Tag Archives: Open Data

Nudging the Door Open⤴

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Last week I presented one of the keynotes at the FLOSS UK Spring Conference in Edinburgh.  I had been invited to present as the organising committee were keen to diversify both the scope and the gender balance of their event, after a first call for papers brought in only male speakers.  Persuaded by the enthusiasm and commitment of the organisers, and after discussing the invitation with colleagues at the University, I accepted their invitation.  However after a second round of blind peer review again brought in only male speakers (thus illustrating the problem of blind submission in any domain that already lacks diversity) I began to get a bit apprehensive.  Normally I would politely decline an invitation to participate in an all-male panel and now here I was keynoting at an all-male conference.

I discussed my concerns with the organisers who once again were sensitive to the issue, keen to talk and open to suggestions.  And I was more than a little relieved when my inspirational senior colleague Melissa Highton, Director of Learning, Teaching and Web Services at University of Edinburgh was invited to open the conference, and Christel Dahlskjaer, VP of Open Source and Digital Advocacy at Private Internet Access, was also added to the programme.

My talk was scheduled to take place on the second day, but I went along on the first day to hear Melissa’s opening address and Debian Project Leader Chris Lamb’s keynote.  I had expected female delegates to be in the minority, but I was a little startled to discover there were only three women in the room out of an audience in the region of around eighty people.  Melissa raised this issue diplomatically in her opening address which included a call for more diversity and inclusion in technology industries.

Although I get a little keyed up when I’m speaking in public I don’t generally get too nervous, however I was extremely apprehensive about presenting a non-technical keynote to an all-male audience of technical developers.  Particularly given that my talk, an over view of the Open Knowledge Landscape, highlighted the problem of systemic bias and structural inequality in a wide range of “open” communities.  In an effort to work up a little courage I did something I don’t often do; I called for back-up.  The evening before my keynote I tweeted…

To say that I was overwhelmed by the response would be an understatement, so I’d like to thank each and every one of you who replied to my tweet, I can’t tell you how much I appreciated your support.

I also tweeted a thread of all the inspiring projects and initiatives that I had included in my talk, because if you’re speaking about diversity and representation I think it’s really important to give credit where credit is due.  The twitter thread proved to be really popular so I might do this again next time I’m giving a talk.

On the morning of my keynote I was encouraged to see a couple more women in the audience, maybe five in total?  But it was still pretty daunting to get up onto that stage.  The audience however were faultlessly polite and engaged, particularly when I spoke about structural inequality and lack of representation in technology domains and open communities.

I ended by highlighting the story of Bassel Khartabil and the Memorial Fund that Creative Commons established to commemorate his legacy, because I believe it demonstrates why it’s so important for all those of us who work in the broad domain of Open Knowledge to come together to break down the barriers that divide us.  I always find it difficult to talk about Bassel and this time was no exception. I choked when I tried to read a passage he wrote from Adra Prison in Damascus and I was almost in tears by the end.  However I make no apology for getting emotional over such an important story.

There was only time for a couple of questions after my talk, one about business models for openness and another about how the conference could become more diverse and inclusive without compromising the integrity of their peer review process. During the break afterwards, I was really touched by a young delegate from the University of York who said he had benefitted so much from working in open source software projects and using Wikipedia, and wanted to know how he could give something back to the community.  I suggested becoming a Wikipedia editor and gave him some pointers on how to get started.  And I also really enjoyed chatting with some Edinburgh Informatics students who were hugely enthusiastic about the University’s commitment to Open Knowledge. Although there wasn’t a great deal of activity around the conference hashtag, I was touched to get one or two really supportive comments from delegates.

All in all the conference was a pretty daunting event for me, but it’s one that I learned a lot from, not least how supportive my own Open Knowledge community is and how willing other communities can be to listen to new stories and alternative points of view.  So I’d like the take this opportunity to thank the organisers once again for inviting me to keynote.

Last word has to go to the fabulous Kelsey Merkley.

Exploring the Open Knowledge Landscape⤴

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Transcript and slides from my keynote at the FLOSS UK Spring Conference in Edinburgh.

I’m not a programmer.  I’m not a developer.  And I don’t contribute directly to the creation of free and open source software.  I originally started out as an Archaeologist but I now work in the domain of Open Knowledge and more specifically open education.  I currently work for the Open Education Resources Service within the Information Services Group at the University of Edinburgh, I’m a Board member of both the Association for Learning Technology and Wikimedia UK, and a member of Open Knowledge International’s Open Education Working Group. All these organisations are part of the Open Knowledge landscape and what I want to do today is provide a broad overview of some of the different domains, communities and cultures that make up this landscape including open education, open data, open textbooks and Open Access Scholarly works.  And I also want to explore the boundaries that crisscross this landscape and demarcate these open spaces, and ask who is included, who is excluded, and what we can do to make our communities more diverse and inclusive.

In the words of the late, great Maryam Mirzakhani, former professor of mathematics at Stanford University and the first female winner of the Fields Medal, who sadly passed away last year.

“I like crossing the imaginary boundaries people set up between different fields—it’s very refreshing. There are lots of tools, and you don’t know which one would work. It’s about being optimistic and trying to connect things.”

So that’s what I want to do today, to look at how we can cross the imaginary boundaries of the Open Knowledge landscape and connect our different open communities.

Of course the open landscape will look very different to each and every one of us and the view we see will depend very much on our personal perspective and the privilege of our vantage point.  These are some of the domains and communities that populate the Open Knowledge landscape as I see it.

  • Open licenses
  • Open educational resources
  • Open education policy and practice
  • Open textbooks
  • Open badges
  • Open online courses
  • MOOCs (a very contested open space.)
  • Open data
  • Open science
  • Open Access scholarly works
  • Open source software
  • Open standards
  • Open government
  • Open GLAM

I’m not going to attempt to cover all these areas, as we’d be here until next week, but I do want to explore some of the areas that I’m most familiar with and look at how we can all benefit from crossing the boundaries and building connections between these domains.

Open Education and OER

So let’s start off with open education and OER.

The principles of open education were first outlined in the 2007 Cape Town Declaration, which laid the foundations of the “emerging open education movement” and advocated for the development of open education policy to ensure that taxpayer-funded educational resources are available under open license.  The Cape Town Declaration is still an influential document and it was updated last year on its 10th anniversary as Capetown +10 and I can highly recommend having a look at this if you want a broad overview of the principles of open education.

There is no one hard and fast definition of open education but one I like is from the not for profit organization OER Commons…

“The worldwide OER movement is rooted in the human right to access high-quality education. The Open Education Movement is not just about cost savings and easy access to openly licensed content; it’s about participation and co-creation.”

Though Open Education can encompass many different things, open educational resources or OER are central to any understanding of this domain.

UNESCO define open educational resources as:

“teaching, learning and research materials in any medium, digital or otherwise, that reside in the public domain or have been released under an open license that permits no-cost access, use, adaptation and redistribution by others with no or limited restrictions.”

It’s useful to note that this definition accommodates a wide range of different resource types and it’s notable that the term OER is interpreted very differently in different communities.  In the US currently, OER tends to equate to open textbooks, and I’ll go on and say why shortly, while in the UK we tend to have a much broader understanding of OER that encompasses a wide range of teaching, learning and cultural heritage resources.

The reason I chose this particular definition is that UNESCO is one of a number of organisations that actively supports the global adoption of OER.  In 2012, five years after the Cape Town Declaration, UNESCO released the Paris OER Declaration which encourages governments and authorities to open license educational materials produced with public funds in order to realize substantial benefits for their citizens and maximize the impact of investment.  And last year UNESCO brought together 111 member states for the 2nd OER World Congress in Slovenia, the main output of which was the UNESCO Ljubljana OER Action Plan.  Central to the OER Action plan is the acknowledgement of the role that OER can play in achieving United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 4   and support quality education that is equitable, inclusive, open and participatory.

In his summing up at the end of the congress UNESCO Assistant Director for Education Qian Tang said

“to meet the education challenges, we can’t use the traditional way. In remote and developing areas, particularly for girls and women, OER are a crucial, crucial means to reach SDGs. OER are the key.”

One of the key characteristics of open educational resources is that they are either in the public domain or they are released under an open licence and generally that means a Creative Commons licence.

However not all Creative Commons licences are equal and only resources that are licensed for adaptation and reuse can really be considered as OER.   At the recent OER World Congress, Creative Commons CEO Ryan Merkley emphasized that free is not the most important thing about OER, it’s the permission to modify and adapt resources that is most important, because that is what allows us to adapt educational resources to allow us to meet the specific and diverse needs of our learners.

At the University of Edinburgh we believe that open educational resources are strongly in line with our institutional mission to provide the highest quality learning and teaching environment for the greater wellbeing of our students, and to make a significant, sustainable and socially responsible contribution to Scotland, the UK and the world.

We have a vision for OER that builds on our world-class education and research collections, traditions of the Scottish Enlightenment and the university’s civic mission. And this vision is backed up by an OER Policy, which encourages staff and students to use, create and publish OERs to enhance the quality of the student experience.

Open.Ed is our OER portal where you can access open educational resources produced by staff and students across the university, including teaching materials, video lectures, film content, games, 3 models and much more. Rather than investing in a proprietary repository, Open.Ed is supported by WordPress and we’re currently in the process of implementing search and aggregation functionality based on the Solvonauts open source OER search engine developed by pgogy.

Open Textbooks

I mentioned earlier that the prevalent form of OER in North America is open textbooks.  The reason being that North American education systems tend to be centred heavily around single use textbooks.  According to SPARC, the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition,  the price of textbooks has increased at more than three times the rate of inflation for decades, resulting in college students face steep price tags of up $200 per book.  These costs can be a considerable barrier in terms of access to education and also result in schools and colleges using books that are years out of date because they are too expensive to replace.  SPARC is one of a number of organisations that campaigns for the adoption of open texbooks in the US, and they have recently been instrumental in persuading U.S. Congress to fund a $5 million open textbook grant program.

Although we don’t rely quite so heavily on single course textbooks here in the UK, textbook costs can still be significant.  The UK OpenTextbooks project is a partnership between the OER Hub at the Open University, OpenStax and The Open Textbook Network which aims to explore the viability of introducing open textbooks in UK higher education.

While open textbooks offer many benefits when used as is, including cost savings and access to affordable high quality learning materials, the benefits of open textbooks increase significantly when you combine them with open source software.   One initiative that is doing just that is BC Campus in Canada. In 2012 BC Campus received a $1m grant from the British Columbia government to  provide free and open textbooks for the top 40 course subject areas in post secondary education.  The project collected existing open textbooks from OpenStax and the Open Textbooks Network, and adopted PressBooks, the open source book content management system, as a faculty friendly authoring platform for new open books.  Because of the open extensible nature of the software, BC Campus have been able to add new features to PressBooks, such as annotation and new import and export routines and these are contributed back to the community as open source code.  In the words of BC Campus’ Clint Lalonde:

“PressBooks is easy for most faculty to use because many are familiar with WordPress. Faculty feel empowered and have the skills needed to adapt open textbooks to fit their specific learning needs. Faculty make their textbook reflect their pedagogy instead of the reverse.”

MOOCs

Moving on now to MOOCs….

MOOCs, or Massive Open Online Courses, occupy a somewhat contested space in the Open Knowledge landscape. The term was originally coined in 2008 to describe a number of online courses, characterised by social connectivist and constructivist pedagogies, being run by the Universities of Athabasca and Prince Edward Island in Canada.  These innovative courses focused on knowledge creation and generation and encourage learners to play a central role in shaping their learning experiences.   From 2010 onwards however a number of primarily venture-capital funded commercial MOOC providers, including Udacity, EdX, Coursera and FutureLearn, entered the market with promises to disrupt education.  The launch of these companies was accompanied by a huge amount of hype with Sebastian Thrun, founder of Udacity predicting that in 50 years time there would be only ten higher education institutions in the world, and of course, Udacity had a good chance of being one of them.  Udacity now focuses primarily on vocational courses rather than the Higher Education sector.

Although MOOCs did not disrupt Higher Education, they did fill an interesting niche in the education market, and I use that term advisedly in this instance, and commercial MOOC providers are still thriving.  My problem with MOOCs is that they are not open in any real sense of the word.  The word “open” in MOOC simply means that anyone can join a course free of charge, regardless of qualifications.  The platforms themselves are proprietary, and even if course content is open licensed it is often difficult to extricate from the platform. Most MOOCs are free as in beer rather than free as in speech and even this is increasingly debatable as many now charge for premium features such as certification and continued access to course materials.  Of course one solution to this is to ensure all MOOC content is also available off these commercial platforms and available under open licence, and that’s the road we have gone down at Edinburgh.  The University runs MOOCs on FutureLearn, Coursera and EdX platforms and has made a considerable investment in producing high quality content for use in these courses.  In order to ensure this content is accessible and reusable for both our own students and colleagues and others outwith the University we make sure is can be downloaded under open license from our multi media asset management system, Media Hopper Create.

The original social constructionist MOOCs haven’t gone away though, and there are a wide range of creative and innovative online courses running all over the world now which truly embody openness and which are often supported by free and open source software.  One nice example is 23 Things for Digital Knowledge, an award winning, open online course run by my colleague Charlie Farley at the University of Edinburgh. 23 Things is designed to encourage digital literacy by exposing learners to a wide range of digital tools for personal and professional development.  The course runs on WordPress, all the content and materials are Creative Commons licensed and the University actively encourages others to take and adapt the course.   Another amazing example is DS106 an anarchic digital storytelling course from the University of Mary Washington which has been running since 2010.  The instigator of ds106, Jim Groom, is also the founder of Reclaim Hosting,   a company that builds on the principles of the open web, and which provides teachers, learners and institutions with an easy way to own and control their own web domains and host open source applications.  And I think we’ve all seen plenty of evidence recently as to why it’s so important to have the ability to control our own web domains and the data that our presence on the web generates.

Open Access Scholarly Works  

Open Access Scholarly Works clearly occupy an important place in the Open Knowledge landscape.  Since the publication of the 2012 Finch report on Expanding Access to Published Research Findings, and Research Councils UK’s, policy on Open Access, universities have been required to make the outputs of their publicly funded research freely and openly available through open access journals, repositories and other channels.

Free and open access to the outputs of publicly funded research provides important social and economic benefits as well as being in line with the Government’s commitment to transparency and open data, and contributing to the global open movement.  In addition to making research outputs freely accessible to all, Open Access allows research to be disseminated quickly and widely, the research process to operate more efficiently, and has the potential to increase use and understanding of research by business, government, charities and the wider public.

However it is not always easy for those outwith academia to know how to access these outputs, even though they are freely and openly available.  And within academia there is something of a divide between Open Access scholarly works and Open Educational Resources with the former tending to be managed by the Library within dedicated Open Access repositories, while the later, if they are managed at all, tend to be dealt with on an ad hoc basis by learning technology services. As a result of the Research Council mandates, a whole repository infrastructure has been developed to facilitate the management and dissemination of Open Access scholarly works, while OER have often been somewhat neglected in comparison.  A few initiatives have sought to accommodate scholarly works and teaching and learning resources in the same repository, but these have not been particularly successful as the resources themselves and the work flows they are part of are very different.   This is unfortunate as Open Access scholarly works can clearly be of huge benefit to teaching and learning, and at the same time, OER can be harnessed to promote the outputs of open research.

One initiative at the University of Edinburgh that uses OER to help disseminate Open Access research outputs beyond the Academy, and to foster technology transfer and innovation, is Innovating with Open Knowledge. This project has created a series of open licensed video interviews, case studies and learning resources aimed at creative individuals, private researchers, entrepreneurs and small to medium enterprises to provide guidance on how to find and access the open outputs of Higher Education.  The resources focus on developing digital and data literacy skills and search strategies and feature case study interviews with creative individuals, entrepreneurs and experts, engaging with the University of Edinburgh’s world class research outputs.  Among the case studies are a series of interviews about finding and using Open Source Software with Scott Wilson of the independent, non-advocacy service OSS-Watch.

Open Data

Open data can be defined as data and content that can be freely used, modified, and shared by anyone for any purpose.

Although there is no UK policy that mandates the release of open research data, there is a Concordat on Open Research Data, which was originally published by HEFCE, Research Council’s UK, Universities UK and Wellcome in 2016.  The Concordat recognises that research data should, wherever possible, be made openly available for use by others in a manner consistent with relevant legal, ethical, disciplinary and regulatory frameworks and norms, and with due regard to the cost involved.

In a parallel development, the UK Government has also made considerable efforts to open up its data for people to re-use through data.gov.uk, in the belief open government data can help governments be more transparent, and support business, academics and the third sector.  This commitment is supported by the Open Government Partnership, an international initiative launched in 2011 that aims to help more governments become more transparent, more accountable, and more responsive to their own citizens, with the ultimate goal of improving the quality of governance, as well as the quality of services that citizens receive.

Open data can also make a significant contribution to social initiatives and humanitarian projects.  One such example is the Humanitarian Open Street Map Team, who undertake a wide range of mapping projects to support disaster relief, socio-economic development, and geographic information for humanitarian aid. For example in 2010 when Haiti was hit by a devastating earthquake, the Open Street Map Community immediately mobilized; within 48 hours, high resolution post-earthquake imagery was made available, and in the first month following the disaster 600 people contributed to Haiti’s open street maps.  Similarly, when Sri Lanka suffered from severe flooding in 2016, the governments’ Disaster Management Centre turned to the Humanitarian Open Street Map Team to urgently start tracing detailed building and housing unit information.

Although open data, open access, and open education have all made significant progress in recent years, there has been a tendency for these domains to progress in parallel with little sign of convergence and as a result there is a tendency to end up with “open silos”.  In the UK, research mandates and concordats may have had a positive impact on open access and open research data, however the connection has yet to be made to open education. While the benefits of open data are widely recognised in relation to scientific and scholarly research, open data also has considerable value in the context of teaching and learning.  Many governments, non-governmental organisations and research centres are already producing large volumes of open data sets that have the potential to be used as open educational resources. Scenario based learning involving messy, real world data sets can help students to develop critical data literacy and analytical skills. Using open data introduces an invaluable element of realism and complexity as the data is flawed and inconsistent.  Students come up against challenges that it would be difficult to reproduce artificially and, as a result, they learn to deal with the kind of problems they will encounter in the real world.  And perhaps more importantly, working with real world open data from real governments, communities and research projects, doesn’t just help students to develop data literacy skills, it also helps to develop citizenship, social responsibility and community engagement.

In an influential report by the Open Knowledge Open Education Working Group, Javiera Atenas and Leo Havemann noted that

Educators who make use of Open Data in teaching and learning encourage students to think as researchers, as journalists, as scientists, and as policy makers and activists. They also provide a meaningful context for gaining experience in research workflows and processes, as well as learning good practices in data management, analysis and reporting.

However in a presentation at the Open Education Global conference in Delft just yesterday, Leo also reminded us that open data alone does not promote social justice.  Quoting Johnston, Leo noted that unless people know how to access and use the data effectively, they can become mere objects of study, marginalized and excluded from participating in decisions about their own society.

Wikipedia

Of course no map of the Open Knowledge domain would be complete without Wikpedia and its associated projects including  Wiki Data, Wikimedia Commons, Wiki Source etc.

Wikipedia itself is of course built on OSS, with the encyclopedia, Wikimedia Commons and Wictionary all being supported by MediaWiki open-source wiki software.  In addition, over 1000 automated and semi-automated bots and other tools have been developed to assist with Wikimedia editing.  There are also fun tools such as Histropedia which uses the free Histropedia JS software and Wikidata to generate dynamic timelines of everything.

Here in the UK we have our own Wikimedia chapter, Wikimedia UK, which works in partnership with organisations from the cultural and education sectors and beyond in order to unlock content, remove barriers to knowledge, develop new ways of engaging with the public and enable learners to benefit from the educational potential of the Wikimedia projects. Wikimedia UK also supports a number of Wikimedians in Residence who work with a range of education and public heritage organisations throughout the country.  In Scotland we have Wikimedians in Residence at the University of Edinburgh, the Scottish Library and Information Council, and a Gaelic Wikimedian at the National Library of Scotland.  A new Wikimedia Scotland Coordinator, Sara Thomas, has also just been appointed and in Wales there is a National Wikimedian, Jason Evans,  based at the National Library of Wales.

At the University of Edinburgh we believe that contributing to the global pool of Open Knowledge  through Wikimedia is squarely in line with our institutional mission; the creation, dissemination and curation of knowledge, and we also believe that Wikipedia is a valuable learning tool to develop a wide range of digital and information literacy skills and capabilities at all levels across the curriculum. Our Wikimedian in Residence, Ewan McAndrew, works to embed open knowledge in the curriculum, through skills training sessions, editathons, Wikipedia in the classroom initiatives and Wikidata projects, in order to increase the quantity and quality of open knowledge and enhance digital literacy.

There is no question that Wikipedia is an invaluable source of open knowledge, however it is not without bias.  The Wikimedia Foundation’s vision may be  “a world in which every single human being can freely share in the sum of all knowledge”, however the coverage of subject matter on Wikipedia is neither uniform nor balanced and many topics and areas are underrepresented, particularly those relating to women, people of colour and minority groups.  For example, on English language Wikipedia only about 17% of biographical articles are about women, and the number of female editors is between 10 & 14%. Hopefully you don’t need me to tell you why this lack of diversity and inclusivity is a serious problem.  However it is a problem that is being addressed by the Foundation itself, by projects such as Wikiwomen in Red, and by Wikimedians and Wikimedians in Residence across the world.

At the University of Edinburgh an important aspect of our Wikimedian in Residence’s work is to help improve the coverage and esteem of Wikipedia articles about women, and underrepresented minorities, in science, art, technology, and history, and to redress the gender imbalance of contributors by encouraging more women to become Wikimedia editors.  And I’m very pleased to say that over the last year 65% of participants at our editathons were women.  There has also been phenomenal progress in Wales, and in 2016, Welsh Wikipedia became the biggest language Wikipedia in the world to achieve gender balance.

Inclusion, Exclusion and Structural Inequality

Wikipedia’s well known problem with gender balance is a notable example of systemic bias.  Wikimedia is an open community that anyone can contribute to in theory, however in reality there are many factors that prevent certain groups from contributing.   In the case of women editors, former Wikimedia Foundation executive director Sue Gardner identified a range of systemic factors that discourage women from contributing to the encyclopedia, including lack of time, lack of self confidence, aversion to conflict, and the misogynistic atmosphere of the community.  In addition, the very principles which underpin the encyclopedia discriminate against marginalised groups.  Wikipedia is based on notability and citation, yet in fields where women and people of colour have been traditionally barred, or their contribution has been neglected or elided, it is much harder to find reputable citations that are critical for proving notability.  Any article that is deemed to be inadequately cited runs the risk of rapid deletion for lack of notability, thus replicating real world power imbalances, privileges and inequalities.

Wikimedia is not the only open community that suffers from issues of systemic bias and structural inequality.  In a paper on Open Initiatives for Decolonising the Curriculum,  in the forthcoming book Decolonising the University edited by Gurminder K Bhramba, open source software developer Pat Lockley notes that universities with the highest percentages of black staff are those which spend the least – in many cases, nothing – on open access article processing charges.  And he goes on to ask whether Open Access really is broadening and diversifying academia, or merely reinforcing the existing system.

When we look at MOOCs supported on commercial platforms, the situation is arguably worse. Far from democratizing higher education and reaching out to disadvantaged groups, numerous studies have shown that the majority of MOOC enrolments tend to be young, male, employed, and from the developed countries of the global north.  Furthermore, the majority of MOOC students already have some kind of postgraduate qualification.  An important survey undertaken in 2013 by the University of Pennsylvania of 24 courses offered by through Coursera found that 80% of the 34,000 students questioned already had a degree and 44% had also undertaken some form of post graduate education.  The figures were even more stark outwith the US, with 80% of students from Brazil, China, India, Russia, and South Africa coming from the wealthiest and best educated 6% of the population.  Furthermore, these students were much more likely to be male than female. Gayle Christensen, one of the authors of the report noted that MOOCs are failing to reach they students they had intended to empower and instead they are giving more to those who already have a lot.

Similarly, in its 2017 survey on open source software development practices and communities, Github reported huge gaps in representation and concluded that the gender imbalance in open source remains profound and that open source contributors don’t yet reflect the broad audience of users. From a random sample of 5,500 respondents 95% were men; just 3% were women and 1% are non-binary.

And there are many other examples of similar structural inequalities in open spaces and communities.  We all need to be aware of the fact that open does not necessarily mean accessible.  Open spaces and communities are not without their hierarchies, their norms and power structures.   And we need to look around our own open communities and ask ourselves who is included and who is excluded, who is present and who is absent, and we need to ask ourselves why.  Because nine times out of ten, if certain groups of people are absent or excluded from spaces, communities or domains, it is not a result of preference, ability, or aptitude, it is a result of structural inequality, and in many cases it is the result of multiple intersecting inequalities. And if you’re interested in how such inequalities have impacted the development of the commuting industry in the UK, I can highly recommend this book by Marie Hicks Programmed Inequality How Britain Discarded Women Technologists and Lost Its Edge In Computing.

Far too often technology and technology communities replicate the structural inequalities that permeate our society.   And I think we’re all aware of the very pressing current debate about how algorithms encode both conscious and unconscious bias.

So how do we change this?  Well half the battle is recognising that there is a problem in the first place, taking steps to understand that problem, and then doing the hard work to effect change.  And believe me, it is hard work, these things won’t change over night, but they do have to change. Those of us who are already inside these open spaces and communities need to take positive action to make our communities, not just open, but accessible and inclusive.  And to do that, to borrow a phrase from another group who campaigned for radical change and inclusion at the turn of the last century, the Suffragettes, we need Deeds not Words.

In the Guerilla Open Access Manifesto Aaron Shwartz said

“Those with access to these resources — students, librarians, scientists — you have been given a privilege. You get to feed at this banquet of knowledge while the rest of the world is locked out. But you need not — indeed, morally, you cannot — keep this privilege for yourselves. You have a duty to share it with the world.”

The same is equally true of Open Knowledge and open communities.  We have been given the privilege to participate, and we can not keep that privilege to ourselves.  We need to identify the barriers that prevent some people from participating, and we need to do what we can to remove these systemic obstructions.  And to me this is what openness is really about, the removal of systemic barriers and structural inequalities to enable everyone to participate equitably, and on their own terms. We have a duty to ensure that our own open communities really are just that, open to everyone, regardless of race and gender, because that’s how we ensure that we really can cross the imaginary boundaries of the Open Knowledge landscape.

Chris Lamb began his keynote yesterday with three stories, and I want to end my keynote with a story too, one which I believe demonstrates why it’s so important for all those of us who work in the broad domain of Open Knowledge to come together to break down the barriers that divide us.

This is Bassel Khartabil Safadi a Syrian open source software developer, open knowledge advocate, Wikipedia editor and project lead for Creative Commons Syria.

Bassel was also a contributor to the New Palmyra Project; a digital archaeology and open data initiative that aims to create a virtual reconstruction of the ancient city of Palmyra, large parts of which have been destroyed by ISIS during the Syrian civil war.

As a result of his open knowledge activities, Bassel Khartabil was detained by the Syrian government in 2012 and held in Adra Prison in Damascus for 3 years. In October 2015 his name was removed from the prison register and, despite calls from numerous human rights organisations, his whereabouts remained unknown.

In order to raise awareness of Bassel’s disappearance a group of open practitioners came together to write the open e-book The Cost of Freedom: A Collective Inquiry which includes essays, poems, personal reflections and polemics from a wide range of international open knowledge and free culture advocates.  My contribution to the book was a short piece called The Open World which touches on the personal risks, costs and benefits of openness.

Sadly in August last year news was released that Bassel had been executed by the Syrian regime in 2015.  In order to honor his memory and to support projects in the spirit of his work, Creative Commons has established the Bassel Khartabil Memorial Fund which provides grants to advance collaboration, community building, and leadership development in the open communities of the Arab world. The fund also supports the digital preservation, sharing, and remix of creative works and historical artifacts.

Just a few weeks ago, at the Creative Commons summit in Toronto, the first Bassel Khartabil Free Culture Fellowship and Memorial Fund recipients were announced, and you can find out more about those recipients and their projects here https://creativecommons.org/2018/04/15/fellowship-memorial-fund/

Before he was executed, Bassel wrote from Adra prison

“Of my experience spending three years in jail so far for writing open source code (mainly) I can tell how much authoritarian regimes feel the danger of technology on their continuity, and they should be afraid of that. As code is much more than tools, it’s education that opens youth minds and moves the nations forward. Who can stop that? No one…. As long as you people are out doing what you are doing, my soul is free. Jail is only a temporary physical limitation.”

The fate of Bassel Khartabil is a sobering but inspiring reminder of why Open Knowledge is so powerful and so necessary and why we must all work together to achieve a more open, inclusive and equitable society.

Innovating with Open Knowledge⤴

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Earlier this year I had the pleasure of working with Morna Simpson, of Girl Geek Scotland, on Innovating with Open Knowledge, an IS Innovation Fund project at the University of Edinburgh, that aims to provide creative individuals, independent scholars, entrepreneurs, and SMEs with the  information literacy skills to find and access free and open research outputs and content produced by Higher Education.

Since the Finch Report and RCUK’s Policy on Open Access,  universities increasingly make their research outputs available through a wide range of open channels including Open Access journals and repositories, data libraries, research explorer services, and research and innovation services.

Free and open access to publicly‐funded research enables the research process to operate more efficiently, disseminates research outputs more widely, fosters technology transfer and innovation, and provides social and economic benefits by increasing the use and understanding of research by businesses, governments, charities and the wider public. Open Access is also in line with the government’s commitment to transparency and open data, and it contributes to the global Open Knowledge movement more generally.

However it’s not always easy for those outwith academia to know how to access open research outputs, even though they are freely and openly available to all.  In order to improve technology transfer we need to do more to disseminate Open Access research, open knowledge and open content to the general public, creative individuals, entrepreneurs and SMEs.  This is the challenge that the Innovating with Open Knowledge project sought to address.

Innovating with Open Knowledge has produced a series of eleven open licensed case studies featuring a wide range of innovative individuals and companies that have used the University of Edinburgh’s open knowledge outputs to further their projects, products and initiatives.  The case studies are composed of video interviews, supplementary text transcripts, learning activities and search tasks, and they demonstrate how entrepreneurs and creative individuals can find, use and engage with Open Access scholarly works, open science, images and media, physical resources and maker spaces, open data and open-source software.

Case Studies

Innovating with Open Knowledge also features expert guidance on finding and accessing open knowledge from the University’s Centre for Research Collections and OER Service, and from the National Library of Scotland.

Please feel free to reuse, revise, remix and redistribute these open resources.

Innovating with Open Knowledge, CC BY-SA, University of Edinburgh

This project was funded by the University of Edinburgh IS Innovation Fund, with generous support from Gavin McLachlan, CIO,  and Hugh Edmiston, Director of Corporate Services. The project was steered by Melissa Highton, Assistant Principal Online Learning, and managed by Lorna M. Campbell, Learning, Teaching and Web Services.  All video and text resources were created by Morna Simpson, Girl Geek Scotland and Enterprise Porridge Ltd. Graphic design by Interactive Content Service, University of Edinburgh.

Crossing the Field Boundaries: Open Science, Open Data & Open Education⤴

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Last week I was invited to speak at the International Open Science Conference in Berlin which this year had a special focus on OER.  My talk featured a case study of the University of Edinburgh’s Geosicence Outreach and Engagement Course so I’d like to thank Colin Graham and all those involved in the course for allowing me to present their inspirational work.

This talk focuses on the interface between OER, open data and open science and our experience at the University of Edinburgh of promoting open education through the School of GeoSciences Outreach and Engagement course.

The title of this paper, “Crossing the field boundaries”, comes not from the domain of GeoScicences though, but from Maryam Mirzakhani, professor of mathematics at Stanford University and the first female winner of the Fields Medal.  In a 2014 interview Maryam said

“I like crossing the imaginary boundaries people set up between different fields—it’s very refreshing. There are lots of tools, and you don’t know which one would work. It’s about being optimistic and trying to connect things.”

A Tenacious Explorer of Abstract Surfaces, Quanta Magazine, August 2014

I am not a mathematician, or a scientist, but I do have some experience of crossing field boundaries, and since open education is all about breaking down boundaries and cutting across fields, this seems like a nice metaphor to hang this talk on.

I’ve worked in open education technology for a long time now, but like most education technologists my background is not originally in either education or technology. In my case I started out as an archaeologist.  I studied archaeology at the University of Glasgow and after working there as a field worker and material sciences technician for a number of years, I decided to cross over into another field, and by rather circuitous routes I found myself working in open education technology.  Over the intervening years I’ve developed a strong personal commitment to openness in education, and I firmly believe that we have a moral and ethical responsibility to open access to the outputs of publicly funded education, research and science.

We’ve already heard a lot about the benefits of OER over the last two days so I’m not going to labour the point, however I just want to highlight this quote from the Scottish Open Education Declaration as it neatly encapsulates the affordances of OER:

Open education can expand access to education, widen participation, create new opportunities for the next generation of teachers and learners and prepare them to become fully engaged digital citizens. In addition, open education can promote knowledge transfer while at the same time enhancing quality and sustainability, supporting social inclusion, and creating a culture of inter-institutional collaboration and sharing.

Scottish Open Education Declaration

Institutions are already being encouraged to adopt open research policies and to publish publicly funded research outputs under open licences; similar policies and initiatives are required for open educational resources. Although open access, open education and open data have all made significant progress in recent years, there has been a tendency for these domains to progress in parallel with little sign of convergence. In the UK, Research Council mandates may have had a positive impact on open access and open research data, however the connection has yet to be made to open education and as a result there is a tendency to end up with “open silos”.  Indeed open access mandates may even have a negative impact on open education, as institutions focus their efforts and resources on meeting these requirements, rather than on ensuring their teaching and learning materials are appropriately licensed and shared online as OER.  So while it’s great that institutions are now thinking about how they can link their open research data with open access scholarly works, we also need to focus attention on linking open data to open education.

While the benefits of open data are widely recognised in relation to scientific and scholarly research, open data also has considerable value in the context of teaching and learning.  Many governments, non-governmental organisations and research centres are already producing large volumes of open data sets that have the potential to be used as open educational resources. Scenario based learning involving messy, real world data sets can help students to develop critical data literacy and analytical skills. Using open data introduces an invaluable element of realism and complexity as the data is flawed and inconsistent.  Students come up against challenges that it would be difficult to reproduce artificially and, as a result, they learn to deal with the kind of problems they will encounter in the real world.  And perhaps more importantly, working with real world open data from real governments and communities doesn’t just help students to develop data literacy skills, it also helps to develop citizenship, social responsibility and community engagement.

In an influential report by the Open Knowledge Open Education Working Group, Javiera Atenas and Leo Havemann noted that

Educators who make use of Open Data in teaching and learning encourage students to think as researchers, as journalists, as scientists, and as policy makers and activists. They also provide a meaningful context for gaining experience in research workflows and processes, as well as learning good practices in data management, analysis and reporting.

Open Data as Open Educational Resources: Case studies of emerging practice, Javiera Atenas & Leo Havemann (Eds)

Despite these acknowledged benefits, there is still a tendency to conceptualise OER as what Atenas and Havemann describe as “educator-produced learning materials” – resources created by teachers for use by students.  However if we simply replicate existing academic modes of production through open education, then we’re missing a trick.  One of the most important aspects of openness is the ability to break down boundaries and cut across fields.  So I want to present a case study from the School of GeoSciences at the University of Edinbrugh that does just that.

Open knowledge, open access and open education are central to the University of Edinburgh’s Strategic Vision. In support of this vision, the University host a range of open initiatives and services including an Open Knowledge Network, an Open Research Repository, an Open Data Repository, a Wikimedian in Residence, a Citizen Science and Crowdsourced Data and Evidence Network, open archives and collections, a wide range of MOOCs, and Open.Ed a one stop shop providing access to the University’s open educational resources.

The University’s vision for open educational resources builds on three strands:

  • The history of the Edinburgh Settlement.
  • Excellent education and research collections.
  • Traditions of the Enlightenment and the University’s civic mission.

The University has established an OER Service that provides support frameworks to enable staff to share OER created as a routine part of their work, and to find and use high quality teaching materials developed within and beyond the University.

The service showcases Edinburgh at it’s best, highlighting the highest quality learning and teaching; identifying collections of learning materials to be published online for flexible use, and enabling the discovery of these materials to enhance the University’s reputation.

And as a contribution to the University’s civic mission Edinburgh is opening access to its treasures, making available collections of unique resources to promote health, economic and cultural well-being; digitizing and sharing major collections of unique archives and museum resources to encourage public engagement with learning, study and research.

In order to ensure Edinburgh’s OER Vision is sustainable and supported across the institution, the University has an accompanying OER Policy that encourages staff and students to use, create and publish OERs to enhance the quality of the student experience and to help colleagues make informed decisions about creating and using open educational resources in support of the University’s OER Vision.

One of the key aspects of Edinburgh’s open strategic vision is to engage with and benefit communities outwith the institution.  The university is not alone in this; there are moves towards increasing community engagement right across the higher education and research sector.  At the same time, universities are rethinking how degree programmes are structured and are moving beyond traditional knowledge based courses in order to accommodate self directed learning, enable learning for life, empowering students to co-create their own education and build student capital.

initiative that does just that is the School of Geosciences Outreach and Engagement Course developed by the Geoscience Outreach Team. (list members on slide). This optional project based course for final year Honours and taught Masters students, has been running for a number of years and attracts students from a range of degree programmes including Geology, Ecological and Environmental Sciences, Geophysics, Geography and Archaeology.  Over the course of two semesters, students design and undertake an outreach project that communicates some element of the field of GeoSciences outside the university community.  Students have the opportunity to work with a wide range of clients including schools, museums, outdoor centres, science centres, and community groups, to design and deliver resources for science engagement. These resources can include classroom teaching materials, leaflets, websites, smartphone/tablet applications, community events, presentations or materials for museums and visitor centres. Students may work on project ideas suggested by the client, but they are also encouraged to develop their own ideas. Project work is led independently by the student and supervised and mentored by the course team and the client.

This approach delivers significant benefits not just to students and staff, but also to the clients and the University.

Students have the opportunity to work in new and challenging environments, acquiring a range of transferable skills that enhance their employability. They also gain experience of science outreach, public engagement, teaching and learning, and knowledge transfer while at the same time developing communication, project and time management skills.

Staff and postgraduate tutors benefit from disseminating and communicating their work to wider audiences, adding value to their teaching and funded research programmes, supporting knowledge exchange and wider dissemination of scientific research.

The client gains a product that can be reused and redeveloped, new partnerships are formed, new education resources created, and knowledge and understanding of a wide range of scientific topics is disseminated to learners, schools and the general public.

The University benefits by mainstreaming community engagement, and embedding it within the curriculum.  The course also provides the opportunity to promote collaboration and interdisciplinarity across the University and helps to forge relationships with clients.

In the words of GeoSciences Brian Cameron, MBE:

 “the University and the students create a legacy of knowledge transfer and cooperation that benefits all.”

The Geosciences Outreach and Engagement course has proved to be hugely popular with both students and clients.  The course has received widespread recognition and a significant number of schools and other universities are exploring how they might adopt the model.

Here’s just a few quotes from students who have taken the course;

“It has been good to take my learning out into the community and give something back”

“By taking this course, not only was I, as the student, able to learn about the values and excitement of public engagement with other disciplines, but I also developed a working tool for further scientific engagement for a new audience.” (Jane Robb)

“Geoscience Outreach and Engagement is one of the most interesting courses I have undertaken in my 5 years at Edinburgh. Not only do I get the opportunity to find new and exciting ways to inform people of all ages about Geosciences, I’m also learning valuable skills to enhance my future career after university. This course has taught me that everyone has a different way of learning, and instead of following one strict path, we should expand our ideas on how to effectively communicate science to the general public.” (Rebecca Astbury)

Feedback from the clients was equally enthusiastic:

“The student has done a wonderful job and we now have a new resource that we can use for years to come” (Class teacher)

“We have appreciated the joint work with the School of GeoSciences and the experience has given me a new avenue in my own teaching to explore vis-à-vis practical hands-on experiments. S1 classes all did a practical demonstration of the erosion processes in rivers for example.” (Class teacher)

“She was an excellent ambassador not just for the university but for women in science and I feel she set a good example for a few of the girls in the class who are embarking upon geography and earth science studies and who may well now add geology to their subject choices. ” (Class teacher)

A key element of the Geosciences Outreach and Engagement Course is to develop resources with a legacy that can be reused by the client and developed and disseminated further for use by other communities and organisations.  The University is now taking this one step further by repurposing some of these materials to create open educational resources.   Last year we recruited an Open Content Creation intern, undergraduate Physics student Martin Tasker, whose job it was to take some of the materials created by the Geoscience students, make sure everything in those resources could be released under open license and then share them in places where they could be found and reused by other teachers and learners.

So here for example is a resource on sea level variation developed by student Roseanne Smith.  The resource covers glaciation, global warming, and isostasy and it includes a lesson plan, a PowerPoint presentation, printable photographs and questions, a student workbook, and a timeline to illustrate geological timescales.  The course is designed for students learning Geography at third and fourth level of the Scottish Curriculum for Excellence and it can be downloaded under a CC BY Share alike license from Open.Ed and TES. And there are other resources of this kind.

One of the things that was really inspirational about this initiative is that as part of his internship, our student was asked to reflect on his experience of the project and what he learned from it, and I think it’s worth taking a little time to listen to Martin’s thoughts.

This first quote is taken from a blog post our student wrote at the start of his internship where he talks about how he had already engaged with OER.  Before becoming an undergraduate, he had looked at MOOCs and OERs from various universities to find out more about subjects and course he was interested in.

“Open education has played such an integral part of my life so far, and has given me access to knowledge that would otherwise have been totally inaccessible to me. It has genuinely changed my life, and likely the lives of many others. This freedom of knowledge can allow us to tear down the barriers that hold people back from getting a world class education – be those barriers class, gender or race. Open education is the future, and I am both proud of my university for embracing it, and glad that I can contribute even in a small way. Because every resource we release could be a life changed. And that makes it all worth it.”

A Student’s Perspective on Open Education, Martin Tasker

So that was the place where our student intern started out form, he was obviously every much on board with open education and OER right from the start.   And this second quote is from his final blog post “Wrapping up my time as open content intern”

“Open Education is a large part of the reason I’m at Edinburgh studying physics, and I firmly believe that it is one of the keys to widening participation in education in a meaningful way. The proliferation of the internet among all classes in society means that a savvy university can reach those that would previously have had little access to education beyond their school years. And with our work in OERs, we can hopefully feed back some of the expertise of our academics into the classroom, raising the standard of teaching and taking some of the pressure off extremely overworked teachers.”

Wrapping Up: My Time as an Open Content Curator Intern, Martin Tasker

One of the things I really like about these two quotes is that, I have worked in open education for over ten years now but I don’t think I could have articulated any more clearly why open education and OER is so important. The Geosciences Outreach and Engagement course provides an excellent example not only of community engagement and knowledge exchange up also of involving students in the co-creation of their learning experience more widely.

Additional References

Open Knowledge, OER, Wikimedia, MOOCs and Maritime Masculinities⤴

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How is it March already?!  I’ve been sorely neglecting this blog for the past few months, not because I’ve got nothing to say, quite the opposite, I’ve been so tied up with different projects I’ve barely had a chance to write a single blog post! A poor excuse I know, but anyway, here’s a very brief run down of what I’ve been up to for the past three months and hopefully I’ll be able to get back to blogging on a regular schedule soon.

Most of my time has been taken up with two new IS Innovation Fund projects I’m running at the University of Edinburgh.

UoE Open Knowledge Network

The UoE Open Knowledge Network is an informal forum to draw together the University’s strategic policies and activities in the area of Open Data, Open Access, Open Education, Open Research, Open Collections and Archives, in order to support cross-fertilisation and promote the institution’s activities in these areas. This Network aims to embed open knowledge within the institution and to establish a self-sustaining network supported by the departments and divisions that have oversight of the University’s strategic Open Access, Open Education and Open Data policies.

The Network held its first event in January which featured a keynote from Gill Hamilton of the National Library of Scotland plus lightning talks from colleagues across the institution.  You can read more about the event on the Open Knowledge network blog here: http://okn.ed.ac.uk/

UoE Open Knowledge Network, CC BY Stephanie Farley

Accessing Open Research Outputs MOOC

Since the publication of the Finch report and the Research Councils’ policy on open access, universities have increasingly made the outputs of their publicly funded research freely and openly available through open access journals and repositories. However it’s not always easy for people outwith academia to know how to access these outputs even though they are available under open licence.

This project is developing a short self paced learning MOOC aimed at the general public, private researchers, entrepreneurs and SMEs to provide advice on how to access open research outputs including Open Access scholarly works and open research data sets, in order to foster technology transfer and innovation. The course will focus on developing digital and data literacy skills and search strategies to find and access open research outputs and will also feature a series of case studies based on individuals and SMEs that have made successful use of the University of Edinburgh’s world class research outputs.

This is the first time I’ve worked on a MOOC project and I’m delighted to be working with Morna Simpson, of Geek Girl Scotland who has just been named one of Scotland’s most influential women in tech.

Wikimedia UK

I’ve been involved in a whole host of Wikimedia events including the Wikimedia UK Education Summit at Middlesex University, where Melissa Highton gave an inspiring keynote and I chaired a panel of lightning talks, #1Lib1Ref which encouraged Librarians and wikimedia editors to add one reference to Wikipedia to mark the 15th anniversary of the foundation of Wikipedia, and the History of Medicine editathon, part of the University of Edinburgh’s Festival of Creative Learning.  This event was a personal highlight not only because it took place in the stunning Surgeon’s Hall Museum and featured an utterly fascinating series of talks on subjects as diverse as Lothian Health Services Archive and William Burke, Scotland’s most prolific serial killer, but also because I got to create a new Wikipedia page for Ethel Moir, a nurse from Inverness who served on the Eastern Front in WW1.  I’m planning to do some more work on Ethel’s Wikipedia page tomorrow as during the University of Edinburgh’s Bragging Writes editathon as part of International Women’s Day.

History of Medicine Editathon, Surgeon’s Hall, CC BY Ewan McAndrew

UNESCO European Consultation on OER

2017 marks the 5th anniversary of the Paris OER Declaration and UNESCO and the Commonwealth for Learning are undertaking an international consultation focused on OER for Inclusive and Equitable Quality Education. Since the end of last year I’ve been liaising with COL to ensure that Scotland was represented at this consultation which is being undertaken in advance of the 2nd World OER Congress which will be held in Ljubljana later this year.  Joe Wilson went along to the consultation in Malta represent Open Scotland and you can read his report on the event here.

Maritime Masculinities Conference

Way back in December I took a week off from Ed Tech to co-chair the Maritime Masculinities Conference at the University of Oxford. The two day conference featured keynotes from Prof. Joanne Begiato, Dr Isaac Land and  Dr Mary Conley and a wide range of international papers.  I chaired a panel of papers on the theme of Sexualities and my co-author Heather Noel-Smith and I also presented a paper on Smoking Chimneys and Fallen Women: the several reinventions of Sir Henry Hart.  We were pleasantly surprised by the success of the conference and the lovely feedback we got from delegates.

I’ve also got a lot of conferences and events coming up over the next couple of months, but I think that deserves a separate blog post!

Open Archaeology and the Digital Cultural Commons⤴

from

When I joined the Board of Wikimedia UK earlier this year I was asked if I’d like to write a blog post for the Wikimedia UK Blog, this is the result….

Eilean Dhomhnaill,  Loch Olabhat by Richard Law, CC BB SA 2.0

Eilean Dhomhnaill, Loch Olabhat by Richard Law, CC BB SA 2.0

Although I’ve worked in open education technology for almost twenty years now, my original background is actually in archaeology.  I studied archaeology at the University of Glasgow in the late 1980s and later worked there as material sciences technician for a number of years. Along the way I worked on some amazing fieldwork projects including excavating Iron Age brochs in Orkney and the Outer Hebrides, Bronze Age wetland sites at Flag Fen, a rare Neolithic settlement at Loch Olabhat in North Uist, the Roman fort of Trimontium at Newstead in the Scottish Borders and prehistoric, Nabatean and Roman sites in the South Hauran desert in Jordan.  I still have a strong interest in both history and archaeology and, perhaps unsurprisingly, I’m a passionate advocate of opening access to our shared cultural heritage.

Archaeological field work and post excavation analysis generates an enormous volume of data including photographs, plans, notebooks and journals, topographic data, terrain maps, archaeometric data, artefact collections, soil samples, osteoarchaeology data, archaeobotanical data, zooarchaeological data, radio carbon data, etc, etc, etc.  The majority of this data ends up in university, museum and county archives around the country or in specialist archives such as Historic Environment Scotland’s Canmore archive and the Archaeology Data Service (ADS) at the University of York.  And while there is no question that the majority of this data is being carefully curated and archived for posterity, much of it remains largely inaccessible as it is either un-digitised, or released under restrictive or ambiguous licenses.

Cadbury Castle Post Ex c. 1992

Cadbury Castle Post Ex c. 1992

This is hardly surprising for older archives which are composed primarily of analogue data.  I worked on the reanalysis of the Cadbury Castle archive in the early 1990’s and can still remember trawling through hundreds of dusty boxes and files of plans, context sheets, finds records, correspondence, notebooks, etc. That reanalysis did result in the publication of an English Heritage monograph which is now freely available from the ADS but, as far as I’m aware, little if any, of the archive has been digitised.

Digitising the archives of historic excavations may be prohibitively expensive and of debatable value, however much of the data generated by fieldwork now is born digital. Archives such as Canmore and the ADS do an invaluable job of curating this data and making it freely available online for research and educational purposes.  Which is great, but it’s not really open.  Both archives use custom licenses rather than the more widely used Creative Commons licences.  It feels a bit uncharitable to be overly critical of these services because they are at least providing free access to curated archaeological data online.  Other services restrict access to public cultural heritage archives with subscriptions and paywalls.

Several key thinkers in the field of digital humanities have warned of the dangers of enclosing our cultural heritage commons and have stressed the need for digital archives to be open, accessible and reusable.

The Journal of Open Archaeology Data is one admirable example of an Open Access scholarly journal that makes all its papers and data sets freely and openly available under Creative Commons licenses, while endorsing the Panton Principles and using open, non-proprietary standards for all of its content. Internet Archaeology is another Open Access journal that publishes all its content under Creative Commons Attribution licences.  However it’s still just a drop in the ocean when one considers the vast quantity of archaeological data generated each year.  Archaeological data is an important component of our cultural commons and if even a small portion of this material was deposited into Wikimedia Commons, Wikidata, Wikipedia etc., it would help to significantly increase the sum of open knowledge.

Wikimedia UK is already taking positive steps to engage with the Culture sector through a wide range of projects and initiatives such as residencies, editathons, and the Wiki Loves Monuments competition, an annual event that encourages both amateur and professional photographers to capture images of the world’s historic monuments.  By engaging with archaeologists and cultural heritage agencies directly, and encouraging them to contribute to our cultural commons, Wikimedia UK can play a key role in helping to ensure that our digital cultural heritage is freely and openly available to all.

This post originally appeared on the Wikimedia UK Blog

Two new projects for Open Access Week⤴

from

Open Access Week seems like a good time to write my first blog post about two new projects I’m going to be working on over the coming months.  One is to facilitate a University of Edinburgh Open Knowledge Network and the other is to create a MOOC for small to medium enterprises on how to access open research outputs produced by the UK Higher Education sector.  Both projects have been funded by the University of Edinburgh’s Information Services Innovation Fund.

UoE Open Knowledge Network

The aim of the network will be to draw together the University’s activities in the area of Open Data, Open Access, Open Education, Open Collections and Archives and to promote collaboration and cross fertilisation across these areas.  The Open Knowledge Network will host a series of meetings that will bring together guest speakers and open practitioners from across the institution to share ideas and practice. The project will also aim to raise awareness of the benefits of open licensing and sharing open data, collections, scholarly works and OER within the institution and across the sector.

Accessing Open Research Outputs MOOC

This project will scope and develop a short information Services MOOC for small to medium enterprises on how to access open research outputs. The course will focus on developing digital and data literacy skills and search strategies to find and access open research outputs including Open Access scholarly works and open research data sets.  The course will be developed with Edinburgh Research and Innovation and will feature  case studies based on the University of Edinburgh’s open research outputs.  In line with the University’s commitment to OER, all resources developed for the course will be released under open license and will be available to be re-used and re-purposed through a range of channels.

If you have an innovative case study that could feature in the new course, or if you’d like to get involved in the Open Knowledge Network you can drop me a mail at lorna.m.campbell@ed.ac.uk or tweet to me at @lornamcampbell.University of Edinburgh Information Services

 

 

Open Access Week

Open Access WeekOpen Access Week is a global event that provides an opportunity for the academic and research community to learn about the potential benefits of Open Access, to share what they’ve learned with colleagues, and to inspire wider participation in helping to make Open Access a new norm in scholarship and research.

 

 

Cultural Heritage Sparks⤴

from @ Open World

I recently went along to the first meeting of the Digital Cultural Heritage Research Network here at the University of Edinburgh. The aim of the network is to

“bring together colleagues from across the University to establish a professional network for researchers investigating digital cultural heritage issues, seeking to include perspectives from diverse disciplines including design, education, sociology, law, cultural studies, informatics and business. Partners from the cultural heritage sector will play a key role in the network as advisors and collaborators.”

About DCHRN

Anyone who follows this blog will know that I have a bit of a thing about opening access to digital cultural resources so I was pleased to be able to contribute a lightning talk on digital cultural heritage and open education. This was one of an eclectic series of lightning talks that covered a wide range of subjects and topics.  I live tweeted the event and Jen Ross has collated tweets from the day in a Storify here: Digital Cultural Heritage Research Network, Workshop 1 and has also written a recap of the workshop here Recap of Workshop 1: Cultural Heritage Sparks.

My EDINA colleague Lisa Otty kicked off the day talking about the Keepers Extra Project which aims to highlight the value of the Keepers Registry of archiving arrangements for electronic journals, to libraries, preservation agencies and publishers through national and international collaboration. Lisa noted that only 17% of journals are archived in the Keepers Registry and asked the very pertinent question “do we trust publishers with the stewardship of electronic journals?” I think we all know the answer to that question.

I confess I rehashed a previous presentation on the comparative dearth of openly license cultural heritage collections in Scotland which allowed me to refer for the millionth time  to Andrew Prescott’s classic blog post Dennis the Paywall Menace stalks the Archives.  This time however I was able to add a couple of pertinent tweets from the Digging Into Data Round Three Conference that took place in Glasgow earlier in the week.

did_tweet_1 did_tweet_2

One lightning talk that was particularly close to my heart was by Glyn Davis who spoke about the ‘openness’, or lack thereof, of gallery and museum content, and reflected on his experience of running the Warhol MOOC.  Glyn noted that license restrictions often prevent copyright images from being used in online teaching and learning, however many of the students who participated in the Warhol MOOC understood little about copyright restrictions and simply expected to be able to find and reuse images via google, so lots of discussion about open access was required as part of the course.

Other highlights included Jen Ross‘ talk on Artcasting a project which is exploring how digital methods can be used inventively and critically to reimagine complex issues. The project has built an app which engages audiences by allowing them to capture images and decide where to send them in time and space and time, while also retrieving data for evaluation.  Bea Alex introduced the impressive range of projects from the Language Technology Group, including historical text projects, which aim to use text mining to enrich textual metadata with geodata from the Edinburgh Geo Parser. Stephen Allen spoke about the MOOC the National Museums of Scotland created to run in parallel with their Photography – A Victorian Sensation exhibition.  The museum now hopes to reuse content from future exhibitions for more MOOCs. Rebecca Sinker presented a fascinating keynote on Tate’s research-led approach to digital programming which prompted an interesting discussion on how people engage with art now that so much of it is available online. Angelica Thumala spoke all too briefly about her research exploring emotional attachment and experience of books in different modalities, and left us with one of the loveliest quotes of the day

“Books are constant companions, people carry them around and develop physical and emotional attachments to them.”

The workshop ended with four group discussions focussing on issues raised by participants; openness and preservation; participation and interpretation; semantic web and curation; and how can DCHRN create a sustainable interdisciplinary network.  These and other issues will be picked up in the next workshop Research that matters – playing with method, planning for impact takes place in March

DCHRN is coordinated by

  • Dr Jen Ross, Digital Education
  • Dr Claire Sowton, Digital Education
  • Professor Sian Bayne, Digital Education
  • Professor James Loxley,  Literatures Languages and Culture
  • Professor Chris Speed, Design Informatics

On a side note, it’s a while since I’ve done a lightning talk and I’d forgotten how difficult it is to put together such a short presentation. Seriously, it took me most of an afternoon to put together a 5 minute talk which really is a bit ridiculous! Seems like I’m not the only one who struggles with short presentations though, when I mentioned this on twitter, a lot of people replied to say that the shorter the presentation, the more preparation was required. Martin Weller reminded me of the quote “If I had more time, I would have written a shorter letter”, while Kevin Ashley invoked Jeremy Bentham who was allegedly happy to give two hour speech on the spot, but a fifteen minute talk required three weeks notice.  I’m with Bentham on that one!


Erinma Ochu: Crowd Sourcing for Community Development⤴

from @ Open World

Earlier this week I went along to an event at the National Museum of Scotland run by the University of Edinburgh’s  Citizen Science and Crowdsourcing group.  There were some fascinating projects and initiatives on display but the highlight of the event was undoubtedly Erinma Ochu‘s engaging and thought provoking public lecture on Crowd Sourcing for Community Development.

Erinma Ochu

Erinma outlined the benefits that amateurs can bring to scientific research; they can help to validate data, fill in gaps in data collected by scientists, bring interesting new perspectives and, if they are not overly trained, they may be better able to spot patterns in data that scientists might miss. However Erinma also reminded us of the reciprocal aspects of citizen science. Citizen science should involve scientists serving the community, not just volunteers collecting data for research. It’s important to balance social and scientific value; the community building process is as important as the data product.  We have a responsibility to make spaces in which social inclusion and engagement can happen. I particularly liked Erinma’s focus on citizen science as a learning opportunity;  projects should give something back to the people who contribute the data and help them to learn.  Along the way Erinma introduced some fascinating and inspiring projects including Turing’s Sunflowers, Farm Hack and Manchester City of Science Robot Orchestra.

For a more comprehensive overview of Erinma’s talk I’ve created a storify of tweets here: Crowd Sourcing for Community Development Storify and Erinma’s slides area available on Slideshare here.


Is there a Library shaped black hole in the web? Event summary.⤴

from @ Open World

Is there a Library shaped black hole in the web? was the question posed by an OCLC event at the Royal College of Surgeons last week that focused on exploring the potential benefits of using linked data to make library data available to users through the web. For a comprehensive overview of the event, I’ve put together a Storify of tweets here: https://storify.com/LornaMCampbell/oclc-linked-data

Following a truly dreadful pun from Laura J Wilkinson…

Owen Stephens kicked off the event with an overview of linked data and its potential to be  a lingua franca for publishing library data.  Some of the benefits that linked data can afford to libraries including improving search, discovery and display of library catalogue record information, improved data quality and data correction, and the ability to work with experts across the globe to harness their expertise.  Owen also introduced the Open World Assumption which, despite the coincidental title of this blog, was a new concept to me.  The Open World Assumption states that

“there may exist additional data, somewhere in the world to complement the data one has at hand”.

This contrasts with the Closed World Assumption which assumes that

“data sources are well-known and tightly controlled, as in a closed, stand-alone data silo.”

Learning Linked Data
http://lld.ischool.uw.edu/wp/glossary/

Traditional library catalogues worked on the basis of the closed world assumption, whereas linked data takes an open world approach and recognises that other people will know things you don’t.  Owen quoted Karen Coyle “the catalogue should be an information source, not just an inventory” and noted that while data on the web is messy, linked data provides the option to select sources we can trust.

Cathy Dolbear of Oxford University Press, gave a very interesting talk from the perspective of a publisher providing data to libraries and other search and discovery services. OUP provides data to library discovery services, search engines, wiki data, and other publishers.  Most OUP products tend to be discovered by search engines, only a small number of referrals, 0.7%, come from library discovery services.  OUP have two OAI-PMH APIs but they are not widely used and they are very keen to learn why.  The publisher’s requirements are primarily driven by search engines, but they would like to hear more from library discovery services.

Neil Jeffries of the Bodleian Digital Library was not able to be present on the day, but he overcame the inevitable technical hitches to present remotely.  He began by arguing that digital libraries should not be seen as archives or museums; digital libraries create knowledge and artefacts of intellectual discourse rather than just holding information. In order to enable this knowledge creation, libraries need to collaborate, connect and break down barriers between disciplines.  Neil went on to highlight a wide range of projects and initiatives, including VIVO, LD4L, CAMELOT, that use linked data and the semantic web to facilitate these connections. He concluded by encouraging libraries to be proactive and to understand the potential of both data and linked data in their own domain.

Ken Chad posed a question that often comes up in discussions about linked data and the semantic web; why bother?  What’s the value proposition for linked data?  Gartner currently places linked data in the trough of disillusionment, so how do we cross the chasm to reach the plateau of productivity?  This prompted my colleague Phil Barker to comment:

Ken recommended using the Jobs-to-be-Done framework to cross the chasm. Concentrate on users, but rather than just asking them what they want focus on, asking them what they are trying to do and identify their motivating factors – e.g. how will linked data help to boost my research profile?

For those willing to take the leap of faith across the chasm, Gill Hamilton of the National Library of Scotland presented a fantastic series of Top Tips! for linked data adoption which can be summarised as follows:

  • Strings to things aka people smart, machines stupid – library databases are full of things, people are really smart at reading things, unfortunately machines are really stupid. Turn things into strings with URIs so machines can read them.
  • Never, ever, ever dumb down your data.
  • Open up your metadata – license your metadata CC0 and put a representation of it into the Open Metadata Registry.  Open metadata is an advert for your collections and enables others to work with you.
  • Concentrate on what is unique in your collections – one of the unique items from the National Library of Scotland that Gill highlighted was the order for the Massacre of Glencoe.  Ahem. Moving swiftly on…
  • Use open vocabularies.

Simples! Linked Data is still risky though; services go down, URIs get deleted and there’s still more playing around than actual doing, however it’s still worth the risk to help us link up all our knowledge.

Richard J Wallis brought the day to a close by asking how can libraries exploit the web of data to liberate their data?  The web of data is becoming a web of related entities and it’s the relationships that add value.  Google recognised this early on when they based their search algorithm on the links between resources.  The web now deals with entities and relationships, not static records.

One way to encode these entities and relationships is using Schema.org. Schema.org aims to help search engines to interpret information on web pages so that it can be used to improve the display of search results.  Schema.org has two components; an ontology for naming the types and characteristics of resources, their relationships with each other, and constraints on how to describe these characteristics and relationships, and the expression of this information in machine readable formats such as microdata, RDFa Lite and JSON-LD. Richard noted that Schema.org is a form or linked data, but “it doesn’t advertise the fact” and added that libraries need to “give the web what it wants, and what it wants is Schema.org.”

If you’re interested in finding out more about Schema.org, Phil Barker and I wrote a short Cetis Briefing Paper on the specification which is available here: What is Schema.org?  Richard Wallis will also be presenting a Dublin Core Metadata Initiative webinar on the Schema.org and its applicability to the bibliographic domain on the 18th of November, registration here http://dublincore.org/resources/training/#2015wallis.