VLE Review: next steps

Sarah Argles, Project Communications Officer for the Education IT Programme, writes:

As you will be aware by now, the VLE Review set out to determine whether WebLearn continues to meet the University’s requirements as the primary platform to support teaching and learning. In Michaelmas and Hilary terms 2016-17, the project team consulted staff and students, including those who don’t currently use WebLearn. Following the completion of the ‘landscape’ report (see ‘The VLE and institutional culture’ in this blog), the review is moving forward with a recommendation to look for a new VLE for Oxford. Potential suppliers will be invited to submit a proposal fulfilling Oxford’s requirements, and will then undergo a selection process.

The main reasons for this course of action are to seek to:

  1. Provide an improved user experience to staff and students by implementing a VLE that addresses many of the concerns raised regarding shortcomings in the usability of the Sakai platform.
  2. Benefit from simpler maintenance procedures, through these efficiencies, foster the development of specialised tools that accommodate requirements and activities specific to Oxford.
  3. As set out in the University’s Digital Education Strategy, support academic staff as innovative teachers by improving the functionality and usability of key digital platforms.

Following the selection of a preferred supplier in Michaelmas term 2017, the project will prepare an implementation plan that will outline the resources necessary to transition to the new platform. The plan will include support for departments and colleges in migrating existing content to the new platform. The proposed implementation plan will then be considered by the Education IT Board.

The selection process will focus on finding a solution that supports teaching and learning. For those people who currently use WebLearn for other purposes, WebLearn will remain available until an alternative is identified. Plans for this transition will be developed in collaboration with users.


Key links


Image credit: CC BY-SA Nick Youngson via The Blue Diamond Gallery

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The VLE and institutional culture

One of the aims of the initial ‘engagement’ phase of the VLE Review was to broaden our knowledge and understanding about the current use of WebLearn and other online learning platforms at Oxford.

We’re pleased to announce that the findings of our research are now available in the Landscape Report: Current Use of WebLearn and Alternative Platforms at the University of Oxford (single sign-on required).

Quite apart from its role in the VLE Review, the work is significant in being the first large-scale research study in the University dedicated to the use of WebLearn. This means that we have some solid quantitative and qualitative data to replace the anecdotal evidence on which opinions about WebLearn may have been based in the past. This isn’t to disregard the very valuable findings of the WebLearn Student Experience (WLSE) and WebLearn Improved Student Experience (WISE) projects – both of which informed the VLE Review – but their participants were numbered in the tens rather than in the hundreds and they had narrower remits than the VLE Review.

One of the key findings to emerge from both WISE and the VLE Review is the complex relationship between the VLE and institutional culture. Digital education tools such as the VLE should both support an institution’s model of teaching and learning and reflect (or embody) its core values and cultural practices. In Oxford’s selection of the Sakai platform for WebLearn, the main guiding principles included openness within the University (allowing students to explore content outside their home discipline), openness outside the University (sharing resources with external users) and fluidity in roles (e.g. where graduate students undertake teaching) (Lee, 2008).

Guided walkthroughs and formal usability studies conducted by the WLSE and WISE projects respectively (Geng, Fresen & Wild, 2013; Laurent, Fresen & Burholt, forthcoming) suggest that, while Sakai made possible the enactment of Oxford’s values and practices through the VLE, this may have come at some cost: namely, sub-optimal usability and an inconsistent experience for students in particular. The challenge for future VLE provision will be to achieve a balance between, on the one hand, the flexibility needed to support a devolved model of administration and the needs and preferences of different departments and academics, and on the other hand, the constraints that may be desirable to make the VLE easy and pleasant for students and staff to use.

You can read the latest news from the VLE Review team in ‘VLE Review: Next Steps‘ on this blog.


References

Geng, F., Fresen, J. & Wild, J. (2013). WebLearn Student Experience Project (WLSE): Requirements Gathering Report.

Laurent, X., Burholt, S. & Fresen, J. (forthcoming). Usability Methodology and Testing for a Virtual Learning Environment. Paper accepted for publication in International Journal on E-Learning.

Lee, S.D. (2008). The Gates Are Shut: Technical and Cultural Barriers to Open Education. In T. Iiyoshi and M.S.V. Kumar (eds.), Opening up education: the collective advancement of education through open technology, open content, and open knowledge (pp. 47–59). Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.

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Copyright or copywrong?

Questions about intellectual property and copyright face many of us working in education. The digital world opens up new opportunities, but also presents new challenges, not least when it comes to making legislation and guidance from pre-digital times fit current conditions. ‘Can I include this image in my website?’  ‘May I distribute this text to my students?’ ‘How can I protect my rights to material I create?’ These are only some of the questions that we may, and should, be asking.

To help answer some of the questions that often come up, the Bodleian Libraries recently ran a workshop on ‘Copyright in the library’. Although specifically aimed at staff working in a library context, the advice and guidance are useful also to others.

It is not possible to capture here everything that was covered in the workshop, so the focus is on providing some very general information, with links to where you can find out more.

What are IPR and CPR?

Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) are ‘rights granted to creators and owners of works that are the result of human intellectual creativity’ [1] Copyright is one of those rights. Others are patents, trade marks, design rights, database rights, and performers’ rights. Some of these are automatic and apply even if the creator does not do anything to gain it (e.g. copyright); others only apply if the right is registered (e.g. through an approved application for patent). More information about the various rights can be found, for example, in Jisc’s guide Intellectual property rights in a digital world [2].

More about copyright

Copyright is ‘an exclusive economic right granted to the creator of original work to permit or prevent other people from copying it’ [3]. In addition to economic rights, copyright also protects the moral rights of the owner. For definitions and details see, for example, The rights granted by copyright [4] on the Intellectual Property Office site.

Copyright is automatic and applies even if there is no copyright sign or other notice. It means that as the creator of a work, you automatically hold copyright over it, and your rights are protected: for example, to be associated with your creation and to specify what others can do with it.

If you are employed to create copyright works, the default position will  be that your employer will own the copyright over them. In the case of the University of Oxford, some kinds of work are claimed by the University, while others remain the property of the employee or student who created them. For more details, refer to the University Statutes,  XVI, Part B [5].

What does it mean for me as a user of these materials? If something is covered by copyright it means that you do not have the right to copy it. You may read it but cannot necessarily reuse the material freely in your publications, lecture slides, for your students etc.

What material is copyrighted? Copyright covers a variety of materials, irrespective of quality or artistic merit, such as books, papers and magazines, learning materials, music, artwork and photographs, films, television and radio programmes, software and computer games.

When does copyright expire? Copyright is time-limited: it usually expires 70 years after the death of the creator. Economic copyright can be sold or passed on (e.g. to an heir or published), but moral rights still reside with the creator (unless they choose to waive them). Even so, it will still expire 70 years after the death of the creator.

That said, the rights to a particular publication may last longer. For example, if a creator/editor has put intellectual effort into collating and converting handwritten manuscripts into a printed book, the book will be in copyright even if the author of the manuscripts themselves is long dead. The layout, illustration and cover of a book are also protected, which may put further restrictions on how it may be copied.

Special terms relate to unpublished works [6], or works where the author is unknown (also known as ‘orphan works’). Use the flowchart on the National Archives website [7] to explore the duration of copyright in different cases.

Exceptions

Copyright is automatic, but there are exceptions which means that there are certain things you can do also to copyrighted material. Many of these are particularly relevant for use in an educational context. More detailed information can be found in, for example, guides by Jisc [8] and the Intellectual Property Office [9].

Fair dealing. Generally you may copy short extracts of something for non-commercial use, for example education or research, assuming that:

  • it is done to illustrate a point;
  • it is accompanied by the relevant acknowledgement; and
  • it can be considered ‘fair dealing’.

There is no strict definition of what constitutes ‘fair dealing’ but factors that are considered is whether your use will negatively affect the market potential for the copyrighted resource and whether your use is relevant and appropriate.

Licences and permissions. Many educational establishments hold licences that grant them additional rights to copy material. Usually this is through the Copyright Licensing Agency [10] and the Educational Recording Agency [11]. It is worth exploring what these licence agreements mean for you. More information can usually be obtained from your departmental or faculty librarians.

In addition, the copyright owner can also grant permissions that allow copying and re-use under certain conditions: for example, by simply declaring that something is available under a specific open licence, such as Creative Commons.

The six Creative Commons licences

Creative Commons is a set of licences that have been created to help copyright owners grant certain rights to others on certain conditions. Owners may opt to waive their rights completely, but they can also:

  • limit use to non-commercial purposes;
  • choose not to allow anyone to alter the work (e.g. crop a photograph or create a poster by adding text to an image);
  • request that any derivative works be made available under the same licence; and
  • ask to be credited wherever the work is used or a combination of the above.

If you publish your material online, you can apply a Creative Commons licence to declare and protect your rights while still allowing others to use the material. Much more information is available on the Creative Commons website [12].

Copyright and WebLearn

WebLearn has its own copyright support site with to information about copyright requirements, with specific reference to the use of learning materials in a virtual learning environment. It has recently been updated (June 2017), and you can find out more on the WebLearn blog.


Notes

[1] Jisc: Intellectual property rights in a digital worldhttps://www.jisc.ac.uk/guides/intellectual-property-rights-in-a-digital-world

[2] Jisc: Copyrighthttps://www.jisc.ac.uk/guides/intellectual-property-law/copyright (Archived in March 2017, but still accessible)

[3] Naomi Korn: Copyright – Key points to remember. https://naomikorn.com/2016/10/02/copyright-key-points-to-remember/

[4] Intellectual Property Office: The rights granted by copyrighthttps://www.gov.uk/guidance/the-rights-granted-by-copyright

[5] University of Oxford Statutes: Statute XVI, Part B: Intellectual Propertyhttps://www.admin.ox.ac.uk/statutes/790-121.shtml

[6] ‘literary, dramatic and musical works that were still unpublished when the current statute, the Copyright Designs and Patents Act 1988, came into force in 1989 will be in copyright until 2039 at the earliest.’ The National Archives: Copyright and related rightshttp://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/documents/information-management/copyright-related-rights.pdf

[7] The National Archives: Duration of copyright (excluding Crown copyright).  http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/documents/information-management/non-crown-copyright-flowchart.pdf

[8] Jisc: Exceptions to infringement of copyright. https://www.jisc.ac.uk/guides/copyright-law/exceptions-to-infringement-of-copyright (Archived in June 2017, but still accessible)

[9] Intellectual Property Office: Exceptions to copyright: Education and Teaching. https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/375951/Education_and_Teaching.pdf

[10] Copyright Licensing Agency: https://www.cla.co.uk/

[11] Educational Recording Agency: http://era.org.uk/

[12] Creative Commons: https://creativecommons.org/

Additional links

CILIP: A Copyright A-Z for World Book and Copyright Day 2015https://www.cilip.org.uk/blog/copyright-z-world-book-copyright-day-2015

Jisc: Intellectual property law. https://www.jisc.ac.uk/guides/intellectual-property-law  (Archived in March 2017, but still accessible)

The Intellectual Property Office: Copyright. https://www.gov.uk/topic/intellectual-property/copyright

The National Archives: Copyright and related rightshttp://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/documents/information-management/copyright-related-rights.pdf

Web2Rights: Risk management calculator. http://www.web2rights.com/OERIPRSupport/risk-management-calculator/


Image credits:
    Top: CC BY-SA opensource.com via Wikimedia Commons
    Middle: Public domain (CC0) via Wikimedia Commons
    Bottom: Public domain (CC0) via Pixabay

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Digital skills for employment: to teach or not to teach?

‘a set of achievements – skills, understandings and personal attributes – that make graduates more likely to gain employment and be successful in their chosen occupations.’[1]

Employability has occupied a prominent place on the wider HE agenda for a number of years. However, as a participant in last month’s UCISA Spotlight on Digital Capabilities remarked, it may have been lower on the individual agendas of research universities than on the agendas of others. Now, with employability and transferable skills included in the assessment criteria for the TEF, the topic is of concern to all.

The UCISA Spotlight featured a debate with the motion ‘The most important reason to develop student digital capabilities is employability.’ Rather than report on the arguments that were put forward there, I thought it might be more relevant to hear the voices of Oxford students and staff. So, here is an edited extract from the report of the DIGE 2 (Student Digital Experience 2) project published in 2015[2]:

We questioned both students and staff as to whether the University has a responsibility to help students acquire the general digital capabilities that they might need in the workplace.  The data reported here are taken from surveys of 276 students and 45 academics, and from interviews with individual academics. Although the material is now two years old, the the points made are, I think, still current.

The views of students

Postgraduate students felt strongly that the University should offer training in general IT skills needed for employment, with 77% of taught postgraduates and 69% of research postgraduates in favour of the proposition. Undergraduate feeling was mixed, with only 44% favouring such support. Supplementary comments in undergraduates’ survey responses clustered around the opinion that students should already have these skills before coming to Oxford and, if not, they should be able to teach themselves these skills on their own.

Several undergraduates pointed out that IT training is offered in UK schools and should include the one employment-related skill mentioned repeatedly: viz. word processing. One student wrote: ‘Oxford is not a professional university, it is a research university and people treating it as the former is part of its problem’, and another criticised the proposition for ‘misunderstand[ing] the point of a university education.  Intelligent people should normally be able to gain the relevant skills themselves.’ Some students adopted a more moderate stance; for example, ‘If the University does provide courses to teach IT skills, that’s good but not a necessity.’ Others felt that ‘We’re paying enough money to actually attend university, so it would be nice if they were to set us up for the future should we feel the need to ask them for some help.’ However, the voluntary nature of IT training was seen as crucial.

The views of academic staff

A more focused question was put to staff; specifically, whether academics have a responsibility to include, as part of their teaching, opportunities for students to develop digital skills that they might need in future employment. The quantitative data seem decisive, with 65% of respondents answering ‘Yes’; however, the qualitative data from 13 survey respondents and several interviewees are more nuanced and illustrate a range of perspectives.

Although part of a tutor’s role may be to ensure that their students are equipped for the world after graduation, two interviewees from the humanities  expressed the view that employability skills are a by-product of students’ intellectual formation:

I don’t think of it as how I will make my student employable, I think about how I will make the student the best student they can be. That of course will make them more employable because of the type of skills we teach our students.

I’m not teaching students to have a better job prospect, I’m teaching them so they can learn to appreciate and love literature and perhaps broaden their minds.

A respondent to the staff survey who taught in MPLS felt that ‘practice in developing digital skills can be built in via targeted elements of the overall course.’ This may be more straightforward in some disciplines than others. In applied science subjects – i.e. ones that have an industrial aspect to them – students can be introduced to the approaches and technologies typically adopted in industry. Indeed, in science generally, ‘by and large, a digitally illiterate (science) graduate is useless in any real world environment, be it for research, development, teaching or any other industry they decide to work in.’ Professional bodies may also dictate the matter: the Law Faculty’s compulsory course on digital skills for first-year students is a response to requirements of the Law Society.

An interviewee from the social sciences reflected a comment in the student survey (quoted earlier in this section) regarding the distinctive nature of teaching in a research-intensive university:

it’s not a practical degree; we are not teaching them how to run a business: we are teaching them how business is run. That is a very different agenda. … I think a research intensive university should be about ideas, not about the vocational preparation.

In similar vein, another humanities academic pointed out that Oxford academics, as leaders in their (research) field, ‘won’t necessarily know, and have an interest, with the outside world and the skills that are required.’ He argued,’why make them responsible to teach students to be employable for something they themselves have not necessarily done?’

Regardless of their own responsibility in students’ development as digitally literate graduates, a number of academics readily acknowledged the role to be played by the University as a whole, including these two from Social Sciences:

Universities teach transferable skills like logical thinking, argumentation, background research, and persuasive writing, and ICTs are part of these skills today.

If we are training people without reference to the right tools with which they will be living their lives, both their academic or [sic] professional lives, I think that is irresponsible.

A survey respondent with an administrative role at Oxford drew on her experience in the commercial sector in expressing her concern lest graduates be left behind in the workplace by colleagues who have not been to university:

Everything is becoming digitalised and fairly soon it will be standard. Students must be prepared for this or they will be at a disadvantage against those who have not gone to University and have a solid understanding of digital methodology through employment.

In terms of how these digital skills should be taught, suggestions included online training for basic tools such as Word and PowerPoint, and the provision of face-to-face training centrally by specialists from IT Services or the libraries.

Postscript

The vote taken at the end of the UCISA debate showed a clear, but not overwhelming, majority against the motion, which was defeated by 23 to 10. That is, employability was not considered to be the primary purpose of developing students’ digital capabilities during their university education, although the ‘for’ side continued to express its arguments vigorously even as the chair was wrapping up!

To be fair, the debate and the DIGE 2 study approached the topic from slightly different angles. However, both suggest that much discussion is still to be had around the relationship between learning for the love of the subject and learning with at least one eye on the kind of job to which it might lead – and how to reconcile the possible differing perspectives of staff and students on this relationship and on its implications for a university’s curriculum.


Notes

[1] Yorke, M. (2004). Employability in Higher Education: what it is – what it is not. Higher Education Academy/ESECT.

[2] Masterman, L. (2015). DIGE 2: Student Digital Experience project 2. Research Report. (single sign-on required)


Photo credits:
    Top: CC BY University of the Fraser Valley via Flickr 
    Middle:  CC BY Texas A&M University via Flickr 
    Bottom: CC BY UC Davis College of Engineering via Flickr

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The Spark of innovation: flexible learning spaces at Southampton Solent University

From the exterior, the Spark looks almost like any other modern university teaching building. However, inside you find yourself dwarfed in a 60-metre long, five-storey atrium, with what looks like a Martian from HG Wells’ War of the Worlds towering over you!

Designed by architectural partnership Scott Brownrigg and costing £33 million, the Spark is a truly extraordinary teaching and learning space. It contains 35 classrooms and five lecture rooms, which can accommodate up to 1,500 students in total. It’s intended to encourage more flexible, active approaches to teaching and learning, including the flipped classroom and BYOD. In the words of the designers, it ‘promotes interdisciplinary activity and collaboration; enabling staff and students to see and share their learning and teaching experiences, knowledge and research.’

The Spark was the venue for UCISA’s recent Spotlight on Digital Capabilities, and naturally our hosts were keen to show it off to participants. So I seized my smartphone and joined a tour…

 The Pod

The Pod is nothing if not imaginative: views from below and above. On top is an area for discussion and collaboration – although perhaps not an ideal venue for vertigo sufferers.

The ‘front’ wall (which is actually flat) is taken up from floor to ceiling by a huge screen.

Furniture

Some classrooms offer a number of seating options. The room above actually has four different types of furniture (the fourth, in the window alcoves, is shown more clearly in ‘Collaborative and breakout spaces’ below). Desks are height-adjustable for wheelchair users; in fact, the entire building is designed with accessibility to the fore. For example, two classrooms near the lifts can accommodate up to 30 students in wheelchairs.

A triangle or trapezium configuration makes it easier for students to work together on a shared artefact. Note the castors on the feet of tables and chairs for ease of movement.

Technology

Each classroom has a 75″ touch screen (left), the larger rooms having additional ‘repeater’ screens at intervals along the walls. All rooms are fully equipped for lecture capture, with recordings uploaded to the VLE. Visualisers (right) enable the teacher to project images from texts and other artefacts on the desk. These images can also be included in the lecture recordings.

The ceilings are fitted with baffles to optimise the acoustics.

Collaborative and ‘break-out’ spaces

The cubes jutting out from the right-hand wall in the photos of the Pod above are spaces for informal collaboration and socialisation (left photo). Teaching rooms also have break-out spaces (right): in this case, for working in pairs.

Lecture theatres

Of course, since lectures can still be a valid, and valuable, element in a teacher’s repertoire, there is space in the Spark for traditional lecture theatres, including Palmerston (left) and Jane Austen (right). Or are they so traditional? The Palmerston lecture theatre has an unusually spacious floor plan, allowing the teacher to move around among the students and present from anywhere in the theatre. And the writing surfaces in both theatres have power sockets.


Notes

Some of the information in the post was obtained from a news item on Southampton Solent University’s website: A new building to ‘Spark’ the imagination.

The quotation in the second paragraph is taken from an item on the Scott Brownrigg website: Southampton Solent’s Spark Building completes.

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OxTALENT 2017: winners’ roll call

The sixteenth annual OxTALENT awards ceremony was held at the Oxford Martin School on Wednesday 14th June. In total, 87 entries had been received (a record!), and their quality was reflected in the number of awards made: 23 across the seven categories.

This year the entries in each category were co-judged by a member of Academic IT and an expert from elsewhere in the University. A number of the specialist co-judges were able to attend the ceremony and announce the award-winners; we thank Dr Julia Horn (Innovative Teaching & Learning), Tom Fuller (Digital Media), Lesley Paterson (Public Engagement) and James Slattery (Outreach & Widening Participation).

Invited talks were given by Professor Sir Paul Collier, Professor Emma Smith and two of the winners: Dr Janet Smart (Innovative Teaching & Learning) and Dr Niall Winters (Outreach & Widening Participation). (Read about the guest speakers.)

Sir Paul drew powerful comparisons and contrasts between the classroom programmes run by Workers’ Education Association, which enabled his father to gain the education that he had missed by leaving school at 12, and the MOOC which Sir Paul led earlier this year and enabled over 47,000 learners in 196 countries to undertake studies that might otherwise have been impossible. It’s worth pausing to reflect that 47,000 is more than twice the total student population of Oxford University. Furthermore, Sir Paul had been approached by total strangers as far afield as Nairobi and Berlin to express their appreciation of the MOOC.

In her closing talk, Emma thanked everyone involved in organising both the competition and the awards ceremony, and set the award-winners a challenge: to extend their innovative work to at least one other person in their workplace. Innovation comes not only from initiatives at the top, but also – and importantly – from the sharing of ideas and successes at the grass roots.

The official photo call for the winners and guest speakers at the OxTALENT 2016 awards ceremony (unofficial photo by Liz Masterman)

Below we list all the winners, runners-up and recipients of honourable mentions. To read more about the entries in a particular category, click the heading. We will also add many of the winning entries (and others too) to Academic IT’s collection of case studies in due course.

Planning for next year’s OxTALENT competition will get under way during the autumn, and the launch will be announced in Hilary Term. To stay informed, subscribe to News from Academic IT and follow @acitoxford on Twitter.

This is a general category in which we have previously recognised staff who have made creative use of digital technologies in their teaching. This year we have broadened its scope in two ways. First, we have brought WebLearn (previously a separate category) under its umbrella. Second, we opened up the category to students as well.

It’s always an exciting category to judge because it reveals the many initiatives at the departmental and individual levels that complement provision from the centre.

Winner: Janet Smart for Using film in an undergraduate Technology and Operations Management course
Joint Runners-up: Nicola Barclay, Simon Kyle, Colin Espie, Christopher-James Harvey, Sumathi Sekaran & Damion Young for The Oxford online programme in Sleep Medicine
Joint Runners-up:
Michael Panagopulos, Rebecca White, John Ingram, Saher Hasnain, Rosina Borrelli & Roger Sykes for Innovative Food Systems Teaching and Learning Programme (IFSTAL)
Honourable Mention: Jennifer Brown for Development of ‘Virtual Microscopy’ and online assessment modules for the Laboratory Medicine course

Digital media

Previously titled ‘Academic Podcasting’, this category has been expanded to reflect the variety of forms that media artefacts can take: podcasts, animations, short videos (stills and/or moving images), as well as more substantial documentaries. Media artefacts can have been developed to support academic practice or any other purpose relevant to life at the University such as student wellbeing, clubs and societies.

Winner: Tim Knowlson for Take 5 for Exam Panic
Runners-up: Suzanne de la Rosa, Dan Q, Elizabeth McCarthy, Jennifer Townshend & Kath Fotheringham for In-gallery interactives for Bodleian’s ‘Shakespeare’s Dead’ exhibition

Public engagement

With evidence of impact a key requirement of many funders, and with global reach a major priority of the University, it is unsurprising that researchers are devising creative ways to ensure that their work reaches the widest possible audience. This category recognises initiatives that have used technology to engage audiences beyond the University in a two way process of enhancing knowledge and understanding.

Winners: Andrew Pollard, Sarah Loving & Yama Farooq for The Vaccine Knowledge Project
Runners-up: Scott Billings, Ellena Smith, Kate Nation, Jacqueline Pumphrey, Zoltan Molnar & Holly Bridge for Brain Diaries
Honourable Mention: Chris Paton, Mike English, Hilary Edgcombe, Niall Winters, Anne Geniets & Jakob Rossner for LIFE: Life-Saving Instruction for Emergencies

Outreach and widening participation

Outreach and widening participation activities deliver an important dimension of the University’s work in raising aspirations, promoting diversity and encouraging people from non-traditional backgrounds to enter higher education. This category recognises staff and students who have made innovative use of technology to deliver exceptional widening participation activities and to support learners from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Winners: Niall Winters, Melanie Jewell, Anne Geniets, Paula Fiddi, Paige Mustain, Ashmita Randhawa, Tracey Calabrese, Isobel Talks, Sabbah Bakhtiar, Laura Hakimi & Emily Winstanley for go_girl: code+create
Runner up: Yiu-Yin Tong for PhyWiz — Physics Solver
Honourable Mention: Jo Murray for LMH Snapchat Takeover Campaign

Data visualisation

An excerpt from Otto and Vili’s winning visualisation, Online Labour Index

Software is making it easier to create data visualisations that are interactive and can be shared via the web. In this category of OxTALENT we were looking for visualisations that tell a story, provide an insight, make the complex simple or illustrate a beautiful pattern in a data set. 

Winners: Otto Kässi & Vili Lehdonvirta for the Online Labour Index
Runners-up: Alfie Abdul-Rahman, Nicholas Cole & Olivia Griffiths for The Quill Project: Modelling and visualizing the creation of the American Constitution

Research posters

This category showcases some of the creative poster designs that are produced around the University in support of teaching, research and outreach. With a wider acceptance of posters in all disciplines, including the Humanities, the designs submitted are very wide-ranging. Once again, it was thought appropriate to award prizes additionally for the most innovative posters.

Best poster:

Winner: Hanna Smyth for The Material Culture of Remembrance and Identity
Runner up: Susila Davis for Where are we going and how do we get there?

Most innovative poster:

Winner: David Lo for Main group compounds for activation of small molecules
Runner up: Hannah Allum for So… You want to move your collections

The winning entries: best poster (L) and most innovative poster (R)

Innovation Challenges

This year, OxTALENT has recognised for the first time projects funded through the University’s IT Innovation Challenges scheme. The projects listed below have resulted in a product or solution that shows considerable realised or potential benefit to the University. There are two sub-categories: staff projects and student projects.

Staff projects:

Winners: Kathryn Eccles, Jamie Cameron, Silke Ackermann, Sarah Griffin & Howard Hotson for Cabinet
Runner-up: Jon Mason for Chooser: Simple, flexible option choosing

Student projects:

Winners:  Anita Paz, Naomi Vogt, Jessica Hutchens & Nina Wakeford for The Oxford Artistic and Practice-Based Research Platform (OAR)
Runner-up: Greg Auger for Alternative prospectus online

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Announcing the speakers at the OxTALENT awards ceremony 2017

The OxTALENT awards ceremony showcases our winners’ creative use of technology for teaching, learning, outreach and public engagement, celebrating the impact of their work and the inspiration it has provided to others. This year’s ceremony will take place on the afternoon of Wednesday 14th June, and we are pleased to announce our guest speakers:

Dr Janet Smart is Reader in Operations Management at Saïd Business School. Her areas of expertise include systems engineering, complex systems, big science projects and programme management. Janet joined the School after nearly 20 years in the Department of Engineering Science, and is also a founder member of the world-leading CABDyN research cluster that investigates complex agent-based dynamic networks.

Sir Paul Collier CBE is Professor of Economics and Public Policy in the Blavatnik School of Government and a Professorial Fellow of St Antony’s College. His research covers the causes and consequences of civil war; the effects of aid and the problems of democracy in low-income and natural resources rich societies; urbanization in low-income countries; private investment in African infrastructure; and changing organizational cultures. He was knighted in 2014 for services to promoting research and policy change in Africa. Earlier this year Sir Paul led Oxford’s first Massive Open Online Course (MOOC), From poverty to prosperity: Understanding economic development, which was highly successful and saw over 47,000 learners enrol.

Dr Niall Winters is an Associate Professor of Learning and New Technologies at the Department of Education and a Fellow of Kellogg College. His main research interest is in understanding how educational interventions can help to address inequality, especially for people who are marginalised. More specifically, Niall works to design, develop and evaluate technology enhanced learning interventions that support the professional development of learning practitioners, primarily healthcare workers in the Global South and in the UK.

Professor Emma Smith is Professor of Shakespeare Studies in the Faculty of English, and Fellow and Tutor in English at Hertford College. Although her research focuses on Shakespeare and early modern drama, Emma has a wide range of academic interests, including drama in performance, and developing analogies between cinema, film theory, and early modern performance. Emma chairs the Education IT Board and is also a past winner of OxTALENT for her collection of podcasts Not Shakespeare: Elizabethan and Jacobean Popular Theatre (2010).

Kate Lindsay, Head of Technology Enhanced Learning in Academic IT, will host the event, and the awards will be presented by Dr Stuart Lee, Reader in e-Learning and Digital Libraries, and Deputy CIO (IT Services).

The ceremony will be held at The Oxford Martin School for the second year. The slightly larger venue means that we are able to extend our invitation to colleagues at large. If you have not received an invitation and would like to attend, there’s still (just) time to let us know. Please email events@it.ox.ac.uk by Friday 9th June to express your interest.


Image credits:
    Sir Paul Collier: CC BY-SA 2.0 World Economic Forum via Wikimedia Commons
    Dr Janet Smart: Saïd Business School

    Dr Niall Winters: Department of Education
    Professor Emma Smith: Hertford College

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Implementing digital capabilities

Last year I wrote a post on the concept of ‘digital capabilities’ and how it has taken over from the previous term ‘digital literacy’. To recap the generally accepted definition, digital capabilities are those ‘which support living, learning and working in a digital society’ (Jisc, 2015). This post revisits the topic, through a personal distillation of some practical examples and advice from UCISA’s 3rd Spotlight on Digital Capabilities, a two-day programme of talks and discussions held in late May at The Spark, Southampton Solent University.

Initiatives involving students

The Spark houses a number of innovative learning spaces, including the extraordinary ‘Pod’.

The most detailed example of these initiatives – and, I felt, the most useful one for us – was described by Fiona Harvey from Southampton University. The project was prompted in part by the realisation that the assumption that students could ‘cope’ digitally was a false one. With internal funding, Fiona and her colleagues embarked on a range of activities, including:

  • individual partnerships between students and academics to implement technology in a specific aspect of their teaching;
  • informal ‘iPad coffee clubs’: safe spaces for students and staff to talk about themselves and IT;
  • TED-style talks; and
  • annual conferences.

A current initiative is the use of the Pathbrite e-portfolio, which students can use with minimal expertise (ease of use is essential to sustained engagement!), to develop their digital skills within the curriculum: in this case, professional skills for first-year geographers. The students submit work that they are proud of to the e-portfolio as evidence of the digital skills that the learning activity was designed to develop. Fiona has set up a feedback rubric (score and comments) in Pathbrite, and also allows space for students to provide the teacher with their own feedback on the activity.

Fiona reported that, initially, it can be a challenge to ask students to think digitally and to embrace the idea of a one-to-many conversation, showing their work to the world rather than to just their teacher. Depositing one’s work in the e-portfolio was optional, although promoted within the context of the discipline by the academic involved. Students responded well to the initiative, but only a few accepted the open badge (see ‘Key Links’ below) that was also on offer.

Working with students in partnership projects

Most presentations included advice on working with students; here are some snippets that caught my attention:

Fertile areas for student-staff partnerships. The presenters from Southampton Solent ran a live poll (using Mentimeter) to solicit ideas from the audience: the result (below) was fairly conclusive!

‘Embedding new VLE’ appears in green just above the ‘design’, as I believe our students will have an important role to play if the current VLE Review results in a move to another provider. (Click the image for a full-size view and to read other ideas.)

Making a business case. Jane Secker told the tale of the LSE’s SADL programme (2013-16) for developing digital capabilities and why it hadn’t succeeded, including issues of scalability, alignment with institutional strategy and, importantly, the lack of a proper business case up front. The phrase ‘business case’ provided the trigger for Jeni Brown of the LSE to take us through a practical exercise using a 7-step model developed by a commercial provider. For copyright reasons I can’t reproduce the provider’s handout, but the group in which I worked found it helpful in focusing our ideas in the 20 minutes that we had for the activity (unfortunately our resulting hand-drawn graphic is difficult to read).

To pay, or not to pay, students? At least one of the presenting universities said that it pays students for participating in partnership initiatives. The reasoning is that students are not only doing the work on top of their studies, they’re also doing a semi-professional job. Furthermore, it’s inclusive, in that participation is not restricted to the more affluent students who don’t need to supplement their loans with part-time jobs. There can also be savings for the institution in other areas: one speaker referred to a university whose investment in a partnership programme has reduced student attrition.

Diagnostic tools for staff digital capabilities

Julie Adams, from Staffordshire University, led the audience through three tools intended to assist staff in all roles (not just academic) to assess their current capabilities and decide where they need support and training.

Excerpts from Staffordshire University’s diagnostic tool for digital capabilities

The first was a simple ‘home-grown’ tool comprising a 20-question survey developed in Qualtrics. University staff take the survey anonymously and can repeat it at intervals in order to track their progress; suggestions have been made to link the diagnostic to performance reviews. Julie gave us access to the tool to try it for ourselves: I found its simplicity a strength, but felt that a wider range of roles to choose from would have been useful. However, because it was built in an easy-to-use and flexible tool, it would be straightforward to customise for additional roles or for individual departments.

Jisc’s Digital Capability Discovery Tool is currently undergoing public beta testing, and is available for anyone to explore (see ‘Key links’). It’s much longer than the Staffordshire tool, with more than 12 categories, each with a number of questions. However, it isn’t customisable at present. Because of the limited time available, I didn’t try it during Julie’s session.

The ‘Metro map’ of resources in All Aboard!

All Aboard! is a free diagnostic tool that has been produced by a consortium of Irish universities. It allows students as well as staff to assess their digital confidence in six areas, and creates a personal profile from the results. One of its features is a ‘Metro map’ that links to appropriate resources. The tool has been written in Articulate Storyline 36o and carries a Creative Commons licence, so universities can customise both the functionality and the accompanying resources.


Key links


Photo image credits: Liz Masterman

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Impact and creativity in your writing

“Do nothing for five minutes!”

Isn’t that a brave opening to a lesson? This was trainer, Dannie-Lu Carr, at the start of Writing for impact and creativity, a Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR) course which I attended last month.

Two PR officers write together sitting on a park bench

Relocate! One of the techniques of finding a better place to write, in this case under the shade of the trees in Russell Square.

I have long been teaching academics how to write for the Web, most recently in the Academic IT Services course ‘Creating a WordPress Site‘ which has an accompanying blog. What I learned in this CIPR course was more about how to overcome procrastination, the blank page, and writer’s block. By doing nothing for five minutes we experienced how long five minutes really is. In a way this was to remind how much we could actually achieve within that time. Also we discussed a range of techniques and tools to find five minutes regularly “to NOT concentrate” during the creative process, including the Outlook ‘out-of-office’ assistant; time management (e.g. Pomodoro anyone?); and assertiveness.

The way I normally structure my writing was soundly sideswiped by Danny-Lu who did not care for the inverted-pyramid approach. Maybe one can spot the decade that an article dates from by the way it has been written, just like with Web pages it easy to spot a site which has not been refreshed since 1999, 2009, or even 2015? Instead, we learned how to structure our piece of work, and thereby break down the task to overcome the obstructions to creativity mentioned in the previous paragraph. E.g.

  • meaning map (like a mindmap);
  • 4-mat learning styles;
  • Five point structure based on Aristotle’s wisdom;
  • Six thinking hats of De Bono
  • Creative grids;
  • The basic plots of literature;
  • Maslow’s hierarchy of needs;
  • The Crocodile;
  • And even tabloid headline writing!

And so much more, in break-out groups which were mixed around between the tasks, which were relocated – once to the lush Russell Square gardens.

This course which tried to tap into ‘my creativity’ was a wonderful insight into many techniques I had never thought of applying before. I can see how to incorporate at least one or two into everyday writing tasks. However, the realist in me recognises that I did not use any of these to write this article, and I could see this omission quite clearly about half-way through. Some more time needed for reflection and to address my writing.

My first change will be to incorporate at least one of the newly learned structures in to the ‘brief’ I fill in whenever taking on a new task. In this way I trust I will approach writing in a more structured and effective way to engage the University audience, usually internal – i.e. our own staff, or students.

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Video makes the research star (and so does WordPress): courses from the IT Learning Centre

Your research needs to reach as wide an audience as possible. Yes, you can create a website or a WordPress blog,* but have you also considered video?

Our Video: Producing a mini documentary workshop immerses you in the documentary making process. You don’t even need a video camera: in our Video: Using your mobile phone workshop we can show you how to create simple videos using your mobile phone. And have you thought about how you would fare in a media interview – we can give you guidance on that too on our Media interviews: Taking control workshop!

Video: Producing a mini documentary
Mon 26 – Wed 28 June (3 days) 9:15-16:15
Cost: staff £180, students £90
Book and pay

Video: Using your mobile phone
Thurs 20 June 9:15-16:15
Cost: staff £60, students £30
Book and pay

Media interviews: Taking control
Thurs 15 June 9:15-16:15
Cost: staff £60, students £30
Book and pay

* If you’re reading this before 8th June, there’s just time to book for:

Create an online presence with WordPress
Thurs 8 June 14:00-17:00
Cost: staff £30, students £15
Book and pay


Image credit: CC BY 2.0 Brian Solis via Wikimedia Commons

Posted in Engage, IT Learning Centre courses, Research support, Social media | Leave a comment