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Archive for September, 2008

I came across the Open Notebook Science concept today via a podcast. The term was put forward by Jean-Claude Bradley of Drexel, back in 2006.

Scientists maintain notebooks of their work, working through theoretical concepts and making detailed notes of experiments – how they are undertaken, what the results are, etc. Mostly the writings in these notebooks remain private. Only the successful experiments and final concepts are published in academic journals. However, the idea behind Open Notebook Science is that these ‘private’ writings are published online, and at the time the work is taking place. This means that the wider scientific community has access to not only data from successful experiments or final theoretical workings, but also from what may be considered ‘unsuccessful’ experiments or dead-end workings.

There seems to be a step change encompassed in this idea. No longer would you have to wait for the ‘delayed’ publication of results in academic journals before you could duplicate and build upon that work to progress scientific knowledge. This would inevitably lead to an increase in the speed of scientific progress and development of human knowledge.

So how would this material be published? Well, a wiki springs immediately to mind.

The wiki idea as a tool for research students to document their work was something I’ve been considering before I came across Jean-Claude’s concept. In May of this year I wrote a scenario for the research student needs from an institutional wiki:

“As a postgraduate researcher I want to use a wiki as a comprehensive ‘notebook’ drawing in all the strands of my research into one place. I can record and deposit all my data in various formats into the wiki. I can make links to useful and relevant external sources. This will assist cataloguing of my research, and assist final thesis writing up.

The wiki would need to be secure and archived if there was a system crash. I would require a high level or service availability, so the service must be robust. I would need on and off campus access. I want to be able to add other people with different rights access and have restricted access to some sections; for example I need read/write access, my supervisors needs read/comment access, external funders need read only access, etc. I may or may not want my supervisors to see data I am working on, so I need a toggle access switch for those ‘restricted’ areas. This access can’t be restricted to the University’s authentication system as one of my supervisors is an external, industry collaborator.

But as you can see this is the concept of a ‘closed’ notebook, whereas Jean-Claude’s is very ‘open’. I like the philosophy underlying Jean-Claude’s concept. But even for those who aren’t prepared to go that far, using a wiki tool for your notebook seems to be a sensible choice.

Jeremiah Faith in Boston wrote in his Big J’s blog about his experience with Open Notebook Science, including what he considered to be the potential positives and possible negatives. Jeremiah decided to make his notebook available as a pdf download.

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The concept of a Learning Community for Students (LCS) parallels and links to the idea of a Personal Learning Environment (PLE). The PLE envisages learners exploiting existing services to enhance their learning process. I’ve witnessed directly this happening as some of the more ‘tech savvy’ students harness the advantages of Web2.0 technologies. Whilst the services provided by these Web2.0 technologies aren’t necessarily directly aimed at education, they do provide many opportunities for personal organization of tasks that are directly beneficial for institutionalized learning. So one element of what the vision for LCS wants to achieve is to consider how a student body as a community can corral existing services to directly benefit learning as a whole, through coordination of technology not centrally provided by an institution.

Key to the LCS philosophy is the idea that students must now develop their skills to enable them to rapidly make use of new technologies as they emerge to meet their needs in different areas of their learning and social activities. It is believed that students who develop additional skills to use technology beyond institutional provision are more open to further learning opportunities, placing the them at a distinct advantage over their peers. So they need to engage with the idea of using a technology for a limited period and adapting to newer, more useful technologies as appropriate. This is why a community approach is essential; no one individual is capable of identifying the tools of most use to his/her activities any more, and by sharing experiences with the rest of a learning community everyone should benefit. (This community approach can be witnessed already succeeding in many areas of Web2.0 technology.) So the community would share information about what tools are useful, explanations of how to use the tools at the basic level, and also examples of how tools can or have been used for learning or research.

Also, arguably the complexity of these technologies is increased for the individual, which can be overwhelming; it is hoped that by structuring an LCS with an intuitive front end some of these feeling can be alleviated, (and also some of the seduction of the technology at the expense of deep level learning sometimes encountered by the more tech savvy students can be tempered). Therefore, it is envisaged that through an LCS students will empower themselves to use informal learning resources beyond what is provided by a university. This develops an emphasis centred on the individual learner’s needs and capabilities of a student, provides accessible learning opportunities without time and place constraints, prioritizing of the social elements of learning by using effective tools aligned to existing behaviour, and continuation and consistency of resources beyond graduation. It is also debated that a shift towards personal ownership of technology increases engagement and alleviates problems of accessibility, usability, learner mobility and pedagogical integration. This is a departure from the traditional approach where institutions coordinate the infrastructure of learning technology for use by the learner. And for an LCS to be successful it must provide a means of accessing and harnessing Web2.0 in a way that matches students’ existing patterns.

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Online bookmarking tools mean that all your bookmarks or favorites are kept in one place. This has the advantage of being able to access them from anywhere. If you use more than one computer or portable device to access the Internet, using one central bookmark store is a very good idea. Not only that, these tools tend to make it much easier to manage your bookmark list.With several of these tools you can easily create groups to categorize your bookmarks. But more importantly you can give then descriptions that are useful and memorable for you; this is tagging.

Tagging
is associating one or more words or phrases to an object (in this case a web page link) so that you can easily do a search or look through a list to find what you want.

Examples of these online bookmarking tools are:

Leave things there and these are really useful tools. However, there’s even more. These bookmarking tools have a social aspect to them as well. Whilst you can keep your bookmarks private to you by clicking a setting, you can also make them public. This means that you can share your useful bookmarks with other interested people and they can share theirs with you. Collectively you can develop groups or communities around a set of bookmarks. And because you’re all sharing tags a more useful categorization (or taxonomy) develops called a folksonomy.

Not only that. The bookmarks can be shared using an RSS feed, so those interested can keep track of what you’re adding to your bookmarks.

Advantages to learning

From a learning perspective, social bookmarking means that you can share resources with other researchers or collaborators on a project, with other students on your course or similar courses both where you are studying and around the world, and you can combine material from faculty and students. Students can actually be contributing to the course materials. As such, this is a technology tool for all levels.

There are significant advantages to this approach. Students who contribute directly to the course materials have a greater engagement and a more authentic experience of the subject, as they are applying research techniques and participate in genuine inquiry. It fosters a lifelong learning approach, as the materials they develop can be continued passed their formalized education; they may continue the interest and participate in the work of an ongoing community. This could lead to a community of practitioners, which could be beneficial to subsequent student cohorts; tapping into the massive potential of your own alumni. Unlike resources and teaching environments provided by teaching institutions, students don’t lose access to this space or resources when they have finished their courses.

Institutional level

There can be useful implementations of social bookmarking on an institutional level as well; if the institution is progressive enough.

Examples:

  1. institutionally set tag categories,
  2. libraries administrating an implementation of a social bookmarking site.

At the University of Pennsylvania they have implemented PennTags so the whole university community there can identify and organize web resources, journal articles and online catalogue content. Also, subject librarians could work as active participants, integrated with the course to supply excellent resources directly feeding into the course content.

Course level

At the course level, difficulties can arise when faculty don’t readily want to relinquish any control of the course or it’s content and may lack the skills to effectively integrate social learning activities and collaborative, dynamic content generation into the teaching environment. Social Bookmarking can provide a bridge for this gap by allowing an easy to use, engaging tool for managing web resources on course topics, with minimal implementation cost or barriers. An added bonus is that it can overlap with faculty research areas thus appealing to faculty’s desire to include their own scholarly activities in their teaching.

Examples:

  1. an instructor can use it as a framework for students to explore the web,
  2. push out resources specific to a course of discipline,
  3. use it as an assignment to get students to find relevant resources to share with the entire class.

Students need to be able to critically evaluate what they are reading. They have to be able to justify their choices for selecting those resources. Social Bookmarking is great for teaching Information Literacy with an instructor led discussion about a set of resources and then what is a quality resource. Students learn more when they are actively engaged and have a sense of ownership of these materials in their own learning processes.

At the University of Sheffield, Dr Jamie Wood has used this approach with his first year undergraduate History seminars.

Another use

Social bookmarking can be used as an additional resource for any presentation, report, etc. If you’re already using social bookmarking fully, then you’ll have a comprehensive set of tagged links. You can provide a URL from a search of tags for the subject in question.

For example if you’re using delicious you could provide a URL http://delicious.com/tag/term1+term2
where term1 and term2 are your separate tag search terms that have been combined (using the +) to produce a list of bookmarks relevant to the subject you’re speaking or writing about.

This means that your presentation or report no longer needs to be static, because as you add additional resource links to your online bookmarks whoever reads or accesses your report (or online shared presentation) can also access the latest information on the subject via your link.

Additional links

Social Bookmarking appeared in the 2007 Edition of The Horizon Report as ‘User-created content’ with a one year or less adoption horizon.

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