Category Archives: Technology Enhanced Learning

Data Science and Civil Society in London: 1

I have started work as Data and Evaluation Advisor to a project led by Superhighways (part of Kingston Voluntary Action) to develop data science, inquiry and evaluation across London’s voluntary sector. This ties in well with broader initiatives to strengthen ‘civil society’ more generally in the capital. As I get up to speed on the project, it will be reported on the Superhighways website, but I will also be reporting on the data science aspects of the project here.

One thing I want to do is to develop a more accurate ‘map’ of the networked data assets that are available for use by voluntary sector organisations, researchers, and workers – as well as looking at how these can be located, shared, used, added to, disassembled and reassembled. Given my prior interests in case study and case-based learning, I’m particularly interested in how heterogeneous data can be configured and reconfigured into ‘cases’ with different purposes, audiences and outcomes.

Some Common Themes

There are many analogies here with the work I carried out a few years ago as part of the ESRC funded ‘Ensemble’ Project (2009-2012). This was concerned to explore how semantic web and linked data approaches could be used to enhance and reframe teaching and learning in higher education – especially in support of case based learning. While some of the technologies have moved on since Ensemble, many of the issues and barriers to data use that we identified then in educational contexts, seem still to be current more broadly.

The other tie-in here is with my more recent work about the need for the development of ‘critical data literacies’ as part of broader critical digital literacies. These are not restricted to addressing concerns about the reliability of data on which policy decisions (for example) might be based, nor to highlighting issues around the use of personal data, but on laying the foundations for a more expansive ‘data activism’. Stefania Milan and Lonneke van der Velden have written an interesting article about this which is worth a read, and I have been writing about this myself with my colleague Fran Tracy. We presented a paper on this at the Networked Learning Conference 2018 which related critical digital literacies to the idea of ‘students as producers’ of knowledge. The slides from our presentation ‘Student Inquiry, Networks of Knowledge, and Linked Data‘ are here to download. A more developed version of this paper is to be published in late 2019 or early 2020 in a collection entitled Mobility, Data and Learner Agency in Networked Learning (Springer).

In subsequent posts I will be presenting some of the data assets – not only quantitative data sets, but qualitative resources too – that I find interesting. I’ll also be producing examples of how they can be used within existing organisations and activities, but also to support new forms of inquiry and activism.

NLC 2018, Zagreb

St Mark's Church

The biannual Networked Learning Conference took place this year in Zagreb.  NLC is a small but very high quality conference where the emphasis in not on technical issues but on critical perspectives and theorisation of the role of technologies in learning.  This year there seemed to be particular emphasis ‘on the political’, broadly defined, with papers discussing the ways in which technology trends like big data and learning analytics aligned with surveillance and control, and how educators might respond to and resist this.  My colleague Fran Tracy and I presented a paper on Student Inquiry, Networks of Knowledge and Linked Data which discussed how our experience of developing semantic web applications, and how critical digital literacies might underpin broader politicised inquiry.

The picture is of the Church of St Mark in Zagreb, with its rather splendid tiled roof.

Algorithmic Cultures

A new publication by Fran Tracy and myself exploring semantic web technologies, enhanced publications and student assessments through the theoretical lens of Ted Striphas’ ‘Algorithmic Cultures’.  Here’s the abstract:

Disrupting the dissertation: Linked data, enhanced publication and algorithmic culture

This article explores how the three aspects of Striphas’ notion of algorithmic culture (information, crowds and algorithms) might influence and potentially disrupt established educational practices. We draw on our experience of introducing semantic web and linked data technologies into higher education settings, focussing on extended student writing activities such as dissertations and projects, and drawing in particular on our experiences related to undergraduate archaeology dissertations. The potential for linked data to be incorporated into electronic texts, including academic publications, has already been described, but these accounts have highlighted opportunities to enhance research integrity and interactivity, rather than considering their potential creatively to disrupt existing academic practices. We discuss how the changing relationships between subject content and practices, teachers, learners and wider publics both in this particular algorithmic culture, and more generally, offer new opportunities; but also how the unpredictability of crowds, the variable nature and quality of data, and the often hidden power of algorithms, introduce new pedagogical challenges and opportunities.

Read the article here: https://doi.org/10.1177/2042753017731356