OxTALENT Roll of Honour

Celebrating the digital 2016The OxTALENT awards date back to 2002. Click the links below to take inspiration from winners of the more recent competitions:

2017  |  2016  |  2015  |  2014  |  2013  |  2012  |  2011  |  2010

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Innovative Teaching and Learning with Technology

This is a general category in which we have previously recognised staff who have made creative use of digital technologies in their teaching. This year we have broadened its scope in two ways. First, we have brought WebLearn (previously a separate category) under its umbrella. Second, we have opened up the category to students as well.

It’s always an exciting category to judge because it reveals the many initiatives at the departmental and individual levels that complement provision from the centre.

Winner: Janet Smart for Using film in an undergraduate Technology and Operations Management course

The Technology and Operations Management course is part of the Economics & Management programme in the Saïd Business School. Course leader Dr Janet Smart was concerned that, without direct experience of factory processes, the students would find the course readings dry and theoretical, and they would not grasp the complexity of modern operations. She also wanted the students to look critically at the operations in the world around them, and to query and challenge why things are the way they are.

One of the videos produced by Janet’s students

To tackle these issues, Janet made use of film in two ways. First, she replaced the normal pre-lecture reading lists with ‘watch-lists’: short YouTube videos introducing the topics to be covered in the lectures themselves. Second, in order for students to demonstrate their critical thinking and awareness of operations, Janet asked them to make short films using their phones. Topics chosen by the students covered queues, services, customised products, and operations strategy; locations included college dining halls, banks, airports and the street.

The judges praised this is as an innovative example of the relatively under-utilised medium of film, not only for students to view, but also to create their own. They were particularly impressed by the way in which Janet put herself firmly in the shoes of the students in contemplating how to provide a rich and meaningful learning experience for them. In summary, the judges considered this to be a really good example of active and participatory learning in the real-world dynamics of operations management.

Joint Runners-up: Nicola Barclay, Simon Kyle, Colin Espie, Christopher-James Harvey, Sumathi Sekaran & Damion Young for The Oxford Online Programme in Sleep Medicine

There is a burgeoning national and international demand for teaching and training in sleep medicine, yet the busy lives of working professionals limits their ability to participate in further education. Launched in 2016, The Oxford Online Programme in Sleep Medicine (OOPSM) is a flexible, part-time by distance learning, postgraduate course, through which learners can undertake postgraduate study alongside their professional commitments.

OOPSM lectures are recorded using the Replay lecture capture tool and accessed through WebLearn.

With the aid of the Medical Sciences Division’s learning technologists, the course team adapted the standard WebLearn platform to provide a personalised learning framework. This allows staff to provide high quality teaching to students in targeted weekly packages on a simple, modern front page. In this way, OOPSM has bridged the gap between the scientific understanding of sleep research and the lack of knowledge among practitioners at large.

The judges felt that this is a very well thought-through approach to the problem of spare-time professional learning, demonstrating commitment to supporting students and taking their feedback into consideration. The use of learning analytics enables the course team to identify students who may be struggling with their studies, allowing them to hold one-to-one tutorials to provide extra support.

Joint Runners-up: Michael Panagopoulos, Rebecca White, John Ingram, Saher Hasnain, Rosina Borrelli & Roger Sykes for Innovative Food Systems Teaching and Learning Programme (IFSTAL)

IFSTAL is an interactive training programme designed to address the urgent need for a workforce more skilled in food systems thinking. It’s a cross-university collaboration, which uses an integrated model of face-to-face teaching combined with a VLE providing opportunities for students from a wide range of disciplines and universities to interact and engage with an interdisciplinary topic.

Videos are just one of the many media incorporated into IFSTAL.

The graduate-level programme comprises a range of different and interdependent integrated elements: online learning units hosted on the VLE, live-streamed cross-university lectures including cross-campus voting; social media (Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Storify) for cross-campus engagement; VLE-based forums for answering questions; chat-rooms in the VLE for Q&A sessions across campuses; and Adobe Connect to run webinars. The VLE is also a flexible form of access for people who cannot participate in face-to-face activities, such as distance learners.

The judges considered IFSTAL an excellent  example of both cross-institutional and cross-disciplinary teaching and learning. The programme received an honourable mention in last year’s awards. Since that time, it has made a great deal of progress and is now able to demonstrate impact. The IFSTAL model could be applied to many real-world problems which are systemic in nature: for example healthcare, the environment, providing good urban environments,  and lifelong learning.

Honourable Mention: Jennifer Brown for Development of ‘Virtual Microscopy’ and online assessment modules for the Laboratory Medicine course

A slide from one of the Virtual Pots.

Laboratory Medicine is an intensive teaching course run annually for the new intake of clinical medical students. A shift from teacher-centred to student- and patient-centred teaching is central to the development of teaching on the course. However, the Histopathology component of the course had historically relied upon traditional methods (e.g. lectures) which focused on the delivery of factual data, and tended to promote a surface approach to learning. The situation had been already been addressed to some extent through the use of the innovative ‘Virtual Pots’ WebLearn resource for pathology. This year the teaching staff have developed a fully integrated teaching programme combining traditional practical histopathology teaching sessions with access to the ‘Virtual Pots’ and two new virtual teaching programmes that focus on microscopy and on-line self-assessment.

Incorporating the ‘Virtual Pots’ and the virtual microscopy facilities in WebLearn into histopathology teaching has shifted the emphasis of students’ learning from factual recall to the application of their understanding in a clinical setting. The success of this approach has helped to bring about a culture change and the development of creative strategies for teaching with digital technologies in a traditionally conservative area of medicine.

The judges commended this initiative to revitalise a previously lecture-based course in a way that clearly places the students’ needs at the centre. There is evidence of good use of the Lessons tool in WebLearn to display histology slides, including a zoom-in feature. Other WebLearn tools are integrated into the course, such as timed release of material according to the course schedule, and embedded quizzes.

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Digital Media

Previously titled ‘Academic Podcasting’, this category has been expanded in 2017 to reflect the variety of forms that media artefacts can take: podcasts, animations, short videos (stills and/or moving images), as well as more substantial documentaries.

Digital media are increasingly interwoven with teaching and learning, and we have been extremely impressed with, and inspired by, the innovative ways in which media are integrated not only into the student experience, but also into the University’s public engagement work.

Winner: Timothy Knowlson for Take 5 for Exam Panic

Responding to a large number of students with anxiety issues, the Counselling Service developed Take 5 for Exam Panic, a mobile website that provides a wide range of information and exercises to help students to cope during the stressful period around exams.

The judges were very impressed with the clear and simple design of the website, and how well it serves the aims and goals of the project – from the useful tools and exercises, right down to the relaxing colour and theme. They felt that it is a fantastic resource to help combat stress not only in students, but also in staff. They expressed the hope that Take 5 goes beyond the current pilot stage.

Runners-up: Suzanne de la Rosa, Dan Q, Elizabeth McCarthy, Jennifer Townshend & Kath Fotheringham for In-gallery interactives for Bodleian’s Shakespeare’s Dead exhibition

Public engagement is incredibly important in promoting a positive image of Oxford University and the Bodleian’s temporary exhibitions in the Weston Library’s two galleries have showcased some of the world-class research that goes on.  The ‘Shakespeare’s Dead’ exhibition focused on death in Shakespeare’s work and time, and formed part of the city-wide Shakespeare Oxford 2016 Festival. Although Shakespeare is often perceived as being ‘dry’ or heavy going, the highly visual and interactive digital content complemented the exhibition items and allowed visitors to think about the stories and text in a light-hearted and fun way.

The judges really enjoyed the use of humour in engaging with all age groups and were particularly impressed that it was achieved in-house on such a shoe-string budget. The impact on visitors has been extremely encouraging, and the team has set the standard high with this exhibition.

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Public Engagement

With evidence of impact a key requirement of many funders, and with global reach a major priority of the University, it is unsurprising that researchers are devising creative ways to ensure that their work reaches the widest possible audience. This category recognises initiatives that have used technology to engage audiences beyond the University in a two-way process of enhancing knowledge and understanding.

Winners: Andrew Pollard, Sarah Loving & Yama Farooq for The Vaccine Knowledge Project

Although not many UK parents refuse vaccinations outright, many more are ‘vaccine hesitant’, selectively refusing or delaying vaccines or seeking reassurances about their safety before they proceed. It is increasingly easy to find misleading and scaremongering information about vaccines online, while there are fewer websites that promote good-quality balanced information. To help to fill this gap, Oxford Vaccine Group (OVG) in the Department of Paediatrics to set up The Vaccine Knowledge Project (VKP) website. The website provides comprehensive information about vaccines, infectious diseases, vaccine safety issues, and the origin and safety of ingredients in licensed vaccine products. It thereby makes publicly available the evidence, knowledge and data that is available to the research community, enabling adults, parents and young people to make informed choices. The content is overseen by academic staff from the OVG; it is also a responsive resource, updating content and answering questions from the visitors to the website.

A screengrab from a video of the The Vaccine Knowledge Project showing a schoolchild who has been scared of needles

Still from a video in The Vaccine Knowledge Project

The first version of the website did well in reaching a wide audience, but was not easy to use on devices other than PCs. Recognising the increasing numbers of people accessing web-based information on their phones, the OVG re-launched the website in July 2016 on a new platform that works well on all devices.

The judges commended the team for demonstrating all the aspects essential to a successful project that seeks to engage the public with research. They had thought carefully about whom they wanted to engage and why; had utilised the appropriate format to reach their audience and achieve their objectives; and had demonstrated clear evidence of impact, with data showing a significant reach. Furthermore, they are committed to the continual improvement of the website.

Runners-up: Scott Billings, Ellena Smith, Kate Nation, Jacqueline Pumphrey, Zoltan Molnar & Holly Bridge for Brain Diaries

The Brain Diaries exhibition in the Museum of Natural History was produced by a collaboration between the Museum, the Department of Experimental Psychology, the Nuffield Department of Clinical Neuroscience and the Department of Physiology, Anatomy and Genetics. It takes visitors through a journey from conception to cradle to grave, illustrating the extraordinary changes that take place in the brain over the course of a human life. The team used digital technologies to engage visitors with the research that takes place on the inner workings of the human brain, which are largely invisible, microscopic or conceptual.

Students study a touch screen during Super Science Saturday at Oxford University Museum of Natural History by Ian Wallman-98

Students study a touch screen during Super Science Saturday at the Museum of Natural History. Photo by Ian Wallman-98

In addition to the in-gallery digital content, the team has created a fully mobile-responsive website, Brain Diaries, which gives those who cannot visit the Museum virtual access to most of the artefacts, thereby extending the reach of the exhibition to a global audience.

The judges particularly commended the team’s thought-through approach to using digital technologies to engage the public with the research being profiled, and to how they might enable a much broader reach through the new format website. It is hoped that the site will provide a model for the future for other, similar, initiatives in the University.

Honourable Mention: Chris Paton, Mike English, Hilary Edgcombe, Niall Winters, Anne Geniets & Jakob Rossner for LIFE: Life-Saving Instruction for Emergencies

Screenshot from the end of the LIFE serious game showing a Dr commending the nurse on saving a baby's life through his or her intervention

Still from LIFE

Each year, 470,000 babies in Africa die on the day they are born. This figure increases to 1 million within the first 28 days of infancy. To address this avoidable tragedy, the LIFE project uses low-cost smartphones to give healthcare workers in Kenya the knowledge they need in order to provide life-saving treatment.

The LIFE team has created a mobile game in which learners work through a specific scenario in a 3-D virtual hospital. To raise funds to develop the software, the team worked with Oxford University Innovation on the University’s crowdfunding platform, OxReach (an OxTALENT winner in 2016). More than £63,000 was received from 171 donors, in the process engaging even more people with the project and its mission.

The judges praised this dramatic use of virtual reality (VR) to build a valuable learning resource for its intended audience (mainly in Africa, although it is also relevant in the UK). The innovation with VR, and the effective use of a digital crowdfunding platform to enable its development, have earned the LIFE: Life-Saving Instruction for Emergencies project an honourable mention.

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Outreach and Widening Participation

Outreach and widening participation activities deliver an important dimension of the University’s work in raising aspirations, promoting diversity and encouraging people from non-traditional backgrounds to enter higher education. This category recognises staff and students who have made innovative use of technology to deliver exceptional widening participation activities and to support learners from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Winners: Niall Winters, Melanie Jewell, Anne Geniets, Paula Fiddi, Paige Mustain, Ashmita Randhawa, Tracey Calabrese, Isobel Talks, Sabbah Bakhtiar, Laura Hakimi & Emily Winstanley for go_girl: code+create Project

Led by the Department of Education in collaboration with Oxfordshire County Council, this interdisciplinary project has engaged a group of young women from non-traditional educational backgrounds to undergo a programme to build their  confidence and self-esteem through developing videos, games, and web apps.

The project complemented existing programmes aimed at widening access to the University, but tackled the problem in a fundamentally new way using technology. Every week, nine young NEET (not in education, employment or training) women came to the Department of Education for coding and media skill sessions. The pilot ran 35 sessions in total, as well as a number of events and social activities such as visits to Facebook and job fairs, as well as cultural experiences. To scale up the project to other cities in the UK and to make it sustainable, the team is currently in the process of developing a manual, which can be used by youth workers and universities aiming to replicate the success of the go_girl project in different contexts.

The judges were impressed by how the project worked with the women to tackle widening access in a new way using technology, equipping girls with the skills needed for today’s digital world.

Runner-up: Yiu-Yin Tong for PhyWiz — Physics Solver

This year’s runner-up aims to level the playing field when it comes to providing access to high quality Physics education materials. You-Yin (Eric) Tong, who is reading Engineering Science at Harris Manchester, has developed a free app that facilitates the learning of physics concepts, supporting pupils across the world to sharpen their skills.

The Phywiz app displays clear explanations of solutions to physics problems, enabling students to learn how to approach questions. Also, using recursive logic, the app can generate hundreds of practice questions.

In its first month, PhyWiz was installed 7,000 times. It has already been downloaded and installed more than 100,000 times. Over 90% of users have given the app a four- or five-star rating, with reviews such as: ‘PhyWiz has made physics more interesting’ and ‘one of the best apps I’ve ever seen.’ It is used by over 15,000 people a month, mainly from countries such as India, Indonesia and The Philippines.

Honourable Mention: Jo Murray for LMH Snapchat Take-over Campaign

Engaging with students in their digital space is vital if the University is to attract diverse and academically brilliant young people. LMH’s Snapchat ‘take-over’ campaign does exactly that. The College has handed over its Snapchat channel to a selection of students to tell a series of ‘day in the life’ stories, with an aim to engage those who think Oxford is remote and not for them. During the take-overs students receive questions about Oxford and positive feedback from viewers.

We believe LMH is the first Oxford college to use Snapchat actively as an outreach tool. We commend Jo for the planning that went into the campaign, engaging both LMH and prospective students in the process. Jo has markedly increased the number of LMH’s  Snapchat followers.


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Data Visualisation

Software is making it easier to create data visualisations that are interactive and can be shared via the web. For example, we can create maps with ArcGIS and QGIS, representations of networks with Gephi, interactive models of complex systems with NetLogo, 3D renderings of large datasets with Blender, statistical insights with RStudio and Shiny, and script libraries such as D3.js.

In this category of OxTALENT the judges looked for visualisations that tell a story, provide an insight, make the complex simple or illustrate a beautiful pattern in a data set.

Winners: Otto Kässi & Vili Lehdonvirta for Online Labour Index

Labour markets are thought to be in the midst of a dramatic transformation, where standard employment is increasingly supplemented or substituted by temporary ‘gig’ work. Companies are using online labour platforms to find, hire, supervise, and pay workers on a project, piece-rate, or hourly basis. The potential policy implications of this emerging ‘online gig economy’ are not yet fully understood. The Online Labour Index (OLI) is a new economic indicator that provides an online labour market equivalent of conventional labour market statistics. It measures the utilisation of online labour platforms over time and across countries and occupations, and provides a solid evidence base for future policy and research.

Visualisation from the Online Labour Index

Since it is important to make the data accessible, and understandable, to a broader audience than academic economists, Otto and Vili sought a way to build an interactive dashboard to allow interested parties to understand the market at a glance and filter the data according to the purpose.

The judges felt that the Online Labour Index perfectly demonstrates the power of interactive visualisations. They were impressed by the use of the fledgling Interactive Data Network service to build this interactive dashboard using R and Shiny, and by the commitment to making both the data behind the visualisation and the code for the dashboard itself open access. They particularly appreciated the cleanliness of the dashboard design and the slightly unsubtle prompts to the viewer of the interactivity available to them. It was also clear from the submission that the visualisation has helped significantly in getting this topic discussed within government bodies.

Runners-up: Alfie Abdul-Rahman, Nicholas Cole & Olivia Griffiths for The Quill Project: Modelling and Visualising the Creation of the American Constitution

Quill is an ambitious project to make the negotiations of the 1787 Constitutional Convention as accessible and as easy to explore as possible. The fruit of the team’s effort is a powerful website for slicing through this large historical record from different points of view.

One of the judges’ favourite elements of Quill is the ‘secretary’s desk’, which visualises what the desk of the committee’s secretary would have looked like at the end of each day. This provides a very human perspective on the data, allowing the viewer to understand the complexity of the task that the committee was undertaking.

The judges were also impressed by the range of visualisation options, which took into account the wide range of viewers, from academic historians to a general audience.

Finally, the judges appreciated the detail provided on the entry form relating to the development of the tool and recommend others interested in building similar tools to read the entry.

Honourable Mention: Stephen Taylor for Exploring the Use of Virtual Reality for Biological Visualisation and Analysis

Stephen’s entry describes the development of novel tools using virtual reality (VR) headsets for exploring and manipulating a wide range of biomedical and zoological datasets. It includes a forward-looking mission to create a platform that makes will make it easy for researchers to convert their tomography datasets into models that can be viewed using VR headsets.

Although the entry doesn’t quite meet the requirements of the category, the judges felt that it was important to acknowledge the innovative use of an upcoming visualisation technology: namely, VR headsets. They particularly enjoyed reading about the demonstrations of these VR environments at a number of science festivals and noted Stephen’s desire to build a platform to make it easy for others to convert their topographical data into VR experiences. The judges look forward to hearing about this work in the future and suggest that a VR category might be needed in the OxTALENT competition before too long!

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Research Posters

This category showcases some of the creative poster designs from around the University in support of teaching, research and outreach. The IT Learning Centre delivers poster workshops to many departments, and a number of entries were from workshop participants. This year nearly 50 posters were entered in the competition and are on view in our online exhibition.

As in previous years, it was thought appropriate to award prizes in two categories: Best Poster and Most Innovative Poster.

Best Poster

Winner: Hanna Smyth for Material Culture of Remembrance and Identity

Material Culture of Remembrance and Identity

Hanna says: The purpose of this poster was to convey the key arguments of my thesis to an international audience of First World War scholars who specialise in non-European perspectives. The poster is structured to echo my thesis structure: the box at the top contains my overall thesis argument, while the four parallel boxes below present the key messages of each of my four chapters-in-progress. It was crucial to me to have the four boxes parallel: my thesis is structured thematically, rather than chronologically (or geographically), so there is not a linear progression from first to last chapter.

I adamantly did not want my poster layout to give a misleading impression to the contrary. I put the title, my contact info and the Oxford logo all on the right side of the poster because the downward slant of the memorial in the image makes that side heavier; to put those extra elements on the light side would have felt jarring to the viewer. I liked how the blue sky ties to the blue of the Oxford logo, while the clouds continue the white/grey theme that predominates on the rest of the poster.

Since I research memorials and cemeteries, my thesis is heavily based in and upon material and visual culture; I wanted an evocative image as the backdrop to emphasise this. The image I featured was taken by me in April 2016, and is of the Vimy Memorial, Canada’s national First World War monument in France. The image features the largest sculpture on the memorial, the 30-tonne ‘Mother Canada mourning her fallen sons’, overlooking the empty tomb at the base of the monument. I thought the composition of the photo, with the large expanse of blank wall, lent itself well to being superimposed with text. The inclusion of both memorial and tomb in the same photo also reinforces a key theme of my thesis that the poster elucidates: the relationship between them. Another key theme is represented by the Mother Canada figure: the relationship between the individual and the collective in First World War mourning. She is an individual figure, but marshals a collective identity as a personification of a grieving nation.

The judges say: We were all immediately attracted to Hanna’s poster. The bold image, carefully composed, works so well with the poster’s content and layout.

Runner-up: Susila Davis for Where Are We Going and How Do We Get There?

Where are we going and how do we get there?

Susila says: My study focuses on teachers’ use of Pathways – an online technology platform designed by the Oxford University Press for school improvement and professional development purposes – and schools’ improvement journeys and histories in context. This poster attempts to communicate, to teachers, headteachers and other researchers, all five schools’ improvement journeys in my study and their engagement with Pathways over time.

My original contribution to the field lies in the use of approaches to human navigation to describe schools’ journeys and leaders’ choices of routes towards individual school improvement goals – a link not explicitly made in the literature to date. The theme is based around plotting a route somewhere, with a kind of ‘dashboard’ feel.

Many different metaphors have been used previously in the research literature to illustrate school improvement – e.g. the nurturing and care of schools and teams as growing, living organisms; a systems approach with inputs (students’ prior attainment and contexts) and outputs (e.g. exam outcomes) and creating a painting/artwork (likened to an ‘improved school’) – where the images and interpretation may change over time). I’ve used these metaphors as inspiration and added elements of time, direction and space – as schools usually have a finite period of time to improve – particularly if they’ve been given a low Ofsted grade, and within certain conditions and contexts, meeting specific criteria leading towards certain goals and priorities. Each school has a route, perhaps one they’ve followed before and are used to (more of an ‘allocentric’ representation); a route that is dynamically mapped as they go along depending on their current position (an ‘egocentric’ view) or a new route that might be more risky but potentially yield higher gains (perhaps a mixture of allocentric and egocentric).

The judges say: The colours in Susila’s poster ‘pop’ off the dark background. The wheel motif at the left, rolls the reader’s attention around the elements in the body of the poster. A much busier poster than Hanna’s, but guaranteed to get the attention of anyone passing by.

Most Innovative Poster

Winner: David Lo for Main Group Compounds for Activation of Small Molecules

Main group compounds for activation of small molecules

David says: The purpose of the poster is to showcase my research results in the Challenges in Inorganic Chemistry Conference, organised by the Royal Society of Chemistry. I have incorporated Mondrian’s style in my poster.  I love Mondrian’s style with its use of simple forms of geometry, straight lines and colours. Since this layout is different from traditional academic posters, it draws people’s attention to my research and makes more people engage with its content.

The judges say: We all recognised the source of David’s inspiration for his poster design and admired the way that he had worked the content of his research into the layout. The innovation here is the merging of of a very well recognised art form with a very technical treatise and the way David has identified the potential within that art form to order and categorise his reaserch.

Runner-up: Hannah Allum for So… You Want to Move Your Collections?

So… You want to move your collections?

Hannah says: The onus of moving museum collections, on any scale, can be a daunting task. There are many documented case studies, as well as disaster-ridden anecdotes, in the museums sector literature. These can be useful when considering the specific needs of an upcoming relocation project but as yet there is not a readily available resource, or toolkit, that can be called upon as a planning template for natural history collections moves.

This poster was created as a way of highlighting this issue and gathering information in a more formal way at a conference attended by those most able to contribute and benefit from the outcomes. Firstly, the poster gives some details of the recent move of mixed collections (approximately 17,000 specimens and objects) at Oxford University Museum of Natural History between multiple off-site stores. For the majority of museums the collections on display only account for approximately 1-5% of the actual collections. The rest are kept in storage and, contrary to popular belief, are in constant use for curatorial work, university teaching, research and public engagement.

Secondly, and more critically, we gathered information from conference attendees about what would make a useful toolkit for other museums that have been asked to move their collections. This information will be assessed for use in a publication, including a literature review and useable resource, to be submitted and disseminated via the Journal of Natural Science Collections.

The design of the poster is deliberately simple and image-rich. The colour theme, font and logos are complementary to the design guidelines of OUMNH, and the size is A1. The ‘dodo’ bullet points are part of the Museum’s logo. The picture collages, all of which were taken during the project, were designed to be covered with ‘Post-it’ notes filled in by conference attendees, interaction with the poster presenter and for participants to see each other’s responses. Also provided were feedback forms, with matching design, to allow for more comprehensive responses and to be circulated via a subject specialist mailing list following the event for those who could not attend or respond at the time.

The judges say: Although Hannah’s poster is very accomplished, it isn’t the design that we found so innovative as the way the poster is used to encourage readers to interact with it, leaving their thoughts and observations on sticky notes, that in turn become key elements of the poster!

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IT Innovation Challenges

This year, OxTALENT has recognised for the first time projects that have been funded by the University’s IT Innovation Challenges scheme. The projects below have led to a product or solution that shows considerable realised or potential benefit to the University. There are two sub-categories: staff projects and student projects.

For more information about the scheme and the projects that it has funded so far, please visit the Innovation Challenges blog.

Staff projects

Winners: Kathryn Eccles, Howard Hotson, Silke Ackermann, Giovanna Vitelli & Jamie Cameron for Cabinet

The University holds rich and varied library and museum collections which are increasingly used in teaching: for example by incorporating dedicated handling sessions led by curatorial staff in a course. Unlike other learning resources such as texts, objects may not be available outside these dedicated sessions, which means that students cannot revisit them for further study or revision. Cabinet (subtitled ‘Between text and object’) is a platform on which digital versions of objects can be made available alongside course materials, texts and images, and on which students and teachers can interact with the material either individually or as a group.

The Cabinet project has drawn on the strength and expertise of a cross-disciplinary team including academics, programme and museum directors, graduate students and IT professionals. Cabinet is now available online and through WebLearn. It has been used to support and enhance teaching in History, History of Art, English Literature, Anthropology, Archaeology and Business. Materials for Plant Sciences and Clinical Medicine are under development. Feedback from students and teaching assistants has been positive, and a number of departments have expressed an interest in using the platform.

The project has attracted additional funding and is now working to produce additional content and to explore opportunities for future use within and beyond the University. For more information, visit the Cabinet website.

Runner-up: Jon Mason for Chooser: Simple, Flexible Option Choosing

Most students will face the task of selecting course options or modules. Before they can do so, they need to know what options are available, and whether there are any conditions for selecting a particular combination. Collating and communicating this information can be a time-consuming and complex process, and collecting and administering the student choices on paper or via email is laborious and error-prone.

The Chooser web application makes the process much easier for all concerned. It provides an intuitive editing interface where those offering options can edit, reuse, publish and categorise their options, design the form, provide instructions and set deadlines. Students can see the available options, select and rank their choices, and add comments.

The project worked with 24 courses and faculties across the University to collect requirements and design the functionality, look and feel of the tool. Administrative staff and students have commented favourably on the pilot version, particularly in relation to functionality and ease of use.

Chooser is hosted in the Medical Sciences Division, where development can continue in order to refine and extend its functionality. For more information about Chooser, contact msdlt@medsci.ox.ac.uk.

Student projects

Winners: Anita Paz, Jessyca Hutchens, Naomi Vogt & Nina Wakeford for The Oxford Artistic and Practice Based Research Platform (OAR)

OAR is an online journal and research platform developed by a team of four DPhil students from the Ruskin School of Art, led by Anita Paz.

The platform makes it possible to not only publish research, but also to engage with the material before and after publication, taking an experimental approach to knowledge production.

The OAR journal aims to publish two themed issues per year, containing commissioned contributions and curated submissions responding to an open call. It showcases experimental works and works in progress and features material across different media. Once published, an issue continues to evolve as responses to the contributions are submitted and shared.

The platform went live in October 2016 with a pilot issue, and Issue 1 was published in May 2017. So far, OAR has welcomed 2,800 users and has received about 15,000 page views. It has received praise both nationally and internationally, and has attracted contributions by academics from different fields. The project team has received invitations from leading programmes around Europe to  speak about their work.

For further information, visit the OAR platform.

Mercier, Julien. ‘Impossible Knowledge.’ O A R: The Oxford Artistic and Practice Based Research Journal
Issue 0 (2016): cover, http://www.oarplatform.com/issue/issue-zero/.


Runner-up: Greg Auger for Putting the Oxford Alternative Prospectus Online

The Oxford Alternative Prospectus has been around for over 30 years. Written and produced entirely by Oxford students, it sets out to provide ‘an honest look at what it is like to live and study at Oxford’.

In 2015 Greg Auger received funding from the IT Innovation Challenges to create a digital, web-based version of the prospectus. By ‘going digital’, the prospectus is now able to provide more detailed information about courses, colleges and student life to potential applicants and allow more students to be given a voice. The project worked closely with the Oxford University Student Union (OUSU) to develop the content for the website.

The website was launched in February 2016 and is maintained by OUSU.  Over the past year it has attracted more than 40,000 users and over 55,000 site visits. Clear spikes in traffic are discernible during the application period, particularly at interview time, but also around open days and ‘decision date’.

Read the Alternative Prospectus.

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Use of WebLearn to Support Teaching, Learning or Outreach

WebLearn is the University’s Virtual Learning Environment, used by colleagues across all divisions to support their students’ learning. However, it is also being used productively in outreach activities, and this is reflected in the 2016 awards.

Use of WebLearn to Support Teaching and Learning

Winner: Dr Heath Rose for Using WebLearn to Deliver a Part-Time, Distance Online course for Busy Learners

Dr Rose redesigned the MSc in Teaching English Language in UnHeath-Rose-webprofile-2-150x150iversity Settings in accordance with students’ needs. He explored the features of WebLearn, in particular the Lessons tool, which allowed him to integrate tasks and materials in one linear pathway. He used screen capture to record his own video lectures, and then embedded them into the lessons.

The judges remarked on the impressive level of student engagement, including students taking ownership for sharing their analysis of prescribed readings. The use of the Lessons tool, embedded recordings and existing multimedia resources is excellent.

Runners-up: Christina Hell and Martin Hurajt for Virtual Classrooms at the Language Centre

Lang_FrenchAt the Language Centre about 40 tutors teach approximately 200 different language courses a year. In WebLearn Christina identified a platform that could both make tutors’ work more efficient and engage students when away from the face-to-face classroom. With the insight gained from a survey of the tutors and her own language teaching experience, Christina and Martin created a WebLearn ‘virtual classroom’ site for every class taught at the Centre. The innovation lies in the wide-reaching effect of the project: the virtual classrooms have become an indispensable teaching tool and have added value to tutors’ teaching practice and students’ learning.

Use of WebLearn to Support Outreach

Winner: Emma Searle for OxLAT: Oxford Latin Teaching Scheme Online Learning Hub

Teaching Latin University of Oxford

Image courtesy of Emma Searle

The OxLAT programme makes it possible for students at state schools in Oxfordshire where Latin isn’t taught to receive free tuition ab initio through to the GCSE examination. Emma created an online learning hub in WebLearn that allows the team to store and distribute classroom materials and information on additional external learning and revision resources, and to receive homework submissions in an organised way, with pupils’ work filed automatically. It has made a substantial difference for their students to be able to access all class materials independently and take the initiative for their own learning.

The judges commented that this project demonstrates good use of a variety of WebLearn tools and activities to facilitate outreach within the local schools community in the teaching of Latin.


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Innovative Teaching with Technology

This is a general category in which we recognise people who have made creative use of digital technologies other than WebLearn in their teaching. It’s always an exciting category to judge because it reveals the many initiatives at the departmental and even individual levels that complement provision from the centre.

Winner: Professor Simon Benjamin for Flipped Classroom for First-Year Undergraduate Materials Students (Maths)

InnovTeach - Winner - Flipped ClassroomHaving taught a course on Vectors, Matrices and Determinants to first-year Materials students for several years, Simon came to realise that a substantial part of each of the lectures followed a simple recipe: the lecturer explains how to work out a particular mathematical result, and then goes through several examples while the students copy them down from the whiteboard. He decided that this material could be better presented to the students using short videos to be viewed before the lecture, along with some practice exercises. He made a series of 10 short videos and uploaded them to YouTube.

Simon then selected some of the more simple problems from the work sheets that students are given, and worked with a graduate student to convert them into a series of online multiple-choice quizzes. Each quiz allows the student to test their understanding of the preceding video by selecting answers from multiple choices. In this way, students can practise the techniques at their own speed, freeing up the lecture time for more interactive and interesting problem-solving discussions.

Simon has now taught the course in this new format twice. Feedback from students has been very positive, and Simon was asked to describe his work to colleagues in the Department of Materials. He has also noticed that the video lectures tend to be viewed again in the run-up to exams, which suggests that students are using them to brush up their technique.

The judges considered Simon’s entry a worthy winner for three reasons. First, it’s a pioneering example of the ‘flipped classroom’ technique in Oxford. Second, it shows that a DIY approach to video making can be highly effective. Third, Simon has contributed to the University’s mission for global outreach by releasing his videos under a Creative Commons Licence on an open Moodle platform hosted by the Department for Continuing Education.

Runners-up: Dr Kenny Moore, Jon Mason, Dr Aartjan te Velthuis and Professor William James for Viral Outbreak Online ‘i-Case’ Teaching Platform

InnovTeach - W - teVelthuis_Collage_1The Viral Outbreak i-Case is a major reworking of an online practical class for medical students first developed ten years ago. It addresses students’ tendency to ‘follow the recipe’ in such classes without engaging fully with the context and purpose of what they are doing. Viral Outbreak requires the students to decide which experiments to perform in order to uncover a key piece of information about an imaginary outbreak of influenza in two fictitious primary schools.

The revised version takes advantage of newer cross-platform technologies and addresses a number of the educational shortcomings identified in its predecessor. For example, the iCase requires the students to decide which experiments to perform in order to uncover a key piece of information. However, the results had previously been presented in an analysed format. In order to encourage the students to fully understand each of the techniques, teaching team decided to provide them with simulated data that required students to process the data themselves. This had the added advantage of being more visually appealing and more representative of real life experiments.

In their written work students are now demonstrating greater understanding of the key learning outcomes. They also report that they enjoy the iCase more than ‘normal’ practicals even though they find it more difficult.

The judges felt that the iCase represents a highly successful fusion of excellence in technology and creativity in educational design.

Honourable Mention: Dr Rebecca White and Dr John Ingram for Innovative Food Systems Teaching and Learning Programme (IFSTAL)

ifstal-colourThe Innovative Food Systems Teaching and Learning Programme is an ambitious multi-institutional initiative in blended learning. Spearheaded by Dr John Ingram of Oxford, the programme combines face-to-face teaching with a cross-university VLE to provide opportunities for students to engage with an interdisciplinary topic of global importance: food security. The blended model aims to meet two key criteria: cross-campus graduate student engagement and interaction; and a ‘systems’ perspective that draws on the strengths and different perspectives of each partner institution.

IFSTAL VLE cropped

The backbone of the IFSTAL programme this year has been a series of lectures delivered by different IFSTAL partners at their own institution and live-streamed across the sites. In the example below, a lecture live-streamed from the University of Reading is watched by students at the University of Warwick on the left, and City University on the right. The lecture was also viewed by students in Oxford, the Royal Veterinary College, the School of Oriental and African Studies, and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

IFSTAL lecture 1 and 2

The programme includes a range of other interdependent ‘blended’ parts: use of Twitter and Adobe Connect for cross-campus Q&A; use of Twitter Storify; use of VLE-based forums for answering questions after lectures, including with voice-recorded answers; use of the chat-room function on the VLE to hold Q&A sessions across campuses; and the use of Adobe Connect to run webinars. The VLE (Moodle, hosted at the Royal Veterinary College and accessed through each institution’s single-sign on functionality) is also a flexible form of access for people who cannot participate in the face-to-face activities, such as distance learners.

The judges have been impressed by IFSTAL’s achievements in its first year and are pleased to award it an Honourable Mention.

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