Archive for the ‘open access’ Category

Is all data research data?

September 30th, 2013 by Cristina Costa

In times when academia debates about the openness and transparency of academic work, and the processes associated with it, more questions than answers tend to be formulated.  And as it usually happens, different approaches often co-exist. There is nothing wrong with that. It is only natural when trying to make sense of the affordances that the web, as a space of participation and socialisation, provides. Nonetheless, the latests news on the openness of research publications leave me slightly concerned regarding the misunderstanding between the Open Access Gold Route and the Gold Mine publishing houses are trying to maintain with their take on Open Access. This will however be content for another post as this post relates to some still unripe reflections of mine on the topic of online research ethics. …although one could argue that paying to access publicly funded knowledge also touches on some ethics…!

The gate's unlocked!!!One of the big questions we are currently debating on twitter deals with the use of  data publicly available online. Given the current events regarding how governments are using information published online by their own citizens, we could conclude that no data is, or for that matter ever was, private! But as researchers interested in the prosumer phenomenon (online users who consume and produce content available on the web) a key issue arises when doing research online:

  • Can we use information that is publicly available online, i.e., that can be accessed without a password by any individual, for research purposes?
  • What ethics should we observe in this case?

Researching online data that is produced and made available online voluntarily, or involuntarily, by the regular citizen is so new, even to those in Technology Enhanced Learning (TEL), that we are still trying to make sense of how to go about this. Publications regarding this matter are still scare, and even those that I have had access to deal mainly with the issues of anonymity (Here is a recent example). A big issue indeed, especially in a time where participating online means to create an online digital footprint that not only allows information to be traced back to an individual; it also creates, to a certain extent, a (re)presentation of a given ‘self’, voluntarily or involuntarily… In TEL we call this “Digital Identities” (more on this in a forthcoming post).  Digital identities disclose personal, and sometimes private, information within the social environments that are created online and in which individuals interact, we assume, on their own will. But do they always do consciously of the publicness of the information they publish? Do they perceive their participation online as an form of creating and publishing information?

This then begs the question:

  • Is, can or should such information be automatically converted into research data? In other words are we, as researchers, entitled to use any data that is publicly available, even if we claim that it is only being used for research purposes?

My gut feeling is that no, we cannot! Just because the information is made publicly online and therefore accessible to use, I, as a researcher, am not entitled to use it without previously seeking and obtaining consent from its creator. This, obviously, generates more obstacles than those researchers would probably like to experience, but the truth is that collecting publicly available information without the consent of its producers does not seem right to me for the following reasons:

  1. We (people engaged in TEL) need to step outside of our own taken-for-granted understanding of online participation, and note that many people don’t realise, or at least have not given it considerate thought, that online communication can be public and that interaction online, by its very nature of written speech are more durable than equivalent forms of face-to-face interaction.
  2. Anonymity and confidentiality are topics that need to be discussed with the research participant independently of the type of information we want to use. Just because the content is there available to the world, it doesn’t mean it’s available for the take. That is invading the public sphere of an individual, if that makes any sense(!), because as it becomes research data we will be exposing (transferring even!) it to other public spaces.   of its owner.
  3. I truly believe that every research participants has the right to know he/she is one. This is not merely a courtesy on the part of the researcher, it is a right that they have! Content produced online, unless stated otherwise, belongs to its producer and should therefore be treated as such. (….maybe what we need is a creative commons license for research purposes! ]

Niessenbaum and Zimmer, amongst others, talk about contextual integrity, a theory that rejects the notion that information types fit into a rigid dichotomy of public or private.’ “Instead, there is potentially an indefinite variety of types of information that could feature in the informational norms of a given context, and whose categorization might shift from one context to another.” (Zimmer, 2008,  p.116)

Although I am very amenable to the argument of context, and that nothing is absolute, and everything is relative [getting philosophical now!], I think that the context of research practice begs for informed consent independently of the research data being publicly and privately available. In my opinion, converting online information into research data should always be an opt in, and not an opt out, activity involving those to whom the information belongs.

…but as usual, this is only my 2 cents and I look forward to other people’s views on this.

Peer review, open access, and transparency. The way it should be…!?

August 15th, 2013 by Cristina Costa

A couple of months ago David Walker asked me to review a paper for a new Academic Journal of which he is one of the editors. He told me it was an open access journal focused on practice and I immediately said yes! I just cannot say no to open access or perspectives on practice. I just can’t! So I became a reviewer of the Journal of Perspectives in Applied Academic Practice.

As I started going through the first paper I had to review, I noticed that the author’s name was disclosed. There was even a short biography about his academic career. I was intrigued, almost shocked, I must confess. I immediately emailed David reporting the “tragedy” of having learnt the name and background of the author whose article I was about to review. David’s answer was something like this:

You didn’t read the guidelines, did you?! :-)

"Autoretrato" Photo by Flickr ID Sebastian Delmont  (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

“Autoretrato” Photo by Flickr ID Sebastian Delmont (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Cough… well, actually I did, but I went directly to “conducting the review” section, ignoring the opening paragraph of the Reviewers Guidelines. How scholastic of me. So here it is:

Journal of Perspectives in Applied Academic Practice (JPAAP) journal uses open peer review process, meaning that the identities of the authors and those of the reviewers will be made known to each other during the review process in the following way: the reviewers will be fully aware of the name, position and institution of the authors of the manuscript they currently review, and the authors will be given a signed review with the name, position and institution of the reviewer.


I got the shock of my life at first, but then I decided to give it a go. This was the first time I got involved in open peer reviewing and, as I think it’s important to put into practice what we preach, I went for it. Here are some reflective points about the process of conducting an open peer review. I aimed to:

  • be on my best behaviour – I made sure I allocated plenty of time to read and digest the paper. I read it several times. I tried to understand and deconstruct it the best way I could, before I submitted the review
  • give thorough feedback  - I tried to justify every point I made (I think I achieved that better in the second paper I reviewed)
  • provide constructive and also friendly feedback – Nothing annoys me more than reviews  that are dry and harsh in their comments. I tried to use language that aimed to provide suggestions and stimulate new thinking. I think I still have some work to do in this area, but I hope I’m getting there
  • read the paper as it is written, not as I would write it – I think that’s a crucial point in any type of review, but one that is often forgotten. I have felt many times that reviews were made on the assumption that the article should be written in the style and perspective of the reviewer rather than that of the author’s

You may think that this doesn’t differ at all from any review process, and in fact it should not. But the feelings and the thoughts that go through your mind as you disclose your identity to the author are both of vulnerability and commitment to do a good job. [Not much different from the feelings of the author of the article who submits his/her work to you, hey?! So we are on the same boat!]

There is something about the open peer review process. With transparency comes visibility, a more acute sense of responsibility of your role as reviewer and maybe the fact that your reputation is on the line matters too!  And that can only be good.

However, I still have unanswered questions that in a sense do show my vulnerability as a reviewer.

  • would I feel the same if I knew/have worked with the author whose paper I was reviewing?
    • Would I feel comfortable giving them my feedback?
    • Would I be influenced or even intimidated by my knowledge of their practice/research?
    • Would I be too tough, or too soft, on them?

I guess you can always refuse to review someone’s paper if those feelings arise and you are not comfortable with it… but these questions did come to mind.

As we move towards more open peer reviewing processes, and I hope more initiatives like this start to emerge, I’d like to see more dialogue between the reviewer and the author. So far it’s still a monologue, and since we disclosed identities, could we also open up the discussion? ~ just a thought.

LMI for All API released

June 9th, 2013 by Graham Attwell

I have written periodic updates on the work we have been doing for the UKCES on open data, developing an open API to provide access to Labour Market Information. Although the APi is specifically targeted towards careers guidance organisations and towards end users looking for data to help in careers choices, in the longer term it may be of interest to others involved in labour market analysis and planning and for those working in economic, education and social planning.

The project has had to overcome a number of barriers, especially around the issues of disclosure, confidentiality and statistical reliability. The first public release of the API is now available. The following text is based on an email sent to interested individuals and organisations. Get in touch if you would like more information or would like to develop applications based on the API.

The screenshot above is of one of the ten applications developed at a hack day organised by one of our partners in the project, Rewired State. You can see all ten on their website.

The first pilot release of LMI for All is now available and to send you some details about this. Although this is a pilot version, it is fully functional and it would be great if you could test it as a pilot and let us know what is working well and what needs to be improved.

The main LMI for All site is at  This contains information about LMI for All and how it can be used.

The APi web explorer for developers can be accessed at  The APi is currently open for you to test and explore the potential for  development. If you wish to deploy the APi in your web site or application please email us at graham10 [at] mac [dot] com and we will supply you with an APi key.

For technical details and details about the data go to our wiki at  This includes all the documentation including details about what data LMI for All includes and how this can be used.  There is also a frequently asked questions section.

Ongoing feedback from your organisation is an important part of the ongoing development of this data tool because we want to ensure that future improvements to LMI for All are based on feedback from people who have used it. To enable us to integrate this feedback into the development process, if you use LMI for All we will want to contact you about every four to six months to ask how things are progressing with the data tool. Additionally, to help with the promotion and roll out of LMI for All towards the end of the development period (second half of 2014), we may ask you for your permission to showcase particular LMI applications that your organisation chooses to develop.

If you have any questions, or need any further help, please use the FAQ space initially. However, if you have any specific questions which cannot be answered here, please use the LMI for All email address lmiforall [at] ukces [dot] org [dot] uk.


Today a new abstract…

May 28th, 2013 by Cristina Costa

…one day, who knows, maybe a full paper? But where should I publish it?


Open Access Cookie by Flickr ID Bliblioteekje (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Open Access Cookie by Flickr ID Bliblioteekje (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

I wasn’t sure I should do this, but I decided I could!

I just came back from a writing session with colleagues from the School of Education and it was rather refreshing. We discussed and practiced the writing of abstracts. This is what I came up with:




The field of academia is punctuated by implicit and explicit goals and rules that aim to regulate academic practice.

This paper draws on data from a qualitative study involving academic researchers who challenge the notions of research practice through their use of the social and participatory web as well as through the epistemologies of practice they develop as networked learners.

Using a Bourdieuian  lens, I discuss how research assessment exercises, as an example of symbolic practice, enables the field of academia to preserve or accumulate symbolic capital by (explicitly) promoting traditional forms of scholarship.

I suggest that the tensions between the field and the habitus of digital scholars not only hinder digital innovation in research, but also in learning and teaching practices. I conclude by arguing the need to align institutional, national and international research benchmarks with the practices and principles proposed by and for the so called digital society.

[Please note this is work in progress... always a good disclaimer (cough)]


The abstract above is based on my PhD research [as if you hadn't had enough of my PhD by now!...but there you go]. I have submitted a paper recently and now want to start working on another one…potentially focusing on the topic described in the abstract. But I still have no idea where to publish it. I just know that it needs to be in an Open Access publication. Any ideas, suggestions where to publish it are very welcome. Critical feedback on the abstract is equally appreciated. ;-) Thank you. x

LMI for All – coming soon

May 12th, 2013 by Graham Attwell

A quick and overdue update on the Labour Market Information for All project, which we are developing together with Raycom, the University of Warwick and Rewired State and  is sponsored by the UK Commission for Employment and Skills (UKCES).

LMI for All will provide an online data portal bringing together existing sources of labour market information (LMI) that can inform people’s decisions about their careers.  The database will contain robust LMI from national surveys and data sources providing a common and consistent baseline to use alongside less formal sources of intelligence. Due for release at the end of May 2013, access to the database will be through an open API. the results of queries can then be embedded by developers in their own web sites of apps. We will also provide a code library to assist developers.

The project builds on the commitment by the UK government to open data. despite this, it is not simple. As the Open Data White Paper (HM Government, 2012)highlights,  data gathered by the public sector is not always readily accessible. Quality of the data, intermittent publication and a lack of common standards are also barriers. A commitment is given to change the culture of organisations, to bring about change: ‘This must change and one of the barriers to change is cultural’ (p. 18).

We have talked to a considerable number of data providers including government bodies. It is striking that all have been cooperative and wishing to help us in providing access to data. However, the devil is in the detail.

Much of the data publicly collected, is done so on the condition that is is non disclosive e.e. that it is impossible to find out who submitted that data. And of course the lower the level of aggregation, the easier it is to identify where the data is coming from. And the more the data is linked, the more risk there s of disclosure.

We have developed ways of getting round this using both statistical methods (e.g. estimation) and technical approaches (data aggregation). But it remains a lot of work preparing the data for uploading to our database. And I guess that level of work will discourage others from utilising the potential of open data. It may explain why, transport excluded, their remain limited applications built on the open data movement in the UK.

It may suggest that the model we are working on, of a publicly funded project providing access to data, and then providing tools to build applications on top of that data, could provide a model for providing access to public data.

In the meantime if you are interested in using our API and developing your own applications for careers guidance and support, please get in touch.


Live from the European Conference on Educational Research

September 12th, 2012 by Graham Attwell

The European Conference on Educational Research (ECER) starts next Tuesday in Cadiz in Spain. Some 2000 delegates will take part, organised through 28 networks covering different areas and themes in education.

Not able to attend yourself? Pontydysgu are working with EERA, who run the conference, to provide alive stream of the four keynote speeches. We will be also broadcasting three live half hour internet radio programmes from the conference. The details are below (all times are Central European summer Time).

The live video can be accessed through the conference web site (full details will be on the site in the next 48 hours).

The radio programmes can be accessed at Click on the link and the stream will open in your MP3 player of choice (e.g. iTunes).

Wednesday 19 September
14:00 – 15:00 Keynote 1 – What is ‘the Human’ about the Humanities today?  – Rosi Braidotti
14:00 – 15:00 Keynote 2  – Two different realms. Politics and Educational Knowledge in European history – Marcelo Caruso

Thursday 20 September

10:30 – 11:00 Conference radio programme 1
14:00 – 15:00 Keynote 3 – What is Wrong with the What-Went-Right Approach in Educational Policy? – Gita Steiner-Khamsi
14:00 – 15:00 Keynote 4 – Constitution, Education and Research – Fuensanta Hernandez Pina

Friday 21 September
10:30 – 11:00 Conference radio programme 2
15:00 – 15:30 Conference radio programme 3


Mendeley Open API

August 25th, 2012 by Graham Attwell

Mendeley’s Open API Approach Is On Course To Disrupt Academic Publishing, according to TechCrunch. They say: “Mendeley’s ecosystem has now produced over 240 research apps drawing on open data from its database under a Creative Commons license. Those generate more than 100 million API calls to Mendeley’s database per month….The information fueling this ecosystem is being produced by the scientific community itself, putting a social layer over each document and producing anonymised real-time information about the academic status, field of research, current interests, location of, and keywords generated by its readers. The applications can cover research collaboration, measurement, visualisation, semantic markup, and discovery…

Mendeley’s tools now touch about 1.9 million researchers, pooling 65 million documents and claims to cover 97.2% to 99.5% of all research articles published. By contrast commercial databases by Thomson Reuters and Elsevier contain 49 million and 47 million unique documents, respectively.”

Great Design

June 11th, 2012 by Graham Attwell

Design matters! And one of the problems with educational technology is that developers ignore design. Interfaces are unimportant, they say. It can be sorted after we get the coding debugged. they do not generally understand when users complain that the Alpha is hard to navigate and is not attractive.

I know because I have been there.  We try our best but none of us in Pontydysgu are specialist graphic designers. One of the problems is that project funding rarely (if ever) includes a budget for graphic design. Life is getting easier because of the more advanced templates for platforms like WordPress but even these need customisation. And lets face it, 90 per cent of Moodle sites look soooo boring.

So it is refreshing when a well designed educational technology web site comes out. So congratulations to Jisc TechDis who have just released a new Toolbox.

The technology section of the site explains:

The word technology is a simple way of describing tools to help us do things. These tools can be computers or tablets, but could just as easily be a mobile phone or even an ebook reader.

All types of technology can be changed and adapted to make them just right for you. This could be changing the size of the font on a screen or having the text read out loud. You may prefer to plan your work using mind mapping software or to record your thoughts as a video. Whatever you choose you can set it up in the way which is the best for you.

This section contains a large number of ideas to help you adapt the technology you use everyday. It covers both Windows and Mac computers as well as using mobile devices and tablets.

And it looks fantastic.

Free Science eBook

May 28th, 2012 by Graham Attwell

I have just discovered this book – published in 2010 and available as a free PDF download.

Accessible Elements informs science educators about current practices in online and distance education: distance-delivered methods for laboratory coursework, the requisite administrative and institutional aspects of online and distance teaching, and the relevant educational theory.

Delivery of university-level courses through online and distance education is a method of providing equal access to students seeking post-secondary education. Distance delivery offers practical alternatives to traditional on-campus education for students limited by barriers such as classroom scheduling, physical location, finances, or job and family commitments. The growing recognition and acceptance of distance education, coupled with the rapidly increasing demand for accessibility and flexible delivery of courses, has made distance education a viable and popular option for many people to meet their science educational goals.

Welcome Trust journal announcement a game changer?

April 10th, 2012 by Graham Attwell

The announcement that the Wellcome Trust has teamed up with the Max Planck Society in Germany and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute in the US to set up a new open-access journal called eLife probably marks the turning point in the campaign for open access publishing. Yet what is surprising is how resilient the traditional journal publishing model has been, and how long it is taking to change it.

It is relatively simple to set up an open access web journal. And most open access journals share with traditional journals the same system of peer reviewing. Despite publishers claims that they need to charge relatively high costs for journals due to the support they provide for editing and reviewing, I am dubious. I have reviewed many submissions for both closed and open access publications and the differences seem to lie more in the difference of the effort, commitment and outlook of individual editors, rather than the support of the publishers.

Where the traditional publishers do spend, I suspect, is on marketing. Yet a series of reports have suggested that papers published in open access journals get more readers than those in traditional subscription based print journals. In terms of getting readers and feedback, I have tended to find web self publishing the most effective!

So why has is taken so long for open access journals to emerge? Firstly, I suspect is the deep adherence of educational culture and institutions to print media. The web is simply seen as second best. And most importantly, is the various academic rating lists for journals, which vastly favour the closed journals promoted by the academic publishers. Many of my friends would far prefer to publish in open access journals but feel forced to submit to educational publishers as they see it important for their future careers.

That is why the Welcome Trust announcement is so important. The publication of a range of prestigious open access journal is likely to open up the floodgates.

Yet the time it has taken for this to happen show the challenges for the wider open education movement.

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    MOOC providers in 2016

    According to Class Central a quarter of the new MOOC users  in 2016 came from regional MOOC providers such as  XuetangX (China) and Miríada X (Latin America).

    They list the top five MOOC providers by registered users:

    1. Coursera – 23 million
    2. edX – 10 million
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    5. Udacity – 4 million

    XuetangX burst onto this list making it the only non-English MOOC platform in top five.

    In 2016, 2,600+ new courses (vs. 1800 last year) were announced, taking the total number of courses to 6,850 from over 700 universities.

    Jobs in cyber security

    In a new fact sheet the Tech Partnership reveals that UK cyber workforce has grown by 160% in the five years to 2016. 58,000 people now work in cyber security, up from 22,000 in 2011, and they command an average salary of over £57,000 a year – 15% higher than tech specialists as a whole, and up 7% on last year. Just under half of the cyber workforce is employed in the digital industries, while banking accounts for one in five, and the public sector for 12%.

    Number students outside EU falls in UK

    Times Higher Education reports the number of first-year students from outside the European Union enrolling at UK universities fell by 1 per cent from 2014-15 to 2015-16, according to data released by the Higher Education Statistics Agency.

    Data from the past five years show which countries are sending fewer students to study in the UK.

    Despite a large increase in the number of students enrolling from China, a cohort that has grown by 12,500 since 2011-12, enrolments by students from India fell by 13,150 over the same period.

    Other notable changes include an increase in students from Hong Kong, Singapore and Malaysia and a fall in students from Saudi Arabia and Nigeria.

    Peer Review

    According to the Guardian, research conducted with more than 6,300 authors of journal articles, peer reviewers and journal editors revealed that over two-thirds of researchers who have never peer reviewed a paper would like to. Of that group (drawn from the full range of subject areas) more than 60% said they would like the option to attend a workshop or formal training on peer reviewing. At the same time, over two-thirds of journal editors told the researchers that it is difficult to find reviewers

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