In this category we invite students to show how they have used technology to enhance the experience of learning and studying at Oxford.
Our recent research into the student digital experience highlighted that students are increasingly using mobile devices for study. The prize winners in this category have worked to find innovative solutions to two problems of learning on the go: accessing interactive materials that work properly on smaller form factors, and finding out what talks and lectures are happening around the University.
Sanjay Manohar, Department of Experimental Psychology: NeuroSlice
Sanjay is a PhD student in Experimental Psychology. NeuroSlice is an Android app to aid learning and revising neuroanatomy, using interactive mapped images. Each slice has neuroanatomical regions mapped out so that students can familiarise themselves with nuclei and tracts of the brain and spinal cord. However, Sanjay intends NeuroSlice to be useful also to neuroscience researchers, and hospital clinicians who read scans.
Sanjay explained the origins of his app:
I wrote NeuroSlice to bring to the fingertips a set of images that my supervisor acquired from a 1943 out-of-print textbook. The app allows one to learn and revise neuroanatomy using interactive mapped images. The images were digitised by my fellow students in 2002.
Sensing that the data might be useful to many more people in the form of an app, in 2012 Sanjay wrote an Android app allowing the images to be explored from a mobile phone or tablet. The images include histology and MRI of the brain and spinal cord. The user can touch different regions to identify them and also select regions from a list to locate them. The app comes with a global search, a ‘test-yourself’ facility, and Wikipedia links.
The app is free and has more than 18,500 active users, with an average rating of 4.57 stars and very positive reviews. For example, one reviewer has written:
Portable Neuroanatomy at a Glance! This is an excellent handy quick reference tool for both medical students and postgraduates…..in fact for anyone familiarising themselves with Neurology/Psychiatry. It is also a valuable aid for teaching during ward rounds. The app has a small footprint and the working interface is fast and simple.
Sanjay attributed the success of Neuroslice to ‘the facility to conveniently carry this reference material around in your pocket. Interestingly 8% of my users have tablets—the app looks and feels quite different on a large screen!’
Sanjay offered this advice to students pursuing similar projects:
Make sure you get the right people on board. Work closely with people who teach the courses you are making resources for. I was lucky to have the support of departmental lecturers, who identified exactly what they needed, to fit into the curriculum. Ask a colleague in the department to round up the professors and lecturers for a short 20-minute presentation demonstrating your concept. Hopefully this will encourage them to find niches where the tool could fit into other lecture courses and practicals. Apply for funding early – when you have the idea! As I discovered too late, most universities have teaching innovation grants, and that would have been very useful.
Richard Hills, Linacre College: Oxtalks
Richard is a DPhil Student at the Said Business School and Linacre College. He spotted a problem in that Oxford’s departments and colleges tend to have different systems and policies for seminars. In order to keep track of seminars in a range of subjects, a student would therefore need to bookmark a dozen seminar listing pages and check them several times a week for updates, before manually adding individual events to their calendar. Richard explained:
While I was a student at Cambridge University I came across their wonderful site, talks.cam. It attempts to solve precisely the same problem, since Cambridge is also highly decentralised. When I arrived at Oxford, I was disappointed to find there was not anything similar or comparable, so I decided to make it so. The Cambridge website’s source code is available under an open source licence. I contacted the developers and Cambridge, and they were more than happy for me to use their source code as the basis for OxTalks.
OxTalks automatically pulling events data from multiple websites at once, combining the events into a single search on the site, and then offering personalised emails and calendar synchronisation to users.
Starting out as a demonstration website running on Richard’s desktop computer, OxTalks quickly became the single best source of seminars and events for the entire University.
After a few months his college, Linacre, took an interest. With the arrival of a new IT manager the college offered proper hosting, and OUSU helped with advertising among the student body. The site started getting thousands of unique visitors every month. It was later adopted by Medical Sciences and the Student Systems Programme’s Student Advisory Group, before being taken over by IT Services.
And what tips did Richard have for other would-be student innovators?
Make use of your department, college and student societies in promoting and assisting with your idea. Be very patient, and start early. The longer you have for the project before you leave the University, the more likely it is to succeed and become sustainable in the long run. Be very persistent, and do not take anything personally. Departments often have unknowable internal reasons for making decisions, so do not worry if one turns you down: there are plenty more. If you are convinced you have a good idea, and other people agree with you, just do it.