4. Project Reports
Bridging the Interoperability Divide (BID) is a collaborative project led by OULS in partnership with OUCS and the Oxford eResearch Centre (OeRC). The aim of the project is to provide interoperability between the Oxford University Research Archive (ORA) and other repository services, in particular Weblearn and the OeRC’s OxGrid Storage Resource Broker. In this period OUCS has focused on enabling the creation of reading lists via a search facility in WebLearn, and the provision of an OAI-PMH (Open Archives Initiative Protocol for Metadata Harvesting) resource discovery interface.
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. Last 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. Distribution of that version began in March 2007, with a special offer for existing subscribers.
During the year covered by this report, distribution of the BNC has continued, with 250 copies sold worldwide. In addition, OUCS staff (Lou Burnard and Ylva Berglund) have given one day workshops on its use at a number of conferences worldwide.
BNC Baby, a four million word extract from the complete corpus, has also continued to be very popular, particularly for teaching purposes. A new edition of this product was produced at the end of the year.
The Core User Directory (CUD) Project, operating under the aegis of ODIT, is developing a pilot directory service which provides a minimal set of attributes and a unique identifier for any individual who has a defined relationship with the University. Currently, various, disparate systems across the University store data about individuals, without any coherent information flow. OUCS is building on the experience of the Registration and Oak LDAP services to deploy a pilot system. During this reporting period OUCS seconded a member of staff who worked in collaboration with a member of staff from BSP to define the existing processes and requirements. A facilitated workshop in May 2008 assisted in refining and scoping the project further. The work of the project is directed by the CUD Working Party, with representation from across the collegiate University.
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. During this period the project published a detailed scoping study which includes a description of the project’s methodology, and a number of use cases (or scenarios) that summarise, in narrative form, the real-life use of e-infrastructure in various subject areas. The project has also actively contributed to the definition of service usage models within the research domain. The project is funded until March 2009, by which time a substantial number of interviews with researchers will have taken place, and a body of use cases published. The project is one of three projects funded by the JISC within its Community Engagement strand and is undertaken in partnership with the National Centre for e-Social Science (NCeSS) in Manchester.
OUCS started work in December 2008 as a project partner on a EU-funded project called ENRICH. RTS staff working on this are Lou Burnard, James Cummings, and Sebastian Rahtz.
The objective of the ENRICH project is to create a base for the European digital library of cultural heritage (manuscript, incunabula, early printed books, archival papers etc.) by integration of existing but scattered electronic content within the Manuscriptorium digital library. This will be achieved through enriching metadata, and coordination of heterogeneous metadata and data standards.
- creating a profile of the Text Encoding Initiative schema, with documentation and training materials, for manuscript description;
- writing a conversion system to TEI from records created under an earlier initiative, MASTER;
- assisting with OAI harvesting, and relationship between TEI and other metadata standards.
We reported back on progress to project partners at meetings in Prague, Copenhagen and Reykjavik, and have now finalised the details and documentation of the schema.
Groupware is software which helps users to work collaboratively within groups, and includes: email, on-line calendar, shared documents, workflows, web pages, shared contact lists and on-line collaborative tools.
The importance of a Groupware solution for the collegiate University was identified in the IT Strategic Plan (http://www.ict.ox.ac.uk/strategy/plan/plan.xml?ID=S5), cf Paragraph 250: ‘the University will need to review, as a matter of urgency, its Groupware solution (e.g. an integrated email, calendaring, scheduling, and messaging system). It is also clear that sectors of the University require a Groupware solution to be supplied, and there is a need for an online environment to help embed post graduate students.’ The Director of IT was asked by the University to establish the requirements for a Groupware solution for the collegiate University, and to coordinate the deployment of the subsequent Groupware service.
A high priority throughout the Groupware exercise has been to engage the collegiate University and to make all processes, documentation and decisions accessible. (Full documentation is available at: http://www.ict.ox.ac.uk/odit/projects/groupware/.) The initial step was to engage a wide cross-section of users to determine collaborative IT requirements for staff and students at Oxford.
- an email system confirming to current industry standards and including a rich set of features;
- a contact list facility which is searchable, exportable, importable, and shareable;
- a calendaring and resource booking system, supporting sharing of data and synchronization;
- a shared data repository enabling individuals and groups within the University to store, retrieve, and maintain documents flexibly and securely across different platforms.
Much time and effort was input by both OUCS members and others from across the University to reach this point. The next phase is to implement the recommended solutions; this will be driven forward by OUCS, but reporting back to the Project Board which represents the collegiate University. It is hoped that migration of users from Herald will take place over the summer of 2009.
The Low Carbon ICT project is funded by the JISC to run from October 2007 for 18 months. The project is a collaboration between the Oxford e-Research Centre (OeRC), the Centre for the Environment (OUCE) and the Computing Services (OUCS). The aim is to develop a new service provided by OUCS that supports colleges and departments in managing their desktop computers, reducing electricity costs, and minimising the CO2 emissions that result from the use and manufacture of desktop computers.
To achieve this the project team is developing a system that allows end-users and IT Support Officers to switch computers on remotely. With this facility in place it will be possible for heads of departments and colleges to encourage staff and students to switch computers off each evening. This is currently not advisable because occasionally patches need to be installed overnight, and some people need to get access to files on their desktop computer (for instance when they are away at a conference). To satisfy these requirements computers are normally left on.
In terms of cost savings, computers left on throughout the year consume about £50, while with effective power management this figure is likely to be £15 per year. This cost saving is most sensitive to the price paid by departments and colleges for a kWh of electricity.
- a simulation that allows members of departments and colleges to estimate the savings they could make with respect to financial costs and CO2;
- advice and guidance on how to set up a system of metering that can be used to validate and monitor progress against what has been predicted using the simulation;
- technical support in terms of a service that allows individual and groups of computers to be woken on request;
- policy advice in terms of supporting staff and students in minimising the impact of their computers on the environment and reducing electricity costs.
OSS Watch is a JISC-funded innovation support centre. We provide advice, guidance and support to UK Further and Higher Education wishing to engage with open source software development and use. 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 for open source projects;
community engagement in open source projects;
technology transfer guidance for institutions; and
profiling the level of uptake and development of open source software in Further and Higher Education.
In the last year we have published over 25 documents, including fully researched briefing notes, interviews with key open source leaders (including Richard Stallman, the ‘father’ of Free Software), conference reports, and case studies. These publications have covered issues such as sustainable open source development, community management and engagement, IPR management, and commercialisation of open source solutions.
Our support activities fall into three main areas:
- Project development
- 19 face-to-face project consultations; over 50 telephone and/or email consultations; a conference on procuring open source at the institutional level; 10 smaller focused workshops (4 specifically for Oxford); and representation at over 20 third-party events (both national and international).
- Knowledge transfer
- engaged with a significant number of institutions directly (including Oxford) plus engagement with services such as JISC legal and ISIS Innovation.
- Liason and collaboration
- assisted 29 organisations education focused in their engagement with open source development, use or exploitation (including Research Services in Oxford).
Finally, at the end of this period we secured increased funding for a further two years and have begun working towards becoming a fully sustainable support centre for projects both here in Oxford and nationally.
The Oxford e-Research Centre (OeRC) works with research units across the whole of Oxford University to facilitate the use and development of innovative computational and information technology in multidisciplinary collaborations. OUCS works closely with OeRC via a liaison officer and via a number of initiatives, shared projects, and joint management structures. The most important projects in which the two departments are currently collaborating are Bridging the Interoperability Divide (BID). Low Carbon ICT, e-Infrastructure Use Cases and Service Usage Models (eIUS), and the UK Research Data Survey (UKRDS). Less formal collaborations are also taking place to develop e-Research projects involving the Humanities, and to build digital infrastructures and tools for Humanities research.
The Oxford Text Archive (OTA) is one of the main architects of CLARIN, a European infrastructure project committed to establishing a research infrastructure for language resources. CLARIN is part of the European Roadmap for Research Infrastructures (which now includes the social sciences and the humanities for the first time) and is funded by the European Commission as a preparatory phase infrastructure project. This project is all about preparing a plan for constructing a research infrastructure that will remove the many technical, legal, and administrative barriers with which potential users of electronic language resources are faced today. The OTA is the UK representative for CLARIN, and aims to be one of the pillars of the proposed network of service centres.
At the national level in the UK, the need for services and infrastructure to support research in the Humanities is not so well recognised by funders. For a dozen years the OTA hosted the centre for literary and linguistic computing resources as part of the Arts and Humanitities Data Service (AHDS), with funding from the JISC, and in latter years from the AHRC. The AHRC and the JISC ceased support for the AHDS in March 2008, and the AHDS has ceased to exist. However, the Oxford Text Archive continues to archive, preserve, and distribute literary and linguistic resources. Building on numerous current projects and strong links with many academic communities, the OTA is looking forward to a vigorous future in the expanding areas associated with digital resources and infrastructures. The OTA will continue to exist within OUCS as a source of advice, help, and expertise with digital projects in the Humanities, and as a digital repository for research data in literary and linguistic areas. The OTA will continue to co-operate and collaborate with other research archives in the Humanities, and with centres of expertise in the digital humanities in the UK.
The JISC-funded XCRI project developed data formats for the eXchange of Course Related Information. The pilot project funded at OUCS completed its work on schedule in October 2007 and reported on its experiences at a JISC workshop. The XCRI Implementation Models Report (June 2008) (http://www.jisc.ac.uk/media/documents/programmes/elearningcapital/ximfinalreport.pdf) reported that OXCRI seemed to be the most successful project in terms of implementation. Helped by a very high level of technical knowledge and understanding, the project was able to implement the use of XCRI for aggregation of data between internal systems, to produce a new skills portal for the University, and to create a new value-added service combining XCRI courses data with Google maps.
The Podcasting project was established in April 2008 with the aim of allowing departments and colleges to serve podcasts — RSS feeds of audiovisual material — through a single standards-based web portal. The Information Services Team and LTG Services have worked closely together to develop the technical and procedural infrastructures required to facilitate this, including:
- developing the existing OXITEMS service to support the creation and editing of RSS feeds with audiovisual content;
- setting up a limited service where departments can store audiovisual material if they lack local resources to do so;
- establishing a workflow for the submission, review, and publication of podcasts;
- building a framework for reviewing podcasts prior to publication and flagging any problems of quality or content (in the trial stage of the project, this moderation was carried out by members of OUCS);
- producing guidelines on recording, editing, and publishing audiovisual material;
- running numerous training and dissemination events to develop the podcasting initiative throughout the University.
There has been a good initial takeup of this service, with all divisions and many colleges being well represented in the material available for download. Demand for this project has been considerable, and OUCS is seeking funds to turn this into a proper service.
The Pretty Good Privacy (PGP) project was established in 2006 with the aim of addressing the issue of secure transmission of sensitive documents via email, especially exam papers in preparation. At present exam papers are not allowed to be transferred by email according to the regulations (under the Governance of the Proctors). Following an initial trial at OUCS and the Faculty of Law, permission was granted by the Proctors Office to run a full working trial of PGP Universal Server to offer email encryption.
PGP Universal Server has now been installed and a number of problems with the software have been resolved to the point where we can continue with the trial.
For the purposes of the trial:
OUCS will be running PGP Universal Server allowing central management of keys, policies and software;
volunteer departments have been identified, and training will be offered to the relevant IT support staff;
those departments will be provided with 10-15 licences for PGP Desktop which will run on either Windows or Mac OS;
the volunteer departments will then identify users to trial the software and report back on any findings.
Phoebe was a collaboration between the Learning Technologies Group and Technology-Assisted Lifelong Learning (Department of Continuing Education). Its brief was to build a tool to guide practitioners working in post-compulsory learning (FE, HE and ACL) in designing effective and pedagogically sound learning activities. During this year we completed development of our second prototype tool and evaluated it with experienced practitioners, as well as trainee lecturers, at workshops in Oxford, Greenwich, Brighton, Swansea and Birmingham. The project attracted much interest both in the UK and worldwide, with teachers and researchers contacting us from as far afield as the USA, Brazil and Australia.
The project team continued to work closely with a parallel project at the London Knowledge Lab (Institute of Education), and bid successfully with the LKL and four other institutions for a 3-year, £1.5million project funded under ESRC/EPSRC TEL-2 programme to develop a Learning Design Support Environment. The project will be led by Professor Diana Laurillard and will start on 1 September 2008.
The First World War Poetry Digital Archive project commenced in April 2007, funded by the JISC Digitisation Programme. 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 contain 4,000 items of primary source material (poetry manuscripts, letters, service documents etc.) from some of the major British poets from the First World War including Wilfred Owen, Isaac Rosenberg, Edward Thomas, Robert Graves, Vera Brittain, and Roland Leighton. This will be supplemented by a comprehensive range of multimedia artefacts (photographs, audio and video) from the Imperial War Museum, and a set of specially developed educational resources.
In addition the project ran The Great War Archive initiative between March and June 2008, inviting the general public to submit digital copies of any items they held originating from the Great War via a special website and at submission day events. This received local and national press coverage, and in total over 6,500 items were submitted. This collection will be made freely available to all alongside the Poetry Archive.
In summary the project’s activities over the past year have been:
cataloguing of digital objects to be included in the archive;
QA of metadata;
running the event Teaching WW1 Literature;
development, dissemination, and management of the Great War Archive;
development of the Digital Archive Website with browse and search functionality;
development of the Path Creation Scheme (a tool to allow users to create online presentations and tutorials from the items in the archive);
development of educational resources (tutorials, podcasts, integration of Intute);
completion of the first round of user testing.
Over the past year the project has continued to establish links with various other individuals, groups and institutions to help in the promotion of the project, and has, prior to its launch, already presented at a number of conferences. Podcasts have been made of a series of relevant lectures, events, and interviews with public figures, and made available on the project website and iTunes.
The First World War Poetry Digital Archive will be launched on 11 November 2008 to mark the 90th Anniversary of Armistice and will be freely accessible to all for non-commercial use in teaching, learning, and research. On its launch the archive will contain all collections and resources outlined in the original bid; however, due to its publicity, a number of other literary Estates have agreed to have their primary resources included in the archive (Ivor Gurney, Edmund Blunden, and David Jones). Furthermore, the project has been successful in receiving further funding from the JISC Digitisation programme to digitise the manuscripts of Siegfried Sassoon and work with Web 2.0 technologies to visualise the archive data in new and innovative ways to aid teaching, learning and research. This will extend the project until October 2009, by which point the archive will contain in the region of 16,000 digital items and a wealth of resources and tools for the study of the First World War and the literature that it inspired.
The aim of this three-year project has been to develop an ICT-based system for the assisted compilation and open distribution of European teenagers’ talk in the context of language education. The project has compiled spoken corpora for seven European languages and is now making these available in text, sound, and video format, together with language learning exercises based on the corpora. Tools, methods, and techniques developed for the project are also made available to facilitate future creation and use of similar corpus resources.
This year, OUCS has focused on the creation of the English corpus and corpus-based learning materials. 20 interviews have been recorded, edited, and transcribed and then annotated to facilitate exploration in a pedagogical context. A few hundred sample exercises have been developed based on the corpus, illustrating how the corpus and annotation can be explored in different language learning contexts. Information about the project and the available resources has been disseminated at a series of international conferences.
The project, which concludes on 31 September 2008, 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 the University of Murcia, Spain.
The Scoping Digital Repository Services for Research Data Management project is funded by the John Fell Fund through the ODIT. The project employs a Research Coordinator, based in the OeRC, who reports to the Head of Infrastructure Systems and Services, OUCS and the Keeper of Special Collections (Associate Director), Bodleian Library. The overall aim of the project is to document data management practices within the Oxford research community and to capture the requirements for future services to support data management, curation and preservation. The project has organised a workshop on research data management and published the Findings of the Scoping Study and Research Data Management Workshop.
Thema is part of JISC’s Learner Experiences of E-learning programme and is investigating how Master’s students at Oxford University use digital technologies in their academic and social lives. We have had a busy year, working with 22 full- and part-time students from courses in Education, Neuroscience, Immunology, Archaeology, and International Human Rights Law. They reported their experiences via an email correspondence with the research team over the first 7-8 months of their courses and then met with us for a face-to-face interview. We have also collected survey data from over 40 other students on these courses.
Initial findings suggest an enormous variation in students’ expertise in, and use of, digital technologies. For example, although most Master’s students appear to arrive in Oxford reasonably adept in their use of technology (e.g. over 90% have laptops), a small minority do not, and with heavy workloads lack the time to learn even essential tools such as PowerPoint and Excel. Students’ attitudes towards institutional provision — e.g. expectations that lecture notes and PowerPoint presentations should be uploaded to WebLearn, and that lectures should be podcast — and their insightful views of the benefits and drawbacks of using technology in their learning will, in due course, be fed into parallel initiatives within the University to promote teachers’ engagement with technology in their teaching.
We have given a number of talks and presentations within OUCS, and in July hosted a highly successful ‘Round Table’ for the five projects within the University that are investigating aspects of learners’ experience of digital technologies.
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.
The main achievement of this year was the release of TEI P5 version 1.0 on 1 November 2007. Two more bug-fixing and enhancement releases were made in January and July 2008. Oxford has 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 to the end of 2007; now editorial support to TEI Council): Guidelines development and teaching;
Sebastian Rahtz (Oxford representative to TEI Board of Directors): infrastructure tools, publication stylesheets, Roma schema interface (http://www.tei-c.org/Roma/), and teaching;
James Cummings (elected member of TEI Technical Council): project work, teaching and editorial assistance.
Two- and three-day courses on the TEI were taught by one or more of the above at the University of Maryland (October 2007), Poznan (December 2007), Taiwan (March 2008), Belgrade (June 2008), and Oxford (July 2008). Lou Burnard contributed to a one-day workshop on preservation of language resources at the LREC conference in May, and gave a one-day invited TEI workshop in Nice in April. Other conference presentations were given in Germany, Ireland, the USA, and Finland.
Working through the RTS, staff have given assistance to University projects in the departments of History, Politics, English, and Classics, and to the Bodleian Library’s Shakespeare Quarto project.
In April 2008, the TEI @ Oxford team started a project with the central secretariat of the International Standards Organisation to define a TEI profile for authoring ISO standards, and to develop tools for conversion to and from word-processor formats.
Over the last year, the VLE team has been developing two separate systems: the pilot WebLearn Beta service (based on the Sakai CLE) and, to a lesser extent, the current WebLearn service (based on Bodington VLE).
Enhancements to the current service have included a few bug fixes and user requests, as well as the introduction of new services to allow content and user group information to be moved to the upcoming new service.
Enhancements to the pilot service have centred on configuration, adding functionality to replicate facilities already available in the current service, services to aid the interoperability between the old and new WebLearn services and adding features that have been requested during user pilots or are required due to the unique nature of Oxford University.
Examples of work undertaken include: using the latest version of Sakai (v2.5 released in Spring 2008); translation of many tools to UK English; the introduction of a hierarchy service; provision of facilities necessary for content migration; and improvements in accessibility and general bug fixes.
The VLE team members have also concentrated on evaluating and familiarising themselves with WebLearn Beta.
A comprehensive Accessibility study with associated recommendations was undertaken (in conjunction with the ACDT and the Disability Office) and appropriate actions were taken.
A series of pilots have also been conducted: an early-bird phase ran from January 2008 to May 2008, which was followed by approximately 30 year-long pilots (of varying intensity) covering the areas of Teaching and Learning, Administration, and Research. In addition, a handful of ‘heads-up’ seminars and several training workshops have been held which between them have attracted over 200 attendees.
The Universities and Colleges Information Systems Association (UCISA) 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 fourteen events last year. These ranged from one day seminars covering subjects as diverse as innovation in communications through to desktop and applications virtualisation, to three multi-day conferences for directors of Information Services, heads of Corporate Information Services, and user support staff. During 2006-07 UCISA commissioned a new course targeted at technical staff with responsibility for services which aimed to help them better engage with their stakeholders. The course ran for the first time in the spring. UCISA has also formed a group to look at the leadership requirements of heads of services. The first in what promises to be an annual series of leadership events ran in January.
UCISA published a Best Practice Guide on Innovations and Communications, highlighting the approaches Information Services departments employ to communicate with their customers. Additionally UCISA issued guidance on the options available to institutions for access management and carried out a survey on technology enhanced learning. The results from this survey will be published in the second half of 2008.
UCISA represented the community in discussions with a number of Government departments and its agencies during 2007-08. Shared Services continues to top the agenda with UCISA being represented on the HEFCE Shared Services Advisory Group and taking part in discussions with suppliers. UCISA is also involved in discussions with the Home Office on the introduction of the new points based immigration system, and is on the steering group of the MIAP (Managing Information Across Partners) Programme.
Finally, UCISA responded to a number of consultations on behalf of the community on various topics including the student support regulations (DIUS), procurement (HEFCW), and the JANET Service Level Agreement.
XAIRA is a text searching program originally developed at OUCS for use with the British National Corpus (BNC) and subsequently revised as a general purpose open source XML search engine, usable on any corpus of well-formed XML documents.
During this year, we have put effort into enhancing the usability of the system’s PHP interface, so that it can act as a backend to web-based clients tailored to the needs of specific projects. The test vehicle for this development has been a major new online bilingual corpus of the Sanskrit classics. In addition, we have developed some new training materials, available from the project’s website.