An Update: Shuttleworth and Beyond

Some of you have been wondering where I’d disappeared to over the past 18 months – an update is indeed long overdue. In short: life happened and certain projects had to be put on hold. This was in part for a really lovely reason, namely the arrival of my daughter in early 2015 (yes – the DPhil was completed and I became Dr. Sophie a mere fortnight before the little one’s arrival: how’s that for a deadline, eh?). Unfortunately though the other, less pleasant, reason, has been that I’ve spent a lot of time since then in and out of hospital, so blogging has been forced to take a back seat for a time.

But at least I’m blogging now, and I’m particularly keen to let you know how I’ve been using the Flash Grant from the Shuttleworth Foundation, which I received early last year. The main areas I’ve put the money into are:

  • Covering natural overheads for the Open Science Training Initiative;
  • Ergonomic equipment to assist with long-term medical issues;
  • Conference registration;
  • Consolidating my existing work in education via application for HEA Fellowship.

Before I discuss that though, I’d like to say a massive thank you to the Shuttleworth Foundation for supporting me with funding, and for being willing to accommodate my situation of both medical- and baby-related delays over the past year or so. And many thanks too to Peter Murray-Rust, for nominating me for the grant in the first place.

First things first…overheads

The main application of the Shuttleworth money was to cover OSTI’s natural overheads, namely: domain name and hosting costs for the website, print cartridges/paper, and like-for-like replacement of IT equipment when items have finally given up the ghost (namely the Toshiba laptop in May 2015, which is used for most of the day-to-day jobs relating to OSTI, and the iPad in March 2016, which is used when I’m at conferences or when having online meetings). That list might not sound particularly riveting but, believe me, it’s been a vital help in keeping things ticking over – there’s been no other funding to cover these expenses since my Panton Fellowship with the then-OKFN concluded in 2013.

Some other bits that worked…

The Shuttleworth money has helped me provide a partial ergo setup (keyboard and mouse) for my office, to mitigate some long-term medical issues. These really help to avoid and/or reduce joint and muscle pain when typing or using the computer for long periods, and also make typing more manageable on the bad days. I’ve actually used these for years, but previous versions were all owned by my respective departments, so when I left, the equipment couldn’t come with me.

Even if you don’t need to seek out an ergo setup for health reasons, I’d definitely recommend you take a look if you get the opportunity, as I suspect many people would find ergo equipment beneficial, especially if you have to spend a substantial portion of the working day using a computer (and that’s a lot of us!). Do consider trying a few different ergo keyboards and mice out to find what works for you though: remember that there are lots of designs out there, and you might have to work through a few before you find the best one for you. And be aware that there’s a bit of a settling in phase where you get used to using “weird” incarnations of keyboard/mouse. Believe me, you get used to it pretty quickly.


I use a Goldtouch V2 keyboard, which splits in the centre and can be angled to suit your natural hand position. On first use, this can feel a little strange, but once you’re used to it you’ll never go back to a regular flat keyboard. The other plus point (and one which I hadn’t foreseen before I got one of these) is that it forces you to improve your touch typing, by making you use the correct fingers for particular keys. For the mouse, I use an Evoluent Vertical Mouse, which helps to reduce torque in the wrist and is really, really comfortable (they market it as “the handshake grip”).

…and some that didn’t

I also signed up, very optimistically, to attend both the Wikimedia UK Science Conference and MozFest, both in 2015. The plan was to take baby with me in a sling and head around things together in a bit of a mother-daughter open science mission. Unfortunately though, when each of these events hit, I wasn’t mobile enough to make it out of the house and into London (yes, the dastardly health/mobility issues again). Despite my best efforts, I wasn’t able to find people able to use my ticket instead – bad luck, as I would still have liked someone to benefit from the experience. Was such a shame to miss out but hopefully I’ll be around and about at these in the future, and thankfully the registrations were very low-cost, so didn’t put too much of a dent in the grant.

Current things: Teaching Accreditation

I’m also working towards Fellowship accreditation with the HEA for the teaching experience I’ve gained over the past 7 years, and some of the grant is going towards this. I’ve been fortunate to have had a range of opportunities to design and deliver both undergraduate and graduate teaching and training, but I now want to consolidate this while I have the opportunity.  Further work on OSTI and related projects will be strengthened by me broadening my awareness of the education literature, and enhance the credibility of the work I’m delivering. Application is going to happen around my other commitments, so it’ll most likely be a work in progress for a couple of months. I’ll let you know how I get on!

And the rest?

I’ve not actually spent all the Shuttleworth funding yet, but have plenty of areas I’d like to put it into. Amongst these options are getting one or more people on board to help a little with updating the website design, content and navigability.

In particular, I’d like to set up a dedicated area of the site for people to share their experiences – both good and bad – of using the rotation-based learning which underpins OSTI, potentially allowing them to connect with each other and even advise RBL newbies on how to go about it. An online community of RBLers, if you will. Whether you’re into Open Science, or an educator, or a community builder, I would love to hear people’s opinions on this.

I have yet to make final decisions on the remaining cash of course, but I’ll be blogging here and on the OSTI site once that happens. And although it’ll be a while yet before I can provide some tangible stats on the effects of the Flash Grant upon the uptake/impact of OSTI, I can say with certainty that it’s proving a wonderful lifeline in keeping the project going and developing it further. I’ll keep you posted – and hopefully without making you wait 18 months for an update next time…🙂

#OpenScience Training Initiative: Progress & Plans for 2015

Well, what a long while it’s been since my last blog post! Things have been pretty busy here and I had to put the blogging on hold temporarily – for a variety of reasons, both personal and professional. I emerged from DPhil thesis hand-in last month, and the viva – at 38 weeks pregnant – followed 2 weeks later. Since then, it’s been great having some time to delve back into the various strands of the Open Science Training Initiative and see where things need to head over the coming year, and as you’ll see from my first subject, there’s good scope for making plans right now…

Funding from the Shuttleworth Foundation

If you've been paying close attention to the main OSTI website, you may have noticed the addition of the Shuttleworth Logo in December 2015.

The eagle-eyed amongst you may have noticed the addition of the Shuttleworth Logo to the OSTI website in December 2015. Great news!

Perhaps the most significant piece of news is that OSTI was awarded a Shuttleworth Flash Grant in December 2014. This is really exciting news, as the project has been run without funding since my Panton Fellowship concluded back in Spring 2013. Many thanks to Peter Murray-Rust for nominating us in the first place🙂 Thus far, the grant has helped to manage some of our basic running costs (including, for example, domain renewal) and we have a few other ideas in the pipeline for channelling the money into various projects over the coming months.

Perhaps inevitably, there are too many strands on the current to-do list to mention everything here. Some of the projects under construction include a redesign of our website and materials to improve the experience for dyslexic and sight-impaired users; provision of interactive spaces on our website, allowing those who’ve run OSTI- or RBL-style courses to share their experiences and offer advice; and a continued push for translation of the main teaching materials into other languages. I’ll let you know how these various projects progress!

OSTI’s addition to Mozilla Teaching Resources

Our Learning With LLegoBoxCircularego course, which made its debut at SpotOn London in November 2013, is about to become available as a stand-alone workshop as part of Mozilla’s Lo-Fi, No-Fi teaching kit. The kit aims to deliver courses and exercises which are suitable for teaching useful skills for the web, and training in technical and scientific thinking, but which can be successfully delivered in an environment with low or no Internet connectivity.

Lego microscope from the “Learning With Lego” course, made using correct instructions. Photo by Sophie Kay, licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Licence, CC-BY-4.0

If you’ve been keeping an eye on the News section of the OSTI website, you’ll be aware this this one’s been waiting in the wings for a while. I’m glad to say that it’s now up and running – the page still has to go through some final checks before its listing is added to the Lo-Fi No-Fi page proper, but a version is already available on the Mozilla website. Click here for a nosy at the Mozilla-fied page of our Learning With Lego course!

The downloadable instructions are the same as those used for the inaugural workshop, but were previously only available via the OSTI GitHub repository. Hopefully this neatly-packaged set of instructions will encourage more of you to give Learning With Lego a try, whether that’s with high school students, undergraduates or academic researchers.

The 2014-15 academic year has also seen Learning With Lego implemented at Royal Holloway, University of London, to train their first-year mathematics undergraduates in technical writing, science communication and repeatability/reproducibility. Each weekly instance of the course sees the use of full rotation based learning: not only does each group have to build the microscope model from faulty instructions and critique its description, but they must also create a Lego model of their own design, fully described with accompanying instructions. These new designs are uploaded onto a database for further use and assessment in future sessions.

Encouragingly, the success of the Royal Holloway scheme has already drawn interest from their Educational Development team, who will be discussing it with the arts and humanities divisions. This may even lead to non-scientific versions of the course in the future and I’m looking forward to seeing where this leads over the coming year.

Accessible Materials – An OSTI For Everyone

This is a really important area, and one I’ve been wanting to address for quite some time (alas, running OSTI as a one-woman team makes it pretty much impossible for me to do everything at once!). The first round of OSTI teaching materials was constructed for the pilot scheme which, as none of the participants required adapted materials, didn’t account for users with specific needs.

Image by Tobias Mikkelsen (Flickr), CC-BY-NC-SA 2.0

Image by Tobias Mikkelsen (Flickr), CC-BY-NC-SA 2.0

It’s high time this was remedied though, and so I’m currently developing modified versions of the OSTI materials which are suitable for sight-impaired and dyslexic users. As part of this endeavour, I’m currently in touch with the British Dyslexia Association and the RNIB to discuss how the website and educational materials in their present form need to be adapted. Both organisations also provide web pages and advice sheets to guide educators in developing suitably adapted educational materials, so I’ll also be using those to shape refinements. Hopefully we’ll see some progress here in the near future.

This definitely calls for a more specific blog post sometime soon – including a bit of a call to action for those amongst you who can offer any personal insights or advice into what developments you’d like to see in the materials, where we’re falling down at the moment, and maybe even give us an appraisal of the new materials once they’re available!

Efficacy of Rotation-Based Learning

One thing I’d love to achieve with OSTI in 2015 is to gather extensive data on the efficacy of Rotation Based Learning (RBL) in a variety of settings. For example:

  • What does it achieve for student motivation?
  • How easy is it to implement for a given subject?
  • What are the tangible benefits of this approach, and are they maintained after the conclusion of the course?

Of course, instances such as the OSTI pilot scheme and the recent Learning With Lego series at Royal Holloway have provided partial answers to these questions, but much more data is required. Running a one-hour workshop with the RBL teaching pattern is a completely different thing to integrating it into a two-week academic course. Not only do those two extremes involve completely different settings, but the attendee demographic will differ and the subject-specific context may interface more or less well with the RBL structure accordingly.

I’d like to know more, not just about these two extrema, but about everything in between. Please get in touch (sophie[at]opensciencetraining.com) if you’ve already run an RBL-style course of any kind, or if you’re thinking of running one. I’d really appreciate any on-the-ground insights you can provide into how you found it!

And so…

I’ll hold it there for today, otherwise this post is going to get far too long. But all being well, I’ll provide another progress update soon – and in any case, I’ll be providing a summary of how OSTI has put the Shuttleworth Funding to good use in due course, as per the grant’s requirements. As always though, don’t hesitate to get in touch if you’d like to discuss running an OSTI/RBL course of your own, whatever the subject area, setting or timespan!

Open Science Training: Lego, Languages & Lo-Fi, No-Fi

Well, it’s been quite a while since I last had a chance to blog about progress with the Open Science Training Initiative, so it’s about time I provided you with a bit of an update. Nor have things have been quiet on the open science front – admittedly I have been providing some soundbites over at the News feed of the main OSTI website – but juggling the final months of thesis writing with everything else is making things pretty busy!

So: this month’s update gives you a bit of Lego, a bit of Berlin, some opportunities to get involved with translation and/or education activities and a little glimpse at some upcoming changes to the OSTI website. Read on…

Calling All Linguists!

Currently, the bulk of OSTI teaching materials are only available in English, over at the Open Science Training GitHub repository. However, OSTI was designed for in-person teaching and for adapting local, subject-specific courses to deliver integrated open science training too. English-language versions alone cannot provide for this. Last year, some of the slides made it into Finnish as part of the Finland Open Knowledge Roadshow, care of Joona Lehtomaki and colleagues. I’d love to see a broader range of translations to take things further – some of you may already know about this from our recent discussion on the OKFN Open Science community call the other week.

Image by Tobias Mikkelsen (Flickr), CC-BY-NC-SA 2.0

Do you have language skills to offer? Image by Tobias Mikkelsen (Flickr), CC-BY-NC-SA 2.0

Realistically, I’m going to need YOUR help in translating OSTI materials into other languages. I’ve already heard from individuals from a variety of countries who would like to translate the resources we have into French, Spanish, Portuguese and Russian – I’d like to add Arabic and German to that list too. If you have language experience and an interest in open science, then I would love to hear from you – feel free to email me via the OSTI “Contact Us” details, or drop me a message in the reply box below. And if your language isn’t listed above but you’d like to be the person to add it to the list and recruit a communtiy of fellow translators, then let me know!

So, a few things you might want to know:

  • Before we can start the process of translating OSTI, I’m looking to revise the materials and get them into Markdown or similar;
  • Transifex has been suggested to me as one tool to assist with translations. If you know of any others which might be useful, or have any experience (good or bad) of working with Transifex, then leave a message below…
  • I’ll also be adding a Translations page to the OSTI website, as a central place for information, and establishing some mailing lists for our volunteer translator team to share their thoughts and ideas and to discuss any obstacles they meet during the translation process;
  • Obviously the above will take me a little time, so keep an eye on this blog and the OSTI site for further announcements – if I know you’re interested in being one of our translators, then I can email you once plans are taking shape.

So get in touch now and help to lead OSTI to pastures new!

Learning With Lego

Some of you may recall the  “Consequences of (Bad) Communication” workshop which I ran at last year’s SpotOn conference in London, which addressed the issue of science communication through the fabulous medium of Lego. I’ve been absolutely delighted with the response to this one – but then, who doesn’t love Lego (bare feet treading-on-bricks notwithstanding)? I have a suspicion that part of the appeal of Lego-based teaching sessions lies in the happy childhood memories it evokes in so many of us…

Happiness and Lego at SpotOn 2013 :) Photo by Sophie Kay

Happiness and Lego at SpotOn 2013🙂 Photo by Sophie Kay (@StilettoFiend), licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Licence, CC-BY-4.0

Microscope base in progress. Photo by Sophie Kay (@StilettoFiend), licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Licence, CC-BY.

Microscope base in progress at SpotOn 2013. Photo by Sophie Kay (@StilettoFiend), licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Licence, CC-BY 4.0.

Since I ran the session at SpotOn in November 2013, the session instructions have been downloaded from the OSTI website a fantastic 193 times. Although I can’t be sure which of these were read out of interest and which involved practical use, hopefully this means the ideas surrounding the session are spreading further. Furthermore, the mathematics department at Royal Holloway, University of London, will be adopting our Learning With Lego workshop as of this September. It’ll form a compulsory course for the first-year undergraduates and will take place on a weekly basis. It’s designed to get the students to identify what makes for good communication in a general (for which read, “Lego”) setting and, it is hoped, to pave the way for translating these experiences into improved communication of mathematical concepts during their day-to-day work.

Lego on Mozilla’s “Lo-Fi, No-Fi” Kit

And if you’ve been keeping an eye on that OSTI News page, you’ll also be aware that the Learning With Lego workshop is soon to appear as part of Mozilla’s “Lo-Fi, No-Fi” teaching kit. Established by Kat Braybrooke and colleagues at Mozilla and drawing on input from a variety of educators, the kit provides templates and ideas for teaching the web – and associated skills for using the web – in situations where connectivity might be low or even non-existent. I’m currently revising my original, informal instructions and packaging them for the kit, so I’ll be letting you know when our Lego lesson has officially appeared.

Homepage of Mozilla's Lo-Fi, No-Fi Teaching Kit
Homepage of Mozilla’s Lo-Fi, No-Fi Teaching Kit, offering educational sessions ranging from “Code Thief Cards to Teach Javascript Offline” to “Use Puzzles to Teach HTML”.

Open Knowledge Festival 2014: Berlin, July 15th-17th

Well, I did promise a little of Berlin at the start of this post, although it’s a visit to come rather than one that’s already taken place. Thanks to the generosity of the Wikimedia Foundation, I’ll be attending OKFest next month on a Wikimedia Scholarship. While I’m in Berlin, I’ll be looking to find ways of extending and adapting OSTI, as well as starting to build a strong community of educators willing to teach OSTI programmes in their home institutions – if that sounds like your kind of thing, then please come and talk to me at OKFest! I’ll be around for all three days of the festival and will also be hosting a session – I’m co-presenting Skills and Tools for Web Native Open Science with Karthik Ram on the final day of the programme, so I hope to see a mixture of new and familiar faces in the audience… And if you haven’t bought a ticket yet, then sign up here.

Well, it seems as though my “short” update is more than long enough for now. There’ll be more news later this week though, so watch out for a second post before we hit the weekend. You wait ages for a bus eh, and then…🙂

#solo13lego: Research Roles Through Lego

Ah, it’s been a busy week. Already several days have passed since the end of SpotOn 2013, so it’s about time I blogged my session from the Saturday, #solo13lego. I’m not able to deliver the kind of prolific blogging which some of my fellow attendees at the #solo13blogs session are capable of.

My workshop did admittedly have its own title, “Making Research Useful: The Consequences of (Bad) Communication“, but that didn’t prove as catchy as referring to it as “The One With Lego“, which was perhaps a better indicator of the main aspect of its appeal. Peter Murray Rust has already blogged about his experience of the session, so you can also head over there to hear an attendee’s perspective.

We were also highly fortunate in that SpotOn keynote, Salvatore Mela, inadvertently kicked off the Lego vibe on Day One of the conference when he showed us pictures of a gloriously Lego-fied particle collider. Couldn’t have asked for a better theme-setting ahead of our workshop!

The Main Premise

Participants deep in thought and Lego at Solo13. Photo by Neil Chue Hong, CC-BY

Participants deep in thought and Lego at Solo13. Photo by Neil Chue Hong (@npch). Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Licence, CC-BY-3.0.

There’s been a lot said about reproducibility of late (indeed, the result of much work and discussion in the scientific community over many years – see discussion here), whether that’s to do with working culture, tools, infrastructure or incentives – all highly relevant factors and issues that need to be dealt with. Ultimately though, the reproducibility issue boils down to a failure on the part of the research producer to anticipate or account for the needs of the research user (that may sound an oversimplification, but it’ll do for now – I’ll go into details in a future blog post, otherwise I’ll ramble on for ages here).

A microscope from one of our Group B teams. Photo by Suzi Gage (@soozaphone).

A microscope from one of our Group B teams. Photo by Suzi Gage (@soozaphone).

#solo13lego aimed to redress the balance and get participants thinking about how to identify the needs of the end user. By dealing with the frustrations of poorly communicated instructions, could they pinpoint where the problems lay, how the original writer had failed in their communication, and how the situation might be improved?

Optical Microscopes in Lego

Split into groups of ten, the participants had to download a set of Lego instructions to build an optical microscope, complete with “mirror”, stage, objective lenses and eyepieces. We had three sets of instructions, each describing the same item in a slightly different way.

Photo by Sarah Cosgriff (@Sarah_Cosgriff).

The results of (I think) one of the Group B efforts. Here the faulty instructions for the middle section have caused problems in constructing the microscope stage. Photo by Sarah Cosgriff (@Sarah_Cosgriff).

And now for the catch: these were faulty instructions, deliberately written to confuse, confound and completely obstruct the user, and devoid of diagrams, schematics, images or any other visual aid. Although the participants were aware of this from the beginning, it didn’t prevent them from becoming highly frustrated with the situation!

In addition to dealing with the pecularities of the instructions, our Lego builders had to identify precisely what made these instructions bad instructions, how they had failed to address the user’s needs, and how they should be improved.

And the rules: no discussion between groups, no sneaky peeks at each other’s models, no looking at other group’s instructions. So, how far did they get in 35 minutes?

The End Result…

Given that they’d only had just over half an hour to interpret the instructions and build their microscopes, the groups made some good attempts. Notably though (and as one would expect) none of the groups managed to reproduce the original microscope model: hardly surprising, given the flaws in the instructions.

Finished micrscope by Group A. Photo by Jonathan Pritchard, @jr_pritchard.

Finished microscope by Group A – note how the alignment of the eyepieces differs from the other models shown above. Photo by Jonathan Pritchard, @jr_pritchard.

In fact, if you take a look at the photos in this blog, what may at first glance seem to be identical models clearly have quite obvious differences.

Some models completely missed out the band of dark green bricks in the middle of the microscope. Some didn’t manage to include the microscope stage. Others misplaced the focus dial or missed it out altogether; the alignment and position of the objective lenses and eyepieces varied wildly between models. And this really wasn’t the fault of our participants: they were doing their best with the instructions they had!

The discussion that followed identified various “improvements” required:

  • Use of a coordinate system to describe the position and orientation of blocks;
  • Corrections to the number and types of bricks listed for use;
  • Adequate description of where each level of bricks should be positioned in relation to the levels above and below;
  • Use of visual aids, such as photos, diagrams and schematics, to demonstrate how the sections of the model should fit together;
  • Inclusion of images for the end result…
  • …and lots more (full discussion can be viewed on the livestream footage).
Microscope base in progress. Photo by Sophie Kay (@StilettoFiend), licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Licence, CC-BY.

Microscope base in progress. Photo by Sophie Kay (@StilettoFiend), licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Licence, CC-BY-3.0.

Group work in full flight at #solo13lego. Photo by Sophie Kay (@StilettoFiend), licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Licence, CC-BY-3.0.

Even this short exercise demonstrates how a supposedly simple set of instructions can produce wildly different results if ambiguities leave them open to misinterpretation. It really got us thinking about what the needs of the end user are – something which we’re not taught to think about (or indeed encouraged to do so) at any stage of our education. Could this kind of exercise, whether with Lego or with hands-on science, be used to promote better communication amongst our scientists?

The extended session at the upcoming hackday (see below) is going to take this idea further and train participants to produce instructions that account for this user perspective.

All five microscopes at the end of the session. Photo by Peter Murray Rust (@petermurrayrust).

All five microscopes at the end of the session, alongside Sophie’s slide of how the models should have looked. Photo by Peter Murray Rust (@petermurrayrust).

Upcoming Hackday

Now, dates are yet TBC, but I’ll be running an extended session of Lego-Based Learning at the upcoming SpotOn Hackday, which will probably happen sometime early 2014. I’m hoping this longer workshop will last around 3 hours. It’ll give us time to explore both the user and producer roles and I’ll be implementing the rotation-based learning approach of OSTI, so there’ll be an even stronger incentive for good communication skills. I’ll be posting the details on the OSTI News page once the time and place are confirmed, as well as tweeting the details, so keep an eye on all that and let me know if you’d like to join: I’m looking forward to seeing some returning faces as well as new ones! And there are worse ways to spend a Saturday than playing with Lego…

And What Next?

Although the instruction sheets are still available via my previous blogpost, I’ve posted the slide deck and the instructions up on the GitHub repository for the Open Science Training Initiative. If you’re interested in running a similar session, you can download those now – of course, you’ll need to buy your own stash of Lego (or get someone else to buy it for you) but at least that’s quite a fun task. Good Luck!🙂

#solo13lego: The Instructions

If you’re reading this then chances are you want to participate in the #solo13lego session, “Making Research Useful: The Consequences of (Bad) Communication“. After all, who doesn’t like Lego and science? You can follow our session remotely via the livestream, which will appear on the SpotOn Media page here.

This post has been scheduled to appear a little ahead of the session, to help remote participants with their preparations (and to make sure it’s available and working by the time #solo13lego kicks off!). So if you’re planning on attending the session, behave yourself and don’t be tempted to nosy at the downloads below ahead of time!

Groups who are in the session right now: You should be in groups of ten people at most. You need to assign a group leader and then form three smaller teams within your group. Your leader should help to coordinate the three sub-teams and (informally) collate feedback/critiques on the instructions as you progress with your Lego model. Talk within your team, but don’t talk to other groups – or sneak a peek at their models!

A (first) little word of warning…Now, a little caveat: ONLY click on the downloads below once you’ve had your group assigned and you know your group’s letter. Remember that you’re not allowed to discuss your work with the other groups, so you shouldn’t look at their sets of instructions either!

Remote participants should choose their favourite letter (without peeking at the instructions first!) and download the relevant set of instructions. Feel free to shout any questions via the hashtag #solo13lego. You can also message me via @StilettoFiend, or alternatively David, @drg1985, if you’d prefer to hear his dulcet Irish tones.

A (second) little word of warning… Remember, this session is about the consequences of poor communication. We’re encouraging you to gain the perspective of an information user rather than an information producer, so that you can bring those insights to the debate at the end of our session. So don’t be deterred by errors or ambiguities in the instructions: it’s your job to work around these, critique them and identify how these Lego recipes need to be improved (and as we said, they’re designed to have a LOT of room for improvement).

So, it’s time to reach for the Lego. You have half an hour. You may turn over the page and start…

  • Instructions for Group A: PDF ODT
  • Instructions for Group B: PDF ODT
  • Instructions for Group C: PDF ODT

Lego, the Universe and Everything

With SpotOn London kicking off today, it’s time I revealed a few more details about our workshop scheduled for tomorrow afternoon, “Making Research Useful: The Consequences of (Bad) Communication“, perhaps better known by its hashtag, #solo13lego. The entire conference programme is being livestreamed, so feel free to follow, or even participate in, our session even if you can’t be there in person – keep an eye on the #solo13lego hashtag and join in the fun from afar. And if you are at SpotOn this year, then get thee to the British Library’s Eliot Room at 3:30pm on Saturday – we can accommodate up to fifty participants in the session itself (there’s only so much Lego to go around!), so you might want to be reasonably prompt arriving.

The workshop will look at some of the issues surrounding reproducibility in scientific research and in particular, the roles of the information user and information producer. And all through the wonderful medium of Lego: the perfect way to spend your Saturday afternoon🙂 If you keep an eye on this blog, another post will be appearing at the start of the session tomorrow, explaining exactly what’s going on and providing the instructions you need for Lego building.

And yes, our workshop is one of the final items in the #solo13 programme. By this stage of the conference, you’ll have enjoyed lots of fantastic talks, seminars and workshops, but may also be flagging a little with all the activity. We want our #solo13lego workshop to combine thought-provoking discussion with the fun of playing with Lego. It should be a friendly session and hopefully a great way to close out your SpotOn 2013 experience – before the official Wrap Up, that is!

Just a few words of advice on the dress code: the wearing of shoes is strongly advised. To quote Michael Rosen, “you know what it’s like treading on Lego with your bare feet”😉

And just in case you had any questions…

– Do I need to bring my own Lego to the session?

Don’t worry about that – we’ll be providing Lego kits for each team to use. If you can’t make it to the conference but would still like to take part in our session, then you’ll want to have a stash of Lego to hand. Each group in our session will be using a 32 x 32 backing board and a 650 piece Lego kit, which contains an assortment of basic bricks in several colours, including lots of those pesky 3×1, 2×1 and 1×1 pieces. So if you’re planning on remote participation, you don’t need to have any fancy Technic. Just a decent number of basic bricks will do.

Each group will have one of these...

Each group will have one of these…

– What’s going to happen at the session?

We’ll spend the first 5 minutes on a brief introduction to the reproducibility problem in modern science, before getting hands-on with Lego in groups, using some pre-prepared instructions designed to give you an awkward time. Each of our five groups will be given a different set of instructions to build the same item. Main rule is this: NO DISCUSSION is allowed between the groups. You can talk amongst your group all you like, but not to the other teams.

It’s not expected to be plain sailing all the way: our instructions are intentionally problematic and you may have to modify them as you go or fill in the blanks if you find any omissions. At the end of the Lego building phase, our groups will be critiquing the instructions and, if they get ahead of time, providing their own new-and-improved versions. We’ll have a quick-fire discussion of what aspects were difficult, where the various Lego recipes fell down, and identify what the fundamental problems were with the way the methods were communicated.

...and one of these.

…and one of these.

After the Lego building, we’ll take those newly-gained insights and open out the session into a debate on policy and approaches for how we train our scientists, researchers – in fact, any kind of knowledge workers – to deliver their outputs. Does modern culture focus too much on information production at the expense of information utility? If so, what can we do to change this: what incentives, penalties and support are needed?

– I want to participate remotely, how can I view the session?

Once you get to 3:30pm, check out the conference’s Livestream and follow our session that way. You may also want to visit Sophie’s Academia.edu profile – a slide deck will be appearing under Talks sometime on Saturday, so you should be able to access the talk materials there.

– I want to participate remotely, how will I get hold of the Lego instructions for the session?

Another post will appear here at “The Stilettoed Mathematician” just before 3:30pm on Saturday 9th November. It’ll link you to downloads for the Lego instructions so you can get building with everyone else. Remember, this session is all about the consequences of bad communication, so you should expect a bit of a tussle with the instructions as you go and you’ll need to use your ingenuity.

– Who’s running the session and how can I contact them?

There’s a team of two running the session, myself (Sophie Kay) and David Robert Grimes, science writer for the Guardian and Irish Times.  Fire any questions at us over Twitter via the #solo13lego hashtag, or shout them directly to us at @StilettoFiend and @drg1985.

Open Science Training in Practice

I know some of you have been waiting for a while to hear in full about the outcomes of January’s pilot scheme for the Open Science Training Initiative (OSTI). Well – the moment is finally here. Those of you who’ve been keeping a close watch on the Open Science Training Initiative website may have noticed that the post-pilot report went live last Saturday. In case you haven’t happened upon it yet, you can download a copy here:

Click here to reach the download page for the Open Science Training Initiative post-pilot report.

I should also clarify that the link above isn’t for my year summary, Panton Fellowship report (which provides a more general overview of the Panton year and the open science work that’s entailed beyond the OSTI project). For that, you’ll need to look at blog postings for April…

Just so you know what to expect, the report:

  • provides an outline of the general OSTI pattern,
  • explains how this template was modified to suit the needs of the Doctoral Training Centres in Systems Biology and Life Sciences at the University of Oxford;
  • delivers an in-depth analysis of the feedback from the auxiliary demonstrators and the students themselves, alongside my own perspectives as course leader.

You’ll also notice that it’s been a busy time for the OSTI website: videos from the pilot initiative have been appearing on the site over the last week, for those of you who’d like to see how the pilot went. Unfortunately we weren’t able to take any videos from the main work area, or from the daily supervisions, which is where the bulk of the teaching and discussion took place – as you can see from the photos below.

group-discussion-3group-discussion-1

The videos you can see on the OSTI website only represent a small fraction of the pilot scheme: much of the teaching relies on discussion with individuals or small groups and the students’ hands-on application of licensing and other Open approaches is a core part of the learning process within the initiative.

Hopefully this heralds the start of an exciting new era for open science training, in which our graduates enter the research world fully equipped with experience in open science techniques and the confidence to implement these practices under their own judgment in their day-to-day working life!

Feel free to add your comments below if you have any thoughts on the post-pilot report, or feel that OSTI’s rotation-based learning techniques could benefit students in your institution.