Open Education Handbook/Open Education Data

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The phrase "Open Education Data" is loosely defined, but might be used to refer to:

  • all openly available data that could be used for educational purposes
  • open data that is released by education institutions

Understood in the former sense, open education data can be considered a subset of OER where data sets are made available for use in teaching and learning. These data sets might not be designed for use in education, but can be repurposed and used freely.

In the latter sense, the interest is primarily in the release of data from academic institutions about their performance and that of their students. This could include:

  • Reference data such as the location of academic institutions
  • Internal data such as staff names, resources available, personnel data, identity data, budgets
  • Course data, curriculum data, learning objectives,
  • User-generated data such as learning analytics, assessments, performance data, job placements

Benchmarked open data in education that is released across institutions and can lead to change in public policy through transparency and raising awareness. The World Economic Forum report Education and Skills 2.0: New Targets and Innovative Approaches sees there as being two types of education data: traditional and new. Traditional data sets include identity data and system-wide data, such as attendance information; new data sets are those created as a result of user interaction, which may include web site statistics, and inferred content created by mining data sets using questions.

Whatever their classification it is clear that open education data sets are of interest to a wide variety of people including educators, learners, institutions, government, parents and the wider public.

Finding Open Data[edit]

One good source of open data is governments, who increasingly make data about their citizens available online. Examples from the UK include school performance data, data on the location of educational establishments and pupil absenteeism. There is also data from individual institutions such as that collated on linked universities and on data.ac.uk and from research into education, such as the Open Public Services Network report into Empowering Parents, Improving Accountability.

Previously much of the release and use of open educational data sets has been driven by the need for accountability and transparency. A well-cited global example has been the situation in Uganda where the Ugandan government allocated funding for schools, but corruption at various levels meant much of the money never reached its intended destination. Between 1995 and 2001, the proportion of funding allocated which actually reached the schools rose from 24% to 82%. In the interim, they initiated a programme of publishing data on how much was allocated to each school. There were other factors but Reinikke and Svensson’s analysis showed that data publication played a significant part in the funding increase.

However recent developments, such as the current upsurge of open data challenges (see the ODI Education: Open Data Challenge and the LAK data challenge), have meant that there is an increasing innovation in data use, and opportunities for efficiency and improvements to education more generally. Their potential us is broad. Data sets can support students through creation of tools that enable new ways to analyse and access data e.g. maps of disabled access and by enriching resources, making it easier to share and find them, and personalize the way they are presented. Open data can also support those who need to make informed choices on education e.g. by comparing scores, and support schools and institutions by enabling efficiencies in practice e.g. library data can help support book purchasing.

Education technology providers are also starting to see the potential of data-mining and app development. So for example open education data is a high priority area for Pearson Think tank. Back in 2011 they published their blue skies paper How Open Data, data literacy and Linked Data will revolutionise higher education. Ideas around how money, or savings, can be made from these data sets are slowly starting to surface.

Using Open Data[edit]

Some of the interesting UK applications of these data sets can be see through services like Which? University which builds on the NSS annual survey held in Unistats, the Key information sets and other related data sets to allow aid students to select a university; Locrating, defined as ‘To locate by rating: they locrated the school using locrating.com’ which combines data on schools, area and commuting times; Schools Atlas, an interactive online map providing a comprehensive picture of London schools; equipment data.ac.uk - which allow searching across all published UK research equipment databases through one aggregation “portal.

The UK is not alone in seeing the benefit of open education data, in Holland, for example, the education department of the city of Amsterdam commissioned an app challenge similar to the current ODI one mentioned earlier. The goal of the challenge was to provide parents with tools that help them to make well-informed choices about their children. A variety of tools were built, such as schooltip.net, 10000scholen.nl, scholenvinden.nl, and scholenkeuze.nl. The various apps have now been displayed on an education portal focused on finding the ‘right school’.

Further afield in Tanzania Shule.info allows comparison of exam results across different regions of Tanzania and for users to follow trends over time, or to see the effect of the adjustments made to yearly exam results. The site was developed by young Tanzanian developers who approached Twaweza, an Open Development Consultant, for advice, rather than for funding. The result is beneficial to anyone interested in education in Tanzania.

The School of Data, through their data expeditions, are starting to do some important work in the area of education data in the developing world. And in January the World Bank released a new open data tool called SABER (The Systems Approach for Better Education Results), which enables comparison of countries education policies. The web tool helps countries collect and analyze information on their education policies, benchmark themselves against other countries, and prioritize areas for reform, with the goal of ensuring that in those countries all children and youth go to school and learn.

All over the world, prototypes and apps are been developed that use and build on open education data.

Challenges[edit]

There are still challenges for those keen to develop applications using open education data. Privacy and data protection laws can often prevent access to some potentially useful data sets, yet many data sets that are not personal or controversial remain unavailable, or only available under a closed licence or inappropriate format. This may be for many reasons: trust, concerns around quality and cost being the biggest issues. Naturally there is a cost to releasing data but in many cases this can be far out-weighed by cost-savings later down the line, so for example a proactive approach is likely to save time and effort should Freedom of Information (FOI) requests be made.

Further resources[edit]