1. The University Shared Data Centre (USDC)

1.1. The Challenge

From large-scale divisional computing systems to small-scale research groups or college servers, providing a secure and resilient environment for computing systems can be an expensive and time consuming task. We are all facing the increasing costs of managing those computing facilities, of rising maintenance and power bills, of environmental accountability and increasing pressure on space. Many of us are weighing up the cost effectiveness of further capital investment in data centre and server room hardware or perhaps considering external solutions to managing data in a secure computing environment.

Laptop with postit notes of IT problems

1.2. The Solution

The new University Shared Data Centre (USDC) reduces the need for external solutions and further investment in ad-hoc server rooms. The USDC provides you with a dedicated shared data centre designed to be robust and efficient with high security. It offers colleges, faculties and departments the ability to physically locate their computing equipment within a controlled environment with full lights-out management capabilities.

1.3. Key Benefits of the USDC

  • Reduced costs: sharing common infrastructure reduces overheads; the Shared Services Advisory Group estimates that shared services can generate a 20-30% cost reduction in the public sector. (Shared Services in the Higher Education Sector, Report for HEFCE by KPMG, July 2006).
  • Reduced risk: the USDC provides a state-of-the-art computing environment which is both secure and resilient.
  • Reduced carbon emissions: the data centre meets international standards in sustainability and efficiency and is helping the University meet its carbon emission reduction targets: by 2020 the University must have reduced its carbon emissions by 33%.

1.4. Services from the USDC

A range of services are on offer to everyone within the collegiate University, they are:

  • Hosting your hardware in the data centre
  • Operating your IT services on the data centre’s virtualised servers
  • A fully managed service from the USDC and NSMS teams

More information on the USDC services.

2. Cloud Computing with the USDC

2.1. What is Cloud Computing?

That’s the big question! The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) defines it as: ‘a model for enabling convenient, on-demand network access to a shared pool of configurable computing resources (e.g. networks, servers, storage, applications and services) that can be rapidly provisioned and released with minimal management effort or service provider interaction’.

2.2. Cloud Computing with the USDC

Building on the foundation provided by the USDC, the Shared Infrastructure Services (SIS) team at OUCS is able to offer a private Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) cloud. The University now has access to a shared pool of configurable computing resources. Specifically, we are providing an automated self-service virtual infrastructure for shared use across the University.

2.3. Your Private Cloud at the USDC

The private cloud gives you:

  • Elasticity: on-demand access to compute and storage resources.
  • High speed networking: systems on the oxford private cloud located on your college or department VLAN or on the highly available USDC data centre network.
  • Rapid deployment: purchase and provision resources in minutes not weeks.
  • Transparent costing: see the true costs of IT without power and facilities costs hidden.

2.4. Key Benefits of Cloud Computing with the USDC

  • Reduced costs: using this shared pool of configurable computing resources allows you to be less reliant upon internal systems and ultimately reduce your hardware and software expenditure.
  • Increased efficiency: the Shared Services Advisory Group estimates that shared services can generate a 20-30% cost reduction in the public sector. (Shared Services in the Higher Education Sector, Report for HEFCE by KPMG, July 2006).
  • Flexibility: you benefit from an on-demand resource which can be scaled up or down depending on your needs.

3. Why Use a Private Cloud over a Public Cloud?

The benefits of cloud computing are widely discussed and include such things as agility (the ability to quickly configure new resources via self-service portals), elasticity (the ability to scale up and down resource usage) and a utility charging model (minimising capital investment requirements). Given these benefits, why aren’t all IT providers migrating to the public cloud? The answer lies in the number of barriers to adopting public cloud technologies. Fortunately, many of these barriers do not apply to the more localised private cloud services, such as the USDC private cloud.

One of the primary barriers to the public cloud is data location. Whereas, a major advantage of a private cloud run by the University for the University, is that any data stored on the cloud doesn’t leave the University. Considering intellectual property, freedom of information and data protection rights - three things that must be understood when processing and storing data - storing data with the University makes life much simpler.

A private cloud also has another advantage over its public counterparts: there are no charges for moving data to and from the cloud. Public providers have charges in place for data movement that can add significantly to the costs of using cloud infrastructure, even for those manipulating just reasonable amounts of data. The USDC private cloud is located on the University network and enjoys the benefits of a high-speed connection without users of the service attracting additional charges.

Finally, another often cited issue is the reliability of the connection to the cloud provider: depending on the internet for accessing systems, with its bottlenecks and reliability questions, can be too risky for some applications. The location of the USDC private cloud within the boundaries of the University network makes it no different from accessing email or many of the other central services that IT systems across the University.

More information on cloud computing at the University of Oxford.

3.1. Services Managed by the University for the University

The USDC and its services are managed by Oxford University Computing Services (OUCS). We operate, develop and support the University’s primary computing infrastructure and services. We are committed to providing high-quality and cost-effective IT services that meet the needs of the University and its members. We seek to foster and support excellence, innovation, best practice, and value for money in the use of IT across the University.

The USDC’s private cloud provides a shared responsibility environment for computing. The private cloud provides the underlying infrastructure, but the IT services built upon it are owned and managed independently. This allows a ‘Shared Infrastructure, Local Autonomy’ approach to IT services. This approach offers a great fit for one of the University’s core principles - subsidiarity.

The Shared Infrastructure Services team at OUCS (SIS) offer flexible cloud computing to your college, department or faculty. This service is built upon the state-of-the-art facilities provided by the University’s Shared Data Centre (USDC).

To find out how the SIS team can help you - please contact us at: SIS@oucs.ox.ac.uk

We are happy to discuss your cloud computing or co-location requirements. We aim to find the best fit for your college, department or faculty.

4. New University Policy on Information Security

A new policy on Information Security has been approved by the PRAC ICT Sub-committee and will soon be submitted for consideration by Council. The policy was drafted by the ICT Forum’s Information Security Advisory Group in consultation with the Legal Services Office, Council Secretariat and the Information Security Best Practice Project (ISBP). We (the ISBP team) are now working with Council Secretariat to finalise the wording of the policy and to begin the process of submitting the policy to Council.

Latest draft of the policy

5. Information Security Toolkit

Picture of a toolbox and spanner

We are also developing an online toolkit to help support you when following the new Information Security Policy. The toolkit is taking shape, look at the progress

We aim to provide a resource for everyone with suggested technical solutions and example local policies.

5.1. Help build the Information Security Toolkit

Your contributions to the toolkit are welcome - we are looking for anything from local policies, tools or solutions you have implemented to general advice on good practice within Information Security. If you are able to offer material please contact us at: infosec@oucs.ox.ac.uk

Further information on the Information Security Best Practice Project

6. Exchange Large Files Securely

Do you want to send a video or document archive to a colleague or send a large electronic document to a printing company for mass publication? Do you need to receive large data sets from someone at another institution?

Then take a look at OxFile.

Screenshot of Oxfile

OxFile is a web service that supports the exchange of large files with people inside and outside of Oxford University. It is simple and fast to use, and any member of the University can setup a file exchange for immediate use.

All services have limits:

  • Nexus can only send or receive emails less than 100MB in size
  • WebLearn has a 1GB default site quota and you need access rights to contribute to one or more sites
  • SharePoint has a 1GB file size limit and is only accessible if you have a Single Sign On (SSO) account
  • OxFile will accept files up to 20GB

Oxfile sends out notifications when files have been up or downloaded and is self-tidying as files are automatically pruned after a (user-selected) fixed period. Basic security (encrypted file transfer, server verification, and user access control) is included by default.

About Oxfile

Use the Oxfile service

7. Spam

We all receive unwanted email, sometimes of an offensive nature. It is very hard to totally avoid this, but it can usually be contained to a mere irritation. Most incoming mail is scanned by the server in order to tag junk mail, and OUCS recommends also applying a filter to screen you from the worst excesses.

Spam scoring and handling are reliable at the server level (both Oxmail and Exchange), in Outlook Web Access (both the full and light versions) and many other clients. However, OUCS recommend that people disable spam filtering in the Outlook client itself as some people have experienced problems.

Messages that are identified as spam or junk mail by Nexus are moved to the Junk E-mail folder. If you do not remove them, they are automatically deleted after 90 days.

More information on email services and spam.

Over the long Royal Wedding/Bank Holiday weekend, the University received two spam run campaigns. Read more about these, what they were, how they were handled as well as see the answers to many of the questions people have about spam.

8. Oxford Nexus News

The Oxford Nexus services, based around Microsoft Exchange and SharePoint, continue to develop. The main news regarding Exchange (email, calendaring, etc.) is that the service is due to be upgraded to Exchange 2010 in the first quarter of next year (2012).

This should be a painless experience and one main benefit is that Outlook Web Access - still sometimes referred to as Webmail by some - will be much better if you are a Firefox or Safari user. There should be equitable functionality between Internet Explorer, Firefox and Safari, as long as you are using relatively recent supported versions.

We intend that the transition will be as hidden as possible. You may be told that you are going to be upgraded at a particular date/time and you may need to log back in once the upgrade is complete. We anticipate no loss of data, old email or calendar items, etc. during the change. Major changes will be taking place behind the scenes, with almost the whole of the infrastructure (servers and storage) underpinning Nexus Exchange being replaced.

Other changes around this time include the removal of the username.herald.ox.ac.uk method of connecting to Nexus Exchange for IMAP users. This method of IMAP connectivity was only established as an interim measure to assist people through the change from Herald to Nexus and must now be decommissioned. Instructions for changing most popular IMAP clients to use imap.nexus.ox.ac.uk (a very simple change) exist on the OUCS web site.

Anyone who uses WebDav to access Exchange will find that this functionality is removed with Exchange 2010. We encourage people to use Exchange Web Services instead. This may affect older Entourage and Evolution email clients, among others.

The use of the Oxford Nexus SharePoint service continues to build. There is lots of information about the service if you are yet to get started.

If you want to see what’s there already, find the site directory in order to find out who to contact if you would like a SharePoint site yourself.

The Integration of WebLearn and Nexus project has been working hard to find, and develop, ways in which shared functionality is possible between the VLE and the Nexus services. Very soon, you should find that you can subscribe to any site calendar to which you have access, from calendaring clients including Outlook Web Access and Outlook. We are also working on the ability to email out calendar events and/or invitations for items within WebLearn (e.g. tutorials), so that these can be added to Nexus calendars.

9. Phase Out of Username.Herald

Do you connect to Oxford Nexus email via an IMAP email client using username.herald.ox.ac.uk as the connection 'server'?

OUCS's Herald service was phased out in late 2009 and this connection method was continued temporarily to enable people to change the connection details at their own pace.

However, the username.herald service is going to be withdrawn on 29th November 2011.

If this applies to you, you will have already received a warning email. All you need to do is to open the configuration settings in your email client and change the incoming server name from username.herald.ox.ac.uk to imap.nexus.ox.ac.uk

Your email should continue to function as normal after amending these connection settings and - even if you make a mistake setting them - your server-side email will be safe.

If you are using Microsoft Outlook or Apple Mail on OSX 10.6 (Snow Leopard) we strongly recommend that you reconfigure it more extensively to act as a Groupware client. This will give you the complete range of integrated service features such as email, shared calendars, contacts, and task management. Groupware configuration instructions.

Please make the appropriate configuration change as soon as possible. If you don't, further email reminders will be sent.

Not sure what to do? Please ask your local IT Support, or the OUCS Help Centre for advice.

10. Mobile Oxford 1.1 Improvements

10.1. Speed

We’ve heavily optimised our cache headers to tell your phone what to store and for how long so you need not re-load regularly. Added to this you’ll also benefit from the speed that our new AJAX loading system provides so that the entire page does not need to be re-created every time you click through.

Screenshot of bus groups option on Mobile Oxford

10.2. Transport improvements

10.2.1. Bus stop groups

We now group bus stops with nearby ones, this means if you navigate to one bus stop in a particular area you’ll also get the real time bus information for the nearby stops. This is particularly useful if you have a choice of buses from a particular area or if you can’t remember which bus stop yours is!

Mobile Oxford

10.2.2. Rail replacement bus departures

Now shown on railway departure boards.

10.3. Many more!

There are dozens of other changes which you can read all about.

11. Mobile Oxford Goes Welsh

Bangor University is trialling a mobile service based on the Mobile Oxford software. Have a look.

Image of three phones displaying Bangor's mobile service

12. Media Production Unit Joins OUCS

Close up photo of a video camera

One of the main units within the University for video conferencing and digital filming is the Media Production Unit or MPU.

From the 1st October, the MPU will become part of OUCS, thus moving from its current organisational home of the Public Affairs Directorate. This is s a very positive move. The MPU bring with it a wealth of expertise and a set of really good facilities to supplement the excellent work OUCS is already doing in these areas (e.g. digital film-making, podcasting, and videoconferencing).

OUCS will be able to provide greater support to expand the service and offer a single point of expertise to the University.

13. Printers with a Mind of their Own?

We are aware of several cases in recent days of unexpected output appearing on networked printers around the University. In general these appear to result from network scans by systems on the global internet and do not appear to be actively exploiting any vulnerability specific to printers. The output we’ve seen appears to be a standard HTTP probe for open proxies, interpretted by the printer as though it were raw text.

What this has revealed is that many printers are exposed to the global internet, often on several ports and in some cases ten or more. Port 515 (lpd) is blocked at the University’s external gateway, but many other ports commonly used by printers, such as port 80 (HTTP, commonly used for printer management) and 9100 (HP JetDirect), are unrestricted. There are no immediate plans to introduce further restrictions at the University’s external gateway.

Where possible, we recommend limiting access to printers to permitted hosts only, for instance at local firewalls. If no firewall is in place, or as an additional safeguard, many printers permit use of basic IP-based access controls, as well as disabling of unused services. Be aware that in some cases, there may be a need to submit print jobs from outside the local network (for instance, from Oracle Financials), and that some users may have got used to printing from remote locations.

Additionally, we recommend use of strong administrative passwords, and where possible, restricting administrative access to encrypted protocols only.

Please note: as of 2011-09-20, port 80 (http) is no longer blocked at the University firewall. Devices listening on this port will be open to the world unless local access controls are in place. Port 515 (lpd) remains blocked at the University’s external gateway.

More OxCERT Security Bulletins.

14. Research Skills Toolkit

Image of penknife toolkit

For the coming year, OUCS will be offering Research Skills Toolkit workshops during Hilary Term (weeks 1 and 8). The workshops will offer research students a hands-on encounter with a range of IT and Library tools and skills to support their work. These events are a collaboration between OUCS and the Bodleian Libraries. Each session is tailored to the interests of an academic Division or a group of Departments.

Details and dates will be announced shortly. Meanwhile, find out more about what is available in the Research Skills Toolkit website.

15. OUCS and the Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Lightsource


OUCS staff like to get out and about, and are often written about when they do. Here, James Cummings, of InfoDev investigates a new computing tool for arts and humanities research.

Caption: Digital Humanities members (l-r: Michael Toth, Fenella France, Brett Bobley, James Cummings, Sam Webb and Allison Marsh) listen to SSRL staff scientist Sam Webb explain how synchrotron X-ray radiation can help them uncover the past. Photo by Mike Ross.

16. Crowdsourcing with Sustainable Success

The outcomes and lessons learned from the RunCoCo project of the LTG can be synthesised into a simple A,B,C of advice for projects and groups who aim to ‘crowdsource’ with sustainable success:

  • Aim for Two-way engagement
  • Be part of your community
  • Challenge your assumptions

The RunCoCo project team have played a key role in supporting and promoting this new way of working with the public for impact, outreach and engagement at home and abroad. The outputs of the project are available on the RunCoCo website for free. These include guides, workflows, reports, training materials and open source software. The lessons learned have been distilled into a chapter in the e-publication Content Clustering and Sustaining Digital Resources (JISC, 2011 ).

Watch this space for news of the RunCoCo and The Great War Archive project team in Germany and beyond... (Europeana 1914-1918)

17. RunCoCo Beyond Collections

The Beyond Collections conference, organised by RunCoCo, explored the different challenges which face crowdsourced and community projects. It featured a series of presentations by successful community collection projects as well as a panel of experts, practitioners and policy makers. The presenters and delegates enjoyed the venue and found the day ‘inspirational’.

The conference was open to participants who are interested in community collections (like The Great War Archive and Community Archives Wales) or working to harness a community to enrich an existing collection with tags or comments (like Galaxy Zoo and the Zooniverse).

Reports from the day including audio and video podcasts are available.

18. OxTALENT 2011 - Oxford’s IT in Teaching and Learning Awards

On the 28th June, OUCS hosted the annual OxTALENT awards ceremony to celebrate creative use of technology for learning, teaching, impact and outreach.

This year OUCS was decorated with balloons and flower arrangements to mark the 10th birthday of the red carpet event. The ceremony was opened by special guest speaker Anthony Geffen, winner of this year’s BAFTA for 'Specialist Factual' and Visiting Fellow of St Cross College. He spoke about his career in digital media, from student of Geography to CEO of Atlantic Productions and the possibilities that innovative and inspirational technology can provide.

Dr Dave Waters, chair of the OxTALENT committee then awarded outstanding work from staff and students from across the University in the following categories:

  • Best use of WebLearn to support a course or programme of study
  • Best use of technology in learning spaces
  • Best Use of Student IT for Learning
  • Best Research Poster
  • Best Research Digital Image
  • Use of IT for Impact and Outreach
  • Student Podcasting
  • Academic Podcasting
Photo of winners

Winners included the Department of Anthropology, recognised for its high quality academic podcasting series now available via the Oxford Podcasting Portal and iTunesU. Dr Helen Christian, Dept of Physiology, Anatomy and Genetics was awarded for her evaluation of an interactive revision session using mobile phones in WebLearn. Meanwhile, the Best Student Use of IT award went to Helen Ginn for her CMol iPhone and iPad application designed for easily viewing 3D renditions of biological molecules.

Last year’s winner of the academic podcasting prize, Dr Emma Smith of Hertford College also delivered a speech, and reflected upon the ways in which OUCS made it possible for her and others in the University to use technology to enrich teaching and learning.

Categories for the annual OxTALENT Awards are announced in Hilary term. Find out more about this year’s winning entries.

In photo, left to right: Dr Helen Christian; Hannah Kirby; Daniel Ostendorff; Leticia Uchoa; Jamie Zhan; Rev Dr James Robson; Julia Richardson; Andre Neves; Oleksandr Zhurakovskyi; Dr David Waters (OxTALENT Chair).

19. Bringing Oxford Politics Closer to the Subject Community

Are you interested in discovering what leading academics think about current events such as the London Riots and the recent turmoil in the Middle East? Are you looking for easily accessible academic resources to inspire political thought and debate? An online collaboration between the Department of Politics and International Relations, University of Oxford and the Department of Politics and International Studies, University of Cambridge aims to do just that.

Screen shot

Politics in Spires is a new website that brings high- quality open educational resources closer to the subject community. The site provides dynamic collections of learning materials from across the globe together with a cross-institutional scholarly blog. Open materials include audio and video podcasts of lectures and eminent speakers, online courses, and commentaries, all of which are licensed for you to use and redistribute in your teaching. Bookmarking tools allow registered users to create ‘learning pathways’ through the collections around a thematic topic which can then be shared with students and the wider public. The website is also a forum for free expression and invites your feedback and opinions on the topics discussed.

Politics in Spires was developed by the Triton project, a collaboration between the Learning Technologies Group, OUCS and the Department of Politics and International Relations. The LTG provided expert support, guidance and technical support to the Politics and IR subject community to create new and sustainable OER releases. Triton was funded by JISC and the HEA as part of the Open Educational Resources Programme Phase 2.

For further information visit:

Politics in Spires

The Triton project

20. Developer of the Year Winner

Photo of Alex

At JISC’s jiscEXPO conference in Manchester earlier this year, Alexander Dutton, a developer from OUCS’s InfoDev team won the coveted Project Developer of the Year award. JiscEXPO programme manager David Flanders categorised the award as being "not only about the hard work that a developer often does without any real recognition, but also about the incredibly smart and pragmatic brain of an individual who is getting real things done in weeks, not months."

In his InfoDev role, Alex currently spends a lot of his time working for the CLAROS project and its RESTful Linked Open Data interface, but also has been one of the driving forces behind the University’s Institutional Linked Open Data repository. The JISC project in question was the Open Citations project undertaken in the Zoology department.

Flanders went on, in announcing the winner of this prize, to say that Alex was "truly an inspiration in terms of hard work, not only in his project but in about a dozen other initiatives that had nothing to do with what he was getting paid for; rather, Alex is just one of these developers who quietly gets on with doing good stuff without having to be asked to do it. I’ve spoken about the need to better understand the capability of developers (we are not theborg despite our geek chic uniforms) and Alex is one of the few developers that I would say is just starting to creep up into the status of 'guru'[...]. I hope to see Alex in many more projects as his skills and hard work are invaluable to our sector."

Congratulations Alex!

21. Travel vs. Technology

At the end of last Michaelmas term OUCS carried out a quick survey to try to work out what savings there had been in terms of travel, time away, and so on through the use of alternative technologies. This was a very rough and ready survey, and there are numerous caveats (see below). However, the general findings are interesting.

The results were as follows:

  • Twelve members of staff, including four senior managers, replied.
  • Total days ‘saved’, i.e. not being out of office was 57.5 (£14,950 using an estimate of £260 per day).
  • In terms of journeys, we saved on 20 train journeys (within UK or Europe), 8 flights, and 1 coach journey.
  • Using some average costs this led to a saving of around £6,200.
  • People used a variety of technologies: conference call, WebEx, Skype, Janet video conferencing, etc.

Through the use of such technologies, we saved nearly £21,000 in costs in a single term.

However, there are some important caveats to note:

  • It may be the case that some of the above journeys would not have taken place in any case (i.e. the person simply would not have travelled).
  • The number of days out of office does not equate to number of days lost as people work when away on the matter that required them to travel in the first place, and also on OUCS business by keeping in touch remotely.
  • We were using best guesses for travel costs.

On the other hand:

  • This did not include all the costs saved by use of email exchanges, chat, which negated the need for a meeting (a point several people noted).
  • This did not include hotel costs (too difficult to work out as to who was paying), food, taxis, tube journeys, etc.
  • No doubt some staff didn’t have time to reply.
  • This did not include the costs saved for external units not required to come to Oxford for a meeting.
  • We have not had the time to do the carbon impact of this.
  • Regular online/phone meetings can be more efficient than fewer face to face meetings.

On balance we felt this was a useful, if far from scientific, exercise and showed that this could lead to savings if encouraged.

As a result, OUCS has decided to:

  • Order a handset for each conference room to make phone conferencing easier (in addition to the existing roving handset).
  • Improve documentation on setting up a multi- person conference session (using WebEx and other technologies)
  • Explore Ring2 whom Telecoms have a contract with.

22. Gartner Subscription

The University has agreed a campus access subscription to Gartner’s resources. By combining OUCS, BSP and OUP individual subscriptions, we are able to get campus access at no additional cost.

Many people believe that Gartner's consultants lead the field in offering thought-provoking analysis and insight into current IT concerns. Colleagues have found their research to be valuable, and Gartner will also offer help with negotiating purchase contracts.

Access to the Gartner site; this requires your SSO username and password, after which you will be directed to the home page.

Our contact in Gartner is Sarah Alexander (01784 267387, Sarah.Alexander@gartner.com) and she will be pleased to provide more information and assistance.

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.

Photo of course tutor and attendees

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.

Photo of course tutor and attendees

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.

Find out more about the LTG

24. Ten Things You Didn't Know About the LTG

  1. In 2001 the LTG consisted of just 7 members of staff, this has now grown to a body of 30 teachers, developers, researchers, and specialists.
  2. This autumn, the University’s Media Production Unit will move from the Public Affairs Directorate into the LTG, widening the group’s portfolio of services even further.
  3. Since its launch on October 8th 2008, Oxford podcasts have seen 12 million downloads from iTunesU , 3,000 podcast items processed consisting of 2,700 academic speakers and contributors.
  4. Over 1,000 podcasts have been released with a Creative Commons licence, allowing them to be openly redistributed and reused in teaching and learning across the world.
  5. In the 2010/2011 Academic year ITLP ran 509 courses, covering 199 topics, attended by 2,727 distinct individuals culminating in 1,487.5 hours of learning.
  6. You can tweet the LTG team at @LTGOxford
  7. The LTG worked with the Zoology department to run the Emerging Infections stand at Royal Society Summer Science Exhibition (celebrating its 350th birthday). The team helped 1000+ members of the public create agent-based computer model simulations of a viral epidemic. Queen Elizabeth came within ten feet of the stand but sadly did not stop by to build an epidemic game.
  8. If a course is not currently scheduled in the ITLP course catalogue you can also ‘express an interest’ and you will be notified when there is enough demand for it to become available.
  9. Over 16 weeks in 2008 a crowdsourcing initiative led by LTG staff saw 7,500 digital versions of previously hidden artifacts from World War One contributed by the general public to the Great War Archive.
  10. Far from being computer geeks, the LTG contains a number of closet artists. Staff members have displayed their talents in ceramics, photography, jewellery design and oil painting at the annual OUCS Artweeks.

Find out more about the LTG

25. Courses in Agent-based Modelling

Modelling for All keywords

Did you know that you can build, run, and analyse models without first mastering a computer programming language?

OUCS offers introductory courses on agent-based modelling. Agent-based modelling (also known as individual-based modelling) is uniquely well-suited for simulating complex systems of interacting individuals. It is increasingly used for modelling in the social and life sciences.


We also have experience in working with teaching staff to develop and deliver practical activities on undergraduate and postgraduate courses. We use the BehaviourComposer software) to help students construct and critique sophisticated models. To discuss this option or the use of agent-based modelling in research, please contact kenneth.kahn@oucs.ox.ac.uk

26. OUCS in the News

26.1. iTunesU on Prime Time TV Again

Professor James Binney is once again featured in one of Apple’s iPad adverts. See the Today advert.

26.2. And Mobile Oxford in THE Again

Mobile Oxford made its second appearance in Times Higher Education in an article called The Research Lab in your Pocket. It is listed as one of the top five international academic mobile websites (note no other British universities!)

26.3. We’re in The Guardian too

UCISA’s Peter Tinson, based in OUCS, is a regular contributor to the Guardian Higher Education Network. Have a look at his articles on:

27. 'Why reinvent the wheel, when there’s great stuff out there?'

Investigating the impact of open educational resources on teaching and learning in UK universities

Researchers from the OUCS have authored a report on the impact of Open Educational Resources (OER). Findings highlight the need to support learners and academic staff alike in the referencing and the reuse of online resources.

The report was commissioned by the Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC), and authored by by Liz Masterman and Joanna Wild from the Learning Technologies Group.

Open educational resources (OER) are materials which educators make available online to learners and also to other educators, to share, re-use and remix. The report claims that their use in teaching offers new and better ways to engage with learning anytime anywhere and raising the richness of a course.

The report forms part of a significant body of work by OUCS in the field of OER. Liz Masterman, the lead researcher on the project, says: "In recent years universities in the UK have released substantial collections of OER, including Oxford’s own acclaimed series of recordings, Open Spires. It's very important, therefore, to find out how OER are being used. Academics clearly appreciate high-quality, easily discoverable, resources to enrich their students’ learning. As one lecturer told us, 'Why reinvent the wheel, when there’s great stuff out there?'

The study has also produced an alternative report for those embedding OER in their teaching entitled The value of reuse of open educational resources and a supporting video presentation by the report’s authors David White and Marion Manton (Technology- Assisted Lifelong Learning, University of Oxford). The report advises staff to help develop students’ digital literacy skills especially in the area of critical analysis of resources – for example by making them aware of citation standards that exist for online videos and podcasts.

Reports and interview.

Discover Oxford’s OER

28. Working Lunch at the Royal Oak

Those of you who have been around OUCS since the mid-70's will know that there has always been a collective dream that one day we would be able to work (over lunch!) in OUCS’s extension offices aka The Royal Oak pub, but technical and political considerations have prevented from extending the house network to there.

Thanks to the enthusiastic support of Steve Kersley (Keble's IT Officer) we have fitted a wireless AP in the old Ackland building which now houses some of Keble's graduate students. This AP uses a directional array which just happens to give a suprisingly good OWL/Eduroam signal that can be used both in the garden and down the rooms on the eastern side of the Royal Oak building. The front rooms have a reduced signal because of internal pillars and kitchens, but it is still useable in most places.

The manager, Michelle, is most happy with the arrangement and has even put up one of our OWL posters to encourage you to linger...

OUCS has been busy extending its wifi coverage of open and more unusual spaces. The Royal Oak joins the University Parks, cricket pavillion, Wellington Square, Botanic Gardens and Sheldonian Theatre, and others.

OUCS waved a sad 'good bye and good luck' to Geoff Lescott, Network Controller, in September after more than 38 years sterling service. Perhaps we can see the wifi enabling of the local pub to be his retirement gift to us? Thanks Geoff!

29. Recent WebLearn Improvements

The following improvements have been made since the last issue of OUCS news.

General Improvements

  • When sites are copied, a simple search and replace of references to the old site are replaced with references to the new site. In the past links to documents in the new site would point to documents stored within the old site.
  • Announcements viewed in Mobile Oxford now include links to attachments

Surveys Beta

  • There is now a link to 'My Scales' – this allows one to create (and consequently reuse) one's own rating scales
  • Results can now be downloaded when using Internet Explorer
  • Users can now choose whether to send an initial email notification of a survey
  • When a survey is deleted the results can no longer be viewed

30. Joined-up IT at the UAS Conference

Photo of stand at UAS

OUCS joined forced with BSP and the ICT Support Team to run a joint stand at the recent University Administration and Services (UAS) Conference. The stand offered a variety of leaflets from the different services, displayed jewellery created using recycled computer components and ran a tombola. People were asked to rank their top three IT challenges from a selection (or Other) and in return had the opportunity to win USB pens, chocolate or laptop locks. The stand was very popular and over 180 people gave their feedback.

OUCS staff also presented six of the presentation sessions with subjects ranging from the new Information Security Policy to Podcasting via the OUCS online shop, the University Shared Data Centre and WebLearn.

The jewellery was hand-made by members of OUCS staff who form the Dragonfly Co-operative. Their creations are sold to raise funds to help provide IT services to Charities.

Caption: Maggie Howe, Ian Teasdale and Jane Littlehales on the IT information stand. Image: Nicole Van Hemert

Details of the conference, including copies of slides from the various talks for download.