Open Silos? Open data and OER

“Open silos” might seem like a contradiction in terms, but this was one of the themes that emerged during last week’s  Open Knowledge Open Education Working Group call which focused on Open Data as Open Educational Resources. We heard from a number of initiatives including the Creating Value from Open Data project led by Universities UK and the Open Data Institute which is exploring how open data can support the student experience and bring about tangible benefits for UK higher education institutions, and Open Data as OER, led by Javiera Atenas and Leo Havemann, which is gathering case studies on the use of real world open data in educational contexts.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DwxUtDCoz8I]

While the benefits of open data are widely recognised in relation to scientific and scholarly research, open data also has considerable value in the context of teaching and learning.  Many governments, non-governmental organisations and research centres are already producing large volumes of open data sets that have the potential to be used as open educational resources. Scenario based learning involving messy, real world data sets can help students to develop critical data literacy and analytical skills. And perhaps more importantly, as Javiera pointed out, working with real world open data  from real governments and communities doesn’t just help students to develop data literacy skills, it also helps to develop citizenship.

“It’s important to collaborate with local communities to work on real problems so that students can help their communities and society to improve social and political elements of their daily lives.”
~ Javiera Atenas

ETA Javiera and Leo collecting case studies about pedagogical uses of open data across the world.  If you have a case study you would like to add, you can join the project’s idea-space here: Open Data as Open Educational Resources idea-space.

Tim Coughlan of the Open University also spoke about his experience of using open data to teach introductory programming to undergraduates. Using open data introduces an invaluable element of realism and complexity as the data is flawed and inconsistent.  Students come up against challenges that it would be difficult to introduce artificially and, as a result, they learn to deal with the kind of problems they will encounter when they get real programming jobs.

Marieke Guy, co-ordinator of the Open Education Working Group, had a similar experience of learning to work with open data

“Authenticity is critical. You get a new level of understanding when you work with data and get your hands dirty.”
~Marieke Guy

Towards the end of the meeting there was an interesting discussion on the effect of Research Council mandates on open data and open education. Although open access, open education and open data have all made significant progress in recent years, there has been a tendency for these domains to progress in parallel with little sign of convergence. Research Council mandates may have had a positive impact on open access and open research data however the connection has yet to be made to open education and as a result we have ended up with “open silos”.  Indeed open access mandates may even have a negative impact on open education, as institutions focus their efforts and resources on meeting these requirements, rather than on getting their teaching and learning materials online and sharing open educational resources.  So while it’s great that institutions are now thinking about how they can link their open research data with open access scholarly works, we also need to focus some attention on linking open data to open education. There’s no simple solution to breaking down the barriers between these “open silos” but exploring the converging and competing cultures of open knowledge, open source, open content, open practice, open data and open access is just one of the themes we’ll be focusing on at the OER16 conference at the University of Edinburgh next year so I hope you’ll be able to come and join us.

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