The following brief scenarios are intended as illustrative examples of the benefits which might result from the identification and prioritisation of shared ICT services for Oxford on the one hand, and their implementation within a coherent information environment on the other. The scenarios are not intended as a statement of fact about how ICT should be implemented within Oxford but rather, by providing a range of profiles, to demonstrate the potential for ICT to address the day-to-day requirements of Oxford staff and students.
The scenarios are deliberately utopian in nature and present only a snapshot of any given role’s optimistic use of ICT. The emphasis is on the day-to-day activities relating to the role in which the person acts and the ICT assumptions are, as within the ICT Strategic Plan itself, intended as a means to fulfilling those requirements. The scenarios derive their priorities from Sections 1 and 2 of the ICT Strategic Plan and connect those requirements with the ICT priorities discussed in Section 5.
The following roles are represented by scenarios:85
Each scenario comprises the following elements:
Alex is in Blackwells coffee shop intending to build a bibliography for her next assignment. Her laptop is open and she has just used her Oxford username to securely access Oxford’s student portal over the public wireless network. She bought her laptop at a discount through a purchasing scheme in which her college had opted to participate. She could be sitting at home seeing the same set of online resources, or indeed anywhere where a network connection existed. Her experience of the student portal presents her with a variety of services and resources provided by her faculty, college, the library or other parts of the University. Her next assignment is intended to build on what she prepared for her previous tutorial. She retrieves and opens her completed assignment from her personal space within Oxford’s filestore system as if it was stored on her own laptop. Having reminded herself of the concluding points, she uses the library’s integrated search box to collect and save references, texts and digital images from a combination of local and national databases which she stores in her file space and connects together using a mindmap tool within the virtual learning environment. Whilst doing so, the portal alerts her to the latest potential sources of funding gathered from across the University and which match her saved profile. Her faculty’s calendar, which she has integrated with her personal calendar, has been updated by the faculty office to let her year know that Dr Edward's lecture has been moved to Thursday morning. It’s useful to see the details of the event but she also knows she has set the calendar to text her daily appointments (academic and social) to her new mobile phone. This thought reminds her to return to the portal and update her student record with her new phone number.
John Martin, a science graduate student, is part of a European-wide research initiative. His department has supplied him with a pre-configured PDA with network access. His PDA is effectively his lab notebook. He combines the PDA with a digital pen and paper. This is especially useful since the pen and paper gives him the same freedom to make sketches as the traditional bound notebooks of his undergraduate days, but with all the advantages of storage and manipulation on his PDA (synchronised with his desktop in the office). His PDA is also synchronised with the Oxford calendar, alerting him to not only forthcoming seminars of possible interest but also to key dates relating to research report deadlines and collaborator meetings. Back at his desk he submits his part of the lab's research report, noting that more details may be found in the digital lab notebook via the department’s implementation of a virtual research environment. He also views online the termly academic progress report drafted by his supervisor, records some comments, and submits his own section of the joint report.
Before returning to the lab he books a place on a course introducing Oxford’s campus grid, an event to which he was alerted from his saved search on the University’s database of aggregated training and professional development opportunities. The workshop is mainly for his interest since the analysis of data he is currently working on is not yet at the stage of requiring large amounts of computational power (unlike his friend Charles in Astrophysics). However, he knows his department is currently considering a proposal to join both their managed and teaching room computers to the campus grid.
Later that afternoon he participates in a research seminar presented in New York but delivered to him using personal desktop video conferencing. He has configured the conferencing software to record the seminar so that he can replay it on his PDA whilst travelling, for example, at a later date. The seminar is of particular interest because he has been co-writing an article with a fellow graduate student in New York. The current version (and the previous five versions) of the article is in his personal repository space, to which he has granted his New York collaborator access. He sees that she is also participating in the seminar and sends her greetings via private messaging. Before leaving for home he quickly pays his Battels account (deadline today) via a link to the college payment system in his view of the Oxford portal.
Catherine Delancy combines her working and family life with the pursuit of a part-time professional masters degree with the University. Although she has selected to stretch the modular course over a number of years and despite living some considerable distance from Oxford, she is keen to benefit as much as possible from being a member of the Oxford community. She maintains regular contact with other students on the course and the teaching staff via personal email, and online collaboration tools, including messenger technologies and voice-over-ip telephone. Many of her fellow students are in different countries and different time zones, so asynchronous communication tends to work best for the group as a whole. She is currently experimenting with tutorial sessions using desktop video-conferencing over her home broadband connection, having securely shared her essay with her tutor using a combination of the virtual learning environment and her personal file space. As a registered student Oxford’s identity management system knows who she is and to what she is entitled to access. She has been allocated an Oxford username and can effectively make use of the student portal, the virtual learning environment, as well as research databases, personal filestore, discounted software licences, etc. She also appreciates the live online support she can receive should she have questions about using library or computer facilities. At periodic intervals she pays the next instalment of her fees and submits her part of the joint termly supervision report online. On the occasions she does visit Oxford, she connects her laptop to any convenient network point or makes use of wireless access. She sees the same familiar portal interface and range of resources as if she was back home on the other side of the world. In fact, her experience is not dissimilar to a resident student working at home during the vacation or a member of staff working away from the office.
Dr Heaney's research is taking her into an increasingly unfamiliar area and she is seeking someone to assist in validating her results. She uses the Oxford’s Research Discovery Service to locate a potential collaborator in another department. She also discovers the existence of an international research project led by Oxford which is making use of much the same primary data as her but for quite different purposes. Her own data would complement what the project already has and she would benefit from participating in a broader network of expertise. She emails the PI and includes a link to her research profile page on the RDS, from which her research publications and, in some cases the supporting data, can be retrieved from the institutional research repository. Like Mr Martin she is keen on making use of technologies which enable collaborative working. She is an active member of one or two email discussion lists in her area. An email informs her that a colleague in a partner institution has uploaded a preprint for comment to the project's working space in Oxford's research repository. She glances through the paper and makes use of the system's version control to add a reference and link to one of her own published papers before suggesting to colleagues an online conference to discuss outputs and the next phase of the project. Later that week she completes a proposal for supplementary funding and submits the final budget to her department administrator using a project costing tool integrated with both the University’s financial system and the online system preferred by the research council.
It’s Sunday afternoon and Dr Wilson is working from his study at home using his personal laptop. Over his broadband link he is able to securely access all his documents, library databases, and the University systems for which he is authorised as if he was sitting in his college office on a Monday morning. He completes the last of his draft examination papers and, securely, makes them available for comment by the external examiner. He is reminded of the submission of an essay by his undergraduate student, Alex, within his Faculty’s view of the virtual learning environment (VLE). He has a quick read online and sees an unfamiliar journal article cited. He quickly locates a digital copy, adding the link to his own personal reading list. If the article is any use he will update his public reading list. He consults his personal view of the University-wide calendar and suggests a date with which to meet with Alex. At this meeting he will also discuss and finalise Alex's third-year options, after which Alex will register her options via the Oxford portal which, in turn, interoperates with the student records system and the VLE. Finally, he uploads to the VLE a set of gobbets for discussion next week by his tutorial group (the members of which are duly and automatically alerted by email).
Next day, Dr Wilson meets with Susan, a third year D.Phil student he jointly supervises with Professor Gosford. He discusses some final changes to her thesis after which Susan uploads a revised version of the thesis (with changes clearly and automatically highlighted) to a secure area on the institutional research repository, for a final review by Professor Gosford.
Today Mr Rhodes is working in one of the Department’s annex buildings up the hill. His department supplies him with a managed desktop environment, one of the advantages of which, is that he can login with his Oxford username to any one of the department-owned machines with his personal filestore available and his profile settings intact. He views his schedule for the day on the Department’s view of the Oxford calendar. He enters the deadline for final amendments to the lecture list, reminding them of the Web address of the online system. The appropriate subject groups duly receive an alert and an entry in their personal calendars. An email from Professor Reader requests, rather urgently, a budget outturn for one of her research projects. This he can produce reasonably quickly since the department’s research management system includes reporting templates for various funding bodies into which the relevant figures are dynamically retrieved from the University’s financial system. Just before lunch Mr Rhodes submits the draft minutes of last week’s meeting of the Department Board to the appropriate section of the Department’s intranet repository. The system alerts members of the Board to their availability and one or two members take the opportunity to make some minor corrections before re-submitting to the repository.
Professor Archer circulates the latest draft of her Division's research strategy. Part of the strategy focusses on identifying the priority areas for development, building on a combination of research strengths and a desire to respond to known funding opportunities. A section of the research strategy considers the infrastructure required to support new and evolving research areas. It is clear to Professor Archer, for example, that the Division with its many departments, research groups and active individual researchers, requires a means by which the Division's recognised stakeholders, as well as prospective students and even academic staff within the Division, can quickly identify the range and depth of expertise which lies within the Division. Professor Archer fears that the Division is losing opportunities for industrial collaboration simply because research managers are unable to obtain a clear picture of where the Division's strengths lie. She does not, of course, have the solution immediately to hand but delegates consideration of the challenge to the Divisional IT Committee (since an online solution would seem to be appropriate).
A working party convened by the IT Committee, and comprising interested parties from a number of departments, are allocated a relatively small budget to undertake a scoping study. They quickly establish that not only have other universities attempted, with varying degrees of success, to implement a catalogue of research and expertise, but a department within another Division appears to have developed a promising solution which is extensible enough to be potentially reusable within Professor Archer's Division. Furthermore, the Research Services section has a system to track research submissions which should interoperate with divisional catalogues of research and expertise. The working group reports back its findings. At a joint meeting of the heads of divisions there is a shared concern that the University does not have a coherent approach to capturing and disseminating not only information about research expertise but, where desirable, the record of research and its outputs. Clearly, the forthcoming RAE will require significant effort to be devoted to research reporting.
At their bi-weekly meeting the Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Research raises the issue with the Director of ICT. It is agreed that, with some minor modifications, the report produced within Professor Archer's Division should be brought to the next monthly meeting of the Implementation arm of the PRAC ICT Sub-committee, chaired by the Director of ICT. The principal and overall requirement raised by the heads of divisions is supported. It is recognised that a coherent approach to the management and dissemination of research information will need to cover and integrate a range of existing systems in different parts of the University, and it may be necessary to develop some new services to plug existing gaps. The Implementation arm asks the Architecture Group to begin scoping the interoperability requirements; a task force comprising individuals from within the Divisions, Research Services, Library and computing services agree to develop the business case further. The User Forum invites guest experts from two or three other institutions so that a cross-section of Oxford users can hear how others have developed and implemented similar systems.
The activity is scoped as a programme of work with a series of discrete projects, many of which include enhancing components already existing within departments (and, in one case, a college), as well as some new developments to ensure interoperability between the relevant shared enterprise systems. The programme is particularly complex due to the variety of available data sources and systems. The PRAC ICT Sub-committee approves the programme and the proposed financial model which combines a proposal for pilot funding from the John Fell Fund, matching funding from divisional boards, and additional central funding to implement key interoperability requirements (with additional benefits for other services).
Whilst the programme was developed over a three-year period some quick wins are identified simply through expanding or reusing systems already developed and ensuring that control of the programme and its constituent projects remained with the originating users. Professor Archer later reports that a spin-off benefit of initiating and being involved in this part of the research infrastructure programme was a contribution to the sense of shared purpose amongst the departments of the Division and a willingness to participate in establishing a service in which they felt a sense of common ownership.
Francis, a departmental IT support officer, begins the week with a brief meeting of the Division's IT support officers. With the approval of their respective departments the IT officers have recently implemented a common online helpdesk which enables them to assist with non-specialised queries and provide some level of holiday cover. The group work well together though each recognises that even within the same Division departments have specialised subject requirements. Informally, at least, most would prefer to share generic support whilst gaining more expertise in supporting, for example, the research projects within their departments or advising on software to assist teaching. Francis' department approves his attending a three-day IT project management course with two colleagues from other divisions. Attendance at the course has been part-funded by both the division and the ICT Forum, with an overall aim to increase expertise in IT project management methodologies within divisions and departments. He enters the dates into the team's view of the central calendar, confident that in his absence any emergencies will be covered by his IT colleagues in the division. Having dealt with a couple of queries about digital images and databases, and upgraded the deputy administrator's PC, he continues working on a proposal to the ICT Innovation fund to pilot a method for getting legacy calendars to synchronise effectively with the central service. If successful, he hopes to be released for half a day a week to collaboration with a colleague from Physics and the groupware support people within OUCS.
Theresa Moneypenny begins her day with an alert from the Oxford's news service of a research breakthrough by a team which includes two members of her college. She feels the item would be of interest for the alumni online newsletter but in the meantime ensures that a link to the press release is contained within her college news feed.
She resumes the final planning for a gaudy dinner on a Friday with the three-yearly garden party on the following day. Invitations for both were sent out three months ago, and replies have been received through her events management system. The Bursary has recently opted into a shared University service which enables the college to accept credit card payments for this event. Fortunately, the payment system seamlessly interoperates with the online component of the events management system. She generates lists for the catering department and the porters’ lodge. The events system has previously alerted her that one guest will be in a wheelchair and another is diabetic. The college has opted to allow its database to interact with a centrally-supported alumni contact management system. Potential benefactors have been flagged by the Development Office, and an attendance list (including career details) with these people marked has already been sent to the President, Fellow for Alumni and the Bursar, who will all attend both events. The list of ‘missing’ alumni for the years of the gaudy is taken from the database to circulate to alumni coming to the dinner.
She checks with the IT support staff that the equipment for the talk to be given at the garden party is set up and the presentation she received yesterday uploaded. There is a breakfast reception in New York timed to coincide with the garden party and she checks that the video conferencing facility is working. This will allow alumni to greet each other from both events. When alumni arrive at the events, Theresa Moneypenny and her assistant update the contacts database on a laptop via a wireless link. A last minute phone call is required to the caterers - their contact details have been downloaded to her phone from her contact management system. They also update the event's web page with images and video clips from the garden party (having been given permission at the time of recording).
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