Michael Fraser
Head of Humbul / Deputy Director CTI Textual Studies



Michael Fraser. Head of Humbul Q- You are the Manager of the CTI Centre for Textual Studies...

A- I used to be, things have changed recently. The CTI Centre had an Academic director, a manager, an information officer and a project officer until the end of July. The Academic director is David Womersley, but he is not paid by the Centre and can give only 5% of his time to the Centre. At the end of July I became Head of Humbul, which means that I only give 20% of my time to CTI Centre, and my title is Deputy Director. Then Stuart Sutherland spends 100% of his time at the CTI Centre, Frances Condron spends 50% of her time at the CTI Centre, and the other 50% she spends in a research project called ASTER.

Q- What is the CTI?

A- CTI stands for Computers & Teaching Initiative. It's a long standing nationally-funded network of subject based centres. We cover humanities disciplines here, text-based disciplines: Linguistics, Classics, Philosophy, Theology, Film and Media Studies... The other CTI centres spread around the country cover the rest of the disciplines, so there is one for Biology, one for Chemistry, etc. They are based at different universities round the country, and there are twenty four centres altogether. We are all coordinated by an umbrella organizer called the CTI support service, also based at the OUCS. The CTI as a set of advisory centres has been running since 1989, so it's ten years now. And before that, there was a development phase from 1984 to 1989. A hundred and eighty projects were funded to develop different ways of using computers for teaching in higher education. And that's what the CTI is concerned with: supporting and promoting the use of IT within higher education teaching. However, the boundaries between researching and teaching using IT being blurred, we have always supported research; and many times the same resources that we recommend for research are the ones we recommend for teaching.

Q- What kind of advice do you give to researchers? What kind of questions do people ask

A- We get less queries than we used to, and that's because we have now much more information on the web, where we anticipate questions and can use FAQs. And also there is much more support now available within their own institutions, and other national services. So the CTI Centre is no longer the main place where people would send queries. Having said that, we still get a wide range of enquiries, that can go from "what text analysis tools are available" to "can you point me to any case studies about using computers to teach 17th century English literature"... There is a mixture of enquiries between people asking about specific software or web resources in different subject areas through to people asking about different ways of using computers within their teaching. Hopefully when they speak to us we have some understanding of what they're trying to do, we all have a humanities background.

Q- A great part of the job is then to publish and update information about resources on the web, and being constantly alert for new developments.

A- That's right, the advisory service is only one aspect. Our other key activities include the publishing of a journal called "Computers and Texts", which comes out two or three times a year and carries case-study type articles, reports, reviews, etc.; we're also working on a Guide to Digital Resources, which is an extensive catalogue of digital resources on CD-ROM, software, on-line resources... classified according to broad subject areas, and preceded by an introductory essay. That's a kind of leaving present to the Community. It will go online, probably after January.

I should probably point out that all the CTI Centres are closing down at the end of January. Up until now the CTI Centres were dealing only with computers and teaching and learning, but offered no support for more generic teaching issues. Last yearīs review recommended that the CTI Centres should be closed down and a new set of subject based centres be funded. These new subject centres will be called LTSN, Learning and Teaching Support Network Centres. Again itīs twenty four subject based centres, with no centre for Textual Studies in general. The disciplines we covered have been divided up into different centres; there will be a centre for History, Archaeology and Classics, another one for Religion and Philosophy, one just for English, and another for Modern Languages.

Jenny Newman and Michael Fraser

Q- What is the Humbul?

A-The Humbul Humanities Hub is a newly funded national service. The name and idea is based on a long-standing gateway called the Humbul Gateway, that started in the mid-1980s, before the Web. It used to be a bulletin board in a text window, then it migrated to the web in 1994, was put into a database in 1997, and it has been now used as the basis for a proposal to create a high quality gateway that also conformed to existing standards for describing and cataloguing web resources. So the Hub is part of the Resource Discovery Network, and like the CTI, this is a national network with an umbrella body overseeing it. It comprises four faculty-based hubs, each one covering a loose collection of subjects related in a broad area. There is one for the Humanities, one for the Social Sciences, one for Engineering, Mathematics and Computing, and one for Biological and Medical Sciences. We started on 1st August 1999, and we hope to have a new gateway running sometime in the early 2000.

Q- Iīm wondering how to translate "gateway"...

A- Portal? Though portals are broader in their image. The core of the hub is this gateway to Internet resources, which is basically similar to a library catalogue of metadata. The value will lie in the ability to search and combine different search criteria, like in a library catalogue where you can search by title, author, description, keywords... Each resource will be described and each will have to some extent an explicit evaluation attached to it, although the mere fact of being included already says we find it valuable, but weīd like to make that a bit more explicit. We want to attach scholarly reviews to the resources, so that they are peer-reviewed.

Q- Would people get paid for doing these reviews?

A- No. But the reviews will be published, and that should be an incentive. We are working very closely with for example Oxford University Press, so I hope people will want to work with us. Plus the fact that we are part of a very high profile network, and contributing material to the hubs will hopefully also be a good point.

Q- Whoīs funding this project?

A- The funding comes from JISC, Joint Information Systems Committee, a sort of sub-body of the higher education funding bodies, and we also hope to receive funding from the Arts and Humanities Research Board. Our core audience is higher education and teaching and learning in higher education but ultimately itīs a global resource, we want it to be useful for the general public, school teaching and so on.

Q- Will you be considering web resources only?

A- Well, our funding is for web resources. But for added value, and if it doesnīt cost much money or time, weīd also like to catalogue other digital resources that are not in the web.

Q- Tell us about the ASTER project you mentioned earlier on.

A- ASTER stands for Assisting Small Group Teaching through Electronic Resources. Itīs funded under another national program called the Teaching and Learning Technology Program, TLTP. Itīs a consortium project composed of partners from different universities in the U.K. The lead is the University of York, and Oxford is a partner. The idea behind the project is to look at, and examine, the benefits of using any form of computing technologies in small group teaching. Small group teaching tends to define seminar teaching or tutorials. The ASTER project is subject based as well, so our involvement is to look at small group teaching in the humanities.

Our core subjects are those that have been supported by CTI Textual Studies, although we also look at other humanities subjects. York looks at Psychology, but not much beyond. Surrey looks at Physics, etc. The Northampton Institute provides a kind of educational framework, because their expertise is in higher education and educational research. So far the project has produced a literature survey that examines what is meant by small-group teaching and published case studies on the subject. We are also working on case studies ourselves, so we did a sort of survey in the discipline areas to see who was using computers in the humanities for seminar teaching, how they were using them, how this affected their work and what reflections they had. We wanted to see if there was any sort of educational theory that informed their practise. There doesnīt exist that much educational research in higher education humanities. We are building a library of material and also a framework with recommendations for good practise, so that people see what seems to work in their discipline and also across disciplines. Itīs a three year project that started last year and will finish in 2001.

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