Wales Wide Web is Graham Attwell’s main blog. Graham Attwell is Director of the Wales based research organisation, Pontydysgu. The blog covers issues like open-source, open-content, open-standards, e-learning and Werder Bremen football team.
In the Learning Layers project we are aiming to produce tools to help Small and Medium Enterprises support informal learning. For most of the first two years of the project we have been focused on a co-deign process – working with small groups of users to iteratively develop the tools and applications. Our user groups are, at the moment at least, drawn from the construction sector in north Germany and the health sector in north east England.
In years three and four of the project, we are aiming to roll out these tools to significant numbers of users. In preparing for this we have had discussions with literally hundreds of stakeholders including managers of SMEs. Three big concerns have emerged. the first is whether our work is sustainable. Many are interested in what we are doing but want to know how as a research project we can guarantee our applications will still be around and supported after the project ends. To deal with this not unreasonable concern we have had to seriously explore business models and are in the process of using the Business Model Canvas approach to identify and develop business models for each of our applications.This is new to me – but I can see the value. I have worked on too many projects where systems and tools are developed and tested with small user groups and then abandoned as project funding ends. Of course such processes are legitimate as a research aim. But all too often promising developments are wasted just because no-one has though out how to make their work sustainable At the end of two, three or four years, researchers and developers move on to the next project – and so it goes on.
Secondly people are concerned that our tools and applications will integrate with systems they already use. they do not want yet another stand alone system – and certainly do not want another log in to circumnavigate. We are implementing Open ID Connect for our own services and this offers the possibility for integration with the LDAP systems more commonly used by companies.
The third big concern is data security and server hosting. Our original idea was to use a cloud system developed by the University of Aachen. however we have encountered a surprising degree of distrust of cloud systems. This is not necessarily based on any particular technical reason. The aftermath of the Snowden affair seems to be that in Germany at least company owners and Systems Administrators want to be able to control their own data. This means they want it inside their systems – and cloud is not trusted. Data being held in the USA is not on. As Ben Werdmuller says:
There are all kinds of reasons why you should care about where your data is stored. If you’re a business or institution, there may be legislative and auditing requirements relating to your servers. Many educational institutions in Europe, for example, can’t store data in the US without jumping through numerous hoops – and requiring service providers to jump through more.
My feeling is that managers in small businesses know they should care and that it is important where their data is held. However they do not have the expertise and time to research legislative and auditing requirements. The answer for them is to hold data on their own servers – preferably where they can touch it. And I suspect this situation is not going to change in the near future. For the Learning layers project, as well as a hosted cloud solution, we are now developing the Layers Box, a box containing the Learning Layers software which can simply be plugged in to existing server systems. We will see if this helps allay people’s fears.
I’m back from lunch and have just forwarded the podcast version of today’s broadcast to the press office at the Online Educa Berlin. I still work on the text about the participants but here is already the podcast for you to listen too.
In what by now has become an annual event, we will be presenting Sounds of the Bazaar, the official online radio from Online Educa Berlin, on Thursday 4 and Friday 5 of December this week. The broadcasts will be from 1115 to 1145 CET and will be live from the lead ramp to the Marlene Bar at the InterContinental Hotel. If you are lucky enough to be at the conference and are willing to come on the programme could you email Graham Attwell – graham10 [at] mac [dot] com – saying which day is most convenient for you and what time in the half hour programme suits you best. In general each slot lasts around 5 minutes.
And if you would like to catch up in person we will be preparing the shows in the Marlene Bar from about 1500 onwards tomorrow afternoon.
If you can’t make to to Online Educa in person, don’t despair. You can listen to all the best of the conference in our live radio shows. Just tune in at 1115 CET on Thursday and Friday by pointing your internet browser to SoB Online EDUCA 2014 LIVE Radio and the live stream will open up in the MP3 player of your choice.
On Wednesday I attended the JISC Summer of innovation event at Reading University. This was a showcase for projects undertaken in summer 2014. Jisc is running an elevator system, selecting some 20 student projects a year who each get £5000 in funding. The format of the competition, says Jisc, “allows students to get full credit for their ideas, and have an ongoing role into their development. As well as showcasing the results of this work the event was designed to seek partners to work with to develop the ideas further.
Each of the project made a short pitch to those attending. And there was ample time to go around the presentation stands for demos and talks with developers. The projects were on the whole very impressive. It almost seems unfair to pick anyone out, but since I was on the lookout for projects I might want to work with further, then my pick of the bunch has to be evaloop. Evaloop developed by Shanghavi and Thiemo Fetzer, both postgraduates at LSE, have developed a mobile app which provides teachers or trainers with an easy way to collect feedback from students. According to the LSE web site “Amar and Thiemo have ten years of teaching experience between them which helped them to identify the difficulty of getting timely feedback in a cost effective way and to create ‘evaloop’.”
As a whole, the products looked pretty cool and you could see at least some of the picking up traction. Talking to the students, though, I was less convinced about the sustainability and business plans. Most had formed companies and were putting forward subscription models. All assured me that their services scaled technically and they probably do. But when I asked them how their company scaled socially they looked at me blankly. I asked a number whether they expected to be selling the same subscriptions to the same applications in two or three years time. This seemed reasonable since I was talking to a bunch of young, ambitious, clever entrepreneurs – or would be entrepreneurs. They admitted they had not thought about that. And although many were seeking to sell subscription services to universities, they did not really seem to know who might have the power to sign up to such a package.
Only Evaloop seem to have considered the Open Source Model. And I guess that is part of the present culture of software development. Apps are not released as open source, instead the business approach is to provide paid for services or at best a premium model. I think that is a shame, since, working with a wider community, many of these projects could make a real difference and get significant take up. However, I suppose another way to look at it is that if say only two projects go on to develop as viable products or services and sustainable enterprises, that has to be seen as a success, especially given the very limited pump priming funding from Jisc. I’ve signed up with five or six of the projects to get future updates, in addition to planning a trial of evaloop. And I will keep readers here in the loop on any updates. In the meantime check out the projects on the Jisc Summer of Innovation website.
Pontydysgu are working with the UK Data Service to open up three datasets under an open data license and then run an Open Data App Challenge during late spring/summer 2015. This a ESRC (Economic Social Research Council) innovation fund project.
Last Friday I went to a UK Data Service panel session and networking event at the Open Data Institute in London talking about our work and the issues around opening up data under an open data license. The audience was mostly App Challenge members and data owners. This event was held as part of the ESRC Festival of Social Science Week and we invited along some other experts as well.
Ralph has wriiten about the event on the Open Data Challenge web site. “The UKCES and their LMI for All programme have one of the best developed government APIs for accessing open data around jobs, careers and employment statistics)” he says.
“Transport API is the leading provider of open transport data in the UK. Anyone can sign up to their API on a pay per use basis. They have data relating to trains, roads, construction and even Heathrow airport.
Thingful is a discovery or search engine for the Internet of Things. There are many sensors and devices out there that publish their state and if you can link these as a data stream they can enrich many other datasources and services. For example, there are weather sensors on top of most high rise buildings in London. Could they be connected to the Met Office to help with weather based planning?
Louise is the project leader for the Open Data App Challenge project and is based at the University of Essex campus in Colchester.
Ralph Cochrane moderated this panel session and is the founder of App Challenge. He’s a crowdsourcing expert and runs the developer community day-to-day working with many of the world’s leading companies.”