This week (March 5-10) is Open Education Week, raising awareness of the open education movement and its impact on teaching and learning worldwide. Today, over 200 universities worldwide put open educational content online—a concept that was only in its infancy a decade ago. The Open Education movement has been spurred by support from such organizations such as the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, which funded dozens of grassroots efforts to democratize educational resources (huge kudos to Hewlett for these investments). The AAI was a grantee in the Hewlett Foundation’s Open Educational Resources program, and a series of grants led to the development of Open Context.
Along with advances in Open Education tools and resources over the past decade, the concept of “Open Data” has also gained traction. Open Context’s vision is to enable scholarship through Open Data. This means that data are shared openly with links that resolve in useful information so that they can be associated in all sorts of ways across a vast, open Web. We work hard to align Open Context to this ideal of openness, while working to ensure that datasets meet professional expectations. Our current efforts try to align Open Data with professional needs. To that end we’re working to develop processes for editorial oversight and we’re working with the library community to better support citation, archiving, and use metrics.
Ten years ago, when the AAI was a recently-incorporated nonprofit, we held a fundraising event in which we talked about “putting together puzzle pieces of the past.” We scattered puzzle pieces around the tables and talked about how a person with one puzzle piece can only understand her piece in a limited way. But if she could access the pieces held by scholars at the other tables, she’d have a greater understanding of how her piece fit the larger picture. At that time, the term “Open Data” didn’t see much use. But that’s what we were talking about—tools and approaches to making data on the Web open, discoverable, and reusable. That has been the vision of Open Context since its inception.
With the ever-increasing amount of information available worldwide, the next ten years is sure to see exciting developments in the area of Open Education and Open Data. The vision articulated by Cathy Casserly (ED of Creative Commons) for the Open Education movement applies also to Open Data: the information increasingly is out there, but the challenge now is to improve and build upon it. For scholarly data, we envision a future where open data publication is an expected outcome of research, and tools are available to easily access data across the Web, combine them, and use them in new research. Open Data are essential for this vision of broad and seamless access to information to be realized. Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the World Wide Web, explains the power of linked data in a widely referenced 2009 TED talk. Essentially, the more (Linked) Open Data that we can connect, the more powerful the data become.