Bringing Open Science Training to San Francisco

It’s been great visiting the States this week – and California, of all places. For starters, it made for a significant jump in the mercury on leaving the UK on Monday. What to Californians is a bit of an off week weatherwise is way, way better than what I could expect from the British summer!

Funny what travelling abroad does to you though. My friends know I’m a coffee drinker. I’ll take coffee over tea almost any day. Yet, set me down in a coffee house in SF and I find myself saying, “could I have an English Breakfast tea, please?” in what must sound like the most stereotypically English accent. Whether or not this is some subconscious response on my part to those wonderfully relaxed Californian requests for “caw-fee“, I’m not entirely certain. Seen objectively though, it feels a bit fraudulent on my part. Perhaps it’s indicative of some ingrained loyalty to the motherland.

From coffee to (scientific) culture…

National cultural differences and beverage selection aside, it’s time I mentioned what I’m actually doing in California. I’m talking now about scientific culture. Or, more to the point, how we can go about changing the prevailing culture for the better. Following on from the OSTI pilot, we’re now trying to establish the scheme at other institutions in the UK and beyond. Hence my visit to San Francisco this week – I’ve been visiting Puneet Kishor at Creative Commons, and together we’ve been on a promotional drive involving several institutions in the area. And as you know, SF isn’t short of world-class universities. One look at the parking lot in Berkeley campus tells you that much:

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Proof of concept for the OSTI approach to training may be complete, but adapting the initiative to diverse course structures in particular institutions is the next challenge. Discussions this week have really helped shape plans for how we can achieve this…Monday to Friday has seen a fair few open science conversations. Jet lag well and truly kicking in, I made it to dinner on the night of my arrival, meeting with Greg Wilson and several others involved with either Software Carpentry, Wikimedia Foundation or open data projects. A great start to my US visit – I can only hope that I wasn’t too incoherent from the 19 hours of travel that preceded it! :S

Tuesday was spent at Creative Commons HQ in Mountain View (plus a trip to a Big Data event at LinkedIn in the evening). The guys and gals at CC are a fantastic group of people and I enjoyed some great discussions with various members of the team over the course of the day. I had the opportunity to present their “Lunch & Learn” seminar to promote my OSTI and gain some feedback from them on how it might be applied elsewhere. If you’d like to read more about that, you might want to take a look at the Creative Commons blog post covering the event. And their generosity even extended to gifting me a Creative Commons T-shirt, which should be making some appearances at Open events in the future 🙂

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Since Wednesday, I have become vastly more acquainted with the SF public transport system, as Puneet and I made our way around various institutions, talking to a number of academics who may be able to suggest potential openings for my open science training regime. These have included: Jonathan Eisen of UC-Davis; Roberta Katz, VP for Strategic Planning at Stanford; Sameer Verma of SF State U; Rich Schneider of UCSF; and Michael Eisen at Berkeley. Hopefully this will pave the way for a variety of OSTI applications in the US and indeed other countries too! There’s now massive incentive for me to get to work on curating the slide decks and other course materials into a ready-for-release version.

This week has felt really productive and incredibly exciting. I think we’re on the verge of a whole new era of science education (and in a way, professional development training for academics). The coming months and years will hopefully see this realised across the disciplines, delivering to its full potential the multitude of benefits it can provide. It only remains for me to thank the OKFN and Panton Fellowship funders, without whose financial support this trip would not have come about; and of course a huge debt of gratitude to Puneet for hosting me this week and arranging such a fantastic schedule. Thanks all 🙂

Making the Case for Open Science Training: Panton in Jan/Feb 2013

Without a doubt, I’ve never blogged from a nicer location. This month’s update comes to you from the Creative Commons offices at Mt. View, just outside San Francisco. The California sunshine has put me in a good mood to write about the happenings of the past 2 months of my Panton Fellowship…and a LOT has happened since my last update. Setting aside my wonderment at how the year went by so quickly, it’s time I updated you on the Open Science Training Initiative (OSTI) pilot, the follow-up meetings in the immediate aftermath, and developments at Oxford with potential for further instances of the OSTI.

Culmination of the Panton work: Running the OSTI Pilot

I realise now that I was being seriously optimistic in hoping to blog progress with the OSTI pilot day-by-day. Perhaps inevitably, the demands of running a course for 43 graduates, involving in-person supervisory meetings with all the groups and delivery of the accompanying lecture series, left little time for me to get near a computer. Apologies to those who had anticipated watching the course unfold through my blogging!

The pilot scheme ran from January 10th through to January 18th, at the Doctoral Training Centre at the University of Oxford. Themed on computational biology, the course developed knowledge of programming and mathematical modelling, while mandating students to license their research outputs and deliver a coherent research story. This required them to draw on all elements of the research process (code, data, writing) as an integrated whole, rather than focusing on the written report alone. Lecturing in Open is all very well and good, but it’s first-hand experience of the techniques, approaches and culture that is most effective in breaking down misapprehensions and which provides researchers with the confidence to implement Open approaches in the future.

The first lecture of the course provided one of the biggest wake-up calls to the Open community I’ve yet encountered. Informally, I asked the students to raise their hands if they’d heard of open science, or knew something about it. Of those 43 students, only ONE raised their hand. Now this might be a fairly approximate metric, but it says a great deal about how much work we need to do in educating people about the ways of Open – let’s not forget, these are pretty switched on, well informed students in general. There’s plenty of fantastic work going on in the development of policy and infrastructure to support the transition to an open working culture, but we have a lot of work to do if the transition to openness is to happen effectively and smoothly. Now is the time to ask how we can engage with those who aren’t part of the Open community.

So here’s a challenge for you. If each of us could find even one way to engage with academics at our respective institutions – BEYOND the open community – at some time over the next 2 months, to educate in Open, raise awareness, and dispel the myths and misinformation, then that will represent some small progress in what we’re all trying to achieve.

Students filled in a questionnaire on completion of the course, and I’ve also been able to draw on the opinions and experiences of our course demonstrators and centre directors. Based on this, and on my own impressions of how things went (it was hard work, but I was there full-time for the whole thing, supervising each research team on a daily basis), I’m compiling a post-pilot report on the outcomes. Watch out for that over the coming weeks – as soon as it’s ready, it’ll be made available for download online.

OSTI Online

Yep, I mentioned the post-pilot report being released online just now, didn’t I? More to the point, it’s going to be released via the OSTI website, which is now live at www.opensciencetraining.com and whose content will grow over the coming months as I have the opportunity to extend the copy. There’s a lot more to be done of course, but for now there’s a brief intro to the motivation behind OSTI and an outline of its structure. There are also listings for the Lightning Lecture component of the programme, to provide you with some idea of the topics addressed. I’m in the process of curating and refining the slide decks for the course, based on exit feedback from the pilot participants; these will be released online over the next month once final versions are available. So watch this space!

Open Training at Oxford

I’ve also spent some of the past month engaging with the administrative arm of the University of Oxford, regarding provision for open science training. Basically, MPLS Division (maths, physical & life sciences) have indicated an interest in taking my OSTI and putting it out for use in other departments. Really excited about this! If we can get the training initiative installed in other settings in a variety of forms, it should provide us with a template for adaptable open training across an institution. The OSTI pilot demonstrated proof of concept: now it’s time to diversify its applications and see which forms work for people, and in what form the course can be most beneficial.

And given my current location in SF, California, it’s apparent I’ve spent recent weeks preparing for a trip Stateside, to carry out a promo drive for the OSTI. But more on that another time…there’s going to be lots more to tell in my next posting. See you then!