applications to re-use the profiles.

The project was funded by JISC as a toolkit demonstrator project in the e-Learning frameworks and tools programme, and additional funding was granted to allow the enhancement of the original toolkit to accommodate our requirements.

4.7. Oxford e-Research Centre


On 15th June 2007, the Vice-Chancellor attended the official opening of the new e-Science Building at 7 Keble Road, and the formal launch of the Oxford e-Research Centre (OeRC).

The OeRC is a major initiative to stimulate and support new forms of research across the whole of Oxford University, by enabling the use and development of innovative computational and information technology in multidisciplinary collaborations. The Centre is strongly linked to the UK's national e-Science programme, and national and international collaborations ensure that activities here at Oxford are aligned with e-infrastructure developments nationwide and abroad. The OeRC works closely with OUCS to develop new computing facilities, projects and collaborations. OUCS and the OeRC participate jointly in the eIUS and BIDS projects.

The many innovative projects involving the OeRC can be seen at http://www.oerc.ox.ac.uk/activities/e-ResearchProjects.xml (out of date).

4.8. OSS Watch


OSS Watch is the JISC funded project providing advice and guidance to UK Further and Higher education wishing to engage with open source software. OSS Watch has been hosted by OUCS since its inception in 2003.

In the last year, OSS Watch has focused on the following key activities:

  • Producing content on issues relating to open source software;

  • Development support in open source projects;

  • Technology transfer guidance for institutions;

  • Profiling the level of uptake and development of open source software in Further and Higher education.

We have published 27 documents on the OSS Watch website during the year ranging from briefing notes to conference reports and case studies. These publications have covered issues such as sustainable open source development and effective engagement with open source projects.

Our support activities fall into two main areas:

  • Project development — 25 face to face project consultations, over 50 telephone and / or email consultations, running a community development workshop held in Oxford, attendance at numerous external events;
  • Knowledge transfer — engaged with 18 institutions directly (including Oxford) plus engagement with services such as JISC legal and ISIS Innovation.

Other significant activity has been the study of development practices within JISC projects with reference to the JISC open source policy and our first automated study of software (in this case inbound mail servers) deployed within HE and FE. Such studies, alongside our bi-annual national survey, inform our future support efforts.

Other important activities include:

  • Events within Oxford such as Isis Innovation workshops, Online and Offline Survey Methods, Copyright and Online Resources, Choosing a Linux Distribution, Open Source for the Keen Photographer, Single Source Publishing with Apache Forrest;

  • The adoption of a Client Relationship Management system for internal management of our support activities;

  • The creation of Simal, an open source, RDF based project catalogue registry which utilizes outputs from the Apache stable of open source products.

4.9. Oxford Text Archive



The Oxford Text Archive celebrated its 30th anniversary in 2006, and in September held a one day conference on the history and future of electronic text archives and the state of humanities computing at OUCS. The conference combined celebration of past achievements, a touch of nostalgia, a critical appraisal of the current landscape, and a lively discussion of future possibilities. Presentations can be found online at http://ota.ox.ac.uk/OTA30/ (out of date).

New accessions to the collections of electronic resources this year displaid an enormous variety from a revised version of the Corpus of Sumerian, a new edition of Chaucer's Prologue to the Canterbury Tales, the Lancaster Newsbooks Corpus (of fascinating 17th century news pamphlets), and corpora of modern language data, including a corpus of French research articles, and one of academic spoken English. Among numerous outreach activities, the OTA participated in workshops at the annual PALA conference in Kansai Gaidai Japan, and at the Corpus Linguistics 2007 conference in Birmingham, to promote the use of electronic resources in literary studies, and ran a workshop on electronic text encoding at the International Medieval Congress in Kalamazoo, Michigan.

4.10. OXCRI


The JISC-funded XCRI project developed data formats for the eXchange of Course Related Information between computers, and specifically, a prototype Course Advertising Profile (CAP).

When complete, CAP will enable institutions in Further and Higher Education to advertise their courses to careers advisers, school leavers and adult learners using regional and national web services.

The OXCRI project was funded by JISC to test the nascent XCRI-CAP schema against a diversity of course types:

  • Examined and non-examined courses offered by the Department of Continuing Education to the general public;

  • IT training courses for staff and students offered by OUCS;

  • Courses for research students and staff advertised by the Skills Portal managed by the Careers Service.

These courses have a range of learning methods (entirely online, assisted by online resources and face to face), and a range of learning outcomes (technical training, continuing professional development, diplomas, degrees and postgraduate degrees).

We found little difficulty in automatically encoding course overviews in CAP and sending these to JISC's trial web server. The OXCRI project has recommended significant improvements to the trial CAP schema. We have enhanced the CAP schema with Schematron rules to implement business logic, and demonstrated how nested elements drawn from different schemas (CAP, Dublin Core, XHTML) can be validated using the recent ISO NVDL (Namespace-based Validation Dispatching Language). Since Continuing Education runs courses across Oxfordshire, we have also mapped CAP data to the KML format of Google Earth and Google Maps to enable prospective students to quickly find which courses are available where.

4.11. OxShibboleth

OUCS has deployed a production Shibboleth service which will enable Oxford users to access, amongst other things, resources currently protected by the external Athens service. Shibboleth is an international access management protocol based on a federation of trust model and designed to enable the use of institutional single sign-on systems to access online resources managed by other organisations within the same federation.

From August 2008, Shibboleth will replace Athens as the preferred route to JISC-licensed resources (though Athens will continue as a subscription-based service for those institutions who desire it). Shibboleth is increasingly the protocol of choice within the e-science domain and for national access management regimes (e.g. Switzerland).

The OUCS production service, for which the technical implementation was completed in the last quarter of this period, built on the experience OUCS had gained through a number of JISC-funded Shibboleth projects. The implementation was undertaken in consultation with OULS and is expected to be formally rolled out to users from January 2008, though it is now possible to use an Oxford username to access most Athens-protected resources. The second phase of the project will focus on providing support for Oxford resource providers who wish to enable access to users based at other institutions.

4.12. The Phoebe Pedagogic Planner Project


Phoebe is a collaboration between the Learning Technologies Group and Technology-Assisted Lifelong Learning (Department of Continuing Education). Its brief is to build a tool to guide practitioners working in post-compulsory learning (FE, HE and ACL) in designing effective and pedagogically sound learning activities. The key objectives are to:

  • Develop a prototype online planning tool that will offer users both flexible and guided paths through the planning process and encourage them to explore new approaches and tools in their pedagogy;

  • User-test the planning tool for functionality and usability;

  • Investigate the integration of the planning tool into pedagogic practice by trialling it in teacher-training and staff-development contexts.

Phase 1 (May 2006-February 2007) focused on developing a proof-of-concept prototype. In phase 2 (March 2007-February 2008) we are working on a more full-featured tool for evaluation with practitioners.

Dissemination activities have included presentations at Alt-C 2006 and CAL’07, and participation in an international pedagogic planning 'round table' at the London Knowledge Lab in July 2007.

4.13. First World War Poetry Digital Archive


The First World War Poetry Digital Archive (FPDA) project commenced in April 2007. The FPDA will contain primary source material from some of the major British poets from the First World War. This will consist predominantly of manuscripts and letters from five poets, plus contextual information such as images, video and audio. It will also innovatively show how these can be embedded in teaching, include facilities to help researchers and lecturers personalise their interactions with the site, and open the archive up for remote deposit via its Community Collection. So far the project has focused on:

  • Selecting, placing orders for, and cataloging the digital objects;

  • Securing formal usage agreements with the literary estates and holding institutions;

  • Establishing a metadata schema, and designing the technical architecture of the archive;

  • The object repository software CONTENTdm has been chosen as the content delivery system.

The project has also established links with various other individuals, groups and institutions to help in the promotion of the project, in particular the community collection. Podcasts have been made of a number of relevant lectures, events and interviews with public figures and made available on the project website and iTunes.

The project is working closely with researchers, teachers and lecturers of First World War Literature to design supporting educational resources and tools, ensuring that the archive is firmly embedded within practice. During the coming year we will be running a workshop entitled 'Teaching WW1 Literature' to discuss various aspects of teaching practice in the genre, including the use of digital resources.

This project builds on the Virtual Seminars for Teaching Literature Project which was funded by the JISC under the JTAP scheme for (1996-98) and is widely used in schools, FE colleges, and for University teaching and research. The new archive will be launched on the 90th anniversary of the Armistice on the 11th November 2008.

4.14. SACODEYL: System Aided Compilation and Open Distribution of European Youth Language


This is a three-year project which aims to develop an ICT-based system for the assisted compilation and open distribution of European teenager's talk in the context of language education. The project will compile spoken corpora for seven European languages and make these available in text, sound, and video format, together with language learning exercises based on the corpora. A further aim of the project is to facilitate future creation and use of similar resources by making available the tools, methods, and techniques developed for the project.

The project is supported by the European Commission within the Socrates/Minerva scheme (http://ec.europa.eu/education/programmes/socrates/minerva/index_en.html) and brings together researchers from seven European institutions, led by University of Murcia, Spain.

This year, OUCS has produced the XML-schema that will be used for the corpora. We have also co-ordinated the collection of the English corpus material which is now being transcribed and annotated. The next phase sees the creation of a set of language learning exercises and dissemination of corpora and other resources.

4.15. Exploring the Experiences of Master's Students in Technologically-Rich Environments


Exploring the Experiences of Master's Students in Technologically-Rich Environments (Thema) project is part of JISC's Learner Experiences of E-learning programme. This project is investigating how Master’s students at Oxford University use digital technologies in their academic and social lives. We believe that students at this level are of interest because of their heterogeneity in terms of age, educational history and life situation. Starting from the assumption that they come to Oxford with an existing set of IT skills and technological tools at their disposal, we are investigating:

  • Whether – and how – students’ use of such tools changes during their course, through contact with the tools provided by the University and tools which they find out about in other ways;
  • Students’ perspective on the use of technology by teaching staff;
  • The extent to which students are using ‘social software’ and whether they feel these tools might have a role to play in their studies;
  • Whether it is possible to characterise the ‘effective’ use of technology to support learning, and how such knowledge might help students develop appropriate strategies.

The project is using online surveys to gather broad-brush quantitative data, triangulated by qualitative data in the form of 10-12 case studies. The case studies will be constructed from written contributions solicited from October 2007-May 2008 and follow-up interviews.

4.16. Text Encoding Initiative


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

Our main role in the past year has working on the P5 version of the TEI Guidelines, with a confirmed release date of November 1st 2007. We have provided the main editorial input, maintenance of all the tools, and project management. 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 2007, and staff offered papers and teaching at international workshops in Wurzburg, Kalamazoo, Dagstuhl, Montreal, and Nancy.

During the year we hosted two visiting researchers for the TEI: Carmen Arronis Llopis (University of Alicante) and Ioan Bernevig (University of Nancy).

4.17. VLE Service: New Features and Strategic Enhancements


The VLE Development team are currently at the early stages of making long-term strategic improvements to WebLearn. The incumbent VLE is based on the Bodington System (http://bodington.org) but we intend to replace this with a new framework known as Sakai (http://sakaiproject.org). The rationale for the change is that Bodington usage and development in the UK is dwindling and we simply do not have the resources to maintain and develop the software on our own.

Sakai already has lots of features which match or better Bodington's current functionality. In addition, with the support of the international community, we are in the process of transferring the 'best bits' of Bodington into the Sakai framework; things like the hierarchy, groups service, and devolved administration. This means that over the last year resources have been moved away from developing WebLearn (Bodington) into developing a replacement Sakai service.

Some new facilities have been added to WebLearn including the provision of two new tools. The first is a peer marking tool which allows each member of a group to assign and moderate marks for each other. The second new tool provides a basic Collaborative Authoring Environment known as EasyWriter. This allows an HTML document to be generated by individuals or teams and provides locking and change tracking. A screen shot is shown below:

EasyWriter editing screen shot
Figure 16. EasyWriter editing screen shot

Other, smaller improvements include the merging of the quick link and external link tools; the streamlining of the process of resource creation including input validation; the networking of resources that share the same keywords; and the introduction of a high-class WYSIWYG HTML editor (FCK Edit) with image upload capabilities.

As indicated above, a lot of work has gone into the preparation of a Sakai service. Information regarding the future of WebLearn can be found via: http://www.oucs.ox.ac.uk/ltg/vle/; specifically there is a wiki (http://wiki.oucs.ox.ac.uk/weblearn/) which can be browsed by all interested parties. This includes links to our plans and the work currently being undertaken. A test implementation of Weblearn Beta is available for evaluation at http://beta.weblearn.ox.ac.uk/.

The Sakai replacement VLE screen shot
Figure 17. The Sakai replacement VLE screen shot

4.18. Virtual Research Environments


OUCS, through the Research Technologies Service, has been actively involved in a number of projects funded under the JISC Virtual Research Environments (VRE) Programme. The first phase of the Programme ended in this period, and OUCS completed its contributions to the Building a VRE for the Humanities (led by Professor Alan Bowman, Humanities Division); the development of a VRE for the Integrative Biology (IB) pilot e-Science project (led by Professor David Gavaghan, Computing Laboratory); and the SAKAI VRE Portal Demonstrator project (led by Professor Robert Crouchley, Centre for e-Science, University of Lancaster). The final report for the IB VRE project is available at http://www.vre.ox.ac.uk/ibvre/IBVRE-FinalReport-1a.pdf.

The Humanities Division, led by Alan Bowman, was successful in obtaining funding for a subsequent phase of the Building a VRE for the Humanities project, focusing on the development of a VRE for the study of documents and manuscripts (see http://bvreh.humanities.ox.ac.uk/), to which staff from OUCS continue to provide expertise.

4.19. UCISA


UCISA is the Universities and Colleges Information Systems Association, and is hosted by OUCS. 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 eighteen events last year. These ranged from one day seminars covering subjects as diverse as Getting The Best From Customer Feedback (which was run at OUCS) to Service Oriented Architecture, to four multi-day conferences for directors of Information Services, heads of Corporate Information Services and advisory services and distributed IT support staff.

UCISA published the third edition of its Information Security Toolkit which provides template policies and procedures to help institutions comply with the international standard on information security (ISO27001:2005). In addition UCISA published the third edition of its Best Practice Guide on Exploiting and protecting the network.

UCISA represented the community in discussions with a number of Government departments and its agencies during 2006-7. Shared services was top of the agenda with the Cabinet Office actively promoting the introduction of such services right across the public sector. UCISA was also prominent in discussions with HESA, UCAS and the Student Loan Company on systems changes.

Finally, UCISA responded to a number of consultations on behalf of the community on various topics including the Commons Select Committee inquiry on the Bologna Process, student support regulations (DfES), procurement (HEFCE) and the European Credit System for Vocational Education and Training (DfES).

4.20. XAIRA


XAIRA is the name of the latest version of SARA, the text searching software originally developed at OUCS for use with the British National Corpus (BNC). This new version has been entirely re-written as a general purpose XML search engine, which will operate on any corpus of well-formed XML documents.

To accompany the BNC XML Edition we produced a new release of Xaira, with several new features designed to take advantage of the rich XML markup in the corpus. Like previous versions, this release (version 1.23) is distributed under an open source licence from the sourceforge site. Further enhancements, designed to improve the PHP interface, are expected to be completed later in the year as a part of the Clay Sanskrit Library project.

Up: Contents Previous: 3. Service Reports