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Researching Openness (Activity 2.3) #1

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My ignorance about internet matters made it difficult for me to be sure how to identify a search term in the Wordle we were offered, but I guess you take the words and add 'open' to any of them.

Wordle based on the word 'open

For my first word, I picked 'open science'. I snuck off to the first link in DuckDuckGo that popped up: the open resource I am always telling my own students not to use big grin, Wikipedia.

(The reason I say it's not a good idea for students to use Wikipedia is that it presents summaries of complicated material. If you have got an academic background in that material, you can tell what it is they are referring to but if you are coming to this fresh, you can be misled by the summary. Wikipedia is not peer-reviewed like journal articles are, so the information may not be reliable - here we see one problem with open access material. In my own case, I am looking for some other links to follow up which I hope I will be able to recognise as authoritative, rather than for an accurate summary of 'open science' - although that would be nice too.)

Gosh, there are clearly a lot more 'open' terms I can go off and explore underneath the term 'open science' wide eyes

Diagramme showing other areas of openness which make up Open Science

(Developed by Andreas E. Neuhold. and made available under CC)

It's not clear who are the main spokesperson(s) for this initiative, as it seems to be very widespread. However a paper by Pontika et al (2015) mentions a European Union funded project (FOSTER) which is looking to develop training and a taxonomy of open science (presumably just in Europe - and not including us Brits any more sad). There is also The Open Knowledge Foundation.

Open Science is happening all around, but there are some quite different opinions about when it started.

On the one hand, Wikipedia (2017) says Open Science developed in the seventeenth century. Earlier scientists (eg Gallileo) had been obliged to circulate their thinking in code. The founding of the Royal Society in England and the Académie des Sciences in France allowed for government funding of scientific projects, and of academic journals in which scientists could openly write about our work.

On the other hand, Pontika et al (2015) say: "OS is a relatively new and complex concept and its adoption will require a shift in the researchers' behaviour regarding the conduction of research and information sharing and will demand the adoption of new practices." We are seeing a shift in practices for writing about academic work - one so great that we might even call it a paradigm shift in the strict Kuhnian sense of that term (as discussed in Smith 1998). However Open Science is clearly not that new a concept; having been developing since the Enlightenment on the principles of rationality and humanism which Enlightenment thinking is based in (again see Smith 1998). What has changed is the medium through which Open Science can be disseminated - it has gone from paper to internet.

It's interesting that this mere shift in medium is viewed as an opportunity to be even more open. Primarily it seems to me that this is about money (and social class). It's expensive to train up in the sciences, become a member of a (Royal) Society and get copies of the journal sent to you, it costs comparatively little to make material available online for anyone in the world to read. (Although not nothing.)

The apparent drivers and motivators for Open Science becoming viewed as even more open are the internet. However a serious barrier here is our capitalist economic system of governance. It's necessary to tinker around and provide government funding to support the people doing research, and the person who uploads the findings online for everybody else to access. This is vulnerable to political change like Brexit - who now is going to fund the open dissemination of British science?

In terms of products and progress, there seems to be a lot of research on how we could do open research. Some blogs and some material is being made publicly available. In my own field, Education, a massive database (whose name escapes me at the moment!) of information on British children has been made freely available in the last few years, and the 'owners' of it are strongly encouraging education researchers to come and use it rather than spend money collecting their own data. Researchers appear reluctant, it seems that using primary data has more kudos than using data someone-else has collected, starting from scratch is more exciting. 

Another open resource is information from the Office for National Statistics, made publicly available in raw form and also in summary bulletins which offer a brief analysis.

How these might connect now, or in the future, with learning and teaching activity? My immediate thought is that I ought to dig out the reference to that database and suggest to my Education students that they could go to it and make use of it. Particularly in postgraduate studies, it allows us to give students access to 'real' data and teach them to handle this messy stuff in the raw. Making this particular data so openly available might also allow someone to provide an illuminating analysis of it which would support better education. (That would be better than the English government just introducing education policy on the basis of a good idea that occurred to them while eating breakfast! I'm not sure if government ministers have time for breakfast unless they are having a breakfast meeting, which would explain a lot. Research shows that the most important factor in children being able to concentrate and work well in school, is whether they had something to eat before they got there.)


Pontika, N.; Knoth, P.; Cancellieri, M.; Pearce, S., 2015. "Fostering Open Science to Research using a Taxonomy and an eLearning Portal". Available at: https://docs.google.com/uc?authuser=0&id=0ByewXV9UyaMtVnFVd3FWNklBNTA&export=download, Accessed 28/09/2017

Smith, M.J., 1998. Social Science in Question. London: Sage Publications.

Wikipedia (2017) Open Science [Online], 7 September 2017. Available at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Open_science (Accessed 28/9/2017).

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Black cat sitting up in bed with a pink blanket

Open Science and teaching - plagiarism

One way 'open science' has contributed to teaching is by making it easy for software like TurnItIn to check for plagiarism. Previously this was a laborious task and we were not very efficient at it, but now a report will go through massive quantities of text and information online, and throw up how much percentage of an essay matches another source - you can look and there will be highlighted passages so you can see if it's just that the student used the same words, but put the discussion differently, or if they really did copy and paste a whole chunk out of the textbook (without references dead).

I once gave feedback to a student, noting that part of their essay was clunkily written and part was elegant and informed - telling her to write more like the second part. My report back from the marking monitor said he was glad I'd found the writing elegant and informed, as it was his writing not hers! That naughty student copied and pasted a whole chunk out of his chapter into her essay, and I hadn't realised blush I was so glad I hadn't been rude about it, though big grin

TurnItIn can do tasks like this without any bother, and as checking millions of texts in case an essay plagiarised them is very boring and fiddly, this is a task that's much better left to machines.

Me in a rare cheerful mood

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When my wife did her Master's Degree, the senior professor bloke who is the expert in his niche field told a story about an essay he once received from a student.

He praised the student, saying it was excellent, the best essay he has seen written on the subject in question.  And he should know.  It was an essay he had written and submitted as an undergraduate many years before.

It existed nowhere online, merely in his university library as a paper document.  It had been copied word for word.

Anyway, commercial solutions.

(a) TurnItIn doesn't know about grey literature.

(b) the company that owns TurnItIn owns WriteCheck, the plagiarisers' and commercial essay-writers' tool.  It relies on TurnItIn data to operate.

Black cat sitting up in bed with a pink blanket

Plagiarism story!

Wow, that student was caught pretty much bang to rights, Simon smile (Thanks for the thoughts about the commercial aspects of TurnItIn, too.)

I was told a story about a Prince who was studying at a Certain Institution. He had lightly plagiarised in an early piece of work and been told off about it. Then his final dissertation came in and it was completely copied from other material. He had to be called in and spoken to very seriously.

"OMG! what can you do?" the Prince cried in exasperation. "I've told the guy I paid to write these assignments not to copy them."

Seems you just can't get the staff these days wide eyes