Oxford University Teaching Awards

On the 24th of November 2009 at the “Oxford Teaching Awards Ceremony” at the Rhodes House, members from the Learning Technologies Group (LTG) at OUCS have been presented three Teaching Awards (Learning Support Category_:

  • IT Learning Programme Team – the “Skills Toolkit for Research Students” initiative
  • Ken Kahn and Howard Noble – Developing Computer Modelling Resources for Understanding the Evolution and Emergence of Pandemic Influenza
  • Fawei Geng – Supporting the WebLearn Community at Oxford

The “Skills Toolkit for Research Students” initiative

The “Skills Toolkit for Research Students” is a unique, joined-up approach by OUCS, OULS and Careers to teach skills for graduate research students in support of their work. Its main focus is on teaching the skills and tools required for streamlining academic work, in line with the Research Councils’ “Joint Statement of Skills”. In particular, the aim is to introduce research students to key tools for Information Skills and IT Skills.

The workshops have been run since Michaelmas 2007 and have secured a small sponsorship from the Graduate Skills Advisory Group (GSAG) and Adept Scientific Ltd.

The Skills Toolkit for Research Students:

  • provides an opportunity to learn about a broad range of resources in one concentrated, time-efficient session
  • focuses on the skills and tools that help streamline academic work
  • provides a hands-on opportunity to try out some tools
  • offers key skills needed to progress in future careers
  • gives guidance on the range of further training available

The event is a combination of very short presentations by service providers, followed by hands-on activities when research students move around among the computers, trying out a number of tools. This gives each individual a chance to assess the tools’ usefulness and relevance to their own work. For each tool, a student carries out a specially-designed task, which has been carefully selected by the three service providers to illustrate the best use of the tool.

Developing Computer Modelling Resources for Understanding the Evolution and Emergence of Pandemic Influenza

Together with collaborators in the Zoology Department, Ken Kahn and Howard Noble of LTG plan to take cutting edge modelling research in the Zoology Department and produce computational learning materials to enable students to engage with the conceptual structure of the research but in a form that doesn’t require extensive technical and mathematical background. We will “package up” the technical details of the computer models into a library of transparent modular components that the students can combine and explore without prior training. Our goal is to take on-going research and build computational resources and tools that enable students to engage with the research by building computer models.

Supporting the WebLearn Community at Oxford

From June 2008 to June 2009, Fawei Geng led the VLE (Virtual Learning Environment) user support project that aimed to pilot the new WebLearn by designing and delivering training, gathering user feedback and informing the continuing development of the VLE at Oxford.

Mr Geng’s view is that ICT research and teaching need to enhance one another through cooperation. Furthermore, he thinks that the efficiency of learning technologies is dependent upon the how much teachers and lecturers adapt their ‘traditional teaching methods’ to accommodate new technologies.

The student-centred approach along with the Community Building strategy Fawei employed throughout the project have resulted in the increased use of WebLearn. As the VLE manager puts it; ‘It is a testament to him [Mr Geng] that in one year we’ve had logins from over 4500 separate users and have had over 60 departments piloting the system’. Moreover, Fawei’s strategies have also resulted in some excellent user feedback:

“With the help received from Mr Geng, we have been able to make considerable improvements to the teaching of Chinese in the Centre.”

– Mr. Shio-yun Kan, Programme Director, Centre for Teaching Chinese as a Foreign Language, Institute for Chinese Studies

“I found that the training sessions not only gives tutors and administrators the ability and confidence to create and maintain successful a virtual learning space, but they also promote the University faculties and students to work together to share ideas and further develop new learning structures in distance learning.”

– a training attendee (anonymous survey)

From the success of this project, the VLE team has decided to allocate more resources in the Customised Training Sessions, where users can learn how to relate what they are taught during the training session to their work in teaching and learning.  The podcasting team will also employ the community building strategy to support academics in incorporating podcasts in their WebLearn courses.

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