Table of contents
- 1. A letter from the Director of IT
- 2. Introduction to Oxford University Computing Services (OUCS)
- 3. Executive Summary
- 4. Strategic Issues and Development
- 5. Review 2009-10
- 5.1. University Network
- 5.2. Herald Mail System
- 5.3. Access Management Services
- 5.4. Nexus Service
- 5.5. Hierarchical File Server
- 5.6. IT Security
- 5.7. Help Centre
- 5.8. Registration Services
- 5.9. Information and Support Group Development team (InfoDev)
- 5.10. Info-web
- 5.10.1. Web statistics
- 5.11. The Research Technologies Service (RTS)
- 5.12. WebLearn (Virtual Learning Environment) Service
- 5.12.1. Usage Statistics
- 5.13. WebLearn courses and guidance
- 5.14. WebLearn Development
- 5.14.1. Migration from Old WebLearn
- 5.15. The IT Learning Programme (ITLP)
- 5.16. Learning Technology Group Services
- 5.16.1. iTunesU and Podcasting
- 5.17. Software Licensing
- 5.18. Computer Hardware Breakdown Service
- 5.19. Printing Services
- 5.20. OUCS Data Centre Operations
- 5.21. NSMS
- 5.22. IT Support Staff Services (ITS3)
- 5.23. Marketing
- 5.24. Web Design Consultancy
- 5.25. Human Resources and Administration
- 5.26. Report on Open Source Contributions at OUCS
- 5.27. ICT Support Team (ICTST)
- 6. Project Reports
- 6.1. Research Projects and Research Funding
- 6.2. British National Corpus (BNC)
- 6.3. Costing IT Services
- 6.4. Display Screen Equipment Assessments
- 6.5. Embedding Institutional Data Curation Services in Research (EIDCSR)
- 6.6. ENRICH
- 6.7. Erewhon
- 6.8. First World War Poetry Digital Archive
- 6.9. Green IT initiative
- 6.10. The Holinshed Project
- 6.11. Intute
- 6.12. Information Security Best Practice Project
- 6.13. Learning Design Support Environment (LDSE)
- 6.14. Lexicon of Greek Person Names (LGPN)
- 6.15. Modelling4All
- 6.16. OpenSpires
- 6.17. OSS Watch
- 6.18. Oxford Text Archive
- 6.19. RunCoCo: How to Run a Community Collection Online
- 6.20. Secure Searches with the Google Search Appliance
- 6.21. The Shared Data Centre Project
- 6.22. Steeple Project
- 6.23. Supporting Data Management Infrastructure in the Humanities (Sudamih)
- 6.24. Text Encoding Initiative
- 6.25. ISO Consultancy
- 6.26. UCISA
- 6.27. WebEx
- 6.28. WebLearn Project: Survey Tool pilot
- 6.29. WebLearn Project: On-line essay submission pilot
- 6.30. WebLearn Project: Host online graduate skills training courses
- 6.31. William Godwin's Diary
- 6.32. XAIRA
The year in review saw new IT services commissioned, new facilities built and changes proposed in ICT governance.
Possibly the most imaginative and far-reaching project ever undertaken by the Department was brought into full production this year. Nexus – an email and calendaring system with a documentation and collaboration service, built on the Microsoft Exchange 2007 and Microsoft Office SharePoint Server – is now being used by departments and colleges across the University; there are 35,000 active accounts.
The Shared Data Centre (SDC) has been built in the new Oxford Molecular Pathology Institute and handed over to OUCS. The initiative is in direct response to a recommendation from the Internal Auditors to offer greater resilience for enterprise-wide services. The SDC is designed as a state-of-the-art facility with a focus on energy efficiency to reduce power usage and minimize greenhouse gas emissions. It will be commissioned in the first half of 2011. It will ensure capacity, resilience and energy efficiency for business-critical ICT services; and it will provide a shared service for divisions, departments and colleges that require server or application hosting facilities.
In Trinity Term 2010, Council considered a report from the internal auditors on the University's governance arrangements for ICT. The proposed changes will lead to closer working relationships between OUCS, Business Services and Projects and the ICT Support Team, which should result in improved services for the user. As part of these developments, from 1 January 2011 OUCS will move into University Administration and Services (UAS) and the three central IT service providers will report to the Registrar.
Further information about our activities is available in our Five-year Strategic Plan which lists OUCS’s priorities for coming years. I would be pleased to receive comments on this Annual Report and the Five-year Strategic Plan, and hope that you will find both documents stimulating and informative.
Finally, I would like to thank OUCS staff who have brought their dedication and experience to bear on the services we provide; they continue to respond with initiative, enthusiasm and professionalism. The next twelve months will bring new challenges, with further governance changes and financial uncertainty, but I am confident that we have the expertise, skills and knowledge to continue to deliver excellent services and develop new facilities for the benefit of the collegiate University.
Professor Paul W. Jeffreys
Welcome to the annual report of Oxford University Computing Services for 2009-2010. In keeping with previous formats we have attempted to write a report that is informative and approachable to allow our users to get a comprehensive view of OUCS’s performance over the last year. This is our way of reporting on our services, and how we have attempted to meet the demands of the collegiate University.
The mainstay of this publication is a set of performance reports that once again demonstrate the year-on-year growth in demand for OUCS’s services, and the increasing portfolio we have been asked to cover. Wherever possible we have also shown the level of use of OUCS’s services broken down under the Academic Divisions, OUDCE, College-only users, and other central units. We also include a series of reports from the various Research Projects OUCS has led or been part of over the year. This aspect of OUCS is fundamental to our taking services forward for the University, both financially and strategically. We bring in about £1m per annum from external funding agencies, which in 2009-2010 contributed nearly £490k in FEC. These projects, and this funding, allow us to take forward development work of strategic importance to the University (e.g. the Mobile Oxford service).
This year saw the launch of the University's central groupware service — Nexus — based on Microsoft's Exchange and SharePoint system. This has proved a tremendous success. Not only did the project to build the system go live on time and under budget, but since its roll-out many units have now decommissioned their own local services in favour of joining the more cost-effective central provision. In these times of financial constraint this an important demonstration of what can be achieved with a service running centrally driven by the demands of the collegiate University. We have also been working hard on preparing for the new Shared Data Centre which will open in 2011 and again provide a central facility for faculties and departments to use. Finally, this year has also seen some major work undertaken on the Governance of central IT services. Following a report from the external auditors OUCS is set to move to UAS in 2011, and will then come under the jurisdiction of the Registrar.
Over the year we have sought, and received, guidance from the OUCS Management Sub-Committee (chaired by Professor William James) on how we should be developing our service, and our funding model is now based on the 123 system developed by the Services Funding Working Group. We are constantly attempting to address the need for the long-term planning and funding of key services, and the planned resourcing of future developments.
Finally, it should be noted that this Annual Report forms only part of the information OUCS provides. Here we attempt to indicate how we have performed over the year; but we also produce a five-year strategy looking forward (revised each January), a research strategy, and various briefings for the University.
I hope you enjoy reading this report and find it informative,
Dr Stuart D Lee,
Director, Computing Systems and Services,
In section 5 we look at the performance and use of the range of services offered by OUCS throughout 2009-2010. Different services will report in different ways, but wherever possible we have tried to also break down usage according to the academic divisions and other units within the University, in line with the implementation of the Type 123 funding model.
In summary we would like to highlight the following major trends and findings:
- the size and use of the network continues to expand – traffic has risen from 14.5TB/day in 2007-2008 to 22.3TB/day in 2008-2009 to 29.5TB/day and the number of registered hosts is now nearly 85,000 (see section 5.1);
- cybersecurity threats continue to be a major issue and this year saw a marked increase in the number of keylogger attacks (see 5.6);
- this was the last full-year of the Herald email service (in 2009-2010 we move to Nexus) but once again we notice the amount of email traffic increasing (see 6.13 and 6.2) and also the amount of spam (we reject about 87% of the amount of messages received each day, allowing around 560,000 through);
- the Nexus Exchange service has gone from a standing start in July 2009 to 44,500 users and nearly 50,000 mailboxes in 12 months — fewer than 10% of users said they were unsatisfied with the new service (see 5.4);
- demand for the HFS continues to increase with and we are quickly approaching the petabyte storage milestone (see 5.4);
- by analyzing client data across our services and surveying users we are observing an increased penetration of Apple computers (now over 30% of Freshers) and an increased demand for support for Macs;
- the Webauth Single Sign-On system is now being used across the University – not just for services provided centrally but also for those run by local units (there were 136 non-OUCS Webauth services across the University in 2009, and this rose to 174 by 2010). The Shibboleth service is also now firmly established (23,886 distinct users in 2009 rising to 31,588 in 2010 — see 5.3);
- all our services are witnessing increased usage including our advisory and training services, and Weblearn;
- all the divisions make substantial use of our services, but they are also heavily used by the Colleges and central units;
- the demand for additional services provided by our NSMS service continues to grow as many faculties and departments seek to offload some of their IT support issues to OUCS (5.21);
- requests for support for learning, teaching, and research are on the increase and projects such as the iTunes U service have attracted considerable support interest.
In section 6 we then report on the numerous projects we have undertaken over the year. These are absolutely key to the future of OUCS as they provide external funding at a time when resources are severely stretched that allow us to take forward the development of key University services and explore new possibilities.
OUCS has undertaken several key projects over 2009-2010 and will continue these, to meet the main strategic goals of the University. In particular:
- Meeting the demand for resilient services, and minimising disruption to University business, by planning for the new Shared Data Centre (SDC), and the future replacement of the network backbone.
- Keeping up with changes demanded of us by new directions in underlying and emerging technologies, e.g. starting work on the move to IPv6, developing mobile provision, exploiting podcasting via iTunes U.
- Taking forward our services and grasping the opportunities presented to us
by these changes in technology. For example:
- extensive work on the HFS to safeguard the University’s digital assets through a series of phased projects on managing and developing our archiving and backup facilities;
- beginning to map out a private cloud services in the new SDC that also can utilise outsourced cloud services, and offer departments a resilient and cost effective alternative to server (co)location through the SDC and the Virtual Infrastructure services we will be developing;
- developing our suite of collaborative tools into a seamless experience for staff and students, interoperable with other key services (Nexus SharePoint/Exchange, WebLearn2, Identity and Access Management, Student Systems, etc);
- continuing the development towards ubiquitous networking through the roll-out of the Wireless service; and exploiting the opportunities offered by Voice over IP (VOIP), and the merging network services and telecoms;
- developing a single trusted source of core information about all the users in Oxford and their groupings via the CUD and Groupstore projects;
- further developing and promoting services and policies to reduce energy consumption and carbon emissions across the University in conjunction with the Environmental Sustainability Unit (e.g. a revised WOL service made available through the NSMS FiDo linux appliance, Video conferencing).
- Future proofing the sustainability of services by planning in advance for major upgrades or expansion in capacity (e.g. HFS, Nexus, etc).
- Pooling knowledge and expertise with other IT providers and support staff to offer academics and students a more seamless experience.
The backbone continues to operate reliably with traffic levels still rising and showing no sign of abating. Sufficient bandwidth is available to cope with peak loading levels. Similarly, the number of registered hosts connected to the network increases each year and now exceeds 84,000 connections.
|31 July 2001||41,016|
|31 July 2002||44,935|
|31 July 2003||50,797|
|31 July 2004||55,186|
|31 July 2005||60,659|
|31 July 2006||66,063|
|31 July 2007||71,394|
|31 July 2008||76,742|
|31 July 2009||81,453|
|31 July 2010||84,673|
We have now increased the bandwidth on our JANET connection to 10 Gbps to cope with the increased traffic levels demanded of the link. This continues to be a reliable connection but we are investigating options for increasing resilience in the event of a failure.
The dial-up service has been unsupported and unmaintained for some time and notice was given at the start of the year that the service would be terminated on 31st July 2010. This was done and the service is no longer available.
* = Approximate count.
The latest VPN server (dual servers for resilience) was commissioned ready for the new academic year and is now offering a reliable service. New VPN clients were made available and support for 64-bit Windows XP and Vista, Windows 7, and Mac OS X 10.6 was introduced.
This year saw the continuation into year two (of three) of the OWL Phase 2 project. The latest 802.11n specification access points have been rolled out to many new sites and users report much improved coverage across University buildings. In addition, several Colleges have chosen to increase wireless coverage whilst adopting OWL Phase 2.
The effect has been a rise to 599 registered access points on OWL Phase 2 with approximately 100 units remaining to be installed. At the same time, we have upgraded our wireless controller capacity from 400 to 750 access points, in a resilient configuration.
The new controllers also provide for increased flexibility in deployment, for example the ability to place an access point outside of the University network to provide OWL and Eduroam at a satellite location.
The OWL, Eduroam, and Visitor Network services continue to be well used as wireless becomes a primary means of network access for new and existing members alike.
Operation of the email relay systems has been business-as-usual this year with no significant changes to the service.
Of the messages received from outside the University, 79% are now rejected, 6% are delivered as likely/possible spam, leaving 15% delivered as legitimate email.
|Period||Average messages per day||Average data volume per day|
This last year has been dominated by planning the move of the New Bodleian MDX room to the Indian Institute prior to the redevelopment of the New Bodleian building. This has necessitated the commissioning of the new location and the provisioning of (multiple) new duct routes into it. We have taken the opportunity to provision additional routes and capacity in adjoining areas. There have been further extensions in several other areas and the physical security of the network is being continually enhanced.
The Herald email service was retired on 1st April 2010, after 12 years of operation, and replaced by Nexus. (See 5.4. Nexus Service
The service offered a mailbox for each user, with a default allocation of 1GB. Access was supported via IMAP, POP, and Webmail allowing users a choice of a wide variety of email clients, web browsers and platforms to access their email.
In order to facilitate the transfer of the email service to Nexus a major collaborative exercise between various OUCS teams was undertaken. This included, in so far as possible, transfer of all stored email, contacts, mail preferences, and webmail settings for all active and recently active users. Development started in earnest in July 2009 and the bulk of accounts were migrated through Michaelmas Term 2009.
As the migration of users from Herald to Nexus took place during Michaelmas Term 2009 there is no interval during the period covered by this report that is suitable for comparison with previous years.
The Herald IMAP service typically handled approximately 900,000 client logins per day (by approximately 26,000 unique users, with some email clients accessing the service multiple times per session).
OUCS provides a range of access management services to the University. Webauth, Oak LDAP, Kerberos, and Shibboleth are available for general use by ITSS who wish to implement access control for their own resources and services, in addition to being used for centrally hosted facilities.
Webauth is a web single sign-on (Web SSO) system enabling authentication and identification of web visitors, who identify themselves using their Oxford SSO credentials. Subsequent visits to other (Oxford) Webauth sites do not require further login. The Oxford Webauth service is based on the Stanford WebAuth system, but includes additional facilities for account activation, and password change/reset.
Work to provide a recommended standard procedure for adding Webauth to Microsoft IIS web servers running under Windows Server (32-bit versions) was completed in mid-2010. This includes an automated installation package for deploying the Windows Webauth components and comprehensive instructions for adding the supporting tools and subsequent configuration. This has been used successfully by college, departmental, and central service providers.
Webauth is used extensively within the University, and take up continues steadily with around 40 services adopting Webauth each year. The following table shows the number of non-OUCS services that have been registered to use Webauth for user authentication.
Oak LDAP provides a convenient directory of person-based information that can be used as the basis for authorisation decisions, mapping between multiple identifiers for a person, and the retrieval of naming and contact data. In addition to underpinning several OUCS services (including WebLearn and Shibboleth), the service is used by departments and colleges throughout the collegiate university, some of which run multiple Oak LDAP-enabled services, as shown in the following table.
|Year||Non-OUCS units |
using Oak LDAP
|Non-OUCS services |
using Oak LDAP
There have been a number of updates to the service over the reporting period. In particular the service has been extended to include data relating to non-University "units" to whom we provide IT services, offer access to a broader range of attributes (notably the university card expiry date), and various performance and reconciliation enhancements.
The Kerberos service is the fundamental means by which users (and systems) can authenticate. It implements the Kerberos protocol which supports single sign-on by design, and offers a high degree of safety by eliminating the transmission of passwords or password-derivatives over the network. Kerberos is the preferred method of authentication in Microsoft Active Directory environments, and is the authentication infrastructure behind Webauth.
Service providers can use Kerberos to provide a single sign-on experience for users. The number of non-OUCS "Kerberised" services, above those integrated purely for Webauth or Oak LDAP are as follows (figures based on the approximation that each issued service principal has been used to Kerberise one distinct service):
|Year||Services using Kerberos|
A special case is where the "Kerberised" service is itself a provider of Kerberos authentication — for example a local Active Directory Domain Controller. In this situation an arrangement of cross-realm trust is established where user authentication against the central Kerberos service (using Oxford username and password) can be used to access local services without a further login. The number of service principals issued to support non-OUCS cross-realm trusts (including Active Directory integration) is as follows:
Our Shibboleth service enables Oxford University to participate in federated access management. This enables Oxford University members to access resources provided by other organisations, including many of the bibliographic and other electronic resources that the University subscribes to. It also supports the possibility of making Oxford-hosted resources available to members of other registered organisations, such as other UK universities.
An enhanced offering of this service is now scheduled for 2010/2011. As detailed previously this will provide greater flexibility in adapting to specific requirements of individual service providers and clustering for increased capacity, serviceability, and resilience.
The table below shows a count of the number of distinct users identified by our Shibboleth service — this approximates to the number of Oxford University members accessing Shibboleth-protected resources. We have continued to report a separate figure (in parentheses) that shows the result *excluding* access to the Oracle Student System which, as it is mandated for use by all students, could cause a significant increase in the number of distinct users authenticating via Shibboleth.
|Year||Distinct users identified|
by Shibboleth service
As of 31st July 2010, there are 16 registered Shibboleth service providers within Oxford University. It should be noted that this figure includes development systems, and although it provides an indication of the take-up of Shibboleth as an access management system, it does not reflect directly on the work of OUCS.
The number of services where Shibboleth is used to provide access for Oxford account holders ("service providers") has grown as shown in the table below. The figures include only active service providers — as of 31st July 2010 there are in fact a further 7 registered Shibboleth service providers within Oxford University for which no activity has been recorded. It should be noted that growth in the number of Shibboleth service providers is a result of other (internal and external) parties' choice to use this technology and does not reflect directly on the work of OUCS.
Our mirror service (http://mirror.ox.ac.uk/) provides up-to-date local copies of a number of internet sites holding primarily technical resources. The portfolio of mirrored sites include several Linux distributions and other open source projects such as CPAN and CTAN. It ensures that Oxford ITSS and other users have high-speed access to these resources whilst also reducing bandwidth utilisation on our JANET connection. Each mirror is accessible by HTTP, FTP, within the Oxford AFS cell, and rsync from Oxford networks (access via AFS or rsync is not considered in the figures below).
Records needed to generate year-on-year statistics relating to use of the service have not been routinely collected to date; suitable records are now being kept to support presentation of figures in future reports.
|Year||Mirrored sites||Volume of mirrored data|
During the year 2009/10 Nexus launched a pilot service for SharePoint and rolled out the Exchange service for emails and group functionality to the whole university. The Groupware Project finished at the end of March 2010, becoming a fully-fledged service at that point.
The Project Board for the Groupware Project was drawn from across the whole university, and decided on the strategic objectives of the proposed service. The project delivered the main items expected within budget and timeframe these being:
- 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.
The Project Board met for a final time on 25th March 2010, and responsibility for the Nexus service passed to the OUCS Management Committee.
In July 2009 the first early adopters started using Nexus, and by Christmas nearly all users had been transferred from the Herald email service. During the project 33,622 mailboxes were migrated from Herald, and at the end of July 2010 there were 44,589 users with in excess of 49,700 mailboxes in total on Nexus. An average mailbox contains over 4,000 items with a size of 286MB.
During the summer of 2010 both the IMSU and UAS central email services started to migrate users to Nexus. A number of other smaller email providers migrated their users – often with so little fuss that we were actually unsure when they turned their own services off.
Two surveys were carried out following Herald user migration. In total 4,432 people responded, and 1,509 submitted free text comments. The first survey took place in November 2009 and feedback through this survey demonstrated that there needed to be an improvement to the web-based calendaring experience. The Messageware software suite was offered by Nexus from January 2010 to improve functionality for sharing and displaying calendars. The overall satisfaction showed that fewer than 10% of respondents were unsatisfied, with 66% recording they were satisfied or very satisfied with the new service.
ITSS registration interface was expanded to allow for a variety of new settings, such as level of spam scoring, size of quota used and for ITSS to allow self-service requests for increased chargeable quota.
A pilot SharePoint service was launched in May 2010 to a group of early adopters using the service for Committees, Research activities, and Clubs/Societies. A number of My Sites were also provisioned for individuals. A total of 34 Site Collections were provided covering over 130 different individual activities. The results from these trials will be evaluated and further provision rolled out in 2010/11.
The Hierarchical File Server (HFS) service provides large scale central backup and archive services to the University community. The HFS runs IBM's Tivoli Storage Manager (TSM) software and supports a backup service for both desktops and departmental and college servers and a long-term data repository service for the University's digital assets. It also provides a backup service to the University's Groupware service.
The constant challenge for the HFS is to meet and absorb the growth in the backup and archive requirements of an ever-increasing number and size of client machines around Oxford. The table below shows growth across the three major service areas:
|Desktop Backup||Server Backup||Archive|
|File nos||Data stored||File nos||Data stored||File nos||Data stored|
In line with previous years, the figures suggest that files are getting bigger, as growth in data exceeds growth in file numbers. The drop in desktop file numbers results from the implementation of policies to more comprehensively exclude operating system and non-restorable files from the desktop backup. Percentage growth figures for Groupware backup can not be calculated as the service only started within the reporting period (September 2009).
The total amount of data secured by the HFS (lighter line against right axis in graph below) has grown from 550TB to just over 900TB in the last year. The number of files (darker line against left axis) has fluctuated between 1.7 and 1.9 billion, but can be seen not to have grown significantly.
These figures include the Groupware backup, which has grown to more than 200TB of backup data in the course of 10 months.
Usage of the HFS extends throughout the university and is illustrated below with proportionate total Backup data stored broken down by division (excludes Archive data).
Relative use on a divisional basis remains remarkably consistent, Maths, Physical & Life Sciences (37%) and Medical Sciences (25%) account for almost two-thirds of all backup storage between them, with the other large users including Academic Services (15%), Social Sciences, and Colleges (both 9%).
Major activities in the past year have focused on extending the service outwards to reach a client base with more diverse needs and requirements than when the HFS service was first envisaged.
To this end we have successfully joined forces with the Wake-on-Lan (WOL) service to allow client machines to be woken up, backed up, and then power down overnight on WOL-enabled subnets. Currently more than 400 desktop machines manage their scheduled overnight backups this way. We have also extended our coverage of client applications to include the consistent backup of common database applications. Previously, the backup of these required either a full image-level backup, which was expensive in terms storage terms. Introducing a dedicated TSM software client each for MS Exchange, MS SQL, and MS SharePoint databases now allows a consistent and more efficient strategy of 'Fulls' and 'Differential' backups.
This development proved prescient with the requirement for the HFS to provide the backup to the University's Groupware solution. Nevertheless, the implementation from requirement to live service in a narrow time window provided a major challenge to the HFS group, given the requirement to backup all the mailbox databases overnight and the quantities of data predicted. The end solution of a dedicated LTO tape library and 3Gb private LAN has proved adequate to the task and this 'client' alone now sends us > 2TB per night every night.
On a smaller scale, the HFS rolled out a pilot service to allow secure backup over VPN for remote users. This service is designed to support the backup and restore of critical University data for users whilst they are away from Oxford – typically researchers in the field and those otherwise engaged in University work away from Oxford for long periods of time. The service runs with necessary constraints, not least the upload speed of local broadband connections being measured often in Kb per second, and is therefore most suitable for targeted backup of specific files and folders. So far 74 accounts have registered for this service.
Early this summer, an HFS bid to PICT to upgrade the service and infrastructure was granted. This project is well under way and has the following key deliverables:
- A migration of the server database to TSM V6 and a DB2 architecture;
- An upgrade of elements of the SAN infrastructure to 8Gb/sec speed;
- An upgrade to allow the full virtualization of our service from the hardware;
- A pilot study into the feasibility of disk-only-based on-line backups.
The migration to TSM V6 and DB2 will offer increased scalability together with a fully consistent SQL language to manage and query the servers and a proven DB2 database engine to drive them. The upgrades to the SAN infrastructure will allow increased data throughput. Additional functionality in the SAN components will allow us to fully virtualize the TSM service from its hardware, reducing service interruptions from maintenance and hardware failure and simplifying management tasks. Finally, the HFS Tape Robot is rapidly approaching capacity and plans for its replacement will need to be laid in the coming year. A pilot investigation into disk-based backup, utilizing data de-duplication functionalities native to TSM, will inform this process. At the same time, we will continue to provision up-to-date client software to include new software platforms and versions as they arise and to support our every-expanding user base.
Public awareness of security threats has increased as a result of high-profile attacks such as those against Google and several other major corporations, and the "Climategate" attacks against the University of East Anglia. Incidents that receive widespread media attention are, however, a minute proportion of the malicious activity out there, and with so many attack vectors, no-one is immune. The University is certainly no exception: during the past year, the Network Security Team (OxCERT) have dealt with almost 1600 incidents. Monthly totals, including a breakdown by incident type, are shown in figure below.
Increasingly, keylogging and information-stealing malware dominates. While many criminal groups use such malware in order to capture information such as online banking credentials, it can equally be used to capture credentials for University services. Password "phishing" attacks continue to present a major threat, and a small proportion of University users continue to fall for them despite a programme of user education and significant work on countermeasures.
In several incidents, active abuse of University accounts has been identified. Such abuse is increasingly stealthily and occurs over a period of many months or even years; it is likely that keyloggers are behind many such attacks. Account details are almost certainly being traded for financial gain; the purchaser may then use the account for a variety of purposes. For example, we have seen several instances of unauthorised access to large commercial database services, for which the University has a site-wide subscription.
Password "phishing" attacks continue to present a major threat. A cascade effect may occur from a single user responding, as their account is then abused to send further messages to which other University users respond; as a result of this occurring, a single recent incident took up almost 24 person-hours of OUCS staff time, not to mention the inconvenience to the affected users themselves.
Larger-scale incidents may result in considerably more work, in some cases necessitating the rebuild of almost every centrally-managed system within a college or department. Clearly this causes considerable disruption of normal business operations and may result in significant costs.
As part of a move to be increasingly proactive towards security threats, OxCERT's role is expanding to cover a wider Information Security remit. This includes leadership of the 6.12. Information Security Best Practice Project, as a result of which funding has been obtained for an additional OxCERT post, initially for three years.
OxCERT continues to publish regular security bulletins (80 during the past year), and monthly reports, and are working to improve their online resources. The team interacts closely with various groups both within the UK and around the world. Over the past year they have used their experience of handling copyright infringement notices to offer feedback regarding the Digital Economy Act, have hosted a meeting with a group of Dutch university security officers in April, and have been represented at FIRST meetings in Hamburg and Miami.
Once again, the Help Centre services have seen a fair amount of change during the reporting year, much of it initiated by two long-serving members of the Help Centre team retiring at Easter. Instead of replacing John Mason immediately after his departure from the Hardware Repair Service, we have been running a six month trial of working with an external repair partner with Darren Rochford acting as Hardware Services Manager. He is both an Apple Certified Macintosh Technician and CompTIA A+ Hardware certified and can assess incoming machines to divide the work between himself and the repair partner Equinox Maintenance Limited. With Andrew Goble leaving his post as Online Shop Administrator, the role has been pared down and replaced with a part-time position in line with general cost saving initiatives. The post has been taken up by David Shakespeare.
The 2009-2010 reporting year has been the busiest the Help Desk has ever seen. With a massive 65% percent increase in the number of emailed enquiries there was little time for service improvement projects, which have had to be postponed. The team did at least manage the migration to an updated and vastly improved version of the trouble ticketing system RT, which the OUCS System Development team implemented for us.
The almost 4000 extra enquiries either emailed or submitted via our help form are likely to stem from two unrelated causes. The practice, introduced in 2009, of generating accounts for students as soon as they are offered a place, has led to more enquiries being directed at the Computing Services which might otherwise have been handled by college IT staff at the start of term. The other event which caused an upsurge in enquiry numbers during the autumn of 2009 was the migration of staff and students to the new Nexus groupware platform. Both the migration process itself, and the subsequent exposure to a new email interface, led to many queries from former Herald customers. As those students leaving the University did not need to migrate, the increase is more marked among the staff and senior member groups.
The new grouping of 'Leavers' has come about through the need to allow former students access to the Student Record System after graduation. They have no entitlement to OUCS services but still require support in matters concerning their single sign-on account.
Although over 50% of our electronic queries came in via our help form this year, a portion of the submissions had incorrect or missing barcodes and could thus not be analysed. Where the barcode is correct, we can attribute queries to academic divisions. The colleges and divisions continue to hold the top 5 ranks in number of queries, accounting for 88% of the total (a 2% rise over last year).
|Maths, Physical and Life Sciences||576||13||5||440||13||4||247||12||5||413||15||4||231||2||5|
|Health and Safety||0||0||11||0||0||11||0||0||12||2||0||12||0||0||11|
|Other Related Bodies||7||0||10||25||1||9||4||0||11||11||0||9||4||0||10|
Looking at the types of queries the help desk handles, it is quite surprising to find that the resulting pie chart looks almost identical to last year’s. There are some subtle differences, however. Percentage-wise the queries about email have risen from 17% to 19% while the software queries have fallen from 11% to 8%. There is no significant change in the distribution of queries about Windows, Mac, or Linux systems, but this year we have introduced a new category for mobile devices. These questions are particularly challenging for the Help Desk as the available models change almost daily and we generally have to resort to Google for information about configuration screens and supported features.
During the reporting year the Online Shop has processed 3997 orders for goods and services (a 5% increase over last year) from 2401 distinct customers. 9904 licenses have been purchased between 1st August 2009 and 31st July 2010 for either personal or departmental use.
Across the divisions, Medical Sciences are the largest user with 32% of the total number of licence purchases, followed by Maths, Physical and Life Sciences (24%), and then by all of the colleges combined (22%).
As many of the software products sold through the Online Shop are available for both Mac and Windows platforms, the sales figures allow a comparison of usage within the University. The table below shows the breakdown of purchases by platform per Division. For the University as a whole the split between Mac and Windows software purchases is 75.5% Windows, 23.9% Mac, and 0.6% Multiplatform software. The unusual distribution within University Administration is accounted for by the ICT Support Team (providing desktop support for Central Administration, Libraries, and Computing Services) managing Windows software purchases for this group.
|Divisions:||% Mac||% Win||% Multi-platform|
|Maths, Physical and Life Sciences||37.01||62.18||0.81|
The distribution of sales of departmental licensed software over the year looks like this, with more purchases being made across the University in March, June, and November, half way through Hilary, Trinity, and Michaelmas terms.
The most popular products available on the shop are Endnote for PC, Adobe Acrobat 9.0 for PC, and Windows Terminal Servers 2008 Client Access User license (CAL). Among the new products now offered are the Adobe Creative Suite 5, which became available on the Online Shop from May 2010 and has gone on to sell 212 licenses to departments and colleges. The most popular product in the CS5 range is InDesign CS5 for Windows, making up 26% of CS5 sales. Another new product is Office Professional Plus 2010 which became available under a licence for personal use on the Online Shop in July and has sold over 120 copies to individual members of the university.
Colleges and Departments have found great savings within the online shop, taking advantage of the site licence agreement and collective buying power. For example, Department X within the Maths, Physical and Life Sciences Division and Department Y within the Medical Sciences Division each spent over £2,000 this year in the online shop. If they were to have bought the same software at retail prices, they would have spent:
|Total Departmental licence|
|Retail Cost||OUCS Cost|
If we take these two figures as a guide, it can be said that the Online Shop is on average 7 times cheaper than if individual departments were to purchase the same licenses elsewhere.
The service handled approximately 310 machines this year. Of the manufacturers, Apple figured largest numbering 165. Of these 95 were 'in warranty' machines. The remaining PC machines were Dell at 40, Hewlett Packard at 30, Toshiba at 27 and Sony at 20. The diagram below shows the breakdown graphically:
Of the types of machines, the vast majority are laptops, although the introduction of the Apple warranty service has introduced an increased number of desktops and servers. A very small number of own build desktop machines were also seen. We have seen a number of external hard drive enclosures which typically involve damage sustained by drops and falls.
A breakdown of the nature of the repair and the number of upgrades are supplied in the Repairs/Upgrades diagram below. Some machines undergo more than one task. For example, a component failure may lead to a corrupt operating system requiring data recovery prior to re-installing. Overheating is common and is generally caused by ingress of dust leading to the expiration of the thermal heat dissipation compound protecting the processor. This can usually be rectified for relatively little cost. Laptops with damaged system boards are normally uneconomical to repair and often result in the hard drive being removed and placed into an external USB 2.0 enclosure.
The service continues to be utilised by departments, staff, and students throughout the year. The Apple service is expected to continue to expand as the number of machines sold worldwide increases. These machines are predominately attended to in-house, with PC-based machines increasingly being attended to by Equinox during the trial of running the Hardware Repair Service with an external partner.
It has again been a busy year for registration. The registration RT queue now only covers the specialized registration services, e.g. name changes, project accounts generic address creation (the bulk of the general registration queries are now handled on the Help Centre queue). Specialized queries still remain high. Major changes in the services delivered have caused this, i.e. the continuing development of the Nexus service (including migration of users to Nexus), and new methods of issuing SSO credentials to new students (see below).
|Reporting Year||No of RT Tickets|
This year Single Sign-on (SSO) statistics has shown the largest total number of accounts and largest percentage that have been activated since the initiation of the service. An SSO account gives access to many applications such as WebLearn, software downloads, OxCORT tutorial reporting, external journals, Student Records etc, as well as the Nexus system and OUCS's self-service Registration service.
|Year||Total||Percentage activated||Mailbox only accounts|
A division is assigned to a user based on the Department specified on their University Card. Undergraduates (in brackets) are listed under colleges, irrespective of who runs their course. The increase in the students is explained by the fact that these now contain ‘leavers’ (see below).
|College||16,318 (12,141)||15,903 (12,155)||12,072 ( 9,158)||15,343 (12,374)|
Remote access (VPN and OWL) accounts give access to ox.ac.uk restricted resources when not in Oxford or on the physical network. Its use for access to the OWL wireless network has ensured the popularity of this service.
|Year||Number of accounts|
OUCS now allocates email addresses for all 45 colleges of the University and 181 departments out of 199. This involves mail domain creation and wind-down.
Over the last year the following domains have been created: @mstc, (Medical Science Teaching Centre), @ohba, (Oxford Centre for Human Brain Activity), @bodleian ( Bodleian Library) , @ futureenergy (Oxford Future Energy). Modelled new units but no new address : BSP ( Business Services and Projects), ndmstrat (NDM Strategic). The following domains have been removed or are winding down: Old library addresses: @ouls, @sers, @saclib, @hcl, @efl, @indinst, @plantlib, @rhl , @taslib, @taylib. Also @geratol, @mrl, @ndos.
We also hold the mail addresses for people who belong to units for whom OUCS do not manage their mail, so those addresses are available to University processes. (2,912). There are 7,845 generic address e.g. enquiries@.
OUCS Registration now maintains an EZMLM mailing list for the University's Communication Officer to send out mailings on behalf of the Vice-Chancellor so are no longer directly involved with the Vice-Chancellor's regular mailings. We still do targeted mailings on behalf of other senior officers, e.g. Proctors, as well as for the management of OUCS services, e.g. the wind down of dial-in.
|Year||Number of mailings|
Registration creates and deletes most EZMLM mailing lists. (Chemistry and University Admin manage their own). The numbers below are for the total number of lists broken down under the divisions.
|University Administration and Services||2,088||90|
|Societies, Other and Companies||84||81|
The three major areas of activity continued this year, creating increased demands on the registration team.
As in previous years, BSP kindly provide a list of applicants in May, and those identified as current students, had their accounts extended until 12 Nov to cover the gap.
2009 was the first year we had to provision students with their SSO account before they arrived to enable them to do Student Self Service Registration. The bulk of these had letters with the details passed on by College in their Fresher's Pack but several colleges opted to have the details emailed to their students. For 2010, it was decided to provision all new students by email — fewer colleges were sending Fresher's Packs, and paper is costly to distribute. The key was the availability of email addresses. Graduate admissions were using the registered email address for contacting graduate applicants during the application process, so we were confident they would be suitable. The colleges seemed to have the best address for undergraduates, so they were approached to provide them — uploading the data into WebLearn. Although only 18 out of 42 did, the others let us know of email address changes. The mailing lists created last year were used to build those for this year and set permissions on the WebLearn site. Students were provisioned ONLY when they had fulfilled all conditions (i.e. later in the process than in 2009). The data feed out of OSS containing all the students still being considered for starting the following year worked well.
It was identified early on, that the usual routes to create Active Directory (AD) account and Nexus mailboxes were going to be too slow. The Nexus Team developed a process where they could take a file of several thousand account details and could make Active Directory accounts rapidly. This was most appreciated. The AD account was provisioned at the same time as the SSO account to ensure they were kept in sync. Only once the student had signed to 'agree to the Rules', i.e. returned the signed contract and had their University Card issued, were they provisioned with a mailbox. Working with the Nexus Team, we found we could use our usual interface to add mailboxes in parallel. This enabled us to improve the throughput dramatically.
The integration of Nexus into the Registration processes is a major task and is still on-going. The major areas of development this year were devising ways to:
- create a 'Mailbox Only' account, i.e. an account with a mailbox which does not have a SSO password attached. Access is controlled by 'delegation'. This avoids the need to 'share' a password for accounts with multiple users;
- create a 'Resource' account i.e. an account used to manage booking for a 'Resource' such as a room, projector;
- convert a 'Mailbox Only' account to one with a password;
- list users who had 'Delegated Rights' on an account;
- add/remove delegation for 'Full Access', 'Send As';
- make account information visible to Users, ITSS, and Help Centre staff.
- create several hundred 'Mailbox Only' accounts and 'Resource' accounts;
- manually change the sending address of the nexus accounts to match that of the Lotus account so migration could take place;
- change the routings between 1pm and 4 pm, of the Nexus accounts which were being migrated to that night;
- give manual attention for several users who needed to have out-of-office replies transferred to Nexus.
- identified tools they would need to change routing to GWmail for units that they did not manage;
- identified staff whose Nexus sending address was not the same as their GWmail address, mailed them, and set the addresses to match the GWmail address where necessary, again mailing the people involved.
Members of the team have also been involved in:
- establishing new email domains in collaboration with the University Card Office and Planning and Resource Allocation;
- administering the approval process for new top-level www domains;
- updating online documentation to reflect the removal of the Herald service, particularly in the "Leaving Oxford" area;
- liaising with the Sports Federation and Proctors Office over access to resources for Student Clubs and Societies; including improved handling of the process for non-Sports clubs;
- implementing Proctors’ decisions on rusticated students’ access to resources;
- assisting with the Wake-On-LAN (WOL);
- testing of all generic addresses (there is a duty to ensure that postmaster@mail_domain works for all domains);
- winding down the use of @herald and @nexus on Nexus mailboxes to stabilise addresses against future changes
- liaison with Academic Administration, Conference of Colleges, and IT Support Staff.
The InfoDev team was formed in October 2010 to bring together staff from different parts of OUCS (web team, web design consultancy, and research technologies) who were working primarily on short-term, web-based, development projects. These included both internal work for OUCS (e.g. course booking system, and other specialized components of the web site), work for other departments (most often humanities research), and external consultancies.
InfoDev is now the delivery mechanism for the OUCS brands of Web Design Consultancy and Research Technologies Service.
The aim of InfoDev is to
- Give useful, consistent and free advice about IT problems in scholarly research;
- … and then implement the solutions, on a cost-recovery basis;
- Help people with web site design and information architecture;
- … and then build web sites for them, on a cost-recovery basis;
- Develop (web-based) applications for OUCS.
The team has provided advice to, and undertaken work for, about 75 departments, colleges and individuals across the university, ranging in size from a day's work to secondment of 20% FTE across the year.
The info-web team was formed in the early part of the reporting period following the re-organisation of the Information and Support Group. The team comprises of two full-time members of staff, a part-time manager and a part-time content editor/author.
Info-web manages a number of high-profile OUCS and University sites such as:
- OUCS web site: http://www.oucs.ox.ac.uk
- OxITEMS RSS news feed generator: https://rss.oucs.ox.ac.uk/oxonly/oxitems/
- Service status site: http://status.ox.ac.uk/
- ICT site: http://www.ict.ox.ac.uk
- OUCS projects: http://projects.oucs.ox.ac.uk
- OUCS blogging service: http://blogs.oucs.ox.ac.uk
The team advises department members on both accessibility and usability issues regarding our web sites and any documentation provided to our end users.
To aid the management of both OUCS and ICT sites, info-web has developed a system that runs regular link and ownership-checks across both sites.
Info-web team often helps other OUCS teams to write suitable user-friendly documentation which is destined for our web site and its many users. Over the last year we have been helping the Nexus team to provide a considerable amount of documentation for the new groupware service. We have provided ‘how to’ documentation for a wide variety of email clients and have written guides to many of the new features that the Nexus service now offers.
The importance of providing Nexus documentation is illustrated clearly by 3 of the top 5 pages visited on the OUCS site belonging to the Nexus service. It was during the reporting period that many thousands of Nexus migrations took place and new Nexus users would have needed guidance in using the new service to the full.
Top Five Pages Visited on the OUCS website
- Nexus home page
- Nexus email
- Nexus migration
- Virtual private network (VPN)
Web statistics for OUCS show that the majority of our visitors are from the UK (90%). The remaining 10% come from a total of 216 countries across the world. The top 5 countries accessing the OUCS site are shown in the figure below:
The majority of visits from the UK came from Oxford (67%) with London in second place (15%).
Web statistics also show that the top three browser/operating system combinations are:
- Internet Explorer/Windows
Combining all Firefox platforms together, 36% of visitors use this browser compared to 43% using Internet Explorer. Safari and Chrome are the other two popular browsers regularly seen visiting the OUCS site. Other combinations of browsers and operating systems are presented in the chart below:
Mobile access to the OUCS web site during the reporting period was just 1.2% of the total activity. The iPhone was the most popular by a factor of five, the iPod Touch was second just ahead of Android-driven mobiles.
We anticipate that mobile access will grow in importance in the coming years.
The Research Technologies Service was set up to provide a service for Oxford University staff and students doing research involving Information technology. The key areas of this support include: research facilities, support services and information, and advice and support for ongoing research projects. The RTS service has a remit that covers Oxford University in four distinct areas, namely:
- advice and promotion of e-infrastructure;
- advice and support for research projects;
- provision of specific research services such as OSS Watch;
- contacts within the research community.
During the last year some changes have been made to the team and reporting structure, although the service essentially remains the same for external users. The RTS has continued the development of an integrated research project advice and assistance facility. This has been set up under four research categories that follow the usual research project progression:
- assistance with the writing and IT requirements for funding bids, initial contacts, and dealing with research funders;
- Project start up:
- setting up the project, requirements analysis, selecting hardware and software, web site creation;
- Project running:
- ongoing support, dissemination, hardware and software problems, annual reports, archiving, storage, website maintenance;
- Project end:
- dissemination, backup, archiving and publication, as well as sustainability issues for IT projects.
Advice and help for projects involving some aspect of Information Technology or where use of IT is essential (now covering most projects) is offered for all departments and divisions within the University and for individual projects. Contact should be made initially via the RTS email address (email@example.com). Initial consultation is free and further help can be requested (and ideally funded from research grant applications), for instance for advice and for setting up specific hardware and software elements.
The RTS also has a role in co-ordinating research and development projects internal to OUCS.
New projects started during the past year include EIDCSR (Embedding Institutional Data Curation Services in Research), Flexible Service Delivery, RunCoCo, Sudamih (Supporting Data Management Infrastructure for the Humanities), Sir Louie and further funding for the Open Spires project. The RTS has provided specific research services through the provision of the OSS Watch (the Open Source advisory service), and the Intute — Arts and Humanities services, which has now had its funding withdrawn. Work is also continuing on the British National Corpus and the TEI initiative.
Projects have been funded by a number of research organisations including the AHRC, JISC, the Royal Academy, and the ESRC. Staff contributions to other projects within the University include: Scoping digital repository services for research data management (with OeRC); and Virtual Research Environments. Projects that have finished during the year include Steeple, Erewhon, and Enriching the First World War Poetry Archive. Research links with the Oxford e-Research Centre (OeRC) have continued with joint research funding applications, liaison and director posts, and collaborative projects such as Shibboleth deployment, digital repositories, and e-infrastructure usage. Several departments have also been involved with joint bid submissions and are working together on specific projects.
The academic year 2009-10 has been a very successful one for WebLearn.
"WebLearn is a wonderful system with many features which benefit both teaching and the management of students' work. It is easy and fun to use. The most important thing is that you must stretch the imagination and try to explore the facilities to expand your teaching." Shio-yun Kan, a lecturer in Chinese Language.
"The way assignments are set up is good, with the deadline and grade once it's been marked. Chat-rooms and announcements are a good way to communicate with teachers and classmates, and bring important things to our attention." Marie-France Johns, Chinese Language student.
2009-10 saw the introduction of the new WebLearn service — this service is based on a piece of open source software called Sakai (sakaiproject.org). This new service is due to run in parallel with the old service (‘Old WebLearn’) for 2 years until September 2011.
Many people are still using old WebLearn but usage of new WebLearn is steadily increasing, and many departments and colleges have moved their material (including some of the biggest users) but some have yet to migrate.
Most of the WebLearn training courses have been very well attended. The beginner’s course is held once per month during term time instead of once per term as happened in the past; there are also many more courses than were run for old WebLearn.
A number of areas of new WebLearn have been actively developed over the last year with a small number of new tools introduced. A number of Graduate Skills training courses have also been made available from within WebLearn.
In the past this report has concentrated on the old WebLearn service, however, as usage is declining and it is difficult to relate statistics between the two systems, we will mainly present statistics about the new service.
At the end of the first year of service 90 units (departments and colleges) have signed up for an area in the new service. This includes 28 Colleges, 11 Humanities departments, 11 from MPLS, 16 from Social Sciences, 16 from UAS and 5 from ASUC. The Medical Sciences Division use WebLearn across all their departments but do so (more or less) centrally so have very few separate areas.
There are 2483 sites in total and 17,300 users have logged in since the new WebLearn service began.
We have traditionally presented the number of unique logins during the first week of Trinity term, however, with users being spread over two systems and with some logging in to just one and others logging into both it is not possible to present combined figures.
|Week one Trinity term|
|WebLearn version:||Old||Old||Old||Old||Old||Old||New||Yr. Total|
|Requests / hits||1,020,362||1,831,079||1,999,206||2,104,445||2,307,501||1,364,569||4,291,797||5,656,366|
|Bandwidth||11.55 GB||16.24 GB||69.98 GB||42.96 GB||70.89 GB||42||40.5||82.5 GB|
There has again been an increase in traffic over the previous year, the best way to gauge this is look at total bandwidth in the following table. The figures for requests (or hits) are slightly misleading because each page served in new WebLearn contains more hits than for old WebLearn – this is probably due to the larger number of graphical elements on a new WebLearn page.
The following charts and graphs refer exclusively to new WebLearn.
There are a total of 93,627 files resident in new WebLearn.
WebLearn offers the following courses – attendances are given in parentheses:
|Fundamentals||161||1 per month|
|Making your site work (new this year)||17||Twice (once per term)|
|Migrating your content||39||Once per term|
|Learning and teaching: using technology tools (new this year)||10||Once per year|
|Plagiarism: WebLearn and TurnItIn (new this year)||58||Once per term|
In addition we also run a number of tailored sessions within departments or colleges. A total of 180 people attended such events.
The WebLearn team are also available during ITLP’s Computer8 drop-in surgery session which runs every Friday morning during term time.
A number of new guides have been produced for new WebLearn these include a series of Case Studies and ‘How To’ guides in addition to the ‘Step-by-step’ and ‘Least You Need To Know’ series.
All material is accessible via the WebLearn Guidance site: http://weblearn.ox.ac.uk/info.
The WebLearn team have produced 18 video screencast tutorials demonstrating the use of some of the most important tools in WebLearn. These videos are available on the WebLearn Guidance site listed as "Video tutorials" under the "Guides and tutorials" section and provide users with short 'just-in-time' visual demonstrations of particular tools. The topics have been subdivided into short sections covering two or three tasks within a particular tool, and lasting only two or three minutes.
The WebLearn User Group (WLUG) has been regenerated and revitalised over the last year and takes place once a term: booking is essential, see: http://www.oucs.ox.ac.uk/itlp/courses/detail/TOVD . Details also appear in the WebLearn area of the OUCS website: http://www.oucs.ox.ac.uk/weblearn/.
The User Group enables interested parties to come together to share ideas and practices and to hear about recent and future developments. Guest speakers are invited to come and give a short informal presentation about how WebLearn works for them. The cream tea after the meeting has become a popular tradition.
Guest speakers included Scott Peterson and Liz Frazer (winners of one of the OxTalent WebLearn prizes) who shared their experiences in using WebLearn for tutoring in the Department of Politics and International Relations. Mark Roberts, a post doctoral researcher and college tutor in Biochemistry, described how he uses WebLearn as a tool to support tutorial teaching, research and access.
Ben Spagnolo (a graduate student in the Faculty of Law) and an OxTalent winner in the student category, demonstrated his novel use of WebLearn for running inter-collegiate mock trials in a moot court competition. Vivien Sieber from Medical Sciences gave an overview of how WebLearn can host e-learning material and formative assessments.
Mike Heaney (Executive Secretary, Bodleian Libraries) gave a very informative talk on "There's good news and there's bad news — Copyright and WebLearn". All WebLearn users need to be aware of copyright restrictions and how to make material legally available in WebLearn.
The three meetings of the WLUG in the 2009/2010 academic year were attended by a total of 85 staff members. For more information visit the ‘WebLearn User Group’ site: https://weblearn.ox.ac.uk/portal/hierarchy/info/eas
There is now a very active WebLearn blog: 113 posts were made over the course of the year and all were about WebLearn or Sakai (the software underpinning WebLearn). It is an invaluable resource for all WebLearn site owners: http://blogs.oucs.ox.ac.uk/adamweblearn.
Over the course of the year the WebLearn team answered over 800 “RT” email queries, however, halfway through the reporting period the OUCS Advisory Service became the primary point of contact.
The WebLearn team also answered a similar number of private email queries and met a large number of individuals for one-to-one training sessions.
There have been a number of development initiatives over the course of the last year. Virtually all of developments have been within new WebLearn.
- WebLearn is now based on Sakai 2.6;
- Addition of a tree structured course / unit group browser;
- XML format Microsoft Office documents are now searched;
- Can now automatically add Oxford term dates to calendars;
- Brand new Site Stats (tracking tool) with much enhanced functionality;
- Addition of Podcasts tool for password protected podcasts;
- Addition of ‘view site as a student’ mode;
- Addition of Opera, Safari and Chrome support within WYSIWYG HTML editor;
- Addition of ‘All staff’, ‘All student’ and the various card category groups;
- Email notification of Forum posts;
- Addition of an Audit role within a department or college;
- RSS display of site announcements;
- All WebLearn HTML pages now automatically use WebLearn style-sheets giving a much more consistent look;
- My Workspace calendars can be exported as an authenticated iCal feed;
- Renaming of Tasks, Tests and Surveys to Tests;
- Addition of oAuth authentication for use with mobile phones – this allows users to remain logged in to WebLearn for a very long time but with much reduced privileges;
- IMS Content Packages can now be imported into a site via the Site Info tool (import from file), this allows HTML descriptions of resources to be automatically imported from old WebLearn;
- Import of multiple choice question (MCQ) quizzes from old WebLearn into the Tests tool;
- Blogger and Presentation tools removed from the system.
Matthew Buckett, who is the lead WebLearn developer, has been made a Sakai Fellow. It’s a great honour and is a way of the Sakai community thanking him for absolutely top notch contributions over the last few years. For details about the Fellows program see: http://confluence.sakaiproject.org/display/MGT/Sakai+Fellows.
All the planned migration tools are now complete, the only change to the initial plan is that has not been necessary to provide a way to import surveys from old WebLearn: this would have been a major piece of work and it transpired that there was little or no need from the users for such functionality.
It is difficult to estimate how many people have moved their material. We have been working with many of the biggest WebLearn users, for example, Medical sciences and Engineering, both of which are using new WebLearn in the 2010-11 academic year. We are also aware of a number of other departments and colleges which have moved seemingly without a hitch.
As part of the winding down process, old WebLearn’s Test Building was made read-only on 8th February closed down on 21st June 2010.
There is an ITLP course and a variety of guides available via the WebLearn Guidance Site: http://weblearn.ox.ac.uk/info
Funding for the migration process has now finished which means that the WebLearn team has been reduced to 3 members (from 5). We hope to provide the same level of service despite the reduction in staff.
The IT Learning Programme (ITLP) is part of the Learning Technologies Group (LTG). Led by a team of experienced teachers, the ITLP offers a wide range of IT courses and events. The team works to ensure that the course programme reflects the needs of the University and meets the requirements of staff and students. This year we offered 225 different course titles spread over a total of 660 individual courses. We continued to introduce new members of staff to OUCS Services through our termly “Breakfast at OUCS” event.
In addition to our regular programme of courses, we continued to deliver closed courses for the 4 academic divisions and Bodleian Libraries. In 2009-10 we delivered 24 such courses, totalling 147 hours, to 555 participants.
As an integral part of the taught programme, the ITLP teachers provide post course support to participants. We also offer advice and guidance on the use of educational technology by academics and educators, and pass on our experience of teaching and room design to other areas of the University.
|Course type||Number of attendees|
|3 hour sessions||4076|
|Full day workshops||253|
|TEI Summer School||34|
|Strategies for Research||180|
The figures above are based on a combination of bookings via the online booking system and manually collected figures.
Our courses are open to all University members and other affiliated groups. The following charts show bookings by status and by affiliation. Data is from the ITLP online booking system.
During the academic year we have introduced a number of new courses
- Creative Commons: Copyright and education
- Copyright, Creative Commons and Open Content
- Multimedia: Screen and audio capture for teaching
- Multimedia: An introduction to iLife
- PDFs: Creating, manipulating and filling forms
- Plagiarism: WebLearn and Turnitin
- Programming: MySQL introduction
- Writing for the Web
- Typing without Looking: Learn to Touch Type in 1 Day
- Web Accessibility: Key issues and principles
At a celebration of the first term of the Apple Training Centre we launched our Make: initiative. Make: highlights the use of technology and software in the creative aspects of teaching and learning. As well as identifying relevant ITLP courses that support creativity, Make: is also used as a platform for showcasing projects from around the University. In addition, leading up to the annual OxTALENT awards, two competitions were held under the Make: banner attracting poster and digital image entries from around the University that were exhibited at the OxTALENT awards ceremony.
The Skills Toolkit (www.skillstoolkit.ox.ac.uk for research students) is an initiative from the ITLP working in collaboration with the Bodleian Libraries. It aims to help research students find useful tools, skills and services that will support their research. In 2009-2010 we ran a very successful pilot of the event and work has been done to build this into a new programme for the 2010-2011 academic year.
During 2009-10 significant development was carried out by ITLP on a new site in WebLearn – the Skills Hub. This provides an easy way for any member of the university to explore the courses and training opportuinities available at Oxford. We collaborated with 15 departments and training providers around the university. The Skills Hub is an unusual use of the WebLearn environment for both academic and non-academic users. Currently the Skills Hub can be located from the Welcome page of WebLearn (www.weblearn.ox.ac.uk) – it is shown in the list of sub-sites on the left.
The ITLP Portfolio (preview.tinyurl.com/portfolioITLP) has had its first full year in WebLearn. It supports the range of ITLP taught courses by offering course handbooks, student exercise files and additional information such as ‘how-to’ videos. Over the year around 1,100 people have visited the site at least once, and 160 people have visited 4 or more times.
One of our key advantages is the use of automated systems in our course management. Our experience of the bespoke course booking system has proved invaluable in our contributions to the HRIS Training and Process group’s specification of the new University HRIS system.
Our web-based participant feedback system, Indicate by Ostrakon, continues to allow us to maintain the highest level of teaching excellence. A number of colleges and departments have adopted Indicate for their student feedback systems.
|Michaelmas 09||Hilary 10||Trinity 10||Average|
|Booking and Admin||4.7||4.6||4.8||4.7|
Our Thames Suite continues to be developed. This year’s improvements see the addition of the Kennet room as a flexible meeting and teaching environment and the refurbishment of the Cherwell room to become the Apple Authorised Training Centre for Education. The ITLP works closely with the Information and Communications Technology (ICT) and NSMS teams to support the rooms.
As well as our own programme the Thames Suite has been used by other sections of OUCS and by the four academic divisions, ASUC and UAS.
It has also been used by external organisations including:
- Energy Foresight
In its first year, the Apple Authorised Training Centre for Education (AATCe), in its new uniquely designed room, has generated much comment and positive feedback. It has hosted two Final Cut Pro, two Aperture Apple accredited training courses and two digital filmmaking workshops in partnership with the Oxford Academy for Documentary Film. This is in addition to a full programme of Mac related courses as part of the IT Learning Programme.
In March we worked with the University’s Apple student representatives to hold their Insomnia digital film competition; 30 undergraduates given 24 hours to produce their own digital videos on a supplied theme. Throughout the year the facilities have also been used by the Student Media team in their work on iTunesU podcasts.
The ITLP have supported the introduction of the new Nexus service in the University through its taught courses and online resources. Over the year, ITLP ran 14 different course titles booked by 508 people. These sessions were in the form of 1-hour byte-size introductions, 2-hour and 3-hour classes on various topics using Nexus, and, a weekly 2-hour drop-in session, where members of the university could get one-to-one help on any Nexus related problems. As well as the sessions run at OUCS, 20 visits were arranged by the Nexus teacher to go into different university departments, and spend time with users at their desks in order to help them use the new service.
In support of the introduction of SharePoint (shared document repository), ITLP ran 6 introductory sessions for the early adopters.
Learning Technology Group (LTG) Services provides the backbone to many LTG activities, offering advice on and expertise in the use of technology for learning and teaching to departments around the University. We have particular expertise in audio-video multimedia, learning design, systems interoperability, and gathering user requirements. The team is involved in many training sessions and outreach activities around media, content licensing and copyright. The team works regularly with departmental contacts on embedding technology in teaching and learning, including using the tools available in the institutional VLE software.
During this reporting period the team entered the second year of running the very successful Oxford on iTunesU service and developed further the scope of the wider audio-video podcasting service. The service is continuing to produce two high impact portals for all departments to release their public facing lectures, talks and conferences, iTunesU and http://podcasts.ox.ac.uk. The Oxford on iTunesU channel impact is impressive, with 240 different lecture sets containing around 1900 items. Between 40-50,000 podcasts are being downloaded each week, and several Oxford talks regularly appear in the global top 20 iTunesU downloads with around 4,000 downloads per week.
The usage statistics from the iTunes U portal showed a growth in usage — podcasts have been downloaded 4 million times by August 2010, rising from 1 million downloads the previous August. The success of this initiative has meant that many more departments are now using the service to disseminate their public activities with over 1,900 items released. To make sure all users can access the material, there is also a parallel website, http://podcasts.ox.ac.uk which meets the needs of those learners restricted to web only access. The main marketing URL continues to be http://itunes.ox.ac.uk.
Since the launch the section has continued to improve and expand the help, support and resources offered by the Podcasting Team at OUCS, including regular briefing sessions run fortnightly and by providing a framework, OXITEMS, that allows departments to adopt a standard workflow for releasing audio and video content into these global portals. The core of the work has been made possible through additions to the RSS service OXITEMS by the OUCS Information Services Team.
The team has also been successful in completing two externally funded projects that covered this reporting period:
- Steeple – Investigating institutional technical and policies for online media delivery
- OpenSpires –Releasing high-quality Open Educational Resources for educational reuse
Steeple (http://steeple.oucs.ox.ac.uk/) — a study exploring enterprise-level technology for audio and video processing completed in May 2010. Steeple was a collaboration with the University of Cambridge and The Open University, sharing technical knowledge and skills, a particular strength of the project has been the community-led approach to sharing expertise and to building expertise within the UK on standards for content encoding and aggregation.
LTGS also received funding from the HEA and JISC for OpenSpires (http://openspires.oucs.ox.ac.uk), a one-year pilot project finishing in May 2010, to instigate and document the process of creating more open content from Oxford’s institutional podcasting activities. This project involved working closely with over 25 departments to formalise a sustainable legal and content workflow that enabled more than 150 academics to release more of their teaching content to a global audience under a Creative Commons licence for educational reuse. The OpenSpires project continues through two further externally funded projects Ripple and Triton in 2010-2011.
The team also continued the Learning Design Support Environment for Lecturers (LDSE) project, which is developing an interactive learning design tool to support teachers who are moving to blended learning. The LDSE project (http://www.oucs.ox.ac.uk/ltg/projects/) is led by the Institute of Education, London and is funded by ESRC/EPSRC. These projects are discussed more fully later in the OUCS projects section.
LTG Services also plays a role in disseminating best practice in learning and teaching. Activities include: running IT seminars; occasional workshops such as copyright for teaching and learning; the annual ‘Show and Tell’ OxTALENT awards event; and a regular series on communication techniques for podcasting and iTunesU.
The section also continued to run the annual “Beyond” conference, now in its 15th year. The Beyond Borders conference (http://www.oucs.ox.ac.uk/ltg/events/beyond2010/) showcased work done at Oxford University this year during our OpenSpires project and provided an opportunity for discussion and debate on different aspects of creation, use and re-use of Open Educational Resources (OER). The conference featured speakers from Oxford, other international research institutions and opinion-shapers in the open education community.
Finally, LTG Services lent its expertise to teach on and help support the Master’s degree course in e-learning at the Department of Educational Studies.
OUCS administers a number of software agreements for commonly requested software packages for personal computers. The University is thus able to make considerable savings against the individual purchase cost. A total of 25,917 software licenses were issued this year.
A Campus agreement enables us to rent the most popular Microsoft products, e.g. Windows upgrades and Office Professional. Work-at-home rights are also included in this agreement. 4894 licenses were added during the year; the rental charge was £313,209.
A Microsoft Select agreement, operated via the Computing Services Shop, allows for the purchase of other Microsoft products. 1,176 licenses were added during the year.
The budget for site-licensed software used throughout the University currently stands at £101,296. Products include SPSS, EndNote, Exceed, MapInfo, and Sophos. (for which 4,229 licenses were added this year).
OUCS also administers various software contracts on behalf of groups of departments to assist in gaining more favourable pricing; this year £56,987 worth of software was purchased and subsequently paid for by contributing departments.
The Computer Hardware Breakdown Service offers a very economically priced breakdown service for personal computers and their peripherals such as printers. It is available to University institutions, colleges, and associated institutions. It is also available to University members, including students, on a personal basis for their privately owned equipment. In essence, for a modest fixed fee, the service provides for an engineer to visit on-site, anywhere in the mainland UK, by the next business day after a fault being reported; the fault should be fixed within a further 8 working hours, or an equivalent item of equipment will be offered as a loan until the repair is completed.
OUCS monitors call-outs and reports of unsatisfactory service, and the service (offered by an external company) has been extremely good. The number of items registered has fallen slightly (281 machines in total) compared to the previous year; we assume that this continues to be caused by a general trend in the industry of providing at least three-year warranties as standard coupled with machines being replaced once these warranties have expired. The decrease has been across all categories.
The table below shows the numbers of different types of equipment registered, and their ownership.
OUCS offered different types of printing services during the year:
- self-service A3 and A4 colour and black and white printing, available via the Help Centre;
- high quality A0 and A1 posters for display purposes;
- high precision phototypesetting / image setting service. The service used a Monotype Panther Pro Imagesetter which output on film. During the year a DPX 2 Computer to Plate machine was purchased which enables immediate computer to plate printing services and reduces costs;
- high quality offset-litho printing service, including full colour printing.
The Ryobi 512H two colour printing press provides the department with the ability to produce very high quality full colour print runs for its publications as well as the capacity to take on work from other departments and colleges.
The printing jobs range from leaflets, forms, and stationery up to books, in single and full colour.
The OUCS Data Centre Operations Team manages the day-to-day running of the Data Centre located at 13 Banbury Road. The team monitors power distribution, temperature, humidity, and all other environmental factors, as well as advising groups using the Centre on positioning of equipment and services. A feasibility study will be carried out in the near future to assess the possibility of doing a live refurbishment of the Centre.
The reconfiguration of the air flow in the centre has resulted in overall temperatures falling and environment monitoring is now able to store up to 2 years of history via a network NAS (network-attached storage) drive. So the team can quickly browse current environmental trends and past trends within the Centre.
The UPS Room located in the basement of the building was prone to over-heating, as the UPS system expels large amounts of waste heat. Temperatures in this area were reaching 30°C in the summer period. UPS battery systems should ideally be maintained at or around 20°C, temperatures in excess of 25°C will reduce the battery life expectancy.
A project was carried out in April 2010 to install ducting over the UPS to vent waste heat via an existing ducting to the outside, also a 12kW 3-phase air conditioning system was installed with the heat exchanger being placed in the service compound on the roof of the OUCS building. This enables us to maintain a steady temperature state within the room to maximise the UPS battery life. The graph below shows the environmental monitoring of the UPS Room since records started in December 2009. It shows temperature on the Y axis and date on the X axis running from November 2009 until September 2010. The air conditioning was installed mid-April and as can be clearly seen the temperature has never exceeded 22°C during this time even during the summer months. The highest recorded temperature since the air conditioning has been installed is 21.7°C on the 10th July 2010. This is well within the tolerances for the battery systems.
The new Shared Data Centre continues to be about one month ahead of schedule. OUCS are due to be handed over the space by the main contractor in early 2011. The soft-fit will then take place including cabinets, power bars, environmental monitoring, access control and CCTV. The Centre aims to be operation by mid-2011.
The Operations poster printing service continues to be popular. 760 A0 posters have been printed so far in 2010. A new PC has just been installed and an upgrade to the raster image processing (RIP) system installed on this new machine. The RIP ensures colour-balancing of poster prints.
The group took on two new members of staff during 2009-2010: one with joint responsibilities in Mac & Linux support and one solely involved in Mac support. This has enabled the group to build the technical and administrative infrastructure to support a Managed Mac Platform service. This service is already in use within parts of OUCS and we aim to make it more widely available later in Michaelmas term.
We continued to build on the success of our partnership with BSP and the ICT support team by increasing upon the already substantial numbers of virtualized servers hosted on our shared infrastructure. Additional LeftHand storage nodes were added during the year to accommodate the increased numbers of servers hosted. Members of the Group, along with members of other groups in OUCS, have also played significant roles in the BSP Infrastructure Review
The group procured, designed, configured, and implemented a Network Access Control (NAC) system for Graduate Accommodation to curtail problems with infected PCs and unauthorized services on the Graduate Accommodation network. We aim to seek funding in 2010-2011 to extend the availability of this service and make it available to other networks.
We created a prototype Wake-on-LAN service based on low power-consumption Linux appliance servers and aim to develop this service further in partnership with other OUCS groups and the Environmental Sustainability Unit over the next 12 months.
More traditional areas of operation weren’t ignored. As an example, the group took on IT support for Windows servers, PCs, and Apple Macs at the Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment. The group also took on IT Support for the Faculty of English in its entirety leading to a substantial reduction of the Faculty’s IT support costs. The group turnover increased to £748k.
The table below shows the distribution of NSMS income by University division, college, and other groupings.
|Division or organizational group||Total %|
|Academic Services and University Collections||16.3|
|University Administrative Services||34.9|
|Maths, Physical and Life Sciences||3.1|
The ITS3 team was at full-strength during the reporting period, having 2 full-time staff members and 2 half-time. The Head of ITS3 has taken on additional duties within OUCS so is now giving 40% of his time to ITS3.
ITS3 has been engaged in improving communication with ITSS during unforseen outages. The team has worked with OUCS Senior Management Group and the Help Centre on our emergency communication plans. The team now has a charged laptop with a 3G data dongle ready for use when needed in emergencies. We hold 173 alternative ITSS email addresses and 187 mobile numbers. The phone numbers will only be used to send emergency SMS messages to the wider IT Support community when required. Similarly we are also employing Twitter for emergency communication using the tag #oucsits3. The Twitter service currently has 73 followers.
The ITSS Wiki has continued to be a well used resource for University IT staff. It is maintained by ITS3 and has been updated 61 times by 45 distinct people during the period.
During the reporting year ITS3 participated on various recruitment panels around the University. Successful recruitments of IT staff have been made with ITS3 help at Linacre College, the Faculty of Music and COMPAS. We also provided advice to several other colleges and departments in recruiting, grading and staff management issues.
ITS3 has been supporting the Information Security Advisory Group in its work towards the formation of an Information Security Policy.
ITS3 continues to act as a broker for the Janet SSL server certificate service. Around 450 certificates have been have been issued in 2009 — 2010 saving Oxford thousands of pounds at average commercial prices.
ITS3 in conjunction with OxCERT, continues to handle copyright infringement notices on behalf of the University and remains extremely grateful for the help provided by ITSS in dealing these promptly. This help greatly reduces the risk to the University of litigation. 126 incidents were dealt with during the reporting period.
ITS3 continues to provide seminars and briefings for IT Support Staff. This year 40 events were organised which ranged from 5 day training courses to 1 hour briefing sessions. Average attendance was 18 IT Support Staff and a total of 234 hours of contact were recorded with a total of 2371 person-hours of training and events, not including the Conference or the Exhibition. 30 events were delivered with no charge for attendance and those that were chargeable averaged at £36 per hour.
Chargeable courses included:
- VMWare vSphere Fast Track;
- Exchange 2010 Administration;
- ITIL v3 Foundation;
- Bradford Campus Manager Bespoke Knowledge Transfer;
- Windows 7;
- 3COM IMC Platform Administration;
- Altiris intensive kick-start;
Free courses included instruction on applying for IT jobs and performing well at interviews. There were several briefings on Nexus and Weblearn too.
ITS3 has taken the leading role in organising two large annual events during the reporting year. These were the IT Suppliers’ Exhibition in December 2009 and the ICT Forum Conference in July 2010. The conference was held at the Kassam Football Stadium just outside of Oxford this year. For the first time the event was opened to IT colleagues from Cambridge University and around 40 of their IT Support Staff attended. The event was a great success and was rounded off with an extremely sociable "varsity" bowling evening. The conference represented 3700 person hours of session and the exhibition around 100 person-hours.
Social and networking events have continued to be an important part of ITSS life in Oxford. Many of these are arranged by ITSS outside of OUCS. They include regular lunchtime and evening gatherings and are invaluable in terms of fostering skill and knowledge-sharing among ITSS. The IT Support Staff Facebook group aims to foster social links with our local IT staff and this is illustrated by its growth during the year and now stands at 171 followers.
This year the OUCS Marketing section has been consolidating its use of existing methods of communication and publicity and expanding into more electronic channels. The remit of the Marketing and Communications Group has been extended to cover all online marketing with the aim of bringing the same levels of professionalism and common identity to these as to OUCS's paper publications and web pages. We are also developing a podcast about OUCS to use at Freshers Fair, the UAS Conference, and similar events.
Leaflets, posters, web pages, Blueprint adverts, newsfeeds and banners have been used within OUCS, at specific events and around the wider University. These have helped in promoting security and privacy issues, OUCS printing facilities, the growth of calendaring and groupware services, the launch of the new WebLearn and enhancements to the features offered, the wider roll-out of Mobile Oxford and the availability of OWL and EDUROAM within Oxfordshire hospitals and Health Centres. With all these advancements and changes, OUCS is very grateful for the continuing support, co-operation, and high level of expertise provided by distributed IT Support Staff, for example in cabling moves arising from the redevelopment of the New Bodleian.
OUCS regularly provides reports to University committees and groups, such as the ICT Forum. OUCS News continues to be produced once a term and distributed to all colleges and departments. Its distribution list continues to expand as more people become aware of it and want to ensure they receive a copy on a regular basis.
The OUCS web site aimed at new students and staff, Welcome To IT (http://www.welcometoit.ox.ac.uk) has been considerably updated, reorganised and expanded. A re-brand using the OUCS template means it is easily recognisable as an OUCS service and therefore a recognised source of good advice.
Future plans include examining OUCS social media presence to make sure it is used to the best effect and to provide all OUCS projects, included those funded externally, with cost-effective publicity and marketing channels.
The Web Design Consultancy (WDC) provides support for the University in its web-related activities. WDC provides a central point of guidance on Web design within the University, helping to ensure that Oxford-affiliated websites are attractive, usable, accessible and fit-for-purpose, and that they adhere to the relevant guidelines. The WDC also aims to ensure that these goals be achieved at an appropriate cost.
This year WDC has assisted approximately 50 groups within the University, including divisions, colleges, departments, research groups, and research projects. The vast majority of these groups have received at least one consultancy meeting. WDC has also undertaken design and development work for 17 clients.
During the course of this year, WDC has moved from the Learning Technologies Group (LTG) to become part of the newly-formed Information Services Group (InfoDev) within OUCS. This move has made a greater range of skills and knowledge available to WDC clients as well as enabling WDC input in a greater range of OUCS services and projects.
OUCS has seen many changes within the HR team in the past year. A long serving Personnel Officer retired, which meant promotion for the Personnel assistant and a new assistant was recruited. Although in general it was a quieter year for recruitment due to the stringent recruitment protocol scheme introduced last year, we ran 19 recruitment campaigns which resulted in 17 staff appointments.
We launched a successful internship programme for students, which involved an Oxford Student working alongside a service or project at OUCS for a maximum period of 8 weeks over the summer vacation.
We advertised seven places and managed to recruit five interns for the following projects;
- Oxgarage: Developing a Document Conversation Web Service;
- Upgrading Mail List Service;
- Porting TSM Client to Microsoft Installer;
- Developing E-Learning Case Studies;
- Making Web learn tutorials & Guidance Sites
The response from both students and line managers was that it was a positive and enjoyable exercise.
The government introduced the new fit note; this replaced the old sick note. GPs can now indicate that an employee is either fit or unfit for work. If declared unfit then the employer may have to make some adjustments to the work place, which may enable the employee to return to work sooner than they would previously have done under the old sick note scheme.
During this period the University also suspended the Merit award scheme. After careful consideration, and consultation, the Personnel Committee decided to suspend the merit review scheme for university support and academic-related staff with immediate effect and for an initial period of two years. There will be no merit pay exercise in 2010.
The Personnel Committee agreed to review the position after two years in the light of both the financial situation and of any operational issues that might emerge, with an interim review after 12 months.
|Academic related staff (grades 6- 10)||108|
|University support staff (grades 1- 5)||40|
Each year OUCS reports on staff contributions to various open source initiatives. Before any code is released, however, these are all approved by OUCS senior managers. In the course of 2009-2010 the following contributions were made:
- James Cummings, Sebastian Rahtz, Arno Mittelbach — Edition comparison engine as part of the Holinshed Project (August 2009);
- Tom Jones — Minor enhancement to Kerberos (October 2009);
- Tom Jones — Extension to Firefox (November 2009);
- Dominic Hargreaves — Packaging of RT (December 2009);
- Oliver Gorwits — Perl library to access Microsoft Exchange Web Services API (February 2010);
- Alex Dutton, Tim Fernando — Open-sourcing of Molly, the code behind Mobile Oxford (March 2010).
The ICT Support Team (ICTST) is a free-standing department within the Academic Services and University Collections (ASUC) division which collaborates closely with OUCS and delivers some University-wide services on their behalf. N.B. It is not therefore part of OUCS.
The ICTST department was formed in January 2006 and is responsible for desktop IT services for the Computing Service (OUCS), the Bodleian Libraries (formerly OULS), and University Administration and Services (UAS). The services we provide to these departments include: a technical helpdesk (1st and 2nd line support for ICTST services); desktop IT infrastructure (PCs, laptops, printers, peripherals, application and Altiris desktop management tools); server management (authentication, authorisation, data storage and printing); networks (internal data networks for buildings); equipment purchasing and disposal (replacement of equipment on a rolling cycle); information security (firewalls, access control, antivirus provision and security patching); and backup (data backup and recovery for network file stores).
We are also responsible for some University-wide services including Sophos Antivirus, WINS service, the OUCS VPN client and support for the OUCS lecture rooms and help centre. We provide most of the infrastructure underlying the Bodleian Libraries electronic resources (e.g. SOLO, OLIS, etc), as well as the Library wireless network and the Library Microsoft Exchange service. In addition to these services the ICTST department is delivering a number of IT service improvement and development projects aimed at improving the effectiveness and efficiency of desktop IT services or in order to meet the changing requirements of the departments we support.
2009-10 was another busy year for the ICTST department. The following paragraphs summarise some of the highlights.
ICTST and BSP (Business Services and Projects) collaborated on the delivery of IT service improvements for UAS staff. These included development of an improved laptop service, a remote access solution (Citrix XenApp), more modern software (e.g. Office 2007, Internet Explorer 7 and Windows XP SP3), printing improvements, a more resilient backup service, and improvements to building data networks. These projects were well received and have dramatically improved IT services for UAS staff.
ICTST staff continued to work closely with SERS (Systems and e-Research Service) to deliver IT projects and improvements for the Bodleian Libraries. Work was begun on preparing for the new Integrated Library Systems (ILS), Book Storage Facility (BSF), consolidated reading room printing (PCAS project) and relocation of staff from the New Bodleian library to Osney One. A new desktop configuration was deployed to PCs in library reading rooms, providing more modern software and a more manageable service. Ageing staff PCs were replaced with new computers and software upgrades completed (e.g. Windows XP SP3 and Internet Explorer 7). The Bodleian web pages and content management system were moved to a more resilient platform (a dual site VMware infrastructure) thereby reducing the likelihood of downtime and disappointed users across the world.
The development of a managed desktop service has continued apace. This work is improving the efficiency and effectiveness for the PC lifecycle management (i.e. computer purchase, initial deployment, upgrading, application management, security patching, decommissioning and disposal). In the first phase this is limited to the three central departments (UAS, Bodleian Libraries, and OUCS), but it will be offered to the wider University on a cost recovery basis in due course. Improvements this year include: a centralised security patching system (WSUS); standard computer configurations for Estates (OUED), Development Office, OUCS (lecture rooms, help centre and staff) and Library 'reader' PCs; an application packaging process and software self-service (Wise Package Studio and local expertise); devolvement of application and operating system deployment (Altiris 'site-servers' for Deployment Solution). These changes have allowed simplification and consolidation of desktop management, resulting in an improved and more reliable service for users.
ICTST has further developed an identity management system to automate the management of computer user accounts. This system is based on Novell Identity Manager and custom DRRE software. The system is being used to automate the creation, updating and deletion of computer user accounts and associated data storage. So far it has been deployed in OUCS (all staff) and the Bodleian Libraries (new staff only) and is linked to the Registration database so that changes to University cards are reflected in computer user accounts (e.g. new users, name changes, departing staff). This will be extended to existing Library staff and UAS staff in the coming year.
Next year ICTST will move from the ASUC division into University Administration and Services (UAS) as part of ICT Governance changes for the University. It is not yet clear what this will involve, but is expected to be solely an administrative change in the short term and will have limited impact on ICTST services. ICTST management and staff thank the ASUC divisional office for all their support and assistance over the last few years.
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.