Data, our world runs on data

It’s Open Education Week #OpenEducationWk and there are lots of great events taking place, online and offline. I’ve been interested in Open Educational Resources (OER) for some time but am getting increasingly excited about open data and possible applications in education. One particularly excellent resource I’ve been using a lot recently is the Open Knowledge Foundation’s School of Data. They have some fantastic courses that will help you find out about many aspects of data from the basics (what is data, finding data, sorting data), analysis of data, story telling with data and to fairly technical areas such as data cleaning. All really interactive with some great images and useful pointers to further resources.

Another really exciting resource/tool is – a simple way to get data out of spreadsheets and make it available for people to use. EasyOpenData has developed by Craig Russell, a Web Developer based at the University of Leicester. Craig has kindly written a brief blog post for us on what he’s hoping to achieve with the tool.

Data, our world runs on data. And most of this data lives in spreadsheets

Craig RussellThe recent admission by JP Morgan, that it’s financial model was run in a series of Excel Spreadsheets was a shock to the those in the tech industry, but unsurprising to those in ‘real business’. Spreadsheets are what normal people use to get the job done. Spreadsheets are what normal people use to store their knowledge.

We keep spreadsheets about our DVD collections, our wedding invitation list, our allotment yields. We use them to plan community events and billion dollar investments alike. Countless millions of man-hours are spent every day putting human knowledge in to spreadsheets. Spreadsheets are ubiquitous, comfortable, familiar.

But if spreadsheets are so common, where are they all? Where is all this knowledge?

It is hidden, buried away behind the scenes. Vast submerged stores of publicly useful knowledge buried away on hard drives and shared folders. So much incredibly useful data curated by knowledgeable individuals, but without the skills to make this knowledge public and share it as Open Data.

Those in possession of publicly useful knowledge and those with the skills to make knowledge publicly accessible need to find one another and make open data love.

It is for this reason that I built, which enables you to publish custom-formatted XML feeds using data from your Google spreadsheets. Open Data feeds are publicly listed on your profile and automatically updated with the spreadsheet.

This means that data owners can continue to use spreadsheets to store their knowledge, while opening up this valuable information to the world.

They say that data is the new oil, if this is true, then spreadsheets are the reservoirs and we are all prospectors.


Openness in Education

It did seem very timely to be thinking about Open Educational Resources in Open Education Week #openeducationwk. Unfortunately while the thinking went on in Open Education Week, the writing has gone on in this week, and still isn’t really finished! Nevertheless there were some great blog posts and promoted resources on related topics here in the UK last week and I’d like to start off by listing a few of my favourites:

The ioe12 module on open educational resources starts of with a TED talk by David Wiley (he pops up a lot, I guess it is his course!) where he defines the idea of openness: “it’s moving away from the toddler in you where you scream “mine, mine’!!” Wiley explains that it’s all about sharing, because without sharing there is no education. A successful educator is one who shares the most with their students. Knowledge is non-rivalrous, i.e. you can share part of yourself without loosing part of yourself.

As Thomas Jefferson said “He who receives an idea from me, receives instruction himself without lessening mine; as he who lights his taper at mine, receives light without darkening me.

While knowledge is non-rivalrous, resources and content can be. David takes a look at the invention of the printing press and compares it with the current advancement of new technology. He sees education as being on the brink of reformation and openness is the missing element. Access to education needs to improve. There has been a collision between powerful new media (i.e. the internet), ravenous demand for education and outdated thinking by educators about the content of material. We need to learn the lessons of the reformation and be more open. “The only proper role for technology in education is to increase our capacity to be generous

There were quite a lot of other resources in this module and the majority of them have been squirreled away by me for a long train journey I have coming up. Once I’ve digested the lot I hope to write a more comprehensive post. The resources include a paper by Yochai Benkler entitled Common Wisdom: Peer Production of Educational Materials. Benkler talks about the vast pool of human talent the Internet has given us access to. There has been a deep transformation in the digitally networked environment, and in the information economy and society. Benker states that “the critical change is that social production based on commons, rather than property, has become a significant force in the economy.” In his paper Benkler looks at textbooks and other educational resources and decides whether they are amenable to peer production, what are the barriers and what strategies could facilitate wider development of educational resources in a commons-based and peer production model.

I’ve yet to get my head round the true opportunities and challenges relating to OER. The Jan Hylén lists the 5 main arguments for institutional involvement in OER:

  1. Altruism – sharing knowledge is a good thing to do and also in line with academic traditions
  2. Public Money – Educational institutions should leverage on taxpayers’ money by allowing free sharing and reuse of resources developed by publicly funded institutions
  3. Enrichment – What you give, you receive back improved
  4. Reputation – it is good for public relations and can function as a show-window attracting new students
  5. Diversifying – Need to look for new business models, new ways of making revenue.

There are a couple of big questions starting to surface here, firstly ‘who pays? What is the business model? What are the economics of information?’ and secondly ‘what about quality? Is quality better in an open educational environment or a closed one?’

I intend to write more on this topic as soon as I get the time.