Meet the new project: Physical and virtual show and tell

In this interview, Georgina Brooke talks about the Physical and virtual show and tell project, which will bring Virtual Reality to the Pitt Rivers Museum.

This project is one of four GLAM Labs projects funded as part of this year’s IT Innovation Challenges round.

About the project

Digital and physical 3D models of a museum object from the Pitt Rivers Museum that visitors will be able to explore at a kiosk inside the gallery

Digital and physical 3D models of a museum object from the Pitt Rivers Museum that visitors will be able to explore at a kiosk inside the gallery

Technologies such as virtual reality (VR) and 3D printing allow natural history material to be investigated and presented in new ways. We want to explore and evaluate how these technologies might work for visitors in the context of learning and visitor experience in the Museum.

In this GLAM Labs project we will create an ‘experience station’ in the Museum to provide visitors with access to VR models of specimens that they can manipulate using their ‘virtual hands’, supported by digital annotations and interpretation. A touchscreen built in to the kiosk will also allow access to other digital content created by the Museum that is not currently available to in-gallery visitors. This station will be designed so that it can be used as ‘self-service’, but it will also serve as a base from which regular Spotlight Specimen ‘show and tell’ sessions can be run by staff. These facilitated sessions will allow staff to use 3D printed models (and specimens) related to the VR models available in the headset component of the station.

1. Please tell us a little bit about the team behind Physical and virtual Show and tell.

The project is jointly led by

  • Scott Billings (Digital Engagement Officer, Oxford University Museum of Natural History),
  • Georgina Brooke (Digital Content and Analysis Manager, Oxford University Museum of Natural History) and
  • Stephen Taylor (Medical Research Council, Weatherall Institute of Molecular Medicine Group Leader).

We are also supported by

  • Dr Paul Wilson (Research Fellow, WMG, the University of Warwick),
  • Dr Imran Rahman (Deputy Head of Research, Oxford University Museum of Natural History),
  • Dr Hilary Ketchum (Collections Manager; Palaeontology, Oxford University Museum of Natural History) and
  • Peter Johnson (Museum Technician, Oxford University Museum of Natural History).

2. How did you come up with the idea for Physical and virtual Show and tell?

They were originally pitched as two separate ideas! Scott and Steve independently submitted ideas to the GLAM Labs call issued by the IT Innovation Challenges. It was then suggested that we merge ideas as they were similar. This worked out really well as we now have a team with strengths in museum operational management as well as technical leadership and experience of content delivery in VR.

3. Why did you choose to apply for the IT Innovation Challenges scheme?

At the Museum we were attracted by having a finite amount of time and money to test, in a discrete way, how we could implement VR in gallery and evaluate its usefulness. The scheme seemed a perfect fit with our desire to have a sandpit environment to evaluate what we wanted to be doing in the field of emerging tech.

4. What was the application process like for you? Which tips would you give future applicants?

It was time consuming, so I’d definitely recommend taking it seriously and thinking through a lot of the logistics of how the project will actually run upfront.

I think in our case we were fortunate that a lot of the typical unknowns (either ‘how will the museum like my idea?’ or ‘how do we technically implement it’) were solved for us as our project team was cross disciplinary and straddled museum people and tech folk. If you don’t have that, I’d strongly recommend getting buy-in and logistical know how from the Museum. It’s quite easy to come up with an idea that is un-implementable in a particular GLAM institution. Conversely, if you’re not technical, I’d recommend doing a lot of the upfront donkey work in terms of working out how the project will function. It means that your project plan will be much stronger and you’ll come across as a much stronger candidate at the pitch.

5. What are your plans for the next few months? How will you realise your project idea?

The next thing we need to do is get Paul Wilson in a room together with Stephen and the museum professionals who have 3D models (Imran and Hilary). This is the downside of having a big and dispersed team – finding a time and place that works for everyone is not simple.

Stephen has agreed to build a prototype of the in gallery furniture which will house the VR headset.

Once we’re a bit more confident of the 3D models we have, we need to identify what story we’re telling and how we can make best use of the potential of VR with these models.

6. How will the Physical and virtual Show and tell project bring benefit to students, staff and the University?

When you make a typical natural history museum visit, it can be difficult to get a sense of how specimens have been engineered, particularly if they are behind glass and/or very small, or – with things like bacteria- invisible to the naked eye. Our Physical and virtual show and tell gives people access to these specimens, but at high resolution and giving people the ability to grapple with specimens in 360 degrees. During the course of the project, we want to interrogate the full potential of VR and experiment with peeling away layers of fossils or seeing the bullet hole in the head of the dodo.

Hopefully by the end of the project we will have a really good sense of what works and what doesn’t in a VR format, meaning we can continue to deliver top quality VR content. This should bring ongoing benefit to visitors to our Museum!

For more information about the project, please contact .

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Meet the new project: Replicating Historical Musical Instruments

We have spoken to the team behind the recently launched project Replicating Historical Musical Instruments. This project is one of four GLAM Labs projects funded as part of this year’s IT Innovation Challenges round.

In this interview, the team outlines the progress they have already made in 3D printing historical musical instruments and how this project will bring benefit to members of the University. Continue reading

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Humanities Innovation Challenge Competiton 2019

A new round of the Humanities Innovation Challenge Competition has been launched, sponsored by Oxford University Innovation and TORCH. The competition invites teams or individuals to submit a 200 word description of an idea “which can potentially enrich their own work, communicate to a wider audience, and develop new perspectives both in the Humanities and Social Sciences”.

We are keen to encourage researchers, students and staff to develop entrepreneurial ideas which can potentially enrich their own work, communicate to a wider audience, and develop new perspectives both in the Humanities and Social Sciences. To this end, you are invited to propose innovative ideas which can lead to entrepreneurial activity, social impact or enterprise. (from the competition website)

Shortlisted ideas will be invited to pitch for a cash prize of £1,000 and in-kind support worth over £5,000. For more information, please visit the Humanities Innovation Challenge Competition website:

Please note, this competition is not affiliated with the IT Innovation Challenges

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GLAM Labs: 4 projects receive funding

We are excited to announce that 4 proposals from the call for GLAM Labs projects have been offered funding by the IT Innovation Challenges scheme. The projects are (click on project name to read the abstract):

  • A physical and digital show and tell – creating a portable ‘station’ for use in the museum galleries to present both 3D models in Virtual Reality and tactile models / 3D prints. Based in the Oxford University Museum of Natural History and the Weatherall Institute of Molecular Medicine

  • Digital makers – developing staff coding skills and piloting digital making activities for families and young people. Based in the Radcliffe Science Library and Ashmolean Museum.

  • Replicating historic musical instruments – testing the accuracy of 3D printouts of historic musical instruments. Based in the Pitt Rivers Museum.

  • Mapping playful spaces in the museum – using social data to examine how visitors engage with Oxford’s museums to understand visitor engagement. Based in the Oxford Internet Institute working with a number of GLAM sites.

Projects will run between May 2019 and February 2020.

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IT Innovation Challenges 2019 round: shortlisted ideas

Having received 59 ideas in this year’s round of the IT Innovation Challenges, the judges have now selected the most promising ideas to go on to the next stage of the selection process. Idea creators are now asked to write a project proposal explaining their project idea in detail and providing information on how to implement the idea.

They will pitch their idea to a panel of experts from across the University in March (GLAM Labs) and May (staff and student challenge) respectively. After the pitch, the panel will decide on the final selection of projects that will receive funding to realise their idea.

The shortlist below (in no particular order) indicates the great variety of exciting ideas submitted this year:

GLAM Labs (staff and student)

  • Replicating Historic Musical Instruments – testing the accuracy of 3D printouts of historic musical instruments
  • Project Dastaan – Historical Reconstruction through VR – piloting VR exhibits on the Indian Partition in the Ashmolean Museum
  • Bod-day cards/GLAM Birthday Cards – allowing digital audiences to create a customised video birthday card for a friend or loved one using the museum collection
  • Exploring new technologies as a tool for collaborative gallery interpretation – working collaboratively with community groups and artists / creatives to experiment with the creative use of new technologies in the Ashmolean’s Ancient Near East gallery
  • Mapping playful spaces in the Museum – using social data to examine how visitors engage with Oxford’s museums to understand visitor engagement
  • Whispering Windows and Noisy Bones – drawing on sounds to deepen the visitor experience of objects and galleries

Four projects are joining into two teams to  work collaboratively on the project proposal:

  • Developing staff coding skills and delivering computer enhanced GLAM exhibits and outreach using the Micro:Bit and Raspberry Pi
  • Digital makers – piloting digital making activities for families and young people


  • Using VR to understand to learn at the amazing beauty of the micro world – allowing visitors to ‘virtually’ shrink down to tiny scales to allow them to explore small museum objects
  • A physical and digital show and tell – creating a portable ‘station’ for use in the museum galleries to present both tactile models / 3D prints and digital assets of museum objects

IT Innovation Challenges (staff)

  • The Student Bubble – providing a safe, digital space for students to find new friends, join groups and discover events
  • Peer Support Programme Wall of Faces – creating a virtual Peer Support Wall of Faces to replace the paper posters currently advertising the existing Peer Support Teams
  • Bibliographic and Publication Data Visualisation Services to University Researchers – developing a method for producing bibliographic and publication based visualisations, showing links between Oxford researchers and other institutions
  • Interactive Library Floor Plans – building a tool to help libraries create their own web-based interactive floor plan with minimal effort or technical skills
  • Multi-Media Resource – Women in Oxford University: Past and Present – an interactive, digital resource for exploring the role of woman at Oxford
  • Better Research Ethics Application Process – improving the way ethics applications are completed and processed using Oracle Policy Administration

Summer of Innovation (student)

  • Open source code for developing museum/history-teaching apps – developing an open-source, free-to-use app to teach history through a combination of text, audio, and 3D models
  • The XXFactor – creating a portal for the podcast series ‘The XX Factor’ which will feature open conversations with Oxford-based, female academics and the challenges they face

Please follow the links above to learn more about the project ideas (using your Oxford email address to register to the Oxford Ideas platform).

The  projects selected for funding will be announced on this blog after the pitch has been completed.

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59 ideas submitted – comment and vote now

We are pleased to announce that 59 ideas have been submitted to the IT Innovation Challenges this term.

Screenshot of the three calls for ideas on the OxfordIdeas platform

Screenshot of the three calls for ideas on OxfordIdeas

Project ideas that were submitted include:

  • a multimedia resource about women at Oxford University in the past and present,
  • 3D prints of historic musical instruments in Oxford collections,
  • a virtual tour of the Bodleian Libraries,
  • an app through which students can connect with likeminded people,
  • a podcast series called ‘The XX Factor’ which will feature Oxford-based, female academics,
  • and many, many more!

You can now support your favourite project ideas by commenting on them and voting for them if you would like to see it go through to the next round. Your comment will not only help the project team to think their idea through, but it can also influence the panel’s decision about which ideas to take forward!

To cast your vote, go to Oxford Ideas and register with your Oxford email address, if you have not already done so.

Please note that commenting will close on February 11.

If you have any questions, please get in touch with us directly at

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What is an idea and how do I come up with ideas?

What is an idea?

According to the OED, an idea is the “conception of a standard or principle to be realized or aimed at; a conception of what is desirable or ought to be; a governing conception or principle; the plan or design according to which something is created or constructed.”

An idea, in other words, is a solution to a problem that we may or may not be aware of. It may respond to a certain need, and it usually benefits individuals or groups.

An idea can be an entirely new approach, something that no-one has thought of before. More often, though, an idea simply means translating a preexistent practice or process to a new context.

Generating new ideas

Here are a few suggestions on how can you come up with ideas more easily:

  • Brainstorm.

    You can make a mind map, a list or any other form of writing down all your thoughts. Push yourself to go beyond what comes to your mind at first. The more ideas you can get down on paper, the more likely it is that there will be a good idea in there.

    Image by Elijah O’Donnell on Unsplash.

  • Research.

    Know what is already out there. If you know the field and problem that you want to work on, you will not only be able to identify gaps but also develop potential new approaches. In fact, generating ideas is closely linked to what Oxford teaches you about research.

Image by Dakota Corbin on Unsplash.

  • Communicate.

    Put your ideas out there and discuss them with friends and colleagues. You will certainly get asked questions and receive valuable feedback. This way you can develop your ideas or come up with new ones.

    Our Oxford Ideas platform encourages discussion and collaboration to help you make the most of your ideas. 

  • Ask ‘old’ questions anew.

    Pick up old questions and try to think of new answers. With digital innovations moving fast, you are likely to find that there are new ways of tackling well-known issues by thinking beyond traditional approaches. Another strategy you can try is to rephrase your questions. This way you will be looking at a problem from a new angle and will be more likely to generate ideas.

Image by Hannah Olinger on Unsplash.

  • Be creative.

    Do something creative that is not directly linked to the problem you are trying to solve. This could be anything from photography to drawing to knitting. Since you’re focused on your creative task, your brain can wander off. Plus, By putting yourself into a situation where you need to be creative, you are adopting the right mindset to come up with more new ideas.

What are your strategies for coming up with new ideas? Share them in the comment section below.

If you already have a good idea for an innovative project and would like to receive funding in order to put that idea into practice, submit your idea on the Oxford Ideas platform until 4 Feb (noon). Please email us at if you have any questions.

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IT Innovation – 2019 Staff Challenge

Photo by Robbie Brock CC BY-NC-SA

This 2019 IT Innovation Challenges call is open to all Oxford University staff* who have ideas for digital projects that could benefit the University, its staff or students. Successful ideas will receive funding of up to £40,000.


‘Innovation’ does not have to mean inventing something new or using the latest technology or newest equipment. For this round we particularly welcome ideas for projects using existing tools, knowledge, or technology in new and innovative ways, in new areas, or for new purposes.

As always, we also welcome other ideas for projects that bring benefit to the University, its staff and/or students through digital means.

To submit your idea, or view and comment on ideas submitted by others, go to the new Oxford ideas platform and register with your University of Oxford email address ( . Single sign-on not yet available). You can add or edit ideas until noon on Monday 4th February 2019 (comments and votes can be added until 11th February).

We are primarily looking for innovative digital solutions that stand a realistic chance of achieving their goals within the constraints of time and funding. The IT Innovation Challenges panel will decide on which ideas will go to the next stage using the following criteria:

  • it is innovative in its approach – by this we mean it utilizes an existing system or service in a new way to tackle a known problem, or develops an entirely new system or service from scratch. We recognize that, in some cases, small, simple changes can lead to really innovative developments so the background context will be taken into account.
  • it meets the challenges set for this particular round or (if part of the ‘open’ category) supports one or more of the University’s strategic aims.
  • the idea demonstrates the potential for a wide impact across the University or meeting one of the University’s strategic goals for external engagement.
  • collaboration is involved. For example, this could be projects involving two or more University units, or partnerships between students and departments
  • the project seems feasible in terms of approach chosen, start-up and completion.

Information about the scheme, the application process and more can be found at (see FAQ). For anything else, please contact

* Please note: IT Innovation Challenges are open to any member of staff within the University. Due to financial constraints we cannot fund college-only applications but we would encourage college staff to submit their ideas and to seek collaboration with University departments.

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Calls for Ideas (14 Jan-4 Feb 2019)

We are excited to announce that the IT Innovation Challenges will be running three funding rounds in Hilary term.

Photo by Robbie Brock CC BY-NC-SA

We welcome ideas for innovative digital projects that meet one of the three challenges:

IT Innovation Challenges (staff): innovative digital projects that bring benefit to the University (funding up to £40K per project)
Summer of Innovation (students): realise an idea as a digital project supported by professional IT staff (paid summer internship)
GLAM Labs (staff or students): adding value to the user experience of GLAM’s collections, buildings, resources or programmes through digital means (£8-15K per project)

You can submit your idea between 14th January and 4th February (noon) on the new Oxford Ideas platform (please use your University email to create an account). You can also visit the platform to view, comment and vote on ideas submitted by colleagues across the University.

If you have any questions that are not answered in the FAQs, please get in touch with us directly at

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GLAM Labs – new IT Innovation challenge

Ashmolean featuring at the IT Innovation Challenges Showcase event, June 2018. Photo by Robbie Brock CC BY-NC-SA

We are excited to announce that the IT Innovation Challenges will be running three Calls for Ideas in the spring. In addition to the IT Innovation Challenges staff round and the Summer of Innovation call for students (see separate post), we can now announce the GLAM Labs Challenge, a funding opportunity for digital projects adding value to the user experience of GLAM’s collections, buildings, resources or programmes (GLAM =  Gardens, Libraries and Museums).

GLAM Labs exist to help create an environment within GLAM that can confidently develop, pilot, test and evaluate the use of technology to enhance the user experience of physical and virtual spaces. GLAM Labs is about creating an ethos of sharing expertise, developing digital skills among staff and collaborators, and of digital experimentation.

IT Innovation Challenges has already proven an effective vehicle for successfully seed-funding GLAM initiatives such as Cabinet, Oxford Stories and the Hidden Museum. This new GLAM Labs Challenge will be inviting ideas for innovative projects that seek to improve the user experience of both actual and potential users. Projects are expected to:

  • utilise technology to demonstrably and innovatively add value to the user experience of GLAM and its collections, buildings, resources or programmes.
  • encourage collaboration. The collaboration can be between staff from different departments or divisions, between institutions and students, or even with outside organisations and companies.
  • cost between £8-15,000 and be completed by February 2020
  • have an identified GLAM partner or host institution with a staff member from that institution to act as project sponsor. Projects can also run across multiple GLAM sites.

More information about the challenge will be announced before Christmas together with full details of how to apply. We will look to gather short proposals via the online portal by the end of January then invite shortlisted proposals to enter a more detailed application by mid-March with a view to successful projects starting anytime after mid-May.

Exploring Cabinet. IT Innovation Challenges Showcase event, June 2018. Photo by Robbie Brock CC BY-NC-SA

Of course, if you have a bigger ambition for an innovative GLAM project that costs more than £15K, you can apply through the normal Innovation challenges. Likewise, if you are a student and would like to work on a digital project affiliated with a GLAM partner, you can apply to our Summer of Innovation round (opening in Hilary Term).

So, get thinking!

Questions about GLAM Labs? Please visit the GLAM Digital Strategy page)

Questions about the IT Innovation Challenges in general or any of the calls this year, please contact

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