This blog functions as an open notebook which provides personal thoughts, reflections and observations on the role of the Web in higher and further education which I hope will inform readers and stimulate discussion and debate, both on this blog and elsewhere, including on Twitter.
This is the UK Web Focus blog, written by Brian Kelly, UKOLN. UKOLN is a national centre of expertise in digital information management, based at the University of Bath. UKOLN is funded by the JISC.
The views expressed in this blog do not necessarily reflect those of UKOLN or the JISC.
For further information see the blog policies.
Brian's email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also follow him on Twitter using the ID briankelly. Also note that the ukwebfocus Twitter ID provides automated alerts of new blog posts.
Except it hasn’t said that, quite. But it is, and saying so is really important.
and went on to add:
Gartner, however, can’t bring itself to say the PC market is shrinking toward irrelevance. Instead, it describes the PC market as “transitional,” in much the same way companies firing large swathes of their workforces insist that employees have been “downsized.” If Gartner was a brokerage firm, its analyst would have placed a “hold” rating on the PC market, with all the wishy-washy implications that word connotes.
The reason for such evasiveness was:
to protect the lucrative relationship that Gartner has with its clients. If Gartner declares an industry dead, why should a company like Dell spend thousands of dollars a pop for a report that says so?
The talk was based on the work of the JISC Observatory which has been provided by UKOLN and CETIS. The JISC Observatory was not provided by JISC itself in order to provide some distance from existing services and development programmes. However in light of the cessation of core funding for UKOLN and CETIS (together with other JISC-funded bodies such as OSS Watch and the JISC Monitoring Unit) there do seem to be dangers that JISC (or Jisc as it is now known) will lose its ability to focus on the rapidly changing technological infrastructure, preferring to focus, instead, on the delivery of existing services. In light of such concerns in the talk I gave yesterday (and which will be repeated later today) I argued that there was a need for organisations themselves to have mechanisms in place for detecting signals which may indicate changes which institutions will need to prepare for, as well as sense-making processes to interpret the signals and their implications.
As I was invited to write an article about the talk after giving the presentation yesterday, there does seem to be interest across the sector in the approaches I described :-)
Yesterday my Twitter stream was full of tweets about Facebook’s announcement that they were Introducing Graph Search Beta - and this morning the headline Facebook’s Search for Supremacy featured on the front page of the Metro newspaper.
The significance of this announcement can be gauged by the BBC news headline: Facebook’s Graph targets Google in which Rory Cellan-Jones, the BBC’s technology correspondent, describes how his initial scepticism may have been misplaced: “If [Facebook's] Graph Search more closely resembles what Bing describes, then users will be able to stay on Facebook, earning the company huge advertising revenues as they search for goods and services“.
A TechCrunch article which asks “What Can You Search For On Facebook Graph Search?” has focussed on the social aspects of this development (dating, finding places to eat and drink, etc.). But what could Facebook’s new search system offer researchers?
What Does The Evidence Tell Us?
Importance of Evidence
Although people may be tempted to be instinctively dismissive of any developments to Facebook, as described in a paper on “What Next for Libraries? Making Sense of the Future” (available in PDF and MS Word formats)” involvement with work of the Jisc Obervatory has led to a greater emphasis on evidence-gathering. In addition the Jisc Inform article which announced “A Bright Future for Independent Jisc in 2013” described how a greater emphasis for development work will be based on the needs of the institutions. There will therefore be a need to gather evidence on how Facebook is being used across UK higher and further educational institutions in order to understand whether Facebook developments can enhance uses of made of Facebook to support institutional activities.
Institutional Use of Facebook
Facebook ‘Likes’ Across Russell Group Universities
This might suggest that the enhanced searching techniques announced yesterday may be relevant for those involved in university marketing activities, although there may be some interesting privacy issues to be addressed.
But beyond use of Facebook by students, what about its potential to support researchers?
Use of Facebook by Researchers
As described in a post of The Sixth Anniversary of the UK Web Focus Blog Facebook is “in third place behind Search Engines and Twitter in referring traffic to this blog” (as illustrated). This suggests that Facebook may have a role to play in supporting dissemination activities for bloggers. But does Facebook have any relevance for enhancing the dissemination of research papers, beyond the indirect dissemination which research blogs may provide?
Earlier today I used the app to search for papers on ‘Web Accessibility. As illustrated a relevant paper can be shared across my professional networks using Twitter or Facebook as well as sharing with selected individuals using email.
As I described in the blog post “the Springlink app suggests that Facebook and Twitter may be becoming part of the dissemination infrastructure for research papers, especially on mobile devices“. But is there any evidence that researchers are using Facebook, in particular, to facilitate access to research papers?
Social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter don’t appear in these initial results, it may be because the volume is insufficient to be ranked here or there may be breach of service issues. Google Analytics now provides some social media tools and we have been identifying our most popular papers from Facebook and Twitter.
Looking at the data for the past year the following papers have had significant numbers of referrals from Facebook:
van Dommelen, P., Gómez Bellard, C., and Pérez Jordà, G. (2010)Produzione agraria nella Sardegna punica fra cereali e vino. In: Milanese, M., Ruggeri, P., Vismara, C. and Zucca, R. (eds.) L’Africa Romana. I Luoghi e le Forme dei Mestieri e della Produzione nelle Province Africane (Atti del XVIII Convegno di Studio, Olbia, 11-14 Dicembre 2008). Series: L’Africa Romana (18). Carocci, Rome, Italy, pp. 1187-1202. ISBN 9788843054916. http://eprints.gla.ac.uk/48143/
So at this stage it would appear that this is little evidence that Facebook has a significant role to play in enhancing access to papers hosted in institutional repositories. But are the experiences from these three institutional repositories typical across the sector? Might the early adopters, such as P van Dommelen and W. P. Cockshot and their co-authors be gaining advantages in enhancing access to their papers? And, finally, might the announcement of Facebook’s Graph Search prove of relevance to those with an interest in enhancing the discoverability of research papers?
I’ve asked questions, rather than suggested answers in this post. In part that is because the potential relevance of Facebook’s Graph Search will be based on the use of Facebook, rather than advocacy or critique of use of Facebook in a scholarly context. I’d therefore welcome comments from repository managers, in particular, on evidence of Facebook as a driver of traffic (whether large or small) to institutional repositories. For those who may not wish to leave a comment I’ve created two polls: one of the amount of traffic provided by Facebook and the other on interest in understanding the potential of use of Facebook’s Graph Search in a repository context.
Finally, if you’d like to know more about Facebook’s Graph Search, the following links may be of interest:
The University of Edinburgh Strategic Plan 2012-2016
As described in a paper on What Next for Libraries? Making Sense of the Future the JISC Observatory “provides horizon-scanning of technological developments which may be of relevance to the UK’s higher and further education sectors“. The paper, available in MS Word and PDF formats, describes the systematic processes for the scanning, sense-making and synthesis activities to support this work. The paper focuses on the processes for observing technical developments. However there is also a need to observe signals of institutional interests in IT developments, especially in light of the recent announcement of Jisc’s objective to “address a number of specific priorities for universities and colleges through the development of resources, tools and supported infrastructure“.
Strategic plans published by institutions can provide a valuable starting point to help identifying areas of institutional interests. For example, Lorcan Dempsey recently drew attention to the strategic goals which have been identified by the University of Edinburgh:
The document, The University of Edinburgh Strategic Plan 2012-2016, (which is available in PDF format) is interesting not so much for the way it identifies strategic goals and the key enablers who will be needed to ensure the goals are attained, but the list of specific KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) and the associated targets.
Of particular interest is the strategic goal of excellence in research for which the KPI is listed as “Russell Group market share of research income (spend)“. The corresponding targets are:
Increase our average number of PhD students per member of academic staff to at least 2.5
Increase our score (relative to the highest scoring institution) for the citations-based measure in the THE World University Rankings to at least 94/100
The strategic goal of excellence in innovation states that the KPIs are “Knowledge exchange metrics: number of disclosures, patents, licences and new company formation“. The targets for this goal are:
Achieve at least 200 public policy impacts per annum
Increase our economic impact, measured by GVA, by at least 8%
The Importance of Metrics
It is interesting to see how the University of Edinburgh has clearly targets which are based on measurable criteria: “Increase our average number of PhD students per member of academic staff to at least 2.5“; “Increase our score … for the citations-based measure in the THE World university rankings to at least 94/100“; “Achieve at least 200 public policy impacts per annum“; “Increase our economic impact, measured by GVA, by at least 8%“; “Increase the proportion of our building condition at grades A and B on a year-on-year basis, aiming for at least 90% by 2020“; “Increase our total income per staff FTE year-on-year, aiming for an increase of at least 10% in real terms“; ”Increase the level of overall satisfaction expressed in responses to the NSS, PTES and PRES student surveys to at least 88%“; “Increase the number of our students who have achieved the Edinburgh Award to at least 500“; “Create at least 800 new opportunities for our students to gain an international experience as part of their Edinburgh degree“; “Increase our headcount of non-EU international students by at least 2,000“; “Increase our research grant income from EU and other overseas sources so that we enter the Russell Group upper quartile“; “Increase our number of masters students on programmes established through our Global Academies by at least 500“; “reduce absolute CO2 emissions by 29% by 2020, against a 2007 baseline (interim target of 20% savings by 2015)” and “Increase our number of PhD students on programmes jointly awarded with international partners by at least 50%” (emphasis added).
Prior to CETI’s work in this area the importance of metrics had been identified by the JISC in 2010 when they asked UKOLN to facilitate the Evidence, Impact, Metrics activity. A series of reports on this work were published just over a year ago. As described in the document on Why the Need for this Work?:
There is a need for publicly-funded organisations, such as higher education institutions, to provide evidence of the value of the services they provide. Such accountability has always been required, but at a time of economic concerns the need to gather, analyse and publicise evidence of such value is even more pressing.
Unlike commercial organisations it is not normally possible to make use of financial evidence (e.g. profits, turnover, etc) in public sector organisations. There is therefore a need to develop other approaches which can support evidence-based accounts of the value of our services.
Which should I bother with metrics? Metrics can provide quantitative evidence of the value of aspects of project work. Metrics which indicate the success of a project can be useful in promoting the value of the work. Metrics can also be useful in helping to identify failures and limitations which may help to inform decisions on continued work in the area addressed by the metrics.
What are the benefits for funders? In addition to providing supporting evidence of the benefits of successful projects funders can also benefit by obtaining quantitative evidence from a range of projects which can be used to help identify emerging patterns of usage.
What are the benefits for projects? Metrics can inform project development work by helping to identify deviations from expected behaviours of usage patterns and inform decision-making processes.
What are the risks in using metrics? Metrics only give a partial understand and need to be interpreted careful. Metrics could lead to the publication of league tables, with risks that projects seek to maximise their metrics rather than treating metrics as a proxy indicator of value.
It will be interesting to see if other institutions emulate the University of Edinburgh in stating specific targets for their institutional strategic plans – and how pressures on staff within the institutions to achieve the targets affects operational practices.
Is anyone aware of other institutions which are taking similar approaches?
“Change or be Irrelevant” was the title of Lukas Koster’s blog post in which he gave his reflections on the EMTACL12 (Emerging Technologies in Academic Libraries) conference which was held recently in Trondheim.
The need to be able to adapt to the requirements of the rapidly changing technical and economic contexts faced by those working in higher education was highlighted by Karen Coyle in her invited plenary talk entitled “Think ‘Different’“. Lukas provided a useful summary of the talk:
Think “different”’ is what Karen Coyle told us, using the famous Steve Jobs quote. And yes, the quotes around “different” are there for a reason, it’s not the grammatically correct “think differently”, because that’s too easy. What is meant here is: you have to have the term “different” in your mind all the time. Karen Coyle confronted us with a number of ingrained obsolete practices in libraries.
But what are the technological developments which may have an impact on the academic library sector? In the closing talk at the conference I presented a paper on “What Next for Libraries? Making Sense of the Future” (available in PDF and MS Word formats) in which I described the evidence-based methodology used by the JISC Observatory team which aims to help organisations wishing to identify signals of technological developments which may have a significant impact on working practices.
In my talk (which is available on Slideshare) I reminded the audience of the inventions from the days of our youth which failed to live up to our expectations, including the monorail (which we’d use to travel to work, lunar bases (where we’d go for our holidays) and the jetpack. Patrick Hochstenbach picked up on my suggestion of the relevance of jetpacks for librarians in a cartoon in which he depicted a “super shush librarian” who makes sure that patrons aren’t making unnecessary noises in a distributed library environment :-)
Although some may be critical of the stereotype, I felt this provided a useful depiction of the way in which we expect inventions to simple automate existing practices, rather than transform such practices. This, therefore, illustrated the point I made about space travel: we may have expected the lunar landing which took place in 1969 to lead to further space exploration, including bases on the moon and possible Mars. In reality, however, manned space exploration ceased with the last manned mission to the moon taking place as long ago as December 1972. Rather than the manned space exploration we may have expected, we sent unmanned rockets to Mars, the moon and around the solar system (indeed last week we heard the news that the deep space probe Voyager 1 had left the solar system).
Preparing For Change; Preparing to be Relevant
Recently the JISC Observatory has published a report on Preparing for Data-driven Infrastructure and the final version of a report on Preparing for Effective Adoption and Use of eBooks in Education, is due to be published in a few weeks time. These are two of the areas which JISC Observatory team members have identified as likely to be significant for the higher education sector. I would also add that these are areas which will be relevant for those working in academic libraries. There should be no need to mention the importance of the Mobile Web which was another area addressed in a JISC Observatory report on Delivering Web to Mobile.
The theme of preparing for change and preparing to be relevant is also being addressed at ILI 2012, the Internet Librarian International conference which takes place in London on 30-31 October. This year the event has the byline “Re-imagine, Renew, Reboot: Innovating for Success“. I’ll be giving a talk on “Making Sense of the Future” which will explore the ideas described in this post and the paper presented at the EMTACL12 conference. For those who can’t attend, I’ve summarised the presentation in the following cartoon :-)
A Four Year Cycle For Searches for ‘Olympics’ and ‘World Cup’
You will be unsurprised to hear that Google searches for ‘Olympics’ have peaked recently:-) As shown using the Google Insights tool to search for ‘Olympics’ we can spot a four-year cycle for such searches together with a slightly smaller peak two years before the Olympics which probably corresponds to the Winter Olympics.
The trends also help to identify a number of recent peaks which include:
The JISC Observatory provides a scanning function to detect early indications of technological developments which may have a significant impact on the higher education sector. How useful might Google Insights be for detecting or confirming trends? In order to see an answer to this question the Google Insights was used to analyse trends for several of the developments listed in the post giving My Predictions for 2012 together with a number of other developments which have generated interest recently.
The Google Insights search for “tablet computers” trend for shows a clear decline in interest until the beginning of 2010 – which coincided with speculation of the announcement of Apple’s first iPad Tablet. However the sharp decline in searches since the start of 2012 might suggest that Tablet computers have passed their peak which would seem surprising. Looking more closely at the trends we saw a similar decline in the early part of 2010 and 2011 which perhaps suggested that the peaks in December are due to Christmas shoppers. It will be interesting to observe how searches for the term development over the rest of the year. Perhaps the lesson for this example is that trend analyses may well be significantly affected by consumer patterns.
Google Insights trends for searches for ‘tablet computers’
The second prediction I made for 2012 was that we would see a growth in a variety of “open practices” within the sector. However this term has not gained widespread acceptable with Google Insights picking up on use of this term when the British Lions announced public access to their practice sessions. The lesson for this example is that it may not be appropriate to look for meaningful trends for use of a general expression which may have a particular meaning in a higher education context. This might also be the case for a search for ‘open access’ which shows no growth in recent years, even when the trend analysis is restricted to the UK.
Google Insights trends for searches for “learning analytics”
Although the term ‘open access‘ may be used in a number of contexts, “learning analytics” probably has a more specific meaning which is directly relevant to the higher education sector. A search for this term suggests that that public interest began in September 2010 with a significant growth taking place in January 2012, which coincided with the announcement that Blackboard Opens Field Trial for Learning Analytics Solution.
Google Insights search for “mobile web”
The trends for ‘mobile web’ is probably unsurprising, with an increase in the number of searches starting to grow in June 2010 and a sharp growth beginning in May 2012.
Google Insights trends for searches for “Big Data”
The trends for searches for “Big data” show that there has been a steady growth since 2010. It was interesting that these two common words do not appear to have been used outside of their technical usage described in Wikipedia as “data sets so large and complex that they become awkward to work with using on-hand database management tools“.
The reflections on use of Google Insights to detect trends has helped to identify things to consider in using the service to gain a better insight into technological developments:
Trend analyses for IT used by consumers may be significantly affected by consumer purchasing patterns.
It may not be appropriate to look for meaningful trends for use of an expression which may have a general meaning in addition to a specific meaning when used in a higher educational context.
It may be useful to look for trends in the UK if these may differ from global trends.
Finally if we look at the trends for searches for “Semantic Web” and “Linked Data” which are illustrated below we might conclude that Semantic Web has passed its prime but Linked Data in importance. Whilst some might argue that this is the case, another view is that the names given to IT developments and how they are marketed is important, in addition to the underlying value the developments may themselves have. Might Linked Data be being perceived as important because, in comparison with the Semantic Web, it is being actively marketed and promoted?
The paper summarised the findings of the report (which are illustrated) including the technological developments which have (now) arrived; developments which are expected to have a time-to-adoption horizon of two to three years and those with an expected time-to-adoption horizon of four to five years.
The focus of the short paper and the accompanying presentation at the ILI 2011 conference was “how should the sector respond to such predictions?” Since I was expecting significant numbers of participants in the session to have mobile devices I intended to encourage the participants to contribute their thoughts on how the library sector should be responding. When the response to my question “How many of you have smart phones or table computers?” showed positive responses for over 90% of those present I was hopeful that we would be able to crowd-source suggestions for appropriate actions in preparing for the technological developments.
As shown below, I provided some examples of how I might expect libraries to be preparing for technological developments which should now have arrived, with each brief sentence being provided in a form suitable for tweeting.
Mobile and Tablet Computing
Personal use of mobile phones & tablets in order to gain experiences of new working practices; experiences of accessing library services, etc. Update Acceptable Use Policies to address use of mobile devices. Update Web developments tools and standards to ensure mobile access is treated as ‘first class citizen’.
Staff development to provide better understanding of Cloud Computing concepts and implications. Update Acceptable Use Policies to address use of cloud services. Ensure potential risks are understood as well as opportunities. Develop risk minimisation strategies.
Staff development to provide better understanding of open data as well as open access including licensing issues for open content. Understand personal and organisational barriers to provision of open content as well as consuming open content. Seek ways in which the Library can provide open content.
Table 2: Actions for developments for today’s technologies
If each of the hundred of so participants in the room could tweet one or two similar summaries, I suggested, we would have a significant resource based on suggestions from practitioning librarians and information professions. This would be particularly valuable for those technological developments which may not yet be impacting on daily activities which are listed below:
Table 3: Actions for developments expected to be adopted in two to three years
Table 4: Actions for developments expected to be adopted in four to five years
I had hoped that, following the talk by Åke Nygren who was giving an alternative view of the future, we would have time available to actively solicit feedback from the audience. Unfortunately due to technical difficulties Åke’s talk overran and we didn’t have time to discuss the ways in which libraries should be responding to these predictions. In addition I was unable to record a video of my talk due to the video application on my camera stopping after my camera received an SMS alert :-(
RT @abbybarker #ili2011 #a101 I have two mobile devices with me and neither if them are connecting to the wifi properly! Ditto.
In retrospect I think I was too ambitious in seeking to use small group exercises which are more suited to a workshop session than a short presentation, with the limited time and technical delays conspiring against me. However perhaps a blog post can provide the opportunity for feedback which wasn’t forthcoming during my talk. My question, then is, what actions are you taking today in response to the technologies which seen now to be mainstream and those which are expected to arrive in the next two to five years?
In a post entitled “I Predict A Riot”: Thoughts on Collective Intelligence” I described how “the report highlights Collective Intelligence as one emerging technology which is predicted to have an time-to-adoption horizon of 4-5 years“. Two areas which are expected to have a time-to-adoption horizon of 2-3 years are Learning Analytics and New Scholarship. I would agree that these areas are likely to have an impact on mainstream university activities before collective intelligence, but are these areas really 2-3 years away? It does seem to me that early adopters in these areas are already having an impact on the mainstream.
The talk will describe how “The project looked at the final degree classification of over 33,000 undergraduates, in particular the honours degree result they achieved and the library usage of each student” and explored the hypothesis “There is a statistically significant correlation across a number of universities between library activity data and student attainment‘.
This project is one of several which have been funded under the JISC’s Activity Data Programme. These other projects are providing engagement and dissemination activities on the project blogs which includes:
It therefore does seem to me that we are seeing JISC project-funded activities which are helping to explore the relevance of, in this case, activity data related to student achievements and their use of library resources and that the findings are being made available to a wider audience through this contribution to the ILI 2011 conference. But what of New Scholarship?
The Technology Outlook report (PDF format) describes how:
Increasingly, scholars are beginning to employ methods unavailable to their counterparts of several years ago, including prepublication releases of their work, distribution through non-traditional channels, dynamic visualization of data and results, and new ways to conduct peer reviews using online collaboration. New forms of scholarship, including creative models of publication and non-traditional scholarly products, are evolving along with the changing process.
Some of these forms are very common — blogs and video clips, for instance — but academia has been slow to recognize and accept them. Proponents of these new forms argue that they serve a different purpose than traditional writing and research — a purpose that improves, rather than runs counter to, other kinds of scholarly work. Blogging scholars report that the forum for airing ideas and receiving comments from their colleagues helps them to hone their thinking and explore avenues they might otherwise have overlooked.
As we have seen from the above the library sector seems to be willing to make use of blogs in supporting scholarly activities. We can also see an example of pre-publication of scholarly work. Readers of this blog are also likely to be aware of ways in which Twitter is being much more readily accepted as a means of supporting a variety of educational and research activities, with a recent post on Les Carr’s Repository Man’s blog describing ways of Using EPrints Repositories to Collect Twitter Data.
Beyond the library and repository sector, as described in a post on Recognising, Appreciating, Measuring and Evaluating the Impact of Open Science the recent Science Online London 2011 conference provided an example of how scientific researchers are making use of open approaches which can be regarded as new scholarship and the Beyond Impact project, ”an Open Society Foundations funded project that aims to facilitate a conversation between researchers, their funders, and developers about what we mean by the “impact” of research and how we can make its measurement more reliable, more useful, and more accepted by the research community” is looking to ensure that appropriate ‘reward’ mechanisms can be provided for researchers who wish to engage in scientific research beyond the traditional publication of peer-reviewed papers.
In this post I am suggesting that both Learning Analytics and New Scholarship are moving beyond the early adopters and starting to be embraced by the mainstream. I also feel that the Open Access 2011 Week, which is taking place this week, provides a timely opportunity to welcome such developments since New Scholarship, in particular,often encourages use of blogs, Twitter and similar tools to work in a more open fashion and Learning Analytics can benefit from the provision of open, although also perhaps anonymised, data. I am looking forward to seeing the level of interest in these areas at participants at the ILI 2011 conference. But is my optimism misplaced? Åke Nygren is also speaking in the session on ”What’s on the Technology Horizon?” and, as can be seen from his slides which are also available on Slideshare and embedded below, he has a very different view to mine! Both of our slides are embedded below to make it easier to compare the contrasting visions.