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!