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Preview: News from Computing Services

IT Services News


DARS v4 upgrade delivers step change in user engagement


The University of Oxford’s Development and Alumni Relations System (DARS) was upgraded successfully on Friday 16 February. This delivered some important operational efficiencies and enhancements; it also enables the University to continue to receive donations via credit card and benefit from continued technical support from software vendor, Blackbaud.

In many respects, the upgrade involved all of the project phases you might expect. However, the DARS v4 project team experimented with some fun ways to engage the user-community and adopt a user-centric approach to project planning. This included the decision to hold a festival of testing – Test Fest! The outcome of these lively testing events (complete with ‘Test Fest’ t-shirts!) provided important insight about the level and type of training and support the wider user-community needed to make a successful transition to DARS v4. Some great suggestions were surfaced from the DARS Super Users about the best way to support the upgrade; this included the idea of offering every DARS user the opportunity to attend a 30-minute DARS v4 Preview session. The project team think that these sessions significantly alleviated any anxieties users might have had about the upgrade. This created a positive context for the upgrade and enabled us to predict and plan for what users would respond well to and put plans in place for areas that might require additional support.

Other outreach activities included working side-by-side with DARS Super Users; the team worked closely with this group to develop a Super User Pack, with resources and tools to support their teams. The DARS v4 upgrade coincided with Valentine’s Day; the team created a fun campaign email -- ‘There’s a lot to love about DARS v4’ -- to focus users’ attention on the benefits gained, rather than time lost on the system.

Following the upgrade on 16 February, so far there have been no major issues reported. By the end of the first week after go live, helpdesk incidents had fallen below January averages. Post go-live drop-in session attendance has been low, indicating that users have made a good transition with minimal need for support. The response from the user-community has been extremely positive and the team is delighted that the approach taken to prepare users for v4 delivered a positive experience and a smooth upgrade.

To deliver a successful upgrade feels good; but the project team wanted to do more than this. Developing a user-centric approach has established some strong foundations that will serve future projects and drive increased DARS community engagement.

OxTALENT competition 2018

2018-03-05T00:00:00 to 2018-04-27T00:00:00

Have you been impressed by a member of staff or a student who has used technology in an exciting way? Have you created a great app, or designed an eye-catching conference poster or data visualisation?

IT Services has launched the University’s annual OxTALENT competition to celebrate and reward the innovative use of digital technologies to enhance teaching, learning, research, and outreach. The awards will be presented at a red carpet evening attended by Professor Martin Williams, Pro-VC (Education). The competition is open to all students and staff, and awards can be given either to individuals or to groups. You can submit an entry yourself or nominate a colleague who has impressed you with their use of technology. For more information, including a list of competition categories and guidelines on how to enter, please visit the Digital Education at Oxford website:

If you spot any individual or team whom you think we should consider for an award, let us know at

Keep up to date on Twitter by following the hashtag #oxtalent2018.

OxTALENT closing date: Friday 27 April.

Education IT Programme Update - Hilary term issue


The Hilary term issue of the Education IT Programme Update is now available, featuring updates for all Academic IT and Student Systems projects within the remit of the programme, including:

  • Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) Review - announcing Canvas@Oxford
  • WebLearn Admin Use Reduction – identifying appropriate alternative technologies
  • Graduate Supervision Reporting (replacing GSS) – pilot over the summer
  • Tutorial Management System – replacing OxCORT
  • Student Progression - digitising paper processes (includes GSO forms)
  • Research Thesis Digital Submission – now available for all research degree students​

The latest issue can be found on the Education IT Programme Update​ webpage. To subscribe, send an email to

VLE Review: announcing Canvas@Oxford


Subject to contractual and commercial approval, Canvas has been chosen as the new virtual learning environment (VLE) for the University of Oxford. The decision to use Canvas, provided by Instructure, is the result of a process that began with the 2016 Digital Education Strategy implementation consultation, which identified the need for a more intuitive and user-friendly VLE. Following a rigorous selection process, Canvas was identified as the solution which would provide the best quality of user experience to support teaching and learning at Oxford.  


Next steps for Canvas and the availability of WebLearn

In the coming weeks and months the Canvas@Oxford team will be identifying and working with early adopters who will migrate their content and launch their new look courses in Canvas in the 2018-2019 academic year. This will be followed by rollout to the wider University in 2019-2020. There are also plans to run a number of roadshows to demonstrate Canvas in Trinity term 2018.

WebLearn will remain available for now, including for purposes other than teaching and learning, until alternative solutions are identified, support is in place and prior notice has been given. Details are on the What will happen to WebLearn? web page.

If you have any questions or queries please contact

University IT Innovation Challenge Staff 2018 now open

2018-02-26T00:00:00 to 2018-03-25T00:00:00

The IT Innovation Challenges 2018 staff round is now open for submission of ideas. This call is open to all Oxford University staff* who have ideas for digital projects. Successful ideas will receive funding of up to £50,000.

The theme for this year is The Intelligent Campus.

Artificial intelligence, the internet of things, and virtual/augmented reality are technologies that have arrived and have the potential to tackle some of Higher Education’s big challenges. This year’s IT Innovation challenge invites you to come with ideas for projects that improve the staff/student experience at Oxford through exploring these emerging technologies – the use of smart campus technology, AI to speed up administrative processes, AR to enhance our our public spaces, VR to create immersive learning experiences.

As always, we also welcome other ideas for projects that bring benefit to the University, its staff and/or students through digital means.

Ideas can be submitted between 26 February-25 March 2018 at the Oxford Ideas site. Any University member can see, comment on and vote for submitted ideas.

For questions about the scheme, the process of applying or anything else, please explore the FAQ or contact

* Please note: IT Innovation Challenges are open to any member of staff within the University. Due to financial constraints we cannot fund college-only applications but we would encourage college staff to submit their ideas and to seek collaboration with University departments.

Teamwork - making IT work


As the first point of contact for IT Services, the Service Desk is a lively place to work and no two days are the same. With combined experience of over 40 years, the team members are able to use their varied knowledge to resolve many queries on first contact. They help students, academic staff and administrative staff within Oxford, the UK and overseas, and can direct queries to more specialist teams within the department as required.

In this term's Blueprint magazine, you can read more about our Service Desk team and the developments in providing first-line customer support; including a new tool for remote support and a self-service portal allowing customers to better access commonly requested services.

As Sydney Hicks, one of our Service Desk Analysts says 'Our customers contact us because they have a request, question and/or problem. Whatever their reason, and whether it's simple or complex, the bit I enjoy most is sending them away happy'.

Contact the team 24/7 by telephone on (01865 6)12345. You can also email, or use our self-service portal

If you are interested in joining the team, please see our current vacancies.


Research Skills Toolkit benefits 270 students


For postgraduate students embarking on the world of academic research, it can be daunting to sort through all the tools and apps and study helps out there.

For a week in January, the IT Learning Centre welcomed over 270 research students to a special event that aims to help with exactly that: the “Research Skills Toolkit”.

Each year, working together with colleagues from the Bodleian Libraries, we run a series of lively short workshops where research students can try out a range of tools and apps. Each workshop offers a carousel of hands-on tasks, so researchers get a taste of what’s available, and can think about what will work for them. Experienced librarians and IT Teachers are on hand to discuss how each tool could apply to the individual’s research, and to point out further learning resources.

“Students from all the Divisions attended the special event”, said Pamela Stanworth, one of the event organisers, “so we know this is an area where Oxford students welcome help and input”.

Participants told us that they like the interactive, carousel format and the chance to try tools out for themselves, each going at their own speed:

“extremely well executed and very dynamic”

“I liked how interactive it was and the fact there were people there to help you”

Topics included:

  • What’s your h-index?
  • Free powerful software for audio and image editing
  • Neat ways to analyse your research data
  • Tips for managing your thesis and bibliographies 
  • Understand journal impact factors and journal citation reports

The workshops are over for this year – but there are lots of resources available online, all year round. You can still explore the Research Skills Toolkit website at . You can look at the tasks that our students tried out, and read about scores of other tools and apps that support university research.


Oxford Mosaic web platform announces new widgets


An increasing number of colleagues around the University are benefitting from recent developments on the Oxford Mosaic web platform. Since January 2017, 101 new sites have been set up with 269 new content editors joining; in the last month alone there have been 855,518 page views on Mosaic platform sites. Continual development of the platform is essential to ensure content editors have the tools they require to build engaging sites for their users.

Last September, the new Ashmolean Museum website was rebuilt on Mosaic by Museum staff using a suite of new widgets to produce highly engaging page designs - which went down a storm with site visitors! The new widgets, built by the Mosaic development team to designs developed with input from 2 web design agencies, introduce a range of new designs for laying out grids and listings and the items within them, including Grid, List, Banner, Carousel, Slideshow advanced and Image Gallery advanced widgets.

All new sites provisioned since 1 October 2017 have already been using the new widgets, and they can also be viewed in action on the updated Mosaic Demo website. You can read more information about the new widgets and the phased removal of the old ones, as well as view a listing widget guide diagram, on our website.

In the next few months we are also adding further new widgets for adding Vacancy Listings (integrating with the University’s Jobs feed), Custom CSS stylesheets and Custom JavaScript to your site. Keep an eye on the Release Notes for when they become available.

Newsletter from IT Services


The Hilary edition of News from IT Services has been published. The purpose of the newsletter is to keep you informed of the projects and services within IT Services, to provide examples of how we support the work of the University and to highlight forthcoming events. In this edition, we look at the many and varied lunchtime talks offered by the IT Learning Centre, whether you are looking for practical tips or information on the latest technologies. We also describe improvements to searching the University web pages and updates on TONE, Chorus, the VLE Review and Nexus365.

You can subscribe to receive future editions by sending an email to with the subject line 'subscribe'. To stop receiving the newsletter you can unsubscribe by emailing with the subject line 'unsubscribe'. If you have any feedback, comments or suggestions, the Communications and Web Office would very much like to hear from you; please contact

Plagiarism awareness courses for Hilary term 2018


IT Services offers a variety of taught courses to support the use of the plagiarism awareness software Turnitin. There is also one course for students, to raise awareness about plagiarism and how to avoid it.

All sessions are free of charge but places are limited and booking is required. Click on the links provided to book a place, or for further information.

Plagiarism awareness courses (Turnitin):

Plagiarism: WebLearn and Turnitin

Thurs 8 Feb

12:30 – 13:30

Week 4

Plagiarism: Interpreting Originality Reports using Turnitin

Thurs 15 Feb

12:30 – 13:30

Week 5

Plagiarism: Awareness and avoidance (for students)

Thurs 22 Feb

12:30 – 13:30

Week 6

Staff User Group meeting:

Turnitin User Group

Fri 23 March

14:00 – 16:00 + refreshments

Week 10


WebLearn courses for Hilary term 2018


IT Services offers a variety of taught courses to support the use of WebLearn. All courses are free of charge and course books for the formal courses (3-hour sessions) can be downloaded for self-study.

Places at the face-to-face sessions are limited and booking is required. Click on the links provided to book a place, or for further information.

WebLearn courses (3 hours each):

WebLearn: Fundamentals (once per month)

Fri 26 Jan

09:15 – 12:15

Week 2


Wed 7 Feb

14:00 – 17:00

Week 4


Wed 28 Feb

09:15 – 12:15

Week 7

WebLearn: Design and content

Wed 14 Feb

14:00 – 17:00

Week 5

Byte-sized lunch time sessions:

These focus on particular tools with plenty of time for questions and discussion

WebLearn Bytes: Site Management and Resources

Fri 26 Jan

12:30 – 13:30

Week 2

WebLearn Bytes: Assignments tool

Fri 9 Feb

12:30 – 13:30

Week 4

WebLearn Bytes: Lessons tool

Fri 23 Feb

12:30 – 13:30

Week 6

WebLearn Bytes: Surveys

Fri 2 Mar

12:30 – 13:30

Week 7

Staff User Group meeting:

WebLearn User Group

Wed 21 Mar

14:00 – 16:00 + refreshments

Week 10


VBA: Kick-off


The VBA (Visual Basic for Applications) programming language is available in all the major Microsoft Office applications and can be used to write programs to carry out repetitive tasks or complex operations. This workshop will introduce you to a real VBA program and under guidance from your teacher, you will explore how a typical VBA program works without getting into the detail of the language syntax.

The version of VBA used will be VBA for Excel, however the basics are the same for all versions of VBA. Once you have seen how a program works, you will be encouraged to start an online course that will give you a more formal introduction to the language. The online course can be continued after the workshop, and for the following three weeks you will have access to the workshop leader to ask questions about the course or to get clarification about the concepts. 


  • Recognise the structure of a VBA program
  • Identify components such as variables and constants, selection and repetition structures, functions and objects
  • Be able to make simple changes to a VBA program
  • Have engaged with an online course to learn the basics of programming in VBA.

Improvements to the University web search (Funnelback) service


The University web search service utilises Funnelback search technology to facilitate improved site searching across the Oxford domain. The service is maintained and managed by IT Services and is the preferred method for providing University searching and internal searching.

In recent months the Web and Emerging Technologies team has been making improvements to the University web search service using Funnelback. Result accuracy for web searches across Oxford sites has increased, as has the number of tools available to site owners. Specific enhancements include:

Click tracking enabled. Funnelback can track which results are clicked and this data can be used to provide improved result rankings. This will be used to improve the quality of search data on Oxford sites.

Curator rules available. Site owners can define a trigger and resulting action to customise search results on a site; for example, for a specific search result you can specify that a certain page or document should be promoted based upon a user's query (also known as 'best bets'). Site owners can also define synonyms for common search terms to ensure users are presented with the best results.

Improvements to indexing schedule. It now takes less time for Funnelback to crawl sites meaning that pages get indexed more quickly, results are more up to date and the process is much more efficient.

If you are a site owner interested in utilising these enhancements, please email and the Web and Emerging Technologies team will provide guidance on setting up a dashboard. If you have any general enquiries about Funnelback, please refer to the information on the Help site or email the team

Sign up for an IT course in Hilary term


The schedule of IT classroom-based courses and workshops for Hilary term (Jan-March) is live and waiting for you to book! 

A full list of courses can be found on the IT Learning Centre web pages or login to our course booking system (using your Oxford Single Sign On) and see what's available. Tips on searching for a course can be found here

Online courses are available instantly through the University’s subscription to – see the Lynda website for details.

For more information or advice on which courses would be beneficial to you, email

Happy New Year!

IT support arrangements for Christmas 2017


IT Services will close for Christmas on Friday 22nd December at 4pm. We will reopen on Tuesday 2nd January 2018 at 8:30am. If you need help and support for IT over the festive period our out-of-hours phone support line will be operational. This can be reached using our normal help line number of 01865 (6)12345.

IT Services and partnering service units will operate support services over the Christmas 2017 period. Please view our closure information for details. 

Learning paths from


There are over 6,000 courses available in - a high quality online library of video-based courses that can be watched anytime, anywhere. As a member of the University, you have free access to these courses through your Single Sign-On (SSO) account at One of the few 'criticisms' about is that there are so many courses it is hard to know where to start! To help with this, has introduced learning paths - collections of courses that lead you through gaining the skills you need. For example, there is a learning path called 'I want to be a web designer'. In addition, the IT Learning Centre has selected around fifty courses that we think are particularly useful to the University. You can see this collection at and look for courses which have a format of 'online'.

Free Research Skills Toolkit workshops


Are you using the smartest tools and strategies to get your research organised?

Sharpen up your research skills in the new year, with a free Research Skills Toolkit workshop. The teams from IT Services and the Bodleian Libraries bring you a hands-on encounter with a range of tools and techniques for your study and research.

We’re planning separate workshops, to focus on the work of each Division - choose one of the 2-hour sessions in January and book your place now!

Medical Sciences

15 January

Book your place


17 January

Book your place

Social Sciences

16 January

Book your place


18 January

Book your place


16 January

Book your place


18 January

Book your place


15 January

Book your place


17 January

Book your place


19 January

Book your place

Read more at the “workshops” page of the Research Skills Toolkit website or follow us on @OxResearchSkill.

How to contact the central IT Service Desk


The staff on our central IT Service Desk are here to provide help on a wide range of IT issues and to direct your requests to the appropriate team within the department. They are on hand to answer a huge range of queries – from lost passwords and broken laptops, to business system enquiries and issues of information security. In addition to local IT Support Staff, our central team supports students, academics, and administrative staff, whether they are working in Oxford, at home or abroad.

There are a number of ways to contact the team and get help from IT Services:

  • Telephone – 01865 612345 (open 24/7), the best way to contact the team
  • Self Service – an online portal available via the ‘View requests’ link on the IT Services website and Help site. Via the Self Service Catalogue you can make a service request online from anywhere at any time. The online forms are designed to capture all the essential information required by our support and service teams, making the process more efficient.

Over the coming year we plan to expand the range and scope of self-service requests available to our customers through the Self Service Catalogue. Next time you need to make an IT service request, give the Service Desk a call and one of our friendly team will guide you through the process.


Image credit: John Cairns Photography

New content and homepage on the IT help site


The IT help site ( has been refreshed and updated to improve access to essential information. After consultation with students and staff, the content has been re-structured to aid discovery and direct you to the information you require.

What has changed?

•        The most popular requests and login links are available directly from the homepage, such as how to access wifi, login to Nexus email and manage passwords.  

•        The homepage also features 12 topics areas for browsing the site.  Each one leads to a page providing content links, related help areas and resources. 

•        Once within a topic, clear navigation is provided directing you to the information you need.

We encourage you to visit the new-look site and provide us with some feedback. Send your comments to



Image credit: iStock - ajt

Further restrictions on executable email attachments


On Tuesday 28 November, IT Services will introduce further restrictions on executable email attachments as part of measures to reduce the risks of email-borne malware. 

These will be in addition to the restrictions introduced in September, and follow further analysis and evaluation within the University's Information Security Team. 

The restrictions will cover the file extensions listed below, and will apply to attachments to all messages passing through Oxmail, whether entering, leaving or internal to the University. 

If any attachment has a name ending in one of these extensions, the message will be rejected, with a brief summary of the reason for rejection and a link to the IT Services Help website for further information.

The vast majority of messages with such attachments are malicious in nature, but a handful of people may require assistance in finding alternative methods for sharing their files, for example using a passworded .zip file, or the OxFile service. We also note that .lnk shortcut files may occasionally be emailed in error, rather than the target of the shortcut.

The new restrictions will apply to the following file extensions:

  • .bat - DOS batch file
  • .cmd - Windows NT batch file
  • .cpl - Windows Control Panel addon
  • .lnk - Windows Command shortcut
  • .msc - Microsoft Management Console snap-in
  • .msh1 - Monad (old PowerShell)
  • .msh1xml - Monad (old PowerShell)
  • .msh2 - Monad (old PowerShell)
  • .msh2xml - Monad (old PowerShell)
  • .msh - Monad (old PowerShell)
  • .mshxml - Monad (old PowerShell)
  • .pif - DOS Shortcut
  • .ps1 - PowerShell
  • .ps1xml - PowerShell
  • .ps2 - PowerShell
  • .ps2xml - PowerShell
  • .psc1 - PowerShell
  • .psc2 - PowerShell
  • .reg - RegEdit file
  • .scf - Windows Explorer command file
  • .swf - Shockwave Flash 
  • .vb - Visual Basic script
  • .vba - Visual Basic module
  • .vbe - Visual Basic script (encrypted)
  • .vbs - Visual Basic script
  • .ws - Windows Script file
  • .wsc - Windows Script Component
  • .wsf - Windows Script file
  • .wsh - Windows Scripting Host

For reference the following file extensions are already blocked:

  • .com - DOS Executable
  • .exe - Windows Executable
  • .gadget - Windows Vista Gadget
  • .jar - Java Archive
  • - JavaScript
  • .jse - JavaScript encrypted
  • .msi - MS Installer
  • .msp - MS Installer Patch
  • .scr - Screensaver

These blocks cover filetypes we consider to pose significant risk but which are least likely to cause problems for legitimate email traffic. Many other filetypes can of course contain malware, and some may come in the form of archives such as .zip files.

University's Information Security Team will continue to investigate further email security measures with a view to implementation over the coming months.