7. IT Training
All the computers in Lecture Room A were replaced in July/August 1999. These we try to maintain at a fairly high state of specification, since it is important always to teach the latest (stable!) versions of software, which are always the most demanding of specification. Those removed are redeployed elsewhere within OUCS (eg the other lecture rooms, the LaRC, or for OUCS staff use). On this occasion, the replaced PCs were placed in LaRC.
Ghosting software was installed for the 3 lecture rooms and for the LaRC. This allows a variety of disk `images' to be set up and it is then very easy and fast to install a new image on all computers. It also keeps the machines in the lecture rooms clean of odd files that users may have left, or parameter changes they have introduced (unwittingly or knowingly!).
These PCs continued to run Windows 95, with a planned upgrade to Windows 2000 which was expected to be available early in 2000. However, it was not available in a stable enough form by May 2000, so the decision was taken to move only to Windows 98 for Michaelmas 2000.
Some courses were renamed to emphasise that they are essential courses, which should be attended before the more advanced courses. Examples include Essential IT Skills (formerly Introduction to Computers), Essential Access (formerly Introduction to Access). This seems to have helped a little.
One of the problems with training in IT is that the software is changing constantly. This makes it difficult to keep up with the notes that OUCS prepares to accompany its courses. There is now a good selection of books available commercially which cover the various MS Office products quite adequately. During the year all the Microsoft courses were re-formatted so that the notes mainly consist of exercises, with reference to the books and also copies of the slides.
The ECDL (see below) is proving popular with a steady stream of people attending the drop-in sessions for training and testing held every week. There were three special taught training sessions. In September 1999 (aimed primarily at staff) and June (for students) there were intensive weeks; in Hilary Term the course was run a full day each week for six weeks (see below for more details).
The beginning of the year was difficult. Two members of staff from the training team left OUCS; although both were replaced, there was a periods for each when the staff contingent was reduced, and it does take time for new staff to become fully productive. These problems were compounded by the fact that one member of staff had been seconded half-time to work on developing a programme for IT Support Staff (see below). Although staff took on extra loads, it was still necessary to cancel all programming courses and a number of specialist package courses. The above course rationalisation also enabled the maximal topic coverage to be achieved.
Another consequence of the staff shortages was that it was not possible to update the courses in the summer of 1999. Updating was done with some difficulty during the course of the year. Completing this updating process became a high priority during the summer of 2000.
For some time, reinforced during the 1996/7 Review of OUCS, it has become evident that a real need existed for training and development opportunities for distributed IT support staff. During 1998/9 application had been made to the IT Committee to set up a suitable training regime. This bid gained the support of the IT Support Staff Group, the IT Training and Education Group and the IT Committee, but unfortunately was not granted. Notwithstanding this setback, OUCS decided in June 1999 that it should divert some resources to support this function and Jane Littlehales, one of the Teaching Officers, agreed to undertake this work half-time from Michaelmas 1999.
Lunchtime seminars had already been running regularly for a couple of years for IT staff. The arrangements for this were thus placed on a more formal footing, and were augmented by the development of an Induction course for all new IT staff; effort was also put into researching for specialist IT courses available within the HE sector or commercially; in addition, a suite of Web pages directed at the training needs of IT staff was constructed and maintained; finally, significant effort was committed to assisting in organising the annual IT Support staff conference.
Efforts will continue to be made to seek funding for this activity, as it is considered vital to the further development of IT facilities and services across the University. But the cut-backs in regular IT training courses are most undesirable, as they also impact the ability of ordinary users to exploit IT facilities to the full.
The total student hours for 1999/2000 were 45,835, which represents a decline on the previous year. The principal reasons for this have been explained above — staff turnover and the need to divert some training officer time to develop a training programme for IT staff.
- background courses: the numbers have decreased slightly and the number of modules timetabled was reduced;
- there was about a 50% decrease in bookings for the operating system courses: some courses had been combined and others were not run because the material had been included in the Essential Skills course.
- enrolments on electronic mail courses also reduced, mainly due to many students now coming to University already familiar with email;.
- graphics courses: a 40% reduction was mainly due to the CorelDraw course being withdrawn;
- publishing courses showed a 15% reduction, with PageMaker not continuing due to the new licence arrangements; however, PowerPoint proved very popular with the numbers increasing;
- spreadsheet courses showed a 33% reduction: this was due to not being able to run the advanced courses because of staff shortages;
- statistics course bookings were about the same as the previous year: the figures do not include an intensive course run for PPE students at the beginning of Trinity Term (300 students who each did a two-session SPSS course); the course was run five times;
- word processing saw an 18% reduction: staff shortages prevented running anything other than one advanced course; Word for Your Thesis, but it was reasoned that people have a much greater level of prior knowledge, so the impact would be less;
- there was a 60% increase in bookings for database courses.
- Internet courses saw a 51% increase: new courses were introduced to assist users in the development of their personal Web sites, and these proved very popular; in addition, a programming course for creating interactive Web pages was introduced;
- programming courses saw a 66% reduction in the number of courses and bookings, again due to staff effort being diverted;
- excluding the IT Support staff training and the specialist Humanities courses and seminars, there was a reduction of 25% in the number of modules offered over the year, with a corresponding 22% reduction in course bookings; the principal causes have been set out above, but also contributing were time taken in ECDL training and administration (see below), and the fact that there has been a decline in courses previously run by other specialist staff.
OUCS has been running training sessions, self-paced learning software, and examinations for the European Computer Driving Licence (ECDL), which is an internationally certified qualification in IT skills. Initially a pilot scheme was launched; this proved successful and the varied methods of training (attending OUCS courses, CBT at regular timetabled sessions, and available in the LaRC and for purchase from the Shop) have proved appropriate.
This year, 87 people enrolled in the ECDL, and 603 tests were passed. This compares with 66 enrolments and 404 tests passed in 1998/9. Three intensive taught ECDL courses were run in September 1999 (one week), Hilary 2000 (6 full days at one per week), and June 2000 (one week). The weekly drop-in three-hour sessions were run throughout the year, for 40 weeks.
In response to demand (initially directed through the Department for Continuing Education), OUCS has commenced running a few courses in the evenings. These are always heavily booked, and only the limitation of staff resources prevents further course being offered after normal hours.
The LaRC has continued to prove an invaluable adjunct to the formal teaching facilities and sessions provided by OUCS. Usage has grown [figure 64], but more significantly has been more used more for learning than as a general resource. This was boosted by extensive use of the ECDL learning material installed there. Many of the computers in the LaRC were upgraded (by using machines cascaded from the teaching rooms — see above; thus we were able to make all the computers in the LaRC the same and hence easier to maintain. A new small colour inkjet printer has been installed in the LaRC — capable of printing A4 and A3. The diskless 486s from the LaRC moved to the Data Centre and the `User Area Corridor' to become terminals for a pilot thin-client system.