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Reflections on the LinkedUp Project’s Booksprint

Posted by Brian Kelly on 6 Sep 2013

The Open Education Booksprint

Image from LinkedUp project blog

Image from LinkedUp project blog

On Tuesday I attended an Open Education Booksprint organized by the LinkedUp project and facilitated by my former UKOLN colleague Marieke Guy, who is now working for the Open Knowledge Foundation supporting the LinkedUp project.

As described on the LinkedUp project blog:

The LinkedUp Project will be creating an Open Education Handbook as one of its deliverables. The first step in this process is a one-day booksprint to be held at C4CC, London on Tuesday 3rd September. During the booksprint participants will be involved in group discussions, constructing the table of contents, agreeing on chapter themes, negotiating with others on concepts and hopefully coming up with some agreement on basic definitions!

The EU-funded LinkedUp project is funded by the EU’s FP7 Support Action which promotes the exploitation and adoption of public, open data available on the Web, in particular by educational organisations and institutions”.  It brief the project “aims to push forward the exploitation of the vast amounts of public, open data available on the Web, in particular by educational institutions and organizations“.

I’ve an interest in open practices in general. Therefore the open practice of collaboration in the rapid production of a document (a ‘booksprint’) on open education was of interest and motivated me to attend the event in London yesterday.

At the start of the day Marieke introduced the key concepts of a ‘booksprint’. As described on the Booksprint web site:

A Book Sprint brings together a group to produce a book in 3-5 days. There is no pre-production and the group is guided by a facilitator from zero to published book. The books produced are high quality content and are made available immediately at the end of the sprint via print-on-demand services and e-book formats.

The Bookspint Web site goes on to explain that:

There are three important outcomes from Book Sprints:

  1. Producing a book
  2. Sharing knowledge
  3.  Team/community building
Open Education Booksprint

Marieke Guy facilitating the Open Education Booksprint

Marieke explained that as it was not possible to run the booksprint over three days, she would be tweaking the standard format slightly. After Marieke’s introduction to the day (which is summarised in her slides which are hosted on Slideshare and embedded below) and a presentation by Phil Barker (CETIS) which provided a context to open education () and an ice-breaking exercise, we broke into three groups which were challenged to identify the topics and structure for sections in the handbook on open educational resources, pedagogy and data.

Thoughts on Collaborative Authoring

My first experience of the collaborative development of documentation resulted in the development of the UNIRAS Training Materials . This work was coordinated by Ann Mumford, Loughborough University during the mid 1990s as part of her work for ACOCG, the Advisory Group on Computer Graphics. Ann was a colleague of mine at the time. Back then, if memory serves me correctly, as a member of the (IUIC Inter-University Information Committee) I was involved in the development of the Document Sharing Archive. As I described back in February 2008 in a post entitled IT Services – Set Your Documentation Free!

This [the document sharing archive] was initially established in the late 1980s/early 1990s based on a centralised repository of documentation on the HENSA/Micros service at the University of Lancaster. However floundered due to the complexities of network access in pre-Web days and the effort it took to transfer resources to a centralised location. A renewed effort in the mid 1990s provided a Web-based interface to a distributed archive known as the UCISA TLIG Document Sharing Archive.

However the new service failed to gain any momentum. In retrospect I feel this was due to the focus purely on the sharing of existing documentation. The experiences of gained in the development of open source software suggest that a collaborative approach is more likely to result in deliverables which become widely adopted. The OSS Watch service has documented an Community Source Development Model. This document, together with a briefing note on Community Source Vs Open Source explore the background to these approaches and how “community source is often described as a perfect fit with the ethos and values of education and research, traditionally associated with intellectual innovation and the sharing of knowledge among scholars“. The booksprint approaches, which are based on collaboration in the planning and production processes, sharing knowledge and community building, would appear to have similarities with the community source development model. But how successful are such approaches and will a booksprint be guaranteed to deliver a quality deliverable?

Towards the end of Tuesday’s booksprint, the three groups reviewed the progress of their work. Two of the groups, which addressed ‘resources’ and ‘pedagogy’, had produced a significant amount of text but the group I was in, which covered ‘data’, did not have content which could be refined into a finish product. In the subsequent discussions we discovered that the members of the ‘resources’ group mostly knew each other and were able to agree on the structure of their output and the key issues which needed to be addressed. It seemed that the ‘pedagogy’ group quickly agreed that the title was misleading and agreed to rename the section ‘Open Learning and Practice’. Following this agreement the group again were in a position to produce meaningful content. However the members of the ‘data’ group did not have a similar level of shared experiences which led to more time being spent on discussions about the issues related to the role of data in open education. Rather than being in a position to document agreed solutions to these questions instead we spent our time formulating the questions and a structure for providing answers to the questions. We did agree, however, that we would be able to spend some time afterwards in providing a more coherent section on ‘data’.

To conclude, it would seem that a booksprint can be an useful way of collaboratively producing a document if there is broad consensus on the content area (as was the case in the development of the UNIRAS training materials in the 1980s and last year’s OER Book Sprint organised by CETIS). However if the content area is contentious or there is a lack of shared understanding it may be difficult to produce an output in the short period which booksprint normally last.

However these reflections are based on my very limited experiences of booksprints. I’d welcome feedback from others who may have more experience.

2 Responses to “Reflections on the LinkedUp Project’s Booksprint”

  1. […] Reflections on the LinkedUp Project’s Booksprint […]

  2. mariekeguy said

    Hi Brian,

    Apologies for the slow response – I managed to miss your post!

    Thanks for your reflections on the day. I’d agree that the ‘Open Resources’ and ‘Open Learning and Practice’ groups both progressed a little quicker but I think the main reason for this is because they are much more developed areas generally. OERs have been around for over 10 years and lots of work has already taken place, and significant progress has been made around changing teaching practices over the last few years. However the area of open data use for educational purposes is very new. There are relatively few projects acting in this space and relatively few reports/paper/blog posts already written. We are still at the question asking stage – for example how exactly can you use open data to meet educational needs? The LinkedUp Project is exploring these ideas and coming up with just as many questions as answers.

    The work carried out at the booksprint by the data group was really great stuff and will form the basis for a really important part of the handbook. The aim of the day wasn’t (as I pointed out in my slides) to come up with a finished product, but to create a skeleton of a book that we could take forward.

    If you are interested in the progress of the handbook I recommend you join the Open Education Working Group. We hope to be able to embark on the next stage fairly soon.



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