The Times Higher Education World University Rankings 2012-2013 rank Oxford at No.3 ( well, joint 2nd)

The DIGE research involved some comparison with our peer institutions and some surveying of students to discover their impressions of difference.

No need to be downhearted, nearly 53% of taught postgraduates and 48% of research postgraduates felt that Oxford’s provision matched or bettered what they had experienced elsewhere, with only 15% and 14% respectively thinking that Oxford’s provision was lacking in comparison.

One of the main disparities between Oxford’s provision and that of other universities is our lack of a single personalised interface for students, staff,  alumni and parents to the services that they need to access e.g. ‘My Oxford’

In other aspects the review of other universities was reassuring,  in most cases Oxford’s portfolio of IT services matches those provided elsewhere despite much lower levels of funding.  We are ahead of many universities in our work on mobile platforms and in the world-class training that we offer, and our selection of Sakai as the VLE platform puts us in a growing field of like-minded research-intensive universities (notably in the USA) who have chosen similar in preference to commercial products.

Oxford is moving in the same strategic direction as other universities.  A good example is the concerted effort to record and broadcast lectures, talks, and so forth through podcasting and streaming.  Although Oxford is clearly a strong player in this respect, the lesson that we can draw from our review of other institutions is that the University should adopt this as a core strategic goal for all divisions, and provide the appropriate technical infrastructure for recording and broadcasting these events.

Oxford’s OER initiatives are inline with the high value that other UK and US universities place on making collections of teaching and learning materials available openly through initiatives such as the MIT OpenCourseware, Open Yale and Open.Michigan.

Universities also invest in ensuring that students can consume media from a wide range of sources by facilitating access to high-speed broadband, cable TV and Freeview channels (including student-produced channels) in rooms in their halls of residence. This is an area where technology is moving quickly, though, especially in the UK with BBC iPlayer-style applications, so it is difficult to see how long such services will continue to be provided or promoted within universities. Perhaps the only observation one could make in this area, therefore, is that Oxford, and in particular its colleges, should recognise that media consumption of this type needs to be facilitated and that the increasing demands on bandwidth should be accommodated accordingly.

Online submission of work is common, and the use of audio and video to give feedback is growing. Alerts via mobile phones are now also fairly ubiquitous for announcing timetable changes, library renewal reminders and other important announcements. We can see concerted efforts to enable staff to engage with students online outside their standard contact hours (but not necessarily outside their contracted working hours) and also to share best practice and resources among themselves.

Services which we have observed elsewhere and which we currently do not offer in any concerted way includes:

  • portals or ‘multi-access gateways’
  • seamless template-driven web publishing for individuals
  • university-wide blogging systems
  • university-wide wiki services
  • sufficient network storage for students
  •  lecture capture and recording in teaching rooms
  • ‘drop-in’ or ‘do-it-yourself’ media production facilities
  • extensive information provided through social media tools for existing staff and students, prospective students and alumni
  • living CVs or full e-portfolios: i.e. simple systems presenting students with easy-to-manage template CVs in which they can record their academic and non-academic achievements
  • comprehensive course timetables in a format that can easily be reused

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