The Open University (OU) is the first university in the UK to open up access to online data from across the institution as part of the Linked Open Data Movement.
The OU’s LUCERO (Linking University Content for Education and Research Online) project – funded by the Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC) – has enabled information stored across many of the university’s websites to be brought together in a common, openly accessible location at data.open.ac.uk.
Data about the OU’s courses, podcasts on iTunes U and academic publications is already available to be queried and explored, and the team is now working to bring together educational and research content from the university’s OpenLearn and library material. At present, this mostly represents a technical platform. However, it will make it possible for the OU and others to create new applications to search and make use of the data.
“What this means,” explained David Matthewman, Chief Information Officer at The Open University, “is that members of the public, students, researchers and organisations will be able to easily search, extract and, more importantly, reuse The Open University’s information and data.
“Universities need to evolve the way they expose knowledge, share content and engage with learners. We see emerging technologies such as ‘linked data’ as an exciting opportunity for the higher education community. As the first university to make its data available in this way, we hope other universities will be able to use our knowledge and experience to do the same.”
Mathieu d’Aquin, Research Fellow at the Knowledge Media Institute (KMi) at The Open University, said: “The data is there, and already visible, but in many different places, systems and databases. By exposing it as linked data on data.open.ac.uk, we make it accessible and exploitable, and open to uses that we don’t have to dictate.
“The idea of ‘linked data’, as advocated in particular by Sir Tim Berners Lee, inventor of the Web, is that the Web should be seen as a medium for structured, interlinked and machine-processable information, as much as, in its current form, a network of documents presenting the information. LUCERO is The Open University making the initial step on behalf of UK universities to contribute to what was the original intention behind a World Wide Web.”
Linked data is a set of technological principles to expose on the Web not only web pages containing information, but also the underlying data in a way which is directly linkable and reusable. In embracing such principles, The Open University joins organisations such as the UK, US and Australian governments, and international media outlets, such as the BBC and the New York Times.
David Flanders, Programme Manager, Information Environment at JISC, said: "This new centralised-data-watering-pump is the first launched of its kind in UK universities and should be celebrated accordingly. Hopefully this is the first of many data.foo.ac.uk to come."
• The Knowledge Media Institute of The Open University is recognised internationally as a leading research centre in the area of Semantic Web technologies. Many of the techniques and research prototypes developed over the years in various research projects are being deployed in data.open.ac.uk, with the goal of providing advanced services such as automatic annotation of documents using linked data, or natural language question answering interface to resources produced by The Open University.
• Regarded as Britain’s major e-learning institution, the OU is a world leader in developing technology to increase access to education on a global scale. Its vast ‘open content portfolio’ includes free study units on OpenLearn, which has had more than 12.8 million unique visitors, and materials on iTunes U, which has recorded 22.5 million downloads. The OU has a 40 year partnership with the BBC which has moved from late-night lectures in the 1970s to prime-time programmes such as Life, Coast, James May’s Big Ideas and The Money Programme.
• Linked Open Data Movement: Linked data is a set of technological principles to expose raw data on the Web, using standard format and interlinking different sources of data together. We generally refer to the set of organizations that are deploying these principles to expose their open data to the public (including the BBC, the UK government – see data.gov.uk, the US government – see data.gov, and many others) as the Linked Open Data Movement. See http://linkeddata.org.
• JISC inspires UK colleges and universities in the innovative use of digital technologies, helping to maintain the UK’s position as a global leader in education and research.