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! 🙂