1. Groupware Update

The Groupware project aims to provide a University-wide integrated system for email, calendaring and document sharing using Microsoft Exchange and SharePoint.

We are currently gathering information to assist us in scoping requirements for moving users from various disparate systems around the University. This does not commit any unit to migrating, but will allow us to group similar systems when we look at required tools.

We are pleased to report that Srilak Wickramaratne has now joined the team as Systems Administrator. We are also hopeful that we may soon have a Senior Systems Administrator to work with Srilak.

The Project Specification Document, to identify the boundaries of the service to be provided by March 2010, is awaiting ratification by the Project Board. Once this is agreed it will be published on the OUCS website.

Hardware - An early draft of the design document has been finalised, allowing us to place an order for the storage and networking infrastructure. This will enable us to have data replicated across two data centres: thus making the service that much more resilient to a site failure. An invitation to tender for the remaining hardware was issued last week for return in early January. All the storage area network kit has arrived and all the hardware for the production system has been selected.

Architectural design - The architectural design document has been sent to Microsoft for comment. Work is progressing to establish requirements for integration of our user registration service with the new service, and for integration with the University's single sign-on infrastructure.

Work is also continuing to ensure that best value for money and availability of service is provided under the licensing offered from Microsoft, and a group will be specifically addressing these issues. Another work group is to be established to look into migration and archiving issues.

OUCS Groupware web pages

2. WebLearn Beta Upgraded

A new version of WebLearn Beta (2.5-ox2.2) has been released. This release contains the following improvements:

  • A forgotten password link (for external users) now on front page
  • Child sites are now ordered alphabetically (instead of randomly).
  • Removal of middle initial(s) from names
  • Faster performance of Site Info.
  • Fixed 'missing key' bug on Resources 'Edit Details' page.
  • Fixed a variety of hierarchy related bugs
  • Non-primary email addresses can now be used to add site participants
  • Improved error reporting when logging in
  • Fixed problems with rendering on Safari

WebLearn Beta

3. iTunes U - Free Thinking!

In early 2008 the University wished to create an easily and quickly navigable site for all its public audio and video material, much of which was difficult to find, and spread across many departmental websites. The decision was taken to place the institution in the popular Apple iTunes site, with a parallel web version.

Since Oxford joined iTunes U in October, its material leapt straight to the top of the charts. A snapshot of the global site taken in the last week of October found Oxford taking the top two spots in the iTunes U charts and dominating many of the subject areas.

Oxford's first big podcast hit, an examination of the credit crunch by the American economist Joseph Stiglitz, delivered at the University's May Day public lecture, has been joined by a variety of public lectures, seminar series and conference proceedings from around the University. The site currently includes over 500 items and over 200 hours of material with new material regularly added in all categories.

New podcasts include:

  • Global recession: How did it happen?
  • Researching the phenomenon of Facebook
  • Experts on global catastrophic risks
  • Tolkien and the Oxford English Dictionary
  • Muhammad Yunus - A poverty free world? When?
  • Reframing human rights in the global era
  • Cancer in the developing word
  • Effective climate policy
  • Building a business

The OUCS project team is delighted with its early success on iTunes. It has taken just 4 months to reach nearly half a million downloads in total, including 200,000 subscriptions. "It's getting us such a fantastic audience," says Carolyne Culver, the University's head of strategic communications.

"Stiglitz on the credit crunch used to reside on the website of one of our departments and it was getting 3-400 downloads a month. In three weeks in October it got 16,500 downloads and remained on top of the charts for weeks."

The wealth of material that the University owns will be of great interest to current students, staff and researchers; to alumni and benefactors; and to applicants, visitors and the intellectually curious.

If you are interested in getting your departmental material available to a wider audience, perhaps recording talks, events or student-led activities, then contact the project team, podcasts@oucs.ox.ac.uk and check the OUCS courses site for a regular series of introductions to podcasting.

Oxford on iTunes U

Web version

Interested in getting involved? Email: podcasts@oucs.ox.ac.uk

4. Erewhon?

In October 2008, the JISC funded Erewhon project (so named after Samuel Butler's novel) started its work on improving mobile access to University services and developing a comprehensive geo-location database. With the fast growing usage of 'smart' mobile devices our prediction is that demand for institution specific services will increase and that OUCS will be in a position to offer them.

However, Erewhon's work is not simply limited to delivering Oxford specific services. The knowledge gained through the life of the project will be disseminated to all other JISC member institutions via reports, blogs posts and, in certain areas, contributions to open source code bases.

We will be integrating parts of WebLearn Beta into our mobile services as well as linking up with a sister project, BRII, at medical sciences .

As you may know, OUCS already hosts a geo-database service named OxPoints which we are now rewriting. The new version will include a relationship structure that could be used to define everything from a building owned by a particular department to a fire extinguisher in a room in that building!

If you'd like to find out more, head over to our web pages or drop a line to erewhon@oucs.ox.ac.uk

Erewhon's team consists of Project Architects Sebastian Rahtz, Sue Fenley, Adam Marshall, Project Manager Tim Fernando and Researchers Janet McKnight and Arno Mittelbach.

5. OWL Phase 2 Project

This year will see the launch of OWL phase 2, the new and improved wireless service. The principal change is that wireless access points (WAPs) offering OWL/Eduroam can be administered centrally. Mobile connectivity is an essential part of modern University life. Users now expect a coherent wireless service, both in 'hotspots' around the University and when on the move or 'roaming'. To increase coverage a unit must deploy more WAPs; currently IT officers must individually configure and manage all the WAPs in their unit which does not scale well.

Initially OUCS will install around 300 new WAPs, creating new hotspots in locations chosen by the divisions themselves. On request OUCS will also be able to ease the administrative burden on IT support staff by taking over any of the circa 300 compatible WAPs already in service. Finally, each unit will be able to offer an additional local wireless network; this may be used to offer access to resources such as printers or file servers.

6. WebLearn Beta Tutorial Booking Tool

WebLearn Beta (the up-coming replacement for the current weblearn service) now contains a tool to allow a 'Tutor' to set up one or more 'tutorial sessions' and then invite 'students' to sign up for a particular session. Oxford supplied 'use cases' for this tool which was designed and written by Yale University in the States.

The Sign-up Tool allows you to create three different types of events/meetings.

The types are defined as follows:

  • Multiple Slots: The meeting is segmented into multiple time slots. The participant is required to sign up.
  • Single Slot: There is a single time slot for an event/meeting; the number of participants can be limited or unlimited and the participant is required to sign up.
  • Announcement: There is a single time slot for an event/meeting and sign-up is not required for participants

Please get in touch via weblearn-beta@oucs.ox.ac.uk if you'd like to find out more information or use the tool.

7. Recruiting IT Staff? OUCS can help!

Contact its3@oucs.ox.ac.uk or ring (2)83354 for more information

Advert for assistance recruiting IT staff

8. Piloting a Core User Directory

Oxford University has many databases in different departments and colleges containing personal data about students and staff. All IT users, from students checking email to HR staff updating records, depend on reliable and consistent data. The same data is often stored in many different places and managed by different people, causing all sorts of problems, such as the person whose date of birth or change of affiliation has been recorded inconsistently so that they cannot access their email account or other IT facility.

OUCS is currently running a pilot for the Core User Directory (CUD) project, aiming to bring greater coherence to the way the Collegiate University manages personal data. The Core User Directory enables integrated management of information shared by two or more parts of the University and databases across the University will be able to use the CUD as a point of reference and integrity-check. CUD does not aim to replace existing databases but to enable more effective management of common data, by providing a single and unique identifier for individuals thus reducing time wasted in inadvertent duplication.

The Office of the Director of IT has set up a working party with broad representation across the University which is currently supervising the pilot implementation. The pilot, aiming to be implemented by Easter, will demonstrate the feasibility of building a CUD by combining dynamically existing data feeds provided by the University Card database, the Student Records System, and the OUCS Registration Database, along with sample college and departmental databases. More information

9. Feedback on OUCS's services

OUCS is constantly looking to improve its services or to focus on new areas in line with the needs of its users. This is an open call to remind users of our on-line suggestion box which allows you to give direct feedback about the services we are currently running, and those you would like to see us provide.

Find the suggestions box on OUCS' home page

10. Long Form Addresses Switched Off

Email addresses of the form .oxford.ac.uk now no longer work. Ensure all addresses of this form are removed from your address books as they will now fail.

11. Two E-Learning Conferences 2nd and 3rd April 09

The Learning Technologies Group at Oxford University Computing Services is pleased to announce its eighth annual one-day conference on educational technologies and the thirteenth Beyond event.

  • Are you supporting students and staff in developing their use of new technology?
  • Are you responsible for designing IT skills training in your institution?
  • Are you interested in institutional approaches to open content, podcasting and educational video online?

Then these events will be in the interest of you.

11.1. Shock of Digital Literacy 2nd April

Academic literacy and the challenge of new technologies.

Speakers include:

  • Lynne O'Brien, Director of Instructional Technology at Duke University, USA
  • Miles Metcalfe, Head of IT Research and Development at Ravensbourne College
  • Josie Fraser, ALT Learning Technologist of the Year 2008

Full Programme and booking

11.2. Beyond Walls 3rd April

An opportunity to discuss issues surrounding the growth and expansion of institutional audio-visual work with experts from the field of multimedia and educational video. Come and hear regular podcasting experts , the work of STEEPLE, a JISC funded collaboration to disseminate from experience, and OPEN CAST, an international collaboration providing tools for improving efficiency in media production and publishing.

Expert presenters include:

  • Peter Scott, KMi Director, Knowledge Media Institute, The Open University
  • Nigel Warburton - www.philosophybites.com
  • Bjoern Hassler, Centre for Applied Research in Educational Technologies, University of Cambridge
  • Peter Robinson, Learning Technologies Group, Oxford University
  • Ben Hawkridge, Knowledge Media Institute, The Open University

Papers at this conference will:

  • Describe the new skills and knowledge required by students and staff in the digital age;
  • Explore the challenges that the use of digital technologies brings to the design of teaching and learning activities;
  • Offer new approaches and strategies for digital literacy skills training;
  • Explore the impact that the use of these new technologies has on motivation, participation and differentiation;
  • Highlight research in new areas of literacy such as digital storytelling, media literacy, interaction and collaboration skills.

Session topics include:

  • "New Channels to New Learners: Podcasting and the Open University on iTunesU"
  • "Podcasting Philosophy Bytes"
  • "Can you hear me now? How to get your videos into UK secondary education"
  • "The challenges and opportunities in podcasting at a research university"

Bookings and more details.

These conferences usually fill quite fast so early booking is recommended. Information about local accommodation for those who wish to attend on both days is available on our website.

12. Intute

Intute, a free online guide to the best websites and internet resources for students, lecturers and researchers.

Advert for Intute

13. More Phishing

We've seen a substantial number of webmail phishing emails in recent days, the majority warning of accounts over quota, etc. None of these have been especially tailored to Oxford users, but nevertheless we've identified a number of replies, despite the warning messages circulated to all users last term. We must assume any human-generated reply to a known phishing attempt will contain a user's password and will take appropriate action - generally this will at the very least involve a password reset.

In the worst case recently, a Herald webmail account was abused to send over 30,000 spam emails during a period of about an hour. Upon being alerted to the problem we took prompt action to disable the account; this remains suspended as investigation is ongoing.

Please remember to be vigilant and never reveal your passwords to any person; especially not by email.

Unfortunately, OxCERT aren't always notified of ongoing email phishing attempts. Please don't assume that we know; we would rather have multiple reports from you than none! We have set up a dedicated email address phishing@it.ox.ac.uk for the receipt of reports.

Please use this address to report all phishing attempts which may be used to gather credentials for University services (we're not interested in those directed at banks or other financial institutions). Please, please, please include full email headers if at all possible; they are invaluable to us in ensuring that prompt remedial action can be taken both locally and by affected external parties.

14. Access to OXAM

You can now access OXAM past exam papers when not in Oxford using your Oxford SSO account - you don't have to install VPN. Go to Oxlip PLus and, after authenticating, type 'OXAM' into the Title box. The .pdf files may be slow to open or save, depending on the speed of your link and computer.

15. Course Booking Open

Courses for Hilary term include courses in Endnote, Refworks, Excel, Word, Powerpoint, Access, Mac, Essentials of Web Publishing, Dreamweaver and Photoshop.

16. Podcasting Courses

OUCS are running courses on Podcasting again this term, ranging from the introductory Podcasting:Questions and Answers session to the more hands-on and in-depth session Podcasting for Education.

17. OUCS Vending Machine for IT Consumables

The Help Centre vending machine is temporarily out of service because Discount Computer Supplies Ltd (DCS), the private company responsible for maintaining the machine, are in administration and have ceased trading. We hope that the business can be transferred to another operator soon, but this is out of our control. We apologise for this lack of service and hope that whatever happens to the DCS business we are able to restore service as soon as possible.

The situation changes quite rapidly and that's why OUCS hasn't made any firm announcements anywhere other than the warning message on our website and on the machine itself.

Please accept our apologies if you have made a fruitless journey to OUCS as a result of this.

18. No More Faxed Orders

The OUCS On-line Shop is now no longer accepting faxed orders for software. All orders must be placed using the On-line Shop in order to ensure accuracy. Procedures are in place for ordering via Oracle Financials or College purchase orders.

19. Email Updates from OUCS

Would you like to receive termly updates from OUCS via email? We have set up a new email mailing list to send out brief news reports and important information once a term to subscribers. To subscribe yourself to the mailing list, send an email to: oucs-news-subscribe@maillist.ox.ac.uk

You will be sent a confirmation request, and once you reply to it, a message confirming that you are a subscriber with information about the list, including how to unsubscribe.

20. Oxford on ITunes U - Downloads Reach 500,000!

Free-to-download audio and video podcasts from the across the University of Oxford are available from the Oxford University iTunes website. The OUCS project team is proud to announce that it has only taken 16 weeks to reach 500,000 downloads!

Checkout the hundreds of hours of material.

21. OxCERT Monthly Reports

OxCERT monthly reports are available.

22. Software News for Hilary 2009

The latest Software Newsletter is now available.

23. For IT Support Staff

23.1. Group Membership of BCS

IT Support Staff Services has set up a group membership for the British Computer Society for Oxford University IT Staff. ITS3 acts as the administrator for this and joining offers several advantages including career recognition, skills self-analysis tools and some mentoring tools.


23.2. New HFS Tools for ITSS

The HFS and OUCS Registration have some new tools to help ITSS manage their TSM accounts (nodes). You can list all the TSM accounts that fall under your unit (which is worked out from the final part of the nodename). For each account in your unit you can now view the following: client information; recent activity (both backups and restores); status of recent scheduled backups; and data held on tape (i.e. all data held that was backed up prior to today).

24. Red Nose Day

Watch out for OUCS staff making fools of themselves around the town on Red Nose Day, 13th March - all donations appreciated! You can donate at OUCS reception too!

Red Nose Day advert

In support of Comic Relief, registered charity 326568