Oxford's IT Innovation Challenges support start-up digital projects that will improve the academic experience. Successful projects can go on to become full services, or become spin out opportunities with Isis Innovation.
By Alison Boulton
Out of the University’s £112 million IT Capital Plan, a small amount of funding was set side to support innovative digital projects. Over the past two years, successful projects generated from a student or staff member have been shared, supported and developed for the benefit of both the University and wider community.
‘This is a way of capturing creativity which is outside a departmental or subject remit. Sometimes ideas have been nurtured over time without a realisable outlet until now; others are a response to an immediate need which is yet unmet. All are considered on their merits, and the IT Challenge gives the best a real chance of success’, said Dr Stuart Lee, Deputy CIO of IT Services, and Reader in E-Learning and Digital Libraries.
The scheme sets challenges to encourage participants to focus their thoughts and to submit ideas for others to discuss. There is also an ‘open’ category where ideas can be contributed which are just that: a thought or impression that may bring benefit to the University but which requires additional input in the form of comment, technical advice or refinement to carry it to the next stage of development.
‘The aim is to bring forward ideas from the academic community and to offer effective support which may lead to an initial idea becoming a product, a full university service, or perhaps a commercial spin off project in collaboration with Oxford University Innovation.’ Dr Ylva Berglund Prytz, IT Innovation Facilitator said.
The Staff Challenge was issued twice a year, and open to all University-based staff. Projects submitted may be any value up to £60,000, lasting up to twelve months. The Student Challenge is open to all University students and issued once yearly. Individuals or teams of students can apply for projects up to £15,000.Colleagues from Oxford University Museums and the IT Services Mobile Development Team are working to engage visitors using mobile devices
If they reach the final stage proposers are asked to present for five minute on the idea, the benefit and what could be achieved with half the money.
‘We find that’s a good question which tests both the clarity of the idea, and the proof of concept’, Dr Berglund Prytz said.
Enhanced learning has resulted in projects such as Bibliotech: Spotify for e-Textbooks which enables students to access selected textbooks, at any time, and on any device; CabiNET is an online platform to mesh text, image and object in the learning process and Building a Writing Space helps writers plan and structure work. Anyone who has struggled to keep track of their own book or CD holdings can use Evershelf – a tool to catalogue personal collections but also to share locally.
Student welfare issues include the Exam Panic Mobile Website which helps students manage the anxiety and stress of revision; First Response App to help students respond quickly and effectively to witnessing or supporting survivors of sexual violence in Oxford, while MYSH helps management of self harm through distraction strategies.
As part of the University’s ongoing widening access programmes, go_girl: Code and Create engages with disadvantaged teenage girls who are no longer at school, but not in work, to develop their skills in IT, while OXBud digitally connects undergraduates and prospective students.
University museums have also benefitted from the IT Innovation Challenges. The Hidden Museum aims to deliver location-based digital content as well as simulations of objects to unlock the story and importance of the University collections.
‘The IT Challenges are a unique way of creating space to think and dream outside the everyday demands of university life, to the potential benefit and enhancement of many – in Oxford and beyond. Alumni’s expertise, experience, enthusiasm and willingness to mentor can contribute a huge amount to the success of these projects’ Lee said.
Images: Oxford University Images, Shutterstock, Oxford University Museums Project