Open Data as driver of critical data literacies in Higher Education: …Which Data? Which Openness? …Which Care?

My reflections over a virtual workshop at the OER20 Conference.

Again reporting about an activity I led (with Javiera Atenas and Leo Havemann) at the  OER20 congress  in its virtual version due to the COVI19 crisis. In another post on this same conference I reflected about the problems me and the other presenter (Bonnie Stewart) faced due to the platforms’ usage with all of our concerns about data tracking. In fact, we were discussing about dataveillance in society and particularly in education.  But in this case, the workshop considered data literacy through different lenses (though, according to me, a convergent perspective). 

The problem of data has pervaded the social fabric in several ways. As I argued last year, we can witness utopian and dystopian accounts about data these days. One good example is  the need of cooperation between researchers over Open Data, as an utopy very much needed in times of pandemic, when they have to cooperate fastly and efficiently to reach a cure, a vaccine, affordable treatments, and strategies for the Health care system. This represent for sure a space where researchers’ data literacy is very much needed: not only the technical literacy to read data, but also the professional collaborative skills about data sharing, interpretation and organization for further team working around scientific data collected; and ethical skills to understand the limits of data sharing, when dealing with privacy and human lives. The dystopian problem with data has to do with the problem of “dataveillance” as systems to control through mobiles and IoT (Internet of Things placed in smart cities) people “correct” behavior in the middle of the confinement measures, with education not escaping to that state of things ( I recommend the blog post by Ben Williamson on that matter, built over the basis of his continuing review of dataveillance in education). 

But what about the “desperate need” of missing data, as it is argued in this article of the New York Times on The Pandemics’ Missing Data). The need of ethnicity data to support focused cure, prevention, and socio-economic support. In the article’s terms:

This data is central to understanding injustice and ensuring the optimal health of people, but it is gravely missing in this crisis — missing from health department websites, daily updates by political leaders and, until recently, news reports.

So there seem to be conflictive tensions that need to be explored, and that was the kernel of our proposal at the workshop.

We posed a set of questions to open to trigger a sense of puzzlement we already brought with us:

  • Which Openness? For openness is loaded with positive meanings in the field of Open Education, but would it entail false promises in the case of Open Data?
  • Which Data? Can we actually mix the goodness embedded in the many “opennesses”  in society (Open Government, Open Science, Open Education, Open Access publishing) with the bad reputation data has these days?
  • Which care? Can we really talk about care mixing again the positive connotations of care (particularly those given in this conference “The care in openness”) with the conflictive connotations data is generating?

We assumed the burden of this complex semantic field, without ambitious promesses. 

We (me, Javiera and Leo) attempted to explore the educational potential of Open Data as a driver of interdisciplinary dialogue in learning design and pedagogical practices. It offered instruments for designing educational interventions (rather, a simple exploration and discussion over the potential of Open Data as Open Educational Resources)  in two simple phases:

  1. A conceptual (but dialogical!) introduction
  2. A “hands on” exercise

The virtual environment used was Blackboard Collaborate as organized and supported by ALT and the OER20 Committee. In these conditions, 73 participants (conference attendees and external participants) engaged in the activity. The participants that expressed their geographical positions (when introducing themselves via the chat in the virtual conference environment) showed diversity, though most participants came from the UK,  elsewhere in Europe, and some from Latin America. 

As quick as we could, we wrote down our reflections and published the dataset with the interactions

In short, the idea was, overall, that the abilities developed in HE should transcend the classroom, to understand datafication in society. HE students and teachers could contribute to shape informed and transformative democratic practices and dialogue empowering citizens to address social justice concerns about data usage. However, we cannot understand the nature of data practices if we don’t engage with it. A starting point, even if seen as evil, is acquiring the technical abilities to explore, recognize, read, elaborate data. Immediately followed by the ability of embedding data into narratives (data storytelling), recognizing quantification and its representations as a semiotic process, multilayered. We moved to an “Open Data Expedition” to see “what it’s in it for me” and that was actually a short exposition to understand, to dig into the many difficulties encountered with facing the “beast” of data. Considering that Open Government Data and Open Research Data are public, have been curated and shared with the purpose of usage. What about the tensions generated by the private data collected by private companies, as part of a sort of iceberg? The participants recognized indeed the several issues in dealing technically with data, as educators, pointing out, at the same time, all their concerns on data usage.  We used a couple of images to reflect on data exploration and usage in education, in an attempt to underpin participants’ engagement.

The debate was rich and the time constraints prevented us (the whole group, presenters and participants) to make more sense of what had emerged in the session. For sure, the idea behind many of the comments was that faculty development and engagement is crucial, as data literacies need disciplinary and pedagogical efforts to innovate in curricular and learning design. 

Supporting faculty’s awareness and practices to shape critical and ethical approaches to data implies care for spaces of dialogue at the juncture of technical and social needs; care for interdisciplinary thinking and understanding the differences between Psyche and Tekné, building on Umberto Galimberti’s conceptualisation of the problem of balance between ethics/social sciences and technological advancement.

All my gratitude to the colleagues engaged in the workshop, for helping to move forward the educational reflection about data literacy in HE 

Details about the workshop:

A workshop session offered at the OER20 [online] conference

Wed, Apr 1 2020

Theme: Open education for civic engagement and democracy

Access to the Recorded Session

Published by jraffaghelli

Research professor at University of Padua, Department of Philosophy, Sociology, Pedagogy and Applied Psychology. Former Ramon y Cajal researcher at the Faculty of Education and Psychology (Universitat Oberta de Catalunya). PhD in Education and Cognitive Science and Master in Adult Education (Ca' Foscari University of Venice) Degree in Psychology (University of Buenos Aires).

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