Student 2017 challenges now live

Innovation Fund imageIT Innovation Challenges are looking for innovative ideas for digital projects to be run by students. Successful ideas will receive funding of up to £15,000.

For this round, we particularly welcome ideas related to teaching and learning and student welfare, but any ideas for projects that bring benefit to the University, its staff and/or students will be considered. We welcome collaborations involving staff and students, and any member of the University can put forward an idea, but projects must be led by a student.

To take part, submit a brief description of your idea as soon as possible at You can then edit your submitted idea and incorporate any comments or suggestions received up until 29th January.   Sharing your idea early allows others time to comment, offer advice and support your idea giving you a greater chance of success.

For more information about the call, see the IT Innovation Challenges 2016/17 post. General information about the scheme can be found in our FAQ section Feel free to contact us if you can’t find the answer to your question there

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IT Innovation Challenges 2016/17

The next round of IT Innovation Challenges will launch on the 10th January 2017. This call is open to all Oxford University students who have ideas for digital projects.  Successful ideas will receive funding of up to £15,000.

This year we are looking for ideas matching the following themes.

  1. Think of one thing in your learning that could be made better using digital technology.
    We invite ideas for projects focussing on teaching and learning, and are keen to see collaboration between students and departments/colleges. (Key document: Digital Education Strategy).
  2. “We believe that maintaining and promoting positive wellbeing is critical to an individual’s academic and personal success” (OUSU Welfare Vision 2016). 
    We’d like to see ideas for projects that consider how student welfare / wellbeing can be supported through digital means.
  3. We also welcome other ideas for projects that bring benefit to the University, its staff and/or students through digital means.

Key dates and activities:

Process Flowchart

Ideas can be submitted between 10-29 January through the Oxford Ideas site

If you have any other questions please contact


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New project: SHOAL

The SHOAL project is up and running!

SHOAL stands for SHaring Online Activities for Learning. The SHOAL project aims to make it easier for staff and students to try out innovative online learning developed here at Oxford, and re-purpose activities for their own use.

So if you would like us to feature your own online learning, or recommend an academic whose work we should include in the showcase, please contact the team leader Lucy Tallents ( We’re also keen to hear from both staff and students who want to adopt more online learning in their own work and study. You’ll get the chance to try out the portal, preview the activities, and provide us with feedback to ensure the portal meets your needs.

The SHOAL team are Lucy Tallents (Zoology), Jocelyne Hughes (Continuing Education) and Adam Marshall (IT Services), supported by WebLearn code developers and Marion Manton at TALL (Technology Assisted Lifelong Learning). The project will run until the end of March 2017.

To find out more, please visit

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New app released: Self-Heal

A new app has been created by one of the student IT Innovation Challenges projects. Self-Heal is a free tool that guides the management and reduction of self-injury. It can be used anonymously and independently, to enable users to take recovery into their own hands.

The app provides crisis management suggestions, relevant links, information, phone numbers, as well as a gallery of images selected to inspire, motivate and provoke. It has been developed in collaboration with students and professionals.

How it works: The science behind the AppSelf-Heal

Distraction tasks are inspired by techniques used in dialectical behavioural therapy (DBT), which is the frontline psychological therapy used in the UK to treat self-harm. Imagery has been known for a long time to affect our emotions, thoughts, and outlook – Just think about the amount of money that gets spent on advertising and graphic design! Self-Heal contains more than 750 pictures each carefully selected to motivate recovery. More than half of these images are captioned to provoke thought and engage the user.

The free Self-Heal app is available for Android and Apple.

More information:

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go girl : Changing people’s lives

The IT Innovation Go_Girl project has been working with young women from non-traditional educational backgrounds, introducing them to website and app design. In this short video, researchers and participants talk about how the project helped to improve the confidence and educational opportunities for the young women involved.

The project was run by Dr Niall Winters and Dr Anne Geniets from the Department of Education in collaboration with Oxfordshire County Council’s Early Intervention Service.

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Summer update

Some may think summer2016that summer is a quiet period where it comes to activities at the University. For the IT Innovation Challenges, however, the summer is a very busy period. Having competed the third 2015/16 challenge in June (see Spring 2016 – successful projects for details), the new projects were set up, which involves a certain amount of admin to get paperwork signed and accounts created, ready for the new projects to start. For earlier projects, the summer can be the time when staff can focus (more or less) exclusively on the projects. This year’s student projects have been making excellent progress. Some examples here (click on title to see project abstract):

  • OAR (The Oxford Artistic and Practice Based Research Platform). The project is creating a platform to host a new online journal and allow for discussions around topics shared by practised-based research. The project is making good progress, and will be launching the platform at an event in late October (more information).
  • MYSH (Manage Your Self Harm). The project is producing an app to be used as a tool for people who self-harm to resist or manage their urges, but can also be of interest to anyone who comes into contact with a person who self-harms and wishes to understand the ways that a person who is self-harming could be supported to stop. Content for the app has been produced and the newly-created interface is now being populated with images and text.
  • The Student Marketplace project aims to reduce the waste produced by the University by enabling users to donate and sell unwanted items within their community through an online platform. The project has developed the back-end functionality and is now working on finalising the design of the new site.
  • The Exchange is creating an application that connects people across colleges over formal dinners. Users will be able to link up and either invite others to share their college dinner or attend dinners in other colleges. The new platform has been developed and will be launched in Fresher’s week.

As there will be no staff challenges this coming academic year (see previous post), activities in the next few months will focus on preparing for the student challenge which will launch in January. We are also looking forward to following the progress of existing project, about 20 of which are due to finish by Christmas. More details to follow.


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Revealing the Hidden Museum

— By Jessica Suess —

With funding and support from the University of Oxford’s IT Innovation Seed Fund (now IT Innovation Challenges), over the last 12 months a small team of colleagues from the Oxford University Museums and the University’s IT Services Mobile Development Team have been working on a project to look at best practice for engaging visitors in gallery spaces using mobile devices.


The Challenge

Mobile presents a significant opportunity for museums and other cultural venues to offer engaging content and deeper interpretation to audiences visiting their sites, which simply can’t be delivered using traditional methods. However, mobile also represents a challenge: when visiting a museum or venue audiences are seeking to engage with the historic site and authentic, ‘real’ collections on display. Mobile interactives can be notoriously ‘heads-down’, drawing the user into their device, rather than engaging them with their material surroundings.

In the Hidden Museum project we set out to understand how mobile could best be utilised to deliver engagement rather than distraction. How could we use mobile in a way that does not draw users into their devices, but rather encourages them to look more closely at their surroundings and the objects on display, and through the digital content helps them gain a better understanding of those objects?

Delivering the Project

The project was delivered in three phases:

  • Phase One: Research – We undertook desk research to understand current mobile engagement research and initiatives in order to identify gaps in existing knowledge and frame our research questions.
  • Phase Two: Iterative Testing – Having identified outstanding research questions, we adapted existing mobile content from all the museums for user testing to answer specific questions, making iterative changes to fix problems and address new questions raised.
  • Phase Three: Prototype Development – We developed a prototype app for one of the museums, building on all the learning gathered in the first two phases, and allowing for user testing of a complete experience, rather than component parts.

You can read details about the research and iterative testing phases of the project at, where we have shared some of our research questions and key insights gained.

The Prototype

The culmination of the project was the development of ‘Pocket Curator’, an app for the Museum of the History of Science. Housed in the original Ashmolean building, the Museum of the History of Science displays complex scientific instruments, which can be difficult for visitors to engage with when they see them on static display behind glass – scientific instruments are meant to do something! Our aim was to bring these instruments to life by allowing the user to try them out, using their mobile device as proxy.

We built a series of instrument interactives: the user could use their device to simulate the use of a sextant to determine their latitude; experiment with their own digital lodestone; recreate Marconi’s wireless demonstration of 1896; and convert between 12-hour and decimal time, referencing an unusual ‘Revolutionary’ clock with a ten-hour face.

These interactives were imbedded within an app delivering more traditional audio and visual content, optimised to work in the museum space. Audio was broken into short stories focussed on a single topic, allowing the user to dip into areas that interest them rather than listen to long, comprehensive recordings. Video content was presented in an animated style to distinguish it from the objects on display, pushing the user to look from the screen to the object in order to see the details explained. We used image recognition to trigger content, encouraging the user to engage with the object before focusing on the app.


Next Steps

The prototype, built in iOS only, was well received by our user testing group who found that the engagement increased both their specific understanding of the scientific instruments featured in the app, and their general appreciation of the collections held by the museum.

The success of the prototype enabled us to leverage additional funding to take the iOS app from prototype to product, and develop an Android version, both of which will be released in the app stores in September 2016.

The Team

The core project team comprised Scott Billings, Digital Communications Officer at the Museum of Natural History ; Theodore Koterwas, Web and Mobile Application Team Lead within IT Services; and Jessica Suess, Digital Partnership Manager for Oxford University Museums. However, a significantly broader team of developers, designers, artists and curators contributed their talents to make the project successful; one of the best parts of working on this project was that it was truly collaborative and cross-disciplinary.

Find out a little more about the project at ; a presentation by the project leads as part of the Digital Humanities at Oxford Summer School.

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Building a Writing App

By Noreen Masud

Good writing requires structure and depth, a well-planned architecture with a clear route from beginning to end. As writers and teachers, we are grateful for the IT Innovation Fund’s award to design a writing application that will engage students in drafting units of connected, continuous text.  Despite the growing need for constructive writing supports, such a tool, let alone an app, does not exist.

Following the award, the team has been undertaking research to refine the app’s pedagogical focus. It was important, we felt, that the app’s design and function rose out of students’ intuitive beliefs and values about writing. To be accessible, the app must dovetail with writing strategies which are familiar from school and early university life. Project leader Sally Bayley, a university lecturer with twenty years’ experience of teaching writing, therefore ran a series of five workshops with school and university students, over May-July 2016, to explore the metaphors which they instinctively bring to their essays.


Student response to an exercise from the first workshop. Is an essay a ‘window’ into a text?

Do they think of their essays as rooms which they move through? As journeys through their arguments? How do they visualise their moments of transition?

After each workshop, our team – including a digital narrative expert and an animator – discussed the findings. We considered the metaphors that students used instinctively, and used them to devise new workshop activities which situated these metaphors in hands-on, practical writing tasks.


Diagram of how one student visualises their essay structure.

Building on the findings from these workshops, we currently envisage that the app will support students to identify the most important ‘agents’ in their argument (in an essay about epistolary fiction, for instance, the genre of the letter might be the most important actor) and to think about the way in which the agents act. Does the letter, for instance, instruct, or subvert, or connect?

Based on this plan, we have devised a basic ‘paper test’ which we are using with summer school students. The results of this test will feed into the creation of a design specification in August.

Thanks to students from Lady Margaret Hall, Cheney School and Wood Green for their participation in the workshops – and of course to IT Innovation!

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IT Innovation get-together

get-togetherJuly2016Inspired by comments at the latest kick-off meeting, IT Innovation held an informal get-together for current projects on July 27. Despite summer being upon us, nine projects were able to attend and contributed by sharing experiences and ideas over cake and tea. There were representatives from both student and staff projects, and from projects at all stages of completion, from new projects that have not yet started to projects about to finish. It was truly inspirational to hear the participants talk about what they do, sharing experiences and suggestions, and some good ideas for future work and collaborations emerged. It was suggested that cross-project contact be facilitated further, and we will look to do that, for example by sharing contact details, publishing more up-to-date information about projects, and arranging further sessions like the one just held. With cake, of course.



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Bringing the Zooniverse to Facebook

logo from WildCam Gorongosa on Facebook

logo from WildCam Gorongosa on Facebook

By Roger Hutchings

Zooniverse is the world’s largest and most popular platform for people-powered research. This research is made possible by volunteers — hundreds of thousands of people around the world who come together to assist professional researchers.

A 2014 survey of our volunteers showed that they tend to fall within the 35 and older age bracket. However, our projects also have Pages on Facebook, and the audiences for those tend to be younger, aged 25 and under. Facebook has been around a good long time now, and so there should be a fairly even distribution of users across ages – this led me to believe that we’re aren’t doing enough to convert our audience on Facebook into volunteers.

So to see if we could use Facebook’s social features to get this younger demographic involved in citizen science, we applied for a grant to convert some of our existing projects to run on Facebook’s app platform, called Canvas.

Our first project was Wildcam Gorongosa, which asks volunteers to classify images taken from Gorongosa National Park in Mozambique in order to track the wildlife conservation efforts there. This is now live on Facebook at

The requirements of the Facebook platform changes how we build our apps slightly. The majority of our custom projects are single page apps, which we deploy to Amazon S3 as static files. But Facebook requires us to package up those apps with their own individual servers as well, to make a secure initial request for sharing login details. We’ve got around that by packaging apps inside Docker containers, which we can deploy on Amazon Web Services as and when needed.

The next big challenge is integrating the two different login systems at work at the Zooniverse and Facebook. However, once we do that, our users can operate seamlessly between the “normal” Zooniverse apps and Facebook; and Facebook login lets us take advantage of the really powerful social features available, like inviting your friends, or competing with them for classifications.

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