Archives for the month of: October, 2012

It’s Ada Lovelace Day, celebrating women as engineers, scientists, technologists and mathematicians.

I’m an arts, humanities and social sciences person who ended up working in technology really, so I feel a bit cheeky joining in. But I’ve watched the day grow every year so thought I’d join in this time.

I remember at school being taken to a WISE day and I have a very vivid memory of an animation of the algorithm that creates the pattern of a fern leaf. I never felt engaged with science at school but I did like maths. I got an A at GCSE but when I asked my maths teacher if I should do maths A Level he said I’d probably do well but I might not like it. Looking back, that seems odd. Don’t get me started on my computer teacher. But I remember the awe of watching that fern leaf appear and its only now that I’m starting to address my alienation from the world of numbers and bring myself back to it. So first of all: thank you WISE.

I love the stories about Diane Fossey’s work with gorillas, and a few years ago started to read about other women primatologists. Theirs is an interesting story. This extract from the wikipedia page on Leakey’s Angels describes it:

Leakey’s Angels is a relatively recent name given to three women sent by archaeologist Louis Leakey to study primates in their natural environments. The three are Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey, and Birutė Galdikas. They studied chimpanzees, gorillas and orangutans respectively.

I read somewhere how it’s no coincidence that these were strong women who managed to get close to the groups of wild primates, to observe and understand, and to create strong bonds. Each of them were passionate scientists who dedicated themselves to an almost anthropological practice. Each of them pushed forward our understanding of the higher apes. So thank you Goodall, Fossey and Galdikas.

Next up: Florence Nightingale. She may not have invented pie charts but but “she may have been the first to use them for persuading people of the need for change” paper by Hugh Small,1998. Quite right too – sometimes the presentation is as important as the facts when it comes to influencing decisions. Thank you Florence Nightingale.

Now on to TV presenters. My favourite academic presenter is Kathy Sykes. Really compelling in the way she presents, authentic and engaging, I really enjoy her programmes. I once said something fawningly incomprehensible to her at an event in York. Sorry about that, Kathy Sykes.

Closer to home: my mother, Sue Thomas, cyberspace historian and technology early adopter. Thanks, mum.

In my work world, it’s hard to know where to start! Technologists, information scientists, project managers and experts with specialisms that overlap with technology: it’s a multidisciplinary field. Great women I work closely with: Rachel Bruce, Lorna Campbell, Sheila McNeill, Jackie Carter, Sarah Currier, Laura Shaw, Suzanne Hardy, Lou McGill, Naomi Korn … women I’ve met briefly and am in awe of, like Cathy Casserly and Frances Pinter … and women I hope to meet one day, like Audrey Watters, Cathy Davidson and Heather Piwowar. I’m lucky to work in a field with so many excellent role models and colleagues.

I’m bound to have forgotten people so I expect I’ll be editing this several times!

Some news from me …

I’ve been at JISC since 2006, and I am very proud to have worked with colleagues across the sector in supporting practice in repositories, open access, learning materials, IPR and open educational resources. I truly work with some amazing people, inside and outside of JISC.

However, as Nina Simone sang, everything must change, nothing stays the same. It’s time for me to make a change.

I am delighted to announce that I am going to be taking up a new post in December at the University of Warwick. It’s on my home turf: an opportunity came up at the nearest university to where I live, and how lucky am I that it happens to be Warwick?!  Working in IT within the Services Development team, I’ll be service owner for Academic Technology Support. We’ll be a team of seven specialists in e-learning and research technologies working across the university to support academics.  I’m really excited, I can’t wait to get my teeth into it.

If you like the sound of the team: there is a new vacancy for a senior academic technologist (closing date 25th October). If you’re based at Warwick and reading this I’d love to hear from you! I’m @ambrouk on twitter, or contact me through this blog. And if you’re in a similar role at another institution, please get in touch and share your wisdom! 😀

Visual literacy has been a big theme for me this year.

A long time ago my very forward-thinking English A Level teacher, Mr Carr, taught us John Berger’s Ways of Seeing which gave me respect for visual skills. Yet I tend not to think of myself as a very visual person. I take a terrible photo, I probably prefer music to the visual arts, and I think I have a better memory for what people have said rather than what they look like.

Yet for me, 2012 has been the year of the visual.

  • I love infographics: information is beautiful has been a revelation for me: I’ve realised that I think quite spatially, so seeing information represented as patterns and shapes and relationships really works for me
  • Timelines work so well too, Lou McGill’s OER timeline is great, it is so much more accessible than the same story told in prose
  • I love data visualisations: i first met social graphs through Tony Hirst’s OUseful, and that partly inspired Lorna Campbell and I to commission Martin Hawskeys Visualisation of the UK OER programme
  • I like the way works: another example from Wizard Hawksey was the ukoer vs score twitter analysis
  • I loved Suzanne Hardy’s suggestion (during a chat) that we should understand colour theory so as to read statistical visuals more carefully: that effective colour use sways the way we read graphics
  • I listened to a great podcast recommended, I think, by David Flanders, by Dan Roam. He suggests that we think visually and verbally with two different parts of our brain and that being able to take an image from verbal to visual and back again is a useful tool to hone the real meaning of what we are thinking about
  • I can’t tell you how much I love the animations from the OER IPR Support team, the one on turning a resource into an open educational resource, (and there is a new one on licensing open data, not yet launched* UPDATE: here it is!). I love the humour in the line drawings and the way they communicate some quite tricky concepts in a digestable way.
  • A while back I sketched a diagram and realised that rather than spend hours making it all proper and glossy it might be better to just take photos of my sketch as it developed and use it like that. That became my work post on connecting people through content.
  • I’ve also wanted to do more polished images though, so I have had a good play with, which reinforces how much I have to learn.
I used to make this:

C21st_Scholarship_and_Wikipedia title=

Brian Kelly recently wrote about the strong feelings people have about infographics, responding in part to discussions around the one I made, above. Various people said it wasn’t an infographic. He concluded that:

The accompanying image does, in the depiction of the education level of Wikipedia users, a certain amount of ‘infographical’ information, but the remainder is a poster. I think we can conclude that there are fuzzy boundaries between posters and infographics.

This is probably, however, less fuzziness between those who find infographics useful and those who dismiss them as marketing mechanisms for presenting a particular viewpoint, but hiding the underlying complexities.

In his post Brian referred to an incident where two of my favourite people, Tony Hirst (Open University and amongst other things, maker of social graphs) and Mark Power (JISC CETIS mobile web expert and a photographer) were snapped earlier this year having a mock argument about infographics 🙂

More seriously, I think there is a really interesting technology story here too.
It’s very fashionable in tech circles to sneer at QR codes. This tumblr did make me laugh: pictures of people scanning QR codes (the inference being, of course, that no-one uses them). Regardless of whether QR codes are useful of not, I have a theory that the real legacy of QR codes will be that that have driven image recognition apps on my mobile phones. They have connected the marketers, the hardware, the software and the smartphone user skills that are required for a richer visual technology stack.

And enter the news that Facebook was buying instagram. Photographs are rich in data, about what people are wearing, eating, reading, making … If I was a company trading on data about consumers, I would want to get access to photos too. Instagram is trendy, and people use it on  their smartphones, so there is plenty of geo-tagging too. How long before our photos are scanned for logos: car brands, soft drinks, fashion labels? The amazing thing is that as well as those brands being placed in films and TV to convince us to buy them, the marketing people instead will be analysing our photos to find out who their consumers really are. Images are data, and speeding up the ways to decode, tag, map, correlate that data is big money. “A picture is worth a thousand bucks”.

As an aside, I’ve said on this blog before, I am not opposed to the Facebook business model, as long as we understand the trade-offs we’re making. I’m pointing out the instagram story because I like to understand the way technology things develop. This is not a rant, it is an exploration. I’m not really interested in comments about the pros and cons of facebook and instagram.

Back to talking of images as data … I find it really interesting that at the same time technology is/will make it possible to derive text from data, we are also seeing text being mined and represented as visuals. Text becomes data becomes images becomes data becomes text. (“A thousand books is worth a picture”?) Technology is gradually going to enable much fluidity between formats and I find that really interesting.

All of this fell into place for me this evening reading this thought experiment: essay on a universal language of images by Trey Ratcliff. Imagine the human race had never started writing things down, and instead developed photographic techniques. I recommend this essay to you.

As we’re sliding through the second decade of the new millennium, something new is happening. We all have cameras in our mobile phones and taking a photo of something is far more efficient than typing a sentence about it …

As our streams become more about imagery than words, all of us will evolve a new sense of visual literacy. It is important to note that imagery is not better or worse than text — it is simply different …

Billions of people now have a totally new way to communicate, and we will all discover this new visual literacy together. Now, finally, our ideas and thoughts and feelings and stories can effortlessly travel across borders, cultures, and time …

If that doesn’t make you curious about the way the technology is developing to support visual literacy, I don’t know what would.