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Guest Post: Data Expeditions and Data Journalism project as OER in Russian

Posted by Irina Radchenko on 15 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 fifth and final guest post in the series published on the UK Web Focus blog is written by Anna Sakoyan and Irina Radchenko. In this post Anna and Irina describe “Data Expeditions and Data Journalism project as OER in Russian“.


Data Expeditions and Data Journalism project as OER in Russian

As the availability of education enhances internationally, in particular through the development of OERs and informal educational projects, predominantly in English, similar trends appear in other language environments. By their nature, they are less available for the contributors from all over the world, but at the same time, they often provide the only participation opportunity for those who for whom the English-language sources are not an option due to the language barrier. What seems important here is to create such projects in a way that makes them both their language audience-oriented and integrated into the international knowledge exchange.

Our online educational project DataDrivenJournalism.RU and its data expeditions are an example of an attempt to adopt this approach.

Context

Before we discuss the details of this particular project, we find it necessary to introduce the context, in which it was born and is currently developing. Basically, there seem to have been three deficiencies, or aspects to the problem, that we tried to address in this way.

First off, in the spring 2013 there was a surge of interest in open data among the Russian media, primarily due to the fact that the government was about to open its data officially. Many journalists turned to this subject, simply because it was promoted and supported by the state, so it was a discussed topic by default. Following the coverage, their audience was becoming aware of this kind of developments, but there was little understanding of what exactly it was about. Before the official move, there was some Open Data movement in Russia, but it was mostly promoted by a relatively small group of citizen activists and IT-developers with little response from the broader audience. All in all, by the moment when open data were about to be introduced officially, the bottom-up initiative was really scarce and with deplorably weak horizontal connections.

Second, there is a lack of Russian-language projects for those who might be interested in learning how to deal with data from scratch. Clearly, there were programmers’ communities and some of those were rather enthusiastic about building open data-based applications. But outside this scope, there were journalists, citizen activists, and scholars who could well make use of the new developments, but had no sufficient technical skills, nor even the idea of where to start acquiring them. While there are numerous international English-language learning projects of this kind, they are hardly available for those with a considerable language barrier. So there was a need for translated or newly created Russian-language manuals, as well as some supportive environment, which would encourage people to learn something really new.

Third, and most general, the project seems to comply with the trend all over the world. When there is a considerable number of open materials (books, manuals, tutorials), as well as open/free tools, and there are people who are trying to use them, at a certain stage there is also a demand for further structuring and adaptation of such materials and tools for learning. This means not only collecting relevant links in one catalogue, which is sometimes very helpful by itself, but creating something more interactive that could provide more comfortable learning facilities.

DataDrivenJournalism.RU and its data expeditions

DataDrivenJournalism.RU

DataDrivenJournalism.RU was initially created as a blog to accumulate translated or originally written manuals on working with data. Its mission was formulated as promoting the broad use of data (Open Data first of all) in the Russian-language environment. As the number of the published materials was growing, it was necessary to structure them in a searchable way, which resulted in making it look more like a website. After almost a year of its existance, the functioning of the project appears basically twofold. On one hand, it operates as an educational resource with a growing collection of tutorials, a glossary and lists of helpful external links, as well as the central platform of its data expeditions; on the other hand, as a blog, it provides a broader context of open data application to various areas of activity, including data driven journalism itself.

First Data Expedition

Being inspired by the School of Data example, we decided to try such format as online data expeditions soon after the blog was created. The first Russian-language Data Expedition (DE1) was launched in July 2013. It was a week long and its objectives were searching, processing and visualizing datasets on universities, both Russian and international. The review of DE1 was published on DataDrivenJournalism.RU http://datadrivenjournalism.ru/2013/08/04/first-russian-data-expedition-report/ (in Russian). Its English version can be found on Anna’s blog http://ourchiefweapons.wordpress.com/2013/08/05/first-data-expedition-in-russian-mission-complete/.

Our Second Data Expedition (DE2) launched in December 2013 was based on working with data collected in 2013 within a survey that was conducted by PSRAI Omnibus (http://www.psrai.com/omnibus.shtml). This dataset can be found at PEW Internet & American Life Project site: http://pewinternet.org/Shared-Content/Data-Sets/2013/July-2013—Online-Video-%28onmibus%29.aspx. It was chosen due to its clear structure and lots of variables in the first place. DE2’s main idea was to get beginners to try working with data in a friendly and encouraging environment. Unlike DE1, which heavily relied on self-organisation, DE2 had a ready-made scenario for those who might find it difficult to conduct their own research.

The review of DE2 can be found at DataDrivenJournalism.RU: http://datadrivenjournalism.ru/2014/01/02/de2-report/ (in Russian) and on Anna Sakoyan’s blog: http://ourchiefweapons.wordpress.com/2014/01/04/second-data-expedition-in-russian-mission-accomplished/ (in English).

Data Expeditions

Our most recent Data Expedition (DE3) had a special feature. This Data Expedition was dedicated to researching the subject of orphan or rare  diseases. DE3 was organised in a partnership with NGO “Teplitsa of Social Technologies” so it was a joint project. They helped us to involve experts in the fields of rare diseases. The active participation of experts was an invaluable part of the research, because they provided extremely helpful navigation on the subject. This was the first time we have seen the combination of peer-learning and research in action. We are planning to publish the review of this DE3 in the near future. Right now, its participants are working on creating the follow-up digital story based on the findings.

Conclusions

Undoubtedly, data expeditions being a combination of a peer-learning project and a hackaton can be an extremely helpful tool not only for learning (and teaching) data processing techniques, but also for researching particular areas of knowledge or life posed as the subjects of these expeditions. In this respect, data expeditions could be a very flexible promising format equally applicable to things like an activist campaign or an educational project.

DataDrivenJournalism.RU was created as a response to the two former challenges, because it was designed to accumulate and generate the Russian-language learning materials and also to contribute to building a community of people interested in learning more about making sense of data. As to the latter, an interactive approach was implemented through the Russian-language online data expeditions as a subproject of DataDrivenJournalism.RU.

However, this is only one side of the project. Like any other open educational resource, DataDrivenJournalism.RU can’t exist in a vacuum. It needs to be integrated in broader OER networks and open data communities, both Russian-language and international. It might be some interaction on the basis of knowledge or experience exchange; it might be participation in international data expeditions or other project-based peer-learning projects. Due to the flexibility of open projects, the variety of cooperation formats is virtually great.


About the authors

Anna Sakoyan Anna Sakoyan is a co-founder of DataDrivenJournalism.RU. Anna is currently working as a journalist and translator for a Russian analytical resource Polit.ru and is also involved in the activities of NGO InfoCulture.

Twitter: @ansakoy
Facebook: anna.sakoyan
LinkedIn: Anna Sakoyan
Blog (English): http://ourchiefweapons.wordpress.com/

Irina Radchenko Irina Radchenko is consultant on Open Data at NGO Infoculture and Associate Professor at Higher School of Economics. She is co-founder of DataDrivenJournalism.RU and lecturer at Open Data School.

Twitter: @iradche
Facebook: iradche
LinkedIn: Irina Radchenko
About.me: Irina Radchenko
Blog (Russian): iradche.ru


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Posted in Guest-post, openness | Tagged: | 2 Comments »

Guest Post: What Does Working Openly on the Web Mean in Practice?

Posted by Doug Belshaw on 12 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 second guest post in the series is written by Doug Belshaw whom I’ve known in Jisc circles for several years. Last year Doug, who now works for the Mozilla Foundation, was a plenary speaker at the IWMW 2013 event. In this post Doug asks “What does working openly on the web mean in practice?“. This is a very timely post in light of today’s Guardian article on “An online Magna Carta: Berners-Lee calls for bill of rights for web“.


What Does Working Openly on the Web Mean in Practice?

I’m what’s known as a ‘paid contributor to the Mozilla project’. You may think that’s just a quirky way to describe being an employee of the Mozilla Foundation but I think it highlights something important that I’d like to explore in this post.

Open
Image CC BY-NC-SA mag3737

Mozilla is a mission-driven organisation. You can read the manifesto here. But it’s not only Mozilla’s mission that makes it different. After all, there are plenty of charities, NGO’s, and even for-profit organisations that aim to change the world for the better. Something fundamentally different about Mozilla is a commitment to ‘working in the open’.

There are many definitions of what ‘open’ means. At one end of the spectrum are those who use the term to mean nothing more than something being ‘accessible to everyone’. People who take this approach allow you to access their resources if you have the required hardware and/or software. At the other end of the spectrum (where you will find Mozilla) is what might be called ‘open practice’. This goes several stages further. You may access the resource and use it under the terms of an open license. You may remix (or ‘fork’) the resource to improve it or better fit your context. And you may discuss and suggest changes to the resource with those responsible for maintaining it.

Many of Mozilla’s working practices are heavily influenced by the Free Software Definition. However, it’s applied more widely then just to the creation of software. For example, Mozilla uses it when creating teaching resources as part of our Webmaker programme. It’s used when planning the future of the Open Badges Infrastructure. Mozilla chooses open source tools and protocols like BugzillaIRC and Etherpad that default to publicly-accessible outputs. Unless there’s a very good reason for doing otherwise, anyone can see what’s going in within Mozilla projects.

Working open is not only in Mozilla’s DNA but leads to huge benefits for the project more broadly. While Mozilla has hundreds of paid contributors, they have tens of thousands of volunteer contributors — all working together to keep the web open and as a platform for innovation. Working open means Mozilla can draw on talent no matter where in the world someone happens to live. It means people with what Clay Shirky would call cognitive surplus can contribute as much or as little free time and labour to projects as they wish. Importantly, it also leads to a level of trust that users can have in Mozilla’s products. Not only can they inspect the source code used to build the product, but actually participate in discussions about its development.

There’s a well-known saying called Linus’s Law that states, “given enough eyeballs, all bugs are shallow.” In other words, problems can be fixed if you get enough people to work on solutions. Of course, there needs to be an architecture of participation to make the process distinct from chaos, but get this right and — like Wikipedia and Mozilla’s Firefox, you end up with a competitive advantage. The cognitive surplus can be channelled away from TV watching towards things that benefit humankind.

In practice, working open for Mozilla looks like this: if you’re interested in something (whoever you are and wherever you’re from) you can turn up and get involved. If the community find your input useful, then you are likely to be given more responsibility. There are many ways this can happen, but becoming a module owner is a good example. Module owners are people in charge of a module or sub-module of code within a particular codebase. They have responsibility and authority that has been earned through a meritocratic system. For more on this, I’d highly recommend reading Peer Participation and Software: What Mozilla Has to Teach Government (it’s a free download).

But what does all this mean for education? As someone who’s worked in both schools and universities, I know how different the brave new world of the web can feel from the lived reality of institutions. One way to shake things up is to continually ask the question, “can we make this public?” And if that’s too radical, how about “is there any reason why this shouldn’t be shared with everyone at the institution?” It’s a truism that innovation comes from the edges; you’re unlikely to know where the best ideas are residing unless you give people a platform to share them. And one of the easiest ways to provide such a platform is to use the web.

I won’t deny that there may be legitimate reasons for sometimes restricting access to resources, using closed-source software, and privileging top-down decision making. However, I’d suggest that these cases are probably rarer than we collectively admit. Why not try inviting comments from everyone connected with your institution or organisation next time you’re drafting a new policy? How about throwing open the doors (perhaps virtually?) of your next meeting? Next time you’re choosing a digital tool, is it worth considering privileging Open Source software?

There’s much to say on this issue, but if you’ll excuse me I’m going to have to go. A Mozilla contributor is pinging me on IRC…


Biography and Contact Details

Doug BelshawDr. Doug Belshaw, Web Literacy Lead for the non-profit Mozilla Foundation is an educator, researcher and writer.

Contact details:

Email: doug@mozillafoundation.org
Website: http://dougbelshaw.com/
Twitter: @dajbelshaw


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Library 2.0 at the University of Wolverhampton

Posted by ukwebfocusguest on 1 October 2008

Guest Blog Post

The guest blog slot provides an opportunity to include some different voices and views on the UK Web Focus, which can provide a fresh insight in the various topics covered in this blog.

I’m therefore pleased to welcome this guest blog post from Jo Alcock, Academic Information Assistant for the Harrison Learning Centre at the University of Wolverhampton – although perhaps better known in some circles as Joeyanne Libraryanne for her Joeyanne Libraryanne blog. In her post Jo describes a variety of ways in which Web 2.0 services are being used and goes on to highlight some of the challenges which this approach entails. I should also add that Jo is a contributor to the paper on Library 2.0: Balancing the Risks and Benefits to Maximise the Dividends which I’ll be presenting at the Bridging Worlds 2008 Conference.


Setting the Scene

I work at the University of Wolverhampton which has a large proportion of part-time students (some schools are up to 70% part-time). The University is also geographically spread across the region with five campuses in total. This means students do not always come into Learning Centres and often use the closest geographical centre rather than their subject specific centre. We have recently adopted a University-wide Blended Learning strategy to support the changing nature of our students, and the Learning and Information Services department are developing ways to support students from wherever they choose to study. This includes obvious things like e-journals and e-books, as well as virtual reference support and Web 2.0/Library 2.0 initiatives to support students online.

Current Initiatives

Blogs

We currently have five subject blogs (the School of Computing and IT Blog, School of Applied Sciences BlogSchool of Engineering and the Built Environment Blog, School of Humanities, Social Sciences and Languages Blog and the Wolverhampton Business School Blog to support students and staff of particular academic schools, along with an University of Wolverhampton Electronic Resources Blog for updates to services. We also have a number of project related blogs and internal communication blogs.

Social Networking

The Learning Centres have a Facebook Page which was established at the end of last year. The page includes links to relevant parts of our Web site, our aggregated RSS feeds (from our blogs) and search applications. One of the most useful features of the page are sending updates to “fans” – another way of letting users know about our services and reaching them where they already are (a quick scan of any communal PCs show numerous Facebook users!).

Wikis

We have started exploring wikis and although we do not currently have a departmental wiki we have a number of small scale wikis for sharing information.

Online calendars

I’ve included this as although it’s not usually included in general “Library 2.0″ initiatives, it’s something that we’ve found really useful. We have been using Google Calendar (see the University of Wolverhampton InfoBites Calendar) to manage our events for a few months now and it’s so much easier than updating numerous places when the timetable changes or a new event is added. Now we just update the calendar on Google and the changes are reflected wherever the calendar is embedded. Users can also subscribe to the calendar or add single events to their own calendar. We’ve also recently used it as a shared calendar for scheduling purposes for our busy induction weeks.

Barriers

There have been a number of barriers to the Library 2.0 developments, some which may have been exclusive to us but many that I imagine are shared with other libraries.

External Hosting and Software

Many of the Web 2.0 products we use are external products, often hosted externally. This has immediate issues when it comes to reliability and stability. Services change over time, which is often a positive thing but may mean that your service no longer functions in the same way you wanted it to. You may find that it suffers “downtime” whilst the software is being upgraded or simply because the servers are not reliable. You may even find that the service ends completely without warning.

This can be a big issue for institutions, and understandably so. An alternative option whilst still utilising the technologies is to use open source software but host it internally therefore passing control back to the institution. Examples of this are using the WordPress.org blogging software (rather than their hosted service at WordPress.com) and the MediaWiki software for wikis. This way, the institution can update when it wants to (and also therefore not when it doesn’t want to!) and also has greater flexibility with the functionality and style of the software.

Staff Awareness

Another issue has been lack of awareness and uncertainty about the technologies utilised. Quite often, I have found that people are pleasantly surprised when they realise how easy it actually is to use. I understand that some of the software is bewildering at first experience though, and getting over that stage if you are uncertain about the fundamentals of the technology (for example, what on earth is a wiki or a blog?!) can be a big hurdle. Something that I think is now being recognised by the profession is that more time needs to be allocated for keeping staff up-to-date and providing training or even just time during work to explore the technologies.

Culture Change

This is something I am particularly aware of, probably because I am part of the so-called “net generation”. I like to share experiences and work collaboratively, but I know this can be quite a culture change to many who are used to working in isolation and keeping their work to themselves. When you have a shared calendar for example, or a shared blog, it can take some getting used to. Clear definition of roles and expectations from the beginning can help alleviate this.

User Needs and Experience

This is one of the main issues for me – although I am a keen user of many new technologies and use a lot in my own life, I only want to adopt them at work if they make sense from a user point of view – whether this is other staff when we are thinking about a shared resource like a wiki, or our community when it is a development for users.

Over the summer we have thought a lot about the future of the blogs; whether to merge the subject blogs or keep them separate, and what the actual purpose of each blog is. There are many issues around merging the blogs – such as whether to include all subjects (not all currently have a blog) and the logistics of subscribing to your subject only. The main issue for me was to look at it from a user point of view. With many subjects all on one blog, you can use categories to create separate RSS feeds for each subject. This initially seemed like a feasible way of merging the blogs whilst still allowing users to subscribe to only their subject. However, from examining our blog stats, most of our users subscribe by e-mail, suggesting that many of them do not currently use RSS feeds. I considered having a guide on the blog and holding training sessions, but in the end decided it was too much to expect of our users and would likely put them off subscribing if it was too confusing.

Ultimately, we are here for our users and if something doesn’t make sense or isn’t of use to them, there is little point us investing time in it. For example, if Facebook fell dramatically in popularity, it would make no sense to continue to develop our Facebook page and we should instead concentrate our efforts on whatever else our users are familiar with.

This is a fundamental part of the Web 2.0 philosophy for me; have a go – if it works, great, if it doesn’t, there’s no big loss. I like to invest a small amount of time trying something and assess whether or not it is worth pursuing after you’ve given it a chance. If it isn’t or the barriers are too great, just scrap it or try something else.

How about you?  What barriers have you experienced with Library 2.0 Initiatives and how do you overcome them? Please share your thoughts in the comments.

Jo Alcock, University of Wolverhampton

Posted in Blog, Guest-post | Tagged: | 6 Comments »

Guest Post: You’ve Got A Friend

Posted by ukwebfocusguest on 1 September 2008

It has been a while since I have a guest post published on the UK Web Focus blog. But as I am very keen on encouraging a debate on the role of Web 2.0 within our institutions I would like to welcome Hannah Hiles as a guest blogger.

Hannah Hiles has been Media & PR Officer for Keele University in Staffordshire since August 2006. Previously she was Keele’s Alumni Officer and before joining the University she was a journalist at The Sentinel newspaper in Stoke-on-Trent. Her views are her own and not necessarily those of Keele University.


Keele University has been exploring the potential for communications and connections that can be found in Web 2.0 technologies.

In just 16 months of using Facebook as a corporate tool we have developed a thriving community with links spanning the globe; it has revolutionised the way we run some events, reconnected us with dozens of “lost” alumni and provided a platform where we can interact with prospective students in their own domain.

The Keele University alumni LinkedIn group in particular provides networking opportunities for our professional graduates while at the same time allowing us to learn more about their careers and tailor our services to their needs.

And all this for just the cost of my time – we have no fancy paid-for online community platforms here.

We first started using Facebook in January 2007. One of our graduates had created a group called Keele Alumni and we thought we should get in there with our own official group, so Keele Society (http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=2224498996) was born. We didn’t go through any committees or get approval from anyone; we just recognised the potential and seized the opportunity, little knowing how quickly Facebook would grow within just a few months.

We soon added our official Keele University Page (http://www.facebook.com/pages/Keele-United-Kingdom/Keele-University/19097243336), as well as the Keele-network only Love:Keele group (http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=9189098385&ref=ts to help me find student case studies.

One of the most exciting uses of Facebook for me has been the creation of groups aimed at prospective students. Keele 2008 (http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=7459213335) and Keele University 2009 (http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=17727959813&ref=ts) have proved a lifeline for applicants wanting to get the lowdown on Keele from the people who know and love it best – the current students.

A team of volunteers from among our Student Academic Representatives (StARs) check the group regularly and answer any questions. Other keen students, including Students’ Union sabbatical officers, also participate. I monitor what is being said and give an official University response when necessary but usually allow the students to take the lead.

A major part of Keele University’s appeal is its friendly atmosphere, so I try to reflect that through my communication style. Our Twitter updates (http://twitter.com/KeeleUniversity are a mixture of news stories with web-links and general observations about what is happening on campus spoken in the “voice” of the University. I’m still very new to Twitter and I don’t think I have fully grasped the possibilities of its use, but it’s another opportunity for communication with prospective students, current staff and students and alumni to be explored.

The University recognises Web 2.0 as an important area for growth, so much so that developing Keele’s e-communications strategy has now been formally built into my job description.

Posted in Guest-post | Tagged: | 4 Comments »