Case Study: The University of Cambridge—Significant and Sustained Growth in the use of Overleaf
In this Case Study we discuss the latest results from the University of Cambridge’s trial of Overleaf Commons, highlighting rapid and substantial growth in the adoption of Overleaf by members of the university—both in terms of new registered users and the number of projects being created:
In particular, we see a significant increase in the number of external institutions whose members collaborate with Cambridge via Overleaf:
Note: Overleaf is also being used by Cambridge University Press but that work does not form part of this case study review.
On 22 September 2016 the University of Cambridge (at the request of the Department of Engineering) launched a year-long trial of Overleaf Commons: an institution-wide Overleaf subscription package which provides a range of services and solutions for the university and its members. Prior to that date there wasn’t a university-wide licensing arrangement but some 434 members of the University of Cambridge had individually signed-up for Overleaf accounts. As part of the trial, all 434 Cambridge-based accounts were upgraded to take advantage of Overleaf Commons, including free Pro+ accounts. This article explains what happened next.
Here are some key statistics arising from an analysis of the first 9 months of the University of Cambridge's trial of Overleaf Commons:
- The number of institutions with members working with Overleaf users at Cambridge has increased from under 100 institutions to nearly 250.
- A near quadrupling of registered users: rising from 434 to over 1650 registered Overleaf users.
- More than a five-fold increase in the number of new projects created: rising from 1893 to over 10,000.
- An eight-fold increase in the average number of new users per month compared to the pre-trial period.
- An eight-fold increase in the average number of new projects created per month compared to the pre-trial period.
What is Overleaf Commons?
It is Overleaf’s comprehensive subscription package for institutions, providing:
- Overleaf Pro+ accounts for students, faculty, researchers and staff;
- a branded institutional web portal providing simple sign-up to Overleaf;
- administrative data hub containing analytics/metrics;
- dedicated Overleaf Client Services Manager;
- user training;
- marketing and promotional support.
University of Cambridge Portal
As part of the Overleaf Commons package, institutions are provided with a branded point-of-presence web portal which acts as an access point for university members to sign-in to, or sign-up for, an Overleaf account or find further information. It also provides easy access to the university’s LaTeX templates hosted on Overleaf.
University of Cambridge Administrator Hub
Also part of Overleaf Commons, and separate to the public-facing portal, is a dedicated Administrator Hub which provides administrative staff with statistics, exportable data, and graphics on the use of Overleaf at their institution.
Through the dedicated Overleaf portal, members of the University of Cambridge can quickly register to receive a free Overleaf Pro+ account which provides a range of services not available through free accounts, including:
- Teaching Toolkit: Educators use Overleaf to create assignments for distribution to a managed list of students. After receipt of an assignment link (e.g., via an e-mail), students can log into Overleaf to complete, and then submit, their work. All completed (submitted) assignments are listed within the Teaching Toolkit account, providing educators with convenient and easy-to-use course-management tools. An example of the Teaching Toolkit in action can be found in this excellent case study by Kevin Schultz, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Physics, Hartwick College.
- Protected links: A secure, password-protected link to an Overleaf project that authors can distribute to invite others to join or access their project.
- Dropbox: A secure file sharing and storage technology that authors can use to share and distribute Overleaf project files: upload to, and download from, Dropbox.
- Full project history: The full history service automatically saves all changes made to an Overleaf project—authors can compare changes between versions, and restore previous versions of their work.
- Priority support: Overleaf supports all its users, even those with free accounts, but Pro+ account holders are prioritized to ensure they receive the quickest possible response—from initial contact through to resolution of the issue.
Overleaf: Supporting collaborations and fostering partnerships
Overleaf provides a platform through which multiple authors can work together to produce sophisticated publications—by leveraging the power of LaTeX and taking advantage of powerful features provided by Overleaf’s partnerships with leading vendors of researcher workflow tools and services.
Results from the University of Cambridge’s trial clearly demonstrate that users across a wide range of departments and schools have registered to use Overleaf—building a communal workspace that provides an infrastructure capable of supporting teams engaged in multidisciplinary research projects. Those teams can work together seamlessly and collaborate on the preparation and publication of reports, journal papers, conference proceedings and books.
Use of Overleaf at Cambridge: Science and Humanities to Business and Medicine
When users sign-up to an Overleaf account they are asked (optionally) to provide the department in which they are based—at The University of Cambridge there are over 100 departments, faculties, schools and institutes. As of 18 July 2017, and based on users who chose to provide their department or school during sign-up, here is a graphic from the University of Cambridge’s Administrative Hub which provides a breakdown of registered users by department.
Departments using Overleaf
In terms of most registered users, the top 8 departments are unlikely to be a surprise:
|School/department||Number of Overleaf users|
Other schools/departments using Overleaf
It is certainly gratifying, although not surprising, to see a number of scientific/technical departments having large numbers of registered users but it is the use of Overleaf within other disciplines that merits some discussion. From an analysis of the raw data, registered users at the University of Cambridge have provided the following departments/schools which form part of “Other” within the graphic above:
Biology, Bioengineering, Biochemistry, Bioinformatics, Cancer Research UK Cambridge Institute, CDT Future Infrastructure and Built Environment, Clinical Medicine, Clinical Neurosciences, Cambridge University Library, Earth System Science, Economics, Genetics, Geography, Graduate School of Business, History, Information Engineering, Institute for Manufacturing, Linguistics, Management Science & Engineering, Materials Science and Metallurgy, Music, Psychiatry, Psychology, Philosophy, Plant Sciences, Public Health and Primary Care, School of Education, Social Anthropology, Veterinary Medicine, Zoology
It is extremely encouraging to see Overleaf being used within so many disciplines at the University of Cambridge—including Music, Psychiatry, Psychology and Philosophy—and it is highly likely that this distribution is broadly representative of many other institutions.
Because Overleaf’s reach extends into such a diverse range of research areas it provides a shared authorship platform and workspace with which to support and encourage a vibrant community of interdisciplinary research and collaboration—between departments of same university and with other national and international institutions.
Overleaf have plans for future developments that will enable institutional memberships to discover and identify fellow members who are also using Overleaf: to further enable and support discovery that might help to foster and generate future forms of partnership and collaboration.
University of Cambridge: Collaborations with external institutions via Overleaf
The increasing scale, cost and complexity of research projects addressing global challenges such as energy production, environment and climate change and many others requires building multinational partnerships and forging collaborations which comprise multidisciplinary research teams. A vital part of research collaborations is preparation and publication of scholarly articles, so we analyzed Overleaf’s data for the University of Cambridge. We are delighted to share those results which show strong growth in the number of external institutions whose members are collaborating with Cambridge users via Overleaf. Since the trial began on 22 September 2016, the number of institutions with members working with Overleaf users at the University of Cambridge has increased from less than 100 institutions to nearly 250.
Significant growth in Overleaf usage at Cambridge
Any new service whose aim is to assist researchers needs to be a first-class citizen of the highly connected digital ecosystem in which they work—isolated islands of functionality are no longer sufficient. Overleaf has integrations with a range of tools and services that form part of many researchers’ everyday workflow—including repository services such as figshare and arXiv, version control systems such as Git through to direct submission into peer review platforms such as Editorial Manager and ScholarOne. Overleaf also integrates with a range of bibliography management services including Mendeley, Zotero and citeulike.
Users can, of course, upload files to Overleaf projects directly from their local device or they can access files-sharing services such as Google Drive, Dropbox (Pro and Pro+ accounts) and box. Protocols such as FTP and WebDAV are also supported and you can even upload files residing in a Gmail account.
Overleaf’s aim is to reduce author workloads, increase efficiency and enable new, and better, ways of working—we constantly seek out new partnerships to further those objectives.
Growth in Overleaf registrations at the University of Cambridge
The following graphic, taken from the University of Cambridge’s Administrator Hub, shows a quite spectacular growth in the number of “Licensed Allocated” which is the same figure as the number of registered users.
In the pre-trial period, from 21 May 2016 to 21 September 2016, the number of registered users increased from 372 to 434, giving a monthly average increase in registrations of 16 during that 4-month period.
Over the nine-month period between 22 September 2016—22 June 2017 the number of registrations increased from 438 to 1628, giving a monthly average of 132 new registrations.
- As of 1 july 2017, the number of registered Overleaf users at The University of Cambridge has nearly quadrupled: from 434 to 1648.
- Since the start of the trial, there has been an eight-fold increase in the average number of new users per month when compared to the pre-trial period.
Growth in new Overleaf projects at the University of Cambridge
The number of new projects created parallels the growth in the number of users.
From 21 May 2016 to 21 September 2016 the number of projects grew from 1463 to 1893: An increase of 430 projects (30%) in 4 months, or approx 108 projects per month.
From the start of the Overleaf Commons trial on 22 September to 22 June 2017 the number of projects grew from 1921 to 9812: a total of 7891 projects created in 9 months, or approx 877 projects per month.
- During 9 months of the trial period there has been more than a five-fold increase in the number of projects created: rising from 1893 to 9812.
- An eight-fold increase in the average number of new projects month compared to pre-license period.
User training and support for the University of Cambridge
User support and training is part of the Overleaf Commons package and, to date, Overleaf has provided two “Helping Researchers Publish” workshops for the University of Cambridge:
- 27 September 2016 held at the Department of Engineering.
- 8 February 2017 held in the Betty and Gordon Moore Library.
Overleaf also sponsored the IN[SCI]TE Cambridge event held on March 18–19, 2017 in the Old Divinity School, St. John’s College.
Overleaf’s TeXpert, Lian Tze Lim, provides direct end-user support to the University of Cambridge’s registered users—assisting with questions on using LaTeX (commands, packages etc) together with advising on templates hosted on Overleaf and general enquiries relating to the Overleaf platform.
Overleaf: For LaTeX and non-LaTeX users
To use Overleaf you only need internet access and a device equipped with a modern browser, that’s it—whether you use Windows, Linux or Mac OS. No longer do individuals or institutions need to install or manage complex LaTeX setups. In addition to an extremely convenient collaborative authoring and editing environment, researchers can take full advantage of the suite of services integrated into Overleaf. However, one question remains: to use LaTeX, or not?
But my colleagues won’t use LaTeX!
It’s true that LaTeX isn’t for everyone—most people prefer to use word processors and the choice of authorship/collaboration tools can be an important consideration for co-authors. To address that challenge, Overleaf’s text editor can be switched to Rich Text mode that provides a “word processor”-like editing environment which can enable LaTeX and non-LaTeX users to easily collaborate on the same paper—facilitating cooperation between authors from very different backgrounds. Additionally, non-LaTeX authors can use Overleaf to upload text files (and graphics etc) which can then be suitably marked-up into LaTeX by colleagues or co-authors who are comfortable with LaTeX.
Universities have a complex matrix of challenges, aims and objectives: the need to attract investment and funding; delivering an environment conducive to study, teaching and research excellence; building national and international collaborations and partnerships; participating in mandatory governmental reviews and assessments (such as the Research Excellence Framework in the UK) right through to making vital contributions for the benefit of society as a whole. Individual researchers need to achieve recognition of their scholarship, usually through some form of publication which, increasingly, has to include compliance with funder mandates on open access.
For any institution to invest in new services for its community there needs to be tangible, and often measurable, benefits: at the institutional and departmental level, and for individual students, staff and researchers. The rapid growth in Overleaf's adoption and use at the University of Cambridge suggest that it can contribute to institutional objectives by supporting the needs of staff, students and researchers.
About the University of Cambridge
Founded in 1209, the mission of the University of Cambridge is to contribute to society through the pursuit of education, learning and research at the highest international levels of excellence. To date, 90 affiliates of the University have won the Nobel Prize.
Founded in 2012 and with over 750,000 registered users, Overleaf is a cloud-based LaTeX authorship and document management platform which provides researchers with seamless collaboration and effortless manuscript submission to leading journals. Supported by Digital Science, Overleaf aims to provide an infrastructure that builds workflows to make science and research faster, more open and more transparent—from idea, to writing, to review, to publication. Visit www.overleaf.com and follow @overleaf on Twitter.