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Trying to find useful things to do with emerging technologies in open education

Next Steps Taken for data.ac.uk…

One of the problems with doing “data stuff” in a particular sector is finding data from across the sector. data.ac.uk seeks to help simplify the discovery of (and maybe even normalised access to) data published across the UK Higher Education sector.

data.ac.uk homepage

A new unveiling this week was the HE equipment register (which I think grew out of the Uniquip equipment and facility sharing project?), and which is intended to provide a single point of access for looking up access to research facilities and equipment.

data.ac.uk equipment register

(I think the research councils increasingly require universities to have a plan for making funded research equipment available to businesses, and providing a catalogue to look up such equipment facilitates that.) I’m not sure about the coverage of this catalogue at the moment, or how it relates (not least in a data sharing way) to research equipment sharing consortia such as the N8 Research Partnership (Durham, Lancaster, Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle, Sheffield and York) or the M5 Group (Birmingham, Leicester, Loughborough, Nottingham, Warwick, and Aston). (There’s also fragmentary evidence of an S5 grouping (Cambridge, Imperial, Oxford, UCL and Southampton) but I haven’t found a public website for them?)

Another area of the data.ac.uk provides a handy link to “administrative” information relating to HEIs – Learning Providers data, although I’m not sure to what extent this overlaps with the data contained in the JISC Monitoring Unit (JISC MU) database?

learning providers

One problem with open data sites having national or sector coverage is that, whilst we might hope that individual locations will submit data to the datastore, its often more likely the case that a dataset will need curating and collecting together by a dedicated and interested (obsessive?) individual. To date, Chris Gutteridge has been doing a lot of the work on data.ac.uk, but he doesn’t necessarily scale!;-)

Architecturally, the site is designed to support what I guess we could describe as federated management. Subdomains are used to identify different topic or category areas, with a top bar menu providing navigation to other areas of data.ac.uk. In principle, anyone could propose, host, and curate data from across the sector relating to a particular topic. Unlike sites such as OpenlyLocal, the model does not (yet?) support pages built around the opendata offerings of a particular institution, though I guess someone could generate something like quickdata.ac.uk/university-name to provide a summary page for each university on a “quickdata” subdomain?

There is possibly an issue regarding the “status” of data.ac.uk in respect of the extent to which it provides a single point of access to normalised data within a topic area, compared to linking out to locally hosted versions of data relating to particular items (for example, we might imagine foi.data.ac.uk linking to FOI homepages on each university website, or orgcharts.data.ac.uk linking to data source pages on university websites, ordered by university). On the other hand, there are pre-exisiting “national datasets” such as the data collated by JISC MU, or the research council funding data that looks as if it’ll be made available via the Research Councils UK Gateway to research. For these national colletions, the data.ac.uk model would “allow” for sites like Gateway to Research to take over something like the gtr.data.ac.uk subdomain, and add the data.uk.uk top bar to their site, though I could see all sorts of issues with that relating to perceived ownership! One possible way around this would be to provide a button that “partner” sites could include that would identify a site as being part of the data.ac.uk federation and then popping up the top bar if folk wanted to explore other data.ac.uk federation sites? URLs such as gtr.data.ac.uk would then simply act as redirects into sites with independent branding/look and feel, but a data.ac.uk federation member button on them somewhere?

In other news, the Linked Up Challenge also launched this week “promoting the innovative use of linked and open data in an educational context”.

linkededucation data endpoint

The competition will be making available data drawn from across the European HE sector and published as Linked Data:

linked up challenge

For some reason, this springs to mind…


Written by Tony Hirst

March 21, 2013 at 11:23 am

Posted in Anything you want

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  1. […] Next Steps Taken for data.ac.uk… […]

  2. […] One of the problems with doing “data stuff” is finding the data. The data.ac.uk service seeks to simplify the discovery of data published across the UK Higher Education sector. While institutions variously submitting data to such a datastore is the goal, it’s also likely that proactive centralised curating will be vital, says Tony Hirst. And what about the status of such datasets and how they might link together? Read this thoughtful and link-rich blog. […]

  3. The equipment register site seems to only include Leeds, Loughborough & Southampton at the moment. So a good idea in principle, but not all that much use until it becomes more comprehensive!


    March 28, 2013 at 11:56 am

    • Clari/Chris

      Bearing in mind data.ac.uk is still a new venture, I think one thing it shows is how far a motivated individual can get in the first instance on opening up and normalising national datasets (i.e. you open up what you can get access to…). Given that there are several research equipment partnerships/consortia, I think we can also imagine how the data aggregation thing could quickly get mired in politics and feelings of ownership/control?

      For example, I can imagine several different timelines around this data area:

      – research equipment partnerships try to lock down access to the information to their website and branded communications channels and copyright everything with no open license conditions;
      – partnerships only make information available on their websites, but don’t care if you scrape it and build something around that data (at least for now…)
      – partnerships make data available as datasets and allow data.ac.uk to link to it, but don’t encourage its integration with other datasets (or use licenses to prevent that);
      – partnerships let data.ac.uk aggregate the data in a Linked Data space on data.ac.uk, but don’t show any interest in it on that platform;
      – partnerships see value in using a data.ac.uk Linked Data store as a service, making sure the data is kept up to date and building their own services on it from data requests to data.ac.uk;
      – partnerships see value in the central store but want a local view, corresponding to their partnership; they subscribe to a data.ac.uk service that provides them with a data.ac.uk powered map/search service embedded in their own site with their own branding but powered by data.ac.uk and filtered down (by default) to partnership members;
      – partnerships do their own thing, but also have a page providing access to a national equipment register search tool, based on an embeddable search widget provided by data.ac.uk in data.ac.uk branding

      (There are probably more…For example, in context of individual universities either contributing to or pulling data from the data.ac.uk equipment store in a variety of ways, working with Chris to provide “standardised” data collection discovery/harvesting protocols, etc.)

      Tony Hirst

      March 28, 2013 at 3:24 pm

  4. Clarileia; absolutely but it’s a solid start and expect to have Bath included in a week or two. Hopefully we’ll be adding a good percentage of the research heavy institutions within the year. We’ve tried to ensure that the technical barriers are minimal, at which point it’s only the political side. What’s exciting is that it’s not all or nothing. It doesn’t have to be 100% perfect information, and that’s an impossible dream. We just want something easy to use that’s easy for us to run (which makes it sustainable).

  5. […] Next Steps Taken for data.ac.uk… | OUseful.Info, the blog… – A new unveiling this week was the HE equipment register (which I think grew out of the Uniquip equipment and facility sharing project?), and which is intended to provide a single point of access for looking up access to research facilities and equipment. […]

  6. […] Hirst from the OU has also written a useful post on various sources for […]

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