Launching NOR-CAM – A toolbox for recognition and rewards in academic careers

What is the future of academic career assessment? How can open research practices be included as part of a research evaluation? These were some of the questions we asked ourselves in a working group set up by Universities Norway. Almost two years later, the report is ready. Here I will share some of the ideas behind the suggested Norwegian Career Assessment Matrix (NOR-CAM) and some of the other recommendations coming out of the workgroup.

The Norwegian Career Assessment Matrix (NOR-CAM).

EUA work on research assessment

I have for some years been Norway’s representative in the European University Association’s Expert Group on Open Science/Science 2.0 (on a side note, I have written elsewhere about why I think it should be called Open Research instead). The expert group meets 3-4 times a year, usually in Brussels but nowadays online, to discuss how Open Science principles can be developed and implemented in European universities.

A lot of things have happened in the world of Open Science during the three years that I have been in the expert group. Open access to publications is improving every day. Open access to research data is coming along nicely, although there are still many challenges. Despite the positive developments, there is one key challenge that we always get back to discussing: research assessment. How should researchers get their “points” in the system, who should get the job, and who should get a promotion?

Up until now, publication lists and citation counts have been the most important “currency” for researchers. We have, over the years, seen an unfortunate focus on metrics, like the h-index and the journal impact factor (and others). The challenge is that only asking for publication lists (and publication-related metrics) takes focus away from all the other elements of an open research ecosystem.

Various building blocks in an open research ecosystem.

The need to rethink research assessment led to the EUA Webinar on Academic Career Assessment in the Transition to Open Science last year. As the title of the webinar shows, we decided to broaden the perspective from only thinking about research assessment to considering academic career assessment more generally. This also became the focus of the Universities Norway workgroup and the final report.

Six principles

In the report we list six principles for the future of career assessment:

  1. Measure quality and excellence through a better balance between quantitative and qualitative goals
  2. Recognise several competencies as merits but not in all areas at the same time or by each employee
  3. Assess all results, activities and competencies in the light of Open Science principles
  4. Practice transparency in the assessment and visibility of what should be recognised as merit
  5. Promote gender balance and diversity
  6. Assist in the concrete practice of job vacancy announcements and assessment processes locally

Four recommendations

The work group then went on to suggest four recommendations for different actors (individuals, institutions, research funders, government):

  1. To establish a comprehensive framework for the assessment of academic careers that:
    • balances quantitative and qualitative goals and forms of documentation for academic standards and competencies
    • enables diverse career paths and promotes high standards in the three key areas: education, research and interaction with society
    • recognises the independent and individual competencies of academic staff as well as their achievements in groups and through collaboration
    • values ??Open Science principles (including open assessment systems)
    • values and encourages academic leadership and management
  2. To engage internationally in developing a Norwegian assessment model because:
    • changes in the assessment criteria cannot be made by one country alone
    • a Norwegian model can contribute to related processes internationally
  3. To use NOR-CAM as a practical and flexible tool for assessing academic results, competence and experience for academic personnel. NOR-CAM will highlight six areas of expertise through systematic documentation and reflection
  4. To develop an ‘automagic CV system’ that enables academics to retrieve data that can be used to document competencies and results in their own career, including applications for positions, promotions and external funding.

Follow-up

Today, I presented the Norwegian report for the EUA workgroup. In many ways, the circle is completed. After all, the inspiration for the Norwegian report came directly from the work of EUA. Hopefully, the report can inspire others in Europe (and beyond) to think anew about career assessment.

Even though it took nearly two years, writing a report is only the beginning. Now it is time to work on how NOR-CAM can be implemented. I am looking forward to contributing to making it become a reality.

Read the full report here:

Combining audio and video files with FFmpeg

When working with various types of video analysis, I often end up with video files without audio. So I need to add the audio track by copying either from the source video file or from a separate audio file. There are many ways of doing this. Many people would probably reach for a video editor, but the problem is that you would most likely end up recompressing both the audio and video file. A better solution is to use FFmpeg, the swizz-army knife of video processing.

As long as you know that the audio and video files you want to combine are the same duration, this is an easy task. Say that you have two video files:

  • input1.mp4 = original video with audio
  • input2.avi = analysis video without audio

Then you can use this one-liner to copy the audio from one file to the other:

ffmpeg -i input1.mp4 -i input2.avi -c copy -map 1:v:0 -map 0:a:0 -shortest output.avi

The output.avi file will have the same video content as input2.avi, but with audio from input1.mp4. Note that this is a lossless (and fast) procedure, it will just copy the content from the source files.

If you want to convert (and compress) the file in one operation, you can use this one-liner to export an MP4 file with .h264 video and aac audio compression:

ffmpeg -i input1.mp4 -i input2.avi -c copy -map 1:v:0 -map 0:a:0 -shortest -c:v mpeg4 -c:a aac output.mp4

Since this involves compressing the file, it will take (much longer) than the first method.

Strings On-Line installation

We presented the installation Strings On-Line at NIME 2020. It was supposed to be a physical installation at the conference to be held in Birmingham, UK.

Due to the corona crisis, the conference went online, and we decided to redesign the proposed physical installation into an online installation instead. The installation ran continuously from 21-25 July last year, and hundreds of people “came by” to interact with it.

I finally got around to edit a short (1-minute) video promo of the installation:

I have also made a short (10-minute) “behind the scenes” mini-documentary about the installation. Here researchers from RITMO, University of Oslo, talk about the setup featuring 6 self-playing guitars, 3 remote-controlled robots, and a 24/7 high-quality, low-latency, audiovisual stream.

We are planning a new installation for the RPPW conference this year. So if you are interested in exploring such an online installation live, please stay tuned.

The hybrid university

After a year of primarily online activities, we are slowly preparing for a new reality at the university. We will not go back to where we left off, but what will the new university be?

The front page of the EUA report Universities without walls.

This post is inspired by a tweet by Rikke Toft Nørgård and a presentation she held on the development of the post-pandemic hybrid university. In the presentation, she points to a recent EUA report envisioning how universities should develop towards 2030. The aim is that universities should be:

  • Open, Transformative and Transnational
  • Sustainable, Diverse and Engaged
  • Strong, Autonomous and Accountable

These are good points. The challenge is to figure out how to make it happen. That is why I think it is good that EUA is bold enough to suggest three quite concrete action points:

  • Reform academic careers
  • Promote interdisciplinarity
  • Strengthen civic engagement

When I say “concrete” here, we need to consider that EUA is an organization with 800+ universities as members, so it is still fairly high-level advice. In the following, I will reflect briefly on each of these.

Reform academic careers

This is a topic that I have been engaged in for quite some time. As a member of the Young Academy of Norway, I was involved in developing several reports on the need for heterogeneous career paths in academia. People are different; fields are different, universities are different. Therefore, we also need to allow for various types of career paths. It is also important to help people more easily move in and out of academia.

As a member of a working group on career assessment at Universities Norway, we have been developing what we call the Norwegian Career Assessment Matrix (NOR-CAM). This has been inspired by the Open Science Career Assessment Matrix (OS-CAM). Our Norwegian model goes beyond only considering Open Science (which I would have preferred to be Open Research, but that is another story). Rather, we propose that researcher assessment should be based on many variables. More on that soon, since the report will be out in not too long.

Promote interdisciplinarity

This is another topic I have been interested in myself for a long time. In fact, my post trying to define interdisciplinarity is (by far) my most read article on this blog. I am lucky enough to co-direct RITMO Centre for Interdisciplinary Studies in Rhythm, Time, and Motion. Even the name suggests that we take interdisciplinarity seriously. At RITMO, musicologists, psychologists and informatics researchers work together in various ways. Not all of the research is interdisciplinary, however. Some are multi-, cross-, and transdisciplinary. The main point is that we challenge traditional disciplinary boundaries.

A lot of people talk about the need for working interdisciplinary. However, those of us that try to do it face several issues. It is challenging from an individual perspective. People are still largely assessed disciplinary. That is why a reform of the way we perform research assessment is important, as mentioned above.

There are also numerous institutional challenges. Most universities are disciplinarily organized into faculties and departments. There are good reasons for doing this, and I am not suggesting that we should get rid of faculties and departments altogether. However, universities need to be much more flexible in allowing people to research and teach across department and faculty borders.

I have for some time been promoting the development of matrix universities, in which the organization is both horizontal and vertical. Some European universities (for example, Cambridge and Oxford) and many American universities are organized both vertically (faculties and departments) and horizontally (colleges and schools). This is a more complex organization, but it promotes more meeting points. The problem with a matrix organization is that it may feel too rigid. A better metaphor may be “web” universities. This would allow for more complex interconnections across (and beyond) the organization.

Strengthen civic engagement

I find it particularly interesting that the EUA report so clearly focuses on creating universities “without walls”. For many of us that are on the inside of a university, we don’t really see these walls. After all, we have open doors in and out of the university. But it is important to acknowledge that there are walls that other people face.

Too many people think of universities as a castle. This one being Bodiam Castle, UK, built in 1385 (from Wikipedia).

Tearing down the walls may be difficult, however. After all, the good thing about walls is that they support the construction of the house and create a safe and sheltered space. But building a lot more doors in the house can be a good starting point.

To continue the analogy, I think that we should build universities with as many terrace glass walls as possible. That means that people can easily move in and out of the university. It also means that it is possible to look into the parts of the university that may be closed off. A move towards Open Research and Open Education is one approach to increasing the public visibility of what is going on inside universities. Citizen Science is another, in which researchers engage more actively with the general public.

Is it possible to think of a university as a glass house with easy access? (from Alleideen)

There have been many unfortunate consequences of the corona. Fortunately, some changes may also happen quicker because more people realize that things need to change as we move on.

Splitting audio files in the terminal

I have recently played with AudioStellar, a great tool for “sound object”-based exploration and musicking. It reminds me of CataRT, a great tool for concatenative synthesis. I used CataRT quite a lot previously, for example, in the piece Transformation. However, after I switched to Ubuntu and PD instead of OSX and Max, CataRT was no longer an option. So I got very excited when I discovered AudioStellar some weeks ago. It is lightweight and cross-platform and has some novel features that I would like to explore more in the coming weeks.

Samples and sound objects

In today’s post, I will describe how to prepare short audio files to load into AudioStellar. The software is based on loading a collection of “samples”. I always find the term “sample” to be confusing. In digital signal processing terms, a sample is literally one sample, a number describing the signal’s amplitude in that specific moment in time. However, in music production, a “sample” is used to describe a fairly short sound file, often in the range of 0.5 to 5 seconds. This is what in the tradition of the composer-researcher Pierre Schaeffer would be called a sound object. So I prefer to use that term to refer to coherent, short snippets of sound.

AudioStellar relies on loading short sound files. They suggest that for the best experience, one should load files that are shorter than 3 seconds. I have some folders with such short sound files, but I have many more folders with longer recordings that contain multiple sound objects in one file. The beauty of CataRT was that it would analyse such long files and identify all the sound objects within the files. That is not possible in AudioStellar (yet, I hope). So I have to chop up the files myself. This can be done manually, of course, and I am sure some expensive software also does the job. But this was a good excuse to dive into SoX (Sound eXchange).

SoX for sound file processing

SoX is branded as “the Swiss Army knife of audio manipulation”. I have tried it a couple of times, but I usually rely on FFmpeg for basic conversion tasks. FFmpeg is mainly targeted at video applications, but it handles many audio-related tasks well. Converting from .AIFF to .WAV or compressing to .MP3 or .AAC can easily be handled in FFmpeg. There are even some basic audio visualization tools available in FFmpeg.

However, for some more specialized audio jobs, SoX come in handy. I find that the man pages are not very intuitive. There are also relatively few examples of its usage online, at least compared to the numerous FFmpeg examples. Then I was happy to find the nice blog of Mads Kjelgaard, who has written a short set of SoX tutorials. And it was the tutorial on how to remove silence from sound files that caught my attention.

Splitting sound files based on silence

The task is to chop up long sound files containing multiple sound objects. The description of SoX’s silence function is somewhat cryptic. In addition to the above mentioned blog post, I also came across another blog post with some more examples of how the SoX silence function works. And lo and behold, one of the example scripts managed to very nicely chop up one of my long sound files of bird sounds:

sox birds_in.aif birds_out.wav silence 1 0.1 1% 1 0.1 1% : newfile : restart

The result is a folder of short sound files, each containing a sound object. Note that I started with an .AIFF file but converted it to .WAV along the way since that is the preferred format of AudioStellar.

SoX managed to quickly split up a long sound file of bird chirps into individual files, each containing one sound object.

To scale this up a bit, I made a small script that will do the same thing on a folder of files:

#!/bin/bash

for i in *.aif;
do
name=`echo $i | cut -d'.' -f1`;
sox "$i" "${name}.wav" silence 1 0.1 1% 1 0.1 1% : newfile : restart
done

And this managed to chop up 20 long sound files into approximately 2000 individual sound files.

The batch script split up 20 long sound files into approximately 2000 short sound files in just a few seconds.

There were some very short sound files and some very long. I could have tweaked the script a little to remove these. However, it was quicker to sort the files by file size and delete the smallest and largest files. That left me with around 1500 sound files to load into AudioStellar. More on that exploration later.

Loading 1500 animal sound objects into AudioStellar.

All in all, I was happy to (re)discover SoX and will explore it more in the future. I was happy to see that the above settings worked well for sound recordings with clear silence parts. Some initial testing of more complex sound recordings were not equally successful. So understanding more about how to tweak the settings will be important for future usage.