6. Project Reports
The research projects running during the year from 1st August 2009 to 31st July 2010 include both longer term projects some of which have had long histories and a varied group of new projects. Some of the new projects were short pilot projects while others were more substantial.
The existing and continuing projects included: EIDCSR, LDSE, FSD, Erewhon, VIM, Open Spires, OSS Watch, Intute, Godwin, and Cascade. Projects that finished during the annual year were: Enriching the First World War Poetry Archive, Low Carbon ICT, eIUS, and Steeple. Further information on these projects is available in this report.
The funders for these projects included JISC, joint JISC and the Higher Education Academy, ESRC, the European Commission, and Leverhulme. Two European projects, CLARIN and DARIAH were moved over to OeRC as they had a better fit with their research profile.
The new projects started during this year included Sudamin and RunCoCo as well as some extension work to existing projects such as benefits realisation awards.
Income from the current and now closed projects for the year was in excess of £1,549,879 (or approximately £1,943,983 in FEC terms).
A series of bids were made to organisations which were not successful, amounting to 21 bids in all. These would have added an additional £1,377,000 approximately in funding (roughly £1,670,000 in FEC), although it should be remembered that it was always unlikely that all these bids would be accepted. Several of these bids have been re-used and have subsequently been funded. The bids also involve staff within OUCS, and their current workloads impose a limit on the amount of additional work that can be taken on.
The policy of widening the range of funders outlined in the OUCS Research Strategy has meant that more funders have been approached, but several of these bids have been unsuccessful, although some were shortlisted. Developing further expertise in applications for these funders may result in higher success rates. This wider group of funders have included the Technology Strategy Board, AHRC, EPSRC, Wellcome Trust, combined JISC/NEH/NSF bids and the HEA.
Changes to longer term funding should also be noted e.g. Intute, running for over 10 years, had its funding withdrawn causing the service to finish at the end of July 2010.
The British National Corpus (BNC) is a major linguistic resource, developed at OUCS and widely used by language learners and teachers worldwide as a unique snapshot of British English at the end of the 20th century.
During the year 2009-10, demand for the BNC increased slightly. We sold a total of 269 personal licences, and 60 institutional licences, as well as 42 copies of the "sampler" BNC Baby product. This means that for the second year running, the BNC account is running in credit.
Demand for the BNC is likely to increase further as a result of the success of a bid to the international Digging into Data project led by Professor John Coleman. Over the next two years, this project ‘Mining a year of speech’ will create an enhanced version of the spoken part of the corpus, integrating the marked up texts closely with the original audio tapes archived at the British Library.
The number of support queries handled at OUCS has remained steady, varying between 10 and 30 a month.
As part of JISC's Flexible Services Delivery programme, OUCS attracted modest funding to investigate the costing of IT services. Although our present model stands us in good stead for the purposes of reporting back to the Divisions, and implementing the 1-2-3 funding model, we wished to investigate whether the system could be improved by utilising the TRAC methodology. Throughout the year staff from OUCS worked closely with Melanie Burdett (JM Consulting Ltd) to develop a costing toolkit. The project took a step-by-step approach to costing IT services in the light of TRAC's approach to considering the full economic cost. Once the toolkit had been developed it was then test-run on three services — the Help desk, WebLearn, and the HFS, plus an instantiation of Microsoft Exchange in a college. We then fed back our findings into the toolkit for further refinement. At the point of writing the final report is with JISC.
This short project has proved to be very beneficial. Not only has it allowed us to explore a much more detailed costing model (which we will consider, if resourced, applying to all our services) but it also revealed some interesting findings. The most important of these is the recognition that IT systems are highly dependent on each other, and thus serious attention needs to be given to how the true costs of a service should be allocated. For example, if one service makes higher than usual use of another service where should the costs reside? The toolkit proposes a process to help answer this and similar questions. The toolkit also guides an IT provider through the recognition of other costs involved in services both at a local and central level, and the drivers that might be considered.
The University is required by law to manage the use of all visual display units so that the associated medical and other risks are controlled. How this is done is specifically outlined within the University Policy Statement available from http://www.admin.ox.ac.uk/safety/ups0809.shtml.
In collaboration with the Safety Office, OUCS has developed Display Screen Equipment (DSE) Assessment software. This is designed to allow users to perform a DSE self assessment without leaving their desks. Departmental assessors have access to each assessment and can review and manage the process making it more efficient and allow the assessors to spend more time with users who are experiencing problems.
The core requirements of the project were to:
- Provide a web based package to record the DSE training and assessments undertaken by both flexible and office based staff;
- To produce a certificated training and information package, in the safe use of DSE and instruct individuals to report suspected problems at the earliest opportunity;
- To enable department Administrators/DSE Co-ordinators to administer the programme in a secure manner;
- To be able to recall assessments, to act upon such assessments, and to record said information.
The software leads the user through various scenarios to give them an understanding of the risks associated with display screen equipment. It also enables them to alert their department of any problems or issues they may have with their equipment.
The software provides the University with a historical record of each users responses (required by UK law), and facilitates access to this information if it was ever needed. The software also provides statistical analysis of all responses which can influence University policy, e.g. equipment purchase decisions.
The project has already been piloted and is currently being further tested in a limited role-out to selected departments. There are no plans for further development; however, the administrative reporting section could be enhanced based on feedback from the current usage.
This training project follows on from the DSE development work previously described. OUCS was the initial Pilot group with the Safety Office, ICT, University Offices and Earth Sciences following in 2009. Initial teething problems were corrected and the programme progressed to what it is today. Further work will be considered as more Departments take it forward.
The Training for co-ordinators was written and delivered for the first time on the 11th March 2010 by Jacqui Millward (OUCS) and Brian Jenkins (Safety Office) who now administer the programme. Further presentations on the University policy provision on undertaking the web based DSE, have been undertaken throughout the University with a positive take up of the scheme.
The EIDCSR project is seeking to develop institutional infrastructure to assist researchers manage their research data. EIDCSR is working with researchers from the Department of Physiology, Anatomy, and Genetics, the Department of Cardiovascular Medicine, and ComLab who are together involved in a BBSRC-funded project to create three-dimensional models of hearts which may then be used for in-silico experiments. The process of creating the 3D models involved taking extremely detailed photographs and MRI scans of hearts, and then segmenting these images and building ‘mesh’ files upon which experiments can be simulated. This is data-intensive, generating several terabytes which needs to be securely backed-up and archived for ten years.
Besides interviewing the researchers involved in the 3D heart project to understand their data management requirements, EIDCSR has also been considering how the heart data may be understood and potentially re-used by future researchers. A major output of the project will include a system for archiving very large data on the University’s Hierarchical File Server alongside metadata describing the data and the research process behind it. Working with the Bodleian Libraries we will develop and pilot mechanisms for adding and querying the metadata, and using it to locate and retrieve datasets. The project is also working on a visualisation tool which researchers can use to easily view and annotate the very large images, to quickly view the data and to aid remote collaboration.
Whilst working closely with the researchers involved in the 3D Heart Project, it is intended that the infrastructure developed by EIDCSR will be generic and extendable enough to support future research projects from a wide variety of subject disciplines.
EIDCSR is funded by the Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC) until the end of December 2010. EIDCSR is complemented by the Sudamih Project, another JISC-funded data management infrastructure project that is looking more specifically at the needs of humanities researchers.
OUCS was a project partner on the EU-funded project ENRICH, with the aim of creating 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. The project completed on schedule with a successful review in December 2009.
The work of ENRICH has been followed-up with advice and consultation to projects in the Bodleian and Cambridge University Library on Islamic MSS, and by development of the ‘ENRICH Garage Engine’ conversion software into a trial service for Oxford (OxGarage).
Erewhon was a project funded by the JISC Insitutional Innovation Programme from October 2008 to March 2010. The aim of the project was to develop geolocation services and improve mobile access, providing an increase in the range and types of access to information in the University of Oxford for students, researchers, administrative staff and teachers. It was given follow-up funding by JISC in February 2010 for two Benefits Realization projects to run from March 2010 to October 2010:
- establishment of the software underlying Mobile Oxford as an open source project, and enhance its portability;
- work with Oxford Brookes University to produce a mobile service using the same software.
These two complementary aims have allowed considerable refinement of the system, which will be continued in 2010-2011 with a PICT project grant.
The project has concentrated since September 2009 on delivering a mobile service for the university ‘Mobile Oxford’, launched as a trial service in November 2009. This is a innovative web portal carefully optimized for mobile devices, providing all sorts of information, both academic and social, for staff and students, with a strong emphasis on geolocation and map display. The portal currently accesses a wide range of data sources and delivers, for the university, such services as contact search, exam result releases, library catalogue searching, news feeds, web cams of traffic hotspots, maps of any University resource, live transport information (from local government sources), and access to information about a very wide range of social data (restaurants, postboxes, toilets etc) from local non-university resources. In each case, where possible and appropriate, the information is geolocated and displayed on a map, and related to the users current location.
The underlying Mobile Oxford system is a web service framework which works with all net-capable mobile devices, including iPhone, Android, Blackberry, and Windows mobile. It is not a dedicated app for one type of device, but uses the web browser on the device to the best of its abilities.
The software behind Mobile Oxford has been made into an open source community project named Molly which encourages involved parties to contribute back to enhance the project further. The software can be found via http://mollyproject.org.
Erewhon has a staffing of 2 FTE within the Web Team at OUCS.
Work to firmly embed the Archive within teaching, learning, and research continued until December 2009 with “Enriching the First World War Poetry Digital Archive”, funded by JISC:
- The Archive relating to major British poets of the First World War was completed by adding extra digital images of the manuscripts of the poet Siegfried Sassoon. All content in the Archive is freely accessible for educational use under the JISC-HEFCE Model Licence and items can be downloaded and incorporated in teaching materials. The launch of the Sassoon collection (November 2009) attracted significant press, including reports by The New York Times, The Daily Telegraph, The Guardian, ITV Meridian News, BBC Oxford, and The Oxford Mail.
- The project team facilitated a series of two (two-day) workshops for teachers and others to add online tutorials, downloadable resource packs, educational podcasts and films drawing on material from the Archive to the bank of reusable learning objects, for them to use in their teaching and to share with others;
- The project team has presented about The Great War Archive at a number of international conferences including ‘DRHA09’ (Digital Resources for the Arts and Humanities, Belfast September 2009) and ‘IT and Community Collections’ (the 45th Digital Libraries Conference, Sudak, Ukraine, June 2010 – the main digital libraries conference held in the Ukraine/Russia each year).
The Great War Archive (part of the original project in 2008) created a great amount of interest in the concept of ‘community collections’, their benefits for outreach and widening participation, with Oxford seen now as one of the leading sites of expertise. See “If You Build It, They Will Scan: Oxford University’s Exploration of Community Collections”, by Dr Stuart Lee and Kate Lindsay. EDUCAUSE Quarterly Vol 32 Number 2, 2009. This was reported on widely. See “Digitisation, curation & two-way engagement”, Chris Batt Consulting, 24 August 2009. In turn this has led to extra funding for 2009-2010 to promote and develop this concept across a range of subject areas. The project now moves into a new stage — entitled RunCoCo (How to run a community collection online) — funded by JISC.
http://www.oucs.ox.ac.uk/greenit/index.xml?ID=desktop (detailed information about the service at Oxford); http://projects.oucs.ox.ac.uk/lowcarbonict/ (public project website).
The OUCS green IT initiative builds on the work undertaken during the low-carbon ICT project. The project developed tools and techniques to reduce energy consumption and costs in networked desktop computing environments. Specifically the team developed the FiDo software which can be installed on local sub-networks to provide two facilities:
- The power management monitoring service (PMM) plots a graph of how many computers are switched on at any moment; as the expression goes, ‘if you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it’. This facility helps groups to see how many devices are consuming electricity during the day and night, which in turn supports the objective of reducing the number of devices that are switched on when they are not doing useful work.
- The wake on LAN (WOL) service allows computers to be switched on remotely, which makes it possible to switch them off more often. For instance, computers don’t need to be left switched on (a) just in case users need their computer when away from the office; (b) so that the HFS service can perform a backup; (c) to avoid users waiting for a computer to boot up each morning.
More and more departments and colleges are prioritising energy efficiency initiatives as a way to reduce costs and greenhouse gas emissions. Nearly thirty units have registered a FiDo instance on their network and others are using different approaches e.g. their own in-house developments or using commercial software. This shows positive commitment to meeting the University's ambitious http://www.admin.ox.ac.uk/estates/environment/energy/sustainability targets in relation to energy and also a potentially powerful community of innovators for going forward.
OUCS has recently started a new initiative with the Estates department to improve access to electricity meter data. We are also designing a new ambitious project in collaboration with OUCE, the Anthropology department, Earthwatch and an energy company to look at ways to better support people when they want to do their bit in relation to environmental (or other common goods) issues. Our work on green IT over the last four years has identified this to be the central issue (rather than it simply being an exercise in making existing the infrastructure consume less electricity).
The Holinshed project is a joint project between English and History hosted by the Centre for Early Modern Studies. This project was working on creating a secondary handbook to Holinshed's Chronicles which exist in two editions published in 1577 and 1587 respectively and wanted online versions to facilitate their research. The RTS undertook some paid work on creating the TEI-Comparator which is a fuzzy text-comparison engine allowing the tracking of xml paragraphs (or similar granularity) between two editions. A frontend then allows the making of new links, confirmation of guessed ones, and annotation of links and paragraphs. This helped the project's research assistant to confirm the matches provided by the TEI-Comparator to facilitate the research of comparing the differences between the two editions created by the EEBO-TCP project. The TEI-Comparator software, created mostly by Arno Mittelbach, is released under GPLv3 license on the TEI-Comparator Sourceforge website. Although OUCS's involvement with the project (Arno Mittelbach and James Cummings) ceased after providing them with HTML processed from the TEI they created and then slightly later correcting a number of typos in the original transcripts they had noticed, the project is planning a second round of scholarly annotation on the editions and this work may be undertaken by InfoDev.
Intute is a free online gateway to Internet sites which have been reviewed by subject experts and provided as an easy-to-use and up-to-date reference point for students, teachers and researchers in UK Higher Education. The Arts and Humanities section of Intute is led by the University of Oxford with staff at Oxford, Manchester Metropolitan University, and the University of the Arts, London. The service is primarily funded by the JISC.
In September 2009, JISC announced that they would be significantly reducing funding for the service from July 2010. Unfortunately the new funding level necessitates the withdrawal of a number of members of the Intute Consortium, including the University of Oxford. The University of Manchester will continue to maintain the resource catalogue until the end of July 2011, whilst other Intute services such as the Virtual Training Suites and Informs will be funded until July 2011 on the assumption that they will then move to a subscription-based business model. JISC stated that when services "reach the end of their existing funding cycle it is always intended, wherever possible, that they move from being fully funded to being part-funded or fully sustained by other sources". Unfortunately in the current economic climate no realistic alternative funding model for Intute, as it currently stands, has been identified. Although the Intute catalogue will be maintained in its current state until 2011, no new content will be added. Resources will, however, continue to be checked and broken links fixed. Many UK universities have integrated Intute into their websites, and the Intute integration tools will continue to work throughout the 2010/2011 academic year, although detailed technical support will no longer be available.
Given the impending reduction in funding, much of the work conducted by Intute Arts and Humanities over the last year consisted of reviewing and updating older records to ensure that the catalogue would remain accurate and useful for as long as possible after the cessation of funding. New records have been added in subject areas that were identified as previously under-represented. In addition to this ‘core’ work the Arts and Humanities group launched nine new subject-specific resource-discovery training modules in June 2010 as part of the Virtual Training Suite. The Intute team have written a paper which details their reflections of working on Intute see: Intute Reflections at the End of an Era by Angela Joyce, Linda Kerr, Tim Machin, Paul Meehan and Caroline Williams. Ariadne, Issue 64 July 2010.
During 2009-2010, the following has been completed:
- Updates to the Internet Resource Catalogue to allow it to remain in a reasonably up-to-date state until Summer 2011;
- Continued integration of Humanities Area Studies records with Social Sciences Area Studies records to reduce overlap;
- Nine new or comprehensively updated VTS tutorials launched, covering areas such as: Architecture, Art and Design, Classics, English, Linguistics, Media and Communication, and Music;
- Introductory presentations regarding Intute and using the Internet for research to new graduate students;
- 8,149 existing records fully reviewed and updated;
- 1,642 new records added to catalogue.
The project aims to help members of the collegiate University employ best practice within information security. This is achieved by consolidating existing University policies on information security into one document and developing an online toolkit to compliment the new policy. The project receives valuable technical expertise from the OxCERT team and is guided by the Information Security Advisory Group.
The new policy will define the University's objectives for information security in line with its operational requirements and strategic plan. It will define the scope of the policy and identify roles and responsibilities for security.
The first quarter of the project has seen:
- the widening of OxCERT’s role to encompass guidance on information security;
- the recruitment of a new OxCERT team member to help with the implementation of the project and enable the widening of OxCERT's remit;
- communication with the University's IT support staff through various channels;
- a meeting of the Advisory Group to provide guidance and feedback on the project plan;
- the development of the information security toolkit within the project website.
In the LDSE project six institutions* are collaborating on an online tool that will allow lecturers to experiment with innovative approaches to the curriculum and the creative possibilities opened up by digital technologies. During 2009-2010 we developed two prototypes that tested the role of artificial intelligence – specifically, knowledge engineering – in providing adaptive support as users work through the design process. This support is underpinned by an extensive ontology of the domain of learning design, which has been informed both by pedagogic theories (including Diana Laurillard’s Conversational Framework) and by knowledge of lecturers’ design practice elicited by the Oxford team through user studies and reviews of our earlier work.
We are also working on different representational forms, including time-lines to show how learning activities unfold, and sets of nodes and links for aligning, for example, learning outcomes with activities. The theoretical underpinning means that the LDSE can analyse, and represent, a learning design in novel ways. For example, it uses the Conversational Framework to analyse the cognitive dimensions of different learning activities (e.g. acquisition, inquiry, practice) in a particular design in order to help lecturers achieve the optimal mix for their purposes. The same analytical tools additionally allow users to evaluate these properties in learning designs created by others, and thereby make speedier, and more informed, judgements about their reusability. Qualitative data from work with informant-practitioners in the spring proved encouraging, and at the end of the year the Oxford team was starting work on a theoretical framework for a more extensive evaluation to be conducted in 2010-2011.
* Institute of Education, Birkbeck University of London, LSE, Royal Veterinary College, London Metropolitan University, University of Oxford.
OUCS staff (Sebastian Rahtz and Janet McKnight) provided a new web interface in 2009-10 to the database underlying the printed volumnes of the LGPN. The LGPN is managed in a complex relational database, and we provided for them an archival XML representation using the Text Encoding Initiative schema. This resulted in a new examination of the data structures and data validity.
Using the XML format, we derived a new lightweight database and provided search and display forms. The example belows shows a display of all the record people whose status is known to be that of ‘slave’, displayed as a map.
Provision of new RESTful web service which allows for retrieval of data in XML, JSON and RDF has allowed the LGPN project to participate in the CLAROS (http://www.clarosnet.org/) classical linked data integration project.
The Modelling4All Project is developing a web-based tool designed to support teachers, learners and researchers, including those with little or no programming experience, to build, share, and discuss computer models. From within a web browser users assemble model components, run interactive simulations of their models, and analyse the results. All of this is tied together within a Web 2.0 community where models, components, guides, and tutorials are shared.
Together with Dr Robert Belshaw, Dr Nim Pathy, and Professor Angela McLean of the Zoology Department, we developed an on-line guide for biology students to build models of epidemics that spread over social networks. The students built different models of epidemics, executed the models, and collected results in a single practical session.
Together with Dr Felix Reed-Tsochas of the Said Business School we developed an on-line guide for building and studying an artificial society called Sugarscape. MBA students and MSc students with no programming experience built a series of models in from the book Growing Artificial Societies by Joshua M. Epstein and Robert Axtell. The students' understanding of the process of computer modelling was deepened by having a first-hand experience building models.
We offered an introductory agent-based modelling workshop that was open to entire university community. We co-organised university-wide meetings on agent-based modelling.
We built upon our web-based tools an Epidemic Game Maker and displayed it at the Royal Society Summer Science Exhibition in collaboration with the Zoology Department. This software permitted visitors to build models and games (models with interactive interventions to counteract the epidemic) in just a few minutes. During the exhibition over a thousand epidemic models and games were created by visitors that ranged from Royal Society Fellows to young children.
Together with Professor Harvey Whitehouse and other researchers in the Anthropology Department in the Explaining Religion Project, we are building components for constructing models of the dynamics of religions.
In April 2009, the Learning Technologies Group received national funding from the JISC and HEA for OpenSpires, a one-year pilot project investigating the release of open educational resources.
The OpenSpires project built upon the success of Oxford on iTunes U by releasing more audio and video material from Oxford as ‘Open Content’. This means that the material will be free to re-use and redistribute provided it is used non-commercially and the creator is attributed.
In its first year the project successfully established a sustainable set of policies and workflows that would allow departments from across the University of Oxford to regularly publish high quality open content for global reuse.
- Over 180+ Oxford academics and visiting speakers have contributed to OpenSpires;
- Over 400 items (audio, video, slides) are currently available as open content through http://podcasts.ox.ac.uk/openspires.html;
- Material includes complete lecture series, interviews, seminars, and panel discussions;
- Subject areas include politics, economics, environmental change, business, research ethics, medicine, physics, English, classics, art history and philosophy.
The project leveraged new popular open outreach channels such as the University video portal and Oxford on iTunesU. Through well targeted marketing and a clear communication strategy, we have helped the discoverability of the material which has lead to consistent download figures.
The material released by OpenSpires is:
- Openly available on the web;
- Free to download by anyone, without restrictions or registration;
- Promoted as free for reuse in education worldwide.
- Clearly labelled with the popular Creative Commons licence allowing reuse in education;
- Can be discovered through all University distribution channels including the web, iTunesU, the Oxford VLE and the mobile portal m.ox.ac.uk.
Open Educational Resources (OER) at Oxford University now continues past this pilot stage of the project thanks to sustainable processes and a standardised legal form for contributors.
OSS Watch is a JISC-funded 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;
- development of an open innovation strategy for software outputs.
This year saw the continuation of our strategic projects, which receive additional support from the OSS Watch team. This has been highly successful with some of our more mature projects, such as Wookie, from the University of Bolton which has attracted £700k in additional funding as well as significant code contributions from the commercial sector. Newer projects include REALISE, a new accessibility collaboration between Sheffield, Southampton, and Oxford.
In 2010 we launched the TransferSummit conference which drew attendees from across the UK and around the world. The conference focused on collaborative development of software across all types of organisation through the adoption of open innovation techniques.
We continue to publish high quality briefing notes, conference reports, and case studies covering issues such as sustainable open source development, community management and engagement, IPR management, and commercialisation of open source solutions.
Our main support activities fall into three main areas:
- Project development — project bid support; face-to-face project consultations; telephone and/or email consultations; multiple workshops; and representation at many third-party events (both national and international);
- Knowledge transfer — engagement with a institutions and services such as JISC legal, and ISIS Innovation; TransferSummit conference on Open Development, Collaboration and Innovation;
- Liason and collaboration — assisted a number of education focused organisations in their engagement with open source development, use or exploitation.
The Oxford Text Archive (OTA) collects, archives, preserves, and distributes digital literary and linguistic resources, providing repository services for researchers locally, nationally, and internationally. As well as access to the archive, scholars within Oxford can also benefit from advice and support in the planning, creation, description and use of electronic resources. The OTA works within the Research Technologies Service to support research within Oxford, and to develop the research support infrastructure.
The OTA co-ordinates a network of people working with linguistic corpora in Oxford, manages the licensing of resources for use by scholars across the University, and runs an OUCS course on methods in corpus linguistics in Hilary term.
The OTA has contributed to the University's representation at various events and forums, including the Bamboo design project with major North American institutions; the major European research infrastructure initiatives CLARIN and DARIAH; the Coalition of Humanities and Arts Infrastructures and Networks; centerNet; and the Network of Expert Centres in the Digital Humanities in Britain and Ireland. The work of the OTA was chosen as the topic for an opening keynote speech delivered to the D-SPIN summer school for early career researchers in the language technologies in Bad Homburg, Germany, in 2010.
Important enhancement work is currently being carried out at the archive by staff at the Oxford e-Research Centre as part of the CLARIN project. This will lead to an enhanced service, with greater reliability of resources and metadata, and better embedded and integrated into the University's research data management services, and interoperating more effectively with online services across Europe and beyond.
Crowdsourcing and community contribution is gaining momentum in several contexts, including academia and government. RunCoCo is a one-year JISC-funded project based at OUCS with the remit to support projects interested in the changing relationship between professional experts and ‘citizen contributors’ (outside of traditional academic life), and the value and enthusiasm that citizens can bring to creating new knowledge through new resources or their interpretation. The project started in January 2010, following on from the success of The Great War Archive initiative (part of the First World War Poetry Digital Archive). Activities RunCoCo supports include:
- crowdsourcing for academic research following models such as ‘GalaxyZoo’ to harness a community of enthusiasts to enrich an existing digital collection with user-generated content (such as classification, tags or comments). ‘Crowdsourcing’ is when a problem is broadcast to a wide audience or community that could solve the problem collectively. Mundane tasks could be outsourced to a motivated and enthusiastic community of experts. The community can assess the answers and provide the quality assurance... e.g. GalaxyZoo” from Capturing the Power of the Crowd and the Challenges of Community Collections , JISC 2010
- or online community archives like The Great War Archive.
RunCoCo is bringing different institutions together in the same landscape. What The Great War Archive did is relevant to research projects, the voluntary sector, public libraries, museums, archives etc; and RunCoCo is engaging with a number of community archives and ‘citizen cyberscience’ projects, in particular JISC-funded projects that are developing community content. Free RunCoCo workshops, (Oxford and around the UK) have attracted speakers who are leading practitioners or commentators in this field, such as Chris Batt OBE, Dr Andrew Flinn (UCL), Naomi Korn (copyright and IPR expert representing the JISC Strategic Content Alliance), Dr Chris Lintott (“Citizen Science” and University of Oxford), ‘Mog’ (Chris Morgan, digital storytelling outreach for “Communities 2.0”, George Ewart Evans Centre for Storytelling, University of Glamorgan), Brian Teeman (co-founder of “Joomla!”), and Dr Dafydd Tudur (Culturenet Cymru, National Library of Wales). The workshops have been well attended from across the target audience, the speakers worked successfully as catalysts to get group discussion going, and positive feedback has been received:
“I picked [up] some fascinating information, good contacts and new ideas.”
“A very practical day with well informed and enthusiastic speakers... Will be telling others about RunCoCo including my consulting colleagues on the current community website project I am working on. Well done and thanks.”
“I want to thank you for an excellent training day last week which you choreographed very skilfully. I benefited hugely from attending, and had many interesting and positive conversations which I am sure will continue to be of value to me and to [project name]”.
RunCoCo is collating material from the workshops and making it available together with other resources and documentation offering advice on different aspects of running a community collection online.
‘CoCoCo’, (community contributed content software originally developed as part of The Great War Archive) is being prepared for release in a generic form as open source. ‘Woruldhord’, an exemplar community collection is trialling this software and RunCoCo’s other guidelines. Dr Stuart Lee (English Faculty and OUCS) is encouraging the public and academics to contribute to ‘Woruldhord’ teaching and learning material they hold relating to the Anglo-Saxon period of British history.
RunCoCo is making extensive use of social networking tools such as Twitter and articles on the project blog, to engage with the online community and to supplement the resources the project is making available through the website.
The Google Search Appliance (GSA) is the search engine that powers many of the search boxes on the University's web pages. Currently only public documents are searchable.
Extension to Oxford-only documents was successfully trialled during January-May 2010. Since search results contain text snippets from documents, results for secure documents are only displayed to authorized readers, for example University Staff. Callers were authenticated by their Oxford username with Webauth, and authorized to view secure documents by the Oak (LDAP) directory service. Only then were search results for secure documents displayed.
We are working with BSP to offer searches of secure UAS web documents held in the awaited Version 7 of Sitemanager CMS. The methods employed in the initial trial require revision to meet BSP's requirement to restrict access to arbitrary groups, for example finance officers, in addition to the existing Oxford groups defined in Oak.
The new shared data centre is the first time Oxford University has had a purpose built data centre for use by departments and colleges for hosting their infrastructure.
It is to be located in the basement of the Oxford Molecular Pathology Institute next to the Dunn School of Pathology on South Parks Road. The current projected opening time will be the second to third quarter of 2011.
There will be space for 62 cabinets on opening, these will be arranged in 4 aisles. The aisles will use cold aisle containment to segregate cold incoming air from the chillers and hot exhaust air from the rear of server cabinets.
The centre will have a 500kW total cooling capability on opening. There will also be a piped chilled water feed into the centre for additional in-rack cooling for higher density servers. The higher density cabinets will use in-rack cooling to provide higher cooling capabilities.
We are building the centre in line with TIA942 the international standard for data centre infrastructure, with the capability to support 40 and 100Gb/s network speeds.
A secure anti tailgating portal will control access to the Data Centre. Biometric access control will require the use of a proximity card and a fingerprint to ensure cards are not swapped. The access portal uses volumetric scanning to ensure that only one person enters at a time and that person also has a valid proximity card.
Each cabinet will also have a proximity card reader so users of the data centre will have access to just their required cabinets. The centre will also have passive infrared intruder detection. By using an anti-tailgating door we can automatically disarm and rearm the intruder alarm as authorised users enter and leave.
Two UPS systems will provide power to the centre, protecting the A and B power feeds. There will be dual power feeds into each cabinet from these diverse supplies to give no single point of failure.
Power usage will be monitored to the socket level within the centre. This will be required for hosted services which require chargeback to departments and colleges.
A high pressure water misting system will provide fire suppression in the floor and ceiling. This minimises equipment damage from conventional sprinkler systems.
A Working Group will meet for its inaugural meeting at the start of November 2010. The soft-fit tender is currently being finalised and OUCS will project manage this fit out (cabinets, power bars, structured cabling, CCTV etc). The space will be handed over to OUCS just before Christmas 2010, we will then undertake load testing on power distribution units, air conditioning prior to sign off with the main contractors who will available onsite until February 2011.
The Steeple project was an institutional exemplar project across three UK institutions: the University of Cambridge, the Open University, and the University of Oxford (lead institution). The project researched and documented institutional podcasting activities. It was prompted by the recent innovative work undertaken within these universities in preparation for creation and dissemination of audio/video recordings in iTunes U. Steeple also attracted a community of practice around the development of scalable, enterprise-level solutions suitable for educational audio/video processing and delivery at scale. The project aimed to consolidate and share technical practices on the scaling of services, encoding audio-visual material, and delivering to new third- party services. The project met these aims through a community approach of sharing best practices and promoting open standards. One early outcome of this approach was a demonstrator portal acting as a video sharing service across four UK universities.
The project's innovative work led to many contacts with other institutions who were looking for advice on technical and policy issues, particularly on project management and institutional change management. This early interest led to the use of an open community wiki to document outputs. To support this growing community the project organised a large podcasting conference of over 120 delegates in April 2009 and a series of technical workshops, consultancies, online meetings and wiki sprints through an active mail list.
The project investigated institutional infrastructure needed to support university wide educational podcasting, addressing the issues of scaling from occasional high-profile content generation, through to high-volume institution-wide lecture capture, concluding that there is no one-stop single solution to all issues. Project work was done on processes that allow an institution to syndicate to multiple online audiences and hence benefit from economies of scale. The project also collaborated on video web portal demonstrators for Oxford and Cambridge and investigated syndication to mobile devices and subject portals.
The highlights of the project included:
- Launch of Oxford and Cambridge in iTunes U and the continued success of the Open University in iTunes U;
- Dissemination to over 1,000 people at more than 21 events through the life of the project;
- A unique video sharing portal demonstrator spanning 4 UK Universities allowing 7,000 talks to be searched and viewed;
- A Toolkit to help manage institutional change in audio-video activities for public dissemination;
- A community of 20+ Universities interested in the project aims.
- Over 300 wiki pages and 4 expansive handbooks on technology, processes and policy;
- Over 30 training podcasts by HE podcasting experts;
- Work with the wider international community and with Apple;
- Support for a benefits realisation project to further enhance the community.
The project ran from October 2008 to April 2010, and also succeeded in attracting a further round of funding for a Steeple Outreach sub-project (run by our Cambridge partner) as part of the Benefits Realisation programme.
The Sudamih project is working with researchers from the Humanities Division to develop Oxford’s research data management infrastructure. Funded by the JISC, Sudamih’s principal outputs are a ‘Database as a Service’ (DaaS) system, which will enable researchers to quickly and intuitively construct their own relational databases, and the development of training materials to improve researchers’ data management practices.
The project began with a requirements gathering phase that has helped illuminate humanities researchers’ current data management practices and identify those areas where training can bring the most benefits, as well as helping prioritise the development of the DaaS. The full Researcher Requirement Report may be downloaded from the project website. The project will be trialling training materials during Michaelmas Term 2010 and Hilary Term 2011, concluding at the end of March 2011. An agile approach will be taken to the development of the DaaS, with a small group of researchers from different humanities disciplines and with differing levels of experience of databases testing the new system at various points.
Although Sudamih is working specifically with the Humanities Division, it is intended that the infrastructure developed during the project will be extendable to other academic divisions in the future.
Sudamih has a ‘sister’ data management project, EIDCSR, which is also JISC-funded, but which is working with biological and computer scientists on developing other aspects of infrastructure.
Oxford is one of the five host organizations of the Text Encoding Initiative (TEI) Consortium, an international project creating detailed guidelines and XML schemata for the encoding of texts.
The editorial support team at Oxford (Lou Burnard, Sebastian Rahtz, and James Cummings) have guided and implemented the decisions of the TEI Technical Council, and prepared releases of the TEI in November 2009, February 2010, and July 2010. These staff are also elected members of the TEI's Board of Directors (LB) and Technical Council (SR and JC).
A summer school with nearly 30 participants was offered in Oxford in July 2010, and members of the team presented and taught aspects of the TEI at many other events and institutions.
Working through the RTS, staff have given assistance on text-encoding to Oxford University projects in History, Politics, English, Classics, and the Bodleian Library.
A great deal of work on use of the TEI as a ‘pivot format’ in electronic publishing took place during the year, notably on conversion to and from Word's OpenXML format (funded by ISO Central Secretariat) and on conversion to ePub format. Software from the ENRICH project was enhanced and developed locally by a summer intern (Lukáš Platinský) to produce OxGarage (http://www.oucs.ox.ac.uk/oxgarage/), a web-based document conversion service for all manner of TEI and other XML formats.
OUCS staff (Sebastian Rahtz and Janet McKnight) completed two further stages of work for the Central Secretariat of the International Standards Organization (ISO) in 2009-2010, on the management of standards documents.
A new Word template for ISO standards, with accompanying round trip transformations to and from a special variant of TEI XML, with associated schema and tools, was created. The work done here on understanding the XML markup inside Word's .docx format, and expressing it against hierarchical and semantically richer Text Encoding Initiative, has benefitted from, and enriched, work for OUCS in general on managing documentation.
The ISO translations and validations are provided to their users by a web service; this is similar to the work done for Oxford as OxGarage.
UCISA, the Universities and Colleges Information Systems Association, is a membership organisation representing those responsible for delivering information management systems and technology services in universities, colleges and other institutions. UCISA is hosted by OUCS.
UCISA membership is institutional and there is almost 100% coverage within the higher education sector. UCISA’s main aims are to promote best practice through events, awards, and publications. UCISA represents the interests of its members through lobbying, responding to consultations, building relationships with other groups, and by contributing to various committees and working parties.
UCISA ran 25 events last year. These ranged from one-day seminars on, for example, enterprise architecture, research management systems and IT training skills to subject-specific conferences for directors of information services, heads of corporate information systems and user support staff. The third leadership forum for senior IT managers was held in April.
UCISA was delighted to be involved in the prestigious Green Gown awards for the first time this year. UCISA co-sponsored the ICT category with the JISC (the Joint Information Systems Committee).
UCISA represented the community in discussions with a number of Government departments and agencies during 2009-10. The implementation of the points-based immigration system continued to be a key topic during the year, with UCISA representing the interests of higher and further education institutions, as well as suppliers of student records systems. Interest in shared services remained strong. UCISA is on the steering group of the MIAP (Managing Information Across Partners) programme and has worked closely with the JISC on their Flexible Service Delivery programme.
Finally, UCISA responded to a number of consultations on behalf of the community including HEFCE’s carbon reduction strategy, the Research Excellence Framework proposals and JISC’s strategy for 2010-12. UCISA also commented on the consultation for the Digital Economy Bill and on the subsequent Act that was passed, and continues to work with Ofcom on the implementation of the Act.
The WebEx trial started in November 2009, with 200 free accounts from WebEx and a grant to cover call costs from PICT.
A number of publicity events resulted in 161 accounts being used across the university. Over the eight months trial period there was a total of 566 meetings with 1389 attendees.
Every month questionnaires were sent out to ask for feedback about the experience of WebEx and these results are being collated into a final report.
Mid-July the trial came to an end, and it was decided to move the trial to a service on a cost recovery basis. The existing users and other interested parties were asked if they wished to join the service and there has been a steady stream of users joining and using WebEx. Promotion continues to go on to inform people about the service and to offer demos to interested parties.
The WebLearn Survey tool (formerly ‘Evaluations’) was piloted in the year from June 2009, with a group of 56 early adopters. The WebLearn team created training materials and ran three workshops, which helped the pilot participants to learn how the tool works, to create their own surveys, and to provide feedback to the project team. A WebLearn site was created for the pilot project — this provided support materials on using the tool from both pedagogical and technical perspectives.
The pilot project was completed in July 2010, resulting in the release of the Beta version of the Survey tool. During the pilot, bugs, requests, and comments were logged which helped to improve the tool, based on user feedback. The pilot project achieved its intended objectives:
- The tool has been improved;
- WebLearn and the survey tool have been publicised;
- A three-hour training course has been developed;
- Standard survey templates have been developed in conjunction with Jared Hutchings.
You can find more information about the tool here:
Undergraduate and taught-course postgraduate students currently have to submit summative written work (coursework) in hard copy to the Examination Schools, for coursework submissions managed by the Student Administration section. This hard-copy submission model presents a number of academic and administrative challenges, several of which may be addressed by online coursework submission and administration.
In order to investigate the utility and feasibility of a centrally provided online submission model, the Student Administration section has, during Hilary and Trinity Terms 2010, piloted the online submission and administration of coursework, using out-of-the-box WebLearn functionality (the Assignments tool).
The pilot project was judged to be a success and it has been decided to run a second pilot phase in the 2010-11 academic year.
[Text adapted from a report by Deb Saunders of Student Administration.]
The WebLearn team has been working closely with the University Skills Group (USG — formerly the Graduate Skills Advisory Group) to move the former ‘Online courses’ (now called ‘Career Development Skills’) into new WebLearn. The courses were previously hosted within a different VLE service (provided by Continuing Education) which required a special username and password.
In addition to being moved to WebLearn which is protected by Oxford Single Sign On credentials, the courses have been updated to the latest versions. They now employ the WebLearn Tests tool for quizzes and the Survey tool for users to provide feedback. The conversion was a major piece of work which involved not only programming changes to Sakai tools, but also integration with the existing content packages.
There are 14 courses covering Avoidance of Plagiarism, Career Planning, Conferences, Entrepreneurship, Ethics, Intellectual Property, Project Management, Publishing, and Managing Your Supervisor.
Although the courses are aimed at graduate students and researchers, they are available to all Oxford users. Access them via the Skills Hub link on the WebLearn Welcome Page (then select Research Skills Toolkit), or go to this direct link: https://weblearn.ox.ac.uk/portal/hierarchy/skills/generic .
The courses are available via the Skills Hub link on the front page or at: https://weblearn.ox.ac.uk/portal/hierarchy/skills/generic.
The William Godwin's Diary project is a project in the Department of Politics and International Relations. This Leverhulme-funded project has been working since October 2007 to provide an online scholarly research site for William Godwin's Diary. RTS involvement has consisted of James Cummings providing training (in TEI XML, Subversion, etc.) and technical support for the project as well as creating their final website. The project finishes in October 2010.
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.
New releases of the system appeared in August 2009 and August 2010. The latest, version 1.26, has been revised for 64-bit compilation, and also includes an experimental version of a new web-client, written in PHP. Two further releases are planned for next year. The web pages for the project on Sourceforge have been revised and brought up to date.