Open Data #ioe12

Tim Berners-Lee talks on his TEDtalk about how he originated the World Wide Web. The memo he wrote about it was read by his boss (who after his boss’s death was found to have the words “Vague but exciting” written on it). I’m thinking of adopting that as one of my own taglines because of the amount of ideas I propose and receive little interest and even less understanding. (I’m not saying my own ideas are of Tim Berners-Lee’s scale of impact.)

It was a grassroots movement that launched the Web and it was this community that excited Tim. He asked people to put their documents onto the Web, and people did. In his words, “It’s been a blast.” Now he asks us all to put our Data onto the Web.

He refers to Hans Rosling, who also says that it’s important to have a lot of data available. I’d previously seen Hans Rosling’s TEDtalk and also his presentation on a BBC television programme. Tim is going further, however, with his concept of Linked Data, where everybody is putting everything on the web, and therefore virtually everything you could image is on the web. He asks for three things to be observed in this process:

  1. Everything has a http ‘name’ – events, products, things, people, etc.
  2. When someone fetches something with a http name it returns some standard data (information) in a format that people will find useful – something about the event, that person, etc.
  3. The data returned shows relationships; importantly the data has relationships and these related data also carry http names that allow them to be looked up, etc.

Google, Microsoft and Yahoo have agreed to use standardized formats for data as outlined at

Another interesting phrase to come out of the videos is ‘Database Hugging’, coined by Hans. Tim demonstrated it as though he was actually hugging something with his arms. The idea is that people, governments, institutions don’t want to release their data until they’ve created a lovely website to display it. Tim says, by all means make a beautiful website, but first give us the unadulterated data, emphasized with the chanted phrase – ’Raw Data Now’.

Linked Data’ useful links:

The site that draws together useful information about Linked Data is
There you’ll find, amongst other things:

  • Guides and Tutorials
    • Key Reference Documents
    • Textual Guides/Tutorials
    • Video Tutorials
    • Introductory Slide Sets
    • Frequently Asked Questions
  • Tools
    • Linked Data Publishing Platforms/Frameworks
    • Linked Data/RDF Editors and Validators
    • Tools for Consuming Linked Data
    • Linked Data Applications for End Users

A point that Tim makes in his video at t=11m30s is about the sharing of data to enable Open Science activities to occur, which links in nicely to the previous topic in the Openness in Education course about Open Science.

Tim Berners-Lee returns to do a short TEDtalk ‘updating’ the situation with Open Data:

It is interesting to see that over this time we have witnessed more of a willingness by governments in areas across the world to share data openly in what has become know as Open Government or ‘opengov’. So in the US you have sites like the one in the topic readings, and in the UK you have ones including from HM Government; a BBC interview with Tim Berners-Lee on the project that brought about is available.

Areas of the media are making it easier and more convenient to use open data and allow individuals to interrogate and interpret the data to provide useful information to them. Examples being The New York Times in the US and The Guardian in the UK (which enables questions to be asked of government data from around the world). The Guardian also has a section online that is dedicated to the journalistic use of open data, called the Data Store.


Open Science #ioe12

Michael Nielson in his TEDtalk begins by talking about Tim Gowers1, a renowned (famous) mathematician, and Cambridge (UK) professor, who asked on his blog in 2009 whether science could be done collectively out in the open. There was a mathematical problem that he would like to solve, and so he set out via his blog to make all his workings open and invite contributions from anyone and everyone, with the anticipation that multiple people working collectively by expressing their ideas and studying the workings and ideas of others would lead to a solution. This experiment was the Polymath project. Michael says that he observed the blog at the time and was amazed by the speed of activity; how ideas would quickly develop and be elaborated upon by others, and sometimes be discarded. It took 37 days for the core problem, and even a harder generalization to be solved.

Michael believes what the Polymath Project demonstrated is the potential of the internet to enable us to expand our ability to solve some of the most intellectually challenging problems. It follows from this that there can be an expansion in the range of scientific problems we can go on to tackle. It means that the rate of scientific discovery can be increased. And Michael suggests that it means ‘a changing in the way we construct knowledge itself’.

There are challengers and problems with this approach. One area is development of the community and the lack of contributions by others. Many times wikis have been suggested and developed to encourage the sharing of knowledge and problem solving in different scientific areas only for them to falter due to lack of participation. Similarly social networks along the same lines have failed. Primarily the current reward structure for researchers in higher education institutions is focused on the publication of academic papers in journals, and consequently researchers are much more likely to put their efforts there than contributing to a collective, community project. So even though the concept might be appealing, and you might think that it would advance scientific endeavour more rapidly, the rewards structure doesn’t allow, or actively discourages participation.

Arguably the Polymath Project succeeded because, even though it was carried out in an unusual way, it was still inherently conservative because academic papers would be ultimately published as a consequence.

Michael suggests that the Open Science movement wants to change the perceptions that data should be locked away even though it could be potentially useful to others, about the hording of scientific ideas, and even the hording of descriptions of problems that researchers believe to be interesting.

The movement is intent on changing this culture of science so that there is greater motivations to share; to share all these different kinds of knowledge. they want to change the values of individual scientists so that they start to see it as part of their job to be sharing their data, to be sharing their code, to be sharing their best ideas and their problems.

Michael Nielson

This can then lead to changes in the system that then incentivize this kind of activity. It’s not easy, but there are things that scientists and non-scientists can do; as Michael outlines at the end of the video.

All the ideas expressed above are extracted from the video and attributed to Michael Nielson.

The Open Science Project is ‘dedicated to writing and releasing free and open source software for scientific use’. The blog for the project is a very useful source of information. In one particular post it quotes an informal definition of Open Science provided by Michael Nielson:

Open science is the idea that scientific knowledge of all kinds should be openly shared as early as is practical in the discovery process.

One element in the work of scientific researchers is the Lab Notebook. I’m familiar with the concept from my own scientific training in my days as a science undergraduate and postgraduate researcher. It’s not the first time that I’ve been interested in the concept of Open Notebook Science which makes up part of the reading for this topic in the course. I wrote a blog post about it back in 2008 when I was experimenting running multiple blogs (a bit of a daft idea), and received a response from Jean-Claude Bradley the concept originator. Open Notebook Science certainly fulfils the ideal of openly sharing as early as is practically possible.

Since 2004 the Creative Commons has been looking to expand Creative Commons Licensing to the area of science. It had a section know as Science Commons between 2005-2010, but is now called Science at Creative Commons. By licensing in this way, science has a greater chance of being practiced more openly. There are interesting links to organisations that have adopted a Creative Commons Licence to enable Open Science activities to happen.

1 I’ve already encountered Tim Gowers more recently with regard to Open Access, and I’ll be writing about that in more detail later.

In the writing of this post, I’ve also seen writings by Michael Nielson that are relevant to the Open Access section of the course, and I hope to bring those into my later posts.

Open Access ioe12

From the course readings for this topic, Peter Suber’s initial article begins by drawing on a number of sources for a definition of Open Access. These include:

  • The Budapest Open Access Initiative
    • There are many degrees and kinds of wider and easier access to this literature. By ‘open access’ to this literature, we mean its free availability on the public internet, permitting any users to read, download, copy, distribute, print, search, or link to the full texts of these articles, crawl them for indexing, pass them as data to software, or use them for any other lawful purpose, without financial, legal, or technical barriers other than those inseparable from gaining access to the internet itself. The only constraint on reproduction and distribution, and the only role for copyright in this domain, should be to give authors control over the integrity of their work and the right to be properly acknowledged and cited.
  • The Public Library of Science
    • free availability and unrestricted use
  • and others

Peter is a very influential character in the Open Access movement and has written extensively about the subject. There are numerous links to several of his other writings from within the text.

Peter highlights the importance of three declarations to the Open Access movements:

I think that the primary point that Peter is making in his article is that Open Access is comparable to conventional scholarly publishing, with regard to the rigour of the peer-review process, academic career advancement, etc. it’s just that with Open Access there is no financial barrier to readers accessing the content; and that copyright holders have given their consent with prior licensing arrangement (be that via Creative Commons, or similar). It must be remembered that free doesn’t mean free to produce, but free to the reader. However, production costs are much less that conventional publishing. Open Access isn’t an attempt to put existing publishers out of business, but instead it’s intent on making content freely available to readers.

Because the publishing of academic articles are royalty-free for the author (they receive no payment from the work but develop greater prestige and career advancement), then to some extent this is the initial place where Open Access can make a significant difference. This is increasingly the case as we begin to see other pressures becoming important, particularly the requirements by funding bodies that research findings are made open and freely available.

Peter goes on to highlight the distinction in Open Access publishing of research articles. The best know distinction is Gold (Open Access Journals) and Green (Open Access Repositories), with the former always conducting peer-reviews and the latter not but may be hosting articles peer-reviewed elsewhere.

Funders and universities are upstream from publishers and can adopt policies to ensure green OA and the permissions to make it lawful. Because most publishers already permit green OA, and because green OA is a bona fide form of OA, authors who fail to take advantage of the opportunity are actually a greater obstacle to OA than publishers who fail to offer the opportunity. Funders and universities are in a position to close the gap and ensure green OA for 100% of published work by their grantees and faculty. Because authors cannot close this gap on their own, funders and universities who fail to close the gap have no one else to blame if fast-rising journal prices enlarge the fast-growing fraction of new research inaccessible to those who need it. All publishers could help the process along and some are actually doing so. But there’s no need to depend on publishers when we could depend on ourselves.

Open Access Overview by Peter Suber, (Accessed 8 Feb 2012)

The Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition, SPARC provides much useful advice and resources on the Open Access section of their website. The material here could prove very useful in my own efforts to move the institution I work for to implementing an Open Access policy.

The next reading on the list is the UNESCO Global Open Access Portal (a knowledge portal) which is at a much more strategic level, providing an overview of the current global state of play with Open Access. Its content is aimed more at policy-makers. The Portal allows individual countries to see what level they are actively engaged at with regards Open Access. From a UK perspective, the situations is quite encouraging. Perhaps the initial main area for further work to be done in the UK is to increase awareness amongst academic researchers about Open Access and their role.

Heather Morrison Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada in her blogpost ‘Happy 2012 Open Access Movement! December 31, 2011 Dramatic Growth of Open Access’ provides a summary of the growth of Open Access over 2011.

It’s possible to find out more about the progress of, and about, the Open Access movement and to get involved via the annual Open Access Week, ‘a global event now entering its fourth year, is an opportunity for the academic and research community to continue to learn about the potential benefits of Open Access, to share what they’ve learned with colleagues, and to help inspire wider participation in helping to make Open Access a new norm in scholarship and research.

(, Accessed 8 Feb 2012)

Perhaps the final element in the jigsaw puzzle is finding and accessing the Open Access journal content you require for your individual academic, scholarly, research or learning activities. That’s where directories come in, allowing browsing and searches to be carried out. These include:

And OpenDOAR, an authoritative directory of academic open access repositories.

Open Assessment ioe12

The area of assessment, recognition and reward for skills development and learning beyond formal education has been a difficult one. However, the Digital Learning and Media Competition 4, sponsored by the MacAuthur Foundation (Press Release) in association with HASTAC and Mozilla (who are developing the infrastructure) are creating the concept of Badges (for Lifelong Learning) to demonstrate competency levels, to reflect abilities and skills developed in informal (and formal) learning and training and act as a validated indicator. These badges representing achievements can then be displayed on social media websites, profiles, reputation, and other places with an association to a person’s professional development.

On the launch video we hear from the primary partnership sponsors. Additionally, there are presentations from NASA, and US Department of Education represntatives.

I must admit that as I was watching the video there was a feeling of it being a US national initiative rather than something global and international. However, this particular point was raised and it was stipulated that competition and Open Badge infrastructure was an international affair; indeed there was activity taking place in Japan as well.

Mozilla is developing the ‘Open Badge’ infrastructure, which defines a set of standards and the technical building blocks to enable others to create and use badges for their websites. The hope is that such a system will help learners, educators, and employers all reach their goals.

Now this raises an interesting point for me about the relationship between employers and traditional education institutions. Previously, I was all for the idea of students creating ePortfolios to demonstrate their abilities to employers. I even did some investigatory work about which environment would be most convenient for students and prospective employers. However, I attended a presentation where an employer said that they had little interest in (time to) look at such material. They were reliant on the institutions being the gatekeepers of the accreditation and validation. However, there are some areas where professional standards are seen as a much better indicator of ability; CISCO and Microsoft qualifications are primary examples. With the concept of separating validation and accreditation of skills from the course (and potentially the institutions) which are easy for employers to access and understand, this could well be a significant (some might say paradigm) shift in educational provision.

Mozilla is also interested in developing people’s skills in web development. As a comment, this is a great initiative on the part of Mozilla who want to maintain the ethos of the Web being ‘open’. If people train to develop skills in Web development in an open way, assisted by Mozilla with the School of Webcraft, then they as the next generation of developers are much more likely to want to uphold and defend that ethos. Thus developing a self perpetuating, self sustaining community.

So now we are seeing the potential for Open Online courses to provide the recognition of achievement some participants might require. Some examples of such take up by Open Online course providers are the Peer-2-Peer University (P2PU), which Mozilla is working in conjunction with to deliver the School of Webcraft, and this very course Openness in Education.

There is the potential that other MOOCs might use the Open Badge infrastructure approach in the same way.