Teaching with Replay: Lecture capture in the History of Art Department

Automated lecture capture is an evolving technology that allows students to review online what they have learnt in the lecture theatre or classroom and provides an archive of recordings for revision in preparation for exams. Access to the recordings is via a suitably configured WebLearn site. Lecture capture is the service most requested in surveys of Oxford students. The Educational Media Services Team in Academic IT Services conducted two projects to explore the potential for lecture capture at Oxford during 2014 and 2015. The lessons learned have informed the development of a service, known as Replay, available from August 2016. In this case study staff from the Department of the History of Art share the benefits of lecture capture experienced through participation in the projects.

Using Replay to complete the picture

Audio-visual provision is central to teaching in the Department of the History of Art. It is essential that the spoken words and images used in lectures interact successfully with one another to aid students’ understanding of visual culture. Previously, lecture recordings were only made available on departmental computers and access had to be requested in advance. This meant students often struggled to pair the audio commentaries with the corresponding PowerPoint slides.

The pilot of the Replay lecture capture software during 2014 and 2015 presented an ideal opportunity to improve the Department’s teaching and learning provision outside the classroom. In particular, it helped students with learning difficulties or those unable to attend lectures due to extenuating circumstances, as Replay supports a more flexible mode of learning on which these students rely.

A portrait of the process

In preparation for using Replay, two teaching rooms in the Department were set up with remote recording equipment, and administrative staff were trained to schedule, manage, and edit the recordings from desktop computers.

During 2014 the Department recorded one lecture series, Prelim Antiquity after Antiquity. The recordings were made available to students via links in their WebLearn course sites.

A screenshot of the Prelim Introduction to the History of Art series in Replay

A screenshot of the Prelim Introduction to the History of Art series in Replay

Although its primary function is to allow students to listen back to lectures, Replay can also be used more interactively. Each student has their own profile, and can search within a recording for keywords. They can bookmark certain sections and slides, and make time-specific notes which, when saved, will reappear each time the student opens the recording. These additional features are particularly useful for when students come to draw upon these materials as part of their revision.

Search results for the word 'national' in one of the Prelim 'Antiquity after Antiquity' lectures showing the time within the recording where each one occurs

Search results for the word ‘national’ in one of the Prelim Antiquity after Antiquity lectures showing the time within the recording where each one occurs


Using the 'Notes' feature in Replay to annotate one of the department’s careers seminars

Using the ‘Notes’ feature in Replay to annotate one of the Department’s Careers Seminars

An image of success

Replay’s simple audio-visual interface has successfully solved the students’ previous problem of matching words to images. A Second Year undergraduate said that they “found the online recordings of lectures in sync with the pictures […] really helpful”. Students have reported that the lecture recordings offer an invaluable resource which help to consolidate their learning away from lectures: “[they are] good as an aural learning device as well as jogging my memory on the significance of certain images” (First Year undergraduate student). Feedback confirms that the recordings have not replaced live lectures; rather, they complement them. Students who are unable to attend a live lecture for reasons beyond their control appreciate the ability to catch up, thanks to the recording.

Additionally, everything was set up in advance for the lecturers which meant they were not required to do anything beyond deliver their talk. This alleviated concerns that lecture capture might be intrusive and distracting, and the result was a strongly positive attitude in the Department towards using the Replay technology.

Following these highly encouraging findings, the department now records two more core lecture series: Prelim Introduction to the History of Art and FHS/MSt Concepts and Methods (open to undergraduates, graduates and other University members), as well as three optional courses.

The use of Replay has contributed to the Department’s wider outreach and research goals as staff have released a number of recordings on iTunes U. They have also recorded careers seminars and research papers, both for general release and for departmental records.

Recommendations for adopting lecture capture

Rachel Leach and her colleagues in the Department of the History of Art offer the following suggestions to other departments that might be considering recording their lectures:

  • Consider investing in a lapel microphone. This will improve the quality of recordings and allow the speaker to roam around the room.
  • If a lecture theatre doesn’t have enough capacity, use Replay to live-stream the presentation to an overflow room.
  • Explore ways in which Replay can help foster inter-departmental collaboration. The Department suggests that ‘there is a huge interdisciplinary benefit across the University if more departments and faculties decide to opt in to Replay. [In a survey] 65% of our students said that they would listen to recorded lectures from other courses.’

Further information:



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Flipping the mathematics classroom

The flipped classroom is a teaching technique that has gained worldwide currency during recent years. In a flipped approach, the information-transmission element of students’ learning is moved out of the classroom; instead, students view recorded lectures in their own study time ahead of the live session. This frees the class time for activities (such as discussion and problem-solving) in which students can apply their knowledge and potentially gives the teacher a better opportunity to detect their misconceptions. In this case study, Professor Simon Benjamin describes his successful application of the technique with students in the Department of Materials.

A digital alternative to the traditional lecture model

Having taught the undergraduate course Vectors, Matrices and Determinants for several years, Simon was looking for a way to free up lecture time for more interactive and interesting problem-solving discussions. Traditionally, he would explain how to work out a particular mathematical result and go through several examples on the board, and the students would copy down notes. However, he decided that this material could be better presented using short videos to be viewed before the lecture, along with some practice exercises. This way students could work through the techniques at their own speed. They would also arrive at lectures equipped with an improved understanding of the topic under discussion and (hopefully) some probing questions ready to pose to the tutor.

Videos + quizzes = flipped classroom

Simon began by filming 10 short videos and uploading them to YouTube. Each video is 5-10 minutes long, which he considered the smallest possible size to introduce a particular technique or idea. In each video Simon draws out a mathematical problem and provides an audio commentary to explain his thinking.

A screenshot from one of Simon’s videos showing his teaching notes

A screenshot from one of Simon’s videos showing his teaching notes

Once filming was complete, Simon used Final Cut to edit, compose and export the videos.

The next step was select problems from the course’s work sheets. Working with graduate student Amir Fruchtman, Simon converted the problems into a series of online multiple-choice quizzes designed for students to test their understanding of the preceding video. If they make a mistake, they can try again and may receive a hint such as ‘Close – did you forget the minus sign on the second term?’ Students’ performance is recorded by the quiz tool and can be reviewed by their tutors.

The materials and quiz questions were uploaded to the Moodle VLE with the help of staff from the Department for Continuing Education. Before the start of term the students were informed about the novel structure of the course, and tutors were shown how to access the system to see how their students were getting on, and to request feedback.

Greater than the sum of the parts…

Simon was pleased to find that, by moving the more rote-learning elements of the course out of the main lectures, he was indeed able to spend more time simply conversing with the students about how the techniques could be used to solve problems. Furthermore, he has found this kind of ‘free-form lecturing’ rewarding, as it allows for more variety: each lecture takes on a different shape from those in previous years since students’ comments and questions differ. This presents an exciting new challenge in his teaching. Additionally, the videos tend to attract more views in the lead-up to exam time, indicating that students are using them to brush up on their techniques as part of their revision.

Initially, Simon was concerned that the total time students would need to commit to the course might increase; however, this proved not to be the case. Each video is typically less than ten minutes long, while the online quiz is the same material that in previous years would have been part of the problem sheets. Even though the problem sheets are shorter than before, the quality of the tuition has not been compromised.

Simon has now taught the course in this new format twice and students’ feedback has been very positive – so much so that the department’s director ofstudies, Dr Adrian Taylor, has asked him to describe his work to colleagues.

The videos are now hosted on an open Moodle platform under a Creative Commons CC BY licence available for anyone to use and learn from.

It all adds up: top tips

Simon offers the following advice for other academic staff who are considering flipping their classrooms:

  • If you create and edit the videos yourself, ensure that you realistically account for editing time in your planning. Although the videos created in this work were only short, they took at least 10 times as long to edit and that is aside from any training time to become accustomed with the software.
  • Consider recruiting students to help upload the online materials. Simon comments that ‘Producing an interactive online quiz is time intensive; fortunately for me my department paid a graduate student to do the conversion process after I identified the problems that I wanted to be part of the quiz.’

Further information

  • You can view the full set of Simon’s mathematics videos in the Vectors, Matrices, Determinants and Eigenvectors playlist on YouTube, and view the videos together with their accompanying quizzes in his open Moodle course.
  • If you don’t have access to video-recording software, you can use the University’s Replay lecture capture software for the purpose. See the Replay web pages.
  • The IT Learning Centre in IT Services runs courses on planning, producing, filming and editing short videos.
  • The Educational Media Unit in IT Services provides digital video production and editing services (chargeable).
  • For more about the flipped classroom, see these articles:
    • Bogost, I. (2013). The Condensed Classroom. The Atlantic.
    • O’Flaherty, J. & Philips, C. (2015). The use of flipped classrooms in higher education: A scoping review. The Internet in Higher Education, 25: 85–95 (available through OxLIP+ e-journals).

OxTALENT 2016 Logo - web versionWinner, OxTALENT 2016 award for innovative teaching. The text in this case study has been adapted from Simon Benjamin’s entry for the OxTALENT competition.

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Department of Oncology engages budding scientists with school video competition

Encouraging school students and researchers to learn from each other

The competition aimed to inspire students about the Cancer research led at Oxford

The competition aimed to inspire students about the cancer research carried out at Oxford

Public engagement is widely perceived as important within higher education, but it can often be difficult to facilitate a genuine conversation or collaboration. With the aim of engaging secondary students, the Department of Oncology decided to coordinate a video competition. The idea was to open students’ eyes to Oxford’s cancer research by challenging them to create a usable resource communicating what they had learned to a wider audience. The Department welcomed entries that were suitably short, visually appealing and appropriate for online dissemination.

The competition was designed to be a two-way process whereby researchers and students could learn from each other. Firstly, students would gain an insight into the latest cancer research at Oxford and meet University researchers inspiring them with the prospect of a scientific career. However, more than this, they would get the opportunity to influence and contribute to the Department’s work with their creative thinking.

For the Department of Oncology, the competition represented a chance to engage students and their teachers with its work and the careers of its researchers. It was hoped that the videos generated would be of sufficient quality to use on the web to promote the Department’s activities. Furthermore, the Department wanted to establish positive relationships with schools which would (hopefully) lead to regular engagement with each year group of students.

Students impress judges with up-to-the-minute videos

To get things started, the Department attracted a small funding pool which was used to offer prizes in the competition. It was then advertised to schools across the Thames Valley area, asking students to submit a video which could be in any format, but not more than two minutes long. They were instructed that the video should explain both an aspect of the Department’s work and its potential impact to patients. Students were given a six week period to complete the videos, and Dr Martin Christlieb (the Department’s Public Engagement Manager) provided basic guidance on useful resources to complete the task, and background information on the selected areas of science.

The judging panel consisted of two public engagement professionals, a member of the University’s video team and two scientists. The results were annnounced to participants when they visited the Department to tour its research facilities.  The winners received Amazon vouchers in addition to unique trophies made of ‘frozen lightning’ using the Department’s linear accelerator.

The winning entry was produced by the students using a small digital camera and open-source editing software. It uses a highly current format (as previously seen in MinutePhysics) and explains some of the Department’s most significant ongoing research in using viruses to treat cancer. You can view the video, entitled Oxford Cancer Clips – Virus Therapy, on YouTube.

Success as students boldly go beyond the syllabus

The winning video is the most important testimony to the effectiveness of this project since it would not have been created without the enthusiastic engagement of two year 12 students. It also led to nine students and two staff from two schools visiting the department and engaging with the Department’s work. The winning students went far beyond what is required for exams and learned about the potential impacts of science in a way that will stick with them. As Dr Christlieb points out, ‘You can’t teach with such clarity if you don’t understand the material in question.’  Moreover, the Department is now left with a dynamic resource that it can publish online and help to inform the general public.

Advice for working with schools

Dr Christlieb offers the following tips for others looking to engage with schools in a similar way:

Students were given a tour of the lab and workshop at the Department of Oncology.

Students were given a tour of the lab and workshop at the Department of Oncology.

  • Be willing to be surprised and don’t attempt to manage the project at a detailed level. Let the participants exercise their creativity and imaginations within broad constraints set by the material you’re trying to communicate.
  • Set the parameters of the project so that it can be done without too much support from schools. Teachers are often constrained by the time and resources that they can offer to extra-curricular activities. Thus, if students are directed towards easy-to-find tools,  they will be able to operate independently, thereby circumnavigating some the barriers they may have otherwise met.
  • Aim to keep deadlines fairly short so that students can do a good job with their entry and then return to thinking about revision and exams. This stops the project dragging on and becoming a burden. Running the competition within the time-frame of the Michaelmas term can be a good idea.

Further information

  • The IT Learning Programme in IT Services offers courses on media production and editing.
  • Staff in Academic IT Services can help you to create and share learning materials with the school community via the Oxford TES Resources repository. For further information, send an email to academicit@it.ox.ac.uk.

OxTALENT2014_BlackOnWhiteRunner -up, OxTALENT 2014 award for support for outreach. The text and images in this case study have been adapted from Martin Christlieb’s entry for the OxTALENT competition.

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Mapping uncharted territory requires creative new uses of technology

Overcoming resource constraints with online mapping tools

Marco piloted his method in the beautiful province of Gansu, China.

Marco piloted his method in the beautiful province of Gansu, China.

An important part of most Oxford degrees, both undergraduate and postgraduate, is the opportunity to carry out individual, original research. Yet students are often constrained by the (limited) resources available to them. For researchers in disciplines such as Geography and International Development, financial and time restrictions can render survey research almost entirely infeasible. In particular, household registers and administrative data for low- and middle-income countries, especially rural areas, are notoriously difficult to obtain.

In order to save cost and manpower without compromising the quality of his project in rural China (Gansu), Marco Haenssgen developed an innovative approach to sampling villages and households using Google Maps and their geographical coordinates. This methodology has since been shared with other young researchers in the field to support their studies.

How the method was first used

At the start of the project, the only administrative data available to Marco was a complete list of villages in his three selected districts (approximately 2,000 villages in total). Since he did not have the resources to physically go out and list each building in these areas, he carried out the following tasks as part of his unique method:

  • verified the location of select villages through Google Maps (using their Chinese names);
  • extracted the geographical coordinates of these sites;
  • stratified the sample according to the village distance to the nearest township (16 villages plus 32 replacement villages were selected in this way); and
  • used satellite imagery from Google Maps and Bing Maps to establish the sampling frame* for each village.

In this case, the chosen sampling frame consisted of maps containing up to 950 numbered and labelled houses for each village, which he produced by extracting and collating highest-resolution aerial images (5 to 40 images per village). He segmented the villages, some of which were highly dispersed, in order to ensure better spatial representation of the households. Once the houses had been stratified by segments, Marco selected individual households using a systematic random sampling method based on the household number per segment, a random starting point and a fixed interval. Through this method, he selected 25 households per village.


Screenshot of a village map including selected and back-up households.

Marco also used printed maps, compasses, smartphone map applications, and handheld GPS units to help:

  • approach the village via the fastest route;
  • brief the field investigators about their selected households;
  • locate the selected houses in the village; and
  • verify afterwards whether the investigators had indeed interviewed members of the correct household.

A practical, cost-effective method to facilitate research

This effective approach can be replicated in a multitude of contexts where resources for household listing are limited, sampling frames cannot be produced from administrative data, and residential structures are homogenous and distinctive. As a result, student researchers can save substantial expenses that would otherwise be required for transportation, accommodation, subsistence, and insurance expenditures. For Marco, the use of this strategy helped reduce the workload of his research team in China by at least 64 to 80 person-days and consequently, saved the project approximately £4,500.

The importance of this work has been recognised in several ways. For example, it has been taught to DPhil students in Trinity Term as a means to extend their methodological toolbox . It was also presented at the 6th Conference of the European Survey Research Association in July 2015, and will likely result in a journal publication to reach a broader audience.

Top tips for following in Marco’s footsteps

Marco offers three key strategies to help student researchers maximise their gains from collecting data in this way:

  1. Before using this methodology, you should have completed basic training in survey sampling and be comfortable working with maps.
  2. Make sure you have the correct equipment, including a laptop with Microsoft Office and a VPN client (e.g. to access Google Maps), a colour printer to produce maps, a smartphone to navigate within the field, and compasses and GPS units to verify specific households.
  3. It is wise to sample more house than you actually need in case some of the houses selected from satellite maps turn out to be abandoned or non-residential.
  • i.e. a list of all those within a population who can be sampled, and may include individuals, households or institutions.

Further information

OxTALENT 2015 LogoRunner-up, OxTALENT 2015 award for support for student innovation. The text and images in this case study have been adapted from Marco Haenssgen’s entry for the OxTALENT competition.

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UBlend: helping students to keep up with what’s on

Using technology to help students make the most of their university experience

ublendEvery day Oxford University buzzes with exciting and alluring events, ranging from talks by world leaders to topical debates and college balls. These can present excellent opportunities to be inspired, meet like-minded people and potentially, discover one’s path.  The problem students often face is that there is too much information to process, leaving  a feeling of frustration when notices of upcoming events are lost to the daily barrage of emails. For this reason, Jean Petreschi and Anders Krohn (both Oxford students) thought it would be useful to create a mobile app which makes it easy for people to see what’s on and decide what’s worth attending. From this simple idea sprang Ublend, a quick and accessible way to see: what’s happening at the University, what’s trending, and pinpoint activities and groups of interest. Students can also use the app to connect and discuss content with other members of the Ublend community.

A growing network of students created by students

After teaming up with another couple of students, Jean and Anders built an innovative platform connecting students and event organisers at Oxford. The platform comprises a website and an iOS app. Market research showed that students are also very interested in corporate events and profiles, an area that the pair were planning to develop over the summer of 2015. However, the app has wider appeal beyond students. To an event organiser, Ublend  promises more exposure and provides a simple platform to better manage events. Newsletters can be sent to subscribers through MINT, an intuitive newsletter tool, and messages go straight to followers who will be notified directly on their phones.

The student team launched a prototype of the app in November 2014, and  released a more advanced version in April 2015, which also made the app available on Android. A month later, over 1,700 students had downloaded Ublend. Feedback was generally positive and it received a 4+ star rating on the iTunes app store. Over 120 event organisers have signed up to Ublend and created over 500 events in Michaelmas 2014 and Hilary 2015.

How the app appears on an iPhone

How the app appears on an iPhone

A year later the Ublend network had expanded to over 20,000 students across 12 institutions (Bristol, UCL, Warwick, LSE, Cambridge, Imperial, CBS) including a couple of universities in Europe (Copenhagen and St Gallen in Switzerland ) and North America (Yale and John Hopkins, Maryland). This process was a result of a ‘student ambassador’ model, whereby a selected student at a university took responsibility for launching the app in their institution in exchange for useful work experience.

The key to it all: put the emphasis on people

For anyone considering a similar start-up, Jean recommends putting people first and to take great care in choosing your partners. ‘I was lucky to find a great co­‐founder from the beginning, and that makes a real difference,’ he says. ‘Overall, always prioritise the team, over the product and over the profit, in that order.’

Further Information

Winner, OxTALENT 2015 award for support for student innovation. The text and images in this case study have been adapted from Jean Petreschi’s entry for the OxTALENT competition.

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Using an online medical resource to inspire science, art and creativity in schools

Historical slides provide an opportunity for outreach

Sir Charles Sherrington

Sir Charles Sherrington

Professor Zoltán Molnár is a specialist in developmental neuroscience in the Department of Physiology, Anatomy and Genetics (DPAG). When he became the latest custodian of a box of teaching slides from the physiologist and Nobel laureate Sir Charles Scott Sherrington, he teamed up with learning technologist Dr Damion Young on a major public engagement project funded by the Wellcome Trust. The project made the slides of Sherrington, as well as those of several other prominent scientists from Oxford and elsewhere, accessible to everyone through an online resource called CSlide. CSlide allows scientists, historians and the public to contribute to a growing body of historical slides, documents and other artefacts, and to chart the relationships between them.

As part of this project Dr Lizzie Burns was asked to develop online teaching resources, based on the work of Sherrington, relevant to the National Curriculum in primary and secondary schools. The project was not without its challenges: some of Sherrington’s research involved animal testing, a controversial subject matter in today’s world. However, Dr Burns felt that the remarkable and wide-ranging contributions made by Sherrington to science, philosophy and literature deserved better dissemination and recognition.

Bringing art and science together for schoolchildren

Keen to find an uplifting angle on Sherrington, Dr Burns chose to develop workshops for primary and secondary schools based on his 1940 book Man on his Nature. In this work, Sherrington poetically describes the rich beauty of life from the microscopic level and explores matters of consciousness, the interdependence of life and altruism. During the workshops, Dr Burns shared a selection of quotes from the work to encourage pupils to ask questions, challenge their own thinking and express their ideas about the body and brain through poetry and painting: for example, ‘[The brain is] an enchanted loom where millions of flashing shuttles weave a dissolving pattern, always a meaningful pattern though never an abiding one; a shifting harmony of sub-patterns.’


School pupils proudly display their creations made in the workshops

Approximately 200 students took part in workshops in schools around Oxford. Much to everyone’s delight, the quality of the resulting artwork was high, which suggested a good level of engagement among pupils. The science department at one school even displayed a framed poster combining students’ artwork with one of Sherrington’s quotes.

To give a sense of legacy to this work the pupils’ creations, archival images, Sherrington’s writing, teaching slides and notes have been added to a lasting record of the project on the History of Medical Sciences website. Additionally, to extend the reach of the learning resources even further and inspire other practitioners, Dr Burns uploaded the teaching presentations to the TES Resources repository, an extensive online collection of educational resources for schools. The materials have since been viewed over 570 times.

Dr Burns also involved students and researchers in the workshops, enabling them to develop their public engagement skills through interacting with the school pupils.

The project encourages fresh thinking and ideas

Overall, the project, through workshops and shared learning materials, has helped to make CSlide a usable web resource to primary and secondary schools. Dr Burns explains that ‘the PowerPoints encourage students to use their imagination, ask questions, to think philosophically and cross-disciplinary – [and move beyond] rote learning’. The feedback and ideas pupils offered after the sessions included:


In addition, an eight-year-old girl posed this brain-teaser: ‘How come when the brain is littler it seems like it has more imagination?’

In order to share the project and celebrate the creative spirit it inspired, DPAG is exploring options to display pupils’ responses to CSlide in the communal areas of its Sherrington Building.

Top tips

Dr Burns offers the following advice for others looking to run their own creative outreach project with schools:

  • Imagination is key. Keep ideas simple, but allow participants the opportunity to develop their own ideas rather than expecting a certain outcome.
  • Share your digital resources through established channels (e.g. TES Resources) that already have an active readership who are ready to view and exchange materials.

 Further information

  • Staff in Academic IT Services can help you to prepare and contribute educational materials to the TES Resources repository. For further information, send an email to academicit@it.ox.ac.uk.

OxTALENT 2015 LogoWinner, OxTALENT 2015 award for support for outreach and engagement. Text and images in this case study have been adapted from Dr Lizzie Burn’s entry for the OxTALENT competition.

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Lifelines: a visual solution to sharing research with diverse audiences

A communications mismatch

Funding bodies such as the ESRC enable researchers to explore issues of global concern, and public and policy interest. Yet it is suggested by some that there is a mismatch between the primary medium for communicating research results – the academic article or book – and the wider community. School teachers, policy makers and journalists are always looking for ways to generate discussion around these key issues; however, they lack strong, visual material with which to engage their audiences.

Dr Jane Dyson of the School of Geography and the Environment decided to address this mismatch by telling the story of her research participants through the medium of documentary film. Arranged as a portrait of a man named Makar Singh, Lifelines presents the experiences of being highly educated and yet unable to acquire salaried employment. Set in a remote part of the Indian Himalayas, the film documents the problems faced by many members of the young population as they try to achieve success in a world that is increasingly different to that of their parents.


Documentary film was chosen because the combination of the audio and the visual made the villagers’ stories seem distinctly immediate. They could speak directly to the camera which, in turn, encouraged a deeper sense of empathy from viewers. Importantly, the medium allowed complex stories to be told in a short space of time: a key criterion for many audiences. Finally, film is extremely versatile and can be used in multiple ways: as a stand-alone piece, as a focus for discussion or in tandem with other educational resources.

 A participatory approach to ensure maximum success

Lifelines on Oxford University's home page

Lifelines on Oxford University’s home page

Once the film was completed, Dr Dyson sought help from Academic IT Services to promote the film as an educational resource and create a series of teaching packs to accompany it. These included a set of discussion cards and lesson plans, and were designed to fit directly into the geography curriculum. To connect these materials to an active network of teachers, she made them available on the TES Resources repository, an extensive online collection of educational resources for schools.

Dr Dyson additionally consulted with educators in Wales, the USA and India to produce adapted versions of the teaching packs to suit their varying syllabi.

Lifelines gains widespread recognition

Lifelines has been viewed online over 15,500 times in 127 countries. It has been an ‘Official Selection’ at five major international film festivals and screened to large audiences in museums, town halls and government buildings around the world. Furthermore, it has been shown on TV and featured on BBC Radio 4’s  ‘Costing the Earth’ programme.

The supporting educational materials have also attracted positive feedback from the teaching community, with over 538 views on TES Resources, and several encouraging testimonials such as this one from a secondary-school geography teacher:

Lifelines and the teaching resources are exceptional. The quality of the film and the range of teaching materials/resources stimulate students to empathise with the subject in a highly engaging and informative manner, in a package is that can be adapted to suit any ability level. It is rare for teachers to have access to such superb materials.

Lastly, Lifelines has been a useful teaching aid in higher education. For example, Pamela Shurmer-Smith, a leading scholar in cultural geography, described it as ‘the best film about development I have ever seen.’

Advice for budding documentary film makers

Dr Dyson’s film shows how film can be used to reach out and communicate a powerful message to different audiences. She offers the following advice for anyone considering a similar endeavour:

Dr Jane Dyson presenting Lifelines at the Kathmandu International Mountain Film Festival, Nepal, December 2014.

Dr Jane Dyson presenting Lifelines at the Kathmandu International Mountain Film Festival, Nepal, December 2014.

  • Make sure you know your audience, and seek every opportunity to carefully tailor the resource to them.
  • Adopting a participatory approach can help. Villagers were involved at every level of the planning and filming of the documentary. Likewise, Dr Dyson worked closely with teachers to make sure the film and accompanying resources were suitable for staff looking to use the materials in lessons.
  • Try to set up your dissemination strategy ahead of the release date to ensure a big, initial impact. However, also be prepared to continue promoting your resource and diversifying your audience for some time afterwards.

 Further information

  • Staff in Academic IT Services can help you to prepare and contribute educational materials to the TES Resources repository. For further information, send an email to academicit@it.ox.ac.uk.
  • The IT Learning Programme in IT Services offers courses on media production and editing.

OxTALENT 2015 LogoWinner, OxTALENT 2015 award for support for outreach and engagement. Text and images in this case study have been adapted from Dr Jane Dyson’s entry for the OxTALENT competition.

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A hackfest to open up encoded texts

Freely available, yet difficult to access

In January 2015, over 25,000 texts from the Early English Books Online Text Creation Partnership (EEBO-TCP) were made freely available as open data under a Creative Commons (CC 0) licence. This unique corpus represents a history of the printed word in England from the birth of the printing press to the reign of William and Mary, and contains texts of major significance for research in a range of academic disciplines.

However, the texts are encoded in formats (.epub and .xml) which makes it difficult for users to manipulate or query them unless they have the necessary technical expertise. Furthermore, without several good examples of usage it is not easy for experts to demonstrate the value of such a large corpus.

The homepage of the EEBO database

The EEBO homepage at http://eebo.chadwyck.com/home

To provide a hands-on opportunity to access the documents, and to find creative ways of working with them, the Bodleian Libraries hit on the idea of a hackfest. A hackfest, or hackathon, is an event that brings together a number of experts to work intensively on a particular project or issue. The concept originated in the field of software development, but has since expanded to other areas.

A plethora of creative solutions

The Bodleian hosted its EEBO-TCP Hackfest at the Weston Library in March 2015.  Participants were invited to demonstrate innovative and creative approaches to either the full data set or a number of subsets (provided by project staff), and to apply imaginative methodologies that might include an element of ‘surprise’.


Facsimile view of a text in EEBO

The hackfest attracted people from a wide range of disciplines, including typography, linguistics, computer science and business history. The day began with a ‘speed dating’ exercise, which provided an opportunity for them to pitch their ideas and find collaborators. Groups then worked intensively on their respective ideas for the next four hours or so. EEBO-TCP and Bodleian Libraries staff provided expertise and technical know-how as required. At the end of the day, representatives from each group presented their work.

The outputs from the hackfest were varied. They included a visualisation of the relative frequency of colour terminology in the full data set, an examination of the ratio of Latinate to Germanic words used in the full data set, and analysis of the structural features in fictional and alchemical works. Ideas developed in response to an exercise to identify an ideal public (as opposed to academic) interface for EEBO-TCP included an interactive narrative game based around the transcript of a witch’s trial.

For those unable to attend the hackfest itself, the Bodleian Libraries ran an ‘ideas hack’ competition over a period of two months. This encouraged students, researchers and members of the public to explore creative approaches to the data and identify potential paths for future activity. The winning entries are listed on the Text Creation Partnership website.

Discoveries and lessons for the future

The hackfest provided an opportunity to bring the open content in the EEBO to the attention of researchers and the public, and allowed them to access skill sets and collaborators outside their usual fields. For the academics present, the day revealed the enormous potential of data-mining and computing tools for research and analysis.

Following the event, there was an increased interest in the texts from the corpus linguistics community and there were plans to include the material in British History Online.

Another important, but unplanned, outcome of the hackfest was the identification of requirements for a user-friendly interface for accessing the texts and similar material. As a consequence, the organisers intended to include this aspect in the planning of future events.

 Tips for organising your own hackfest

Liz McCarthy, Communications & Social Media Officer at the Bodleian Libraries, has this advice for would-be organisers:

  • Hackfests can be simple to run. All you need are a good theme and content, space to work in, a robust wifi connection and food.
  • It is helpful to ‘seed’ the event with a few experts, to ensure that people with useful technical skills are present.
  • Hackfest ‘speed dating’ works really well as both an ice-breaker activity and a way to help people figure out what others are doing and where their interests and skills overlap.

Further information

  • Read more about the EEBO Hackfest on the Bodleian Digital Libraries blog.
  • The Research Support Team in Academic IT Services offers specialist advice to researchers who are looking for help with digitization, text encoding, text analysis and visualization. Training in these topics is also available and can be booked through the ITLP team in IT Services.
  • The Education Enhancement Team in Academic IT Services offers specialist advice in outreach and public engagement through its annual #OxEngage programme and associated Engage website.

OxTALENT 2015 LogoRunner-up, OxTALENT 2015 award for open practices. The text and images in this case study have been adapted from Liz McCarthy’s entry for the OxTALENT competition.

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Openpop.org: a collaborative blog on global population issues


Openpop.org aims to attract contributors and readers from across the world

Meeting a need for clear and accessible reporting of population research

From an academic’s perspective, the topic of population change is somewhat prone to popular misconception. The media representation of issues such as immigration, birth rates and population ageing can come across to an expert in the field as over-simplified, anachronistic and sometimes misleading.

There are two reasons for this state of affairs. Firstly, for a long time access to research on population change has been largely limited to academics with institutional subscriptions to scholarly journals. Secondly, because one needs an understanding of statistics in order to grasp the subject, it can be difficult for the media, policy makers and public at large to make sense of the data published in academic papers.

openpop_logoTo address the problem, researchers at the Department of Social Policy and Intervention and the Department of Sociology sought a way to translate cutting-edge research to a broad audience in order in order to deepen their understanding of major population issues. Building on the successful model of collaborative blogs used at the London School of Economics, they set out to create a global resource that would engage population researchers across the world. In particular they wanted to emphasise the translation of quantitative research into a more accessible format.

Having secured a grant from HEIF, the project team employed a research assistant to scope examples of ‘best practice’ through online searches of other collaborative blogs and interviews with relevant designers. These findings then informed the final design, name and domain of the blog: openpop.org.

Management and editorial process

The openpop.org team comprises two editors (Dr Stuart Gietel-Basten and Prof Francesco Bilari) a managing editor (a DPhil student) and a group of graduate editors (who are paid a stipend). The blog is overseen by an editorial board which includes some of the most senior demographers in the world. The diagram below presents the way in which material is collected, edited and published.


How openpop.org works

How openpop.org works

Graduate editors are encouraged to solicit submissions through networking opportunities at academic conferences. To complement this activity, the managing editor has alerts set up for the key journals and approaches authors directly. In addition, the project has established special agreements with the editors of the Demographic Research and Population journals, through which the openpop.org team contacts the authors of accepted papers to encourage them to write a related blog post which links to their paper (and vice versa).

The aim is to publish one post a week and simultaneously update the social media channels associated with the blog on Facebook and Twitter (@openpopblog). The team also engages in outreach activities, including presentations at major population conferences and the Ashmolean Museum’s Social Science Live Friday in May 2015.

A far-reaching success


A typical post on openpop.org

In its first two years (2013-15), the openpop.org blog had over 38,880 views (a daily average of 150-200) and received highly positive feedback from users, contributors, organisations and publishers. It was also named as a ‘key partner’ by the two largest demographic research centres in Europe (INED in Paris and the Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research in Rostock), both of which publish widely cited journals.

Openpop.org has been used as a teaching resource, and its open licence (CC BY SA) means that teachers can adapt the material, subject to the terms of the licence. The blog also provides its contributors with a first step in writing for a broader audience.

As the list of contributors shows, openpop.org has reached out to a global network of researchers, with articles submitted from Australia, Japan, the USA and several European countries.

Useful pointers

Based on openpop.org’s experiences, Dr Stuart Gietel-Basten offers the following advice to others looking to embark on a similar initiative:

  • Don’t attempt to reinvent the wheel: build upon successful models which already exist.
  • Be prepared for a slow start as you grow an audience base and make connections with suitable contributors.
  • Aim to become as self-sufficient as possible; funding in later years may not be available.

Further information

  • The IT Learning Programme in IT Services offers courses on building a blog and writing for an online audience.

OxTALENT 2015 LogoWinner, OxTALENT 2015 award for open practices. The text and images in this case study have been adapted from Dr Stuart Gietel-Basten’s entry for the OxTALENT competition.

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Taking the tablets: mobile support for learning, teaching and assessment in Medical Sciences

PULSE: Pop-Up Learning Space Experiment

The tablets were used to display items from the division's slide repository

The tablets were used to display items from the division’s slide repository

Following the recent explosion of mobile devices, there has been a growing interest in the use of mobile technologies to support teaching and learning. Such technologies also challenge traditional notions and boundaries of what we know as a classroom. The Medical Sciences Division Learning Technologies Group (MSDLT) embarked on a multifaceted project, ‘PULSE’, which explored how tablet technology could be harnessed to engage and support students and teachers in teaching and assessment. The division bought a set of 35 Asus T100 tablets and used them in a number of ways.

The multiple strands of the project

Online assessment

With an intensive exam schedule to deliver online and requirement to negotiate multiple assessment sites, the Medical Sciences Division was looking for a creative way to reduce growing pressure on existing IT suites. The PULSE team began the project by running a pilot in which 27 fifth-year medical students were set a formative, open book assessment on the tablets. In a follow-up questionnaire, many of the students expressed a preference for the tablets as it meant that they did not have to travel across the city to one of the assessment sites equipped with desktop computers. Since then, three summative exams have been run successfully for groups of around 30 students.

Virtual microscopy

An annotated slide displaying the cells in a rabbit's femur bone

An annotated slide displaying the cells in the femur of a rabbit

The MSDLT has developed CSlide, an extensive online resource which makes slides for histology, neuroanatomy and pathology available for use in practicals and lectures. As part of PULSE, staff were able to harness this resource in teaching sessions. Demonstrators could talk to students without having to play ‘musical chairs’ with the microscopes, and students were able to zoom in on particular slides if they were struggling to find objects of interest on their own slides. One member of staff commented:

‘Using the tablets as a virtual microscope alongside conventional microscopes in undergraduate medicine classes has significantly increased student engagement with a traditionally unpopular part of the course.’

Practical class companion in Biomedical Sciences

Practical sessions in renal physiology require students to work through an online practical companion which both gives instructions and records results. In the past, students used a laptop computer. However, the keyboard had to be protected from spillages, and some steps of the experiment had to be completed at a distance from the computer. As a result, students had to keep shuffling between computer and experiment. Tablets, with their comparatively wipe-clean surfaces and easy portability, represented an ideal solution to these two problems.

Audience response (polling)

The tablets were trialled with two audience response scenarios. Previously, a lack of mobile devices and problems connecting to a wireless network had hampered success. Access to the tablets made it possible for everyone to participate.

The tablets were also used as audience response systems in seminars run as part of the UNIQ summer schools. Working in groups of three with a tablet between them, students were observed discussing their answers to a greater extent than in previous sessions, when students had responded to questions individually on their mobile phones.

Objective Structured Clinical Examinations

Objective Structured Clinical Examinations (OSCEs) are a crucial component of assessment in clinical medicine. A typical OSCE ‘station’ consists of an actor who responds to the student’s questions and examination as though (s)he is suffering from a given problem. With dermatology, this is more difficult as much of the diagnosis relies on the appearance of the condition – not something that can easily be faked in a convincing manner. The tablets allowed staff to present such conditions as online questions at an ‘actor-less’ OSCE station.

It had been thought that tablets might also help reduce the amount of paper used in marking OSCEs, but the PULSE team reports that general marking on tablets is still some way off.

Other uses of the tablets

The tablets have also supported online problem-based learning in the OxSTAR simulation centre and in a research project at the Women’s Centre in the John Radcliffe Hospital involving iCases.

Tried and tested: key lessons learnt

A key aim of the PULSE project was to discover, work through and solve some of the issues with infrastructure and software that MSD will face with the increased use of mobile devices for teaching, learning and assessment. Dr Damion Young, Senior Educational Technologist in MSDLT, shares some of the lessons learned so far:

  • Don’t underestimate the time taken to test out devices. Unanticipated problems can crop up but are often resolved with patience.
  • Arrange IT support for new devices. Managing your kit can be complex and may not suit your team’s existing skill set so it is wise to seek help.
  • Check wireless connections to the University network in advance.



Further Information

  • Find out more about the MSDLT.
  • The IT Learning Programme in IT Services offers a number of courses on integrating technology into the classroom.

OxTALENT 2015 LogoRunner-up, OxTALENT 2015 award for innovative teaching with technology. The text in this case study has been adapted from Damion Young’s entry for the OxTALENT competition.

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