About Nicola Osborne

I am Digital Education Manager and Service Manager at EDINA, a role I share with my colleague Lorna Campbell. I was previously Social Media Officer for EDINA working across all projects and services. I am interested in the opportunities within teaching and learning for film, video, sound and all forms of multimedia, as well as social media, crowdsourcing and related new technologies.

IIPC WAC / RESAW Conference 2017 – Day One Liveblog

From today until Friday I will be at the International Internet Preservation Coalition (IIPC) Web Archiving Conference 2017, which is being held jointly with the second RESAW: Research Infrastructure for the Study of Archived Web Materials Conference. I’ll be attending the main strand at the School of Advanced Study, University of London, today and Friday, and at the technical strand (at the British Library) on Thursday.

I’m here wearing my “Reference Rot in Theses: A HiberActive Pilot” – aka “HiberActive” – hat. HiberActive is looking at how we can better enable PhD candidates to archive web materials they are using in their research, and citing in their thesis. I’m managing the project and working with developers, library and information services stakeholders, and a fab team of five postgraduate interns who are, whilst I’m here, out and about around the University of Edinburgh talking to PhD students to find out how they collect, manage and cite their web references, and what issues they may be having with “reference rot” – content that changes, decays, disappears, etc. We will have a webpage for the project and some further information to share soon but if you are interested in finding out more, leave me a comment below or email me: nicola.osborne@ed.ac.uk.

These notes are being taken live so, as usual for my liveblogs, I welcome corrections, additions, comment etc. (and, as usual, you’ll see the structure of the day appearing below with notes added at each session). 

Opening remarks: Jane Winters and Nicholas Taylor

Opening plenary: Leah Lievrouw – Web history and the landscape of communication/media research Chair: Nicholas Taylor

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CILIPS Conference 2017: Strategies for Success (#CILIPS17) – Liveblog (day two)

Today I am at the CILIPS Conference 2017: Strategies for Success. I’ll be talking about our Digital Footprint work and Digital Footprint MOOC (#DFMOOC). Meanwhile back in Edinburgh my colleagues Louise Connelly (PI for our Digital Footprint research) and Sian Bayne (PI for our Yik Yak research) are at the Principal’s Teaching Award Scheme Forum 2017 talking about our “A Live Pulse”: YikYak for understanding teaching, learning and assessment at Edinburgh research project. So, lots of exciting digital footprint stuff afoot!

I’ll be liveblogging the sessions I’m sitting in today here, as usual corrections, additions, etc. always welcome. You’ll see the programme below becoming 

We have opened with the efficient and productive CILIPS AGM. Now, a welcome from the CILIPS President, Liz McGettigan, reflecting on the last year for libraries in Scotland. She is also presenting the student awards to Adam Dombovari (in absentia) and Laura Anne MacNeil. She is also announcing the inauguration of a new CILIPS award Scotland’s Library and Information Professional of the Year Award – nomination information coming soon on the website – the first award will be given out at the Autumn Gathering.

Keynote One – The Road to Copyright Literacy: a journey towards library empowerment Dr. Jane Secker, Senior Lecturer in Educational Development at City, University of London and Chris Morrison, Copyright and Licensing Compliance Officer, University of Kent

 

11.25-11.45am Refreshments and exhibition

11.45-12.30pm Parallel Sessions 1

City Suite Scotland welcomes refugees – the role of the library in resettlement and inclusion Dr. Konstantina Martzoukou, Post Graduate Programme Leader, Robert Gordon University – iSchool

Art Gallery Suite Overcoming disability and barriers: Using assistive Technologies in libraries A joint presentation from Craig Mill – CALL Scotland and Edinburgh Libraries award winning Visually Impaired People Project – Jim McKenzie – Lifelong Learning Library Development Leader – Disability Support, Paul McCloskey – Lifelong Learning Strategic Development Officer (Libraries) and Lindsay MacLeod – Project Volunteer

Melbourne Suite Perfect partnerships: Spotlight on Macmillan in Libraries Craig Menzies, Macmillan Programme Manager

12.30-1.35pm Networking lunch and exhibition

1.35-2.20pm Parallel Sessions 2

City Suite Overcoming barriers in reaching Readers Jacqueline Geekie and Jennifer Horan, Aberdeenshire Libraries and Fiona Renfrew, South Lanarkshire Leisure and Culture Libraries

Art Gallery Suite Spotlight on research – Papers on: Linked Data: opening Scotland’s library content to the world (Dr. Diane Pennington, University of Strathclyde) Towards an information literacy strategy for Scotland (Dr. John Crawford)

Melbourne Suite Informal recognition routes: Learn more about Open Badges – Robert Stewart, Learning and Development Adviser, Digital Learning Team, Scottish Social Services Council 10 minute break to transfer between rooms

2.30-3.15pm Parallel Sessions 3

City Suite Families matter: Innovation in public libraries Every Child a Library Member evaluation (Peter Reid, Professor of Librarianship and Head of Information Management at Robert Gordon University) and DigiDabble, North Ayrshire’s award winning family project (Alison McAllister, Systems and Support Officer, North Ayrshire Libraries)

Art Gallery Suite Fake news and alternative facts – The challenge for information professionals Jenny Foreman, Morag Higginson and Paul Gray, The Information Literacy Community of Practice

Melbourne Suite If I googled you – what would I find? Managing your digital footprint Nicola Osborne, Digital Education Manager, EDINA 3.15-3.35pm Refreshments and exhibition

3.35-4.15pm Keynote 2 (City Suite) – Securing the future: where next for our community in 2018 and beyond? Nick Poole, Chief Executive, CILIP

4.15-4.30pm President’s closing remarks

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Behind the scenes at the Digital Footprint MOOC

Last Monday we launched the new Digital Footprint MOOC, a free three week online course (running on Coursera) led by myself and Louise Connelly (Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies). The course builds upon our work on the Managing Your Digital Footprints research project, campaign and also draws on some of the work I’ve been doing in piloting a Digital Footprint training and consultancy service at EDINA.

It has been a really interesting and demanding process working with the University of Edinburgh MOOCs team to create this course, particularly focusing in on the most essential parts of our Digital Footprints work. Our intention for this MOOC is to provide an introduction to the issues and equip participants with appropriate skills and understanding to manage their own digital tracks and traces. Most of all we wanted to provide a space for reflection and for participants to think deeply about what their digital footprint means to them and how they want to manage it in the future. We don’t have a prescriptive stance – Louise and I manage our own digital footprints quite differently but both of us see huge value in public online presence – but we do think that understanding and considering your online presence and the meaning of the traces you leave behind online is an essential modern life skill and want to contribute something to that wider understanding and debate.

Since MOOCs – Massive Open Online Courses – are courses which people tend to take in their own time for pleasure and interest but also as part of their CPD and personal development so that fit of format and digital footprint skills and reflection seemed like a good fit, along with some of the theory and emerging trends from our research work. We also think the course has potential to be used in supporting digital literacy programmes and activities, and those looking for skills for transitioning into and out of education, and in developing their careers. On that note we were delighted to see the All Aboard: Digital Skills in Higher Education‘s 2017 event programme running last week – their website, created to support digital skills in Ireland, is a great complementary resource to our course which we made a (small) contribution to during their development phase.

Over the last week it has been wonderful to see our participants engaging with the Digital Footprint course, sharing their reflections on the #DFMOOC hashtag, and really starting to think about what their digital footprint means for them. From the discussion so far the concept of the “Uncontainable Self” (Barbour & Marshall 2012) seems to have struck a particular chord for many of our participants, which is perhaps not surprising given the degree to which our digital tracks and traces can propagate through others posts, tags, listings, etc. whether or not we are sharing content ourselves.

When we were building the MOOC we were keen to reflect the fact that our own work sits in a context of, and benefits from, the work of many researchers and social media experts both in our own local context and the wider field. We were delighted to be able to include guest contributors including Karen Gregory (University of Edinburgh), Rachel Buchanan (University of Newcastle, Australia), Lilian Edwards (Strathclyde University), Ben Marder (University of Edinburgh), and David Brake (author of Sharing Our Lives Online).

The usefulness of making these connections across disciplines and across the wider debate on digital identity seems particularly pertinent given recent developments that emphasise how fast things are changing around us, and how our own agency in managing our digital footprints and digital identities is being challenged by policy, commercial and social factors. Those notable recent developments include…

On 28th March the US Government voted to remove restrictions on the sale of data by ISPs (Internet Service Providers), potentially allowing them to sell an incredibly rich picture of browsing, search, behavioural and intimate details without further consultation (you can read the full measure here). This came as the UK Government mooted the banning of encryption technologies – essential for private messaging, financial transactions, access management and authentication – claiming that terror threats justified such a wide ranging loss of privacy. Whilst that does not seem likely to come to fruition given the economic and practical implications of such a measure, we do already have the  Investigatory Powers Act 2016 in place which requires web and communications companies to retain full records of activity for 12 months and allows police and security forces significant powers to access and collect personal communications data and records in bulk.

On 30th March, a group of influential privacy researchers, including danah boyd and Kate Crawford, published Ten simple rules for responsible big data research in PLoSOne. The article/manifesto is an accessible and well argued guide to the core issues in responsible big data research. In many ways it summarises the core issues highlight in the excellent (but much more academic and comprehensive) AoIR ethics guidance. The PLoSOne article is notably directed to academia as well as industry and government, since big data research is at least as much a part of commercial activity (particularly social media and data driven start ups, see e.g. Uber’s recent attention for profiling and manipulating drivers) as traditional academic research contexts. Whilst academic research does usually build ethical approval processes (albeit conducted with varying degrees of digital savvy) and peer review into research processes, industry is not typically structured in that way and often not held to the same standards particularly around privacy and boundary crossing (see, e.g. Michael Zimmers work on both academic and commercial use of Facebook data).

The Ten simple rules… are also particularly timely given the current discussion of Cambridge Analytica and it’s role in the 2016 US Election, and the UK’s EU Referendum. An article published in Das Magazin in December 2016, and a subsequent English language version published on Vice’s Motherboard have been widely circulated on social media over recent weeks. These articles suggest that the company’s large scale psychometrics analysis of social media data essentially handed victory to Trump and the Leave/Brexit campaigns, which naturally raises personal data and privacy concerns as well as influence, regulation and governance issues. There remains some skepticism about just how influential this work was… I tend to agree with Aleks Krotoski (social psychologist and host of BBC’s The Digital Human) who – speaking with Pat Kane at an Edinburgh Science Festival event last night on digital identity and authenticity – commented that she thought the Cambridge Analytica work was probably a mix of significant hyperbole but also some genuine impact.

These developments focus attention on access, use and reuse of personal data and personal tracks and traces, and that is something we we hope our MOOC participants will have opportunity to pause and reflect on as they think about what they leave behind online when they share, tag, delete, and particularly when they consider terms and conditions, privacy settings and how they curate what is available and to whom.

So, the Digital Footprint course is launched and open to anyone in the world to join for free (although Coursera will also prompt you with the – very optional – possibility of paying a small fee for a certificate), and we are just starting to get a sense of how our videos and content are being received. We’ll be sharing more highlights from the course, retweeting interesting comments, etc. throughout this run (which began on Monday 3rd April), but also future runs since this is an “on demand” MOOC which will run regularly every four weeks. If you do decide to take a look then I would love to hear your comments and feedback – join the conversation on #DFMOOC, or leave a comment here or email me.

And if you’d like to find out more about our digital footprint consultancy, or would be interested in working with the digital footprints research team on future work, do also get in touch. Although I’ve been working in this space for a while this whole area of privacy, identity and our social spaces seems to continue to grow in interest, relevance, and importance in our day to day (digital) lives.

 

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Somewhere over the Rainbow: our metadata online, past, present & future

Today I’m at the Cataloguing and Indexing Group Scotland event – their 7th Metadata & Web 2.0 event – Somewhere over the Rainbow: our metadata online, past, present & future.

Paul Cunnea, CIGS Chair is introducing the day noting that this is the 10th year of these events: we don’t have one every year but we thought we’d return to our Wizard of Oz theme.

On a practical note, Paul notes that if we have a fire alarm today we’d normally assemble outside St Giles Cathedral but as they are filming The Avengers today, we’ll be assembling elsewhere!

There is also a cupcake competition today – expect many baked goods to appear on the hashtag for the day #cigsweb2. The winner takes home a copy of Managing Metadata in Web-scale Discovery Systems / edited by Louise F Spiteri. London : Facet Publishing, 2016 (list price £55).

Engaging the crowd: old hands, modern minds. Evolving an on-line manuscript transcription project / Steve Rigden with Ines Byrne (not here today) (National Library of Scotland)

 

Ines has led the development of our crowdsourcing side. My role has been on the manuscripts side. Any transcription is about discovery. For the manuscripts team we have to prioritise digitisation so that we can deliver digital surrogates that enable access, and to open up access. Transcription hugely opens up texts but it is time consuming and that time may be better spent on other digitisation tasks.

OCR has issues but works relatively well for printed texts. Manuscripts are a different matter – handwriting, ink density, paper, all vary wildly. The REED(?) project is looking at what may be possible but until something better comes along we rely on human effort. Generally the manuscript team do not undertake manual transcription, but do so for special exhibitions or very high priority items. We also have the challenge that so much of our material is still under copyright so cannot be done remotely (but can be accessed on site). The expected user community generally can be expected to have the skill to read the manuscript – so a digital surrogate replicates that experience. That being said, new possibilities shape expectations. So we need to explore possibilities for transcription – and that’s where crowd sourcing comes in.

Crowd sourcing can resolve transcription, but issues with copyright and data protection still have to be resolved. It has taken time to select suitable candidates for transcription. In developing this transcription project we looked to other projects – like Transcribe Bentham which was highly specialised, through to projects with much broader audiences. We also looked at transcription undertaken for the John Murray Archive, aimed at non specialists.

The selection criteria we decided upon was for:

  • Hands that are not too troublesome.
  • Manuscripts that have not been re-worked excessively with scoring through, corrections and additions.
  • Documents that are structurally simple – no tables or columns for example where more complex mark-up (tagging) would be required.
  • Subject areas with broad appeal: genealogies, recipe book (in the old crafts of all kinds sense), mountaineering.

Based on our previous John Murray Archive work we also want the crowd to provide us with structure text, so that it can be easily used, by tagging the text. That’s an approach that is borrowed from Transcribe Bentham, but we want our community to be self-correcting rather than doing QA of everything going through. If something is marked as finalised and completed, it will be released with the tool to a wider public – otherwise it is only available within the tool.

The approach could be summed up as keep it simple – and that requires feedback to ensure it really is simple (something we did through a survey). We did user testing on our tool, it particularly confirmed that users just want to go in, use it, and make it intuitive – that’s a problem with transcription and mark up so there are challenges in making that usable. We have a great team who are creative and have come up with solutions for us… But meanwhile other project have emerged. If the REED project is successful in getting machines to read manuscripts then perhaps these tools will become redundant. Right now there is nothing out there or in scope for transcribing manuscripts at scale.

So, lets take a look at Transcribe NLS

You have to login to use the system. That’s mainly to help restrict the appeal to potential malicious or erroneous data. Once you log into the tool you can browse manuscripts, you can also filter by the completeness of the transcription, the grade of the transcription – we ummed and ahhed about including that but we though it was important to include.

Once you pick a text you click the button to begin transcribing – you can enter text, special characters, etc. You can indicate if text is above/below the line. You can mark up where the figure is. You can tag whether the text is not in English. You can mark up gaps. You can mark that an area is a table. And you can also insert special characters. It’s all quite straight forward.

Q&A

Q1) Do you pick the transcribers, or do they pick you?

A1) Anyone can take part but they have to sign up. And they can indicate a query – which comes to our team. We do want to engage with people… As the project evolves we are looking at the resources required to monitor the tool.

Q2) It’s interesting what you were saying about copyright…

A2) The issues of copyright here is about sharing off site. A lot of our manuscripts are unpublished. We use exceptions such as the 1956 Copyright Act for old works whose authors had died. The selection process has been difficult, working out what can go in there. We’ve also cheated a wee bit

Q3) What has the uptake of this been like?

A3) The tool is not yet live. We thin it will build quite quickly – people like a challenge. Transcription is quite addictive.

Q4) Are there enough people with palaeography skills?

A4) I think that most of the content is C19th, where handwriting is the main challenge. For much older materials we’d hit that concern and would need to think about how best to do that.

Q5) You are creating these documents that people are reading. What is your plan for archiving these.

A5) We do have a colleague considering and looking at digital preservation – longer term storage being more the challenge. As part of normal digital preservation scheme.

Q6) Are you going for a Project Gutenberg model? Or have you spoken to them?

A6) It’s all very localised right now, just seeing what happens and what uptake looks like.

Q7) How will this move back into the catalogue?

A7) Totally manual for now. It has been the source of discussion. There was discussion of pushing things through automatically once transcribed to a particular level but we are quite cautious and we want to see what the results start to look like.

Q8) What about tagging with TEI? Is this tool a subset of that?

A8) There was a John Murray Archive, including mark up and tagging. There was a handbook for that. TEI is huge but there is also TEI Light – the JMA used a subset of the latter. I would say this approach – that subset of TEI Light – is essentially TEI Very Light.

Q9) Have other places used similar approaches?

A9) TRanscribe Bentham is similar in terms of tagging. The University of Iowa Civil War Archive has also had a similar transcription and tagging approach.

Q10) The metadata behind this – how significant is that work?

A10) We have basic metadata for these. We have items in our digital object database and simple metadata goes in there – we don’t replicate the catalogue record but ensure it is identifiable, log date of creation, etc. And this transcription tool is intentionally very basic at th emoment.

Coming up later…

Can web archiving the Olympics be an international team effort? Running the Rio Olympics and Paralympics project / Helena Byrne (British Library)

Managing metadata from the present will be explored by Helena Byrne from the British Library, as she describes the global co-ordination of metadata required for harvesting websites for the 2016 Olympics, as part of the International Internet Preservation Consortium’s Rio 2016 web archiving project

Statistical Accounts of Scotland / Vivienne Mayo (EDINA)

Vivienne Mayo from EDINA describes how information from the past has found a new lease of life in the recently re-launched Statistical Accounts of Scotland

Lunch

Beyond bibliographic description: emotional metadata on YouTube / Diane Pennington (University of Strathclyde)

Diane Pennington of Strathclyde University will move beyond the bounds of bibliographic description as she discusses her research about emotions shared by music fans online and how they might be used as metadata for new approaches to search and retrieval

Our 5Rights: digital rights of children and young people / Dev Kornish, Dan Dickson, Bethany Wilson (5Rights Youth Commission)

Young Scot, Scottish Government and 5Rights introduce Scotland’s 5Rights Youth Commission – a diverse group of young people passionate about their digital rights. We will hear from Dan and Bethany what their ‘5Rights’ mean to them, and how children and young people can be empowered to access technology, knowledgeably, and fearlessly.

Playing with metadata / Gavin Willshaw and Scott Renton (University of Edinburgh)

Learn about Edinburgh University Library’s metadata games platform, a crowdsourcing initiative which has improved descriptive metadata and become a vital engagement tool both within and beyond the library. Hear how they have developed their games in collaboration with Tiltfactor, a Dartmouth College-based research group which explores game design for social change, and learn what they’re doing with crowd-sourced data. There may even be time for you to set a new high score…

Managing your Digital Footprint : Taking control of the metadata and tracks and traces that define us online / Nicola Osborne (EDINA)

Find out how personal metadata, social media posts, and online activity make up an individual’s “Digital Footprint”, why they matter, and hear some advice on how to better manage digital tracks and traces. Nicola will draw on recent University of Edinburgh research on students’ digital footprints which is also the subject of the new #DFMOOC free online course.

16:00 Close

Sticking with the game theme, we will be running a small competition on the day, involving cupcakes, book tokens and tweets – come to the event to find out more! You may be lucky enough to win a copy of Managing Metadata in Web-scale Discovery Systems / edited by Louise F Spiteri. London : Facet Publishing, 2016 – list price £55! What more could you ask for as a prize?

The ticket price includes refreshments and a light buffet lunch.

We look forward to seeing you in April!

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Jisc Digifest 2017 Day Two – LiveBlog

Today I’m still in Birmingham for the Jisc Digifest 2017 (#digifest17). I’m based on the EDINA stand (stand 9, Hall 3) for much of the time, along with my colleague Andrew – do come and say hello to us – but will also be blogging any sessions I attend. The event is also being livetweeted by Jisc and some sessions livestreamed – do take a look at the event website for more details. As usual this blog is live and may include typos, errors, etc. Please do let me know if you have any corrections, questions or comments. 

Part Deux: Why educators can’t live without social media – Eric Stoller, higher education thought-leader, consultant, writer, and speaker.

I’ve snuck in a wee bit late to Eric’s talk but he’s starting by flagging up his “Educators: Are you climbing the social media mountain?” blog post. 

Eric: People who are most reluctant to use social media are often those who are also reluctant to engage in CPD, to develop themselves. You can live without social media but social media is useful and important. Why is it important? It is used for communication, for teaching and learning, in research, in activisim… Social media gives us a lot of channels to do different things with, that we can use in our practice… And yes, they can be used in nefarious ways but so can any other media. People are often keen to see particular examples of how they can use social media in their practice in specific ways, but how you use things in your practice is always going to be specific to you, different, and that’s ok.

So, thinking about digital technology… “Digital is people” – as Laurie Phipps is prone to say… Technology enhanced learning is often tied up with employability but there is a balance to be struck, between employability and critical thinking. So, what about social media and critical thinking? We have to teach students how to determine if an online source is reliable or legitimate – social media is the same way… And all of us can be caught out. There was piece in the FT about the chairman of Tesco saying unwise things about gender, and race, etc. And I tweeted about this – but I said he was the CEO – and it got retweeted and included in a Twitter moment… But it was wrong. I did a follow up tweet and apologised but I was contributing to that..

Whenever you use technology in learning it is related to critical thinking so, of course, that means social media too. How many of us here did our educational experience completely online… Most of us did our education in the “sage on the stage” manner, that’s what was comfortable for us… And that can be uncomfortable (see e.g. tweets from @msementor).

If you follow the NHS on Twitter (@NHS) then you will know it is phenomenal – they have a different member of staff guest posting to the account. Including live tweeting an operation from the theatre (with permissions etc. of course) – if you are medical student this would be very interesting. Twitter is the delivery method now but maybe in the future it will be Hololens or Oculus Rift Live or something. Another thing I saw about a year ago was Phil Baty (Inside Higher Ed – @Phil_Baty) talked about Liz Barnes revealing that every academic at Staffordshire will use social media and will build it into performance management. That really shows that this is an organisation that is looking forward and trying new things.

Any of you take part in the weekly #LTHEchat. They were having chats about considering participation in that chat as part of staff appraisal processes. That’s really cool. And why wouldn’t social media and digital be a part of that.

So I did a Twitter poll asking academics what they use social media for:

  • 25% teaching and learning
  • 26% professional development
  • 5% research
  • 44% posting pictures of cats

The cool thing is you can do all of those things and still be using it in appropriate educational contexts. Of course people post pictures of cats.. Of course you do… But you use social media to build community. It can be part of building a professional learning environment… You can use social media to lurk and learn… To reach out to people… And it’s not even creepy… A few years back and I could say “I follow you” and that would be weird and sinister… Now it’s like “That’s cool, that’s Twitter”. Some of you will have been using the event hashtag and connecting there…

Andrew Smith, at the Open University, has been using Facebook Live for teaching. How many of your students use Facebook? It’s important to try this stuff, to see if it’s the right thing for your practice.

We all have jobs… Usually when we think about networking and professional networking we often think about LinkedIn… Any of you using LinkedIn? (yes, a lot of us are). How about blogging on LinkedIn? That’s a great platform to blog in as your content reaches people who are really interested. But you can connect in all of these spaces. I saw @mdleast tweeting about one of Anglia Ruskin’s former students who was running the NHS account – how cool is that?

But, I hear some of you say, Eric, this blurs the social and the professional. Yes, of course it does. Any of you have two Facebook accounts? I’m sorry you violate the terms of service… And yes, of course social media blurs things… Expressing the full gamut of our personality is much more powerful. And it can be amazing when senior leaders model for their colleagues that they are a full human, talking about their academic practice, their development…

Santa J. Ono (@PrezOno/@ubcprez) is a really senior leader but has been having mental health difficulties and tweeting openly about that… And do you know how powerful that is for his staff and students that he is sharing like that?

Now, if you haven’t seen the Jisc Digital Literacies and Digital Capabilities models? You really need to take a look. You can use these to use these to shape and model development for staff and students.

I did another poll on Twitter asking “Agree/Disagree: Universities must teach students digital citizenship skills” (85% agree) – now we can debate what “digital citizenship” means… If any of you have ever gotten into it with a troll online? Those words matter, they effect us. And digital citizenship matter.

I would say that you should not fall in love with digital tools. I love Twitter but that’s a private company, with shareholders, with it’s own issues… And it could disappear tomorrow… And I’d have to shift to another platform to do the things I do there…

Do any of you remember YikYak? It was an anonymous geosocial app… and it was used controversially and for bullying… So they introduced handles… But their users rebelled! (and they reverted)

So, Twitter is great but it will change, it will go… Things change…

I did another Twitter poll – which tools do your students use on a daily basis?

  • 34% snapchat
  • 9% Whatsapp
  • 19% Instagram
  • 36% use all of the above

A lot of people don’t use Snapchat because they are afraid of it… When Facebook first appeared that response was it’s silly, we wouldn’t use it in education… But we have moved that there…

There is a lot of bias about Snapchat. @RosieHare posted “I’m wondering whether I should Snapchat #digifest17 next week or whether there’ll be too many proper grown ups there who don’t use it.” Perhaps we don’t use these platforms yet, maybe we’ll catch up… But will students have moved on by then… There is a professor in the US who was using Snapchat with his students every day… You take your practice to where your students are. According to global web index (q2-3 2016) over 75% of teens use Snapchat. There are policy challenges there but students are there every day…

Instagram – 150 M people engage with daily stories so that’s a powerful tool and easier to start with than Snapchat. Again, a space where our students are.

But perfection leads to stagnation. You have to try and not be fixated on perfection. Being free to experiment, being rewarded for trying new things, that has to be embedded in the culture.

So, at the end of the day, the more engaged students are with their institution – at college or university – the more successful they will be. Social media can be about doing that, about the student experience. All parts of the organisation can be involved. There are so many social media channels you can use. Maybe you don’t recognise them all… Think about your students. A lot will use WhatsApp for collaboration, for coordination… Facebook Messenger, some of the asian messaging spaces… Any of you use Reddit? Ah, the nerds have arrived! But again, these are all spaces you can develop your practice in.

The web used to involve having your birth year in your username (e.g. @purpledragon1982), it was open… But we see this move towards WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, WeChat, these different types of spaces and there is huge growth predicted this year. So, you need to get into the sandbox of learning, get your hands dirty, make some stuff and learn from trying new things #alldayeveryday

Q&A

Q1) What audience do you have in mind… Educators or those who support educators? How do I take this message back?

A1) You need to think about how you support educators, how you do sneaky teaching… How you do that education… So.. You use the channels, you incorporate the learning materials in those channels… You disseminate in Medium, say… And hopefully they take that with them…

Q2) I meet a strand of students who reject social media and some technology in a straight edge way… They are in the big outdoors, they are out there learning… Will they not be successful?

A2) Of course they will. You can survive, you can thrive without social media… But if you choose to engage in those channels and spaces… You can be succesful… It’s not an either/or

Q3) I wanted to ask about something you tweeted yesterday… That Prensky’s idea of digital natives/immigrants is rubbish…

A3) I think I said “#friendsdontletfriendsprensky”. He published that over ten years ago – 2001 – and people grasped onto that. And he’s walked it back to being about a spectrum that isn’t about age… Age isn’t a helpful factor. And people used it as an excuse… If you look at Dave White’s work on “visitors and residents” that’s much more helpful… Some people are great, some are not as comfortable but it’s not about age. And we do ourselves a disservice to grasp onto that.

Q4) From my organisation… One of my course leaders found their emails were not being read, asked students what they should use, and they said “Instagram” but then they didn’t read that person’s posts… There is a bump, a challenge to get over…

A4) In the professional world email is the communications currency. We say students don’t check email… Well you have to do email well. You send a long email and wonder why students don’t understand. You have to be good at communicating… You set norms and expectations about discourse and dialogue, you build that in from induction – and that can be email, discussion boards and social media. These are skills for life.

Q5) You mentioned that some academics feel there is too much blend between personal and professional. From work we’ve done in our library we find students feel the same way and don’t want the library to tweet at them…

A5) Yeah, it’s about expectations. Liverpool University has a brilliant Twitter account, Warwick too, they tweet with real personality…

Q6) What do you think about private social communities? We set up WordPress/BuddyPress thing for international students to push out information. It was really varied in how people engaged… It’s private…

A6) Communities form where they form. Maybe ask them where they want to be communicated with. Some WhatsApp groups flourish because that’s the cultural norm. And if it doesn’t work you can scrap it and try something else… And see what

Q7) I wanted to flag up a YikYak study at Edinburgh on how students talk about teaching, learning and assessment on YikYak, that started before the handles were introduced, and has continued as anonymity has returned. And we’ll have results coming from this soon…

A7) YikYak may rise and fall… But that functionality… There is a lot of beauty in those anonymous spaces… That functionality – the peers supporting each other through mental health… It isn’t tools, it’s functionality.

Q8) Our findings in a recent study was about where the students are, and how they want to communicate. That changes, it will always change, and we have to adapt to that ourselves… Do you want us to use WhatsApp or WeChat… It’s following the students and where they prefer to communicate.

A8) There is balance too… You meet students where they are, but you don’t ditch their need to understand email too… They teach us, we teach them… And we do that together.

And with that, we’re out of time… 

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Jisc Digifest 2017 Day One – LiveBlog

Liam Earney is introducing us to the day, with the hope that we all take some away from the event – some inspiration, an idea, the potential to do new things. Over the past three Digifest events we’ve taken a broad view. This year we focus on technology expanding, enabling learning and teaching.

LE: So we will be talking about questions we asked through Twitter and through our conference app with our panel:

  • Sarah Davies, head of change implementation support – education/student, Jisc
  • Liam Earney, director of Jisc Collections
  • Andy McGregor, deputy chief innovation officer, Jisc
  • Paul McKean, head of further education and skills, Jisc

Q1: Do you think that greater use of data and analytics will improve teaching, learning and the student experience?

  • Yes 72%
  • No 10%
  • Don’t Know 18%

AM: I’m relieved at that result as we think it will be important too. But that is backed up by evidence emerging in the US and Australia around data analytics use in retention and attainment. There is a much bigger debate around AI and robots, and around Learning Analytics there is that debate about human and data, and human and machine can work together. We have several sessions in that space.

SD: Learning Analytics has already been around it’s own hype cycle already… We had huge headlines about the potential about a year ago, but now we are seeing much more in-depth discussion, discussion around making sure that our decisions are data informed.. There is concern around the role of the human here but the tutors, the staff, are the people who access this data and work with students so it is about human and data together, and that’s why adoption is taking a while as they work out how best to do that.

Q2: How important is organisational culture in the successful adoption of education technology?

  • Total make or break 55%
  • Can significantly speed it up or slow it down 45%
  • It can help but not essential 0%
  • Not important 0%

PM: Where we see education technology adopted we do often see that organisational culture can drive technology adoption. An open culture – for instance Reading College’s open door policy around technology – can really produce innovation and creative adoption, as people share experience and ideas.

SD: It can also be about what is recognised and rewarded. About making sure that technology is more than what the innovators do – it’s something for the whole organisation. It’s not something that you can do in small pockets. It’s often about small actions – sharing across disciplines, across role groups, about how technology can make a real difference for staff and for students.

Q3: How important is good quality content in delivering an effective blended learning experience?

  • Very important 75%
  • It matters 24%
  • Neither 1%
  • It doesn’t really matter 0%
  • It is not an issue at all 0%

LE: That’s reassuring, but I guess we have to talk about what good quality content is…

SD: I think materials – good quality primary materials – make a huge difference, there are so many materials we simply wouldn’t have had (any) access to 20 years ago. But also about good online texts and how they can change things.

LE: My colleague Karen Colbon and I have been doing some work on making more effective use of technologies… Paul you have been involved in FELTAG…

PM: With FELTAG I was pleased when that came out 3 years ago, but I think only now we’ve moved from the myth of 10% online being blended learning… And moving towards a proper debate about what blended learning is, what is relevant not just what is described. And the need for good quality support to enable that.

LE: What’s the role for Jisc there?

PM: I think it’s about bringing the community together, about focusing on the learner and their experience, rather than the content, to ensure that overall the learner gets what they need.

SD: It’s also about supporting people to design effective curricula too. There are sessions here, talking through interesting things people are doing.

AM: There is a lot of room for innovation around the content. If you are walking around the stands there is a group of students from UCL who are finding innovative ways to visualise research, and we’ll be hearing pitches later with some fantastic ideas.

Q4: Billions of dollars are being invested in edtech startups. What impact do you think this will have on teaching and learning in universities and colleges?

  • No impact at all 1%
  • It may result in a few tools we can use 69%
  • We will come to rely on these companies in our learning and teaching 21%
  • It will completely transform learning and teaching 9%

AM: I am towards the 9% here, there are risks but there is huge reason for optimism here. There are some great companies coming out and working with them increases the chance that this investment will benefit the sector. Startups are keen to work with universities, to collaborate. They are really keen to work with us.

LE: It is difficult for universities to take that punt, to take that risk on new ideas. Procurement, governance, are all essential to facilitating that engagement.

AM: I think so. But I think if we don’t engage then we do risk these companies coming in and building businesses that don’t take account of our needs.

LE: Now that’s a big spend taking place for that small potential change that many who answered this question perceive…

PM: I think there are saving that will come out of those changes potentially…

AM: And in fact that potentially means saving money on tools we currently use by adopting new, and investing that into staff..

Q5: Where do you think the biggest benefits of technology are felt in education?

  • Enabling or enhancing learning and teaching activities 55%
  • In the broader student experience 30%
  • In administrative efficiencies 9%
  • It’s hard to identify clear benefits 6%

SD: I think many of the big benefits we’ve seen over the last 8 years has been around things like online timetables – wider student experience and administrative spaces. But we are also seeing that, when used effectively, technology can really enhance the learning experience. We have a few sessions here around that. Key here is digital capabilities of staff and students. Whether awareness, confidence, understanding fit with disciplinary practice. Lots here at Digifest around digital skills. [sidenote: see also our new Digital Footprint MOOC which is now live for registrations]

I’m quite surprised that 6% thought it was hard to identify clear benefits… There are still lots of questions there, and we have a session on evidence based practice tomorrow, and how evidence feeds into institutional decision making.

PM: There is something here around the Apprentice Levy which is about to come into place. A surprisingly high percentage of employers aren’t aware that they will be paying that actually! Technology has a really important role here for teaching, learning and assessment, but also tracking and monitoring around apprenticeships.

LE: So, with that, I encourage you to look around, chat to our exhibitors, craft the programme that is right for you. And to kick that off here is some of the brilliant work you have been up to. [we are watching a video – this should be shared on today’s hashtag #digifest17]

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Making Edinburgh the First Global City of Learning – Prof. Jonathan Silvertown Liveblog

This afternoon I am delighted to be at the Inaugeral Lecture of Prof. Jonathan Silvertown from the School of Biological Sciences here at the University of Edinburgh.

Vice Chancellor Tim O’Shea is introducing Jonathan, who is Professor of Evolutionary Ecology and Chair in Technology Enhanced Science Education, and who came to Edinburgh from the Open University.

Now to Jonathan:

Imagine an entire city turned into an interactive learning environment. Where you can learn about the birds in the trees, the rock beneath your feet. And not just learn about them, but contribute back to citizen science, to research taking place in and about the city. I refer to A City of Learning… As it happens Robert Louis Stevenson used to do something similar, carrying two books in their pocket: one for reading, one for writing. That’s the idea here. Why do this in Edinburgh? We have the most fantastic history, culture and place.

Edinburgh has an increadible history of enlightenment, and The Enlightenment. Indeed it was said that you could, at one point, stand on the High Street and shake the hands of 50 men of genius. On the High Street now you can shake Hume (his statue) by the toe and I shall risk quoting him: “There is nothing to be learned from a professor which is not to be met within books”. Others you might have met then include Joseph Black, and also James Hutton, known as the “father of modern geology” and he walked up along the crags and a section now known as “Huttons section” (an unconformity to geologists) where he noted sandstone, and above it volcanic rock. He interpreted this as showing that rocks accumulate by ongoing processes that can be observed now. That’s science. You can work out what happened in the past by understanding what is happening now. And from that he concluded that the earth was more than 6000 years old, as Bishop Usher had calculated. In his book The Theory of the Earth he coined this phrase “No vestige of a beginning, no prospect of an end”. And that supported the emerging idea of evolutionary biology which requires a long history to work. That all happened in Edinburgh.

Edinburgh also has a wealth of culture. It is (in the New Town) a UNESCO World Heritage site. Edinburgh has the Fringe Festival, the International Festival, the Book Festival, the Jazz Festival… And then there is the rich literary heritage of Edinburgh – as J.K. Rowling says “Its impossible to live in Edinburgh without sensing it’s literary heritage”. Indeed if you walk in the Meadows you will see a wall painting celebrating The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie. And you can explore this heritage yourself through the LitLong Website and App. He took thousands of books with textmining and a gazeteer of Edinburgh Places, extracting 40,000 snippets of text associated with pinpoints on the map. And you can do this on an app on your phone. Edinburgh is an extraordinary place for all sorts of reasons…

And a place has to be mapped. When you think of maps these days, you tend to think of Google. But I have something better… Open Street Map is to a map what Wikipedia is to the Encyclopedia Britannica. So, when my wife and I moved into a house in Edinburgh which wasn’t on Ordnance Survey, wasn’t on Google Maps, but was almost immediately on OpenStreetMap. It’s Open because there are no restrictions on use so we can use it in our work. Not all cities are so blessed… Geographic misconceptions are legion, if you look at one of th emaps in the British Library you will see the Cable and Wireless Great Circle Map – a map that is both out of date and prescient. It is old and outdated but does display the cable and wireless links across the world… The UK isn’t the centre of the globe as this map shows, wherever you are standing is the centre of the globe now. And Edinburgh is international. At least year’s Edinburgh festival the Deep Time event projected the words “Welcome, World” just after the EU Referendum. Edinburgh is a global city, University of Edinburgh is a global university.

Before we go any further I want to clarify what I mean by learning when I talk about making a city of learning… Kolb (1984) is “How we transform experience into knowledge”, it is learning by discovery. And, wearing my evolutionary hat, it’s a major process of human adaptation. Kolb’s learning cycle takes us from Experience, to Reflect (observe), Conceptualise (Ideas), Experiment (Test), and back to Experience. It is of course also the process of scientific discovery.

So, lets apply that cycle of learning to iSpot, to show how that experiential learning and discovery and what extraordinary things that can do. iSpot is designed to crowdsource the identification of organisms (see Silvertown, Harvey, Greenwood, Dodd, Rosewell, Rebelo, Ansine, McConway 2015). If I see “a white bird” it’s not that exciting, but if I know its a Kittywake then that’s interesting – has it been seen before? Are they nesting elsewhere? You can learn more from that. So you observe an orgnism, you reflect, you start to get comment from others.

So, we have over 60,000 registered users of iSpot, 685k observations, 1.3 million photos, and we have identified over 30,000 species. There are many many stories contained within that. But I will share one of these. So this observation came in from South Africa. It was a picture of some seeds with a note “some children in Zululand just ate some of these seeds and are really ill”. 35 seconds later someone thousands of miles away in Capetown, others agreed on the id. And the next day the doctor who posted the image replied to say that the children were ok, but that it happens a lot and knowing what plant they were from helps them to do something. It wasn’t what we set this up to do but that’s a great thing to happen…

So, I take forward to this city of learning, the lessons of a borderless community; the virtuous circle of learning which empowers and engages people to find out more; and encourage repurposing – use the space as they want and need (we have added extra functions to support that over time in iSpot).

Learning and discovery lends itself to research… So I will show you two projects demonstrating this which gives us lessons to take forward into Edinburgh City of Learning. Evolution Megalab.org was created at the Open University to mark Darwins double centenary in 2009, but we also wanted to show that evolution is happening right now in your own garden… So the snails in your garden have colours and banding patterns, and they have known genetic patterns… And we know about evolution in the field. We know what conditions favour which snails. So, we asked the public to help us test the hypothesis about the snails. So we had about 10,000 populations of snails captured, half of which was there already, half of which was contributed by citizens over a single year. We had seen, over the last 50 years, an increase in yellow shelled snails which do not warm up too quickly. We would expect brown snails further north, yellow snails further south. So was that correct? Yes and No. There was an increase in sanddunes, but not elsewhere. But we also saw a change in patterns of banding patterns, and we didn’t know why… So we went back to pre Megalab data and that issue was provable before, but hadn’t previously been looked for.

Lessons from Megalab included that all can contribute, that it must be about real science and real questions, and that data quality matters. If you are ingenious about how you design your project, then all people can engage and contribute.

Third project, briefly, this is Treezilla, the monster map of trees – which we started in 2014 just before I came here – and the idea is that we have a map of the identity, size and location of trees and, with that, we can start to look at ecosystem impact of these trees, they capture carbon, they can ameliorate floods… And luckily my colleague Mike Dodd spotted some software that could be used to make this happen. So one of the lessons here is that you should build on existing systems, building projects on top of projects, rather than having to happen at the same time.

So, this is the Edinburgh Living Lab, and this is a collaboration between schools and the kinds of projects they do include bike counters and traffic – visualised and analysed – which gives the Council information on traffic in a really immediate way that can allow them to take action. This set of projects around the Living Lab really highlighted the importance of students being let loose on data, on ideas around the city. The lessons here is that we should be addressing real world problems, public engagement is an important part of this, and we are no longer interdisiplinary, we are “post disciplinary” – as is much of the wider world of work and these skills will go with these students from the Living Lab for instance.

And so to Edinburgh Cityscope, a project with synergy across learning, research and engagement. Edinburgh Cityscope is NOT an app, it is an infrastructure. It is the stuff out of which other apps and projects will be built.

So, the first thing we had to do was made Cityscope futureproof. When we built iSpot the iPhone hadn’t been heard of, now maybe 40% of you here have one. And we’ve probably already had peak iPhone. We don’t know what will be used in 5 years time. But there are aspects they will always need… They will need Data. What kinds of data? For synergy and place we need maps. And maps can have layers – you can relate the nitrogen dioxide to traffic, you can compare the trees…. So Edinburgh Cityscope is mapable. And you need a way to bring these things together, you need a workbench. Right now that includes Jupyter, but we are not locked in, so we can change in future if we want to. And we have our data and our code open on Github. And then finally you need to have a presentation layer – a place to disseminate what we do to our students and colleagues, and what they have done.

So, in the last six months we’ve made progress in data – using Scottish Government open data portal we have Lung Cancer registrations that can be mapped and changes seen. We can compare and investigate and our students can do that. We have the SIMD (Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation) map… I won’t show you a comparison as it has hardly changed in decades – one area has been in poverty since around 1900. My colleague Leslia McAra is working in public engagement, with colleagues here, to engage in ways that make this better, that makes changes.

The workbench has been built. It isn’t pretty yet… You can press a button to create a Notebook. You can send your data to a phone app – pulling data from Cityscope and show it in an app. You can start a new tour blog – which anybody can do. And you create a survey for used for new information…

So let me introduce one of these apps. Curious Edinburgh is an app that allows you to learn about the history of science in Edinburgh, to explore the city. The genius idea – and I can say genius because I didn’t build it, Niki and the folks at EDINA did – is that you can create this tour from a blog. You fill in forms essentially. And there is an app which you can download for iOS, and a test version for Android – full one coming for the Edinburgh International Science Festival in April. Because this is an Edinburgh Cityscope project I’ve been able to use the same technology to create a tour of the botanical gardens for use in my teaching. We used to give out paper, now we have this app we can use in teaching, in teaching in new ways… And I think this will be very popular.

And the other app we have is Fieldtrip, a survey tool borrowed from EDINA’s FieldTrip Open. And that allows anyone to set up a data collection form – for research, for social data, for whatever. It is already open, but we are integrating this all into Edinburgh Cityscope.

So, this seems a good moment to talk about the funding for this work. We have had sizable funding from Information Services. The AHRC has funded some of the Curious Edinburgh work, and ESRC have funded work which a small part of which Edinburgh Cityscope will be using in building the community.

So, what next? We are piloting Cityscope with students – in the Festival of Creative Learning this week, in Informatics. And then we want to reach out to form a community of practice, including schools, community groups and citizens. And we want to connect with cultural institutions and industry – already working with the National Museum of Scotland. And we want to interface with the Internet of Things – anything with a chip in it really. You can interact with your heating systems from anywhere in the world – that’s the internet of things, things connected to the web. And I’m keen on creating an Internet of Living Things. The Atlas of Living Scotland displays all the biological data of Scotland on the map. But data gets out of date. It would be better to updated in real time. So my friend Kate Jones from UCL is working with Intel creating real time data from bats – allowing real time data to be captured through connected sensors. And also in that space Graham Stone (Edinburgh) is working on a project called Edinburgh Living Landscape which is about connecting up green spaces, improve biodiversity…

So, I think what we should be going for is for recognition of Edinburgh as the First UNESCO City of Learning. Edinburgh was the first UNESCO City of Literature and the people who did that are around, we can make our case for our status as City of Learning in much the same way.

So that’s pretty much the end. Nothing like this happens without lots and lots of help. So a big thanks here to Edinburgh Cityscope’s steering group and the many people in Information Services who have been actually building it.

And the final words are written for me: Four Quartets, T.S. Eliot:

“We shall not cease from exploration

And the end of all our exploring 

Will be to arrive where we started

And know the place for the first time”

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TEDxYouth@Manchester video live: What do your digital footprints say about you?

This is a very wee blog post/aside to share the video of my TEDxYouth@Manchester talk, “What do your digital footprints say about you?”:

You can read more on the whole experience of being part of this event in my blog post from late November.

It would appear that my first TEDx, much like my first Bright Club, was rather short and sweet (safely within my potential 14 minutes). I hope you enjoy it and I would recommend catching up with my fellow speakers’ talks:

Kat Arney

Click here to view the embedded video.

Ben Smith

Click here to view the embedded video.

VV Brown

Click here to view the embedded video.

Ben Garrod

Click here to view the embedded video.

I gather that the videos of the incredible teenage speakers and performers will follow soon.

 

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What is it like to work with comic book writers and artists to turn research into comics?

Last weekend (Sunday 27th November) I gave a talk at the Edinburgh Comic Art Festival 2016 on what it’s like to turn research into a comic book.  We made a (low tech) recording of the talk (watch it here, see also the prezi here) but I also wanted to write about this project as I wanted to share and reflect on the process of creating a comic book to communicate research.

So, how did our comic, “Crowd Power: the COBWEB Guide to Citizen Science” come to happen in the first place?

Meet COBWEB

As some of you will be aware, over the last four years I have been working on an ambitious EU-FP7-funded citizen science project called COBWEB: Citizen Observatory Web. We have, of course, been communicating our work throughout the project (in fact you can read our communications plan here) but as all the final deliverables and achievements have been falling into place over the last few months, we wanted to find some new ways to share what we have done, what we have accomplished, and what the next steps will look like.

Whilst we are bringing COBWEB to a close, we are also now taking our resultant citizen science software, Fieldtrip Open, through an open source process and building new projects and sustainability plans (which also means considering suitable business models) around that. Open sourcing software isn’t just about making the software available, or giving it the right license, it is also about ensuring it has a real prospect of adoption and maintenance by a community, which means we are particularly keen to support and develop the community around FieldTrip Open. And we want to bring new people in as users and contributors to the software. So, for both dissemination and open sourcing projects we really need to inspire people to find out more about the approaches we’ve taken, the software we’ve built, and to explain where it all came from. But how could we best do that?

During the project we had developed a lot of good resources and assets, with a lot of formal reporting and public deliverables already available, and accompanying engagement with wider audiences (particularly co-design process participants) through social media and regular project newsletters. Those materials are great but we wanted something concise, focused, and tangible, and we also wanted something more immediately engaging than formal reports and technical papers. So, this summer we did some thinking and plotting…  My colleague Tom Armitage joined COBWEB partners in the Netherlands to revisit our geospatial software open sourcing options with the OSGeo community; Tom and I met with the fantastic folk from the Software Sustainability Institute for some advice on going (properly and sustainably) Open Source and building the software community; and my colleague Pete O’Hare looked at the videos, demos, and footage archive we’d accumulated and suggested we make a documentary on the project. After all of that we not only had some solid ideas, but we’d also really started to think about storytelling and doing something more creative for our current target audiences.

Across all of our conversations what became clear was that real need to inspire and engage people. The project is complicated but when have shared our own enthusiasm about the work and its potential, people really take an interest and that open us longer and (sometimes) more technical or practical conversations. But we can’t get everywhere in person so we needed some cost effective ways to do that excitement-building: to explain the project quickly, clearly and entertainingly, as a starting point to trigger follow up enquiries and those crucial next step conversations. So, In August we did follow up on Pete’s suggestion, commissioning a documentary short (that’s a whole other story but click on that link to view the finished film, and huge thanks to our wonderful filmmaker Erin Maguire) to give an overview of the COBWEB project, but we also decided we’d try something we had never done before. We were going to try making a comic…

Why a comic? 

Well, first lets talk terminology… And I should note that if this blog post were a graphic novel, this would be a little side note or separate frame, or me explaining a pro tip to the reader – so imagine that as our format!:

Is it a comic, or is it a graphic novel? I think a lot of people will think about “comics” as being The Dandy, The Beano, Manga titles, or one of the long running mass market series’ like The Avengers or Archie. Or maybe you’d think of a comic strip like Peanuts or Calvin & Hobbes. Similarly “graphic novel” seems to be tied to the idea of long form books which look more like literary fiction/non-fiction, with well regarded titles like Fun Home or Kiki de Montparnasse or Persepolis. The difference is hard to explain partly because when you make that sort of distinction, clearly there are a lot of boundary cases… Is it about audience (e.g. teens vs adults), or aesthetic, or page format or critical response or some other criteria? Calvin & Hobbes deals wittily with matters of philosophy, but is widely read by children who engage with its (deceptive) simplicity, charming aesthetic and warm tone and deceptively simple story telling. By contrast, the new The Story of Sex: From Apes to Robots has a lively and pretty course – even for the subject matter – aesthetic (it’s authors are French and I would put the drawing mid-way along the AsterixCharlie Hebdo tastefulness continuum) and it is aimed at a wide audience, but it is co-written by an academic, has been well received by critics, and you’ll find it shelved in the graphic novel section. Comparing these works on any kinds of comic vs. graphic novel grounds won’t tell you anything very useful about style or quality, although it might reveal the personal preference of the reader or reviewer you are talking to…

So, Before I began this project I was pretty sure that what I read are graphic novels – yes, snobbery – but, when you actually talk to people who make these wonderful things, the term – especially for shorter works – is “comics” and that’s accepted as covering the whole continuum, with all the styles, genres, print formats, etc. that you might expect (yes, even graphic novels) included. So, taking my lead from those that write and draw them, I will be using “comic” here – and next time you are discussing, say, female self-realisation in Wonder Woman and the Nao of Brown, you can go ahead and call both of them comics too!

Definition of a comic from the OED online.

Right, back to the topic at hand…

One of the reasons that a COBWEB comic seemed like it might be a good idea is that I really enjoy reading comics, and I particularly love non-fiction comics as a form because they can be so powerful and immediate, bringing complex ideas to life in unexpected ways, but which also leaves you the space to think and reflect. Comics are primarily a visual form and that enables you to explain specialist technologies or sophisticated concepts, or take people on flights of fancy offering creative metaphors that allow you to explain but also re-explain and re-interpret an idea lightly and engagingly. Your audience still need to think and imagine but in a great comic the combination of text and visuals brings something special to the experience. Comics can be more playful, colourful and bright than a formal report, and also much less constrained by physical reality, budget and location than a video or an event. And whether in digital or print form comics feel really pleasingly tangible and polished; they are designed, story-boarded, they feel like a special and finished product. From the non-fiction comics I’d read I could see that comics would work well for talking about technology and research, so they could be a good fit for our project if we could be confident that our target audience and our type of research would be a good fit for the possibilities and restrictions of the form.

For the COBWEB project we wanted to reach out to researchers, developers, and future project partners which are likely to include software and digital companies, NGOs, SMEs, as well as non-professional researchers (community groups etc), and others interested in working with – and hopefully interested (in some cases) in contributing to our codebase – for our open source software. This is defined set of audiences but each audience (and individual) holds highly varied interests and expertise: COBWEB is a complex project, with lots of different components, which means our audiences might be new to all of the concepts we are presenting or they may, say, know a great deal about coding but not environmental projects, or all about the environment but not about using mobile technologies… But we do know these audiences – we already work with developers and researchers, we’ve been working with potential users and contributors throughout the project so we have some idea of interests, aesthetics, etc. We felt pretty confident that many of those we want to reach do read and engage with comics of various types, from web comics like xkcd to beautifully published books like The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage. That overlap and interest helped us feel confident that a comic would be a good fit for our audience, and a really great fit for telling our story.

Finding a comic artist to work with

We now had the bare bones of the idea, and we had a solid idea of our target audience. But we weren’t totally sure about which aspects of our story to draw out, what parts of the COBWEB story we wanted to tell, although we knew it had to inspire, entertain, and be accessible. We also really didn’t know what we wanted our comic to look like. As I started to think about possible collaborators (we knew we needed others to work with/commission) I remembered that very many years ago I’d seen a flyer – in the form of a comic book – for Glasgow Comic Con in a hotel. I did some searching around and found BHP (Black Hearted Press) Comics, an independent comics publisher based in Glasgow that creates their own comic books, but had also recently completed a project with the University of Glasgow’s Hunterian Art Gallery and Museum. Looking around their site I also found The Mighty Women of Science, another book where the subject and aesthetic suggested a good fit with COBWEB (and it was. Spoiler: Mighty Women author Clare Forrest illustrated Chapter 2 of our book). I had no idea what to expect in response but there wasn’t a way to find out if this idea was viable without getting some advice, so I fired off a quick email to BHP Comics…

Screenshot of the BHP website featuring Mighty Women of Science

Screenshot of the BHP website featuring Mighty Women of Science

I had a really swift reply from Sha Nazir from BHP. Sha was interested to talk more about the idea so we set up a meeting and, ahead of that, I trawled through my favourite comics to find some examples of the kind of idea I had in mind. On the day I brought in a few books that I thought did this sort of storytelling well, including: The Influencing Machine, Brooke Gladstone and Josh Neufeld’s overview of the (US) media ecology and culture; The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage – a fictionalised steam punk re-telling of the lives of Charles Babbage and Ada Lovelace, with great technology descriptions and lots of (factual and referenced) footnotes; Filmish – the book of Edward Ross’ critiques and explorations of cinema and film making (in the mould of Scott McCloud’s classic Understanding Comics). I also brought in a copy of Taylor & Francis’ Cartoon Abstracts – scientific papers which have been turned into 1 page cartoons – which is one of the very few examples I have seen of scientific and technological research being adapted into comics.

That initial conversation with Sha was a long and honest chat about the kind of idea we had in mind. Sha had brought his own selection of books – copies of The Mighty Women of Science, Comic Invention, an issue of Rok of the Reds, and Plagued: The Miranda Chronicles – to give me a sense of what BHP work on, the kind of writers and illustrators they work with, the sorts of formats, sizes and print styles we might want to consider. We talked about timelines: ours were really tight. Sha and I met in August and we needed to have a digital copy available and all work invoiced by the end of October (the print copy could follow). The comics could then be used to extend our dissemination and sustainability work, helping us share what we’d accomplished and support keeping that work and code a going concern. That timeline we requested was ridiculous and I am eternally grateful that Sha even considered taking it on (he was optimistic in our meeting but very wisely went away to think about it before we finalised anything). However, to make that timeline work he was clear from the outset that someone (me) would need to be available to check in regularly, to feed into and look over the script, the storyboards, the draft versions – Sha and his colleagues at BHP would take on the work but we also really had to commit to it to. I was up for that although I had a three and a half week holiday to the US scheduled for September so, with the caveat that we’d have to work around time zones, it all looked doable and we started scheduling some check ins.

So, what else did we need to discuss to get this started? Well, I needed to actually describe and give some background to COBWEB. I told Sha about the project in our meeting – and followed up by sending him some of the key project technical documents and reports that summarised our work. Sha was entirely new to the project – like many of those we want the comic to reach – so asked lots of really useful questions that really did highlight the complexity of describing COBWEB. To give you a sense of that: COBWEB has been a 4-year, €8.5 million project with 13 partners in 5 countries; we’ve had 9 workpackages and many more deliverables, we’ve worked with over 1000 volunteers and 7 co-design projects as we developed our software – for which there are 6 separate GitHub libraries. There is a lot there. And there are important unique aspects to the work: the compliance with EU and international standards, including INSPIRE compliant metadata; our focus on UNESCO Biosphere areas; the access management controls in our software; the involvement of policy makers as project partners; the contribution to empowering of citizens in Europe. At the same time our comic didn’t need to be encyclopedia, it just needed to have enough focus on what was important to give a broad picture and to excite people!

On which note… We talked about the audience, who they were, and what messages they should take from the comic. We were very clear from the outset that we were using comics as an engaging medium, but that we expected our audience to have some fairly serious interest in the project, which meant that although nothing should be inappropriate for children, our target audiences were adults and mainly quite technically literate adults. We wanted to explain the work of the project and assumed not prior knowledge of COBWEB, but some (useful) complexity and detail was going to ok where it felt appropriate. And we felt we could assume that readers of the comic may follow up by reading one of the more traditional publications if they then had a specific technical or policy interest to follow up.

At that initial meeting we also talked a bit about artists and art work. With our (crazy) timeline Sha recommended we break the the comic into a small number of chapters and that, once a script was written, these would be illustrated by different artists meaning that we’d get a really lovely variance of styles across the comic (something you’ll see in a growing number of comics, including Kiki de Montparnasse where drawing styles change when “Kiki” works with different artists). Using several different artists was also practical, as it meant that those chapters could be illustrated in parallel by different people – shortening those restrictive publication times.

Initial art work for the COBWEB comic by Kirsty Hunter

Initial art work for the COBWEB comic by Kirsty Hunter

We also talked about formats. The weekly comic book style of Rok of the Reds was going to be cheap to print and it would be easy to hand out – it could almost fit in a pocket – but it didn’t look quite as polished as we wanted. But The Mighty Women of Science had a great format – substantial and beautifully finished thick/card cover and binding, with matt finish pages, in A4 format (useful since all of our display stands, envelopes, etc. are designed for A4 reports/promotional items). It looked like a book, a thin but high quality finish book and, better yet, it was a budget-friendly format for a small print run.

And, as the ideas took shape, Sha and I discussed cost, and an initial estimate of the work to do the digital comic, plus a price for a print run of 1000 A4 copies. A quick sketch of costs came out of that meeting, which allowed me to  talk to my COBWEB colleagues and to check that our budget could accommodate the project. I don’t think it is appropriate to share that price here but it was very reasonable for this much work and, particularly given the timelines we were working with, was enormously good value. Why tell you this? Well, if you are thinking of doing your own comic then I highly recommend talking to some comic artists or publishers before you (potentially) rule it out over costs, since (for us at least) those costs were very fair but were also dependent on things like number of pages and chapters, print formats, etc. so were also (somewhat) within our control.

So, we now had some solid ideas and a plan. We exchanged emails to work out the details, check costs (and check budgets), and get both informal and informal agreements to proceed (which we did quickly because, again, timelines were really tight). A standard contract was prepared and work began immediately at BHP, with me sending over information, background documents and diagrams etc. so that Sha and his colleague Kirsty Hunter could begin to get a script worked out – and could ask any questions as they arose. And, at this point I am going to embed my Prezi from my ECAF16 talk, which covers the production process stage by stage:


Throughout September Sha and Kirsty worked on the script, sending me drafts to comment on, tweak, correct, etc. We arranged several calls from a range of unusually exotic locations – a check in from Seattle, from Davis (California), and then – as I headed off to AoIR – from Berlin. We agreed focal areas early on, with the script starting as a skeleton in four sections:

  1. An introduction to COBWEB and the core concept of citizen science – ensuring all readers share some background knowledge but also making the comic a useful resource to those curious about crowd sourcing and citizen science in general.
  2. Highlights from the co-design work including several real world examples of people and projects who have shaped and been part of the COBWEB community. Much of this came from our co-design project reports, highlighting real challenges and feedback (good and bad) from our volunteer community.
  3. Our “under the bonnet” chapter, on the more chewy technical aspects of the project and including a very cleverly conceived double page spread on quality assurance processes.
  4. What happens next with COBWEB and our software now that the project is over and the open sourcing takes shape, but also where technology is going and how citizen science may fit in to e.g. smart cities.

Those sections were broken into pages and the script rapidly took shape. As the sections and pages were agreed, text for each page was drafted and tweaked. And storyboarding began in earnest…

, but also with the citizen science in a European context

Draft layout sketch for the COBWEB comic (by permission of Sha Nazir/Kirsty Hunter/BHP Comics).

By mid September I had started to receive initial visual ideas and sketches (a delightful treat in a Monday morning inbox!), and, in parallel, the wording and detail of the script was getting finalised. By the end of the month the script and initial drawings were ready enough to share with COBWEB colleagues for their checking and feedback – they did a brilliant job helping me ensure we were using the right types of terminology, not missing anything important, and also catching the less exciting but very important spelling issues, corrections etc. (having many eyes to check a script at several stages was very useful indeed and definitely recommended).

Once the wording was (pretty much) finalised and the storyboards ready, the comic went into the illustration process – seeing those storyboards turn from sketches to fully fledged characters (including a few fun references/”Easter eggs”), then those characters started to gain colour, backgrounds. Drafts were shared and commented on, and finally the final started to take shape. This part of the process followed a different sort of process: it required less input from me at first – a few checks of the pages and visuals – as the work went out to different illustrators for completion. However, once lettering was done there were a few crucial tasks to do: checking all of the text for content, spelling, etc. (which is surprisingly tricky when you’ve been seeing drafts for weeks, you have to adopt a whole different proof-reading level of engagement); building a glossary page for some of the technical terminology (in retrospect this is something I should have done right after that first meeting when the unknown words and acronyms were most obvious); and, because somehow we just hadn’t gotten to it yet, we actually had to think of a title…

A page from Crowd Power: the COBWEB Guide to Citizen Science, featuring real feedback from real co-design project volunteers.

A finished page from Crowd Power: the COBWEB guide to citizen science, featuring real comments from real co-design project volunteers.

What the heck do we call this thing?

In late October, several weeks after beginning work on the comic, we still didn’t have a title. Sha asked me to think about some ideas, and I sketched a few out but also started asking colleagues… We played with variants on the key aspects of citizen science, crowd sourcing, empowerment, etc… We wanted to get COBWEB mentioned, to give a sense of the content, but also to have a title that had a more catchy ring to it. After lots of chats and several lists of possibilities pitching back and forth, “Crowd Power: the COBWEB Guide to Citizen Science” emerged as a winner.

We then had to think about covers. Sha sent through several ideas but one of the most appealing – bringing together an image of a protest march with an image inspired by the Shepard Fairey “Hope” poster for Barack Obama – started to look less than ideal in a post-Brexit context, and with Trump newly elected president. Protests as a shorthand for people power are great, but at a time of genuine political complexity, polarisation, and a high likelihood of real protest movements, we decided that this was an image for the book and promotion, but not for the cover. Some other ideas looked good, but didn’t seem to bring forward the idea of real people, and environmental research as successfully. In the end we settled on an image that is, essentially, a cut scene from the comic, featuring a group of friends using COBWEB out in the wilds, as seen by our (nameless but brilliant) narrator:

Crowd Power: the COBWEB Guide to Citizen Science cover image

Another opportunity to look at our cover art. Eagle eyed cartoon fans may note a certain similarity between our curious walkers and the Scooby Doo gang…

One of the things I was asked early in the process had been “do you want the narrator or main characters to be human? Or can they be animals? Or giant floaty heads?”… I said that anything was fine, as long as it made sense – so a duck or a seal or some sort of animal that would appear in our actual co-design projects were fine, but not a penguin or dragon (or anything that wouldn’t make sense in that context). One of the things I loved about Sha, Kirsty and Clare’s illustrations was that they responded to that flexibility by building in diversity, quirkiness, and little in-jokes (indeed there are several “Easter eggs” in Crowd Power).You’ll notice from the cover that our narrator (throughout) is female. Sha and I had talked about women being well represented in the comic but I was also delighted, when the more finished version of the illustrations came through, to see a range of racial and ethnic diversity quietly represented in our book. The project was diverse in many ways, and we also want to be entirely welcoming to anyone who would like to be part of the COBWEB and FieldTrip Open community. The range of people in the comic subtly reflects that desire to include and engage and is, I think, one of the reasons that comics can be so powerful for messaging values, beliefs, and intentions as part of and alongside the core narrative.

With the title and cover art completed, and a further final proof read. Make that two. Make that three… And a few very last minute corrections… the COBWEB comic went off to the printers and the digital copy immediately went live on the COBWEB project website.  Now, to get the comic out to our audience…

Finding our audience

As soon as the digital copy of the Comic went live we tweeted and shared it with project partners and those interested in the project.

The feedback within the project team was excellent, with some of the team keen to use pages from the comic in their own presentations as an introduction or overview of their work. For the team I think the comic – and the documentary that went live shortly afterwards – provided some sense of stepping back and reflecting on what had been done. At the end of a four year project it can be much easier to know what wasn’t completed, or didn’t go to plan, or didn’t develop as you’d expect. Looking over the story of the project, what had been achieved, how much work had taken place is very rewarding and reminds you of all the excitement and accomplishments of that project.

Feedback from our wider contacts and social media communities was excited and interested. We have shared the comic openly on the website and explicitly state that it can be downloaded, circulated, kept, used elsewhere… We are keen that it is seen and read and used by whoever wants to do that. If I have one regret it is that in all of our conversations we didn’t agree to make the book available under a Creative Commons license – more by omission than because of any particular issue with doing that. Sha has been great about us using images of work in progress – you’ll see a series of sketches, etc. in that Prezi – and shares our keenness that the book is seen and accessible. We commissioned it to be free to access – whether download or print – but it would have been wise to agree licensing terms more directly to avoid any possible doubts.

Then, the week of the Edinburgh Comic Art Festival 13 boxes of comics appeared at the EDINA offices in Argyle House and they looked absolutely glorious! The print copies triggered a ripple of excitement through the office and also generated lots of interest at ECAF – which seemed like a great place to see how our comic fared with a mixed but interested audience.

As the year comes to a close we will be circulating copies to our COBWEB project partners but also that core target audience as we go out and about developing the FieldTrip Open community, sharing copies with developers, researchers, etc.

So, what do you think? 

If you would like a (print or digital) copy, and/or would like to talk to us about how we can support your citizen science project, please do get in touch. I would also love to hear your feedback on the comic and any suggestions you may have about communities that may like to work with us in turning FieldTrip Open into a really vibrant open source project in the future. Do leave a comment here or email me.

Some important acknowledgements

Enormous thanks to Sha Nazir and Kirsty Hunter, who created the fantastic Crowd Power comic with Clare Forrest, Jack Lothian and Kirk Kristofferson. Sha and Kirsty explicitly gave me their permission to share images of works in progress for this post and my ECAF talk this weekend, which I hugely appreciated. It has been an absolute delight to work with all at BHP Comics and I would recommend contacting them if you are considering embarking upon/commissioning a similar piece of work.

Further resources

Some useful links are provided here so that you can quickly access our materials, the comic, or any of the COBWEB project website or code:

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Last chance to submit for the “Social Media in Education” Mini Track for the 4th European Conference on Social Media (ECSM) 2017

This summer I will be co-chairing, with Stefania Manca (from The Institute of Educational Technology of the National Research Council of Italy) “Social Media in Education”, a Mini Track of the European Conference on Social Median (#ECSM17) in Vilnius, Lithuania. As the call for papers has been out for a while (deadline for abstracts: 12th December 2016) I wanted to remind and encourage you to consider submitting to the conference and, particularly, for our Mini Track, which we hope will highlight exciting social media and education research.

You can download the Mini Track Call for Papers on Social Media in Education here. And, from the website, here is the summary of what we are looking for:

An expanding amount of social media content is generated every day, yet organisations are facing increasing difficulties in both collecting and analysing the content related to their operations. This mini track on Big Social Data Analytics aims to explore the models, methods and tools that help organisations in gaining actionable insight from social media content and turning that to business or other value. The mini track also welcomes papers addressing the Big Social Data Analytics challenges, such as, security, privacy and ethical issues related to social media content. The mini track is an important part of ECSM 2017 dealing with all aspects of social media and big data analytics.

Topics of the mini track include but are not limited to:

  • Reflective and conceptual studies of social media for teaching and scholarly purposes in higher education.
  • Innovative experience or research around social media and the future university.
  • Issues of social media identity and engagement in higher education, e.g: digital footprints of staff, students or organisations; professional and scholarly communications; and engagement with academia and wider audiences.
  • Social media as a facilitator of changing relationships between formal and informal learning in higher education.
  • The role of hidden media and backchannels (e.g. SnapChat and YikYak) in teaching, learning.
  • Social media and the student experience.

The conference, the 4th European Conference on Social Media (ECSM) will be taking place at the Business and Media School of the Mykolas Romeris University (MRU) in Vilnius, Lithuania on the 3-4 July 2017. Having seen the presentation on the city and venue at this year’s event I feel confident it will be lovely setting and should be a really good conference. (I also hear Vilnius has exceptional internet connectivity, which is always useful).

I would also encourage anyone working in social media to consider applying for the Social Media in Practice Excellence Awards, which ECSM is hosting this year. The competition will be showcasing innovative social media applications in business and the public sector, and they are particularly looking for ways in which academia have been working with business around social media. You can read more – and apply to the competition (deadline for entries: 17th January 2017)- here.

This is a really interdisciplinary conference with a real range of speakers and topics so a great place to showcase interesting applications of and research into social media. The papers presented at the conference are published in the conference proceedings, widely indexed, and will also be considered for publication in: Online Information Review (Emerald Insight, ISSN: 1468-4527); International Journal of Social Media and Interactive Learning Environments (Inderscience, ISSN 2050-3962); International Journal of Web-Based Communities (Inderscience); Journal of Information, Communication and Ethics in Society (Emerald Insight, ISSN 1477-996X).

So, get applying to the conference  and/or to the competition! If you have any questions or comments about the Social Media in Education track, do let me know.

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