When I moved to secondary school, in my first days of my first year of secondary school, I was introduced to the formal concept of ‘science’. I was worried, scared a little even. Lessons in ‘physics’, ‘chemistry’, and – gulp – ‘biology’ (ie. cutting up frogs and sex lessons). In a new environment with new teachers on new subjects. It was something unknown.
Which sounds a bit daft now with hindsight. Science is our race’s understanding of our world. Science is all around us. But back in 1986, when I was 11? I didn’t see that. And the alien nature of it all added to the bewilderment.
When you’re growing up and someone says “You will learn this”, especially when you are younger and at school, you don’t tend to get the chance to ask why or see its relevance. Nor any choice whether you will or won’t do it. You just do it.
You are taught whether you want to learn it or not, by at least attending – let alone participating – in the lessons. And you put a lot of faith in the teacher that what they are imparting is ‘right’ not ‘wrong’.
As we leave formal education this sort of thing tends to still happen. You find yourself in ‘lessons’ being ‘taught’ by people who may or may not be qualified to do so. But we just accept it as part of the “university of life”.
Over the past year or so I have been involved in many projects and talks around the ideas of data, open data and big data.
Some of the talk is, admittedly, complex and complicated, and actually needs to be.
But there’s been times when I’ve read, listened, and watched as people unnecessarily present “data” as if they are trying to induce how my 11-year-old self once felt: Dumfoundment.
Things – concepts – can be as simple or complex as you view them to be. Inherently you need to start with a simple understanding of any concept, then build upon that.
The initial concepts of data, open data and big data aren’t that complex, aren’t that complicated.
In some quarters I have been doing stuff to counter this dumbfoundment by data: to educate, to show that at their essence data, open data, and big data can be simple and are simple. One public example is a trimmed, short version of a talk, which I gave at Bettakultcha recently.
Taking a ‘zero prior knowledge’ start, the aim is to raise understanding and awareness of data through things the students use and connect with every day. And to do it at a comfortable pace, in a friendly environment, in just four 90 minute lessons over four weeks. We know you’ll come away with some mad data skillz!
We’ve deliberately made the cost of the course as cheap as possible to make it as accessible as possible: A tenner for four lessons works out at £2.50 a class.
We’ve also set the course up so it can be easily refined and reused. We’ve already plans to run the course again later, both in its four weeks form and as a day course. (Do get in touch if you are interested in doing the course at another time.)
The course is looking to extend the existing prevalent sharing approach/mentality that a number of other Leeds events/forums have at their heart, like the Leeds Digital Lunch, Forefront, and Hey Stac!, something the area should be proud of.
Personally it’s a great chance to do something in the area I live in while I am increasingly spending more time working away (and therefore less time actually in Leeds/Bradford). The Mill’s mission to provide as much open data from the city of Leeds as possible is one I am behind, and working to educate people about data and its possibilities is a massive part of that.
Blog post by Si Wilson (@IdleSi)