My OUseful Resolutions for 2010

So, as one year passes and another arrives, it’s time for me to try to use a ‘public’ statement, (insofar as can be read by anyone with web access) to declare some of the things I’d like to do in 2010 in the hope (fear?!) that my imagined readership may try to hold me to account on one or two of the items;-)

Around about this time last year, I resolved to try to get involved with ‘policy’ in some way; aided and abetted by Joss Winn, who picked up on a tweet early in the relating to the lack of commentable versions of the Digital Britain Interim Report, we’ve since set up a not-for-profit company limited by guarantee – Public Platforms Limited – to look after the interests of WriteToReply, a document commenting platform based on a WordPress theme we’d seen used on a couple of government consultation sites and that we used to republish the Digital Britain Interim Report. WriteToReply also spawned a JISCRI project (JISCPress), brilliantly managed by Joss, which started to develop a platform to support project calls. So here’s my first resolution:

Continue to work on the development of the WriteToReply and JISCPress platforms, including: technical development; use case development; business development.

With an election due, I’m quite keen to see what we might be able to do with the various party manifestos… So if the digital engagement’n’social media folk of any of the main parties want to give us an electronic copy of their respective manifestos, and a free license to republish them in commentable form, that would be handy;-)

Last year’s resolution to engage with the policy thing was in part a response to a call from my Head of Department to get involved with such matters; this year, the call is out to generate billable hours in the form of consultancy work, so here’s resolution number two:

Generate in excess of 15K UKP invoiced by the OU for my “services” doing whatever. I’ve always been resistant to this sort of thing (“why would anyone want to pay me? And what would they want in return….?! I am not worthy etc etc”) so if you do have any budget that needs consuming by a “public agitant” (cf. a critical friend;-), I may be able to help… but no guarantees!;-) Also considered: mashup workshops for non-programmers (alongside Mike Ellis if he’s up for it..?!), tinkering with your toys (see the Arcadia Project blogs for what I managed to do in the Cambridge Library context).

The third item on the list is a continuation of another of last year’s forays:

To further explore the notion of data journalism, as well as the use of live data in an (open) educational context. The main short term focus for me in this direction will be around the initiative, and in particular the crafting of: a) shareable parameterised queries, that are: b) expressed in representations that can be directly consumed by third party applications and visualisation widgets (i.e. no programming required;-) But I also hope to get into the Linked Data thang in the context of HEIs (or at least, try to keep up with whatever Stuart Brown manages to pull off!)

A guiding principle for all the above will be to continue to work in an open fashion, ideally in the context of one of more “uncourses”. One thing I’d love to be able to do is run an open course under an OU assessment-only model. So if you think you’d like to do an introductory uncourse on plug’n’play visualisation, or doodling with data and then bung the OU 150 quid for a bit of for-credit assessment, let our Sub-Dean (Teaching) know ;-)

On a personal front, Martin Weller has been leading a charge on developing a promotions framework that acknowledges “digital scholarship” activities, so I need to decide whether or not it’s worth taking two whole weeks (or so I’ve been told!) to put together a largely meaningless promotion case document together in a form that the promotions panel will deign to look at, or whether I just keep blogging things I find OUseful and interesting and fail to further my career for yet another year.

PS And finally: last year I had the opportunity to spend 10 weeks on a Fellowship in Cambridge, as well as deliver an invited talk at EdMedia in Hawaii. Although I’d love to be able to do either of those things again, I’d also quite fancy spending a week or two shadowing someone in the Houses of Parliament Library, or a ‘data engineer’ in an F1 team;-), as well as a chance to pop over to North America/Canada and just see what might happen if I got to spend a bit of time with the likes of Scott Leslie, Brian Lamb, Jim Groom, and others ;-) (I also owe George Siemens an article and need to chase Downes about digging in to the link structur of edu-blogs.)

PPS there are a couple of other things’n’people I really should include in this post, but it’s time for tea:-)

Meanwhile, Over on the Arcadia Blog(s)… Redux

A month or so ago, I posted a round-up of items I’d published on the various Arcadia Project blogs ( Meanwhile, Over on the Arcadia Blog(s)…). Here’s a follow up to that one, providing a quick review of the various Arcadia posts I’ve produced since then, posts that might in other circumstances have normally appeared on this blog.

PS For completeness in this summary of posts I’ve recently blogged elsewhere, there’s a smattering of stuff on the WriteToReply/Actually blog:

Phew… next week, back to normal – ish – though I intend to carry on posting library related stuff on the Arcadia blogs.

People Powered Supervised Training Algorithms: Google Does it Again?

If you ever do a course on artificial intelligence or machine learning, you are likely to presented with the idea of supervised learning. In a supervised learning algorithm, training examples are presented to a system being trained to perform some sort of classification task, along with information about the class that the training example falls into. The learning algorithm uses this desired output to reward the classifier if it produces the correct output classification for a given input, or punish it otherwise. (The strength of the reward/punishment may also depend on how close the actual output is to the desired output for a given input.)

Machine learning algorithms like these have been used for a long time in the context of machine learning, but what do you do you training set does not contain examples of the the correct answers? How then can you supervise the training of the system?

In the GWAP – Games With a Purpose [PDF] – approach pioneered by Luis von Ahn, people are used to provide the training signal (von Ahn also calls this approach Human Computation…)

Whenever you use the Google search engine, you potentially contribute to the training of the Google search algorithm. Each click on a result can be used to train the search algorithm that result (or that advert) is potentially a good match for the current search term.

Recently, Google bought ReCaptcha, publishers of a popular system for checking that there’s a human on the end of a browser by presenting them with two hard to read words and getting the user to type them in. The clever thing about ReCaptcha is that the machine itself doesn’t necessarily know what one of the words says – it’s using the human to teach it. But you knew that already right? After all, Charlie (aged 14) does…

So when I saw Google’s new toy – Google Building Maker – announced today, watched through the promo video:

and even had a play, I saw it not as “a very smart way for Google to enhance the 3D experience in Google Earth” (ReadWriteWeb) or as “crowdsourcing building making to their users” (TechCrunch), I saw it as a way of helping train Google image processing edge detection algorithms so that they can automate the creation of 3D models from multiple satellite images…

If you try out Google Building Maker, you’ll soon see how it could even start to use the information gathered from your own models in the first few images presented to you to start suggesting where to place the lines in the later images…

Open Training Resources

Some disconnected thoughts about who gives a whatever about OERs, brought on in part by @liamgh’s Why remix an Open Educational Resource? (see also this 2 year old post: So What Exactly Is An OpenLearn Content Remix?). A couple of other bits of context too, to to situate HE in a wider context of educational broadcasting:

Trust partially upholds fair trading complaints against the BBC: “BESA appealed to the Trust regarding three of the BBC’s formal learning offerings on between 1997 and 2009. … the Trust considers it is necessary for the Trust to conduct an assessment of the potential competitive impacts of Bitesize, Learning Zone Broadband and the Learning Portal, covering developments to these offerings since June 2007, and the way in which they deliver against the BBC’s Public Purposes. This will enable the Trust to determine whether the BBC Executive’s failure to conduct its own competitive impact assessment since 2007 had any substantive effect. … No further increases in investment levels for Bitesize, Learning Zone Broadband and the Learning Portal will be considered until the Trust has completed its competitive impact assessment on developments since 2007

Getting nearer day by day: “We launched a BBC College of Journalism intranet site back in January 2007 … aimed at the 7,500 journalists in the BBC … A handful of us put together about 1200 pages of learning – guides, tips, advice – and about 250 bits of video; a blog, podcasts, interactive tests and quizzes and built the tools to deliver them. A lot of late nights and a lot of really satisfying work. Satisfying, too, because we put into effect some really cool ideas about informal learning and were able to find out how early and mid career journalists learn best. … The plan always was to share this content with the people who’d paid for it – UK licence fee payers. And to make it available for BBC journalists to work on at home or in parts of the world where a www connection was more reliable than an intranet link. Which is where we more or less are now.” [my emphasis; see also BBC Training and Development]

And this: Towards Vendor Certification on the Open Web? Google Training Resources

So why my jaded attitude? Because I wonder (again) what it is we actually expect to happen to these OERs (how many OER projects re-use other peoples’ bids to get funding? How many reuse each others ‘what are OERs stuff’? How many OER projects ever demonstrate a remix of their content, or a compelling reuse of it? How many publish their sites as a wiki so other people can correct errors? How many are open to public comments, ffs? How many give a worked example of any of the twenty items on Liam’s list with their content, and how many of them mix in other people’s OER content if they ever do so? How many attempt to publish running stats on how their content is being reused, and how many demonstrate showcase examples of content remix and reuse.

That said, there are signs of some sort of use: ‘Self-learners’ creating university of online; maybe the open courseware is providing a discovery context for learners looking for specific learning aids (or educators looking for specific teaching aids)? That is, while use might be most likely at the disaggregated level, discovery will be mediated through course level aggregations (the wider course context providing the SEO, or discovery metadata, that leads to particular items being discovered? Maybe Google turns up the course, and local navigation helps (expert) users browse to the resource they were hoping to discover?)

Early days yet, I know, but how much of the #ukoer content currently being produced will be remixed with, or reused alongside, content from other parts of that project as part of end-of-project demos? (Of course, if reuse/remix isn’t really what you expect, then fine… and, err, what are you claiming, exactly? Simple consumption? That’s fine, but say it; limit yourself to that…)

Ok, rant part over. Deep breath. Here comes another… as academics, we like to think we do the education thing, not the training thing. But for those of you who do learn new stuff, maybe every day, what do you find most useful to support that presumably self-motivated learning? For my own part, I tend to search for tutorials, and maybe even use How Do I?. That is, I look for training materials. A need or a question frames the search, and then being able to do something, make something, get my head round something enough to be able to make use of it, or teach it on, frames the admittedly utilitarian goal. Maybe that ability to look for those materials is a graduate level information skill, so it’s something we teach, right…? (Err… but that would be training…?!)

So here’s where I’m at – OERs are probably [possibly?] not that useful. But open training materials potentially are. (Or maybe not..?;-) Here are some more: UNESCO Training Platform

And so is open documentation.

They probably all could come under the banner of open information resources, but thy are differently useful, and differently likely to be reused/reusable, remixed/remixable, maintained/maintainable or repurposed/repurposeable. Of them all, I suspect that the opencourseware subset of OERs is the least re* of them all.

That is all…


If You Don’t Like REF, What Are You Gonna Do About It?

I have to admit that I’m still not totally sure that I know what digital scholarship is all about, or its relationship to celebrity blogging, so I thought I’d try to consider it in terms of what it means for ‘outreach’.

[Antescript – there are a lot of “I”s in this post… sorry about that…]

When I started out as an academic at the OU ten or so years ago, I fell into the whole schools outreach thing, delivering hands-on robotics related activities all over the place (including a trip to Japan with a group of Blue Peter competition winners, a blagged film preview, the occasional public engagement grant and so on…). This naturally led into the idea of ‘in-reach’, helping programme the first few RoboFesta-UK meetings for robotics educators and interested parties in schools, HE, and industry, running the Creative Robotics Research Network for a couple of years, and convening a couple of workshops at SGAI (one on public engagement around intelligent robotics, the other on ethical issues in intelligent robotics research).

These moves towards trying to engage peers rather than populace (for want of a much better phrase) was informed in part by one of the most rewarding programmes of activity I have ever been involved with – the NESTA Crucible. Part of the reading I did around the Crucible weekends was a Demos report on ‘upstream’ engagement (See-through Science). This report, and the related discussions we had around it, plotted the evolution of science outreach and communication activities from ideas relating to the public understanding of science, to public engagement with science, and thence ‘upstream’ engagement with policy formation. (I also learned a truism of public consultation exercises – that they are organised in order to find the best way of telling folk what you’ve already decided upon…;-)

So what has this to do with digital scholarship? Well, if the digital scholar is to trad academic, what is digital outreach as to trad outreach? Can we plot a similar evolution in the communication activities of digital academics, from telling folk what’s good for them though our blogging activities, through trying to engage them in conversation (or at least, trying to get them to spread our crude attempts at video making as viral warez), to engaging with policy makers on twitter and via gov departmental blogs?

I have no idea…

Because really this whole post is a badly contrived attempt to plug the WriteToReply republication of the Research Excellence Framework consultation document.

If the thought of reading the whole thing puts you off, we’ve published a Quick Start Guide you can find the area of the consultation that particularly appeals to you, and just comment on that: Research Excellence Framework consultation: Quick Start Guide

As with every other WriteToReply republication, each paragraph has a unique URI that you can link to from a commentary on your own website; you can also comment directly on individual paragraphs, as well as subscribe to comment feeds on a per section or per commenter basis (see here for more details, including information on how you can use the republication to formulate your own official response to the consultation).

So go on, what are you waiting for…?!

PS Hmmm, stumbling across Martin’s What would ALT-REF look like? just now, I wonder: should we set up a “Fake REF” wiki, a bit like the Fake Digital Britain Report we hosted earlier this year?!;-)

PPS it seems as if University of Leicester Library is already pre-empting part of the outcome: Job Ad: Bibliometrician (bibliometrics feature quite strongly in the consultation).