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Archive for March 11th, 2014

Guest Post: Open Education Data

Posted by mariekeguy on 11 March 2014

Open Education Week 2014 logoThe third annual Open Education Week (#openeducationwk) takes place from 10-15 March 2014. As described on the Open Education Week web site “its purpose is to raise awareness about the movement and its impact on teaching and learning worldwide“.

Myself and my Cetis colleagues are supporting Open Education Week by publishing a series of blog posts about open education activities. The Cetis blog provides a series of posts from Cetis staff which describe Cetis activities concerned with a range of open education activities. These posts are complemented by a series of guest posts on the UK Web Focus blog from people I have worked with who are working in open education.

The first guest post in the series is written by my former colleague Marieke Guy. After working at UKOLN for 13 years Marieke moved to the Open Knowledge Foundation last year. In this post Marieke reviews her work at the Open Knowledge Foundation on open education data.


Open Education Data

Hi, I’m Marieke Guy and I work for the Open Knowledge Foundation, a global not-for-profit organization that want to open up knowledge around the world and see it used and useful.

My main area of interest is open education, I co-ordinate the Open Education Working Group and I work on a project called LinkedUp. LinkedUp is an EU-funded project that aims to push forward the exploitation of public, open data available on the Web, in particular by educational institutions and organizations. It is doing this through a series of competitions aimed at developers called the LinkedUp Challenge. For the challenge we ask developers to create interesting and innovative tools and applications that analyse and/or integrate open web data for educational purposes.

Defining the terms…

Within the project we use terms like ‘open education data’, ‘open educational data’ and ‘open data in education’ fairly loosely, partly because the terms themselves are ill-defined. For the sake of this post I want to drill down and consider one particular characterization of open education data, and consider its use.

Open education data can refer specifically to the open data that comes out of educational institutions. By educational Institutions I am here referring to all physical places of study from schools to further education and universities. One could broaden this out to include data from online courses, though that is a topic for another post!

So we are really talking about administrative data, which could include:

  • Reference data such as the location of academic institutions

  • Internal data such as staff names, resources available, personnel data, identity data, budgets

  • Course data, curriculum data, learning objectives,

  • User-generated data such as learning analytics, assessments, performance data, job placements

Naturally these types of data can be classified in a variety of different ways, so you can think of them in terms of content, but also in terms of provenance, openness (some are more openly available than others), granularity, legal restrictions and so on. The World Economic Forum report Education and Skills 2.0: New Targets and Innovative Approaches sees there as being two types of education data: traditional and new. Traditional data sets include identity data and system-wide data, such as attendance information; new data sets are those created as a result of user interaction, which may include web site statistics, and inferred content created by mining data sets using questions.

Whatever their classification it is clear that open education data sets are of interest to a wide variety of people including educators, learners, institutions, government, parents and the wider public.

Open Education Data Sets

Here in the UK you could start thinking about some of the datasets that fall under this definition, many of them are held by the government, such as school performance data, data on the location of educational establishments and pupil absenteeism. There is also data from individual institutions such as that collated on linked universities and on data.ac.uk and from research into education, such as the Open Public Services Network report into Empowering Parents, Improving Accountability.

Previously much of the release and use of open educational data sets has been driven by the need for accountability and transparency. A well-cited global example has been the situation in Uganda where the Ugandan government allocated funding for schools, but corruption at various levels meant much of the money never reached its intended destination. Between 1995 and 2001, the proportion of funding allocated which actually reached the schools rose from 24% to 82%. In the interim, they initiated a programme of publishing data on how much was allocated to each school. There were other factors but Reinikke and Svensson’s analysis showed that data publication played a significant part in the funding increase.

However recent developments, such as the current upsurge of open data challenges (see the ODI Education: Open Data Challenge and the LAK data challenge), have meant that there is an increasing innovation in data use, and opportunities for efficiency and improvements to education more generally. Their potential us is broad. Data sets can support students through creation of tools that enable new ways to analyse and access data e.g. maps of disabled access and by enriching resources, making it easier to share and find them, and personalize the way they are presented. Open data can also support those who need to make informed choices on education e.g. by comparing scores, and support schools and institutions by enabling efficiencies in practice e.g. library data can help support book purchasing.

Education technology providers are also starting to see the potential of data-mining and app development. So for example open education data is a high priority area for Pearson Think tank, back in 2011 they published their blue skies paper How Open Data, data literacy and Linked Data will revolutionise higher education. Ideas around how money, or savings, can be made from these data sets are slowly starting to surface.

Application of Data Sets

Some of the interesting UK applications of these data sets can be see through services like Which? University which builds on the NSS annual survey held in Unistats, the Key information sets and other related data sets to allow aid students to select a university; Locrating, defined as ‘To locate by rating: they locrated the school using locrating.com’ which combines data on schools, area and commuting times; London Schools Atlas, an interactive online map providing a comprehensive picture of London schools; equipment data.ac.uk – which allow searching across all published UK research equipment databases through one aggregation portal.

The UK is not alone in seeing the benefit of open education data, in Holland, for example, the education department of the city of Amsterdam commissioned an app challenge similar to the current ODI one mentioned earlier. The goal of the challenge was to provide parents with tools that help them to make well-informed choices about their children. A variety of tools were built, such as schooltip.net, 10000scholen.nl, scholenvinden.nl, and scholenkeuze.nl. The various apps have now been displayed on an education portal focused on finding the ‘right school’.

Further afield in Tanzania Shule.info (see accompanying image) allows comparison of exam results across different regions of Tanzania and for users to follow trends over time, or to see the effect of the adjustments made to yearly exam results. The site was developed by young Tanzanian developers who approached Twaweza, an Open Development Consultant, for advice, rather than for funding. The result is beneficial to anyone interested in education in Tanzania.

The School of Data, through their data expeditions, are starting to do some important work in the area of education data in the developing world. And in January the World Bank released a new open data tool called SABER (The Systems Approach for Better Education Results), which enables comparison of countries education policies. The web tool helps countries collect and analyze information on their education policies, benchmark themselves against other countries, and prioritize areas for reform, with the goal of ensuring that in those countries all children and youth go to school and learn.

All over the world prototypes and apps are been developed that use and build on open education data.

Data Challenges

However there are still challenges that those keen to develop applications using open education data face. Privacy and data protection laws can often prevent access to some potentially useful data sets, yet many data sets that are not personal or controversial remain unavailable, or only available under a closed licence or inappropriate format. This may be for many reasons: trust, concerns around quality and cost being the biggest issues. Naturally there is a cost to releasing data but in many cases this can be far out-weighed by cost-savings later down the line, so for example a proactive approach will save time and effort when FOI requests are made.

Open Education

So while you may find this all very interesting (I hope!) it’s possible you could still be asking how does this all relate to open education?

My answer would be that firstly Open education is fundamentally about removing barriers to education, this could be barriers to entry, or barriers to content, data or knowledge. Opening up data of any sort fits with this agenda and activities around open licensing in particular are both important and hugely supportive. But secondly, and possibly more importantly, opening up education data gives us the potential to see education and its components differently. This new perspective provides us with an opportunity to revolutionise education and make it better.

As David Lassner, Interim president and former chief information officer at the University of Hawaii explains:

Our opportunities for improvement are immense, and data provide a powerful lens to understand how we are doing internally and relative to our peers. This applies across all segments of what we do, from teaching and learning to administrative support. Performance metrics and dashboards are the beginning, but using data to understand deeper correlations and causality so we can shape change will be critical as we strive to advance our effectiveness.”

The movement for open education is ultimately about wanting better education for all. Open education data is proving to be an important instrument in achieving that goal.

If you would like to participate in more discussions around open education data and its role in open education then do join the Open Education Working Group mailing list.


Biography and Contact Details

Marieke GuyMarieke Guy is a Project Co-ordinator at the Open Knowledge Foundation. She leads on dissemination and community building on the LinkedUp Project and co-ordinates the Open Education Working Group.

Prior to joining the Open Knowledge Foundation she worked at UKOLN at the University of Bath on a number of digital information projects focussing on digital preservation, e-learning and social networking for communities such as the cultural heritage sector. She spent two years supporting higher education institutions with their research data management via the Digital Curation Centre institutional support work.

Marieke writes a blog about remote working.


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