OxTALENT now open until Friday 5th May

Poster - celebrating the digital - orange v2Have you created a great app, or designed an eye-catching conference poster or data visualisation to support teaching, learning, research or outreach in the University? Or has someone else impressed you with an exciting use of technology in this way? You now have an extra week to let OxTALENT know!

Here’s a reminder of the six categories:

  • Innovative teaching & learning with technology
  • Outreach & widening participation
  • Public engagement
  • Digital media
  • Data visualisation
  • Research posters

For more information, visit the OxTALENT competition website.

Closing date is Friday 5th May.

Follow @acitoxford and #oxtalent2017 for up-to-the-minute news – and spread the word among your colleagues.

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Dr Dai Jenkins: Head of Research Computing and Support Services

Dr Peggy McCready, Director of Academic IT, writes:

I am pleased to announce that Dr David (Dai) Jenkins has joined Academic IT as the Head of Research Computing and Support Services. This is a newly formed group that brings together the Advanced Research Computing and Research Support teams. In this role, Dai will be responsible for working closely with key stakeholders across the University to advance services in the areas of high performance computing and research data management.

Dai brings a wealth of expertise in the delivery of supercomputing and research information services and is well positioned to take on this role, having previously served as the interim Head of Research Computing for University College, London. There he led a diverse team that included application specialists, analysts and system administrators, after working as a senior project manager and programme manager for Research IT and Data Centre projects within IT Change and Project Delivery services.

Prior to working for UCL, Dai served as a Senior Portfolio Manager for the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council where he was responsible for the management of external service contracts relating to hardware, research facilities, user support functions and research software support.

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Steve Burholt: Support and Consultancy Manager for Technology Enhanced Learning

Dr Peggy McCready, Director of Academic IT, writes:

I am pleased to announce that Steve Burholt will serve as the Support and Consultancy Manager for Technology Enhanced Learning. Steve will lead a team of specialists who provide advice, consultancy and support in the use of technology to enhance teaching, learning and outreach activities. In addition to supporting the University’s VLE (WebLearn), the Technology Enhanced Learning team will be leading the evaluation and application of technology to further educational objectives: e.g., computer-based exams and the flipped classroom model for teaching, which has proved beneficial to the student learning experience. This team also plays a significant role in supporting the aims of the University’s Digital Education Strategy (2016-2020).

Steve has been working for the University of Oxford since April 2015 and previously served as a learning technologist on the WebLearn Improved Student Experience (WISE) project, which focused on improving the design and content of around 20 WebLearn sites. Steve reports to Kate Lindsay, Head of Technology Enhanced Learning.

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Creating a survey and need a little help? Contact our new advisory service

Academic IT is currently developing a new service, Survey Design & Tools, to provide advice and guidance for researchers and other University staff who need to run a survey. We can help you to decide which tool to use according not only to the type of survey and intended audience, but also to the data protection and information security implications that you’ll need to consider if collecting personal data.

If you’ve already designed your survey, we can give your questions a ‘sanity check’, to make sure that you’ve avoided common pitfalls such as asking two things at once or providing answer choices that don’t match the question.

The service is co-managed by Meriel Patrick (Research Support) and Liz Masterman (Technology Enhanced Learning). We’ll be building our web presence shortly, but in the meantime you can contact us through researchsupport@it.ox.ac.uk.

We also run a termly lunchtime session entitled Survey design: Overview of tools and good practice. This gives an introduction to the tools available for running online surveys. It also features guidance on the data security implications to be considered when choosing a tool and tips for designing effective questions. The session may be of particular benefit to people who are already planning to run a survey, but it will also be of value to those with an interest in this method of data collection.

The next session will be on Friday 5th May from 12.30-1.30. Book a place.


Image credit: CC BY-SA 3.0 Nick Young via The Blue Diamond Gallery

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Seminar: Developing digital literacy by mapping controversies: Revealing echo chambers and the machinery of the internet

Academic IT has links with the  Learning and New Technologies Research Group in the Department of Education. The group organises a programme of research seminars with invited speakers; the next one is on Tuesday 9th May:

Developing digital literacy by mapping controversies: Revealing echo chambers and the machinery of the internet

Dr Thomas Hillman,
Learning and IT Group, Department of Education, Communication and Learning, University of Gothenburg

May 9th: 16:00-17:30
Seminar Room D, Department of Education, 15 Norham Gardens

This talk will discuss ways that engaging students in a process of systematic mapping of online socio-scientific controversies, such as fracking and vaccines, can help to reveal the actors, structures and machinery at play as controversial issues are performed on the Internet. It will be based on work from a classroom intervention project that aims to investigate what it means to learn about science and engage with issues of technoscientific innovation in a world that relies heavily on digitized information. Scientific findings, arguments and claims from different fields are available through digital media raising issues of concern and controversy that are not only part of science-in-the-making but also generative of new dilemmas in the lives of citizens. The project introduces to classrooms and investigates a digital method where rather than browsing the web in an unstructured fashion to gain information about a particular controversial issue, students use tools to track their online movements as they search for information and then graph or map the resulting network of interacting actors. This invites students to engage with the complexity of issues as they are performed online, to investigate the relationships between actors of differing viewpoints, and to reflect on the technologies of the internet and their role in how controversies are performed.

Thomas Hillman is Associate Professor of Information Technology and Learning at the University of Gothenburg. With a background in the design of products and environments for learning, his research investigates the ongoing reconfiguration of technology for learning in both formal and informal settings with a focus on the mutually constitutive relationship between the development of technologies and the transformation of epistemic practices. Thomas’ work to understand the role of tools in learning processes draws on sociocultural perspectives on learning, interaction and development, and on socio-material ways of conceptualizing the relationship between technology and use.

In recent years, Thomas’ work has focused on the blurring boundaries between online and offline activities in many aspects of contemporary life. Much of his research relies on extensive use of video-recordings and digital records of the ways people interact with technologies and Thomas works to adapt and develop methods and tools for gaining access to and making sense of these activities.

He is currently a visiting fellow at the Oxford Internet Institute where he is investigating ways to identify and unpack trajectories of epistemic development in online activities over time through the combination of micro level interaction analysis and ethnographic approaches with computational approaches.


Image credit: The Echo Chamber by Hugh Macleod. Photo CC BY-SA 2.0 Tara Hunt via Flickr

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Sign up to the new termly Education IT Programme update

Sarah Argles, Senior Communications Officer, Education IT Programme writes:

The new Education IT Programme Update is an informative termly publication covering the Academic IT and Student Systems projects within the remit of the Education IT Programme.

Academic IT project updates in the first issue include:

  • VLE Review – shaping the future of WebLearn
  • Online Reading Lists – finding a suitable application
  • Turnitin and iThenticate Review – looking at support for plagiarism awareness and tools for detection

Recently completed projects and initiatives are also outlined, such as the work for the Digital Education Strategy communication and consultation.

You can receive the termly update in two ways:

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Seminar: Researching participation in teachers’ Facebook groups

Academic IT has links with the  Learning and New Technologies Research Group in the Department of Education. The group organises a programme of research seminars with invited speakers; the next one is on Thursday 20th April:

Researching participation in teachers’ Facebook groups: Sharing, suggesting, and supporting

Dr Thomas Hillman, Dr Mona Lundin, Dr Annika Lan-Andersson, Dr Louise Peterson, and Dr Annika Bergviken Rensfeldt
Learning and IT Group, Department of Education, Communication and Learning, University of Gothenburg

April 20th: 15:30-17:00
Seminar Room D, Department of Education, 15 Norham Gardens

Teachers are increasingly participating in social media to discuss their teaching and instructional issues, particularly in relation to IT. The question is what support for professional learning such discussions offer over time in forums like thematic groups on Facebook. Based a study of a corpus of three years of posts, comments and likes from a Facebook group with almost 13,000 members combined with extensive ethnographic engagement, this talk will discuss issues of methodology and research ethics, along with highlighting findings related to when and how teachers use the group as part of their professional practices.

For more information, visit the project website.


Image credit: CC0 (public domain) via Pexels

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Unveiling Oxplore: home of big questions

Dr Alex Pryce contributes this guest post on an exciting University initiative aimed at young people:

This month sees the first public airing of a new digital outreach initiative on which members of the University’s Widening Access and Participation team have been working. Oxplore aims to harness the wealth of brilliance at the University of Oxford to encourage intellectual enquiry and exploration beyond the curriculum among under-represented 11-18 year olds. In short, Oxplore’s goal is to raise aspirations, promote broad thinking and stimulate intellectual curiosity.

To do this, we’ve designed a portal that utilises the digital technologies and social networks young people are most familiar with, and filled it with content which we hope will engage them to delve deeper into ‘Big Questions’. These big questions tackle complex ideas across a wide range of subjects and draw on the latest research undertaken at Oxford.

Oxplore has produced a range of eye-catching promotional posters

In this first release, these include ‘Could we live without laws?’, ‘Is a robot a person?’ and ‘Can war be a good thing?’. Questions we’re developing further right now include ‘Is falling in love bad for you?’ and ‘Is it OK to ban certain books?’. These questions have been ‘approved’ by a panel of young people as well as being reviewed by academic specialists in the subjects they cover, and by educational experts.

We’re encouraging our users to delve into podcasts, videos, quizzes, lists and articles to help answer these questions and more. They have the opportunity to vote on what they find, and we’re also accepting their ideas of big questions to shape the future portal content.

The site is currently on limited release as we undertake pilot activity and evaluation in the North East of England and nationally (in May). We’re seeking feedback on the concept, the content and the user experience. This will help us to make necessary adjustments before we launch nationally in September 2017.

Mock-up for the mobile version, featuring the Blavatnik School of Government in a novel guise!

Oxplore has been under development since early summer last year (you can read more about the process in our development blog). We hope that what we have produced will allow us to reach more bright young people in a different way to our other access and participation projects like the UNIQ Summer School.

To ensure our first efforts were near the mark, we worked with young people in the design and development of our concept, content and style. They had strong opinions!

We’re aware that Oxplore looks quite different for a University of Oxford endeavour! But, since the University has really been the ‘Home of Big Questions’ itself since the 11th century, it seems only fitting that we take a fresh approach to reach a new audience in the 21st century.

Here’s a short video introduction to Oxplore, on YouTube. Although aimed at the target audience it’s entertaining for adults too!

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make: an impact in Trinity Term

Each year we run a series of lunch time talks under the banner of make: which showcases the creative use of technology and digital resources in teaching, learning and outreach around the University. In past years we have included talks about using Raspberry PIs in Indian schools, modelling historical buildings in 3D, remote observation of rare species in the Himalayas, CT scanning of fossils, building and sustaining a YouTube channel, and many others.

The make: series will run during Trinity Term on Thursday lunchtimes and we are looking for talks to add to our line-up. If you or your team have used technology in an innovative way, or have created interesting digital resources for work, studies, research (or even pleasure!) and you want to share your discoveries and achievements with the rest of the University, contact us at courses@it.ox.ac.uk. We look forward to hearing from you.

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Exploring the potential of VR and AR in education

A blustery Friday afternoon in February saw an eager crowd gather for a workshop on virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR), organised as part of this year’s Engage programme. Over thirty people attended the session, which was divided into two halves: a series of short introductory talks by five presenters, followed by an opportunity to explore the technologies in a more hands-on environment.

The introductory presentations featured a mix of approaches and applications and offered a good introduction to what can be done and the type of work that is going on.

Participant saving the life of a newborn baby in the ‘LIFE’ VR game

  • Chris Paton (Tropical Medicine): LIFE – a game for saving lives. Visit the LIFE project website.
  • Fridolin Wild & Will Guest (Brookes University): Performance Augmentation: professional learning in Industry 4.0
  • Henry Jordan (Experimental Psychology): Using a simulated 3D environment to study how people can anticipate a robot’s movements (using an Oculus DK1).
  • Richard Smith (Bodleian Radcliffe Science Library): The libraries’ VR service. Exploring the Gear VR equipment. See the Bodleian Libguide on VR.
  • Simon Purins (Age Exchange): Meeting in No Man’s Land. Using LayAR to help school students to produce original and engaging responses to material about World War I. Visit the project website.

Encouraged by the interest in the event and the discussions during the session, the Technology Enhanced Learning Team in Academic IT has decided to set up a new special interest group. The aim is to bring together those interested in the use of AR and VR for education, research and outreach. The inaugural meeting will take place some time next term, offering interested parties an opportunity to discuss the scope of the group and its proposed activities. To be notified about the forthcoming meeting, please contact ylva.berglund@it.ox.ac.uk

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