Guest Post: Open Data Day, Course Sprints, and Hackathons!

Today, we’re welcoming Billy Meinke to the blog to discuss their upcoming Open Science course sprint. Billy is an intern in the Science Program at Creative Commons, and is using his background in educational technology to explore new approaches to collaborative online learning. Read on to learn all about Open Science, their upcoming Open Data Day, and the “Course Sprint” they’ll be offering on February 23rd. Special thanks to Liz Flavall (Publications Manager of PLOS Currents) for helping to set this up.

Open Science logo image by Greg Emmerich / CC-BY-SA

On February 23rd, Creative Commons is hosting an Open Education event, a single-day “sprint” on Open Data Day where people will work collaboratively to build a course as an introduction to Open Science and Data.  Using all openly-licensed content, and bringing together members of the Open Science Community to assist with the content construction, the course is meant to serve as a starting point for those interested in exploring Open Science, Research, and Data. 

1) What is Open Science and Open Data?

Wikipedia defines Open Science as, “the umbrella term of the movement to make scientific research, data and dissemination accessible to all levels of an inquiring society, amateur or professional.”  It defines a movement that is happening right now, involving areas relating to the sharing of academic publications, research, and data, to support innovation and discovery.

2) How did you become interested in Open Science Education?

Well, I’m currently interning in the Science Program at Creative Commons (CC), but I have a background in education, specifically distance education.  While doing research into policies and practices relating to the sharing of scientific data, I began to recognize a couple of things. First, I realized how important it is for people to understand the changing landscape of Open Science and how they can take a more participatory role in the ecosystem.  And two, that there is enough knowledge in the Digital Commons to teach, enough motivated people in Open Science to help, and now the technical infrastructure to reach many people at a minimal expense.  Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) are all the rage these days, but not everyone is aware that free tools can be used to organize Open Educational Resources (OER) and share them out on the web.  Another project by the education program at CC is the School of Open, a set of courses on Peer to Peer University (P2PU) that teaches learners about OER through the use of OER-based instructional content.  I realized that there was enough good openly-licensed content on the web that a course could be built that teaches people the essentials of Open Science. And here we are.

Tarantula Nebula (NASA, Chandra, Spitzer, 11/10/11)

Tarantula Nebula by Marshall Space Flight Center / CC-BY-NC

3) What motivated you to create an online course to teach people about Open Science

Though I wasn’t sure what level of support a community-built online course would gather, I saw a need for an online learning environment that gives learners a “gentle introduction” to Open Science.  In building my own understanding of Open Science, there seemed to be some good resources out there, and organizations that were pushing the envelope in terms of making research available to everyone.  What I didn’t find, however, was a learning resource that helps connect the concepts and communities of Open Science; a starting point for those who are interested or would like to get involved.  Recent discoveries made by young scientists with the use of openly-accessible research articles and new open methods for research are making headlines, for good reason.  The trend for more openness and sharing is gaining strength, and it’s important for young folks in science to understand, if not prescribe to.  I saw what was being done on P2PU and recognized it as both an “open” way to build learning environments, and a great fit for teaching others about community-based movements like that of Open Science.  As Open Science is a diverse and dynamic area to study, the peer-based and exploratory structure of courses on P2PU allows for iteration throughout the life of the course.  This course will by no means be the definitive place to learn about Open Science (if that will ever exist), but for now it will be able to serve as a jumping off point to encourage others to understand the importance of this area and, hopefully, allow them to participate in it on some level.

4) What exactly is a course sprint and why did you decide to take this approach to building the course?

A course sprint is an event where a group of participants get together to rapidly design and build an online course.  It’s something similar to a hackathon, wherein people build tools and apps with computer code, we’re going to build learning opportunities with openly-licensed educational content.  The first time I heard about collaborative approaches like this for content creation was in August last year when I met Michelle Thorne in the Mozilla office in Berlin.  The Mozilla Foundation is doing some really interesting work to “support openness, innovation, and participation on the web,”. They’ve built a handful of toolkits for learning about the web through open-source web projects and are doing a great job with community involvement. Michelle gave me a few minutes of her time to discuss what’s happening in various areas of Open, including Open Education.  The “book sprint” she did with a small group of people to create The Open Web intrigued me, and got me thinking about how instructional design techniques could be applied to the format to create interactive learning content.  I participated in a School of Open course sprint in Helsinki, during which we drafted courses for the School of Open, and at that point I became confident that there was real potential in education sprints.  It’s an area still under exploration but I want to see community-driven events like these being conducted more often, being that the process is relatively lightweight and can produce rich content without the need for extensive resources.

5) What do you see as possible new directions for Open Science Education?

Ideally, I’d like to see members of different communities such as scientists, tech developers, and open advocates working alongside educators to build open tools for learning.  Projects like Mozilla Webmaker aim to raise the level of digital literacies around the world through engaging web-based apps where people can make things on the web, but there’s still a lot of work to be done in teaching people how to access, process and find patterns in the available data.  Working with data still requires a good deal of technical skill and experience, and the tools themselves aren’t always user-friendly.  As software for computation and visualization becomes easier to use and moves to the web, we’ll be able to provide more neat ways for learners to push around data, and discoveries might be made by people who have yet to be discovered themselves.   It’s exciting to think what upcoming generations of learners, webmakers, and sharers will do for the Open Web, and for Open Science.

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