Open Science Training Initiative – Pilot Scheme Complete!

You could be forgiven for thinking I’d gone very quiet this week. As many of you may remember, the pilot scheme for my Open Science Training Initiative kicked off on January 10th. It’s been a pretty hectic time since then, but we’ve finally reached the closing day – the students are pushing final versions of all their work onto GitHub in the next hour, before presenting their findings from 10:30am onwards.

I’d had this insanely optimistic idea at the outset of blogging progress with the course every other day, or at least at the end of each of the rotation phases. Yep, that turned out to be WAY too optimistic. Once all the lecturing and project supervision meetings were factored in, I barely made it anywhere near my computer each day. Those of you who emailed me may have noticed the, ahem, somewhat tardy replies. All for good reason though – the students have done a fantastic job, produced some really creative work, and I’m looking forward to seeing all the results today – even if it’ll leave me stuck under a stack of marking for a fortnight!

I released a short feedback questionnaire to the students just now, so by the end of today we should have some idea of what they’ve enjoyed in the course, and importantly, how they think we could improve it in the future. I don’t think I’ve ever been subjected to this much judgment in one go before, so let’s hope it all goes ok… Ultimately I’ll be releasing all the findings and analysis in an evaluation report (most probably sometime in February), which will also take account of comments from the course demonstrators, some of whom were with the projects right from the beginning of the course. So keep an eye out for that.

I have to say I was seriously impressed by how they’ve taken to licensing as well. From the general show of hands I asked for in lectures, this area was completely new to all of them. This really shows how much work we need to do in educating our academics in Open practice if we’re going to aid the uptake of these approaches – at the moment, the awareness isn’t there in vast sections of the community. By the end of Phase 1 on the Monday, they’d got the hang of data, code and content licensing to the point where I was fielding some fairly subtle questions in specific cases. Some of you may have noticed me tendering one of these out to the OKFN discussion lists… GitHub for Windows proved really problematic though – more on that in the report and any other blog posts I get around to writing. We’d definitely need to do things differently in that department next time.

Anyway, proper update on the details of both rotation phases will follow, once I get through today and actually get some sleep. For now though, it’s probably time to get ready for the onslaught of the talks. It’s already snowing pretty heavily outside – something tells me I may end up walking home tonight, once the day is done! :S

Promotion, Preparation and Productivity: Open Science Sabbatical, December 2012

This month’s posting comes to you from a train somewhere between Manchester and Oxford – I’m making my most of the work time as I journey home from the seventh wedding I’ve been to in the past eight months. At time of writing, the start of the OSTI pilot is only 5 days away, so as you can imagine it’s been a bit of a nonstop month! The run-up to Christmas brought a combination of a website launch, promotional work, design and brand development for the OSTI, masses of lecture planning and preparation of course materials.

Perhaps the most significant development of December was the supervisors giving the thumbs-up to a “mini-sabbatical” of sorts, allowing me to focus solely on my open science fellowship. It’s really helped shape the course materials into an almost-finished state. I’ll save the finer details for the OSTI blogging phase later in the week, but the rough schedule of lightning lectures looks something like this:

  • Thursday 10th – (2 lectures) Reproducibility and Open Science; Open Source Coding & Version Control Using GitHub
  • Friday 11th – Licensing Your Data
  • Monday 14th – Data Management Plans & Scientific Workflows (incl. guest speaker Jun Zhao)
  • Tuesday 15th – The Changing Face of Publication
  • Thursday 17th – OKFN Session
  • Friday 18th – Presentation Day (assessment requirement for all participants)

Bear in mind that by the start of the course, the students will have already received 2 weeks’ training in Matlab and its applications, including GUI development and parallel implementation. The OSTI phase will span the assessment period for the course, themed around mathematical modelling of cancer and infectious disease.

The NERC Town Meeting (as I mentioned in my post from August 2012) provided considerable motivation for development of a website and other promotional materials for the OSTI, and took place in London on December 11th. Trialling the OSTI in an EPSRC DTC provides an excellent basis for transferring the course to similar DTP teaching models in other disciplines, and so I joined the preliminary meeting to promote the OSTI to prospective contract bidders. Drawing academics from across the UK, the meeting proved to be a reasonably productive day for open science discussion and I enjoyed some really good conversations with representatives and educationalists from, amongst others, Warwick, Oxford, Royal Holloway and the Natural History Museum.

So, what of the new aesthetic for the OSTI brand? In the interests of developing a cohesive identity for the initiative, the design needed to be consistent across all physical handouts and the website. I opted for a green, black and gold colour scheme in the end, and you can see the results in the images below (front and reverse sides of the leaflet are shown). And in keeping with the spirit of OSTI, the striking images in the design are all Creative Commons licensed content – it’s a pleasure to see such high-quality images available for use under CC license and certainly made the design process much easier for me. A CMYK version for printing will be made available via the OSTI website once the content is expanded.

OSTI Promotional Leaflet (Reverse)So, what of that website? I should warn you now that the site is live in its basic form, but hasn’t had its official public launch yet (announcement on that will follow when the time comes). You can find it at – at present there’s just a mission statement on the opening page and a couple of other tabs with contact details. I’ll be adding content over the next month, starting with a description of the course structure and lectures, and extending to downloadable slides and materials once the course is underway. Feel free to drop me a message if you’d like to be emailed once full content and materials downloads start to appear…

Another exciting development in December was a meeting with Will Hutton, author of the bestselling work “The State We’re In” and current Principal of Hertford College, Oxford. Organised by Jenny Molloy, the gathering included a variety of faces from the Open community in Oxford, including Chas Bountra of the Structural Genomics Consortium, Simon Benjamin of Quantalk and Sally Rumsey of the Bodleian Library. Will discussed his plans to establish a series of studentships in Open Science at Hertford College, potentially in association with the Big Innovation Centre, and provided us all with a fantastic opportunity to debate the state of open science too. If this project gains the necessary funding and support to come to fruition then it could lead to a considerable hub of open research activity being established in Oxford, with the power to unify the diverse threads of open activity already taking place within the University’s departments, and to inspire novel working practices in young academics. I should stress that it’s early days yet, so keep an eye out for further news as the project develops.

So, what for January 2013? This year involves something of a running start, given the imminent beginning of the OSTI pilot on the 10th. I’m aiming to blog my progress with the course as it happens, or at least every other day if things end up being pretty hectic. Once we hit the 18th (and, moreover, once marking of the assessed work is out of the way) it’ll be onto the evaluation phase and the post-pilot report. I’ll also be following up with a few people from the NERC Town Meeting and meeting with MPLS (the physical and life sciences division) in Oxford to discuss how the OSTI might be applied to other departments outside the DTC. And there may even be a trip to the States in the pipeline…but more on that in a few weeks’ time…