23. Celebrating 10 Years of LTG
This academic year marks the 10th anniversary of the Learning Technologies Group at OUCS. With a decade of experience as a leader in the field of educational technologies and higher education, the LTG now plays an increasingly important role in the teaching and learning activities of the University and contributes its own research to Oxford’s portfolio. Here we look back to the roots of the LTG and the work it has done alongside OUCS to raise the profile of learning and teaching with technology in Oxford.
The LTG was originally formed by bringing together Project ASTER (Assisting Small Group Teaching Through Electronic Resources), the OxTALENT Research Officer, and the Academic Computing Development Team (previously the Humanities Computing Development Team). A cross-disciplinary group, it was led by Dr Stuart Lee to offer the University a central point of advice for using computers in teaching and learning.
Over the following 18 months the restructuring of OUCS merged all training and teaching under the LTG. The IT Learning Programme (ITLP) offers University Staff and students a vast portfolio of face-to-face and online learning resources to develop IT skills, as well as ‘closed’ courses designed in collaboration with individual departments to teach specific subjects. Over the years it has also become a leader in the field of higher education in its promotion of the European Computer Driving Licence (ECDL) to staff and students.
With an increasing focus on both researching and advising on the effective use of technology in teaching and learning the LTG began to look into offering more generalised services to the University. In 2002, in response to a growing demand from academic staff a procurement exercise for a University Virtual Learning Environment began. A working group was set up consisting of academics, developers of in-house VLE systems, IT Officers, and other stakeholders. The group reviewed a series of commercial and non-commercial systems and selected the open-source Bodington system developed by the University of Leeds, later renamed WebLearn.
Open-source meant that the system could be customized according to Oxford’s model of devolved administration and that developer could respond quickly to changes requested by end users. A specialised VLE section was set up in the group and WebLearn became a production service in May 2004. With usage growing steadily across the University the LTG worked closely with academics to ensure the software met teaching and learning goals. In 2007, Leeds migrated their own VLE to a proprietary system. OUCS, keen to stay part of a vibrant open- source community, chose to migrate WebLearn to Sakai 3, the VLE of choice for many other Ivy League establishments.
As the group grew, the LTG proactively established networks of contacts with the divisions, colleges, and other relevant bodies within the University, collaborating on a vast range of initiatives that would go on to impact Oxford’s teaching and learning activities. On an annual basis, the Academic Computing Development Team undertook a series of projects in conjuction with University departments, services and individual staff members. In 2008, after the completion of 58 projects, general University IT services such as WebLearn, negated the need for many bespoke systems and the ACDT resources were reallocated.
Throughout the past decade it has been the LTG Services section that have provided the backbone to many LTG activities, offering advice on and expertise in the use of technology for learning and teaching to departments around the University. In response to changing needs and technologies the section has run popular seminar programmes, and annual oversubscribed conferences attracting international speakers. In 2007 the section developed the technical architecture for providing a University-wide podcasting service, allowing departments to adopt a standard workflow for releasing audio and video content into the web portal. On October 8th 2008 LTGS launched the service in partnership with Apple as Oxford on iTunes U.
In order to promote and celebrate the use of technology in Oxford’s teaching LTG established the annual OXTALENT awards which now feed into the University Teaching Awards scheme. The case studies of practice which accompany the awards are disseminated widely across the University to share stories and support innovation. Melissa Highton, current head of LTG describes the award ceremony as ‘a showcase of creative, inspirational online content and teaching at Oxford. The technologies provided to colleagues to support their teaching are developed and tailored to ensure they best meet the needs of teachers and learners, each year brings new initiatives and projects to celebrate’.
Now an established centre of expertise, the LTG has become increasingly involved in a vast range of ICT projects funded by external sources such as the JISC. Grants have been received for group staff to work on innovative projects that lead institutional strategy, develop digital research collections, foster public engagement, Green ICT, develop system interoperability and research student and staff experiences of digital technologies.
Responsive to change, the group runs a series of Working User Groups to share best practice and guide the development of Oxford’s educational IT services. Working alongside OUCS services, it will continue to adapt and change to meet the needs of the University and its members in the years to come.