Student Redevelopment Group - OBIS

Tuesday, 18 December 2012

The Student Redevelopment Group for November discussed how OBIS can best meet the needs of students in the new library and teaching building

OBIS Pilot Computer BankThe Student Redevelopment Group convened in November to discuss with OBIS potential IT solutions for the new library and teaching building. This article covers the key points from the meeting and provides further information on some of OBIS’s projects.

Who are OBIS?

Oxford Brookes Information Solutions (OBIS) is the directorate providing, managing and supporting the University's IT services and infrastructure for all staff and students. Its four main departments include: Information Systems, Technology, Business Partnerships and Customer Services.
OBIS’s IT vision is to inspire students to study at Brookes by provisioning innovative mobile-based IT which increases choice over where, when and how to study, aligned with the University’s teaching and learning aspirations.
OBIS will support staff in ‘smart’ working through state-of-the-art IT integrated with the built environment and remotely accessible from home. IT professionals will partner with academics, students and external organisations to create innovative sector-leading IT solutions.

Key Points from the meeting

A number of important points were brought up during the meeting. The general feeling of the students was that there are IT issues but OBIS are driving forward change and the steps forward are greatly appreciated. The key things students would like to see being developed in all our campuses are:-
  • Ensure all software on pooled computers is kept up to date. When a program updates on a student’s own computer and not on a pooled computer it can create compatibility issues. 
  • Students highlighted that they have found @OBIScomms on twitter a useful communication device and were keen for its continued use. Students could not see the need for OBIS to be on Facebook and don’t want any automated messages repeating themselves on twitter.
  • There are a couple of different pilot schemes testing potential IT solutions around the university, plus computers in different places have different software loaded on them; to note particular graphic programs. Students would like an easy to use map highlighting where all the computer rooms are. This will be delivered in Semester 2.
  • Along with the map of where the computer rooms are, they would also like the map to detail whether the computers have any specific programs on them. Students would also prefer the PC finder to be a web page rather than an app as not all students have smart phones or tablets. It can now be found at
  • Not all students are IT experts.  Even if some computers have all the bells and whistles, if students aren’t told about them, their full potential may not be realised. Opportunities for students to learn about new features could really enhance future IT developments.
  • When engaging with students the best way to optimise reach is through as many touch points as possible. Some students wanted information to be disseminated by their lecturers others weren’t keen on this and wanted it to come through social media or source the info from a website.
  • Students like the idea of the ‘Service Catalogue’ concept. A FAQ knowledge base where students could go to resolve queries and issues prior to having to contact the Service Desk.

Key Issues

A couple of issues came up on more than one occasion during the meeting. Students have had issues with both printing and the Eduroam wifi system during this semester. Many of the Eduroam issues have been resolved during the semester. Robin Breathe, the Chief Technical Officer for OBIS, made it clear that if students were still having problems with Eduroam they should email the OBIS Service desk and report the issue. For more information on how to get the best out of you devices whilst using a wireless connection at Oxford Brookes you’ll find Wireless Networking at Brookes to be a useful link. The University has spent £35,000 on wi-fi since September, with total investment todate being £400,000.
Printing wise the key issues related to a lack of colour printers, being charged when printing has been done in the wrong format, and the length of time it takes for printing to go through the system. Students highlighted it would be useful to have a colour printer that could be accessible outside of the library and the OBIS shop.
In some cases students have had to wait 45 minutes for the printing to come through the system. Printing solutions are being looked into by OBIS. Potential solutions could involve a system where students will be able to log into any printer around the campus; this would prevent specific computers from getting stacked up with print requests. Stakeholders from across the University are currently refining the requirements for a new print management solution.

Future Thinking

Students would like a headline grabbing piece of IT equipment in the new building as it would be great to have something to shout about. The day we open the new building many students in the UK will be looking at Brookes. Having some form of show stopping technology will help promote our university and engender pride with students at Brookes.
Exeter University was highlighted as a good example. Having recently opened a new building, the people who visited the university spoke mainly about the Microsoft Surface tables that were being used.
There were a couple of suggestions that students liked the idea of. A large touch screen wall in the entrance/forum area was suggested. As well as having a large link to Oxford Brookes’ website it could also tell people about what makes our university so great; for example our successes in research and alumni stories. A large Twitter wall where students could engage with others on specific topics was also suggested.
With regards to the IT equipment in the computer rooms, the consensus from the students was that as long as the software was up to date and the computers worked efficiently, they didn’t need to be the fanciest on the market. Some students did highlight that they wanted a provision of Macs as this is what they are used to using. Some students were less keen on too many Macs being purchased due to their cost. It was noted however, having Macs was necessary for certain courses. Mac rooms should be highlighted on the computer map in the Service Catalogue. It was widely agreed that OBIS should be able to support the needs of Mac or other IT users as well as the typical PC user.

Samsung Chromebooks – free short term loans

Samsung Chromebook rentalChromebooks are fast internet-based laptops which work on the eduroam wi-fi network. They run Google applications like mail, docs, groups and calendar, so can be used for email, internet searching and accessing the virtual learning environment.  90 Chromebooks are available to loan from our libraries, 30 on each campus. They can be loaned for up to 4 hours to use within the library. We are also trialling a self-service Chromebook cabinet, where students can borrow a device for short term usage, using their student photo ID card. These will be available in Semester 2 and can be found in the Abercrombie Atrium.

Stand up Computers / Library Pilot - Desktop virtualisation explained

A virtual desktop computer has neither an operating system like Windows, nor any applications actually installed locally on it. The operating system, applications, and data reside and run on hardware in a data centre.

OBIS have been piloting Desktop as a Service or "DaaS" on an off-site infrastructure hosted by a commercial company.  

Virtual applications run on computers that have an operating system like Windows installed, but applications are streamed on demand. With this set-up, Windows remains pristine and swift and only the applications actually being used are loaded on to it when requested by the user, but are not permanently installed.

We have been Piloting Application Jukebox or "AppJ" for short.  
Both options will mean a quicker machine startup, a more robust platform, and simpler navigation for the users.
If you agree or disagree with any part of this article or if you have other points relating to the development of IT in our new building - email spactothink@brookes or tweet us @space_to_think.