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Video: David Flanders on Happiness Day 4

After the frenzied coding of the last couple of days there's a change of pace at dev8d today with community collaboration workshops on OPAC, repositories, VLEs and communication tools, plus the chance for developers to enter the Dragon's Den… David Flanders explains:


Five minute interview: Mia Ridge

Mia RidgeWho are you?

Mia Ridge, lead web developer at the Science Museum, London

What are your areas of interest?

Online access to collections, lightweight (agile) technologies, user-focused development. Travelling – I love sitting in a coffee shop in a strange country people-watching.

What idea are you working on here?

We’re working on a lazy lecturer idea that helps academics collate online resources during the lecture development process, tag them and then collect and dump them into a powerpoint presentation.

What’s the major challenge in education software right now?

There’s no interaction between museum content and educational software that I know of. There should be more active use of museum objects or collections in teaching at all levels. The challenge is that we only have ad hoc connections with teaching staff at educational institutions and they only have ad hoc connections with educational software developers so there is no real discussion and collaboration.

And in museums?

People don’t know how to do the right thing in putting collections online. The main challenges are institutional and cultural rather than technical. Resources for content curation can be an issue but lack of technical staff is a big issue because low salaries means that we can’t necessarily attract the smartest unless they have a real love for museums. We need to change institutional priorities to acknowledge the size of the online audience and the different levels of engagement that are possible with the online experience. Having talked to people here, museums also need to do a bit of a sell job in letting people know that we’ve changed and we’re not just great big imposing buildings full of stuff.

What are the most exciting developments in education software?

The fact that it exists. I’m doing a part-time Masters and the last time I was studying there were no VLEs and if you missed a lecture that was it – there were no slides or podcasts. For all their faults, the world is better because VLEs exist.

And in the museum sector, online?

For digital collections, going outside the walls of the museum using geo-location to place objects in their original context is amazing. It means you can overlay the streets of the city with past events and lives. Outsourcing curation and negotiating new models of expertise is exciting. Overcoming the fear of the digital surrogate as a competitor for museum visits and understanding that everything we do builds audiences, whether digital or physical.

What have you learnt so far / interesting things have you heard?

I’ve learnt that the HE sector and the museum sector face similar issues. And that we could perhaps collaborate, especially in terms of working with users to enhance our development processes and outcomes. It’s nice to see this event really grounded in the constraints that institutions face – it’s been free, there have been lots of afterhours events so that people can mix and continue discussions – all the good things about an unconference.

Five minute interview: George Kroner

George KronerWho are you?

George Kroner, developer relations engineer for Blackboard, the popular virtual learning environment

What are your areas of interest?

Learning tools, digital repositories and data visualisation. And snowboarding.

What idea are you working on here?

I'm really here to support a lot of other teams with their ideas. In particular, those who want to integrate their apps with their VLE. Blackboard are providing an iPod Touch as a prize in the Decathlon for the best tool that implements the new IMS learning tools interoperability standard.

What's the major challenge in education software right now?

I think the explosion of data combined with the rapid pace of change. That can affect comprar cialis generico everything from research data down to content that students would interact with in their daily learning experiences.

What are the most exciting developments in education software?

We're finally getting to a point where the barrier to entry for developers to make significant progress or impact has lowered due to new techniques to retrieve, re-use and mash-up data. Combine that ability to provide meaningful learning experiences with the ability to track and trend progress over time and the result is that we're becoming increasingly more capable of figuring out what helps students the most.

What have you learnt so far / interesting things have you heard?

There's just so much…This event is not like anything I've seen before on this scale and to have so many different developer communities cross-pollinating ideas is really powerful. I think we're going to see many tangible, useful tools coming out of this event.

The how and why of collective intelligence

Tony HirstWhat is collective intelligence, and how can technology help us to access it? Fresh from  Mash-Up Mayhem, Tony Hirst set out the basics in a lightning talk, and demonstrated how clustering data can help universities plan their courses – and allowed Tesco to corner the British grocery market. Here's a summary:

The why of collective intelligence

The techy bit of collective intelligence is that there's lots of data and stuff and people around but they are hard to engage with. So, being better able to appreciate and understand and see some of the patterns in that data, making sense of that stuff will help raise the level of debate and how we can engage with it. There are examples of it in use all over the place, like Amazon recommendations, that's about connecting people. Connecting people who share interests and getting them to learn from each other. It could relate to collective action. Or there could be business models for recruitment: identifying developers with interests and skill sets who can contribute to tasks.

The how of collective intelligence

The book Collective Intelligence (O'Reilly) – has the tools you need and you can download the code from O'Reilly website. Can look for clusters or patterns so eg on Amazon, the books that I have bought or put on my wishlist sort of defines me and does so for other people. The clustering tools looks at everybody's wishlists and joins together people into clusters, clumps of interest groups so that they can make recommendations. It allows you to segment your data into people who are doing this or that. You don't need many segments for it to be useful. Tesco used to use just five or six segments. Clustering pulls together all the things that are similar and then you can display it in treemaps etc, hierarchical visualisations.

Finding ways to visualise this data is important. Visualisation tools are getting increasingly powerful and easy to use.

Another way is looking at big data and partitioning it into sensible, meaningful units. Could do this with library search data.

Collective intelligence in action

At the OU we set up a Facebook group where students could declare the courses they had taken and we plotted a chart from the clustering from this data (about 6,000 students) and recreated a degree map. Traditionally, OU students chose their own courses and with that data we could see which degrees were emerging from the clusters. Could also have a recommendation engine for courses. We also asked for timelines so we could plot sequences of courses and that feeds into planning. OU are now looking at doing this themselves.

Widening collective intelligence

You want to build tools that encourage people to put in their data themselves because it is useful themselves as an individual but the more people who do it, the more useful it is to look across the data as a whole. Example of Tesco clubcard – there's individual utility but Tesco have also ruthlessly used the data to inform the decisions they make. It's looking for opportunities to extract value and data where the patterns might be. You have got to start playing with the tools.

Five minute interview: Ross Gardler

Ross GardlerWho are you?

Ross Gardler, OSS Watch. A member of the Apache Software Foundation

What are your areas of interest?

Community development. And, outside work, family – with young children that’s all you have. The latest thing was making a fort.

What idea are you working on here?

As chair of judges I’m not working on an idea for the Decathlon but I’m doing a faceted browser for e-prints using the JSON export which has been made possible here at dev8D.

What are you looking for in the ideas, as a judge?

Collaboration. I’m looking for people bringing the best skills out of each individual member of the team they have brought together. Potential for real use, real applicability. Sam’s Twitter happiness-o-meter thing is cool but not applicable – cool stuff is cool but for the competition we need useful stuff. If people make the source code available then I reckon that’s a bonus although it certainly isn’t required.

What’s the major challenge in education software right now?

Collaboration. We’ve got too many silver bullet developers – they think they can do everything but, while they are often very talented, in reality to create a useful system, you need input from a range of people rather than just one superman or woman. There are a few universities collaborating on certain projects but there is very little large scale collaboration similar to that which happens in a sustainable open development communities where you have many commercial companies collaborating on a single code base.

In addition, we don’t engage with the users – as tech people we tend to listen to what they want and then take it forward into the shiniest, newest thing we can find but actually the user just wants something that works.

What are the most exciting developments in education software?

There is a momentum towards increasing the amount of collaboration between developers and this event is an example of that momentum becoming real. There’s a growing understanding of the fact that open source is not successful because it is open source but because of the way it is developed, in a collaborative fashion. Because people are beginning to understand it they are beginning to look at the way in which it can be applied in the academic environment

What have you learnt so far / interesting things have you heard?

At the Agile development talk yesterday I was intrigued by the fact that some people feel like they are doing Agile development but do not understand that it is not possible to do it without the collaboration aspect of a co-located team. I thought I would be shouted down about this when I brought it up in my session which followed but was pleasantly surprised that there was a general consensus that open development model is actually very close to the Agile model but solves some of the problems of teams that are not co-located. So I learned something from doing my session which I that I don’t have as big a struggle as I thought I had!

I have an idea! Part two

Mark DeweyMark Dewey, UKOLN
Chris Yates, RSP
Stefan Secheud, Centre for Digital Library research at Strathclyde University

It's a semantic search. It works on a weighting system. When people sign into repositories we can track what they are searching for and what groups they are part of. It would gather different bits of information about the user and build a search index and target anything they would later search for against this weighting which had been previously determined. It would give them more targeted results. Users frequently complain that repository search is not particularly relevant. It comes up time and time again that search terms don’t bring much relevance so this should make academic searches more useful to people.

Edwin, Matt, Juliet

Juliet Culver, OU
Matt Zumwalt, MediaShelf
Edwin Shin, Fedora Commons and MediaShelf
Chris Wilper, Fedora Commons

We spent yesterday chatting to Dick, a biology lecturer here at Birkbeck and he wanted his students to write better lekarenslovensko lab reports so we had a chat about how that could be improved. One of the things is that they want them to produce drafts and then get feedback and iterate their lab reports to produce better ones. We want to come up with a system that provides ways for the students and the lecturers to give feedback on the whole lab report and also on specific parts of the report. It would also direct people to help eg tips and checklists and direct them to other reports to look at for various sections. If you can give students advice at a particular point in the process then you can help them to avoid those problems in future. The metric for success is that students will write better academic papers so we hope it will not just be the instructor doing to commenting but also open it up to their peers. It's about doing more than one draft so that people are learning from what they do. This could also be adapted to other disciplines.

Lightning talk: Beyond the PDF

Peter Sefton, of the University of Southern Queensland, asks if the tech community should be worrying less about doing cool things with mash-ups and more about making it easier for the thousands of users who work in Word to make their work easily accessible on the web.

Watch Peter Sefton's lightning talk (warning: sound quality variable):


Dev8D produces rapid results

Day three of Developer Happiness Days is only just beginning but two ideas have already been made real by the keen coders here.

Splash URL came out of a plea by Tony Hirst in his Mash-ups talk when he bemoaned the lack of an easy way to shorten a long url and have it appear in large type in the centre of the presentation so that people can easily copy it down. No sooner said than done – Chris Gutteridge jumped on the case and Splash URL was born.

According to Tony Hirst, Developer Happiness Days is working its magic:

“I'm doubly happy because we've got the SplashURL working and I'm really happy that apparently as a result of things that have happened over the last few days E-prints has got a JSON output. This means that the output can be easily pulled into a webpage leading to all kinds of mash-up joy. JISC's willingness to engage makes me really happy!”

Meanwhile, Sam Easterby-Smith is measuring the happiness of the developers at dev8D in real time using Twitter. Whenever anything is Tweeted using the dev8D tag, if a fraction is included to indicate happiness (such as 9/10), it gets added to the dev8D Happier Pipe and the total sum of happiness at dev8d can be seen at a glance – and in lurid colours, too. Right now, dev8D is looking pretty darn happy.

“There's nothing like a bit of dirty code cooked up over a nice curry,” said Sam. “It's been very good to just get to hang out with other developers and exchange ideas, a lot of which have been quite outside my normal comfort zone and what I do. It's been really valuable.”

Happier pipe