8. Key Activity
The e-Learning research activity includes WebLearn (Sakai) developments, podcasting, the development of education research services, e-learning pedagogy, the educational development of Web 2.0, Open Educational Resources and the developing areas of participatory media culture, immersive worlds, and educational games technologies. The e-Learning activity also includes the learner experience, evaluation, and educational applications. Gaming, visualisation and computer modelling are component elements of the educational games area. The e-Learning theme encapsulates opportunities for cross-group projects within OUCS in the areas of mobile technologies for e-Learning, user requirements for VLEs, new teaching technologies and openness of educational content. The areas that should be developed include the facilities within Sakai, data management, security and confidentiality, data storage and tutor facilities. New developments with Sakai are in progress, including links to Exchange and Sharepoint, enabling groups of users to share work areas. The development of WebLearn allows more evaluation, user requirements realisation and user experiences or case studies to be developed. It is important in this area to strengthen links with other groups, internally and externally such as the Department of Education, OII and external e-Learning projects (Recommendation 9). Further development of Sakai, together with the integration of Sakai with Exchange and Sharepoint may lead to future potential research areas. Supporting learning through e-assessment is also being developed.
The digital repositories research activity covers the design, creation, use and evaluation of digital repositories. Links with the ORA and long-term storage provision of research data are important, and the provision of a research data and archiving/storage facility is under discussion. This activity also includes the provision of research services such as Intute. The text encoding work is covered in this activity area with the TEI, BNC and European funded Research Projects – Enrich, DARIAH and CLARIN. The experience gained by OUCS in these large European projects is of potential benefit for future data provision and management services. This experience has enabled OUCS to maintain a central role in emerging international infrastructure in data management. The potential development areas include: standardisation, research data storage and archiving, high quality service provision and evaluation, sustainability, cost effective arrangements for infrastructural projects and services. Open notebooks developments with a lab notebook using software like MyExperiment or using Sharepoint to find common interests, post data and research updates, link to blogs, send messages and create groups. Open source developments such as Science Commons are useful together with designing tools for web enabled research and for open interoperability. A research activity in OUCS and OeRC is in techniques for dealing with large data sets, as well as curating and managing digital collections. The development of community collections and of the communities themselves is a relatively new area of research, linked to data collections. Semantic web developments and an emphasis on data linking are also an active part of OUCS’s research programme.
The Access management activity covers several other sections within OUCS and links closely with the Infrastructure and Security key activities. The development of single sign-on usage, and the encouragement in the use of strong passwords, have created secure seamless access and reduced the administrative burden for information managers and Librarians. However single sign-on also presents added risks and increases the need for security guidance to users (in areas such as password management) and development under the Infrastructure and Security activities. OUCS uses the standards-based Shibboleth software, which gives a common framework for access management that is being adopted by education and commercial sectors worldwide. Access for research groups and sharing of data, results, reports, research bids, as well as version control will be possible with Sharepoint. Using audit trails to see who needs this for their research and the traffic would allow global analyses of all audit trails as well as the take-up of social networking and help determine future provision needs.
The Infrastructure activity refers to the underlying architecture that underpins core services. This research activity involves providing information from research on the benefits of deploying specific infrastructures, on the use of virtualisation, and in centralising and outsourcing component parts of the specific department’s or projects computing needs. Various approaches to infrastructure are considered, and each project or service is assessed for the most efficient and cost effective assessment on virtualisation. Virtualisation is an important and growing trend, and many UK businesses now incorporate virtual solutions within their IT infrastructures. Virtualisation technology is deployed to reduce the complexity of developing, deploying and managing large-scale applications. Investment in infrastructure will entail some research into new developments and technologies and enable some cost savings. The Low Carbon ICT project is now being taken up across the university with concrete examples of energy cost saving, as well as the future development of green procurement and disposal projects. Developing better tools, social networking, video conferencing, digital technologies, curation tools should also cut down the amount of travel and face-to-face meetings required and allow a more constant and detailed linking across research groups, within the UK and abroad.
The key activity of security is increasingly important. Increases in the level of phishing, denial of service attacks, internet fraud, and identity theft together with growing legitimate use of the system are causing significant pressures on the amount of security needed. An area of concern within the activity is highly sensitive information areas such as examination, assessment and results, and personal data. Although security is presently largely a service based activity, rather than a research one, there is a need to research both alternative methods and newer technologies such as key fobs, biometrics etc. In OUCS the ITS3 team follows up problems from the widespread IT teams and OxCert provides a service across the University on security matters.
Developing tools to assist security may also be useable on mobile or handheld devices. Investigating ways of avoiding or mitigating these service issues would also be productive areas of research. This is a theme where both inter-department co-operation and Knowledge Transfer Partnerships are good starting points. With increased movement of research data and results high levels of security are needed, which allow easy access across the research group but with controlled access and auditing for external users. Tools to enable collaboration, facilitating working and with additional features such as workflows are needed as well as time management and time sheet management for projects, already a necessary requirement for EU research projects.