Tag Archives: open

Storing and archiving data


When I was doing my own PhD, I had a filing cabinet with three or four drawers, and even then I had hundreds of photocopies of academic papers stacked in small piles according to theme and relevance to the section that I was writing about next. My raw research data, however, was compactly contained in electronic format in the form of tables and graphs; row after row of numbers on spreadsheets which could be tabulated and correlated in any format that I desired. When I left the department, the files were archived for a few years, and then I suspect they were all dumped when the department moved to another building on another campus.

Now, when I generate research data, it is almost entirely in electronic format, and it is automatically stored in several places. I have my personal space in the memory banks of the university computing system, and this space is automatically backed-up overnight. I also usually back-up to my own cloud-space, so that I can access the data wherever and whenever I want. Usually, I also store data for individual projects on a separate memory stick or portable hard-drive. The digital age means that after two or three clicks, I can be assured that copies of my data are safely held in four or five independent locations. Research students can simultaneously share data with a colleague or supervisor in a different part of the world without even leaving their own desk.

This is only the tip of the iceberg, however, because the production of digital data raises almost as many questions as it provides innovative opportunities. There needs to be an early discussion in the supervisory team, for instance, about not simply which data will be stored, but where will it be stored, for how long, and who will have access to it? This is not simply an issue of security, although security, confidentiality, and appropriate use of the data will certainly figure in the discussion. There is a growing awareness that when public money is used to fund research, there needs to be a transparent return on public interest. Initially this has meant that research results, reports, and journal articles, should be made freely available to the public. This is being extended in the next Research Excellence Framework in the UK to insist that if the journal article is not already published as an open resource, it needs to be added as an open source on the digital repository of the relevant institution. But there’s more.

The argument has been extended to include the research data generated by the public funding, so the datasets themselves are trending to become open and shared property. Whether the data is numbers, interviews, audio recordings, photographs, or other recordable results, the likelihood is that the data being gathered by a researcher today, is probably going to be a shared resource tomorrow. It will be possible for other researchers, in subsequent years, to access your raw data, perhaps combine it with other raw data, and re-analyse, re-interpret, and publish their conclusions. It now begins to matter a great deal more seriously exactly who can gain access to your research data, and for what purposes. As the law currently stands, a bona fide researcher can have access to open datasets for up to ten years after they have been deposited. But here is the catch – if a researcher accesses this data after nine years, the open-access clock is automatically re-set for a further ten years. This ensures the certainty that data which is being collected and digitally stored just now, might be still openly available long after the initial researcher has moved on from that research topic, perhaps changed institutions, changed careers, maybe even passed away. The raw data of open access digital resources is now guaranteed a lifetime longer than the career-span of many individual researchers. So think carefully about what you gather, how you organise and store it, and what your legacy of research data will be!


Project planning


Like many regular users of web technology, I get a lot of new software and apps sent to me, or recommended, for me to try out. Mostly these are designed to ‘make life easier’, some are primarily for fun. While I am in favour of both of these aims, many of the new applications do neither. One I discovered yesterday, however, is worth passing on – Tom’s Planner http://www.tomsplanner.com/software/project-planning/tour.aspx is a very simply tool that allows you to create your own Gantt Chart as a project planning aid. Like many people who have played around with other project planning software, I found that there is often a tendency to get TOO fancy, add one too many icon or feature – but Tom’s Planner is really simple, intuitive, and useful. The plan can be created very quickly and can be shared with project colleagues. It is also free for personal use. Worth passing on!

The way that we do things…

One of the things that I really like about publishing in online, open-access journals is that the time between writing the piece and it appearing before the readers can be incredibly short. An article just out on “Two models for sharing digital open educational resources” http://jpaap.napier.ac.uk/index.php/JPAAP/article/view/108 took less than three months from first submission, through peer-reviewing, responses, proof-reading etc to the final appearance of the article. (The full-text is available in multiple formats in the links at the bottom of the abstract). This is exactly what the authors wish to see happening – to get their ideas out in front of an interested readership while the ideas are still fresh. A previous paper of mine a few years ago took almost three years from the time I submitted it until it appeared in print format, by which time even I waned in interest. I think the combination of computer automation of the submission process, together with crowd-sharing the detailed work of reviewing, proof-reading and so on, has got to be the model for the future. I get increasingly frustrated to chase-up an interesting-looking reference only to find that I am expected to pay to view it. Usually I do not! (I can probably obtain it through the UHI online journals library, but that really does not serve the wider public who have educational needs and no access to fire-walled libraries). The open way has got to be the way of the future!

Open Educational Practices

Open window

I was at an interesting meeting in Edinburgh at the end of last week to participate in the Steering Group for a new initiative on open educational practices in Scotland. The project is a three-year initiative led by the Open University in Scotland, but includes representatives from other Scottish universities. It is intended to work across the whole Further and Higher Education sector in Scotland and try to harmonise approaches and resources for open education. The new web site at http://www.oepscotland.org will be developed and improved as the project picks up a head of steam (or is that a completely outdated metaphor?) 🙂 The idea is to help build a consistent national approach to the use, availability, and development of open resources for education in Scotland, and to project this work in Scotland onto a world stage. It is good to be involved in a project with such huge potential and vision.

Padlocking an idea

Padlocking an idea

Two very different quotations came to mind during the last week in conversations with colleagues. The first is when the Highlander Folk High School was being (temporarily) closed down by segregationists – when asked why he was laughing as the law-officers padlocked the gates, Myles Horton replied it was because “you can’t padlock an idea!” The second quote relates to the Buddhist concept that to really get the best out of something, we have to ‘let go’ of it, and share it with others. I am referring, of course, to the idea of Open Educational Resources. Some people just don’t seem to get it. There is an idea that if it is free, and on the web, then it can’t be of any use. Naturally, there are a lot of poor quality resources on the web – but there is also a huge amount of very poor books in print, and that doesn’t mean to say that all books are terrible, or that we should not learn to be able to distinguish the good from the bad. Many years ago, an Australian colleague, who was far in advance of his time in making web-based educational resources a ‘public good’ told me the reason that his university was backing his open-access initiative. “Prospective students see what we put up free on the web and think, if that’s what they are showing us for free, what else do they have? I want to go there!” Other institutions, such as the Open University UK, have talked about the value of attracting learners to using their OER, who then may go on to enroll with the OU. It becomes a sort of ‘kite-mark’ of quality. The crucial word is “quality”. If we produce quality resources and share these openly, it will only enhance our reputation as a university of choice. On the other hand, no matter how good our learning resources may be, if they are hidden away in the darkest recesses of academia behind lock and key, they will only benefit a minimum number of students, and our reputation will take longer to become established. Give me transparency and openness over close rooms and closed minds any time!

The open wave

The open wave

I have been working on pulling together a module that I am calling “Digital literacy and open education”. It is based on the principle that an educator needs to be able to identify, navigate, and make sense of the wide diversity of digital resources in order to communicate their ideas – and where better to start than through these digital resources themselves? I am trying to select appropriate resources from the web, and only to create new learning resources when I can’t find anything exactly suitable. So far it is going really well. I am basing the main texts on a couple of online books on e-learning and digital scholarship – one my myself, and the other by Martin Weller (see the Ed Techie blog in the bottom left-hand corner). When I have completed the module design and set it all out in Blackboard, I will have it peer-reviewed by my colleagues, and then I want to open a “mirror” version on the open web. I’ll let you know of my progress! 🙂