Mind the Gap

Cover of White Space is Not Your Enemy. Kim Golombisky and Rebecca Hagen

White Space is Not Your Enemy. Kim Golombisky and Rebecca Hagen

I run quite a lot of poster design workshops. One of the challenges for those creating a poster for the first time is resisting the temptation to fill all the space available – after all there is so much to write about!

Space is important in poster design. It’s a mistake to call it space, even worse to call it empty space. Designers refer to it as negative space – an odd concept, but it is meant to suggest that it serves a purpose. Negative space helps organise content; items that belong together as a group are placed closer together, groups of items are separated from each other by using more space between them. Take a look at commercially designed posters and see how they use negative space.

If the concept is new to you, I recommend reading White Space is Not Your Enemy  – a very accessible introduction to some key graphic design principles.

Space works in other contexts as well. Listen to good presenters – the pauses when they are not saying anything are as important as the words they say!

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Protect your identity

We all know how precious our Oxford online identity is – and that we are, alas, targets of The Bad Guys who want to know our Oxford usernames and passwords. This information gives them access to a range of University resources, and it is worth money to them. So they use all sorts of ingenious plans to trick us into disclosing our details.
But sometimes, they don’t need to try very hard, because we give them a helping hand 🙁

Last week we ran a stand at the ITSS Suppliers Exhibition. It was a busy event, and it was good to see all sorts of IT support people exchanging ideas and building the community. Our stand was all about Lynda.com, and we had a continuous stream of people wanting to know more, or simply wanting to tell us about how great they think Lynda.com videos are.

We were encouraging people who hadn’t already set up an account for Lynda.com to do so at the Oxford page courses.it.ox.ac.uk/lynda. What struck me was the number of people who cheerfully signed up (thank you, guys, we topped our target of 3000 that morning!), giving their SSO credentials, and then finished the conversation and wandered off. Leaving our laptop signed in with their identity.

Now I’m a fairly law-abiding citizen, so I assure you that I signed each of you out immediately and closed the browser, so your secret is safe with me. But it was a reminder that even the most security-minded IT professionals can slip up, and we all need to be alert to protect our online identities.

Read more about how to stay safe online: www.infosec.ox.ac.uk
Sign up to use Lynda.com free! courses.it.ox.ac.uk/lynda

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Ulmon – Travel App

Ulmon icon 

 http://www.ulmon.com/ official website

This app is great – I was introduced to it by my son after he had downloaded and used it for a weekend trip to Paris, he insisted that it was a really good app and he would have been lost without it.

We then decided to download it onto our IPhone and IPad for our trip year to Barcelona – it was a total god send.

You are able to see your location on the map on your phone/Ipad without an Internet connection and find streets, addresses or attractions it will give you a GPS location so you can actually see where you are on the map.

It allows you to look at where you are staying in conjunction to where all the local attractions are so you can plan out what you want to visit as well as know whether you will need to use public transport.

No more getting lost!  GPS will show you where you are on the map.

This travel app allows you to discover some exciting new places, shows some beautiful photos and gives instant tips at the touch of a button.  The app will allow you to receive stories about places that you like and lets you instantly save and find them on your maps and in your lists for future reference.

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lynda and the ITLP by the numbers

It’s now two weeks since we introduced lynda.com to the University. As of today, we have 1301 signed up users, who have collectively watched 378 hours of video spread over 6158 individual videos.

lynda.com is a vast and expanding on-line library of video-based tutorials (3963*) covering 8 key areas:

  • Design
  • Developer
  • Web
  • Business
  • Photography
  • Video
  • Audio
  • 3D

Not surprisingly, the IT Learning Programme delivers class-room based courses in exactly the same areas. Why wouldn’t we? These are key skill areas for academics, students and staff. Why the duplication?

Last year we offered 797 courses with a total of 25,124 participant contact hours for 3,924 distinct individuals. We are close to capacity, still not reaching all 12,510 staff and 22,348 students and still not able to cover all the topics we are asked for. Our aims in introducing lynda.com are:

  • Extend our reach to all parts of the University, especially undergraduates who rarely have time to spare to attend our classes
  • Increase the number of topics we can cover
  • Provide 24/7, at-your-desk, access to high quality IT training
  • Complement our classroom-based courses with pre- and post- course video-based learning, to enable us to make full use of valuable class contact time

If you are a University member, you can access lynda.com for FREE at courses.it.ox.ac.uk/lynda.

*These numbers arelikely to changing as you read this…

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Version Conversion

Over this summer, we have brought Office 2013 into our teaching rooms. This involves all sorts of fun for the team who painstakingly test and manage the software “image” for us, and of course the teachers who revise all course materials that touch on MS Office. But it hasn’t been as much of an upheaval as you might think.

Our aim as teachers is to help people understand what’s going on with their spreadsheet or document, rather than train them where to point and click. We are interested in guiding people to design a relational database that works and will continue to work for them as their project progresses.

So in our face-to-face courses people find that there is more demonstration and explanation, less focus on memorizing a series of commands. That makes for a more interesting session for everyone, and it means we can accommodate people who use all sorts of software versions in their everyday work.

People around Oxford use a range of software versions, and typically IT Services does not even try to control that: a department, college or unit makes its own decisions about which software is most suitable. A quick survey at home revealed that my family which has affiliations to a range of institutions has, on various devices: Office 2010, 2013, 365 (the online one, free for students), 2011 (the Mac one) and 2003 (that’s the NHS, don’t ask for details).

So people who come along to our courses may have to adjust what they have learnt with us, to suit the kit they have to work with. And generally they tell us they don’t find any particular difficulty with this. The point is that once you understand what is going on, you can usually apply it to your software version. The Help is often helpful if a command has moved around the menus or ribbon.

We keep a full archive of previous course material, so we can continue pointing people to the Office 2010 course books and exercise files if they prefer. Course packs are downloadable from the ITLP Portfolio at http://portfolio.it.ox.ac.uk.

And now that lynda.com is available free to University members (http://courses.it.ox.ac.uk/lynda), here is another resource: a library of short videos that will jog your memory about how to do that thing you’ve forgotten or where to find that command. lynda.com offers videos about Office for Windows, Mac and 365-online, including versions all the way from Office 2003 to Office 2016 that is now out in preview.

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Teacher – Author, Curator, Guide?

When I first started teaching for ITLP the landscape for resources was quite different for students. Yes, most things could be found on the web and how-to sites existed but a lot more research – and luck – was involved in getting to a trusted answer quickly. In the area’s we taught, and especially away from mainstream applications, we knew as teachers that we had to author and curate resources in an environment unlikely to have alternative resources easily identifiable and accessible to our users.

The landscape now is very different. MOOCs, YouTube channels and dedicated online learning-resource enterprises mean that the need for authorship of resources is contextualised by a busy, immediate, and complex array of existing choices for learners. Oxford will soon have free access to Lynda.com, perhaps the most complete set of learning resources currently available. As teachers, our role in preparing learning support for our users has changed. One specific way we can add value to Lynda.com is to provide pathways through the resource, using our subject knowledge to collate learning experiences that support the class and what we perceive our users need. In a wider context, trusted web-based resources will bring a wide hinterland of knowledge to our teaching and give our users the best possible selection of support materials currently available. The days of solely authoring resources with perhaps a little curating are well and truly over. This shift to guiding is exciting and challenging for all of us dedicated to learning and teaching. Subject boundaries are even less easy to discern and a sense of adventure ever more highly required – hopefully helped with some perceptive guidance!

Have a look at Lynda.com – it’s an amazing resource to have at our disposal and I look forward to using it for teaching and personal development over the coming years.


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Homer? Who they?

I encourage all the ITLP teachers, full-time and sessional, to make their learning resources available under the Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike flavour of Creative Commons licensing.

Sessional teachers, being mostly post-graduates, tend to move on after a couple of years, and so their successors get the benefit of being able to take what has gone before and update and adapt it to suit their own particular teaching needs. Some documents collect a long list of successive authors and although each adds their name to the version history, it’s never clear who wrote what section. But then, it doesn’t matter; the resources as a whole suit their purpose and everyone benefits.

The Mighty Dead: Why Homer Matters by Adam Nicholson - cover image

The Mighty Dead: Why Homer Matters by Adam Nicolson

A long time ago now, I went through a school system which included a classics element. I have forgotten most of my Latin and all of my Greek but I still have a fondness for the epic stories that were used to engage us. So I was attracted to a book The Mighty Dead: Why Homer Matters by Adam Nicolson. If you know anything about Homer (No, the other one…), you will remember he wrote two ‘books’: The Illiad and The Odyessy. Or did he? I had never thought about it before, but Nicolson (along with many other fascinating ideas)  describes the poems as being the result of countless contributors going back further than the ancient Greeks, as far back as the tribes roaming the great steppes of Asia. Creative Commons at its best!

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Meet Ralph, the New Horizons Camera Bringing Pluto into Sharp Focus ….

“Eighty-five years after being discovered by an astronomer named Clyde, a camera called Ralph is about to bring Pluto into sharp focus”

I’m sure that we have all been watching the news and are now aware that it has taken over 9 years and about 5 billion kilometres but NASA’s New Horizons probe has now passed the dwarf planet Pluto and its 5 moons.

Ralph has beamed back amazing images of this planet and according to their website it will take more than a year to filter all the data captured on Pluto back to Earth.

The link below gives an overview of the how Ralph overcame the all the obstacles including the coldness of space, severe radiation and the lack of sunlight due to Pluto being far away ….



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Mentoring, Instructing, Perspective and Knowledge

Reading the below article recently, I was struck by how much of my teaching approach depends firstly on the type of session I am facilitating (workshop, exercise-led course, show and tell + discussion etc.). Then beyond this broad frame-work the approach is further dependent on the people in the classroom. We are lucky here at Oxford to teach and enable highly motivated bright students and staff who are quite capable of contributing and leading debate themselves in the classroom. When the class is ‘up for it’ I tend to move towards a perspective based mentoring role once core knowledge is a given. This laying out of the territory allows for discussions that are diverse in breadth and specialism in a way that a sole facilitator cannot provide – a much more exciting use of class time!


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Being between full term-times (“vacation” doesn’t seem to be the right word for it), I was becoming concerned about the amount of time I spend staring at computer screens, large and small. It’s more of a worry during these non-teaching periods when we design new teaching materials, explore new avenues and generally get our ducks in a row for the new term ahead.

The work can be really interesting, and an hour or more can easily go by with me stationary in front of my computer, writing, experimenting and thinking. Apart from the known risks to shoulders, wrists etc, of extended computer use, it turns out that it’s not good for our eyes to focus so closely, for so long. The 20-20-20 rule says that every 20 minutes we should focus on a point at least 20 feet away, for 20 seconds.

There are, of course, all sorts of apps freely available to help us remember to take regular breaks from our computers, and I have grown rather fond of this one: http://www.protectyourvision.org/. Every 20 minutes, a cute little robot appears in the corner of your screen, reminding you to take a break. He counts out 20 seconds, during which you should look away, well beyond your screen.

photo of scarlet japanese quince flowers

From where I am sitting, a distance of 20 feet neatly matches the view from the window to where a small riot of greenery and flowers is celebrating Spring and scrambling over the walls from our neighbours’ back gardens.

It turns out that 20 seconds every 20 minutes gives a sort of time-lapse view that’s about right for watching the Spring springing. Through last week I watched this chaenomeles gradually open its elegant, almost oriental blossom – it’s one of my favourite shrubs because the flowers come out early, before the leaves.

Not all our teaching spaces include vistas of 20+ feet, but we could do worse than remind people who come on our courses that they need to take a screen break every so often, wriggle the shoulders, and look up and around the room. However riveting our teaching may be, we can model good practice on many levels.

However, let me say that this week’s enthusiasm for staring out of my window is in no way connected with the team of athletic types who are putting up scaffolding around the building opposite.

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