Activity Data Synthesis

Friday, 8 April 2011

Dispatches From the Ether: virtual event #1 [6/4/2011]

While pondering what I would write about the first of our 'virtual events' the lyrics of an overlooked 80s pop tune drifted into my peripheral thoughts:
"I'm sorry to interrupt your conversation, but we are experiencing violent storm conditions in the asteriod belt at this time. We may lose this valuable deep space communication link.
Please, be as brief as possible. Thank you."
Despite fully testing the web conferencing system (GoToMeeting) on Sunday the session had more of a 'wing and a prayer' feel than we'd been hoping for. Aside from a few glitches regarding audibility and less interactivity than we had planned the session went well overall (thanks in no small measure to Mark van Harmelen's technology wrangling skills) and the text chat facility turned out to be very useful for trading snippets of knowledge and relevant urls.

At the start of the session a spokesperson for each of the JISC Activity Data projects gave a 1 minute pitch describing the aim of their project and their key challenge at this moment in time. Some familiar themes emerged around issues of data protection and also the technical challenges of extracting useful data (particularly when it's being mined from different sources i.e. system or institution). I was particularly interested to hear that the AEIOU project are planning to run focus groups - it will be good to swap notes on effective focus group methodology between them and projects such as LIDP who are also planning to run them.

We then got to hear from our guest speakers who were kind enough to spare the time to tell us about their projects:

David Weinberger talked about the < whispers dramatically > Harvard LibraryCloud project which is currently in 'semi-stealth mode' and aims to take in a range of library data, normalise it and then release it in a format that can be as widely exploited as possible. They are currently looking at issues around the sustainability of providing a global library cloud service and they will be opening the project up to a wider audience as soon as the core infrastructure issues (such as hardware capacity) have been tackled.

Steve Midgeley and Dan Rehak gave an insight into The Learning Registry which is currently creating the infrastructure which will enable projects to share their data in the public (or within a secure environment if required). The technical wizadry in the background is a schema-free database which means that projects can donate their datasets without needing to transform it to meet the requirements of a specific database schema first. They plan to move into 'production' phase next month and are currently offering to give technical support to anyone who has data that they'd like to put into the registry. You can also get involved via their community discussion group or their developer's discussion group. On a personal note, it was good to hear them talk about 'paradata' which for me has recently replaced 'metadata' as an strong indicator of how geeky a conversation is likely to get.

We were also joined on the call by Susan Van Gundy who was representing the U.S. National Science Digital Library (NSDL) who are currently working in partnership with the Learning Registry on work which includes a demonstration project called STEM Exchange. Note also their useful definition of paradata.

Other noteworthy links and discussions from the backchannel:
- (A collaborative project between The Open University and Carnegie Mellon University which "aims to bring researchers and educators together in an intelligent social network to share knowledge on the development of Open Educational Resources (OER)").
- (the Open Bibliographic Data guide to rights and licensing)
- (who are "at the forefront of global initiatives related to the exchange and interoperability of digital learning resources.")
- there was a useful reminder via the text chat backchannel that the complex issue of data protection differs between different countries and that in the US 'privacy concerns trump all other issues, no matter how unlikely the risk.' ... which means that David Kay's assertion that taking a 'sensible approach' to using activity data to improve pedagogical practice is likely to get lost in translation if a project takes data from outside of the UK [I wonder where this leaves UK universities who have students accessing their library services from non-UK campuses?]

There was a very positive response to the suggestion that we invite speakers from the world of supermarket loyalty cards to speak at the next virtual event so it will be our mission to make that happen. Our colleagues from the project also requested a speaking slot at the next session so we'll be including them on the agenda, assuming that our scheduling stars are in alignment.

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