Following extensive setup and testing, the Oxford Nexus system was launched on 1st September with users migrating across from the existing Herald system. At 02:38am on 18th September we celebrated the 10,000th successful migration of a mailbox from Herald to Nexus. All new accounts are now being provisioned directly on Nexus, giving over 16,000 active mailboxes by 18th September.
Herald users are being migrated in three general slots - one ending on 2nd October, the second window running 19th October to 6th November, with deferred accounts being transferred by Christmas. Users joining from other services are likely to be migrated in early 2010, dependant upon local considerations.
Nexus provides significantly more than just email. By using the calendaring functionality it is possible to schedule meetings,book resources, make to-do lists, create distribution lists, keep journals and receive reminders of required meetings and tasks. In November functionality will be extended to include BlackBerry services. Expressions of interest are being requested for pilot users wishing to use SharePoint functionality as part of administrative, research or social activities - see www.oucs.ox.ac.uk/groupware
Nexus is a collection of applications which can be used to improve efficiency in many general tasks, and also provide a facility for improving collaboration and group working. Nexus includes email, contacts, tasks, global address list, meeting scheduler, sharing file facility, all stored on a central server so the information can be accessed from anywhere.
The service is hosted by Oxford University and therefore the long term security, privacy and availability of data can be guaranteed unlike free online services, and it comes without the distraction of advertising. Resilience is provided by running a mirrored site at Begbroke with in-built hardware fault tolerance and reduction of any single points of failure. Should a problem occur there are multiple layers of redundancy built into the system to ensure continuity of service.
Nexus is based upon Microsoft Exchange and Microsoft Office SharePoint Service (SharePoint), chosen by the Groupware Project Board, following extensive University-wide consultation and representation, in June 2008. Currently the version of the software is 2007, with plans to upgrade to the next version (2010) at the end of next year.
Nexus is being provided by OUCS to all members of the University as a centrally provided free service, with no discrimination between staff and students. The full Exchange service is now operational, while a pilot SharePoint service will start soon for a selection of users reflecting the different potential applications within SharePoint, initially focusing on the sharing of files between administrative groups, research groups, and clubs/societies. In addition a number of individual “My Sites” will be provisioned to allow sharing and publication of individual’s information.
Initial migration of users and their data has focused on moving from the central Herald service to Nexus. A series of additional migrations are planned in conjunction with other service providers like IMSU, BSP and smaller mail services across the university.
There are two routes to accessing information - either through a client residing on a particular computer (either a standard computer or a mobile device), or via a web browser. Users with a Nexus account login to the service separately from the remainder of the Oxford Single Sign on, but using the same credentials. Details of the clients supported can be found at www.oucs.ox.ac.uk/nexus/email.
Currently the recommended clients giving maximum groupware functionality are Outlook 2007, Outlook 2003 and Entourage Web Services. These allow full access to sharing of calendars, access to address lists, arranging meetings, etc. Some clients provide email-only access, while others have extensions allowing some calendar functionality.
Users accessing Nexus via a Web browser have a choice of Outlook Web Access(OWA) supported on Internet Explorer 6 or later, and Outlook Web Access Light (OWA Light) supported on all other browsers. Full details of setup and operation are provided at www.oucs.ox.ac.uk/nexus/web.
Nexus works in the same manner as any email server. Additional functionality is provided by allowing personal calendars to be displayed and modified independent of the user’s location, as information is stored on the server not the local PC. Also, access to the Global Address List (GAL) allows a search of all users with displayed address information across the whole university. This allows access to both the email address of the other user and additional information about when the user is free or busy from details in their calendar. From this information it is possible to arrange a meeting using a scheduling tool which will give options to optimise the number of people who can attend. Once the best time is decided provisional listings can be made and meeting requests sent to all participants.
Providing users maintain their online calendar, there is a reduced likelihood of having to re-arrange meetings due to clashes of key members. Rooms can be booked at the same time as the meeting is scheduled, along with any ancillary resources which are shared between rooms (e.g. projectors, laptops). The meeting coordinator knows the best time for the meeting, which can be verified by the attendees when they confirm their attendance. This reduces multiple attempts to schedule meetings.
Information can be delegated to colleagues, so that a PA can control a manager’s calendar and arrange their schedule with full privileges to that person’s account. Mail can be sent on behalf of the manager, and meetings arranged or accepted, thus reducing the manager’s interventions.
Address lists can be centrally maintained so that the GAL is always consistent when contacting colleagues, but is not available outside of the system. It is also possible to set up small distribution lists of members of a committee or research group and to make access to these lists available locally, thereby ensuring that people are not inadvertently omitted from mailings. These distribution lists can then also be used for arranging meetings, reducing the need to continually type in contact details.
Tasks can be created, assigned to a person and allocated various metadata allowing for efficient project management. When SharePoint comes online this work flow will be expanded so that documents are reviewed at their appropriate time, and a record kept of the various changes to the shared file.
The greatest concern about a groupware service is the loss of control and privacy. However details stored in a person’s calendar are only shown as being “Free” or “Busy” unless the user has specifically delegated access to that information to another user. Calendars need to be maintained regularly to avoid clashes with external commitments and enable efficient use of the meeting scheduler.
Storage for email is set at 2Gb, which is double the Herald quota. As has always been the case, additional quota can be requested by establishing a case for a larger quota. Should a quota be required over 3Gb then a system is being put in place to allow this for a fee.
Mail is sent internally within Nexus without touching the outside routing system when both sender and recipient are recognised from the GAL. Users who have email routed to other providers than the central service have their settings synchronised in order to ensure mail is not routed inadvertently to different mailboxes.
As the Nexus service is totally in the control of the University, the expansion of the SharePoint service will depend upon adequate financial provision, driven by the decisions of the Groupware Product Development Panel in providing priorities.
Microsoft have a roadmap for releasing an upgrade of the central application software as part of their 2010 Office suite. This will expand the OWA capability to more browsers than the current Microsoft-produced selection, and ensure greater functionality is provided to a wider base. In addition the new software is planned to provide a series of back-end functionality, including the facility to export users to a global service once they become alumni, and expansion of the potential size limits on databases.
On 30th June 2009 OUCS hosted a special “red-carpet” event to officially launch the new WebLearn service. Dr Stuart Lee, Director of Computing Systems and Services, presided over the event which was attended by over 50 invited guests from a wide variety of departments, colleges, administration and libraries. Dr Lee, who is also a National Teaching Fellow (2009) and Lecturer in Old English, uses new WebLearn to support his teaching. He spoke enthusiastically about the new service, focusing on some of the facilities that he has used effectively.
He put WebLearn into context with other University systems that support teaching, learning and research, and highlighted some of the new facilities such as the tutorial sign-up tool, wiki, announcements and online assessment system. He described a number of tips on how he made his Old English WebLearn site lively and engaging by integrating up-to-the-minute technologies such as Twitter and You Tube.
For those who missed the event but want to experience the excitement for themselves (!), Dr Lee’s talk was recorded and is available for download via the WebLearn area of the OUCS website (www.oucs.ox.ac.uk/weblearn). After his introduction, Dr Lee officially launched the service by pressing the button to open a set of rather novel electronic red curtains projected onto the wall of the recently refurbished Isis lecture room.
Next up was an invited speaker, Ian Dolphin, who is the Joint Information Systems Council (JISC) International Director of the e-Framework for Education and Research, and former Sakai Foundation Board member. (Sakai is the open source software system upon which new WebLearn is built.) He gave an excellent presentation about the international Sakai Community (which includes Cambridge, Yale, Stanford and MIT) and outlined the benefits that will accrue to Oxford by being a member of, and contributing to such a vibrant development community. (This talk is also available for download via the OUCS website.)
The launch was followed by the annual OxTALENT awards which recognise excellence in learning and teaching. Guests then enjoyed a champagne buffet where they had an opportunity to see demonstrations of other services offered by the Learning Technologies Group. For more information about the OxTALENT awards and LTG, see: www.ict.ox.ac.uk/oxford/groups/oxtalent and www.oucs.ox.ac.uk/ltg.
There have been a number of improvements to the WebLearn service since the last OUCS News. The most obvious is the introduction of the dual service: this comprises old and new WebLearn running in parallel accessed via a single URL (weblearn.ox.ac.uk). This arrangement will continue until September 2011 at which point the old service will become read-only for one year before being decommissioned.
New WebLearn received a “make-over” at the same time as the dual service was launched. The new branding draws attention to the five main uses of an online learning environment: Collaboration, Content and Information provision, Assessment and the Management and administration of courses.
Recent improvements to the functionality of new WebLearn include:
- The introduction of a comprehensive guidance site
- A new version of the (Tutorial) Sign-up tool with repeating events
- Integration of the Assignments tool with the Turnitin plagiarism detection service
- A new tool to search site titles
- Integration with other student services (Oxam, GSS, OxCORT etc.)
- The ability for site owners to make their sites either public or available to all logged-in users
In addition, there have been many smaller enhancements suggested by our growing user community. If you have any ideas on how to improve the service then please drop us a line at email@example.com.
The website contains a lot of useful information about the service (as opposed to how to use the service) including: a new Service Level Description; a section on getting started; a description of available tools; details of all upcoming training courses; implications of recent system changes; answers to some frequently asked questions and a link to the brand new unmissable Adam’s WebLearn Blog.
The website also contains customisable resources for departments or colleges to download and modify - including copies of the new branding for use on websites, customisable posters, documentation, and flyers.
It allows either single or repeated meetings to be scheduled and will automatically partition time slots into any number of equal-length sessions with an optionally specified maximum number of attendees. All meetings are added to the site calendar and potential attendees can be notified of the details by email. The meeting can be displayed on one or more WebLearn sites.
WebLearn has many tools that will allow teaching and learning to continue in the absence of face-to-face meeting between students and tutors. The most obvious approach is to set up a site with all members of a course or tutorial group listed as participants. This site can then host learning materials in the Resources tool within a WebLearn site; any documents stored in Resources can be found by the Search tool.
The document repository can be backed up by the use of the Chat and Forums tools for synchronous and asynchronous communications respectively. The Sign-up tool (see opposite) could be used to arrange a series of online tutorials in much the same way as it can be used to organise face-to-face tutorials; alternatively, the site Schedule (calendar) can be used to indicate when a tutor will be present in the chat-room to answer student questions.
The Email archive (mail list) and Announcements tool also facilitate easy communication within a course. The Assignments tool (with optional Turnitin plagiarism checking) can be used for the online submission of essays and tests can be conducted within the Tasks, Tests and Surveys assessment system.
We would recommend that departments and colleges begin planning now; the first thing to do is establish a WebLearn presence and begin setting up infrastructure that can be brought into play should there be a need.
For more information please visit: www.oucs.ox.ac.uk/weblearn
Need some just-in-time help and support right at your desk? Consult the WebLearn Guidance Site (weblearn.ox.ac.uk/info) which is located right inside new WebLearn. The site contains detailed step-by-step guides, short video tutorials, FAQ's, and many other tips and resources. Its sub-sites include a showcase, with written case-studies and sample WebLearn sites built by Oxford users, a WebLearn Community that you can join, and information about plagiarism and copyright. The site is growing all the time and we welcome your comments and suggestions (email firstname.lastname@example.org).
Two formal WebLearn courses are available in the ITLP portfolio: WebLearn Fundamentals and Migrating your Content. Both are aimed at non-IT staff, in order to provide user-friendly, medium-paced courses with the opportunity for hands-on practice. Book your place at www.oucs.ox.ac.uk/itlp. Shorter, more technical sessions are offered for IT support staff, to enable them to manage and administer the WebLearn presence of a department or college (book at www.oucs.ox.ac.uk/its3). Departments, colleges and other units need to nominate one or more Local WebLearn Coordinators, by completing the “Request for WebLearn Administration Site” form which is available on the WebLearn Guidance site.
The University, and OUCS, have been in several discussions surrounding the overall reduction of power consumption, carbon emissions, etc. There are several drivers behind all of this - the fluctuating costs of electricity and gas, the emerging consensus on the challenges facing the environment, legislation emerging from the Government, and so on.
As part of this, OUCS is committed to enacting some key measures in an attempt to reduce its consumption and overall impact and is effectively acting as a case study for other departments to follow. We have a published Energy Policy Statement which also includes guidance on recycling and have been greatly assisted by attracting funding from JISC to work on the low-carbon IT project, which in turn has led to the monitoring and Wake-on-LAN service.
A set of pages have been produced on Green IT which begin to set out some guidelines and results of previous studies: www.oucs.ox.ac.uk/greenit.
So how green is Oxford University? Not very according to the People and Planet league table for 2009 peopleandplanet.org/green-league-2009
While much of the methodology used is paper pushing, one of the most concerning scores is “carbon emissions per head” where we score “awful”. OUCS hopes to help the University create and manage greener IT services to improve this score in the future - IT is about 10% of the University electricity bill and 1 kWh is currently 0.537 kg CO2eq in the UK.
And for several days in early August, Oxford was at the number one spot in the global iTunes U downloads chart, with philosophy lecturer Marianne Talbot’s “Romp through the history of philosophy”. A month later, it was still at number two, having been ousted from the top slot by a podcast about the operating system of the Mac!
Oxford’s site in iTunes U is a free site featuring more than 500 audio and video podcasts about the University including talks, lectures and interviews with leading researchers. There is a parallel web site for those wishing to access the material from libraries and other public computers. You can listen to any of these podcasts by going to itunes.ox.ac.uk.
OUCS continues to improve and expand the help, support and services for providing podcasts. Latest features include the system now working on iPhones and smart phones. More details and related courses can be found at www.oucs.ox.ac.uk/podcasts. Please send any feedback or questions to email@example.com
OpenSpires (openspires.oucs.ox.ac.uk) is a HEFCE/JISC pilot project which OUCS is working on in partnership with legal services. Its aims are to increase the amount of audio and video content released from Oxford and to enable the University to investigate the implications of making some of this material available as Open Content under a Creative Commons licence.
This funding would enable the University to build upon the Oxford iTunes U service launched in October 2008, which has widespread participation from Oxford academics. Oxford podcasts currently include recordings of public lectures, including those from eminent visiting speakers, interviews with researchers, and conference presentations. The project will have a global impact, as the free-to-download resources are in many cases from speakers, researchers and visiting lecturers with high international profiles.
Benefits for the University of this project include:
- Enhance Oxford’s Global reputation - enable us to produce more material from eminent speakers that has a global impact and places Oxford in a leading position within the UK open content movement.
- Ensure expert legal scrutiny - the complex licensing and IPR issues associated with Open Content will be overseen by Legal Services
- Text transcripts to accompany and enhance the existing audio recordings will be created
- Alumni - enable the University to produce more audio and video material that brings the modern day University to life for its many alumni
- Admissions - enable us to produce more podcasts that will reach and inspire the key 16-18 age range
The Wall of 100 Faces is a web page showcasing 100 short videos, usually 1 minute or less, of current students talking about some aspect of their time at Oxford. There is no overarching editorial stance on the subjects spoken about. The point is to give prospective students, staff, media or interested visitors a glimpse of what an “average Oxford student” is like. The Student Web Media team has been working in OUCS over the last year to film and edit around 8 of these videos. www.ox.ac.uk/videowall
Mobile Oxford is OUCS’s new mobile services site designed for any web-capable mobile phone and can be accessed at m.ox.ac.uk. The site hosts an array of features including access to real time bus information from across the county, University podcasts, location information about University buildings and general points of interest (including the nearest restaurants) and much, much more.
The project, which started in August 2009, is part of the JISC funded Erewhon project and sources data from Oxfordshire County Council, the Department for Transport, ACIS, Open Street Map and OxPoints.
We have recently upgraded to a new version of the online shop, providing a number of new and useful features. Now you can search for products and specify whether you want to collect your order or have it delivered. Where we can supply older versions of software, you can request the version when ordering. Find out more at www.oucs.ox.ac.uk/shop
After project completion, the First World War Poetry Digital Archive (www.oucs.ox.ac.uk/ww1lit) has kindly donated their A3 colour scanner to the Help Centre. It is now available in the Help Centre resource area and can be used on a drop-in basis or booked via a diary adjacent to the scanner.
The OUCS Hardware Repair Service has signed an agreement with Apple Sales International which authorizes us to carry out warranty repairs on Apple Mac hardware owned by the University or its members. We will complete a fault diagnosis within 1 working day of receiving the equipment and, for qualifying warranty repair claims, will finish the job within 2 working days of the arrival of replacement parts. Of course we are also happy to quote for non-warranty repairs of Apple Macs and PCs. More information and a booking form are available at www.oucs.ox.ac.uk/helpcentre/pcsupport/hardware-service.xml
On 30th June, six OxTALENT prize winners were announced and celebrated at a champagne reception. OUCS support not just the technology but also the people involved in using IT in learning and teaching. Each year OxTALENT awards are given to staff and students who have been innovative and talented in the ways they apply and use the technology to enhance the teaching experience or support specific learning outcomes. 2009 has brought us another fine group of prize winners, drawn from disciplines across the University. This year prizes were sponsored by Apple, Toshiba and QAssociates.
Not content with being Director of Computing Systems and Services, Dr Stuart Lee is also an Oxford English lecturer and has been awarded a National Teaching Fellowship from the Higher Education Academy. The award is for his work bringing medieval texts and other literature to life for students through modern technology.
Following successful engineering works, the bandwidth on the Universities link to JANET has been increased to 10 Gbps (previously 2 Gbps). This substantial increase will enable us to continue to handle the ever increasing traffic levels that we experience. The upgrade maintains the two incoming connections to OUCS which take physically different routes, thus providing a fully resilient connection to the JANET site at Reading.
Thanks to support from the Office of the Director of IT (ODIT), OUCS has successfully bid for money from the PRAC ICT Subcommittee (PICT) to upgrade the current OUCS VPN service to support new client platforms (64bit, Windows 7, Snow Leopard, etc.), and offer higher throughput. The hardware has gone live and new client software will be released early in the term pending local customization and documentation by ICTST.
Also thanks to ODIT and PICT, we shall be installing a bandwidth management appliance onto the OWL/Eduroam/VPN services at OUCS by the start of term. Its purpose is to restrict the use of peer-to-peer applications, and to ensure fair use of network resources amongst all users of those services.
The project to replace the current web tools provided by the OUCS Networks team with a new DNS and DHCP management system is ongoing. The product allows us to devolve far more control over DNS and DHCP records to local IT support staff and to provide support for future protocols such as IPv6 and DNSSEC.
Further information on these developments is available at www.oucs.ox.ac.uk/network/newservices09.
OUCS has recently provided a blogging service for anyone in OUCS to use. It’s in its early days, but those that have started blogging include the Information Services team, the Learning Technologies Group and the Networks team. The “Director’s Cut” is now a blog.
In the first post to the Network teams blog, Oliver Gorwits explains “This blog is a new venture for us, but it’s something we’ve wanted to do for a long time. Our days are filled with a mix of the usual IT firefighting but also a lot of development of our services. We work on so many projects, but it would quickly become annoying to witter on about them on regular mail lists. So we started this blog to provide those interested with more information about each of our services, and the changes we make.”
The blogs are available at: blogs.oucs.ox.ac.uk.
Initially we are offering Aperture and Final Cut Express Apple certified courses, but these will be followed by other Pro applications and technical topics. The courses will be delivered by Apple certified trainers who are leading practitioners in their field.
Running alongside the certified courses is a series of introductory Apple courses as part of the IT Learning Programme. In December we have invited Oxford Academy of Film Making to deliver a course aimed at helping scientific researchers to create their own short documentaries. This will be followed by similar sessions for other disciplines.
Welcome to Steve – Stephen Eyre has joined our team of IT Teachers. His interests are multi-media software, typically in the Mac environment. He will be a key contributor to our new series of Mac app courses, starting with iLife this term and moving on to other Pro Apps such as Logic, an audio sequencer. Stephen is well known to OUCS, as a keen football player and musician (alas he is also a noted Liverpool supporter, but hey :).
The IT Learning Programme can help if you find yourself working in the unfamiliar interface of Office 2007. From Michaelmas 09, all our popular Office courses are available using version 2007. You can download self-study notes and hands-on practice from the ITLP Portfolio (look in the group headed “Office”). QuickStart cards, which give a convenient summary of the commands and tools, are available from firstname.lastname@example.org for a small charge. Support information, including tips and tricks, videos and links to expert sites are also in the Portfolio.
Earn the Advanced ECDL certificate, to prove your skills with spreadsheets, databases, presentations or word-processing. The Advanced European Computer Driving Licence sets the bar rather higher than the everyday computer user, so if you can study for and pass this test it will make a worthwhile addition to your CV. OUCS is an authorised training and testing centre for the AECDL. Details and schedule at www.oucs.ox.ac.uk/itlp
Full details of the duration of the funding and how to obtain the software can be seen at www.oucs.ox.ac.uk/sls/newsletters/newss2009.xml
For some time, the OUCS dialup service has been provided but not supported or maintained; the machines used were not maintained under warranty by the supplier and the software platform was no longer supported. Following a serious technical problem, the dialup service on 01865 792444 failed terminally and will not be reinstated. Service may still be available on 01865 434527 but nothing is guaranteed. Please consider moving to a broadband connection with an internet service provider for use away from the University Network.
OxCERT (Oxford Computer Emergency Response Team) publishes monthly reports on its work. See www.oucs.ox.ac.uk/network/security/reports.
Ever wondered what IT at the University was like in the dim and distant past? Some of it is captured in the OUCS web pages on www.oucs.ox.ac.uk/internal/history.