Techy Times

The past weeks, next to getting into full gear at my new job at Tilburg University, I spent a some time on trying to figure out the best set-up for filming the videos for the open science online course. I think I’m a reasonably techy person, but video and audio recording and editing is certainly something I have never really dabbled with. This post is a short summary of my techy times on the road to a working set-up.

First up, recording a video requires a camera which, incidentally, I usually carry around in my pocket anyway: I decided to film using my iPhone 8 Plus, which sports a 12MP camera, mounted on a camera tripod. Definitely good enough for capturing me talking and gesturing a little in a reasonably well-lit room, and definitely better than shooting with the built-in web-cam on my computer.

Next, since I’ll be recording a class, it makes sense to think of a way to integrate slides into my videos. I decided to create my slides in Microsoft Powerpoint, as I would for my real-life lectures. Never change a running system. For the video, I’ll create still images from the slides which I can then use as the background.

Getting a greenscreen additionally allows me to use the picture-in-picture feature, where I can superimpose a tiny me on the slides. I just went for a cheap cloth option costing less than 20€ with solid ratings, and decided to either duct-tape it on the wall or hang it over a closet for filming.

While filming mini-me reading the script that goes with the slides, I’d need something to read the text from. I decided to simply position a monitor behind the camera, and with a big-enough font size, reading out the text should not be a big issue. Or so I thought. My first practice trials have already taught me that it’s quite hard to stick to the text, not to mumble, stumble over words or make annoying sounds (I’m not even talking about uhms, I mean little sighs and tsks I apparently make  — listening to myself talk is definitely the least fun part of this project), and to keep intonation natural. I guess there’s nothing I can do about it other than practice, practice, practice.

Finally, audio. The iPhone audio is not particularly great, specially since the device will be positioned at a distance. So I went on a little internet search to find a USB microphone that has good quality and is still affordable. After reading a ton of reviews, I decided to go with the Rode NT-USB mic, and I’m quite happy with what I hear so far. For recording the course, I also got a microphone stand, so the mic can dangle close to me when I record the text. Maybe it even gets to be on camera — I’m still deciding on the look I want the video to have. I’m still very much debating the style and vibe of the video with myself (think: professional old-school vs. a more modern look on camera). So far, I’m unsure if I want to film while seated, standing, looking at the camera or looking away, and how to handle color and exposure. Plus: background music, yes or no? It could quickly become annoying, but a jingle in the beginning and end of the videos may be nice. In any case: This is the part where making the course is not only techy but also artsy — and I love it.

All these different bits then get processed, mixed together in iMovie, stirred thoroughly and served. I say that pretty nonchalantly, but this part is also definitely going to take me some time. After all, I need to cut out parts where I make mistakes or silly faces, switch between the slides, full-sized me and the picture-in-picture effect, etc. I’m considering outsourcing the video editing part to alleviate the workload a bit. But first I’ll film the raw footage and then I’ll decide what to do about the editing work.

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Where to host the course is still open, though. I’ve read my way through a number of different options, and cannot quite decide what I think is the best way to go. Wikiversity of course is dear to my heart, but the options for presentation are not very pretty (for lack of a better word) there. Signing my institution up to Coursera seems like a big deal, although potentially worth exploring. Using a platform like udemy or youtube could give the course comparatively less credibility, and only putting it up on a stand-alone website would probably not get a lot of traffic. Where to host will be the question I’ll try to decide in the background until the next post, but the contents of the course seem to be the far more important thing to work on at the moment.

All in all, I’ve got all the basic techy bits ready to go now. What an exciting feeling!

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OpenCon – Open all around

This week, I went to OpenCon 2018 in Toronto, the flagship conference for everything Open, which, as I quickly learnt, has an avid follower base that feels very much at home in the OpenCon community.

One of these zealous OpenCon alumni is a dear friend of mine, who originally suggested to me that I should apply. He seemed so enthusiastic, I got on with the application straight away. Now, after my conference experience, I understand what everyone is so hyped about, and why this conference has such a big potential to spark change towards Openness.

OpenCon is truly a great place to be to meet other Open advocates, and get inspired by different perspectives on Openness: The attendee list includes librarians, copy right lawyers, researchers, research engineers and software developers, communication professionals and more. This diverse crowd poses a challenge to one’s own perspective on Open work, and opens your eyes to new questions and potential answers, sparking holistic and inclusive ideas about Openness.

What’s more, the conference is not like those where you come to present your own work, hang out with “the usual suspects”, perhaps squeeze in a quick meeting about a project with a hard-to-reach coauthor and then go home again. OpenCon is an extremely1 participatory conference, where the participants take part in setting the agenda of the meeting (think: unconference) but it is also centered around workshops where specific questions from the Open community are addressed and worked on in so-called do-athons.

So, what have I taken from OpenCon? One major learning is that  researchers are by far not alone in recognizing the importance of advocating Open. What a relief! So far, I had not looked far beyond the scope of Open Science, and seeing the passion and energy of the discussion in other work areas was extremely enriching. How could I not have realized this before? OpenCon showcased the great potential for achieving cool, efficient and impactful solutions through collaborations beyond the boundaries of whom-you-interact-with-on-a-daily-basis. When different players start talking to each other, and putting their creativity and hard skills to work, that’s how working for Open really gets a boost.

During our training sessions on Design Thinking ( — thank you for showing me how this works!), I much appreciated the opportunity to dive deeply into where Open Science touches an early-career researcher’s life, and to reflect on how it can help ameliorate some of the stressors and many uncertainties lined up along the way, and pave a more productive and sustainable path. Surely, the short exercises were only a starting point, but in their essence, they were a great reaffirmation for why I think it makes sense to work in an open way.

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Glimpse at our empathy journey in the Design Thinking exercises.

Moreover, the conference attendees were generous with sharing their own insights into Open with others. Within two days, I learnt so much about open textbooks, open access publishing and coding in a more transparent and reproducible way. Many of these insights will affect my future work to advocate Open, and to improve my research practices further.

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Footnotes

1: So participatory that my voice was gone at the end day two.

Course Outline — check!

As any good course, my online course on understanding empirical science needs a good outline. This week, I started filling in some of the details of what the materials I want to cover (I’ll make a collection of the materials available openly once all materials are gathered). Ultimately, I’m working towards answering three broad questions:

  1. How can we know things are true?
  2. What makes a good experiment?
  3. How can we spot false inference?

Question 1 is a rather philosophical one, touching on an area where I am only an intrigued autodidactic recipient of the literature. I realized at the beginning of my PhD — thanks to some of my fellow PhD students who had looked further beyond their own noses than I had — that I knew very little about philosophy of science, and philosophy of empirical social science in particular. Sure, at some point in my undergrad studies, we talked about white and black swans and otherwise accepted that Popper seemed to be the authority to defer to, and that experiments were the answer to all our desires for insight. So when I began working together with legal scholars who were brought up in a non-empirical scientific environment and challenged whether experiments really are as much an answer as we hope, you can imagine I was quite surprised. Interdisciplinary work really challenged my basic assumptions about my work (thank you!). In a reading group, we began working through Rosenberg’s “Philosophy of Social Science” — his critical attitude towards experimental approaches to understanding people was yet another eye-opener for me. Since then, I’ve read a few more pieces in this area, and now I look forward to reading some more and trying to distill my understanding of the matter into bite-sized and approachable sections for the online course. And I’ll definitely run them by someone who knows more about philosophy of science than I do before recording them 😉

Question 2 I have often dealt with as an experimenter myself. I expect it will be a valuable challenge to formulate what I know in the right format for the online course. And of course this will include open science principles as natural parts of good experiments.

Addressing question 3 is going to be a fun challenge, I hope. When we put scientific findings out into the world, they become the subject of interpretation, and it will be interesting to see some ways how scientific findings can be misunderstood. At the same time, it will be interesting to see if there are ostensible facts posing as scientific out there, which are actually rather pseudo-scientific and therefore good examples for information that cannot be trusted if one sets empirics-based insight as the criterion.

Free Knowledge!

So this is my first blog post, and I honestly have to admit I have zero experience with blogging (except for reading the occasional blog, which surely doesn’t give me a qualified opinion about what makes a good blog), but it seems that it’s about time for me to begin blogging myself. Why do I blog, you ask? Because I’m on a mission!

For the next 9(-ish) months, I’m part of the Fellowship Program Free Knowledge. And the program is exactly as fantastic as the title suggests. It entails a combination of funding, mentoring, and training in matters of Open Science & Knowledge, backed by the German Wikimedia Foundation, the Stifterverband and the Volkswagen Stiftung. To see what the other fellows and I are up to, take a look at our twitter profile @OpenSciFellows.

What is my mission? In the scope of my fellowship, I’m going to work on an open education resource – more specifically, an online course – introducing beginners to the theoretical and practical matters of experimenting. Think along the lines of answering questions such as: What is an experiment? What are experiments good for, and what can we learn from them? What makes a good experiment? And: how can I make a good experiment? Of course I also plan on working in some insights from the perspective of Open Science (think: reproducibility, robustness, rigor).

I’m endlessly excited about the opportunity to put this vision into practice. I hope the course is going to be helpful for navigating (ostensible) facts and evidence in what some refer to as a post-truth world, and I hope that people will be inspired to learn more about experiments as the workhorse of many scientific endeavors.

In other words, all aboard for free and open knowledge!