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.



Open Education in Palestine: A tool for liberation

Last week I had the opportunity to travel to Palestine, to the West Bank to visit our OpenMed partners for the Palestine OER strategy Forum. Palestine, as land, is not always available in the modern maps,  because if you search for it in Google Maps, you can see the West Bank and Gaza, but its name, State of Palestine  it has been simply wiped out from today’s most popular cartographic search engine. So due to it’s political history, this Open Education trip has let me thinking about what I am doing, and why….

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Our trip started in Ramallah, a beautiful and vibrant city, were you can see the Mediterranean sea from distance, but if you were born there, and you don’t have the right credentials, you don’t hold the right to get there, so you can only see the sea from  the top the city, but you are separated from it because there is a wall.

The first day we visited Nablus and its university [An-Najah], where we were welcomed with cardamom infused coffee and kunefe, and we were told about the story and the current situation of HE in Palestine, they explained us how it works and how many students they have, how do they teach and how they are innovating, despite lack of access to things we normally take for granted, like internationalisation, as they cannot have visiting students because the visas granted are shorter than the semesters, and because there are very little visas granted for foreign academics.

Our trip continued to Jerusalem, the holy land, we took a taxi that transferred us to the first checkpoint of the day, because Palestinian cars are not allowed to circulate in Israeli roads. We crossed the checkpoint by foot (me in crutches) and I must say, that having to do this myself reminded me on how fortunate I am. I was born in Chile, therefore I hold a Chilean passport and I can go almost whatever I want without a visa, but also, I hold the British citizenship, and as such, I can move freely across almost every country, with very little exceptions without asking for permission. Crossing a checkpoint, from the perspective of a free citizen is overwhelming, because you stand on a queue, you are surrounded by fences, and when you manage to cross that metallic revolving door, your items are scanned and you must pass a metal detector and then, you are asked why you are there, in my case, and despite the politeness of the border officer, I did feel immensely sad.

Jerusalem, once you reach it takes you back in time, is lively, and vibrant, and magic, and crazy, the colours, the aroma, the voices, and sometimes you don’t know if you are in the past, the present or the future, and even though when you are not a spiritual person (like me) you feel that there is something special and magic in that city, where every stone you touch means something to someone, and where peace, faith and devotion can be seen in every corner.

From Jerusalem we moved to Bethlehem, and again the place seemed magic to me, because you realise that if Jesus was born in 2017 he will be a Palestinian, therefore he may need to hold a permission to cross to Jerusalem and he and his parents will be subject to checkpoints and scrutiny before entering Jerusalem, and you think why this is all so unfair, because there is the Nativity Church, and then, there is the wall, and there is a checkpoint that separates two cities that are holy, sacred and still alive. Once you see the wall, that wall, your heart breaks, you don’t understand why, and your head starts spinning, and while it spins, you have to cross another checkpoint, by foot, to get back to Ramallah.

The day of the Palestine OER strategy forum started with our Palestinian colleagues telling us what they are doing and us telling them about OpenMed, but there was one presentation that really inspired me, called Open Education for Palestine in which professor Marwan Tarazi stated that Open Education is a tool for liberation. He mentioned that under the current occupation, openness becomes essential to Palestine at philosophical level, and that the educators in Palestine need to open up because, in his words “if you don’t open up, someone will do under their own terms, therefore, if you don’t have an agenda, someone else will do“.

His presentation let me thinking, why I do what I do in the way I do it, I do believe in Openness, yes, but I never considered openness as a tool for liberation, yes for social justice, yes as an instrument for active citizenship, or as a tool to promote human rights, and this is not just about Open Education, but also concerns Open Data and Open Access, and also, Open Science, and his thoughts got me inspired, because sometimes the liberation has to do with becoming free from colonial and dominant perspectives, when we do teach or train communities in countries which are under the [awful] global south euphemism, we are liberating us/them from a discurse that is oppressive, allowing people and countries to grow accordingly to their own culture, telling stories from their own perspective and not playing the economy game imposed by the neoliberal rule.

The realities of these countries are diverse, as such is their culture, therefore access to material goods and to decent life standards are subject to the oppression of neoliberalism, capitalism, and predatory economic models which affect the access to basic human rights, proper education, a good and strong health system, an income that allows you to feed your loved ones without having to work in infra-human conditions.

When we do Open (Education, Data, Government, Science and Access) we need to consider that certain rules are better skipped, in the case of Open Education there is a tendency that does not exist in other Open fields, which is to consider Open just what is under the 5 Rs, therefore OER tends to mean resources are openly licensed and follow OE rules as if this was a dogma, but Open means to me, able to share your content, to detach your research from predatory – corporate publishers and to ignore for example the University Rankings, because their metrics are in a system that may not be helping to achieve success under each region or countries our own terms, because the rules are white and Anglo-Saxon, and each country and region tend to play at other rhythms, and ways of work.

Opening up means to me to share, to do things in a transparent way, to collaborate, to support and to provide the tools for educators and students to be critical thinkers, to challenge and to question, to become communities and not to follow a rule that tells you if you are open enough according to someone else’s agenda, so just be open, under your own terms, share, distribute, communicate, participate, engage, thinking that before Open rules there are human rights, and that accessing quality education is one of these.


PS1: Thanks to Birzeit University and An Najah Universities for the invitation, specially to Rania, Rula and Saida, you are very inspiring women, also to Abdellatif and Marwan, this event has been by far the most inspiring I have ever attended.

PS2: Thanks to Cristina, Fabio,Daniel, Isidro, Katherine, Sarah, Javier, Antonio  and to the rest of the OpenMed team, you people are amazing.

PS3: Any typos, blame the minions, they are not good at grammar because they don’t like to go to school.

PS4: All the pictures are public domain, I took them so I do what I want with them.

PS5: This is my personal perspective and are my views and may not represent the views of my employers, that’s why I’m using my personal blog to post it.

On media literacies and democracy

Today I woke up quite early, which is not indeed very common of me, and through my screen I noticed, again, in despair, that the humanity had screwed up. Coincidentally, I’m lecturing on data journalism and open data today, with the aim of start developing critical thinking and media literacies in my students, therefore rushed to my laptop to re-do my lecture.

Is not just about Trump winning the presidency, and also becoming the chief commander of the armed forced of the country that has invaded more countries than any other in the last decades (they beat you Britain!) bombarding and killing thousand of civilians in the name of. It is about the social constructions and instruments that misled the people of Britain  to vote of Brexit, that allowed Rajoy winning in Spain (again, really!) and made Colombia to vote against peace (yeah!).

We know that media plays a key role in framing political views, perceptions and opinions, but there is media and media (the good, the bad and the ugly), and in some, we need to observe the the amount of hate they can promote – not just via printed – online newspapers but also, across social media, the TV, and any other mean of mass communication – spreading fear and rage, sowing panic, misleading the poor and illiterate into believing that the cause of their poverty is not the bad distribution of wealth, or the corruption in their countries, or the excessive expenses of their armies, or the lack to decent housing because some rich kids keep gambling with the prices of the land, or the lack of access to health because your government basically does not give a shit about you, no, people is told that because of immigration they are denied basic access to human rights, to decent work, to fair salaries… while the rich and the corrupt keep in and get to power poisoning them thanks to right hand of the evil… the right-wing-press.

Now long ago, while preparing my course materials I found this paper Digital Media Literacy Education and Online Civic and Political Participation, and with this other one Critical Media Literacy, Democracy, and the Reconstruction of Education, and they made me reflect, because we are in a time in which we have plenty of access to data, but it is to me quite clear now that people cannot relate to it, cannot understand it, and that is core to use open data to develop citizenship skills, but this will not work if there are not any visible efforts to develop critical media literacies, which can be understood as a 21st century approach to education. It provides a framework to access, analyze, evaluate, create and participate with messages in a variety of forms — from print to video to the Internet. Media literacy builds an understanding of the role of media in society as well as essential skills of inquiry and self-expression necessary for citizens of a democracy (MediaLit).  Without this literacies, data and media, people will remain ignorant of the bias and misinformation portrayed on the media, because they cannot relate with the numbers and cannot verify the information presented as facts in the information, leading towards voting for the extreme right, for the  ones that have indeed damaged the society, which is preposterous in a digitally – capable – savvy – well equipped society.

As scholars we are taught to assess information critically, to verify claims, to fact-check, to review our sources and validate the validity of the source, and I think that in these dark political times, these are the best skill we can transfer to our students, we need to think of them as future citizens, local and global, that need to support the development of democratic, tolerant and respectful societies, therefore, we need to equip them with skills for democracy and with transversal skills, that according with UNESCO include  tolerance, openness, respect for diversity and intercultural understanding, therefore we need to start thinking that Open Education may not just relate with open content, open access or open data, but with the transformative power that openness as philosophy has, because by being able to freely access resources, we can help to promote peace and democracy.


Disclaimer: All the images were taken from Google without even looking at the licenses, I’m bloody angry today and I needed to showcase how right wing media has led, in less than a year to basically destroy democracy and democratic participation as we knew it…..


Why Open Data is key to teach democracy and citizenship

It has been taking me few days to put into words  what has happened in the country I called home for the last few years, it has been sad, confusing and overwhelming.

Not long ago, with my colleague Leo Havemann (@leohavemann) started doing some research about the value of Open Data as Open Educational Resources, and with a little help from our friends, we published a book and a paper, but until this point this was just an idea in our heads, Open Data is key to teach citizenship skills and to understand democracy, and we did lots of research about it, and we still do (with Chiara Ciociola, Fabrizio ScrolliniTim Coughlan, Francesca de Chiara and Annalisa Manca et al.) and we saw its value at theoretical level, but when I woke up on Friday, in despair, I noticed that as Open Data and Open Education community we haven’t done enough to educate others, because the voters in the UK have been misleading with false claims and manipulated by the right to believe that the root of evil were the migrants (EU, non EU & Refugees) and the axis of evil was European Union.

How could this happen? well, there are certain indicators that can explain this, those who voted for Brexit were mostly over 40 years old, and, Brexiters grew accordingly with age, the eldest were more prone to vote for leave, but, within this group, only 34.8% of the population completed tertiary education (Source: OECD Data), which means (for me) that the most vulnerable and illiterate group of the population were maliciously (mis)led to vote against the migrants and the EU, and were used as an instrument to promote a rather xenophobic agenda and to lead the country into a political and economical crisis, so the politicians can now have another scapegoat to blame, the illiterate and elderly people of Britain.


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But as they say here, we need to keep calm and carry on, however, this carry on, put us, and by us I mean people working in the fields of Openness (Education, Data, Science & Access) into promoting global citizenship, working closer with the civil society  (as the friends from Abrelatam, ILDA, Open Knowledge InternationalSchool of Data and SocialTIC are doing)to create spaces for capacity building for students, teachers and academics towards developing data literacies so people can understand numbers, graphs, statistics and can critically assess the information.

I firmly believe that Open Data is a key resource to teach critical thinking, and used as Open Educational Resources allows us to showcase phenomena and to build understanding of it by critically evaluating and assessing a problem. Since the referendum campaign started we have seen far too many graphs, but graphs are misleading, people cannot read them, and stats are manipulated by the media as big red numbers and letters and shocking images are to construct newspapers headlines, and the illiterate people are terrorised by fake facts and they cannot assess truth from lies.

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I know this is a sad time for many of us, scary for lots of us and probably uncertain for most of us, but I also see an opportunity for the Open Education community to collectively build a more democratic society because today promoting openness is key.  The more Open Access research is published the more people can read evidence-based information. If Open Data is used  in teaching and learning, students will be able to critically assess the media, to question their governments and their policies, and by embracing Open Science principles, students will be able replicate studies to critically construct their opinions.

We need to support the development of a more critical society  to prevent politicians creating a new scapegoat to manipulate the society, but mostly to make sure that the darkest hours of Europe  won’t repeat, because as Niemöller once wrote

“First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.”


Open Data as Open Educational Resources: Towards Transversal Skills and Global Citizenship

This year will be remembered by Leo Havemann and me as the Open Data year, because we spent it digging, exploring  and researching about how Open Data can be used as OER, because we believe that embedding Open Data in the curriculum can help students to develop numerous literacies including statistical, digital and reporting skills, but moreover, is a way to relate academic activities with the problems of the society aiming at developing active and conscious citizens.

Today we got published our latest piece of research titled   Open Data as Open Educational Resources: Towards Transversal Skills and Global Citizenship which “offers an initial exploration of ways in which the use of Open Data can be key in the development of transversal skills (including digital and data literacies, alongside skills for critical thinking, research, teamwork, and global citizenship), enhancing students’ abilities to understand and select information sources, to work with, curate, analyse and interpret data, and to conduct and evaluate research, and also presents results of an exploratory survey that can guide further research into Open Data-led learning activities aiming to support educators in empowering students to engage, critically and collaboratively, as 21st century global citizens“.

By saying it has been a year, I think is fair to rewind to where all started: a blogpost we called The 21st Century’s Raw Material: Using Open Data as Open Educational Resources  in which we described the initial and exploratory ideas to support students to think like scientists and policy makers and to acquire research skills. We initially used this post to call academics and practitioners in sharing their practices in the use of Open Data in teaching and learning .

So, after recruiting volunteers to share their good practices, we were joined by our friends to help us publishing these practices as case studies, to thanks to  Marieke GuyWilliam HammondsPaul Bacsich, Elena Stojanovska, Santiago MartínAnne-Christin Tannhäuser, Maria PerifanouChiara Ciociola, Luigi Reggi, Tim Coughlan, Juan Pablo Alperin, Katie Shamash, Alessandra Bordini, Alan Dix, Geoffrey Ellis and Virginia Power  in early November 2015 we published a book called Open Data as Open Educational Resources: Case studies of emerging practice,  the process of editing and putting this book together has been described in the previous post called Tales from the unexpected journey: Open Data as Open Educational Resources which I hope you enjoy reading.

— Nota en Castellano —

Si te interesa saber más sobre los datos abiertos en la docencia, puedes visitar la página Datos abiertos como recursos educativos abiertos (diseñada por el inigualable Gustavo Soto) o puedes darle una leída a la columna el el blog del BID:  Cómo los Datos Abiertos pueden ayudar a potenciar la Educación Universitaria en colaboración con el gran Nelson Piedra



Tales from the unexpected journey: Open Data as Open Educational Resources

Screen Shot 2015-11-04 at 13.56.17The process of developing this book titled Open Data as Open Educational Resources: Case studies of emerging practice was as brilliantly described by my fellow editor Leo Havemann as an unexpected journey, and as such we named our introduction, so I will explain you why:

Not so long ago, my friend Leo and I decided to start exploring the use of Open Data as teaching as learning resources, or in teaching and learning, but we couldn’t find much evidence on good practices, or examples, so we decided that maybe, we could start asking around, what we did not realised, is that we were opening big, a very big pandora box.

As information was playing hide and, well, hide with us, we thought that maybe, calling educators to share their practices and collect them as case studies could be a good solution, as we were sure that somewhere, someone was making pedagogic use of open data. So what it occurred to us was that, in case we managed to fish some cases out of the water, we could publish them as a book, as an openly licensed book.

We started asking for help (aka pestering some friends) to find / reach those who were using open data in teaching g and learning and, as magic happens sometimes, we were joined in the adventure of finding these practitioners and cases, and in developing the book by a group of colleagues and friends we respect and admire, and who did not called us crazy, but instead, supported us, guided us and encouraged us in our (evident) titanic idea of self publishing a book, without any fundings, and without having a publisher, because, Leo and I, as someone said once, are courageous people (maybe meant nuts, but we took it as a compliment).

First it was Marieke Guy,  who believed in us and in our idea (or maybe she said yes because I wouldn’t stop otherwise, will never know), then it came William Hammonds who joined us and helped us getting organised, and then Paul Bacsich and Elena Stojanovska, who, after joining the coordination of OKFN edu open education, were incredibly supportive and helped us in completing this project. 

Then we got a few supporting hands in helping us in sharing our preliminary findings, gathering more evidence or just provided us with good advice in editorial practices and project management, amongst them were Virginia RodésNelson PiedraAntonio MoneoGeraldine GarciaFabrizio ScrolliniEleni ZazaniElizabeth CharlesManuel Caeiro, Joana BarrosMehmet Izbudak and Lorna Campbell. Lately, some others joined what we called the scientific committee, so Anne-Christin Tannhäuser and Maria Perifanou helped us to select the cases and lately, supported the authors in developing their cases.

As we keep saying, we might be the luckiest people who ever attempted to publish a book independently, because every single one of the selected authors are a joy to work with, and understood that we were learning on the go. We had a nice bunch of international scholars showcasing their practices and projects, from Italy’s A Scuola de OpenCoesione we were joined by Chiara Ciociola and Luigi Reggi, then Tim Coughlan joined us from The Open University, followed by the Canada’s most international team Juan Pablo AlperinKatie Shamash and Alessandra Bordini from Simon Fraser University. Also, we were joined by Professor Alan Dix (Birmingham University) and Geoffrey Ellis (University of Konstanz) and by Virginia Power who is both a Graduate Tutor and PhD Student with the University of the West of England.

When the cases were ready, we were joined (and saved) by the real superhero of this story,  the only and the great Santiago Martín who played the key role of designer, organiser, and manager of the tons of files we never thought we could ever produce, and as the extraordinaire librarian he is, he organised the caos and then, designed what we think is  a very very beautiful book.

Before, during and at the end of this journey, there were some colleagues and friends that were there for us when we needed a bit of encouragement and advice (sometimes in liquid form, others in virtual form, and occasionally in the form of chocolate) in this our first experience as publishers, so many thanks and hugs to Bea de los Arcos, Mira VogelDavid Kernohan,Chrissi Nerantzi, Matt JennerSteve Rowett, Tim NeumannNatasa PerovicJo StroudJosé Raúl CanayCarlos Ruz, Janina Dewitz, Paulina OlivosAdriana FavieriMarita BalbiHassel FallasFlor CoelhoCarla BoninaMoira WrightCristian TimmermannPat Lockley and Yanna Nedelcheva and others that I might have to add later as don’t have much RAM left at the moment…

PS: Any typos, issues, conflicts or problems in this post are the minions’ fault, not mine, so please contact Stuart, Herb or Kevin in case you have a complaint, however for lovely messages you can use the comment box below .

Honest and reliable Open Access Journals in Open and Distance Education

OpenAccessWeekMost readers are aware that under the current publishing market model, the only organisations profiting from publishing scientific research are large corporations or predatory independent publishers that charge high rates to authors for Article Processing Charges (APCs) and/or that charge libraries high subscription fees to provide digital (not printed) access to articles, in order to make them somehow available to the readers (see the cost of academic publishing).

I love the concept of openness, because it’s all about sharing good practices, ideas and making research accessible for everyone everywhere, democratising access to knowledge and information. So, in order to celebrate Open Access Week, I compiled a very short list of journals that are fully open access and that do not charge the authors for publishing with them. This for me is key, as while I was doing my PhD I was able to publish my research in some of these journals without having to pay for APCs and to access all their articles without my having to pay (or my library having to pay) for subscription.

The list of journals I give below can make life much better for early-career researchers and for those researchers that do not work in academia, that want to get their research in open education published in high quality journals, and that want to conduct research where libraries cannot afford to pay for subscriptions. The list should also be of great help to the increasing number of independent researchers outside higher education institutions.

What is important to me are the editorial values of these journals: they are supported by international universities and organisations, they do not aim at profiting in any way, they have excellent editorial boards, they are well indexed and finally, they have speedy publishing times, which is beneficial both for authors and readers.

** JL4D recommended by Professor Alan Tait @AlanTait 

** JOLR & JOLT recommended by Robert Farrow @philosopher1978 from @OER_hub