The real component of virtual learning

Monica Bulger, Cristobal Cobo and I have a new paper out in Information, Communication and Society where we investigate real world meetings organised by MOOC users. These meetings are sort of contradictory as of course one of the advantages of MOOCs is that they are online and can be accessed anywhere without the need to travel; yet lots of users are kind of building in this face to face component themselves, all over the world (see the map). We asked whether this was because they felt they were missing something from the MOOC experience (and were therefore sort of recreating classrooms) or whether it was more of an excuse to network and socialise (hence recreating the after school social experience). We find evidence for both motivations though the former is stronger.

Meetup - Map

These meetings show important potential to fix one of the strongest criticisms of MOOCs, which is that they are only for the really self-motivated and that many people drop out: by creating local learning communities, perhaps motivation can increase. Yet this also cuts against the idea of global learning: it was clear, for obvious reasons, that most meetings take place in big cities in the developed world. Those in urban areas or developing countries simply have less people to meet with.

Public Policy, Big Data and Smart Cities

I have just got back from the International Conference on Public Policy in Milan, where I was attending a stream of internet and public policy panels, as well as presenting a paper on explaining open data outcomes which I am currently working on together with some colleagues here at the OII. The conference itself was huge: in only it’s second year it attracted around 1,300 registrations, from across the policy sciences. Our sessions on the internet were quite well attended, though I didn’t feel like we attracted many people beyond those already interested in the internet.

ICPP2015

I acted as discussant on a couple of panels on big data, with a particularly interesting one on smart cities. I think the smart city field is where public policy and big data overlap most closely: using big data to govern the city has already captured a lot of attention in both academia and policy itself, with examples of initiatives such as the Mayor’s Office for Data Analytics in New York or the Centro de Operações in Rio de Janeiro. It’s interesting to see the potential these places have for improving existing administration

It’s also worth highlighting all the challenges to smart city development, from opening data to getting the right skills in place. This is probably the reason why large cities which have created these kind of data “nerve centres” are leading the way, because they can overcome these obstacles in a concentrated way with direct support from the hierarchy. They raise the interesting possibility, furthermore, that they will become not just supporters of policy execution, but places where policy is set and defined. That would be revolutionary.

New Paper in European Union Politics

I have just published a paper in European Union Politics, together with Diego Garzia, Joseph Lacey and Alex Trechsel of the EUI. The paper was the fruition of a long term research project examining potential ways of changing the European Parliament’s electoral system, focussed in particular on allowing people to vote for parties in any member state. It seems particularly relevant today when protest parties such as Syriza and Podemos attract support (and criticism) from well outside of their own borders.

The paper explores what would happen under conditions of such transnationalisation, examining both what types of people would be likely to vote “transnationally” and the extent to which overall levels of representation would improve. Great to have it in print.

GE2015 on social media

Last week we had a sort of social media hackathon in honour of the UK’s election, looking at the reaction generated on social media. We took what I believe was a fairly novel approach to the analysis, by looking at social media reaction to individual candidates in constituencies (rather than just general hashtags or party leaders). The map below shows what the election results would have been if @mentions of these local candidates had been votes

Twitter-election

We are still digesting the data so I’m not yet sure what the main findings are really, though we did get some interesting stuff on the diverging social media “reach” of different candidates, and the way Twitter impact and vote has different relationships depending on the party.

TwitterMentions-line

Check out our full range of work here. More to follow…

TICTEC 2015

A couple of weeks ago I gave a presentation at TICTEC, mySociety‘s inaugural research conference on the impact of civic technology. It was an inspiring event with so many presentations from different organisations trying to make a difference in countries all over the world.

TICTeC-logos_general-with-year-263x300

There were a few academics there and hopefully we added some value too. I gave a presentation on a current project we are running with ULB exploring the dynamics of the website lapetition.be.

Threshold Scatter

It was interesting however to see how differently academia and civic tech conceptualise research, with us academics coming in for some stick for taking years to produce research which makes it difficult to integrate into the development of new tools. But there were also lots of good examples of researchers working with civic tech organisations to try out new ways of reaching people or do research on impact – this sort of stuff is the future of political science in my opinion.

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