Why Open Data matters in Higher Education

Open Data is a topic worth exploring considering that the phenomena of data (open, closed, big, small, classified, confidential, etc.) is here to stay and its disrupting the way we understand politics, policies, phenomena, social problems, the media and the sciences, yet, at Higher Education Level, we still perceive that there is a lack – detachment – disinterest from Universities to embrace the potential transformational power of Open Data not only for its value as educational resource, and as tool to further developing Open Science, but as a tool to engage the University community in participating democratically towards improving the HE current system leading to innovation and accountability.


We can see three main strands regarding Open Data in higher education:

  1. Its inner educational value: Open Data, allow students can learn to solve problems, to create knowledge, to engage in participatory research, to improve their media literacies, and to learn to connect with the key element of what Van Es & Schäfer (2017) call a datafied society.
  2. Its scientific value: Open Data is at the heart of Open Science, as it facilitates not only scientific research but also, promotes scientific transparency, facilitating others to reproduce studies and also, allowing other to mix and reuse data towards further developing knowledge in different fields as mentioned in this publication by  Bartling & Friesike (2014).
  3. Its transparency and accountability value: Public Universities must be accountable as any other public body, towards ensuring that the community understand how money is spent, how people is employed, which are the ratios of enrolment or contracting amongst different groups,

In relation with point 1, During the last few years, I have been going around researching about Open Data and its use as Open Educational Resources and I have wrote some stuff about it. This paper written with Leo Havemann focuses on the development of transversal skills using Open Data, while this other one written with Annalisa Manca, Chiara Ciociola and Fabio Nascimbeni aims at pointing the role of Critical Pedagogies when designing Open Data led strategies for education. Also, with Leo we edited a book of case studies portraying the use of Open Data as OER.

But, the landscape of Data is growing and growing, so this year, at OER17, we focused our studies in the impact that Open Data can have to understand how media and democracy as we see these elements as key to enhance social participation, therefore, universities need to start considering Open Data to engage students and academics towards fostering activities that can have an impact in the society by embedding research-led activities in the curricula towards developing social and scientific transversal skills.

Regarding point 2, Open Data in Open Science means that scientific dissemination is not confined only to the impact of their publications, but also, to the publication of data that can complement them and that can be used both by academics teaching in the field or by other scholars willing to replicate the study or to further research on the case presented by the data by mixing it and reusing it towards developing new knowledge.

In relation with the 3rd point, we need to consider that data is produced by Universities in various shapes and forms, researchers produce scientific data, students produce data since they apply for a course at the University, from their school results, their personal background, their achievements and failures, their studies, their satisfaction and their assignments, academics produce data about their teaching, management produces data about all sorts of issues, including financial data and states produces data in regards of the use and cost of managing the campuses, but most if this data is A)not available B)very well hidden C)not publishable D)confidential, therefore, not even the members of their own academic community can access this information to study it and to participate in instances that may allow them to improve the university, from its governance to the skills developed amongst the different actors.

Data produced within the universities walls, once opened, can improve transparency leading towards building trust in their communities. Last week an interesting report was published on Open data on universities – New fuel for transformation, this report, summarises quite well the opportunities and challenges of opening up data at HE institutions, and to do so, Universities UK published last year a guide called Open Data in Higher Education: An introductory guide, which provides guidance  for Universities willing to improve their quality and services using data oriented strategies.

When the community has access to the data, and their data analysis capabilities are developed, trust in senior governance can be improved, but also, people can act towards improving situations that they consider may need to be addressed. If universities open up their data, and the community is welcomed to analyse it and report upon it, it could help to formally address issues regarding race and gender by showcasing the lack of people for different backgrounds and of females in senior management and the gaps in earning amongst different groups, can also improve cost-efficiency management of the institutions (energy costs, purchase of technology, campus management) but also, can help fighting nepotism and corruption in the alma mater (yep, being there, seen that), and ensuring that the university is run to the best interest of the community (local and global).

For us, embracing open data at Universities, can lead to certain benefits, such as innovating at pedagogical level by developing transversal skills to students, broadening the impact of the research as data can be considered citable materials and to improve university governance, therefore improving the universities in each on their core strands.

We will be meeting next week in Costa Rica at ConDatos, to discuss this and other issues regarding Open Data, also, we will be at the University of Costa Rica running an Open Data workshop for academics, following up on the workshop we did with ILDA and Núcleo REA last year the the Universidad de la República in Uruguay. If you want to know more about our work on capacity building for academics in Open Data, just let us know (@jatenas @juanibelbis & @idatosabiertos on twitter), as we are keen to keep exploring this area.


Putting research into practice: Training academics to use Open Data as OER: An experience from Uruguay

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View from the lecture theatre after the storm (by me under CC_BY_NC)

Post written by Javiera Atenas  (@jatenas)

Last week Chiara CiociolaManuel Podetti  and myself – with the help from OD4D and ILDA that  supported us on developing this project- ran a three-day workshop in Montevideo, in which we trained a group of academics, secondary school teachers, librarians, public sector professionals and postgraduate students in using Open Data as Open Educational Resources, and by working in groups they projected a research, explored the data and communicated the results using data journalism techniques.

40 (amazingly motivated) people attended the course during the 3 days despite the weather (torrential rains I brought all the way down from London). With the academic support and expertise of Manuel Podetti and Virginia Rodés from Núcleo REA (Universidad de la República) and with the invluable collaboration of Carolina Veiga and Daniel Carranza from Data Uruguay,  the participants achieved so much, leaving us amazed by setting up the bar so high.

The course design was a team effort, I had my very own ideas, taken mostly from the research Leo Havemann and I have done on Open Data as Open Educational Resources (book + paper), but it was inspired by the methodology developed by A Scuola di Open Coesione, and in the work Chiara Ciociola and Luigi Reggi  do on Open Data for civic engagement. Also, we had lots of support from Silvia Sanjuan to develop the materials in Spanish and got lots of ideas for this course from Nelson Piedra, Annalisa Manca, Francesca de Chiara, Mor Rubistein, Carla Bonina, Tim Coughlan and Fabrizio Scrollini.

To develop the course content, I looked into best practices on Open Data related literacies, and got some great content from Escuela de Datos and Open Knowledge International to introduce the participants to Open Data. But also, got help gathering resources, tutorials, ideas and good examples from Mariel García, Camila Salazar, Hassell Fallas, Juan Manuel Casanueva, Silvana Fumega and many other friends from Abrelatam, to all of whom I’m really thankful.

The course was outlined in three stages [project, explore and narrate] using a critical pedagogy approach to develop – in a short period of time – the skills needed to use open data as teaching and learning resources in formal and informal learning environments, working in multidisciplinary contexts and involving the civil society in the projects, to work with students into solving real life problems towards developing critical thinking and citizenship skills.

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Image by Manuel Podetti

On the first day [project], during the morning, the participants were introduced to the world of Openness (Open Licenses, Open Data and Open Educational Resources) and its basic tools. The afternoon started with the group work, setting up the first challenge: To work in groups and find a real life problem and to project a research question out of it which could be answered by using open data as core research element. So the participants gather up in multidisciplinary teams in which each participant had a specific role (project manager, designer, principal researcher, journalist or analyst) and by the end of the day, they all had a research problem, a research method and potential open data portals and documentation to gather information.

On the second day [explore], during the morning we reviewed tools to create datasets and to visualise data. During the afternoon, the participants started to report into the research problems and – with the help of lots of Mate to keep us warm and awake – presented the initial results of their research. Also, we had an interesting discussion about their views and perceptions on the pedagogical value of their projects, with a focus on the challenges they have faced and what they have achieved so far, looking into ways to embed these new data-led practices for teaching students or for training communities.


Image by Chiara Ciociola

On the third day [narrate] on the morning session, we looked into Data Journalism techniques and examples, we reviewed the news from traditional newspapers and compared them with news from Data Journalism portals, and discussed ways to embed data journalism techniques into teaching and learning to improve students’ communication skills and numeracies. During the afternoon, the groups worked into reporting the outcomes of their research in the READA-UdelaR Blog and finally presented the results of their projects.

As can be seen in the READA blog , the groups chose a diverse range of themes and topics, and also, chose different approaches and methods to analyse the data and to present the outcomes. One of the things that most surprised us, it was the speed in which they became empowered and started trying to access to public data that was not yet open, dealing with FOI requests and contacting the organisations that must have provided with the data.

Every group dealt with a different issue, from access to food to road accidents, they all used different research methodologies and reported and various and diverse ways. All their projects targeted real life problems, and in three days, every group was able to came with a research outcome and proposed solutions, they all presented nice and insightful infographics and participated in a panel where they discussed with the rest of the course the lessons learned, the challenges faced and sought for ideas to embed this practice into the classroom.

Also, it was interesting to see the landscape of opportunities they described as potential pedagogical uses of open data in formal and informal education, such as “provide the students with a different perspective to access information widening their panoramas“; “to empower students as citizens by giving them innovative tools to collect information and data“; “to explain the students the laws that allow them to get the data they need and to use it as an act of civic responsibility” and also, “to work with my colleagues to help students to work in multidisciplinary projects“.

From my side, I did learn a lot, both as a researcher and as a trainer, I loved the experience, the group of collaborators and participants was amazing, we were happily exhausted by the end of it, the motivation was contagious. I know there are some bits to improve in the course, but for being the first experience of this kind, I could not ask for more, I am really grateful for this opportunity and I’m looking forward to run this workshop again, as it was an incredible experience.

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Organisations that supported and or sponsored this project