Crowdfunding then and now: saving Shakespeare’s First Folio ‘for the nation’ and sharing it with the world

Two public fund-raising campaigns around the Bodleian Library’s copy of the First Folio of Shakespeare’s plays, separated by a century, provide more than an intriguing historical parallel. They show how digital technologies have made it possible for people all over the world not only to donate to a cause, but also to benefit directly from its outcome: here, experiencing for themselves the wonder of a rare and precious volume.

A ‘Superfluous Library Booke’? The history of the First Folio

Shakespeare First Folio

The Bodleian’s copy of the First Folio (Bodleian Arch. G c.7). Librarians in 1905 recognised it by its binding (the work of one William Wildgoose) and the marks where the chain had been attached. Reproduced by courtesy of the Bodleian Libraries

In the winter of 1623, a copy of Shakespeare’s newly printed First Folio arrived in Oxford, and was bound and secured with a chain at the Arts End of Duke Humfrey’s Library. But after the publication of the Third Folio in 1663, the First Folio disappeared from the Library, perhaps as part of the collection of ‘Superfluous Library Bookes’ sold for £24 at about that time. Alternatively, it may have left during the early 1700s, when John Hudson was Bodley’s ‘negligent, if not incapable’  Librarian. Whatever the case, the whereabouts of the Bodleian’s First Folio remained unknown for a good two centuries.

1905: Crowdfunding to save the First Folio

In 1905 Gladwyn Turbutt, an undergraduate at Magdalen, sought the Bodleian’s advice on an early Shakespeare folio which was in his family’s possession. The librarians quickly recognised it as the Bodleian’s missing First Folio, and the Turbutt family offered it to the Library for £250. However, the news of its (re)discovery piqued the interest of an American oil executive, Henry Clay Folger. He was eager to add the Bodleian’s First Folio to his growing collection of Shakespeare First Folios (he already had 23!) and lodged a bid of £3,000: about £280,000 in today’s money.  Since it was unable to raise that amount itself, the Bodleian – in the person of its enterprising Librarian E.W.B. Nicholson – launched a public appeal.

A call to ‘Oxford Men’ and a letter in The Times proved so successful that the target was actually exceeded, and the surplus had to be returned to donors. But although the Bodleian’s First Folio had been ‘saved for the nation’, it was in such a fragile condition that it was kept in safe storage and access to it was highly restricted even to academic researchers.

2012: Crowdfunding to share the First Folio

The story fast-forwards another century, to an age when not only have conservation techniques made great advances, but it has also become possible to digitise artefacts using high-resolution cameras and make them globally available online.

In 2011 a talk on the Bodleian’s copy of the First Folio by Dr Emma Smith of Hertford College prompted Pip Willcox, Curator of Digital Special Collections at the Bodleian, to initiate a new fund-raising campaign. Named in recognition of the 2012 Cultural Olympiad, Sprint for Shakespeare set out to raise £20,000 to conserve and photograph the First Folio, and to publish a digital facsimile that would be freely available to anyone with access to the Web.

The campaign was launched in August 2012 and used broadcast and social media, as well as good old-fashioned print, to promote engagement with Shakespeare, the First Folio and current research. Champions from the theatre world were recruited to the cause, including Vanessa Redgrave, Gregory Doran, Tom Hiddleston, Sir Peter Hall and Stephen Fry, who wrote:

To bring the First Folio, the great authoritative publication, to everyone in the world via digitization is as noble and magnificent a project as can be imagined…

Imaging the First Folio

Making high-resolution digital images of the First Folio. Reproduced by courtesy of the Bodleian Libraries

The £20,000 target was reached before the end of 2012. Bodleian departments including Rare Books, Imaging Services, Conservation and Collection Care, the Bodleian Printing Workshop at the Story Museum, and Bodleian Digital Library Systems and Services, then worked hard to launch the digital facsimile on 23rd April 2013, Shakespeare’s 449th birthday.

Visitors to the Bodleian First Folio website can ‘turn’ the book page by page in order to view them in high-resolution images. They can also download individual pages as JPGs or PDFs. Releasing the digital facsimile with a Creative Commons attribution (CC BY) licence means that it can serve as an invaluable open educational resource for teachers and learners all over the world.

Digital Facsimile of First Folio

Digital facsimile of the title page

Subsequent donations* have now made possible a series of diplomatic editions of the plays in the First Folio. The first one, The Life of Henry the Fift, appeared in 2014 on Shakespeare’s 450th birthday. Readers can choose to view a page image with the digital text alongside it, and they can also see a version of the text encoded in Text Encoding Initiative XML. Drop-down menus make it possible to navigate the Folio by part, play, act, scene, and signature, and the digital text and XML can now be downloaded as well as the images.

Sprint for Shakespeare continues to promote use and understanding of the First Folio and its place in Shakespeare studies, through activities that include workshops for teachers as well as a regular blog. And the engagement is two-way: ‘Sprint for Shakespeare’ invites readers to share their thoughts and ideas about the digital facsimile, or to contribute a guest post to its blog. The email address is

So the Bodleian’s First Folio has not only been ‘saved for the nation’, it has also been saved from the ravages of time and can be read and enjoyed by millions who would not otherwise be able to visit it in its home.

* The second phase of the Bodleian First Folio project was made possible by a lead gift from Dr Geoffrey Eibl-Kaye and generous support from the Dallas Shakespeare Club, Mr James Barber, and a private individual.

This case study was based on a presentation given by Pip in the Engage:Social Media Michaelmas series organised by IT Services. See her presentation here.

oxtalent badgeRunner-up, OxTALENT 2013 award for the use of technology for outreach and engagement.

Top Tips for Success

  1. Bear in mind that outreach activities such as nurturing a community and commissioning guest blog posts can take up a lot of time.
  2. Collaborate with other groups who can help you. Listen to other people’s ideas.
  3. Cast around for sources of inspiration. Museums in particular proved valuable in providing ideas for the Sprint for Shakespeare campaign.
  4. To establish a strong identity, have a ‘central’ Twitter account, rather than leaving it to members of staff to tweet from their personal accounts.
  5. Be inventive: review, and ask for feedback, on what you have done, and revise your course of action accordingly.

Further Information

IT Services offers Engage: Social Media Michaelmas, an annual programme of talks, courses, and workshops on using digital technologies for public engagement, outreach, and knowledge exchange. Courses are also available for academics who wish to use Twitter in their research and/or teaching.

TEI is covered in an ITLP course, ‘Structured digital text: A workshop in creating and using texts for research’. Details of all courses, together with the current timetable, can be found in the ITLP course catalogue.

Digital Humanities at Oxford runs an annual summer school for researchers, project managers, research assistants, students, and anyone interested in Digital Humanities.

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The Copenhagen Field-class: ‘one-stop’ support through WebLearn


T Jellis (2)Dr Thomas Jellis, winner of the 2013 OxTALENT award for “Use of WebLearn to support a course or programme of study”, is a Research Fellow at the University of Oxford’s School of Geography and college lecturer at St. John’s and Hertford colleges. When preparing a new Copenhagen field trip for undergraduate geographers, he exploited WebLearn’s capacity for effective course outlines. He and his team designed a very successful and highly specialised sub-site on WebLearn to host their material. Their aims were three-fold: to enable preparation prior to the trip; to promote reflection on the themes and activities; and to allow collaboration via group project wikis.

The Challenge

The trip required a ‘one-stop’ site, which Thomas produced from scratch himself, without contacting the WebLearn team. The site had to provide students with information before the trip, remain useful and updated for the duration, and serve as an information repository afterwards. Beyond the field trip itself, the site needed a coherent structure that could be easily reused for future trips.

The Innovation

The site can be accessed from any mobile device and scales seamlessly to any platform. Those using a laptop, tablet or smartphone are able to easily navigate the site and retrieve material. Moreover, by creating a wiki for each group project, the site expands the learning environment in a number of ways. It provides a forum to foster intercollegiate communication, encourages the development of research questions in advance of the trip, and allows the sharing of material, both during and after the trip.


Thomas reports that student feedback was positive and the ability to share material was welcomed. Encouragingly, students felt prepared in advance of the trip and, as it came to a close, confident that they knew what was expected of them in terms of writing up their findings. In addition, colleagues at the department praised the site as setting the standard for field classes in the future.

Top Tips

  • Attend the classes run by the IT Learning Programme and follow up afterwards on the WebLearn support pages.
  • Experimenting and testing are crucial before you publish the site.
  • Think about how the e-environment allows you to do things that would not be possible with printed documents. Include hyperlinks, embedded maps or figures, and a wiki in your site.
  • When creating web links, always use the option to ‘automatically resize’; this avoids the awkwardness of a double scroll bar and resizes the content for hand-held devices, essential on a field trip.

Further Information

Explore the Copenhagen Fieldclass site

Join the WebLearn User Group for guidance and collaboration

Use the IT course catalogue to find courses to support the use of WebLearn. These include:
WebLearn: Fundamentals
WebLearn: Design and content
WebLearn: Surveys
WebLearn: Tools for creating interactive online resources
WebLearn: Tools to support teaching and learning
WebLearn: Using Mobile Oxford

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Winner of the OxTALENT 2013 Award for ‘Use of WebLearn to support a course or programme of study’.

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Evolution of Master’s Essay Writing: developing peer-review assessment through WebLearn


jeremy howickDr Jeremy Howick, Department of Primary Care Health Sciences, and Lettitia Derrington, Department for Continuing Education, have introduced peer review as an aspect of assessment for the MSc in Evidence-based Health Care. They have designed appropriate forums and topics using the WebLearn Forums tool to serve this purpose. In this innovation they have demonstrated the capabilities of a VLE to facilitate essential research training for students who act as peer reviewers of each other’s work.


In providing students with the experience of an editor perspective, Jeremy and Lettitia sought a way to strengthen their students’ experience of the research-teaching nexus. They also wanted to provide them with training in the process of academic publishing. This is particularly important, since the students on this course are encouraged to seek publication of their essays. One further challenge was that part of the assessment process for this MSc takes place through distance learning. Effective use of a virtual learning environment was therefore essential. As Jeremy explains:

“Nobody has yet developed a way to combine (a) the benefits of students giving each other formative peer review feedback, (b) the benefits of WebLearn for ease of student interaction, and (c) a process to establish the teaching-research link and reap the benefits thereof.”


Jeremy and Lettitia designed a process using WebLearn forums that allowed students to interact as peer reviewers of each other’s essay assignments. A forum was created, containing a topic for each student. The students were invited to post a new thread for each of the three stages of their assignment over a period of three weeks: proposal, outline, draft. At each stage, students were asked to submit their own work and also act as peer reviewers for others. The forums were supervised by the module coordinator. Instructions were detailed in html pages on the WebLearn site and also sent as announcements.


100% of students were active participants and the feedback was universally positive. One student wrote:

“Thank you. [I] have never had a teacher give so much help and input before…I wish I had had teachers like you in the past.”

Other module coordinators have expressed an interest in using the same model for student peer review.

Top Tips for Success

Jeremy and Lettitia’s tips are divided into three key categories:


  1. Students will rarely have experience acting as peer reviewers, so explain the process carefully.
  2. Label the forums and topics clearly.
  3. Send reminders at each stage of the peer review process.


  1. The goal is for students to provide feedback to each other, so supervision is only a supportive function; the head tutor needs to monitor and facilitate the process.
  2. In the case of inappropriate or insufficient feedback from students, the head tutor needs to intervene with clarifications to the peer reviewer (e.g. suggestions on how to provide constructive feedback) and the student whose work is being assessed (with further comments).
  3. Provide general formative feedback to all students at each stage of the process.


  1. Ask the students to evaluate the assessment strategy and process of peer review in the feedback for the course.
  2. Communicate with the WebLearn team to see what WebLearn innovations might be forthcoming.
  3. Modify, adapt, improve for next year!

Further Information

Join the WebLearn User Group for guidance and collaboration.

Use the IT course catalogue to find courses to support the use of WebLearn. These include:
WebLearn: Fundamentals
WebLearn: Design and content
WebLearn: Surveys
WebLearn: Tools for creating interactive online resources
WebLearn: Tools to support teaching and learning
WebLearn: Using Mobile Oxford

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Runner-Up for the OxTALENT 2013 Award for ‘Use of WebLearn to support a course or programme of study’.

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Blavatnik School of Government iPad app: a new take on WebLearn

blavatnik logoIntroduction

The Blavatnik School of Government (BSG) is in its first year of offering the one-year Master of Public Policy (MPP). To support this course, the Blavatnik School provides iPads to all its students. Led by the project manager, Edward Long, the school has developed a highly specialised iPad app to support the delivery of course content and facilitate peer discussion. They used WebLearn to drive the back end of the app and developed a custom theme for their sites to help unify the user experience. For this project, WebLearn development was implemented by Matthew Buckett, Colin Hebert, Adam Marshall and Marc Savitsky; and Theodore Koterwas and Ben Dodson were responsible for development of the app.


The school’s student body comprises 38 scholars from 19 different countries. The course format includes a large number of guest lecturers, who often teach only one or two sessions in the year. Students need to be able to quickly access new readings and lecture slides, discuss study topics, submit assignments, and book drop-in sessions for technical support, careers advice and one-to-one meetings. The learning environment also needed to integrate with the iPad platform and offer a persistent login state, as well as offline storage.


WebLearn tools are used to deliver many of the features the Blavatnik School required. BSG  use the Resources, Forums, Assessments, Tests and Sign-Up tools for the student portal, and also developed two new products to improve the student experience:

bsg1. The BSG WebLearn Theme

Working with the WebLearn development team, BSG designed and developed a set of CSS stylesheets. As well as upholding BSG branding conventions, the stylesheets improved the readability of text and menu elements, and enhanced navigation on a touch-screen device.

2. The BSG iPad App

Through innovation by developers within and outside the University, this app brings a more intuitive front end to several of the WebLearn tools. It also allows persistent login states, offline storage and multiple ways of sorting content by context. As a result, for a BSG student, the home tab provides a convenient overview of the day’s timetable, as well as the reading materials set for that week. Essential and supplementary reading materials are marked with different coloured icons. Reading materials can be sorted by course module or by week of term, and picker menus allow the user to jump to a different week or module. A library tab provides availability information for all prescribed library books, including the location of holdings. Finally, two forum tabs provide a discussion space for course-related chat (open to students and staff), and a “Common Room” (open to students only).


As this is the first year of existence of the Blavatnik School and the programme, no student feedback is yet available. Nevertheless, other departments have expressed an interest in the BSG innovations for their own course administration. The app was also a runner-up for the OxTALENT 2013 Award in the category: ‘Use of WebLearn to support a course or programme of study’.

Tips for Success

  1. Being a new institution affords the opportunity for freedom of design, but it can be difficult to precisely gauge requirements, given that the course itself is under development. The BSG overcame this challenge by running a focus group session and three testing phases with graduate students and staff at the University.
  2. Prioritise features so that essential functions are delivered long before your deadline. This gives the flexibility to drop low-priority features in order to deal with bugs and improve the look and feel, closer to the delivery date.

Further Information

View the BSG WebLearn sites:

Blavatnik School of Government public site
MPP 2012 member access site

Watch the online user guide

Join the WebLearn User Group for guidance and collaboration.

Use the IT course catalogue to find courses to support the use of WebLearn. These include:
WebLearn: Fundamentals
WebLearn: Design and content
WebLearn: Surveys
WebLearn: Tools for creating interactive online resources
WebLearn: Tools to support teaching and learning
WebLearn: Using Mobile Oxford

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Runner-Up for the OxTALENT 2013 Award for ‘Use of WebLearn to support a course or programme of study’.

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WikiNets: Organising and Sharing Your Research


WikiNets is the brainchild of William Zeng, a DPhil student in the Quantum Group in the Department of Computer Science, and a team of other graduate students: Erfan Soliman, Miriam Backens, and Brendan Fong at Oxford, and Daphne Erzer at Cambridge. It was among 21 winning entries in the ‘Summer of Student Innovation’ competition organised in 2013 by Jisc and a number of other organisations.

Recognising the active role that students increasingly play in enhancing their learning experience, Jisc and its partners devised the competition as an experiment to find out whether students themselves can develop digital technologies to improve their studies and research. Entrants were required to produce a short video to promote their idea, and the videos were judged by a combination of peer voting (via the web and Twitter) and a panel of experts.

The Challenge

The concept underlying WikiNets is simple: a researcher has an idea which they want to relate to other ideas, often in different kinds of ways. Very soon that researcher has built up quite an extensive and complex network.

Similar networks develop in our dealings with the human world – whether with other researchers working in the same field, with contacts in business and industry, or with people in our personal and social life. The challenge lies in maintaining these ever expanding networks while at the same time being able to keep track of an individual idea and its relationships.

The Innovation

WikiNetsWikiNets is a collaborative, open source, network-building tool to organise and share one’s notes and research: in essence, it’s a combination of a wiki and a concept map. Its basic functionality includes the ability to attach information and references to each idea (node), and to search both for individual ideas and particular types of relationships. Although inspired by William’s experiences as a researcher in Computer Science, WikiNets should also be suitable for disciplines ranging from the natural sciences to literature. Furthermore, not only can an individual researcher share his or her own ideas with others, research groups will also be able to collaborate through the tool and thereby build a collective network.

Winning a £5,000 prize in the competition has given William and his colleagues the opportunity to develop WikiNets into a real technology solution. The tool will potentially be adopted not just within Oxford, but also by other universities, colleges and learning providers. Over the summer the team has been developing an alpha version of the open source app.

Because WikiNets will be an open source tool, it can be downloaded and used for free. Also, users with programming skills can customise it to suit their own needs. They can then share the modified code with other users, thereby helping to extend the tool’s features and capabilities for the benefit of the wider research community.

Top Tips for Success

William has this advice for would-be student innovators:

Students shouldn’t forget to look within their own university as well as outside it when looking to innovate. Our WikiNets team already does some academic work together and this made our new collaboration much smoother.

Further Information

Watch William’s promotional video for WikiNets on YouTube and read the team’s blog, The WikiNets Project.

See the other case studies of digital innovations by students in our collection.

Information about the competition was taken from the Jisc News blog post ‘Digital savvy students offered £5k grants’ (20/05/13), CC BY-NC-ND.

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Streaming Lectures with WebEx


The Medical Sciences Division at Oxford has used lecture capture and videoconferencing technologies successfully for several years, both to stream lectures live and to record them for students to review later, for reinforcement or revision. As well as using established technologies such as PowerPoint and QuickTime, the Division is increasingly using the WebEx service for lectures, tutorials, and seminars when students are away from Oxford.

The Challenge

During the clinical part of their medical course, students work on rotations. These include periods in district general hospitals, which can be many miles away from Oxford. Because students are absent at different times, it is not possible to timetable lectures when they are all in the University.

The Innovation

WebEx screenshotTo address this challenge, Medical Sciences uses WebEx videoconferencing software for live webcasting lectures in years 4 to 6. WebEx provides both web and audio conference facilities, and allows participants to share presentations, applications, and even the entire desktop. They can view video, chat to each other, and contribute to a whiteboard. All participants need is a computer, mobile phone, or tablet with an internet connection, headphones, and, optionally, a webcam (for smaller meetings). It is also possible to receive audio over the telephone, in which case WebEx will call the participant’s mobile phone or landline. In this way, students do not incur any charges on their own accounts.

In lectures which are given through WebEx in Medical Sciences, the screen of the lecturer’s computer is broadcast along with the audio. With extensive use of graphical slides with images, graphs, diagrams and so forth, the typical style of lecturing in medical subjects is well adapted to this ‘screencast’ format. Moreover, visibility in a dark lecture theatre tends to be poor, so capturing the slides of these lectures is more effective than filming the lecture with a camera placed in the room.

An advantage of live streaming with WebEx is the possibility for students to interact with the lecturer by sending questions over and comments a chat-like system. These can be captured and stored, along with the lecture itself, in server space provided by WebEx. A URL with the link to the lectures can then be placed in WebLearn so that students can revisit the lecture at a later date.

Live lectures via WebEx are now a feature of the Medicine & Surgery courses in years 4 and 6, and are being developed in some speciality rotations in Year 5. Lecturers have become familiar with the system and like its features, particularly the live chat. Students respond positively to it too.

Further Information

WebEx can be used for a range of purposes, from meetings and interviews to lectures and training, and even to troubleshoot technical problems. It is split into different sectors or ‘centers’, depending on the nature of the meeting. The Medical Sciences Division recommends using the Events Center for streaming lectures, in order to avoid the additional costs that can be incurred when the Meeting Center is used for meetings of more than 11 people.

WebEx is provided by IT Services to University departments as a cost-recovered service. For more information, see the WebEx pages on the IT Services website.

The IT Learning Programme offers an online course in the basics using WebEx, on an on-demand basis.

University of Oxford WebEx Enterprise site.

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Innovative Doctoral Training: Reproducibility and Open Science


The Open Science Training Initiative (OSTI), is designed to address the problem of reproducibility in science. The programme, which is led by Sophie Kay of the Department of Computer Science, harnesses the principles and techniques of open science to develop students’ digital awareness. It uses a novel teaching approach called rotation-based learning to give them hands-on training in the knowledge and skills needed to produce high-utility, high-impact research.

OSTI is the first programme of its kind to offer fully integrated training in open science as part of a subject-specific taught course and is helping Oxford to lead the way in educational provision in this area. The course materials are being made available as Open Educational Resources with a Creative Commons Attribution licence (CC BY 3.0), for other institutions to use and develop according to their own requirements.

The Challenge

Reproducibility is the ability to rerun another researcher’s experiment by following the method as published and to obtain the same results. It is central to scientific research, not only to ensure methodological rigour but also to enable scientific advances, since researchers frequently build on each other’s work in order to make new discoveries. In other words, scientists are not only producers of research, they are also users of other people’s research. Young researchers therefore need to:

  1. understand that reproducibility is an issue, and
  2. learn how to make their own research reproducible through generating ‘open’ outputs: i.e. outputs that are freely accessible and licensed for others to reuse.

Reproducibility is thus a cornerstone of Open Science, and digital technologies and the Web now play a key role in making it possible to share methods, data, and outcomes on a global scale.

The Innovation

Photo of Sophie Kay teaching on the OSTI courseOSTI provides a series of lectures in open science, data management, licensing, and reproducibility for use with graduate students and postdoctoral researchers. At Oxford, the lectures have been initially incorporated into an existing three week face-to-face course on computational biology in the Doctoral Training Centre. During this course students develop mathematical and computational models of cancer and/or infectious diseases.

The course follows a rotation-based structure, with students working in small groups on separate scientific problems. In the first phase, each group reproduces the results reported in an existing published article and delivers a ‘coherent research story’: i.e. a written report, together with the accompanying data, code, and figures – all with an appropriate open licence permitting their reuse.

In the second phase, these materials are passed to another group via a version-controlled online repository. This successor group must then verify the results and use them as the basis of a new project – again producing a properly documented and licensed research story.

Throughout both phases of work, the groups are not allowed to interact with each other in any way. This incentivises the effective communication of their research through the outputs alone. In this way, pre-doctoral students experience the challenges of modern collaborative research and, thereby, understand the need to provide the scientific community with outputs that form a solid basis for further investigation.


The OSTI-enhanced course was piloted in January 2013 with 43 students in the early stages of their doctoral research. At the outset, the majority had a minimal awareness of open practices; however, once they had been introduced to the main concepts they quickly absorbed and applied the methods. Indeed, 91% of respondents to the post-course survey said that they would be confident in implementing open science practices in the future, while all of the respondents felt that the course had contributed to their awareness of current practices in scientific research.

The course has subsequently attracted great interest from the Open community in the UK, USA, and other Commonwealth and European countries. Work is also under way to explore its applicability to other disciplines, including the social sciences, natural sciences and business.

Top Tips for Success

  1. A hands-on approach is instrumental in building students’ confidence in the use of Open techniques.
  2. Education in open practice is vital in developing student understanding of the changing research landscape they are about to enter. Integration of such training into existing courses allows students to develop these skills with subject-specific relevance.
  3. A rotation-based model of learning is instrumental in developing student perspectives on the utility of their own work, and has proved more successful in securing student engagement than single-project work.
  4. Give students ample opportunities to discuss the evolving research landscape and changing cultures of research.

Further Information


  • Visit the OSTI website to obtain copies of the post-pilot report, links to course materials and videos of lectures from the pilot scheme.
  • For a peer-reviewed paper on the OSTI initiative, see Kershaw, S.K. (2013). Hybridised Open Educational Resources and Rotation Based Learning. Open Education 2030. JRC−IPTS Vision Papers. Part III: Higher Education (pp. 140-144). Link to the paper in

Open Science

  • Listen to the Open Science collection on Oxford iTunesU or on Oxford podcasts. The collection includes the Evolution of Science: Open Science and the Future of Publishing debate (Feb 2012) and presentations given at the Rigour and Openness in 21st Century Science conference (April 2013).
  • For information about Open Access publishing at Oxford, visit the OAO website.

This case study has been adapted from the OSTI website and the OSTI Post-Pilot Report, both of which are authored by Sophie Kay and are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported Licence (CC BY).

oxtalent badgeWinner, OxTALENT 2013 award for open education initiatives

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A Mobile Interactive Whiteboard System to Support Problem-Based Learning


Photo of Dr Coward and his MSc class

Dr Coward and his MSc class

The MSc in Clinical Embryology is a taught postgraduate course in the Nuffield Department of Obstetrics & Gynaecology which aims to inspire future clinical and scientific leaders in the field of assisted reproductive technology. Dr Kevin Coward, the Course Director, and his colleagues employ a repertoire of teaching methods including lectures, group tutorials, laboratory practical classes, self- and class-directed problem-based learning, and in-house demonstrations by visiting companies. The introduction of a mobile interactive whiteboard in the department’s ‘wet’ laboratory has significantly improved the student learning environment by facilitating swift and efficient dissemination of teaching materials, and permitting easier viewing of microscopic images. Furthermore, the whiteboard was deployed to pioneer a novel problem-based learning technique in which student groups run their own practical class for peer groups, including briefing and debriefing.

The Challenge

The development of practical laboratory skills and a robust attitude to experimental design, execution, and analysis are imperative on a course such as Clinical Embryology. However, in a large laboratory class it is not always possible for all students to have a satisfactory view of a regular whiteboard or projector screen during a presentation. Moreover, it can also be difficult for the tutor to annotate, record and display data ‘on the fly’ during active teaching.

As well as addressing these practical considerations, the course team wanted to move away from ‘classical’ teaching methods and a focus on pre-determined outcomes. They wanted to promote deep learning by encouraging students to think creatively about their subject, and also to stimulate discussion about how lecture-based material can be enhanced through linked laboratory sessions.

The Innovation

Photo of Dr Coward using the IWB

Dr Coward uses the interactive whiteboard to describe the experimental process in a laboratory practical

The solution to these problems was to incorporate electronic whiteboard technology into the Clinical Embryology ‘wet’ laboratory, featuring a large mobile interactive whiteboard, with hydraulic height adjustment, for the tutor at the front and two smaller ‘slave’ screens at each side of the lab. In May 2012 the course team was awarded a Teaching Development Grant from the Higher Education Academy to fund the technology, which was installed and ready for use in the following Michaelmas Term.

The system has revolutionised the manner in which laboratory practical sessions can be prepared and demonstrated. All of the students now have a good view of at least one screen; data collected during practical sessions can be recorded and shared; and on-the-fly changes to experiment protocols can be communicated instantly.

Image of a whiteboard connected to a microscope

A tutor points out important aspects of chick embryology using the interactive whiteboard coupled to a dissecting microscope, so that the entire class can visualise key biological features

An important aspect of this technology is its flexibility and mobility. The whiteboard can be linked to microscopes, enabling tutors to explain micro-manipulative techniques on a large screen. This has permitted tutors to explain key techniques in great depth and, crucially, has greatly enhanced staff-student interaction. The ease of accessing online resources such as video clips has proved particularly valuable for both internal and visiting lecturers.

The innovative PBL facilitated by the technology involved dividing the 15 students into two groups. Each group was tasked with designing its own practical in the ‘wet’ laboratory, based on a rudimentary laboratory technique that had previously been discussed in lectures. At the start of their practical, the group used the whiteboard to brief the remainder of the students on the design, goals, and potential scientific outcomes. The group then supervised their peers while the latter carried out the experimental work. Finally, the group facilitated a debriefing to discuss the data that had been collected during the experiments.


Photo of students working at their lab bench

Students working at their lab bench, with one of the ‘slave’ screens visible

Students’ feedback on the impact of teaching and learning in this way was unanimously positive; for example:

I really like how we had the opportunity to teach and conduct the experiment. Both features together promoted thoughtful/reflective learning. It was also a lot of fun.

Completely different approach when you are ‘on the other side’ of the practical and need to answer questions to explain things from the every basics to more advanced.

I think it will be useful in terms of confidence i.e. standing in front of the other students and explaining procedures.

Top Tips for Success

  1. Critically appraise the way in which learning objectives are normally achieved and identify areas in which information technology could enhance teaching and learning in pursuit of these learning objectives.
  2. Consider how both the teacher and the students might use the technology.
  3. Plan the whiteboard system so that it can be used in a flexible manner (e.g. moved to other locations, or be adjusted for height) and easily adapted to accommodate new forms of learning activity (e.g. linked to a remote camera).

Further Information

IT Services offers courses in the use of interactive whiteboards for teaching and in the principles and techniques for designing effective presentations. Details and the latest timetable can be found in the IT course catalogue.

oxtalent badgeWinner, OxTALENT 2013 award for use of technology in the classroom
The photographs in this case study have been used with permission from the Nuffield Department of Obstetrics & Gynaecology.

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