Anne Trefethen reflects on digital transformation at Oxford

This month I have a change in my responsibilities – having spent 7 years as the Pro-Vice-Chancellor responsible for the Gardens, Libraries and Museums, I am now handing that over to the newly appointed Head of GLAM, Richard Ovenden, and taking responsibility for Digital. Given our experience of the pandemic it seems the right time to consider where the University should invest to improve the digital services and infrastructure that support our teaching, our global collaborations, outreach to the public, and the services that underpin the administrative operations of the institution.

I think we have learned a lot in the last two years about where digital technologies can enhance our activities and also the real value of in-person interactions and collaboration. We were fortunate to have in place the infrastructure to allow us to pivot as needed into digital ways of delivering teaching, accessing books, meeting online, engaging with global audiences and each other. It also highlighted where we are still very dependent on paper, where digital cannot replace physical effectively and gaps in our capability. 

In stepping into my new role, I have taken responsibility for the iTransform programme that is underway. iTransform is scoping out a potential programme of digital transformation across all that we do – to improve the experience for staff and students, as well as prospective students, our global collaborators and audiences. Digital transformation means different things to different people and it is clear that we have varied levels of existing capability and a broad range of ambition across the University. In talking with colleagues about what it might mean for them, I get very different responses, from improving enabling technologies – I’d just like good wifi; I want to have a good hybrid working environment; I want to use collaborative technologies to reduce travel and limit our impact on the environment – to more ambitious use of new technologies. For example, last week I attended a holographic demonstration from colleagues in Medical Sciences who wish to create a more real and constant collaboration capability with colleagues in remote, often hard-to-reach, research centre sites.   

If we get it right, our investments in digital technologies should provide the capability to enhance our teaching, reduce our carbon footprint, allow effective research collaborations – be they virtual or in person – and make many of our processes more efficient and effective, including managing our physical estate. In some areas, what is transformational for us is yesteryear for other institutions. For example, graduate student applicants at most other institutions have a self-service portal where they can track their application – a simple addition that could transform applicants’ experience of our institution.

Share your ideas and questions

I’m sure you have views on what the priorities should be and where we need to deal with gaps in capability, and I’d like to hear them. You may have already contributed to the Digital Education Strategy consultation and that will feed directly into the broader digital plans.

Here are the ways in which your views can influence the iTransform programme:

  • We have an Open Forum on 10 March where you can hear more and also give your views. Please come along.
  • If you’re not able to attend the Open Forum, please engage through the Oxford Ideas platform which will be live from 21 March to 14 April. The platform will include suggestions collected to date and allow for new ideas, together with your choice of thumbs up or down!

And don’t worry – there will be plenty of opportunity, as the programme develops, for further input in the months to come.