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OxTALENT - Oxford Teaching and Learning Enhanced by New Technology

OxTALENT is an interest group bringing together representatives from the academic divisions within the University. Its activities are overseen by the OxTALENT Committee. The remit of OxTALENT is as follows:

OxTALENT Committee

OxTALENT is an interest group bringing together representatives from the academic divisions within the University.

Date of the next meeting: 29 January 2014

Committee minutes and reports:


You can enter your own work in our annual competition for the innovative use of IT in teaching and learning at Oxford. The OxTALENT awards are part of the University Teaching Awards Scheme.

2014 Awards information

Categories and entry requirements

Closing date: Friday 16th May

Awards ceremony: Wednesday 18th June

Read the latest from the OxTalent Blog

OxTALENT 2014: Thank you and so long until next time!

OxTALENT 2014 Red CarpetThe OxTALENT awards for innovation and creativity in the use of digital technology in the University were presented in a packed Isis room at IT Services on Wednesday 18th June. This has been a particularly fruitful year, with the number of categories expanded to 11, including awards for the use of technology to support students in transition. In all, 27 prizes were given to individuals and teams, and you can read about the winners here.

No OxTALENT ceremony is complete without a lively closing speaker. This year we were treated to a characteristically entertaining yet thought-provoking talk by Marcus du Sautoy, Simonyi Professor for the Public Understanding of Science. Marcus conducted a mini-experiment with the audience through Twitter to illustrate how social media are enabling researchers to engage with the wider community in new ways (and in the process inspired at least one new tweeter).

Organising the OxTALENT competition and awards ceremony is one of Academic IT Services’ key activities in supporting technology-enhanced teaching, learning, and outreach in the University. So, we are proud to share with you some of the warm and appreciative feedback which we have received during the past week:

I just wanted to thank you for another lovely evening at OxTalent yesterday …  I hope you … are feeling justifiably proud of last night’s success.

I was not aware of what a big event it was – and how fabulous to see all the innovative ideas that are around the University.

I particularly enjoyed the quotes from winners about their experiences of their projects, and in particular the frequency with which we heard that the creators of such accomplished work had started out with only an idea and a can-do attitude.

It’s nice to get recognition. We do all this work and we just assume everyone else is doing something similar. It’s nice to have someone else look at the work and recognize that its not being done everywhere else and the techniques are useful to others.

Presentation for hard workSadly for us, Melissa leaves Oxford for the University of Edinburgh at the end of the month. In recognition of her leadership in supporting and promoting technology-enhanced learning and teaching, she received bouquets at the ceremony from Dr David Waters (chair of OxTALENT) and Professor Sally Mapstone (Pro-Vice Chancellor for Education).

In the post-ceremony blog entry in 2013, Melissa signed off with the words ‘See you, same time, same place, next year.’ So, in the hope that curiosity prevails and she’s tempted to pop down for the 2015 awards, we say again to Melissa – as well as to all of you who have reached (or will reach) new creative heights in teaching, learning, and outreach with technology -

See you, same time, same place, next year!

OxTALENT Speaker- Marcus Du Sautoy

Marcus_du_SautoyMarcus du Sautoy is the Simonyi Professor for the Public Understanding of Science and a Professor of Mathematics at the University of Oxford.

In his launch talk for engage: Social Media Michaelmas in 2012 he talked about how he uses digital media to fulfil this role. For Marcus, engaging the public digitally is about converting passive audiences to active participants. He advocates creative thinking to find various simple effective ways to open up two-way communication with the viewing public.

Marcus’s series of mathematical programmes The Code is now held up by the BBC as exemplary digital engagement practice because of its inventive and successful online partner project. This series had a very real off-screen life in its puzzle-solving initiative. Marcus explained how thousands of viewers followed the series closely in order to find the clues to solve the Code Challenge. Furthermore, the series also produced a complicated 82 page online puzzle book. Around this challenge an enthusiastic community of amateur puzzle-solvers grew. They set up their own wikis (e.g. ‘Crack the BBC Code‘ and ‘The Code group‘) and collaborated to work out the trickiest puzzles. The final of the competition was held in Bletchley Park and televised. This project shows how, given the opportunity, a dynamic community of active, collaborative and driven people can be mobilised and engaged in scientific ideas.

Marcus also experimented with crowdsourcing in an online partner project to Numbers, the first episode of The Code. He asked viewers to upload photographs of numbers from 1 to 2011 to an online portal and was delighted with the community that sprung up around the building of this collection.

Marcus has contributed to nine series in our podcast collection:

  • Alumni Weekend
  • Oxford Research in the Humanities
  • The Secrets of Mathematics
  • Mathematical, Physical and Life Sciences at the Department for Continuing Education
  • Engage: Social Media Michaelmas
  • Department for Continuing Education Open Day 2012
  • Christmas Science Lectures
  • Kellogg College
  • Inside Oxford Science

Together, these series account for more than 65,000 downloads in iTunesU.

Student IT Innovation

In this category we invite students to show how they have used technology to enhance the experience of studying at Oxford, both for themselves and for their peers. Our three equal winners have worked to find innovative solutions to challenges in three different areas of student life: their subject of study, keeping up with the student news media, and increasing their brainpower.

Amber Barton: Mechanisms of Gene Evolution

GenesAmber, an undergraduate at Corpus Christi College, has produced a colourful website to support revision. She writes:

Although much of university learning seems to revolve around essay writing, many of us are visual learners and retain facts much better when presented to us in an aesthetically pleasing and memorable manner. I wanted to demonstrate that biochemical topics could be presented in a fun, colourful way and that revision can be more interesting than re-reading one’s lecture notes.

Having researched the topic, Amber designed a simple website using the software Serif Drawplus X3 and then published it using the Moonfruit site builder. She received good feedback from her tutor about the content of her site, and it is now going be used as a teaching material for future undergraduates.

Sarab Sethi, Patrick Beardmore, & Max Bossino: Cherwell Apps for Android and iOS

Nowadays most news is read on smartphones and tablets enabling the public to keep up to date with the latest and most exciting stories as they break. However, Sarab Sethi, a student at Mansfield College, noticed that student newspapers had yet to make the full transition to the digital format. Even though the award-winning website of the Cherwell newspaper was registering approximately 100,000 unique views monthly, there was still no easy way to view articles on a mobile device.

cherwellappSince Sarab had experience in developing Android apps and was interested in taking on a larger project he approached the director of Oxford Student Publications Limited (OSPL), Max Bossino (Brasenose College) asking whether he was interested in an official Cherwell app. Patrick Beardmore, a deputy editor of Cherwell and student at St Hugh’s College, was keen to develop the iOS app. So, with the backing of OSPL, they got going, setting a deadline of Fresher’s Week 2013 for the launch. They also enlisted the help of Adam Hadley, an Oxford alumnus who had developed the Cherwell website.

Developing the apps was only one part of the challenge; the next part was getting people to use them. The team pursued an active advertising campaign, both in the printed newspaper and online, to encourage readers to download and engage with the app.

The apps have really made an impact, with more than 1,000 downloads across the two platforms. They have an average of 4.85 stars out of 5, and with reviews such as ‘Perfect accompaniment to the newspaper’, ‘Easy to use’, and ‘Well designed and quick’ the project seems to have been a success.

The team plans to release the code for both apps under an open source licence on GitHub. They hope that this will contribute to the sustainability of the project and ensure that the apps stay up to date with best practices in the software industry.

Sarab’s tip to would-be app developers? ‘Just go for it and get started, but be prepared to learn on the job.’

Taimur Abdaal: Speedsums

Speedsums - Dave mockupTaimur, a student at University College, has developed a simple web-based application to help students hone their mental arithmetic skills. In an era where students are relying on calculators for even basic arithmetic, he hopes that the site helps to remove some of the stigma associated with maths and to show that it can actually be quite fun.

Speedsums received over 32,000 visits and over 100,000 pageviews in the first month after its launch. Four hundred and fifty  people have tweeted about it, and  530 people have shared it on Facebook. In total, over two million sums have been done worldwide

Taimur advises:

Think of a reasonably simple idea that you might like to build, and then find out what you need to build it – which technologies and programming languages etc. Online resources are amazing when it comes to learning to code. No matter what programming problem you face, if you spend long enough trying to solve it, you’ll either figure it out or figure out a way around it. The first few things that you make will be absolutely rubbish, but eventually you’ll get the hang of it and people will end up liking what you built.