A Tinkerer’s Toolbox…

A couple of days ago, I ran a sort of repeated, 3 hour, Digital Sandbox workshop session to students on the Goldsmiths’ MA/MSc in Creating Social Media (thanks to @danmcquillan for the invite and the #castlondon students for being so tolerant and engaged ;-)

I guess the main theme was how messy tinkering can be, and how simple ideas often don’t work as you expect them to, often requiring hacks, workarounds and alternative approaches to get things working at all, even if not reliably (which is to say: some of the demos borked;-)

Anyway… the topics covered were broadly:

1) getting data into a form where we can make it flow, as demonstrated by “my hit”, which shows how to screenscrape tabular data from a Wikipedia page using Google spreadsheets, republish it as CSV (eventually!), pull it into a Yahoo pipe and geocode it, then publish it as a KML feed that can be rendered in a Google map and embedded in an arbitrary web page.

2) getting started with Gephi as a tool for visualising and interactively having a conversation with a network represented data set.

To support post hoc activities, I had a play with a Delicious stack as a way of aggregating a set of tutorial like blog posts I had laying around that were related to each of the activities:

Delicious stack

I’d been quite dismissive of Delicious stacks when they first launched (see, for example, Rediscovering playlists), but I’m starting to see how they might actually be quite handy as a way of bootstrapping my way into a set of uncourses and/or ebooks around particular apps and technologies. There’s nothing particularly new about being able to build ordered sets of resources, of course, but the interesting thing for me is that even if I don’t get as far as editing a set of posts into a coherent mini-guide, a well ordered stack may itself provide a useful guide to a particular application, tool, set of techniques or topic.

As to why a literal repackaging of blog posts around a particular tool or technology as an ebook may not be such a good idea in and of itself, see Martin Belam’s post describing his experiences editing a couple of Guardian Shorts*: “Who’s Who: The Resurrection of the Doctor”: Doctor Who ebook confidential and Editing the Guardian’s Facebook ebook

* One of the things I’ve been tracking lately is engagement by the news media in alternative ways of trying to sell their content. A good example of this is the Guardian, who have been repackaging edited collections of (medium and long form) articles on a particular theme as “Guardian Shorts“. So for example, there are e-book article collection wrappers around the breaking of the phone hacking story, or investigating last year’s UK riots. If you want a quick guide to jazz or an overview of the Guardian datastore approach to data journalism, they have those too. (Did I get enough affiliate links in there, do you think?!;-)

This rethinking of how to aggregate, reorder and repackage content into saleable items is something that may benefit content producing universities. This is particularly true in the case of the OU, of course, where we have been producing content for years, and recently making it publicly available through a variety of channels, such as OpenLearn, or, err, the other OpenLearn, via iTunesU, or YouTube, OU/BBC co-productions and so on. It’s also interesting to note how the OU is also providing content (under some sort of commercial agreement…?) to other publishers/publications, such as the New Scientist:

OU youtube ads being in New Scientist context

There are other opportunities too, of course, such as Martin Weller’s suggestion that it’s time for the rebirth of the university press, or, from another of Martin’s posts, the creation of “special issue open access journal collections” (Launching Meta EdTech Journal), as well as things like The University Expert Press Room which provides a channel for thematic content around a news area and which complements very well, in legacy terms, the sort of model being pursued via Guardian Shorts?

Author: Tony Hirst

I'm a Senior Lecturer at The Open University, with an interest in #opendata policy and practice, as well as general web tinkering...

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