[Paper delivered at the Digital Resources for the Humanities conference, Glasgow University, Sept 1998]

CTI Textual Studies 1984-1999: What Have We Learnt?

Michael Fraser
CTI Textual Studies

The Computers in Teaching Initiative, better known as the CTI, has been operating in some form since 1984. The CTI has been funded by the UK higher education funding bodies throughout this period. As one might expect for a programme tied and reflecting in many ways the changes in computing technology during this period, the role of the CTI has evolved  and within that process of evolution has undergone a number of distinct phases. The purpose of this presentation is to share some observations concerning work of the CTI and, in particular the CTI Centre for Textual Studies (and its ancestors), and report on the future of the CTI.

However, in case any of you do not want to wait until the end to learn of its future I will start with the end. The CTI underwent a major review by the funding bodies this year which resulted in a recently published report:

"The CTI has fulfilled its terms of reference and in the eyes of its direct users has provided a good and valued service. There is no doubt that its subject orientation is the source of its strength and success. It has been less successful at reaching, systematically, heads of department...and at working jointly with academic-related staff who have an institutional brief to support the use of CAL and ICT."


But how did it get to this point, which for reasons I will consider later may be termed it's final defining moment? The CTI was established in 1984 with the broad aim of encouraging greater use of IT in university teaching. It has kept this broad aim throughout though the how and why has tended to change over time. The first pahse of the CTI, which ran until 1989 funded 139 projects, ranging from the development of specialised subject software, hardware provision and training initiatives. Project 77, funded in late 1986 was the beginning of Oxford's involvement in the CTI, known within the CTI as the "CTI Languages and Literature Project but within Oxford as the "Oxford Text Searching System". The project proposed to make available set texts in machine-readable form for the faculties of English, Literae Humaniores, Modern Languages, and Oriental Studies together with user-friendly access to text analysis software. The project was building on two resources in particular at Oxford: the Oxford Text Archive which already held many of the set texts in machine-readable form; and the Oxford Concordance Program, a PC version of which was being developed. Another aim, reflecting Oxford's teaching practices, was to allow students taking the courses supported by OTISS to use the system from any workstation which had a link to Oxford's mainframe on which OCP was also available. So, in effect, the project developed a PC interface which ran OCP commands on the mainframe and returned the results to the PC. Not only this, but the system could display texts with Greek, Cyrillic, Hebrew, Old English, and Turkish character sets.

The final report assesses the impact of the project. In summary, Oxford's first real venture into computer-assisted learning was considered a success. The interface was user-friendly; the lecturers who committed themselves to the project did actually run their courses; Oxford University itself made a contribution by way of workstations for the participating faculties. The system was found most useful for the study of specific vocabulary items, alliteration and so on, but not for thematic studies, anything which required lemmatisation. Whilst many of the texts were already available in machine-readable form, much time was spent inputting further set texts and standardising the encoding scheme. The members of the department who actually used the system for teaching were already using computers for their own research. The report observes that OTSS was intended to supplement other teaching methods and designed for the Oxford method of teaching. It was used for classes studying particular texts or authors; in a tutorial using the tutor's own workstation; and individually by students for essay topics. However, the fragmentary nature of the University where academic staff rarely work in the same building was a disadvantage and certainly acted as an obstacle to promotion of the project. Oh, and some colleges, who were reponsible for computer provision, had opted for Apple Macs rather than PCs. The last word on this Project belongs, I think, to its director, Susan Hockey who concluded the report, "The project's main impact has been to increase awareness of text analysis...However, it has also become clear that some staff who are prospective users can lose interest when they find that they need to do some work, either to put in new texts or prepare course material, or even to find funding for new texts...computing [activities] competes for time and resources with other activities which have a higher priority."


By the time that the final report had been written the first phase of the CTI was at an end and Oxford had been accepted for the second phase, a phase which was a natural development from the first. It was generally recognised that whilst many of the development projects had been successful, like Oxford's project, most only effectively served a minority of teaching staff. As a whole the CTI raised awareness of the potential offered by information technology but what was missing was awareness raising tailored to the needs of specific disciplines. Therefore, the funding bodies created a follow-up to the developmental phase of the CTI which initially consisted of 19 centres supporting particular disciplines, all of which except two, evolved from projects undertaken in the first phase, and funded for three years. Oxford was one of them, the CTI Centre for Literature and Linguistics. The original proposal submitted to the funding bodies drew upon the experience of the OTSS Project and observed that it was 'just one example of the many instances in literary and linguistic computing where techniques, originally developed and tested for research, can be applied to teaching at undergraduate level'. This is a theme which has run through the CTI Centre at Oxford and which at times has caused the Centre particular problems with those from subject areas where research and teaching tools are utterly separate. From the beginning, and reflected in the OTSS Project, it was recognised that similar teaching techniques were applied to the teaching of literature regardless of the specific discipline. Therefore the Centre for Literature and Linguistics would cover all literary studies whatever the language and in doing so would avoid much duplication of work.

One of the first tasks charged to these new centres, apart from defining their respective constituencies, was the publication of a newsletter, in Oxford's case Computers in Literature, the first issue of which was published in January 1990. What did this first issue contain? Amongst other things it included an essay on computers in the teaching of literary subjects which described two ways in which computes assisted: a) the searching of text and production of concordances and b) linking of text together by means of hypertext. In addition, within a section on getting started with computers in teaching the author explains that taking the time to prepare courses with an element of computing need not be seen as taking up valuable research time for it is likely that both teaching and research will benefit from the introduction of text analysis tools.

The Centre for Literature and Linguistics became the Centre for Textual Studies in September 1990 on the retirement of the director of the Centre for Humanities at the University of Bath. The effect of this was the addition of philosophy, logic, religious studies, theatre arts and drama to the remit of the Centre. New Centre, new journal in the form of Computers & Texts.

In 1991 the CTI again came under review, until this year the last time the CTI underwent a review which resulted in a published report (in 1991 it was the French Report and in 1998 it is the Atkins Report). The French Report examined various scenarios for the future of the CTI including closing the whole enterprise down (conclusion: 'unlikely current activity would continue in any other form). Like this year's report thw French Report also placed CTI within the context of CBL within the university sector in general. Whilst, by 1991, all universities in principle were committed to making more use of CBL, University management tended to see it in terms of cost-savings rather than improving the quality of learning. The Report also went some way in identifying obstacles to better use: 1) cost of hardware/software; 2) low availability of good courseware; 3) lack of training for staff; and, 4) the low esteem with which the development of CBL is held in academic circles. At the end of the day teaching and course development is valued less than research productivity. The last obstacle and one most of the others recurred in the report of the Dearing Committee and the AHDS User Needs study. Only now is the value of teaching being addressed by the funding councils. The French Report's predictions that the end of the funding divide between the universities and the polytechnics would help further the cause of teaching took its time since most so-called new universities opted to increase their research activity in order to tap into the funding formula which arose as a result of the research assessment exercise.


An important activity of the CTI Centre for textual Studies, together with the other CTI centres, has been presentations and workshops to academic staff at their own institution. On the one hand, over the last seven years or so, there have been significant changes in the content of the presentations, often reflecting the growth of new technologies, whilst on the other hand those which dealt more with methodology rather than being tied to particular applications. If the Centre had a list of doctrinal statements then they would probably include the following:

An unrelenting belief that the Centre should provide support for anyone who considers themselves a part of the Church of Text. Whilst the Centre lists specific subject areas on its documentation, that single word, 'literature', defined in its widest sense, has always been present, attracting members from historical studies, education, journalism, media and cultural studies, and occasionally the odd one from biological sciences (wanting to use text analysis packages for the analysis of DNA sequences).

A fairly strong belief (depending on who you talk to and where) that the path of least resistance to demonstrating the effectiveness of IT for teaching and learning is simultaneously demonstrate their usefulness for academic research.

And, of course, as Susan Hockey observed in the beginning, the today's research tool is often tomorrow's teaching tool. Hence, the Centre has continually promoted the idea of resource-based learning as one of the most effective ways in which new technologies can serve the humanities text-based disciplines. We have actively commissioned essays for Computers & Texts from those who have made use of research tools like the Chadwyck-Healey CD-ROMs for teaching purposes.

The fourth belief in the Centre's creed has tended to be that new technologies work at their most effective in the humanities not when they attempt to do something entirely new but when they extend activities already being undertaken. So, for example, the close study of a text involves the discussion and communication of ideas. New technologies have enhanced this study through not only the provision of texts in electronic form but also through communication technologies.

These four doctrines have remained fairly constant throughout the life of the CTI Centre. The form in which they have been promulgated, however, has developed over the years. During the life of the Centre for Literature and Linguistics, the presentations ranged from talks on Micro-OCP and text analysis, the teaching of Old English (using Pat Connor's Beowulf Workstation), and more general talks addressed to representatives from English, Classics, Theology, Linguistics, History, and Modern Languages.

Gradually, however, the number of potential teaching resources grew. By 1992 the Centre's pro forma visit report listed some sixteen resources which could be demonstrated to academic staff including the OED on CD-ROM, the CDWord Bible Library, Perseus, the STELLA suite of Old English resources, Perseus on CD-ROM and videodisk (and a  videodisk of the chateux of the Loire), the PastMasters series of texts, and the Isaac Rosenberg hypercard tutorial. The demonstrations tended to be prefaced with a lecture on the role of computers in humanities teaching and research, including textual resources, hypertext, and courseware.

Whereas the emphasis then tended to revolve around the digital resources the Centre had been fortunate enough to obtain, gradually as the resources themeselves became better known and more readily available, together with the sudden growth of the Internet, the emphasis moved towards not what was available but how could those things which were available most effectively be integrated into teaching and learning. Strangely, the Centre has found itself demonstrating fewer packages as the number of available resources grew. In the place of demonstrations we have built presentations around case studies, particularly those published in Computers & Texts. The three most popular areas we are called upon to speak about are integrating electronic mail, the world wide web (through both searching and creating), and text analysis tools into teaching. It is no longer enough to give presentations outlining what is available for the study of drama, or theology, or some other subject area. Most academic staff are now on email lists related to their research interests; most commercial products now find their way into the review pages of academic journals (and of course Computers & Texts). Awareness of what is out there is no longer a greater problem than keeping up with, for example, recent publications. Of course, it's never quite as predictable as that. Having ceased giving presentations on the benefits of hypermedia using The Poetry Shell as an example application, we were recently caught out by one academic who chancing upon it proclaimed it the best thing he had seen for teaching text in ages. Upon hearing the argument that the Web was now sufficiently advanced to permit him and his students to do everything the Poetry Shell could do and more, he exclaimed, 'yes, but the beauty of the Poetry Shell is that they can't go off anywhere where I don't want them to!'. OCP also refuses to play dead with it still the only option for those who want to generate a complete concordance of an entire text and in a format suitable for printing.

In addition to the three presentations I mentioned we also introduced a presentation and group work on the opportunities and obstacles to using C&IT in teaching and learning. This session has been most successful when a full range of institutional representatives are present: not only academic staff but also library, computing, and staff-development. The participants are asked to identify the obstacles and opportunities within their own institution and for their own courses. In variably the obstacles out-weigh the opportunities but frequently obstacles cited are obstacles solved or rejected by other staff present.

The Centre for Textual Studies has been involved in the AHDS User Needs study, the subject of a session later in the conference, which has sought to examine the obstacles and opportunities for making scholarly use of digital resources. On the one hand the list of both is not dissimilar to that compiled by the Centre but on the other hand it is rather depressing to find the same obstacles to use cited as ten years ago. One striking feature of the AHDS Study is the ability of digital resources to transcend traditional barriers: between higher education and cultural institutions; between libraries, computing services, and academic departments; between discipline areas. Assuming that scholarly advantage can be ascertained from the exploitation of a digital resource then the following have tended to be listed as obstacles impeding their use: lack of local support and training relevant to academic staff; confusing bundle of IT-related initiatives, programmes and projects within HE; lack of co-operation with organisations outside the immediate bounds of HE; the expense of creating or gaining access to high quality resources; and finally no professional recognition for computer-based research and teaching. The opportunities offered by digital resources reflect the subject matter of this conference: multi-access; preservation; multimedia; better presentation (e.g. facsimile, film, etc); fast interrogation of data; and new forms of scholarship. The latter, on the whole, remains to be proven, according to the report, but the potential is there.

In parallel with the AHDS Study has been the review of the CTI and an associated project, the Teaching and Learning Technology Support Network. The latter is funded to provide support to institutional managers rather than academic teaching staff. Recommendation number two of the Atkins Report is to wind up the CTI in its present form. The CTI was re-funded in 1994 for a further five years and so was due to end in July 1999 anyway. However, it is evident from the experience of our CTI Centre, the AHDS Study, and the Dearing Report that the work of the CTI or similar is far from completed. On the other hand, the rapid growth of digital resources, particularly making use of Internet delivery, means that awareness raising, often the core of what the CTI did, now needs a different emphasis to that which it often had during the life of the CTI. It is impressive to think that the first Resources Guide published by this Centre in 1991 detailed 27 discrete resources (not all of them humanities-specific). The current online Guide currently contains references to 266 discrete resources, and this number is continually expanding (without including smaller Web-based resources). The CTI Centre is not, and never has been, simply a cataloguing exercise. The strength of each CTI Centre lies not necessarily in subject expertise in the traditional sense, but in an understanding of the significance and quality of each resource and knowledge of how they are being used or might be used for research and teaching purposes. It has been made quite clear by the Dearing Report, the AHDS Study, and the Atkins Report that a subject focus for national support services is of great importance.

The HE funding bodies' plans for after CTI lie in a recently published consultative document on the support of learning and teaching in higher education. It's strategy is remarkably similar to the recommendations outlined in the (draft) AHDS Study. At last, we appear to have a convergence of ideas. In essence, the strategy document addresses: the status of learning and teaching in UK HE and ensuring its quality. To accomplish this the funding council for England (and possibly the others) are proposing to establish a Teaching Quality Enhancement Fund. This will provide funding for the following: additional funding for teaching and learning projects based on the results of the TQA and to successful projects under the existing programmes; establish a programme of subject centres to continue the work of the CTI but broader in remit (promoting all types of innovation in teaching and learning not just IT-based); rewarding individuals for excellence in teaching in the form of grants complementing to some degree the types of funding available for personal research activities.


In summary the Centre, like the CTI as a whole, has been part of (and perhaps even effected) the changes which have taken place in HE over the past ten years or so. The Centre has tried to do its bit for the breakdown of the barriers between disciplines and continues to do so, with the submission of a document to the funding councils outlining a number of proposals concerning the subject remit for the proposed subject centres in the humanities. In the experience of CTI textual Studies it now seems more helpful to have centre determined to a large extent by methodology rather than single discipline or any attempt to group subjects by their content.

In preparation for the review (back in February) of the CTI each Centre was asked to submit a five-year strategy, just supposing that the CTI was to gain more funding. As part of our strategy we proposed a greater concentration on the systematic publication of case studies; we felt it important to recognise the benefits of a cascading support model which took account of the number of humanities IT support people within institutions and departments. And, particularly for those institutions which do not as yet have humanities IT support, the creation of a more formal academic network; and effecting collaboration between the different humanities & IT-related projects. It is gratifying to find that these issues also arise in both the CTI Review Report and the AHDS User Needs Study. We have already started a grassroots initiative bringing together the various centrally-funded programmes and projects in the humanities and we are a partner in the ASTER Project which will examine and disseminate case studies on the subject o Assisting Small-group Teaching through Electronic Resources. The future looks positive with the lowering of mountains of acronyms and the filling in of valleys of unawareness, even if it will not longer be CTI Textual Studies doing the landscaping.