Announcing OxTALENT 2015

Evaluation of an interactive revision session using mobile phones in WebLearnIT Services is delighted to launch the OxTALENT Competition 2015, 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 data visualisation.

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 used technology to enhance students’ learning yourself but you know someone who has, please tell us! In each category we are offering Amazon vouchers to the value of £150 (first prize) and £75 (second prize).

This website is 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 22nd May – closing date for entries (at midday)
  • Tuesday 16th June – the OxTALENT 2015 Red Carpet awards ceremony
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Under wraps: OxTALENT 2015…

Dark Dwarf - CC BY ND - Under Wraps at MNH - Flickr

Dinosaurs under wraps at the University Museum in 2013. CC BY ND Dark Dwarf; from Flickr

Planning is now under way for the 2015  OxTALENT competition. We will be open for entries in early March, and applicants will have until mid-May to send in their forms. The awards ceremony will take place on the afternoon of Tuesday 16th June, so mark the date in your diaries now!

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OxTALENT 2014: Thank you and so long until next time!

OxTALENT 2014 Red CarpetThe OxTALENT awards for innovation and creativity in the use of digital technology in the University were presented in a packed Isis room at IT Services on Wednesday 18th June. This has been a particularly fruitful year, with the number of categories expanded to 11, including awards for the use of technology to support students in transition. In all, 27 prizes were given to individuals and teams, and you can read about the winners here.

No OxTALENT ceremony is complete without a lively closing speaker. This year we were treated to a characteristically entertaining yet thought-provoking talk by Marcus du Sautoy, Simonyi Professor for the Public Understanding of Science. Marcus conducted a mini-experiment with the audience through Twitter to illustrate how social media are enabling researchers to engage with the wider community in new ways (and in the process inspired at least one new tweeter).

Organising the OxTALENT competition and awards ceremony is one of Academic IT Services’ key activities in supporting technology-enhanced teaching, learning, and outreach in the University. So, we are proud to share with you some of the warm and appreciative feedback which we have received during the past week:

I just wanted to thank you for another lovely evening at OxTalent yesterday …  I hope you … are feeling justifiably proud of last night’s success.

I was not aware of what a big event it was – and how fabulous to see all the innovative ideas that are around the University.

I particularly enjoyed the quotes from winners about their experiences of their projects, and in particular the frequency with which we heard that the creators of such accomplished work had started out with only an idea and a can-do attitude.

It’s nice to get recognition. We do all this work and we just assume everyone else is doing something similar. It’s nice to have someone else look at the work and recognize that its not being done everywhere else and the techniques are useful to others.

Presentation for hard workSadly for us, Melissa leaves Oxford for the University of Edinburgh at the end of the month. In recognition of her leadership in supporting and promoting technology-enhanced learning and teaching, she received bouquets at the ceremony from Dr David Waters (chair of OxTALENT) and Professor Sally Mapstone (Pro-Vice Chancellor for Education).

In the post-ceremony blog entry in 2013, Melissa signed off with the words ‘See you, same time, same place, next year.’ So, in the hope that curiosity prevails and she’s tempted to pop down for the 2015 awards, we say again to Melissa – as well as to all of you who have reached (or will reach) new creative heights in teaching, learning, and outreach with technology –

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

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OxTALENT Speaker- Marcus Du Sautoy

Marcus_du_SautoyMarcus du Sautoy is the Simonyi Professor for the Public Understanding of Science and a Professor of Mathematics at the University of Oxford.

In his launch talk for engage: Social Media Michaelmas in 2012 he talked about how he uses digital media to fulfil this role. For Marcus, engaging the public digitally is about converting passive audiences to active participants. He advocates creative thinking to find various simple effective ways to open up two-way communication with the viewing public.

Marcus’s series of mathematical programmes The Code is now held up by the BBC as exemplary digital engagement practice because of its inventive and successful online partner project. This series had a very real off-screen life in its puzzle-solving initiative. Marcus explained how thousands of viewers followed the series closely in order to find the clues to solve the Code Challenge. Furthermore, the series also produced a complicated 82 page online puzzle book. Around this challenge an enthusiastic community of amateur puzzle-solvers grew. They set up their own wikis (e.g. ‘Crack the BBC Code‘ and ‘The Code group‘) and collaborated to work out the trickiest puzzles. The final of the competition was held in Bletchley Park and televised. This project shows how, given the opportunity, a dynamic community of active, collaborative and driven people can be mobilised and engaged in scientific ideas.

Marcus also experimented with crowdsourcing in an online partner project to Numbers, the first episode of The Code. He asked viewers to upload photographs of numbers from 1 to 2011 to an online portal and was delighted with the community that sprung up around the building of this collection.

Marcus has contributed to nine series in our podcast collection:

  • Alumni Weekend
  • Oxford Research in the Humanities
  • The Secrets of Mathematics
  • Mathematical, Physical and Life Sciences at the Department for Continuing Education
  • Engage: Social Media Michaelmas
  • Department for Continuing Education Open Day 2012
  • Christmas Science Lectures
  • Kellogg College
  • Inside Oxford Science

Together, these series account for more than 65,000 downloads in iTunesU.

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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 studying at Oxford, both for themselves and for their peers. Our three equal winners have worked to find innovative solutions to challenges in three different areas of student life: their subject of study, keeping up with the student news media, and increasing their brainpower.

Amber Barton: Mechanisms of Gene Evolution

GenesAmber, an undergraduate at Corpus Christi College, has produced a colourful website to support revision. She writes:

Although much of university learning seems to revolve around essay writing, many of us are visual learners and retain facts much better when presented to us in an aesthetically pleasing and memorable manner. I wanted to demonstrate that biochemical topics could be presented in a fun, colourful way and that revision can be more interesting than re-reading one’s lecture notes.

Having researched the topic, Amber designed a simple website using the software Serif Drawplus X3 and then published it using the Moonfruit site builder. She received good feedback from her tutor about the content of her site, and it is now going be used as a teaching material for future undergraduates.

Sarab Sethi, Patrick Beardmore, & Max Bossino: Cherwell Apps for Android and iOS

Nowadays most news is read on smartphones and tablets enabling the public to keep up to date with the latest and most exciting stories as they break. However, Sarab Sethi, a student at Mansfield College, noticed that student newspapers had yet to make the full transition to the digital format. Even though the award-winning website of the Cherwell newspaper was registering approximately 100,000 unique views monthly, there was still no easy way to view articles on a mobile device.

cherwellappSince Sarab had experience in developing Android apps and was interested in taking on a larger project he approached the director of Oxford Student Publications Limited (OSPL), Max Bossino (Brasenose College) asking whether he was interested in an official Cherwell app. Patrick Beardmore, a deputy editor of Cherwell and student at St Hugh’s College, was keen to develop the iOS app. So, with the backing of OSPL, they got going, setting a deadline of Fresher’s Week 2013 for the launch. They also enlisted the help of Adam Hadley, an Oxford alumnus who had developed the Cherwell website.

Developing the apps was only one part of the challenge; the next part was getting people to use them. The team pursued an active advertising campaign, both in the printed newspaper and online, to encourage readers to download and engage with the app.

The apps have really made an impact, with more than 1,000 downloads across the two platforms. They have an average of 4.85 stars out of 5, and with reviews such as ‘Perfect accompaniment to the newspaper’, ‘Easy to use’, and ‘Well designed and quick’ the project seems to have been a success.

The team plans to release the code for both apps under an open source licence on GitHub. They hope that this will contribute to the sustainability of the project and ensure that the apps stay up to date with best practices in the software industry.

Sarab’s tip to would-be app developers? ‘Just go for it and get started, but be prepared to learn on the job.’

Taimur Abdaal: Speedsums

Speedsums - Dave mockupTaimur, a student at University College, has developed a simple web-based application to help students hone their mental arithmetic skills. In an era where students are relying on calculators for even basic arithmetic, he hopes that the site helps to remove some of the stigma associated with maths and to show that it can actually be quite fun.

Speedsums received over 32,000 visits and over 100,000 pageviews in the first month after its launch. Four hundred and fifty  people have tweeted about it, and  530 people have shared it on Facebook. In total, over two million sums have been done worldwide

Taimur advises:

Think of a reasonably simple idea that you might like to build, and then find out what you need to build it – which technologies and programming languages etc. Online resources are amazing when it comes to learning to code. No matter what programming problem you face, if you spend long enough trying to solve it, you’ll either figure it out or figure out a way around it. The first few things that you make will be absolutely rubbish, but eventually you’ll get the hang of it and people will end up liking what you built.

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Open Practices

Reflecting the diversity of activities and initiatives that come under the ‘open’ umbrella, we have changed the title this category from ‘open education initiatives’ to ‘open practices’.

Politics in Spires Blog Editorial Team: Workshop on Academic Blogging: Political Analysis in the Digital Age

Blake Ewing, Katharine Brooks, Chris Prosser, Dr. Stuart White, Dr. Scot Peterson, Kate Candy, Liz Greenhalgh

academicblogThe Politics in Spires blog started as a joint project between Oxford and Cambridge, funded by JISC in 2010-11 as part of its Open Educational Resources programme. It is now recognised as a core part of the output of the Department of Politics and International Relations, with a regular flow of 3-5 posts a week. Blogging is now seen as a way to increase academic output, reach new audiences and foster original debates.

The challenge for the Politics in Spires Editorial Team this year was to extend the understanding and commitment of department members, in order to increase their participation and contribution to the blog and to  ensure its long-term success as a part of mainstream departmental activity.

The half-day event on the 25th February, Academic Blogging: Political Analysis in the Digital Age, was held to raise awareness, review the range of practice, reflect on the realities and increase our understanding of blogging as an aspect of academic life. The event was intended to create an opportunity for a wider audience to learn about the world of academic blogging and to understand current trends. It was successful on all these counts, with over 50 participants and talks by speakers from The Guardian newspaper, the LSE, OII, and the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism among others.

The workshop sessions were recorded and are now available as a series of five audio and video podcasts under a Creative Commons licence.

Professor Timothy Garton Ash & Kim Wilkinson: The FreeSpeechDebate

Professor Timothy Garton Ash is Professor of European Studies and Director of the Dahrendorf Programme for the Study of Freedom at St Anthony’s College. Kim Wilkinson is a DPhil student at Wolfson College and editor of the FreeSpeechDebate.

FreeSpeechDebate blogThe internet has transformed the conditions for both free speech and for debating free speech, as images, information and ideas move between frontiers. The rationale behind the FreeSpeechDebate project was to use these new possibilities to promote a well-structured and well-informed debate about what the terms of free speech should be. More than this, it intended to harness digital technology to allow for such contributions to be accessed in multiple languages (13 in total) so that the discussion can be opened up to a wider range of cultures and communities.

The FreeSpeechDebate has helped to develop 10 guiding principles which aim to sharpen and structure free speech of the future. The majority of principles, discussion pieces and case studies are commissioned from a carefully selected, international cast of academics, journalists and experts in the field (e.g. lawyers). However, there is also an active team of Oxford graduate students who write, edit and translate articles, which means that the site is an excellent platform for early career researchers to showcase their language skills and academic insights. Some of these videos have been condensed to make them suitable for classroom use.

freespeechThe FreeSpeechDebate has received over 588,000 unique visitors from all over the world during the 2 years since its launch with an average of 30,000 a month. Updates are disseminated across a multitude of social media channels including Facebook, Twitter, Webo and YouTube, and the team have found this a particularly useful tool in gaining feedback of users’ experiences with the site.

All of the content is released under a Creative Commons licence, enabling others to share the materials in a variety of contexts.

Sophie Kay: Scientific Reproducibility: Learning with Lego

Sophie, a doctoral student in the Department of Computer Science, won an award last year for her Open Science Training Initiative. It is always good to see how colleagues build upon and develop their open practice.



The role of good communication in scientific research has been a hot topic for some years now. An increasing emphasis on the reproducibility and repeatability of scientific results places demands on researchers to enhance and hone their communication skills in the delivery of their research outputs. Sophie’s Lego-based teaching scheme provides a means of educating young students and researchers in communication of methods and techniques, through the fun and engaging medium of Lego.

The workshop sessions centre around teams reproducing a full Lego model from written instructions (no images!) which have been intentionally designed with flaws. Time pressures require each team to deliver a finished model within 30-40 minutes. Participants then have to identify why the instructions failed to deliver their information successfully.


CC BY Neil Chue Hong

The pilot workshop took the form of a one-hour session at SpotOn London in November 2013, the Nature Publication Group’s annual conference. Interest from delegates was so great that a queuing system had to be operated. Sophie had advertised the session ahead of time on her blog, and also provided the instructions on her blog so that people could participate remotely. The workshop was live streamed, and Sophie’s instructions have since been downloaded 182 times.

Thaddeus Aid: Use of OER Courseware in an ITLP Online Course

Thaddeus is studying for his doctorate in the Life Sciences Interface Doctoral Training Centre (LSI DTC) in the Department of Statistics, and also teaches for IT Services’ IT Learning Programme (ITLP).

aidBecoming proficient in a computing language takes time and practice. Standard ITLP courses give a brief introduction to programming, but don’t have sufficient time or resources for extended teaching support to the participants. It was felt that an on-line course over a period of four or five weeks might give participants more exposure to the topic, and provide some support from a tutor during the extended self-study that the course would entail.

Thaddeus’ idea was to use an existing course that might be available as OER, so he researched the available courses and found How to Think Like a Computer Scientist: Learning with Python, produced by staff at Luther College in Iowa, USA. Although the course provides a great deal of interactivity, Thaddeus also set up a discussion forum in WebLearn so that he could interact with the students, and they could engage with each other.

The course has proved to very popular, and Thaddeus has used the feedback from students to make improvements: for example, he now holds an introductory one-hour face-to-face session so that the students can get to know each other.

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Interactive Infographics

The distinction between a poster and an infographic is becoming increasingly difficult to draw, as demonstrated by the runner-up in this category: entered as a poster, it has been rewarded as an infographic.

Winner: Han-Teng Liao. Infographic title: Internet Penetration Rates in East Asian and Chinese Regions 1995–2012

Hang-TenThe researchers in the Internet Institute continue to set the standard in the production of interactive infographics at Oxford. Even so, doctoral researcher Han-Teng of the OII had to fight off stiff competition from other parts of the University to secure first prize. He used MAPresso, a free Java applet, to visualize the time series data of internet penetration rates in East Asian and Chinese regions in order to show the dynamics of internet diffusion in the region. The infographic can be run both as a slideshow and interactively to explore the timeline in an intuitive way. The judges found it engaging, and easy to understand and use.

Winners for innovative design: Celine Jones, Dr. Kevin Coward, & Dr. Natalia Barkalina. Infographic title: Opportunities for Research Projects at the Institute of Reproductive Sciences

As in the poster category, the judges again wanted to award a prize for innovation.

Oxtalent posterCeline, Kevin and Natalia from Nuffield Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology originally filed their entry in the poster category. They proposed a novel method for poster presentation that uses electronic video-enhanced posters projected by the mobile interactive whiteboards which earned them an OxTALENT award in 2013. The aim was to allow students to present their work dynamically and efficiently while providing both video and audio capability, and to provide the ability to present crucial online software such as bioinformatics resources. Celine writes:

Electronic and video-enhanced posters will reduce the cost and carbon-footprint of conventional poster production, since expensive A0 printing is no longer required. Furthermore, electronic posters will be easier to archive and reduce logistical problems during the examination of a large class caused by the necessity to move or replace printed posters throughout the day. … This new technology will be presented to the board of examiners later this year for approval.

The video-enhanced poster which they entered in the competition is a promotional poster, and was designed as a prototype using Microsoft PowerPoint with embedded video material. However, in the view of the judges, the interactive aspect of the poster places it in the OxTALENT category of interactive infographics, and they have been awarded a prize accordingly.

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Use of Technology to Support Transition

This is a new category this year. Among the many nominations we received in the outreach category a number specifically focused on transition and induction, whether from school to university or from undergraduate to postgraduate study. The judges highlighted four initiatives for recognition.


Oliver Bridle: Library Assistant for Oxford Freshers

Catherine Scutt & Sophia Staves: Please Play with Your Phone during this Lecture!

Oxford’s complex library system can be confusing for new undergraduates, who may need to get to grips with up to five libraries covering their subject area, including their college library and several in the Bodleian group. For most, this will be their first experience of using a research library and they will not have come across terms such as ‘closed stack’  or ‘ibid’. Journal citations may be equally baffling.

mlibBodleian and college libraries alike run induction sessions in Week 0. Focus groups conducted with students have shown that these are popular and valued, particularly the opportunity to have a tour of the library and demonstrations of key tools. However, the focus groups have also revealed that students experience information overload during Freshers’ Week and that the timing of induction is problematic. Some inductions come too early, when students do not have sufficient context to understand what they are being shown, and others come too late, after students have already had to prepare a paper.

Developed by Oliver Bridle, Biology Subject Librarian, the Web-based Library Assistant app works alongside traditional inductions and offers the following additional benefits:

  • It is tailored to the needs of undergraduates in their first term at Oxford
  • It covers all the Libraries used by undergraduates including the Bodleian, Faculty and College Libraries
  • It covers shared services (for example SOLO, IT and printing, copying and scanning) and helps students to identify which libraries cover their subject area.
  • It is available anywhere, anytime, even when real librarians are sleeping.

bodlibAlthough the Library Assistant was designed for undergraduate freshers, Catherine and Sophia in the Bodleian Education Library use it to enhance the presentation element of the library inductions that they run for PGCE students. They now rely on online induction to provide detailed information about computing, photocopying and other services, in order that they can concentrate on subject resources which students will find useful in preparing their first essays. During the induction students are invited to use their own mobiles, tablets or laptops to access the app, making it more likely that the students would remember the information. Using the mobile Library Assistant as a prompt ensures that all the crucial information was covered, with material specific to the Education Library being provided live.

Google Analytics showed 1,692 visits to Library Assistant between 23rd September 2013 and 6th December 2013, with 4,408 page views in the site itself. As expected, views peaked around the inductions for new students in the Department of Education and Freshers’ Week. Visits then trailed off as the Library Assistant is designed primarily for new students, and once they learned how to use library services they would have less need of the tool.


Lou Sumner, Dr. Jenny Barnes, & the MPLS Bridging Programme Steering Group: Maths Bridging Programme

MathsBridgeThe one-week MPLS residential Bridging Programme was established in 2012 for students due to embark on undergraduate study in the physical sciences. However, it is not possible to accommodate all students on the residential programme, and so the Bridging Steering Committee decided to translate some of the materials into an online format for entrants in 2013. The online programme was initially made available to students reading Chemistry, Physics, Materials and Earth Sciences, but in 2014 the provision will be extended to Engineering Science.

The Online Maths Bridging Programme has been successful in achieving its aim of bridging the gap between students’ knowledge of A-level maths and Maths at University level. Around 92% of all freshers reading Chemistry, Earth Sciences, Materials and Physics accessed the programme, and the feedback from students has been very positive.

Charlotte Isaacs: Inspirational Teachers’ Award Video

exceptionalThe Oxford University Inspirational Teachers’ Award has been running for five years. Oxford undergraduate students in their first year who have a background of educational or social disadvantage or who have come from schools or colleges with very little history of successful applications to Oxford are asked to nominate a teacher who has inspired and motivated them. Each year over 20 teachers have been nominated with between 8 and 12 teachers winning the award per year.

For the 2014 awards Charlotte Isaacs, a student recruitment officer in Undergraduate Admissions, had the idea of putting together a short video to celebrate the achievements of the winners, and to give the students an opportunity to thank their teachers for the impact they had made on their lives. The video was launched at the Oxford University Inspirational Teachers’ Award Ceremony on Friday 2nd May to a fantastic reception.

Jane Lewis: Staircase 12

Staircase 12 dStaircase 12 aStaircase 12 is University College Oxford’s online hub of resources for students aiming high at school and thinking about applying to top universities. With the support of Jane Lewis, the college’s Access and Schools Liaison Officer, Univ’s undergraduates have contributed book reviewes and resources to help school students aged 14-18 to develop their interests, read around their subjects, and go beyond the school syllabus (now an essential for entry to highly selective universities). There are also entertaining pieces about about student life,  including a day in the life of a physics student.

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Use of Technology for Outreach and Engagement

Many colleagues across the University now put technology to creative use in their outreach and engagement work, whether with schools or with the communities in which their research can really make an impact.

We give prizes to colleagues this year whose outreach activities have involved gathering materials from their target communities and ‘brokering’ their dissemination back to those communities.

Professor Sandra Fredman & Laura Hilly: The Oxford Human Rights Hub (OxHRH) Blog

OxHRH blogSandra Fredman, founder of the OxHRH blog, is Rhodes Professor of the Laws of the British Commonwealth and the United States. Laura Hilly of Magdalen College combines her doctoral research with her role as the blog’s managing editor.

Sandra set up the Oxford Human Rights Hub (OxHRH) in 2012 with the aim of bringing together academics, practitioners, and policy-makers from across the globe to advance the understanding and protection of human rights and equality. Supported by a grant from the Higher Studies Fund, the OxHRH strives to facilitate a better understanding of human rights principles, to develop new approaches to policy, and to influence the development of human rights law and practice. One of the key challenges of the project included trying to find innovative ways to harness digital technology to reach out and create a global community of human rights researchers and this was when the OxHRH blog was born.

OxHRH dThe OxHRH blog responds to an identified need for a dynamic space where human rights researchers, practitioners and policy makers can share cutting edge analyses of developments in human rights law across the world. The blog features short, incisive analyses of new developments in human rights law, each written by a specialist. The blog is distinctive in that it invites high level contributions from many authors, in many jurisdictions, giving it the advantage of multiple expert perspectives. The rapid expert assessments on new developments on the same issue in different jurisdictions provide a unique opportunity for collaborative comparative research.

The blog is complemented by other aspects of the OxHRH website, which features news from the network, podcasts, videos and photographs of OxHRH seminar series and conferences, and pro bono projects. It has featured pieces written by more than 150 experts from 25 different countries. It attracts over 10,000 unique visitors each month and continues to grow.

Updates on the OxHRH blog in general are disseminated across a multitude of social media channels including Facebook, Twitter, Linked In and Flickr.  These in themselves form a strong network, with close to 3,000 Twitter followers. A round-up of blogs is distributed to subscribers of the OxHRH newsletter every two weeks, reaching those who do not generally use social media channels. To make the posts even more accessible some of the posts are translated into Spanish and/or French by the multi-lingual editorial team.

On 22nd April 2014, an e-book bringing together the first year’s blog posts was launched and attracted over 1,500 views in the first two weeks.

Dr. Martin Christlieb: Quick Cancer Videos

For Martin, who works in the Deparment of Oncology as Public Engagement Officer, merely talking to the public is not enough: he wants to engage people in a genuine conversation or, better still, in collaboration. So he set out to engage a small group of secondary students with the department’s research and then to challenge them to create a usable resource for carrying that research to a wider audience. His goal was ‘something short, engaging, and suitable for distribution through the Web’.

cancer video still aMartin’s initiative was to run a competition for schools across Thames Valley, asking the students to submit a two-minute video explaining an aspect of the department’s science and the potential impact on patients. He and his colleagues offered some basic guidance as to the resources needed to complete the task and gave some background on selected areas of science. Otherwise, the videos were entirely the students’ own work.

The winning film, entitled Oncolytic Virotherapy: the Use of Viruses to Treat Cancer, was made by Arabella Newton and Zhen Zhen, two year 12 students from Downe House School, near Newbury. Martin describes it as ‘very current’ and praises its explanation of some of the department’s most significant work. He concludes:

The impact of this engagement project is testified by the content of the video.  The students would not have been able to produce such a high quality resource if they hadn’t done a lot of reading and research.  You can’t teach so clearly if you don’t understand the material.  The students will have learned about material that is not on any syllabus and learned about its impact in a way that will stick with them.

And, of course, the video has provided the Department of Oncology with an engaging resource that it can use as part of its online presence.

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Support for Blended Learning

This category recognises teaching staff who have blended technology with classroom learning: in one case to solve a practical problem, and in the other to achieve a specific pedagogic objective.

Dr. Gareth Digby: Virtual Machines for a Forensics Course

Gareth is a visiting lecturer who flies over from the USA twice a year to teach Forensics, one of the courses in the part-time MSc programmes offered by the Department of Computer Science. The course is blended, in that students come to the University for a week of face-to-face classes and then have six weeks to complete an assignment and submit it online. The assignment is an authentic task of the kind typically required from a forensic investigator.

In preparing and running the course, Gareth faces a number of challenges:

  • he needs to have a learning environment that works work in the way that he wants as soon as he arrives in Oxford;
  • students’ laptops have different hardware configurations and/or different operating systems;
  • students do not have the time to install multiple tools and data sets on their laptops; and
  • students may not have previous experience with the forensic tools.

Cyber Forensics bTo address these challenges, Gareth uses virtual machines (VMs) run locally on the classroom computers to overcome the issues associated with student experience and expertise in the installation of technology. They can then just focus on using the technologies to understand the topic at hand. He gives a copy of the VM to the students at the end of the classroom session for them to use for the assignment. This means they are able to take the experience and knowledge they have gained using the technology in the classroom and easily replicate that outside the classroom. They appear to have no difficulty installing and using it once they have returned home.

The VM makes it possible for Gareth to use the same basic environment from one year to the next. It also allows students to customise the look and feel of the user interface of their virtual machines, rather than having to use the standard layout of the computers in the classroom.

Dr. Corneliu Bjola: Enhancing Students’ Learning Experience Using Social Media Apps

As Course Director of the MSc in Global Governance & Diplomacy, Corneliu wanted to explore new ways to help his students to bridge the divide between theory and practice. The traditional methods of lecturing and seminar teaching were proving unsatisfactory for the purpose, and he turned to social media as an alternative.

storifyTo support group projects, in which students conduct their own research and present the outcomes, Corneliu turned to Storify. Storify’s key advantage is that it allows students to develop a visual narrative of their project by importing content from various media (e.g. YouTube, Twitter, and Instagram) into a timeline. In so doing, it gives students an opportunity to peer-review the results of each others’ research from both a theoretical and a practical perspective. Storify proved a hit with students due to its ease of use, richness of the available material, and the possibility of visualising the results of one’s research.

A student who had taken part in a project to develop a ‘nation branding’ strategy gives this feedback on the use of Storify to present their work:

I had the opportunity to publish my work so [that] other people could learn and engage with it. This was a fantastic way of visually presenting the Nation Branding strategy with relevant media, which supported and strengthened my points and arguments. As presentation and multimedia skills become increasingly important nowadays, the Nation Branding project presented through Storify enhanced my knowledge and ability to use another platform for generating and presenting information. This experience is an example of how research in a project could be supplemented by multimedia so as to strengthen its message and impact on the target audience.

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