OxTALENT now open until Friday 5th May

Poster - celebrating the digital - orange v2Have you created a great app, or designed an eye-catching conference poster or data visualisation to support teaching, learning, research or outreach in the University? Or has someone else impressed you with an exciting use of technology in this way?

You now have an extra week to let OxTALENT know!

Here’s a reminder of the six categories:

  • Innovative teaching & learning with technology
  • Outreach & widening participation
  • Public engagement
  • Digital media
  • Data visualisation
  • Research posters

For more information, visit the OxTALENT competition website.

Closing date is Friday 5th May.

Follow @acitoxford and #oxtalent2017 for up-to-the-minute news – and spread the word among your colleagues.

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Seminar: Researching participation in teachers’ Facebook groups

Academic IT has links with the  Learning and New Technologies Research Group in the Department of Education. The group organises a programme of research seminars with invited speakers; the next one is on Thursday 20th April:

Researching participation in teachers’ Facebook groups: Sharing, suggesting, and supporting

Dr Thomas Hillman, Dr Mona Lundin, Dr Annika Lan-Andersson, Dr Louise Peterson, and Dr Annika Bergviken Rensfeldt
Learning and IT Group, Department of Education, Communication and Learning, University of Gothenburg

April 20th: 15:30-17:00
Seminar Room D, Department of Education, 15 Norham Gardens

Teachers are increasingly participating in social media to discuss their teaching and instructional issues, particularly in relation to IT. The question is what support for professional learning such discussions offer over time in forums like thematic groups on Facebook. Based a study of a corpus of three years of posts, comments and likes from a Facebook group with almost 13,000 members combined with extensive ethnographic engagement, this talk will discuss issues of methodology and research ethics, along with highlighting findings related to when and how teachers use the group as part of their professional practices.

For more information, visit the project website.

Image credit: CC0 (public domain) via Pexels

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Unveiling Oxplore: home of big questions

Dr Alex Pryce contributes this guest post on an exciting University initiative aimed at young people:

This month sees the first public airing of a new digital outreach initiative on which members of the University’s Widening Access and Participation team have been working. Oxplore aims to harness the wealth of brilliance at the University of Oxford to encourage intellectual enquiry and exploration beyond the curriculum among under-represented 11-18 year olds. In short, Oxplore’s goal is to raise aspirations, promote broad thinking and stimulate intellectual curiosity.

To do this, we’ve designed a portal that utilises the digital technologies and social networks young people are most familiar with, and filled it with content which we hope will engage them to delve deeper into ‘Big Questions’. These big questions tackle complex ideas across a wide range of subjects and draw on the latest research undertaken at Oxford.

Oxplore has produced a range of eye-catching promotional posters

In this first release, these include ‘Could we live without laws?’, ‘Is a robot a person?’ and ‘Can war be a good thing?’. Questions we’re developing further right now include ‘Is falling in love bad for you?’ and ‘Is it OK to ban certain books?’. These questions have been ‘approved’ by a panel of young people as well as being reviewed by academic specialists in the subjects they cover, and by educational experts.

We’re encouraging our users to delve into podcasts, videos, quizzes, lists and articles to help answer these questions and more. They have the opportunity to vote on what they find, and we’re also accepting their ideas of big questions to shape the future portal content.

The site is currently on limited release as we undertake pilot activity and evaluation in the North East of England and nationally (in May). We’re seeking feedback on the concept, the content and the user experience. This will help us to make necessary adjustments before we launch nationally in September 2017.

Mock-up for the mobile version, featuring the Blavatnik School of Government in a novel guise!

Oxplore has been under development since early summer last year (you can read more about the process in our development blog). We hope that what we have produced will allow us to reach more bright young people in a different way to our other access and participation projects like the UNIQ Summer School.

To ensure our first efforts were near the mark, we worked with young people in the design and development of our concept, content and style. They had strong opinions!

We’re aware that Oxplore looks quite different for a University of Oxford endeavour! But, since the University has really been the ‘Home of Big Questions’ itself since the 11th century, it seems only fitting that we take a fresh approach to reach a new audience in the 21st century.

Here’s a short video introduction to Oxplore, on YouTube. Although aimed at the target audience it’s entertaining for adults too!

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make: an impact in Trinity Term

Each year we run a series of lunch time talks under the banner of make: which showcases the creative use of technology and digital resources in teaching, learning and outreach around the University. In past years we have included talks about using Raspberry PIs in Indian schools, modelling historical buildings in 3D, remote observation of rare species in the Himalayas, CT scanning of fossils, building and sustaining a YouTube channel, and many others.

The make: series will run during Trinity Term on Thursday lunchtimes and we are looking for talks to add to our line-up. If you or your team have used technology in an innovative way, or have created interesting digital resources for work, studies, research (or even pleasure!) and you want to share your discoveries and achievements with the rest of the University, contact us at courses@it.ox.ac.uk. We look forward to hearing from you.

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Exploring the potential of VR and AR in education

A blustery Friday afternoon in February saw an eager crowd gather for a workshop on virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR), organised as part of this year’s Engage programme. Over thirty people attended the session, which was divided into two halves: a series of short introductory talks by five presenters, followed by an opportunity to explore the technologies in a more hands-on environment.

The introductory presentations featured a mix of approaches and applications and offered a good introduction to what can be done and the type of work that is going on.

Participant saving the life of a newborn baby in the ‘LIFE’ VR game

  • Chris Paton (Tropical Medicine): LIFE – a game for saving lives. Visit the LIFE project website.
  • Fridolin Wild & Will Guest (Brookes University): Performance Augmentation: professional learning in Industry 4.0
  • Henry Jordan (Experimental Psychology): Using a simulated 3D environment to study how people can anticipate a robot’s movements (using an Oculus DK1).
  • Richard Smith (Bodleian Radcliffe Science Library): The libraries’ VR service. Exploring the Gear VR equipment. See the Bodleian Libguide on VR.
  • Simon Purins (Age Exchange): Meeting in No Man’s Land. Using LayAR to help school students to produce original and engaging responses to material about World War I. Visit the project website.

Encouraged by the interest in the event and the discussions during the session, the Technology Enhanced Learning Team in Academic IT has decided to set up a new special interest group. The aim is to bring together those interested in the use of AR and VR for education, research and outreach. The inaugural meeting will take place some time next term, offering interested parties an opportunity to discuss the scope of the group and its proposed activities. To be notified about the forthcoming meeting, please contact ylva.berglund@it.ox.ac.uk

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From the innovative to the norm(al): ALT-C 2017 conference

An attentive audience at ALT-C 2016

ALT-C is the annual conference of the Association for Learning Technology (ALT), providing an international platform for learning technology research, practice and policy work from across all educational sectors. The 2017 conference will run from 5th-7th September at the University of Liverpool under the umbrella title Beyond islands of innovation – how Learning Technology became the new norm(al). It will be chaired by Pete Alston and Professor Helen O’Sullivan, both of the University of Liverpool.

The call for proposals has been published, and abstracts are invited to address the following themes:

  • Empowerment in Learning Technology: supporting students through staff/student partnerships, students as influencers, developing skills and supporting staff at all levels;
  • Learning Spaces: impact of Learning Technology on the physical and the virtual, strategies for enabling innovation, effectively managing change;
  • Moving from the practical to the ‘publishable’: reporting from the forefront of innovation and research, policy and strategy fit (or not) for what’s ahead, sharing practice and scaling up Learning Technology through large scale institutional projects;
  • At the forefront of innovation: ethical implications of ‘data’ for learning and teaching, making use of data in assessment, the hype around AI, machine learning and learning analytics and what’s beyond;

There is also a ‘wildcard’ theme, under which you are free to contribute any aspect of your research, practice or policy work.

Members of Academic IT attend ALT-C every year, and more often than not we present as well. We invite any member of staff or research student who has an idea to consider submitting a proposal of their own. Send an email to academicit@it.ox.ac.uk if you’d like to discuss it with us.

The closing date for submissions is Monday 20th March.

Image credit: CC BY-NC Chris Bull via Flickr

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News from the ELI 2017 annual meeting

The 2017 Educause Learning Initiative (ELI) Annual Meeting was held in Houston, Texas from 12 to 15 February 2017, with the theme ‘Transforming the academy: Building communities of practice’. This is a smaller meeting than the EDUCAUSE annual conference, focusing on teaching and learning in higher education. The ELI meeting was attended by 530 participants, predominantly from universities and colleges across the USA.

The most notable topics of discussion at the meeting were ‘shopping for a new learning management system (LMS)’, and ‘next generation digital learning environments (NGDLEs). The notion of a NGDLE was first proposed in an ELI research paper by Brown, Dehoney and Millichap (2015a). It is seen as a slimmed-down approach to the institutional VLE, allowing individuals and institutions to use a ‘Lego approach … to construct learning environments tailored to their requirements and goals’ (Brown et al., 2015a, p. 1). The term ‘teaching and learning ecosystems’ was frequently used at the conference. McGill University in Canada has developed a visual representation of an ‘educational technologies ecosystem’, showing core LMS tools (‘Tools Within myCourses’) at the centre, ringed by a collection of possible ‘plugin’ tools and activities. The infographic is reproduced below; for a description of it, visit the ‘Learning Technologies’ page on McGill’s website.

Educational technologies ecosystem (from McGill University, 2017). To see a larger version of this graphic, click on it.

Another major theme at the ELI meeting was the resurgence of virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR). VR technologies first appeared in the 1960s (or earlier!: read this history), but appear now to be emerging after a prolonged ‘winter’. Posters, presentations, workshops and vendors made the technology available in a ‘virtual reality playground’ which proved to be very popular. At one VR workshop participants were invited to download an app on their smart phone and use the ‘cardboard’ (VR goggles) to view the handout provided to them (see image at right). This produced a 3D view of various body systems, which the user could choose to view, such as the nervous system or digestive system.

It is clear that many universities are in the process of considering a change in their VLE. Caveats were expressed in terms of costs involved in switching systems and migrating content, as well as not ‘jumping on the bandwagon’ of the VLE that happens to have the biggest market share. One presenter stated that ‘… comparing open source systems with commercial ones just doesn’t work. It’s like vegetarians going shopping for sausages, or like trying out coffins for size: you just don’t do it!’

Surprisingly, there was absolutely no talk at the meeting about MOOCs; such massive online courses must have passed the peak of their hype cycle! My take-away thoughts from the meeting were that NGDLEs and the possibilities they offer are worth exploring (as are the affordances of VR and AR for education); in all such initiatives, careful management of any change process is vital.

NMC Horizon Report 2017

The 2017 version of the annual NMC Horizon Report was launched during the final session of the meeting. The winners of the 2017 Horizon Report 2-minute video competition were announced. These videos show how institutions have implemented ideas that emerged in previous versions of the Horizon Report.


AR: augmented reality
LMS: learning management system (widely used in the USA)
MOOC: massive open online course
NGDLE: next generation digital learning environment
NMC: New Media Consortium
VLE: virtual learning environment (VLE) (widely used in the UK)
VR: virtual reality


Brown, M., Dehoney, J. & Millichap, N. (2015a). The Next Generation Digital Learning Environment, EDUCAUSE: ELI research report.
Brown, M., Dehoney, J. & Millichap, N. (2015b). What’s Next for the LMS?, EDUCAUSE Review.
Feldstein, M. (2016). What’s really to blame for the failure of our learning management systems? The Chronicle of Higher Education.
Finkelstein, A. & Goudzwaard, M. (2016).  The Trouble With Learning Management, EdSurge News.
McGill University. (2017). Educational technologies ecosystem. Teaching and Learning Services.
Petersen, R. (2016). Paradigm Shift: Detach thyself from ye olde LMS, blog post.

Image credit (VR workshop): CC BY Jill Fresen

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Courses Spotlight: Learn to make a video – 3 day, hands-on workshop

Video: Producing a mini documentary
13-15 March 2017, 9.15-16.15 each day
Cost: staff £180, students £90

Digital video cameraA comprehensive 3-day introduction to all the core skills needed to make a short documentary. You will have the opportunity to work on a project that reflects your interests with full support in filming and editing. We will go through all the stages of creating a mini-documentary and you will have the opportunity to obtain extensive hands-on experience.

  • Plan a video project
  • Learn techniques of filming
  • Practice front of camera skills
  • Equipment orientation and practice
  • Importing digital video
  • Edit and export finished projects

All equipment is provided. The course is taught using Macs and the iMovie software.

No previous video experience is necessary.

Further description | Bookings



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Taking control of media interviews and your online presence: upcoming courses

Engaging with the public is core to main of the University’s activities, informing research, enhancing teaching and learning, and increasing our impact on society. For example, we may inform and inspire the public about our research, consult with the public to find out theur views on our research or collaborate with the public on particular projects.

Effective public engagement requires training in specific skills, and the IT Learning Centre is pleased to announce two courses in March.

Media interviews: taking control
Thursday 2 March 9:15-16:15
Cost: staff £60, students £30

This one-day practical, hands-on course is for anyone who may be in the position of giving informal interviews to the media, or who needs to interview colleagues and others when creating a podcast or video. It will introduce you to simple techniques to help you with conducting an interview and being interviewed, for print, audio and video. The course will include:

  • What makes a good or bad interview
  • Preparing for the interview
  • Working with on-screen presence
  • Dealing with difficult questions
  • What to expect after the interview

You should be prepared to conduct interviews and to be interviewed as part of the activities.

Further description | Bookings

Online presence: taking control
Friday 17 March 9:15 – 12:15
Cost: staff £30, students £15

Creating an online presence can open up your research and teaching (or any interest!) to a global audience and is now essential in promoting yourself professionally to the outside world. This 3-hour workshop offers a comprehensive introduction to online presence and also gives a supported environment for you to plan, create, and add to your own projects. A number of relevant social media tools will be covered. The course will include:

  • What online presence is
  • Planning an initial strategy
  • Surveying the major outlets
  • Strategies to manage your presence
  • Phases in developing your presence
  • The challenges

The workshop section will be an opportunity for you to work on your own projects, so please bring any content including text, images, audio and video that you may wish to use.  Don’t worry if you are starting from scratch.

Further description | Bookings

Image credits:
    Top: CC BY-SA Christian Siedler via Flickr
    Bottom: CC0 (public domain) via Pixabay

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Enhancing teaching and learning with technology: two events for your diary

Enhancing teaching and learning with technology
Wednesday 1 March 14:00-17:00

Student looks at a tablet computer outside the Blavatnik School of Government University of OxfordJoin Dr Xavier Laurent and Emma Procter-Legg for a hands-on workshop that explores how to integrate technology in teaching to enhance student engagement.

In this session you will learn how to:

  • improve in-class communication;
  • check students’ understanding of key concepts and adapt your lectures on the fly;
  • support collaborative learning activities in class or at a distance;
  • embed mobile devices that many of us carry in a classroom setting (phone, tablet, or laptop);
  • share resources quickly, straight to your students’ devices.

Examples will use simple low-cost/free apps and technologies. Bring along your own device (BYOD) to make the most of this session.

Booking link

If you’re interested in hearing the experiences of other teaching staff, come along to this lunchtime networking session:

Diversify your teaching with digital tools
Monday 20 March 12.30-13.30

Are you curious how you can use digital tools for in-lecture polls, to engage tutorial students, to enhance feedback or to tackle learning challenges? Whether you already have experience with digital tools or are a complete beginner, join us to learn how you and your students can benefit from adopting new techniques and/or to share your own experiences.

The session will be led by Jocelyne Hughes (Continuing Education) and Lucy Tallents (Zoology) from the SHOAL project, and by Xavier Laurent and Steve Burholt (learning technologists, Academic IT). It is organised as part of the #OxEngage series.

Booking link

Image credits: by kind permission of Xavier Laurent

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