Micro-education is the future

I have a commentary published in the Norwegian academic newspaper Khrono today with the title “Micro-education is the future”. The reason I ended up writing the piece was because of my frustration with working “against” the Norwegian system when it comes exploring new educational strategies.

As I have written about here on the blog before, I have tested a number of different educational methods and formats over the last years, including Music Moves, Carpentry-style workshops, and, of course, our joint master’s programme Music, Communication & Technology. With all of these, I have experienced difficulties getting them registered in our course system (Felles studentsystem (FS)). For the master’s programme, we have solved this by splitting up courses on the two universities involved. This makes it possible to run the programme, but it creates some unfortunate side-effects, such that it is difficult to have non-programme students sign up for the courses. I am not going to write more about these issues here today, as I am quite confident that we are going to find “in-house” solutions to these problems.

For Music Moves and the workshops, however, we have not been able to find proper workarounds. The end result is that people do not get credits for following these courses. Hopefully, they take the courses because they want to learn, and not because they need credits. But I see that other universities are able to provide credits for MOOCs and workshops, so why should we not be able to do this at the University of Oslo?

Since there are no credits awarded to the students, there are no money paid out to the university for the courses. In Norway we have a model in which a part of a university’s funding is based on the number of credits “produced” every year. We have the same reward system for “research points”, which researchers care a lot about. Much less attention is given to study points, but there is a lot more money paid out in this category. Hence getting students through courses is a big incentive for the institutions.

Since no money comes in from these courses, there is little interest in spending time on such things from an institutional perspective. We have a quite elaborate way of counting our working hours, at least in the part of the position that is set aside for teaching. I have been head of department myself, so I know that these things matter when you are talking to people about what they should spend their (limited) working ours on. Considering whether you should teach a course for-credits versus a not-for-credits MOOC or workshop, is an easy question for any head of department. Since I am back in the teacher role myself, the choice is not so obvious. My main motivation for teaching is not to generate study points, but to disseminate knowledge and start academic discussions. Here I see that the knowledge-per-person ratio is much higher with a MOOC attracting, say, 1000 people than a course with 30 students.

As I write in the Khrono commentary, we need to think anew about how we incentivize higher education. In Norway, we currently have a committee (Ekspertutvalg for etterog videreutdanning) working on how to improve solutions for life-long learning. MOOCs and Carpentry-style workshops are, in my opinion, an obvious solution for how people outside of universities can learn new things. There are a couple of ways to improve the system:

  1. We need to open for awarding credits for MOOCs and workshops, of course given that they follow proper university education guidelines. For a MOOC with a workload of around 40 hours, this could typically be 1 ECTS, while for shorter workshops it could be 0.1-0.2 ECTS. I know that most study officers would probably say that such credit values are too small to handle. And that is exactly my point. Our current system is set up for handling full study programmes, and semester-long courses, most of which are 10 ECTS. We need to revise the system so that it is practically possible to handle smaller credit points.
  2. Our system is currently set up so that you need to have study rights at the University of Oslo. It is possible to apply for getting access to individual courses, but this is a time-consuming process that was made for people following semester-long courses. For MOOCs and workshops with lots of participants it is not possible (neither for the university nor for the learners) to go through the process the way it works today. We need a way of securing student “mobility” in the digital age. This is not something we can solve in Norway alone, it needs to be an international initiative.

Hopefully, the committee will address some of these issues. As for developing an international solution, I hope the European Commission or the European University Association can push for a change.

Why I am positive to Plan S

Plan S has been the biggest political topic in the research community here in Norway this fall. Several researchers have raised their concerned voices. I am among the positive ones, and I will here try to explain why.

Just to rewind a little first. Coalition S is a group of national research funding organisations, with the support of the European Commission and the European Research Council (ERC). On 4 September 2018 they announced Plan S, an initiative to make full and immediate Open Access to research publications a reality:

“By 2020 scientific publications that result from research funded by public grants provided by participating national and European research councils and funding bodies, must be published in compliant Open Access Journals or on compliant Open Access Platforms.”

There has been a political shift to making research openly available over the last decade. In many countries this has also been added to various types of policy documents. Here in Norway it is part of the Government’s longterm research plan. The difference with Plan S is that it is not just “fluffy” words, it is a concrete plan with a concrete deadline.

The 10 Principles

Plan S is based on 10 principles:

  1. Authors retain copyright of their publication with no restrictions. All publications must be published under an open license, preferably the Creative Commons Attribution Licence CC BY. In all cases, the license applied should fulfil the requirements defined by the Berlin Declaration;
  2. The Funders will ensure jointly the establishment of robust criteria and requirements for the services that compliant high quality Open Access journals and Open Access platforms must provide;
  3. In case such high quality Open Access journals or platforms do not yet exist, the Funders will, in a coordinated way, provide incentives to establish and support them when appropriate; support will also be provided for Open Access infrastructures where necessary;
  4. Where applicable, Open Access publication fees are covered by the Funders or universities, not by individual researchers; it is acknowledged that all scientists should be able to publish their work Open Access even if their institutions have limited means;
  5. When Open Access publication fees are applied, their funding is standardised and capped (across Europe);
  6. The Funders will ask universities, research organisations, and libraries to align their policies and strategies, notably to ensure transparency;
  7. The above principles shall apply to all types of scholarly publications, but it is understood that the timeline to achieve Open Access for monographs and books may be longer than 1 January 2020;
  8. The importance of open archives and repositories for hosting research outputs is acknowledged because of their long-term archiving function and their potential for editorial innovation;
  9. The ‘hybrid’ model of publishing is not compliant with the above principles;
  10. The Funders will monitor compliance and sanction non-compliance.

My reason to support Plan S

I have both idealistic and practical reasons for supporting Plan S.

I am working at a public university, and think it is obvious that the results of what I am doing should be available for anyone. That is why I also for a long time have been uploading my publications to our institutional archive (DUO), have made my source code available on GitHub, uploaded educational material to YouTube, and so on.

I have published my research in a number of different channels over the years. Several of these, and particularly all the conference proceedings, are freely available online. In my field we are also lucky to have some high quality open access journals, such as Empirical Musicology Review, Music & Science, and TISMIR. There are also the more general open access publishers, such as Plos ONE, Frontiers, etc. All of these are still fairly new, but have been helped by the political push for open access.

Many of the critics of Plan S argue that they don’t have anywhere to publish if they cannot use their traditional channels. The answer to that is that now is the time for traditional publishers to change their business model. The ones that do today, will be the winners tomorrow. If they do not, there will be new alternatives developed, either by the researchers themselves (as has happened in my field), or by the new commercial players (Plos ONE, Frontiers, PeerJ, etc.).

The challenging thing right now, and the reason why it is important that Plan S has a short deadline, is that it is tricky to leave with two different publication systems at the same time. Currently, most of the money in the system is spent on paying for old-school, expensive subscriptions to (some few) commercial publication giants. That means that there is little money left for those of us who want to pay so-called article processing charge (APCs). Changing the model quickly is therefore important, freeing up money for a pay-to-publish model.

An important thing in the discussion, is that the individual researcher should not suffer. Changing the publication system, and the underlying payment system, needs to be done at an institutional/national level. That has been very difficult up until now, because the players have been too small and not coordinated. Plan S changes this, since many of the major European players are on board, and more are joining forces from the rest of the world as we speak.

Plan S is disruptive. That is the point, and that is why it will succeed!

Open Research vs Open Science

Open Science is on everyone’s lips these days. But why don’t we use Open Research more?

This is a question I have been asking regularly after I was named Norwegian representative in EUA’s Expert Group on Science 2.0 / Open Science committee earlier this year. For those who don’t know, the European University Association (EUA) represents more than 800 universities and national rectors’ conferences in 48 European countries. It is thus a very interesting organization when it comes to influencing the European higher education and research environment.

The problem with the term Open Science

It appears that EUA has adopted the term Open Science because it is used by the European Commission. I understand that there has been a lot of political investment (branding, if you like) in the term over the last years, but I still think it is unfortunate.

My biggest problem with using Open Science as a general term in European academia, is that it indicates that this is something that researchers in the arts and humanities should not think about. Of course, this was never the intention. I have yet to meet anyone that means the Open Science is only meant for people working in the sciences. The result is that you sometimes see strange sentences like “… the sciences (including the arts and humanities) …”.

All this confusion could easily be resolved by using Open Research as the general term. This is more inclusive, making all the arts and humanities researchers feel involved, but also including researchers working outside academia. They too may be interested in opening their research, even though they would not call themselves “scientists”.

Usage

I have not had time to do proper research on this, but some quick googl’ing reveals around 3.3 million hits for “open science” and 2.5 million for “open research”. So Open Research is obviously used a lot, at least outside official European channels. Searching in books, however, reveals that “open research” is used a lot more than “open science”, as shown in the ngram below:

On a side note, it is interesting to see that Open Research, and even Open Access Research, is used by the UK Research and Innovation.

The situation in Norway

We had some very interesting discussions about open research during the Universities Norway conference earlier this year. As expected there was a lot of confusion about the terms “open science” (“åpen vitenskap”) and “open research” (“åpen forskning”). The Minister of Research and Higher Education even managed to use both terms interchangeably in her opening speech.

Fortunately, the CEO of the Research Council of Norway, John-Arne Røttingen, was very clear in saying that they only use the term “åpen forskning” (“open research”) in their communication.

Sitting in different national committees, I am now trying to be careful to always talk about Open Research, and it seems like this will end up being the “official” Norwegian term.

Being a researcher (from the arts and humanities!), I know that terminology is important for a discussion. I therefore hope that more people will rethink their usage of the term Open Science. Why not try Open Research instead?

Lecture-performance setup

I have not been very good at blogging recently, primarily because I have been so busy in starting up both RITMO and MCT. As things are calming down a bit now, I am also trying to do some digital cleaning up, archiving files, organizing photos, etc.

As part of the cleanup, I came across this picture of my setup for a lecture-performance held at the humanities library earlier this fall. It consists of a number of sound makers, various types of acoustic ones, and also some electronic. Note that I am not using a computer, and there was no projector, so the entire thing is based on talking and playing. Feels very “unplugged”, and gives me (and hopefully the audience) a feeling of performing more than lecturing.

I have been using a similar setup in several lectures over the past year, testing out some ideas that are part of a book project that I am working on. The short story is that I am trying to create a coherent theoretical model for both acoustic and electronic instruments. More on that later!

Musical Gestures Toolbox for Matlab

Yesterday I presented the Musical Gestures Toolbox for Matlab in the late-breaking demo session at the ISMIR conference in Paris.

The Musical Gestures Toolbox for Matlab (MGT) aims at assisting music researchers with importing, preprocessing, analyzing, and visualizing video, audio, and motion capture data in a coherent manner within Matlab.

Most of the concepts in the toolbox are based on the Musical Gestures Toolbox that I first developed for Max more than a decade ago. A lot of the Matlab coding for the new version was done in the master’s thesis by Bo Zhou.

The new MGT is available on Github, and there is a more or less complete introduction to the main features in the software carpentry workshop Quantitative Video analysis for Qualitative Research.