Seasons Greetings and enjoy your offline time!

Sometimes you end up in a situation when you are working more but there seems to be less time. I think that happened to me this year!!

In January I moved from working part-time to being full-time. As my children have got older my hours have crept up and this year it was hard to say no to full-time work. Working from home means that the hours I work are flexible (a total necessity for me) but now work seems to eek into every part of my life. Since our last house move 3 years back my computer sits in a part of the front room, so it is now permanently on and permanent seeable – even when I’m cooking, helping the children with homework or even reading a book on the sofa. Add in phones, ipads and laptops and I seem to be unable to switch off. And as a homeworker interaction with humans, other than via Skype, seems to go down as my online time goes up.

kids

I realise all this isn’t ideal. Not only that it goes against the advice I’ve oft given out about the work/life balance.

However it is not only me that is always online – my children (now 7, 10 and 12), despite our efforts to ration, seem to be connected a lot more too. It’s hard to moan about all of this, after all my career has been built on the Internet, but I think I am really starting to see the value of taking time out to think. I just don’t know when I can schedule it in…

The upside of all this extra working is that we’ve had a few nice holidays this year and I have turned off the electronic appliances for those. Next year my husband and I are off to Iceland for 5 days – which I’m really excited about. I’ve also tried to participate in more offline/out of work activities. I do Zumba, Tae-kwondo, support our school and am in the local Friends of the Earth group – but often work puts a kibosh on these due to travel time.

I suppose a question for me right now is how can I keep my head clear in a world that is pretty much all online these days? I’ll be giving it some thought over the Christmas break. I’d really appreciate any suggestions!

Still I hope this hasn’t been too somber a post. Work is good (I’ve finished off LinkedUp, still co-ordinate the Open Education Working Group and now work on Europeana Space and PASTEUR4OA) and most of my friends and family are well. And time plods on, real fast…

As Dr Seuss said: “How did it get so late so soon? It’s night before it’s afternoon. December is here before it’s June. My goodness how the time has flewn. How did it get so late so soon?

But then I think of the adage – old age isn’t so bad when you consider the alternative. ;-)

Hope you all have a great Christmas and Happy New Year!

Open Education Data, Video Streaming, Wine and Cheese

Last week I presented on Open Data in Education at the LTI NetworkED Seminar series run by the London School of Economics Learning Technology and Innovation Department. The talk was videoed and streamed and I just had to share my favourite image Tweeted by Deb Baff from University of South Wales!

My talk on screen while Debs drinks wine and eats cheese!

My talk on screen while Debs drinks wine and eats cheese!

I was a little unsure of the crowd so ended up giving a very broad overview covering open data, open data in education, relevant datasets, how we can use open data sets to meet educational needs, learning analytics, and the main related challenges. Everything went in the mix!

Prior to giving the talk I was interviewed for the LSE blog.

The video of the talk is available on the CLTSupport YouTube Channel and embedded below.

My slides are available on Slideshare and embedded below.

There is a Storify of the Tweets.

MOOC Misery

So I’m one of the many who have failed to finish a MOOC [completion rates have been given as low as 10% – see this Time article with links to stats, Katy Jordan gives a completion rate figure of 13% – 40%, there are also more reports on the OER Research Hub website. The MOOC in question was Stanford’s Open Knowledge MOOC – and I did write a few posts about the topics.

Students completing, or not completing a MOOC, continues to be a hot topic in the Open Education world. For those of you interested in the discussions then I can recommend Martin Weller’s post ‘MOOC completion rates DO matter‘ as a good starting point.

By  b3d_ on Flickr

By b3d_ on Flickr, CC-BY

For me the problem has been an ending project with deadlines set in stone, a holiday and a need to spend every other non-working moment doing family chores. I also think motivation, or lack of it, played a part. Participating in a MOOC felt a little like a busman’s holiday and maybe I should have been learning about something different from that which makes up my daily workload.

Anyway I just felt I should come clean. Maybe there will be more time for me and MOOCs in many moons!

4 Things I Don’t Miss About the Office

gemmaAfter moving to Italy from the UK for a change of lifestyle Gemma Wilson began to miss her old marketing role back in the UK. She opted to join the rapidly expanding remote worker workforce and has agreed to share with us 4 things she doesn’t miss about working in an office.

Gemma writes and shares many posts on the Meetupcall (a tool which makes it simple to arrange conference calls with people anywhere in the world,directly from your calendar) blog. She writes from her home in Italy on real experiences that she has uncovered through working remotely.

If you have some “things you don’t miss about the office” then share them with us in the comments!

***

This year I decided to jump ship and try out the increasingly popular method of working; remote working. As I’ve already covered previously, remote working is certainly not all about sitting in your pajamas and enjoying daytime television.

However, one of the main things I’m happiest about is that I’m no longer confined to a traditional four walled office.The last thing I would wish on a person is having to spend decades under the glow of industrial lighting in a noisy office. Seeing as I’m a little cynical by nature, I thought I’d share some of the things that I don’t miss about working in an office and why.

Irritating Employees
You know who you are. No one wants to hear your life story or the current “woe is me” situation that you are dealing with for the millionth time. This is a workplace I am here to work, I am not your therapist. In fact, there is no one here that is medically qualified to help you. So please, go back to your desk and do some work, so I can do mine. You know, that thing we’re getting paid to do?

The Commute
Ok, I admit it, this is the easiest one. In my previous jobs I had a commute of 45 – 60 minutes per day. This isn’t necessarily bad, but that was nearly an hour of my day spent on driving. That meant I had to fuel up roughly £150 per month. Now that my commute is literally 20 seconds to my computer, my fuel budget is zero. That’s money that can be used elsewhere.

Food
I don’t miss the smell of burnt coffee because someone is careless in the “how a coffeepot works” department. And for the last time, no reheating fish in the microwave! How many times do you need to be told? And what is it about offices that cause people to bring in junk food? I know sitting at your desk all day with some high calorie diet is a perfect combination, but I don’t miss it. Now that I work from home I decide what food is around me and it’s a lot cheaper making my own lunches than feeling obliged to have to tag along on ‘lunch dates’ while paying a small fortune per day just for a sandwich. Without junk food around me I am not tempted to grab a chocolate bar or a packet of crisps. I have even started going to the gym after work; especially now that I don’t need to spend money on fuel and office takeaways.

Take a pick from the fruit bowl!

Take a pick from the fruit bowl!

Meetings
I don’t miss meetings at all. Previously, I used to have meetings about meetings. Or I was often collared into an irrelevant meeting just to fill chairs around a boardroom table. Nothing drives me closer to insanity than wasting time. Many meetings were simply that, at least in my case. Since working remotely in my new job, the meetings now actually have a purpose; but it’s once a week and to discuss important things, like the next project, or just a catch up on how things are going; and I appreciate that, especially being 1000 miles away from the office. Now it means I have more of my day to be productive and finish my tasks.

I’m sure there are many more things I don’t miss about being in an office, but these are the first ones that come to mind. This isn’t meant to say that working in an office is bad or shouldn’t be done, just that it’s not my cup of tea, especially now that I’ve experienced working from home first hand. Going through this exercise has also shown me that maybe I should post the things I do miss about working in an office. Surprisingly enough, there are a number of things, but I’ll leave that for another time.

If you work in an office, what drives you nuts about working there? What do you hate most about being in an office?

People’s Choice Vote – the final score

Yesterday the LinkedUp Project announced the winners of its Vici Competition, the third and final competition in the LinkedUp Challenge. All 3 competitions have involved the judging of software prototypes and apps that build on open education data using an extensively researched and refined evaluation framework. They have also all included an ‘online open vote’.

Winners of the Vici Competition

Winners of the Vici Competition

The process of implementing the People’s Choice Award has been a bit of a roller coaster ride and I’m keen to share our experiences.

I wanted this assessment of our approaches to be both open and honest, and so it feels appropriate to publish it here – on my own personal blog – rather than on the LinkedUp site, or elsewhere.

Some Background…

Before the launch of the first competition I was in discussion with colleagues at Open Knowledge (where I’m based) and we agreed that although the evaluation framework is a fair way to judge an open data competition it is not a very inclusive process. Only an elite group of reviewers get to judge the entries – everyone else’s views are discounted. Community building within LinkedUp is very much about building new audiences so we came up with the idea of the People’s Choice Vote – a way to involve everyone and anyone in the judging of the competition. It was agreed that the People’s Choice Vote would be run in parallel with the evaluation framework assessment giving competition entrants an opportunity to promote their submission, and external people an opportunity to be involved in the voting process. In my role as dissemination and community building co-ordinator it seemed like an interesting approach to take and and the consortium agreed that it was something we could spend time on. Maybe at this stage we were naive in our thinking that it would be easy to run such a vote.

Although I’d had some experience of running online votes before (mainly related to chosing sessions for a conference I’d been involved in) we did recognise that the People’s Vote would be some extent an experiment. We were unfamiliar with the currently available software used and had only a vague idea of the challenges such a vote would pose. However the LinkedUp Project is partially a research project so this level of experimentation seemed reasonable providing we share our experiences; it was agreed that it was a risk worth taking. Hopefully our insights will prove to be a useful resource for others planning to run a similar open vote in the future.

Veni Vote

For the Veni Competition I carried out quite a bit of investigation into who was running online voting and the type of solutions involved. In the end we went with Ideascale. The setup worked well but unfortunately our freemium version meant that while voters could only vote once on each idea they could vote down as well as up using a dislike button. This meant that some competitors and their supporters were coming to the site and voting everything down except for their own entry. Naturally this upset many of the competitors and to ensure positive results we added in extra opportunities to physically vote at the LinkedUp poster session at the OKConference in September 2013, venue for the Veni awards. The competitors who were causing the problems also ended up getting eventually locked out of the system.

Veni Vote in Ideascale

Veni Vote in Ideascale

I documented my thoughts on the Veni vote in the following blog post: Online Voting: The highs and lows.

Vidi Vote

It was clear that the service to be used for the Vidi Competition Vote had to only allow positive voting. We were offered an alternative software solution: GNOSS, a software platform, created by RIAM Intelearning LAB S.L. who specialise in online social networks with dynamic semantic publishing. The GNOSS team were actually shortlisted for the Veni Competition so had some understanding of what was required for the People’s Choice. The system (described in this post) was much more complex than Ideascale and to prevent vote rigging it required that voters register with the GNOSS site or use an already established account. The GNOSS setup is still available online.

Vidi People's choice in GNOSS

Vidi Vote in GNOSS

The system, whilst being more secure, received some criticism for its complexity. Loging in was either via Facebook, Twitter, or a new GNOSS registration. During this process the interface would change language (from English to Spanish at regular intervals) so for example you were required to make selections related to the community you wanted to participate in with little explanation.

The GNOSS solution was definitely better, but still didn’t tick all the boxes for us.

Vici Vote

Despite being out third effort and the feeling that we should almost be there by now, the Vici People’s Choice was by far the most complicated.

In response to the feedback that the GNOSS system had been overly complicated we opted to use a dedicated, yet fairly simplistic online voting app. The app was called Vote Contest was created by Wishpond and for the first time during the LinkedUp Challenge we actually paid for the software. It’s simplicity was it’s appeal and we were able to embed it in our website. You can read more about the Wishpond system in the Vici People’s Choice launch post.

Vici People's Vote in Vote Contest from Wishpond

Vici Vote in Vote Contest from Wishpond

Unfortunately it became clear fairly early on that there were problems with the software. The mobile version of the site had a bug that enabled people to refresh the page and then vote again with the same email address. There was also no email verification and as the Mobile version failed to remember the MAC address this resulted in opportunities to game the system. After a few days and discussions with the Wishpond team (who initially denied the problem and then admitted that they were unable to fix it) we were left with broken software and scores that were effectively null and void. After a consortium meeting an executive decision was made that due to a relatively short-timescale there would not be a chance to investigate and implement alternative online voting solutions. The only option was to cancel the online vote completely. Not wanting to let the Vici entrants down completely it was decided that we would replace the online People’s Choice Vote with an offline People’s Choice Vote. The People’s Choice winner will be identified during a physical People’s Choice Vote that would take place at the poster session at ISWC in Italy – where the Vici awards were to be held.

We were put in a very difficult position and it was clear that whatever decision was made would cause some upset. Many of the competition entrants complained but came to realise that we had been left with no other options.

Tokens for the Vici People's Choice

Tokens for the Vici People’s Choic

Running a physical People’s Vote at ISWC was an arduous task. All ISWC attendees received a token (shown above) in their ISWC delegate bags. This involved the creation of 650 ‘tokens’ (pieces of card with the details of the vote on). The tokens had a space for people to write their name and their entry on – the thinking behind this was that it would involve competitors ‘borrowing’ tokens from unused bags. The Vici Challenge entrants were invited to showcase their entries and their posters during the ISWC minute madness session encouraging delegates to come and vote for them. The posters were then on display in a dedicated Poster and Demonstration session and delegates were able to vote for their favourite submission by placing your token in the relevant poster bag.

At ISWC alongside the LinkedUp Challenge there was also a best poster competition. Over 130 posters were competing in the competition and delegates could vote for their favourite poster using the ISWC website or phone app – this involved using a code number placed in their delegate bags – again more ways to avoid gaming the system. It was clear that with so many choices delegates were at voting saturation level. Although over 100 votes were placed for the LinkedUp Vici Challenge it was a relatively small sample of the 650 attendees.

Conclusions

Over the last year the vote process has given me extensive food for thought around our innate tendency to compete, and at times cheat. Any voting system has to be set up with this in mind.

In hindsight the time and effort in running a successful People’s Choice Vote was underestimated. Software solutions need to be well tested by a committed team looking for loopholes and opportunities to break the system. They also need to be tried out on multiple devices. While all the LinkedUp People’s Choice votes has been marred with attempts to game the system I still glad that we run it and believe that it was established with the right motivation in mind. LinkedUp has attempted to be inclusive and innovative in its approaches to raising the profile of open data in education. In fulfilling this task we have worked hard as a consortium to reach out to new audiences and include the general public when possible.

At this year’s ISWC the complexities of running the People’s Vote seemed overwhelming and at times I felt like we’d let entrants to the competition down. However one shortlisted candidate kindly pointed out that it is impossible to keep everyone happy but if you try your best and your motivation is good then you just have accept that there is little more you can do.

Making things ‘open’ often highlights flaws in the system. These flaws may be with a service or device, or sometimes they are human flaws – the need to win at all costs. It’s unsurprising that online election voting has yet to reach fruition! However I still believe that transparency is a worthy approach and hope that those who competed in the LinkedUp Challenge will recognise that it was in pursuit of the goal of openness that we made our mistakes.

10 point specification for open voting software

Experience has shown us that to fully work an online voting system will need to consider the following points:

  1. Email validation – those with a creative mind can make up emails, there needs to be some way of proving that a voter is an individual.
  2. One person = one vote – basically the ability to block voters after one vote.
  3. Only allow positive voting – having negative votes is depressing for all.
  4. Random listings of entries – people will often vote for what is at the top of the, random listing of entries goes to some lengths to ensure more even voting.
  5. Urls links for entries – it’s not totally necessary but it can be useful to have one url per entry – this allows easier promotion entries.
  6. Easy to use – If it isn’t easy users will give up before voting.
  7. The ability to add tags – not necessary but allows you to do interesting things with the content.
  8. The ability to add images and links in the description – some software will only let you add plain text.
  9. Embedding into your website, Facebook etc. – versatile services will let you embed the app and not require users to go to a separate website.
  10. Test your software – test it, and then test it, and test it again on lots of different devices.

It is also worth thinking about openness – how open do you want your system to be? Could you run it on Facebook or as a smart phone app or do you feel that is excluding people?

Some current open voting systems you could try

  • Google docs – you could create a poll
  • GNOSS – see Veni!
  • Hackdash.org – they have some great voting and collaboration software going on
  • Facebook Like count linked to descriptions of items. Each user is required to have a facebook account to vote and a “like” would be consider a vote, and by design, each user can only like something once.
  • Polldaddy plugin for wordpress
  • Opinionstage plugin
  • Jisc Elevator used a drupal module – not possible for us
  • Ideascale – see Veni vote!
    Simply voting – costs, looks complex
  • Estonia released its national e-voting system on github – it’s probably overkill for a competition though, fairly complex
  • SnapSurvey – costs, very corporate
  • Election buddy – costs, maybe overkill
  • Eballot – costs

Related blog posts

3 Good Reasons Why Remote Work is Booming

Despite many organisations moving away from remote working (see the recent demands from Reddit that their staff relocate – last year Yahoo did the same) remote working continues to become more popular. Monica Wells of BizDb reminds us why.

***

Remote work has during the last few years become an increasingly popular professional trend. More and more people are finding it easier to work from home, saving up on time and money that would otherwise be lost in commuting. Companies, on the other hand, can easily outsource their services and use cutting-edge technologies to communicate and collaborate in such a way as to render distance irrelevant and create a cohesive team.

Mobile Worker by Michael Coghlan on Flickr, CC-SA

Mobile Worker by Michael Coghlan on Flickr, CC-SA

Here are the top 3 reasons the explain the present popularity of remote work from the perspective of workers and employers.

Flexibility

What workers love about remote work is its flexibility and the opportunity it grants them for achieving a great work-life balance, where they’re able to cultivate their passions and get a lot of work done in one day. Working from home, employees don’t need to feel stressed about their schedule and commuting – this helps them to stay productive and more satisfied.

One of the biggest perks of remote working is the ability to control one’s schedule. Gone are the days of a 9 to 5 job – mobile devices and cloud computing allow to work literally from anywhere and at any time, provided there’s an Internet connection. All this accounts for the increased satisfaction of workers, who have more freedom and so are more motivated to do a great job for their organization.

Workers And Employers Can Cut Expenses

When working in remote, employees not only save time, but money as well. Saving up on gas or public transport tickets is on the long run great not only for their wallets, but also for the environment – less cars on the streets simply mean less pollution.

Seen from the perspective of employers, remote work is a cheap affair. Companies are able to find qualified workers who provide similar talent and productivity to local workers, but at a lower cost. Apart from salaries, companies open to remote work additionally save up on office space and other facilities.

Companies Can Attract Talent

This is particularly relevant to sectors suffering from skill shortage or tough competition to acquire talented workers. Thanks to remote working environment, companies can benefit from skills of people who don’t need to be located near its headquarters, automatically rising the chance of finding competent and talented candidates.

In order to attract talents, employers need to come across as flexible and ready to accommodate skilled employees through a variety of employee-oriented policies. Companies can offer remote work to on-site employees too – it’s a great factor to retain them and boost their satisfaction.

Remote work still needs to be addressed as a potential challenge, but its benefits are simply worth the price. Communication is the biggest issue here – without proper tools and training, distance might affect the dynamics of team collaboration.

Needless to say, the management style employed in remote context will also radically differ from traditional one and could possibly require additional training. Without specific knowledge, managers will see the productivity of their team crumble under the pressure of distance.

Fortunately, there’s a whole wealth of technologies and cloud services that make collaboration and communication significantly easier. Other than that, companies interested in remote work can benefit from the expertise provided by specialized venture that deliver solutions for creating, managing and improving remote work opportunities.

Is remote work for everyone? That largely depends on the industry and company size. Following the steps taken by Yahoo, Reddit has just placed a new policy, which forces workers to either relocate to the company’s headquarters in San Francisco or face contract termination.

While remote might not work for those tech giants, it’s a perfect working environment for budding start-ups and mid-sized companies that know how to use technology to their advantage and employ it in order to efficiently manage remote workers and help them to collaborate as a team.

The economies of openness

Week 4 was a cliptastic week on the Stanford Open Knowledge MOOC with a plethora of remixed videos arguing for and against current digital copyright laws and other legal and economic issues of openness.

The Copyright clearance video explained it well: “copyright is complicated” – even more so when you start working across country and sector boundaries.

Rights like fair use (where use is based on best practices and takes in to account the purpose and character of the use, e.g. commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes; the nature of the copyrighted work; the amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole; and the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work) help the situation, but as most of us knew before embarking on this MOOC copyright is out-dated for the digital age. In the UK our equivalent fair dealing is limited to research and private study (both must be non-commercial), criticism, review, and news reporting.

Interested in looking at something beyond the arguments around licensing I decided to put my energy into watching law professor Yochai Benkler on Open-source economics looks more deeply at the economics driving the democratization of cultural production. His argument is that years ago producers had to be able to raise financial capital to start producing news content. There was an industrial knowledge economy but it was market based or government owned. This requirement has been inverted by the Internet. There is now a distributed knowledge economy, capital is still required but it is spread out, resulting in communication and computation sitting in the hands of population. The issues are no longer just quality but relevance. We now have four transactional frameworks: market-based or non-market based, decentralised or centralised. There is more competition but also new opportunities – toolmakers for new systems, building platforms etc. Social production is a fact, not a fad, in some contexts it is more efficient than markets or firm, but it is a threat to and threatened by incumbent industrial models.

Screen Shot 2014-09-26 at 11.07.29

This week the expert on hand was Dr. Cable Green, Director of Global Learning for Creative Commons. Cable is a member of the Open Education Advisory Group of the Open Education Working Group I co-ordinate so nice to see him involved. Cable has posed three questions for the course attendees with some suggested answers. To summarise, his questions were:

  1. What does open educational resources (oer) success look like? “what is the world we’re trying to create?” “how can we quantify it?” “are there intermediate ‘mile posts’ or changes of state, either catalytic or symbolic that we want?”
  2. Where can NGOs, foundations and individual open advocates have the most impact? What are the things we must do and/or are best positioned to do? What opportunities are out there for us that we’re missing?
  3. What role does open policy have to play?
  4. What metrics should we track? If we could only pick a few metrics to guide us, what would they be? What would show we’re collectively having impact?

Great questions and I hope to share them with the Working Group sometime soon.