Use of WebLearn to Support a Course or Programme of Study

WebLearn has been specifically developed and tailored to meet the needs of the Oxford teaching model, giving flexibility to colleagues and students who wish to find and share materials online for a supported and blended approach to teaching and learning. It has been another good year for the WebLearn service, and so we have split the WebLearn category in two, awarding prizes for innovations that use WebLearn to support student learning in new ways or make use of WebLearn across a course or programme of study.

Dr. Sharon Mickan and team: Using WebLearn to Support Continuing Professional Development

Centre for Evidence-Based Medicine, Nuffield Department of Primary Care Health Sciences

As Director of Studies for the MSc in Evidence-Based Healthcare, Sharon has been the academic lead, ensuring that WebLearn is used to support part-time students before, during and after their residential weeks in Oxford. In particular, she has championed a paperless approach to making module learning materials available.

sharonTo prepare students before the residential week, Sharon organises WebLearn forums for introductions and exchanging information. During the residential week she makes presentations available before each lecture in order to encourage students to use their laptops in the classroom to make their own enhanced notes. She also makes journal articles available for download from WebLearn so that students can manage their own set of resources on their laptops. Once the students have returned home, Sharon runs online activites to keep the group working together. She encourages other module leaders to adopt similar practices, in order to promote consistency in students’ learning experience.

The Cyber Security CDT Team: WebLearn and Panopto: Capturing and Distributing Lectures

Prof. Andrew Martin – Director; David Hobbs -  Project Administrator; Maureen York – Administrator;  Manu Apostolidis – Deputy IT Manager
Centre for Doctoral Training in Cyber Security, Department of Computer Science

CDT Cyber SecurityDuring Trinity Term 2014 IT Services have been testing a new technology linked to WebLearn, which allows students and lecturers to capture lectures and presentations quickly and easily. David Hobbs and his colleagues have been keen to explore how the technology can enhance the activities going on in their classroom and give feedback to students. They worked with colleagues in ITLP to design a day-long course on presentation skills. The course focused on the planning, design and delivery aspects of presentations, after which the students were guided in creating a presentation that they then delivered to their peers. The presentations were captured using the Panopto system, which made them available through the students’ WebLearn area.

The students received immediate feedback on their presentations from their peers and the course leader. Each student was asked to revisit their presentation by watching their video in their own time and critiquing their own performance. Students then had the opportunity to have a one-to-one meeting with the course leader to discuss their observations and create an action plan for the future. The team leader was also able to refresh his memory about each presentation by watching the video ahead of the meeting with the student.

Watch out for more case studies from IT Services on the use of lecture capture, which will be published over the summer.

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OxTALENT 2014: Celebrate the Digital

IMG_1717IT Services is delighted to launch the OxTALENT Competition 2014, celebrating and rewarding the innovative use of technology in teaching, learning, research, and outreach at Oxford. Once again, we have an array of categories for both staff and students to enter, whether you have developed a new tool, used existing technology in an exciting way, or designed an eye-catching conference poster or infographic.

We have additional categories for innovations that we have discovered during the year or that have been brought to our attention. So, if you haven’t designed or developed a technology yourself but you know someone who has, please tell us!

This year, we have made the OxTALENT blog the one-stop shop for everything you need to know about the competition. You can find instructions on how to enter and details of past winners to give you inspiration, and you can follow this blog to keep up to date with developments as they unfold.

And don’t forget two very important dates:

  • Friday 16th May – entries close
  • Wednesday 18th June – the OxTALENT 2014 Red Carpet awards ceremony
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OxTALENT 2013 – Winners

Each year we give the OxTALENT awards to staff and students who have been innovative and talented in their use of technology to enhance teaching and learning.

Feedback from the event includes:

‘what rays of sunshine the Oxtalent awards are’; ‘last night at the (wonderful) OxTalent Awards’;‘ you have made me feel good about IT’; ‘It is always an impressive event and I know that comes with effort’; ‘The whole event was really well organised and it was great seeing the range of projects that were up for awards’, OxTalent2013 was wonderful. Good speakers, warmly presented, innovative and inspiring projects and some yummy hors d’œuvre”; “Lots of thanks to @ltgoxford, and the canapé lady for a fun evening at #oxtalent2013.”

See you,  same time,  same place,  next year.

This year’s winners:

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OxTALENT 2013 – Global Reach

The 2013 OxTALENT Awards theme is ‘Global Reach’

As it says in the University of Oxford Strategic Plan  2013-18

 ”Digital technology is revolutionising the manner in which knowledge is created, collected, and communicated across the globe.

The University will position itself so that it can engage speedily and effectively with digital initiatives generated by our staff, students, alumni, and those outside the University. We will create a strong and coherent online presence in order to direct those seeking knowledge about any area of academic study to relevant work carried out at Oxford. We will further develop our globally available teaching resources and collections for our own community, for our distance-taught students across the world, and for learners everywhere”
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Open Education Initiatives

In a year in which there has been much discussion of how Oxford might respond to global phenomenon of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), it is wonderful to see so many thriving open education initiatives which continue to push at the boundaries and innovate in their approaches to openness online.

Sophie Kershaw, Department of Computer Science for The Open Science Training Initiative

The Open Science Training Initiative (OSTI) is a dynamic new educational scheme devised and piloted this year at the University of Oxford. It aims to address the problem of reproducibility in modern scientific research, by training upcoming young researchers in the integrated use of concepts and techniques such as digital awareness, data management, version control systems and the role of the publisher. The goal, as Sophie Kershaw explained, is to train graduate students not just to be research producers, but to be research users as well.

OSTI achieves this aim through a combination of first-hand learning and mini-lectures. The course is designed to be highly portable and adaptable, with its 20-30 minute “lightning lectures” designed to slot into any existing course in the sciences. The learning process adopts a novel, rotation-based structure, in which small groups of students work in isolation on separate scientific problems. Groups must fully document their findings through releasing code, data and a written report online before handing over the problem to a successor group who must build on their work. This approach is designed to provide a simulated research environment at a pre-doctoral stage, enabling students to encounter the challenges of modern collaborative research and hence understand the need to provide the scientific community with a coherent research story that provides a sound basis for further scientific investigation.

OSTI is the first scheme of its kind in offering 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 the field. Course materials are being released under a CC-BY (Attribution) licence as open educational resources for other institutions to use, develop and benefit from.

The course has drawn great interest from the Open community and is poised for its official launch outside Oxford in early May 2013. It has also been showcased at the following universities in California: UC Berkeley, Stanford, San Francisco State, UC San Francisco, and UC Davis.

Cleo Hanaway, Humanities Division: OpenJoyce

OpenJoyce is a collection of resources and a community around the author James Joyce. It began in Oxford and grew out of the successful Great Writers Inspire project. Cleo Hanaway is a former student ambassador on Great Writers who has recently been appointed Knowledge Exchange Officer for the Humanities Division at the University. She explained:

Our title quotation is taken from James Joyce’s 1922 novel, Ulysses: ‘A great field was to be opened up in the line of opening up.’ Following Joyce’s lead, our OpenJoyce project  is geared towards ‘opening up’ all things Joycean. Thus, being open is inherent to our development process.

Cleo combined her research on Joyce with open education and worked with programming experts to create a series of striking visualisations of Ulysses, based on word patterns, line length, and so forth. The visualisations have captured the imagination of the James Joyce community and are now being used in research and teaching across the globe.

Continuing Education Tutors Dr Steve Kershaw, Dr Pete Wyss and Dr Kate Watson: Sesame

The part-time tutors who teach on the Weekly Classes Programme of the Department for Continuing Education have been working to identify and create open educational resources (OER).

This initiative has produced a rich and sustainable collection of OER and other online resources. These are primarily aimed at adult learners and their tutors, but may also be of use to anyone who wishes to use high quality internet-based scholarly resources across a wide range of disciplines.

The work by Steve, Pete, and Kate supports the under-represented group of part-time sessional tutors in their engagement with open educational practices, and the project saw over 150 part-time tutors learn about OER for teaching and learning. However, the Department would particularly like to recognise the ongoing engagement of its weekly class tutors in creating and curating materials. The site continues to grow and now includes over 2,000 resources associated with 50 courses and 25 subject collections. Even more pleasing is the growth of the number of unique visitors to the site, which more than trebled from 4,700 in October 2012 to 16,300 in May 2013.

Other OxTALENT awards in other categories also recognised projects which produce explicitly open educational resources (OER):

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Student IT Innovation

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… 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, 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.

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Use of Technology for Outreach and Engagement



Jamie Miles, Magdalen College, & Simon Clarke, St Peter’s College: OxTweet

Bridging the gap between the university and its students and potential applicants, OxTweet brings together Oxford students from a variety of subjects to share what it is like to live and study at Oxford. It allows potential applicants to gain an honest representation of life at Oxford, pose questions, and have them answered by students on the courses that they are planning to read.

Jamie (above) studies PPE, and his colleague Simon Clarke (right) is a physicist from St Peter’s College who won an OxTALENT award last year. Other members of the OxTweet group include a musician, a chemist, another physicist, a mathematician, a computer scientist, a fine arts student, an archaeologist, a biologist, a classicist, a medic, a lawyer, a biomedical scientist, a linguist, and an engineer.

Jamie said:

As the first student from my school to go to Oxford, I felt that information on what it is like to live here was lacking. I wanted to see what rooms looked like, the food, the people and what an average day entailed. When you are considering a place to study or you have your offer confirmed, this information is invaluable. There was official University material; however, one is always sceptical about the degree of honesty in these publications, as it is inevitably biassed.

OxTweet provides this reality by creating a forum in an informal and interactive environment. The aim of the project was to dispel the myths about Oxford: for example the fact that people don’t walk around speaking Latin, or that students from comprehensive schools can’t get into Oxford. Jamie continues:

To make the project a success, I needed OxTweeters from a variety of subjects with a variety of interests, so the first thing I did was contact my friends. In no time, the OxTweet flock was formed and we began to document our lives. The project then gained fantastic momentum through advertising via the social media of various colleges, the student press, and word of mouth, which led more people wanting to become OxTweeters.

The OxTweet project is now a thriving community of Oxonians who reach out to Oxford-curious tweeters. It has created a discussion in which both parties can honestly say what they think without the fear of saying too much or asking a ‘stupid’ question.

As well as tweeting, Jamie and Simon video blog consistently through the term, from their college rooms and on location. Each has several thousand followers who eagerly await the next installment and ask questions about their lives.

When the project ends, all the tweets will continue to exist in cyberspace, providing a rich and extensive resource about the reality of attending Oxford. Jamie concluded:

We have the tools to connect people, but these tools are only as impressive as the uses we put them to. One should never feel limited by resources. There are a wealth of free tools available to everyone and we are only limited by our creativity to find new and amazing ways to use them.

Also, never underestimate the impact a great team can have on ensuring a project’s success. I am always thankful for the energy and time my friends continue to contribute to the OxTweet initiative.

Scott Billings,  Oxford Natural History Museum: Darkened not Dormant

The Museum of Natural History is new to Twitter, and decided to take the plunge as one of the ways to maintain its profile during 2013 while it is closed for refurbishments to the roof. Scott Billings, the museum’s newly appointed Communications Coordinator, explained how a few social media-savvy members of staff came together for initial discussions to decide whether the museum should have a social media account and how to approach it. Brooking questions such as ‘Does anyone really want a digital Dodo?’, they secured buy-in from other staff, arguing that ‘Not being on social media is like not having a telephone.’ As a consequence, the museum is now keeping the public abreast of its activities – as well as the behind-the-scenes story of the refurbishment – through both Twitter and its blog.

Pip Wilcox, Bodleian Libraries for Sprint for Shakespeare

Pip used crowdsourcing techniques in order to raise money to fund the digitisation of Oxford’s copy of Shakespeare’s First Folio. In this way, her use of social media represents the latter-day equivalent to the ‘crowdsourcing’ methods which were used back in 1905 to raise funds to purchase the printed copy.

Oxford will be marking the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death in 2016. However, this project is also important because it marks a further step in Oxford’s commitment to open educational resources.

The images of the First Folio are released under the Creative Commons license (CC BY 3.0). This allows anyone to:

  • Share the work (i.e. to copy, distribute and transmit it),
  • Remix (that is, adapt) the work; and
  • Make commercial use of the work.

IT Team, Said Business School: GOTO

GOTOGlobal Opportunities and Threats: Oxford – is a new concept: community-based learning and discovery in the context of a business school, which draws on Oxford’s great depth of expertise and research.

The course was developed as a new element of the School’s MBA programme and as an innovative way of connecting with Oxford University alumni. The first module, launched in Hilary Term 2013, considers the impact of increased longevity and falling fertility on the ageing of the global population. The second module, to be launched in Hilary 2014, will focus on the global significance of Big Data.

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Use of Technology in the Classroom

In our call for projects in this category we usually expect to find examples of use of smaller and smaller technologies. However, this year is different, and we are giving a prize for the use of larger technologies that are used in a highly innovative way.

Kevin Coward and Celine Jones, Nuffield Department of Obstetrics & Gynaecology:
Mobile interactive board technology for wet laboratory practical teaching

Interactive whiteboards are normally fixed to walls, but in the Obstetrics and Gynaecology ‘wet’ laboratory they are mobile and are used to situate the learning in the best environment for students on the MSc in Clinical Embryology. Combined with other technologies – ‘slave’ screens on students’ lab benches and a video feed from the microscope – this encourages the students to contribute actively to the group’s learning

The MSc is a taught postgraduate course aiming to inspire future clinical and scientific leaders in the field of assisted reproductive technology. The development of practical laboratory skills, and a robust attitude to experimental design, execution, and analysis, are therefore imperative. Dr Kevin Coward explained:

Using the large mobile whiteboard and ‘slave’ screens has significantly improved the learning environment in the wet laboratory through supporting student-staff interaction, the rapid assimilation of teaching material, the dissemination of data collected during practical sessions.

Furthermore, whiteboard technology has allowed the teaching team to pioneer a novel problem-based learning technique in which student groups design and present their own laboratory practical class. Groups of students focus particularly upon experimental design in order to highlight potential pitfalls, areas of difficulty, safety, and teaching strategy. They use the whiteboard technology to brief their peer group on the background and learning objectives of their practical, using resources from the internet if appropriate. They then supervise their own practical class with their peer group acting as their students, followed by an analytical debriefing.

Whiteboard technology has also made the preparation and demonstration of practical classes more efficient. Notes and background information can be incorporated in real time and recorded for subsequent dissemination.

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Academic Podcasting

Podcasting is one of the most successful activites at the University of Oxford in terms of online outreach and impact on a global scale. This year we reached a total of 20 million downloads from our ItunesU site, and new items continue to be added every day. The collection currently includes more than 5,000 items.

These awards are for the people who make this possible by helping to keep a steady stream of unique, up-to-date, inspirational, research-led content flowing in from departments and units.

Our winners are all creators of open educational resources (OER), which means that the podcasts are given freely under Creative Commons licences.

We couldn’t do it without you!

Ida Persson, Centre on Migration, Policy and Society: COMPAS Podcasts

The mission of COMPAS – the Centre on Migration, Policy and Society – is to conduct high quality research in order to develop theory and knowledge, inform policy-making and public debate, and engage users of research in the field of migration. The mobility of people is now firmly recognised as a key dimension shaping society today, but the relationship between migration and societal change is only partly understood. Research at COMPAS is geared to deepen the understanding of this relationship, and the Centre has core funding from the Economic and Social Research Council.

Ida Persson is Research and Communications Officer at COMPAS. She is responsible for organising the department’s external events, maintaining its website, and maintaining its social media profile. She also provides research assistance for the European Migrant Integration Academy project. Before joining COMPAS Ida worked as Events Officer at the Oxford Internet Institute.

Ida is responsible for recording, cataloguing, and editing the COMPAS collection of podcasts, which now has 83 items and is steadily clocking up 20,000 downloads all over the world.

Rebecca Edwards, Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism: Reuters Institute podcasts

Reuters Institute is Oxford University’s international research centre in the comparative study of news media. It has 65 podcasts in its feed, recorded and supplied by Rebecca Edwards.

The Institute’s podcasts have amassed nearly 50,00o downloads in two years. They are all released under Creative Commons licences, sometimes following some tricky paperwork to gather permissions from their many high-profile visiting speakers.

Lucy Crittendon, Oxford Institute for Ethics, Law and Armed Conflict: ELAC Podcasts

Lucy gathers recordings of seminars and events held at the Institute and adds them to their website, from where they are copied into the ItunesU feed. The Institute has  88 items in its feed which reach an wide audience. Downloads now total more than 700,000 since 2009.

Wilma Minty, Bodeleian Library: Bodleian Events Podcasts

Wilma works as Events Officer in the Bodleian Library and is amazingly supportive in working with the IT Services Podcasting team. Her work includes helping us to record many VIP lectures and exhibitions at the Bodleian, and dealing with the paperwork to obtain permission from speakers to release their material.

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Research Poster

Posters are gaining importance as a form of outreach, and so it’s not surprising that the Poster Creation Workshop is fast becoming one of the most popular courses offered by the IT Learning Programme. Indeed, many departments are now asking the ITLP to run ‘closed’ courses as part of their curriculum, so that students can learn how to create eye-catching and informative posters that describe their research.

This year we had a record number of poster entries, and the standard was even higher than in 2012. This gave the judges a difficult task, and a consensus on a ‘winner’ wasn’t easily reached. In the end, the judges decided to create an additional category: innovative design. However, even then they wanted to give honourable mentions to some posters which narrowly missed out on the top award.


Rafael Wlodarski's poster Menstrual cycle effects on attitudes towards kissing romantic partners

The winner in this category is Rafael Wlodarski’s poster Menstrual cycle effects on attitudes towards kissing romantic partners.

The judges liked its striking design and eye-catching central motif. The balance of text and graphics is good, and the data are clearly presented. The colours are well chosen, complement each other, and work with the theme of the research.

Rafael said:

This poster is of a paper that has recently been accepted for publication which looks at evolutionary approaches to studying human mating behaviour.  Previous research shows that menstrual cycle phases affect female mate preference, and that romantic kissing is utilised in mate assessment. Our study found that women at high risk of conception place greater value on kissing in the early stages of a relationship (when it can assist with assessing a mate), and that this effect is driven by levels of progesterone.

The poster was created using Adobe Photoshop® and Adobe Illustrator®, and the paper was peer-reviewed and accepted by the journal Human Nature.

Research Poster (Innovative Design)

Ursula Hackett's poster Connecting religiosity and aid for children at private religious schools in the USA

ITLP’s poster workshop encourages creativity in design, and a move away from the traditional text-heavy, two-column poster. The emphasis is on good layout, attractive colours, eye-catching titles, clearly presented data, and readable text. All of these need to come together so that the research can be communicated with maximise effect. The judges wanted to recognise entrants who had been bold and, perhaps, a little experimental in their designs.

The winner in this category is Ursula Hackett and her poster Connecting religiosity and aid for children at private religious schools in the USA.

The judges liked the starkness of the design with its clever use of the main graphic to separate the research into its components. The design is guaranteed to catch everyone’s attention.

Ursula said:

The poster uses a striking crucifix image both to attract viewers from a distance and organize the information into sections. I chose a simple black and white design for additional impact with bright red in sections representing blood. The font is Calibri, to aid readability. I also downloaded an old English font to create initial letters in the style of the King James Bible. The challenge of distilling 20 pages of historical analysis into poster format was met using numbered bullet points in the bottom-right hand section of the poster. It was a useful exercise in précis.

The poster was created in PowerPoint format after Ursula had attended the Poster Creation Workshop at IT Services.

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