Some Notes from OpenCon 2016 Toronto

This past Saturday a group of enthusiastic Open Access advocates met to attend OpenCon 2016 Toronto held at TWG (The Working Group) on Adelaide St. in Toronto.  Lorraine Chuen, Co-Founder of OOO Canada Research Network hosted the event.

Open Access and Social Justice: Aligning Open Access with the Mission of the Public University

The first speaker of the day was Leslie Chan, Senior Lecturer in the Department of Arts, Culture and Media and the Centre for Critical Development Studies at the University of Toronto, Scarborough.  His talk discussed shifting the narrative of Open Access from showcasing an institution’s research output to using it for public good.  Chan pointed out that changing this narrative is difficult in an era of metrics, marketing and recruitment as there is a disconnect between the stated mission of public good and the tendency to favour rankings as a yardstick.

The second part of his talk focused on the tyranny of journal articles, their format – a relatively recent development perpetuated by the major journal publishers to facilitate sales, the insidious nature of impact factors, and the focus on the discovery aspect of research.

Chan also discussed new models of access that can help address the inequity not just of access but also of knowledge dissemination. This interesting map used in the presentation graphically illustrates the imbalance in contributions to scientific research:

Contributions to Science Research

Map that shows size of countries based on the amount of science research

Map created and copyrighted by SASI Group (University of Sheffield) and Mark Newman (University of Michigan) and licensed under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND license and is available at: Based on data from the World Bank’s 2005 World Development Indicators.

Beyond Free: Harnessing the Resonant Value in Open and Collaborative Practices for Public Good

David Porter, the new CEO of eCampus Ontario, gave a talk that highlighted many existing Open Educational Resource (OER) initiatives and outlined plans for developing an OER textbook  platform in Ontario (by reviewing and importing the BCcampus Open Textbooks) and engaging faculty here.

Beyond the economic benefits to students of free textbooks, Porter outlined five other benefits:

  • Teachers have full legal control to customize and contextualize learning resources for their students
  • Access to customized resources improves learning (by providing choices for students)
  • Opportunities for authentic learning activities (student contributions to learning)
  • Collegial collaboration
  • Demonstration of the service mission of the institution

For those interested in attending more Open events, Porter mentioned the following:

Porter’s slides and notes are available on SlideShare:

Lightning Sessions

After lunch there were several lightning sessions highlighting various open initiatives:

Dr. Rachel Harding talked about making her research into Huntington’s disease open by blogging about her findings on Lab Scribbles where she reports on her research in real time and by posting and licensing her data under Creative Commons on zenodo. She has found that this practice has led to other researchers sharing their work with her reducing the amount of time required for her research.

Wes Kerfoot, a recent philosophy graduate from McMaster, talked about and demoed his software, Textbook Commons,  that he built to help students find public domain copies of course readings and texts.

Karen Young, recently graduated from the University of Toronto, spoke about Student Participation in the Open Access Movement and it Applications for Mental Health and how in this sphere Open Access not only benefits the researcher but also those facing mental health challenges while pursuing higher education.

University of Toronto Culture and New Media Professor, Alessandro Delfanti talked about academic social media sites, and ResearchGate, that faculty members use to disseminate their research.  He mentioned both the positive and negative aspects of these sites.  While using these sites to post research does make it more accessible there are issues such as the opaque algorithms that generate scores, the proprietary nature of the software, and the danger of publishers purchasing the sites and their content.

Open Access in the Creative Disciplines

The final formal conference session was given by Chris Landry, Scholarly Communications Librarian at OCADU. His talk, Open Access in the Creative Disciplines, focused on some of the challenges of Open Access in the arts.  He also talked about the difficulties of making content available through institutional repositories as most institutions only encourage contribution to these repositories and it is a rare few such as Harvard that require faculty members to opt out of participation.

The day wrapped up with a one-hour unconference focusing on the following topics:

Building a Open Education Movement for Student Leaders in Ontario
Facilitator: Chris Fernlund (eCampus Ontario)

Open Access and Social Justice
Facilitator:  Dr. Leslie Chan
Open Access and Social Justice Session Notes

Reproducible Research & Open Science Tools
Facilitators:  Mike Galang & Rachel Harding

History and New Media Adventure

RULA_mapsThis semester several of us in the Ryerson Library (librarians, developers, co-ordinator of our Digital Media Experience Lab) are contributing to a course, HIS500 being taught to upper-year students at Ryerson by Art Blake.  Many of these students are history majors, but there are also students who come from other disciplines across campus.  Library staff will be assisting with this course by drawing on our previous experiences with various digital media tools and, in particular, with a tool called RULA Maps. RULA Maps  was developed by the Library in conjunction with the Ryerson Department of Architectural Science for use one of its courses.   The plan is to build upon the RULA Maps app for a class project tentatively called Feeling Ryerson, Feeling Toronto.  The app was initially designed with buildings as the focal points, but with this project we hope to incorporate emotions and narratives into the app.

SlackAs part of this class we are also exploring using Slack for communication.  Slack is a team collaboration tool that allows for communication between individuals and groups and is available for use on desktop, laptop and via downloadable apps for iOs and Android.  Use of this app for communication was slow to start, but now that we have started working on the class project, Slack is getting much more use.  Several groups have been set up in Slack to facilitate communication within and between the various teams.

Also of interest in this course is the use of an Open Access textbook, Writing History in the Digital Age that is distributed under a distributed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 United States license.  Students are commenting on the readings from this text in the blogs that they have set up for this class.  These blogs are aggregated on the History and New Media Fall 2015 blog.


Ontario Snowy Owl Sightings – Winter 2014/2015

Snowy Owl, Toronto, December 24, 2014

Snowy Owl, Toronto, December 24, 2014

ebird, a project of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the National Audubon Society, collects data about bird sightings from observers around the world.  In addition to providing many ways of viewing this data online, it also allows downloading of data for use in non-commercial projects.  To access the data you will need to set up a free account (or use  your Project FeederWatch or Great Backyard Bird Count account) and request access to the data.

I requested data about bird sightings in Ontario and a smaller file of sightings of Snowy Owls in Ontario .  The data comes with terms of use, a recommended citation format and metadata information.


This map was created using the ebird data and CartoDB.  I uploaded the dataset, created a query to extract a subset of the data relating to the winter of 2014/2015 and created a torque map using the CartoDB map wizard.  The map shows a time-lapse of reported sightings of Snowy Owls in Ontario from October 1, 2014 – April 29, 2015.

Data retrieved from:  eBird Basic Dataset. Version: EBD_relMay-2015. Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York. May 2015.

Digital Odyssey 2015 – Open Data, Open Heritage

Sugar BeachDigital Odyssey 2015 attracted a small but enthusiastic group of individuals interested in this year’s theme of Open Data, Open Heritage.  The event (June 12, 2015) was held at George Brown’s new Waterfront Campus just east of Sugar Beach in Toronto.  These notes are from the sessions I attended at Digital Odyssey.  There were additional concurrent sessions which are summarized in the session descriptions on the OLA web site.

Storytelling From Space

The keynote speaker was Aurelia Moser of CartoDB (previously of Ushahidi and a Mozilla Fellow).  Her talk entitled “Storytelling from Space” was illustrated with images from mapping projects that use a wide variety of open and crowd-sourced data.  Many of these maps show changes in landscapes over time – disappearing lakes and forest-cover, changes brought about by natural disasters – earthquakes, hurricanes, volcanoes, changes in conversations on Twitter by location , etc.

Moser’s current employer, CartoDB, offers many tools and resources that enable citizen cartography by allowing users to manage, import, and query their data to create customized maps.  CartoDb offers:

  • software for creating maps
  • open datasets (including hi-resolution satellite imagery)
  • APIs and javascript libraries
  • tutorials
Chicago Snowplow Heatmap

Chicago Snowplow Heatmap

Moser used one of the CartoDB projects to illustrate the need to understand your data.  It is easy to make false assumptions based on what you are seeing. A heat map created from GPS data sent from snow plows in Chicago seems to indicate that one section of the city receives frequent and excessive service.  This is not the case as that hot spot is merely the snow plow parking lot where the plows began and ended their shifts.

Another challenging project that Moser told us about was mapping water availability data from Tanzania gathered over decades by many different people in many different formats. Results of this project can be seen at the Vital Signs Water Availability website.

Of the other many interesting projects Moser mentioned in her talk, here are a few that I’d like to look at further:





  • odyssey.js, a javascript library that lets you add storytelling to maps
  • Global Forest Watch, an interactive map featuring forest cover change, land use, biodiversity hot spots and user stories
  • Fires in the Amazon, a time-lapse map of fires in the Amazon 2012-2014
  • Illustreets – An interactive map of England showing detailed information about the standard of living, crime, house prices, and schools for any location

Creating and Collecting Open Cultural Heritage Collections

This session was lead by Loren Fantin and Jess Posgate of OurOntario, a partnership of Ontario cultural and heritage organizations created to make Ontario digital content discoverable by a global audience.  They gave a good overview of what is involved in creating and maintaining cultural heritage collections and discussed what is possible, how to create value with a focus on moving beyond the search box and  creating once but publishing multiple times.  They also talked about the challenges: messiness of metadata, migration difficulties, practical and philosophical issues of crowdsourcing and issues of licensing.

Several interesting projects (in addition to OurOntario) that make use of open heritage objects were mentioned in the course of this presentation.  This is a sampling of just a few of them:

Vango Yourself

Mons 2015

Europeana’s Vango Yourself is a site that lets you recreate a painting with your friends and then share the results on social media and with the Vango site. It promotes re-use of cultural heritage and allows you to look at art in a completely different way.

Mons 2015 by Pieter Goiris
License of this image CC-BY-SA

License of original image Freer and Sackler Galleries, Smithsonian Institution CC-BY

What’s on the Menu

What's On the Menu

What’s on the Menu is NYPL Lab’s crowd-sourcing project to transcribe historical restaurant menus dish-by-dish so that they can be found by anyone searching on the web. You can help by reviewing transcriptions of menus.

Culture Cam

Culture Cam is another Europeana offering.  It is a webcam-based similarity search tool that lets designers, artists and any creative person explore the images on Eurpeana in a new way.  You take a photo of an object, texture or colour with your webcam and then Culture Cam will return a selection of related images from its database.  All images in Culture Cam are under Public Domain or have no known copyright so can be used for derivative designs.

Culture Cam Selection

Powerhouse Museum

The Powerhouse Museum (Sydney Australia) is making its collection dataset available in a variety of forms.  In addition to traditional two-dimensional images, the Powerhouse is making available 3D files that you can download and print.

Consuming and Transforming Open Data

In the afternoon, Mita Williams of the University of Windsor led a hands-on session on using open data and free online mapping tools.  The first challenge was to map all of the branches of the Toronto Public Library on a map.  This could be done painstakingly by hand, but we started with a file of data made available the City of Toronto with geographic information about the branches of the Toronto Public Library.  Using one of several tools, Google Maps, CartoDb or MapBox, this data was then added to a map.

This is the map Chris Rumas of Sault Ste. Marie Public Library and I created using Google Maps:

The second part of the workshop was to create a time-lapse map of the building of the Toronto Public Library branches by their dates of creation.  Since the first data file did not contain any dates, we needed to combine it with a second file from Wikipedia which did have the dates. Once the data was merged it was then imported into CartoDB to create a torque map to show the  time-lapse of the buildings of the Toronto Public Library system.  Some tweaking of the data was required (more refinement is still necessary), but a map was eventually created.

Time-Lapse of the Building of the Toronto Public Library Branches

If you want to try this project yourself, Mita’s files are available on GitHub and there is a google doc with additional information for creating these maps.

Lightning Talks

The day concluded with several lightning talks on a wide variety of topics.   Alan Harnum, soon to be of OCADU, gave entertaining and illustrated talk on Barriers to Open Data in Libraryland.  Ab Velasco and Jeffrey Toste introduced an upcoming hackathon to be held at TPL in November. Dan Scott gave a short presentation on creating a linked data  bibliography on Canadian Labour Studies using Zotero. Sarah Simpkin discussed a recent Omeka Project and Mita Williams told us about the inclusive week-long PressPlay hackathon held by Hack Forge earlier this year.

High 5: ETUG’s Spring Workshop 2015

Last week I attended the ETUG Spring Workshop that was held an Simon Fraser University on June 4th and 5th.  ETUG is BC’s Educational Technology User Group which comprises librarians, instructional designers, instructors and others interested in educational technology from post-secondary institutions across British Columbia.  The twice annual workshops provide an opportunity for attendees to share ideas, resources, and participate in ongoing professional development.

The theme for this Spring’s workshop was High 5, the top five educational issues and trends in post secondary education as revealed by a survey of ETUG members:

  1. Academic Transformation
  2. Faculty Development 
  3. Online + Blended Teaching and Learning
  4. Assessment of Learning
  5. Evaluating Technology Based Instructional Innovation

The programme was jam-packed with keynotes, concurrent sessions and poster presentations, a few of which I’ll mention here. The complete schedule with links to session descriptions is available on the ETUG website.

Visual Practice Workshop

Visual PracticeOn the Wednesday afternoon before the ETUG Workshop proper, a group of individuals interested in learning about recording presentations with graphics got together for a workshop on Visual Practice.  This workshop was led by Tracy Kelly of BCcampus and Jason Toal of SFU.  We spent most of the session drawing on large sheets of paper taped to the walls.  Our first task was to find a partner, ask that partner five questions and record the answers with images.  After that we learned some of the basics of graphic facilitation including the use of  colours, size of text, types of lines, and other tips and tricks.  The afternoon culminated in small groups of us trying our hand at graphic facilitation of a short talk given by one of our instructors.  This gave us a good taste of the stresses of accurately representing a conference session in graphic form in front of an audience.  Those who felt strong enough created graphic notes of the ETUG Keynote while the rest of us created a Graffiti Wall to record workshop attendee’s High 5 moments at the conference.

The Anatomy of a 21st Century Educator

The keynote was presented by Simon Bates, a physics professor and Senior Advisor, Teaching and Learning at UBC.  His talk was about trends in educational technology and the skills, values and habits we need to embrace to work in this world.


Scale and Pace of Tech Change

Reach of YouTube compared to a photocopied text

Reach and Unbundling

Disruptions - Computer grading better than human grading

Disruptions – Computer grading better than human grading

The implications of these changes are far reaching , so what do we need to do to rise to this challenge.  This was the question posed by Bates which we answered using our mobile devices and a website called, Socrative. The results of this survey (now available via Dropbox) led into a discussion of the anatomy of the 21st century educator which Bates outlined as follows:

  • Scholar
  • Technologist
  • Curator
  • Teacher for Learning
  • Collaborator
  • Experimenter

The remainder of the session revolved around a resource called Peerwise, a bank of multiple choice questions, created, answered and discussed by students.  This tool  takes advantage of students’ creativity and leverages their familiarity with social media to produce a learning resource that belongs to the students.  Like any educational technology, framing and explaining is necessary for it to be beneficial.  Bates found that he needed 120 minutes of “scaffolding” for students to effectively use the resource.   Motivational tools (badges, points, leader boards) have been built into PeerWise to encourage participation.  Bates also provided stats to show how Peerwise increases student engagement and how questions submitted by students fared against Bloom’s taxonomy of cognition.

Slides from The Anatomy of the 21st Century Educator are available on Slideshare

Poster Sessions


Three LibraryBoxes on display

On Thursday evening a variety of posters were presented by ETUG members.  A complete list of the posters is available on the ETUG website.  Part of the reason I attended the ETUG workshop was that a poster I created for the Ryerson Faculty conference on LibraryBox (and licensed under Creative Commons) was modified for use at this workshop.  In addition to the poster we had three different LibraryBoxes on display, the one I created last year and two new ones created by ETUG members using a new combined router/battery unit.  We learned at this session that there are also all-in-one router/battery/storage devices being used.

Open Textbooks

Print copies of BCcampus Open Textbooks

The poster session immediately next to the LibraryBox poster was on Open Textbooks.  BCcampus has many open textbooks now available.  Usually these textbooks are used in electronic form, but  Print On Demand copies can be ordered and printed by the SFU Espresso Book Machine.  Several of these print books were available at the display.

Virtual Reality—Real Learning: Hands-on with Google Cardboard

vrThis session, led by Leva Lee (BCcampus) and Gina Bennett (College of the Rockies) gave a brief overview of Virtual Reality from the massive headsets of the 1960s through Mickey Mouse Viewmasters to the Oculus Rift type headsets of today.

cardboard2As with most of the other sessions at the workshop, there was a hands-on component – we built our own VR headsets using Google cardboard kits, downloaded a few apps and tried them out.

The last activity (using the incentive of winning a Cardboard headset to encourage participation) was to suggest some uses for virtual reality headsets in teaching and learning.  The complete list of suggestions has not yet been compiled, but some examples include learning how to perform medical procedures, virtual tours of buildings and places that are difficult or impossible to visit in person, demonstrations of painting techniques, viewing scuptures in 3D, exploring biology at the micro-level such as entering into the blood stream, etc.

Other Technologies Experienced at the ETUG Workshop


bitcoinA couple of weeks ago SFU announced that it would begin accepting Bitcoins as a method of payment for textbooks in all of its bookstores, something that I had forgotten all about until I came across a Bitcoin AVM in the Burnaby Bookstore.  It seemed like too good an opportunity to miss, so I found another ETUGer who was also interested and we each purchased part of a Bitcoin. In my case, I hope that owning even a small portion of a Bitcoin will encourage me to learn more about the currency.


Virtual Conference Attendance

Virtual conference attendee

Virtual conference attendee

In addition to the physical attendees at the workshop, we had a virtual attendee in the form of Grant Potter who attended the workshop from Mahone Bay, NS via a VGo robot.  The robot belongs to the Technology Integration and Evaluation (TIE) Lab at UVIc where it is used in educational research.  The VGo telepresence device is remotely controlled by a person with a laptop who can see, move, talk and hear as if they were attending the conference in person.  At the poster session we were able to test drive the robot.


The adventures with Bitcoins, Google Cardboard and VGo robots, interesting sessions, good food and meeting new people and people that I had previously only known online made this workshop a worthwhile and rewarding experience.

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MaKey MaKey Bird Chorus Project

MaKey MaKey Bird Chorus

MaKey MaKey Bird Chorus

The MaKey MaKey Bird Chorus Project uses a MaKey MaKey (a small circuit board that can be connected to your computer with a USB cable allowing it to be used as an input device such as a keyboard or mouse) to animate a display of common birds.   Anything that is conductive (food, metal, people) can be connected to the MaKey MaKey with alligator cables and used to simulate key strokes. For this project, birds were made from primarily metallic components.  An individual who is holding the ground cable in one hand can activate bird sounds by touching the birds.

Instructions for the Bird Chorus Project

Materials Required

  • MaKey MaKey kit (available online from or in Toronto from Creatron Inc.)
  • Soundplant software
  • BIrd Song audio files (CC licensed files available from Tony Phillips)
  • Metallic pot scrubbers
  • Copper wire
  • 20 Gauge hardware wire
  • Scraps of coloured wool
  • Black electrical tape

Tools Required

  • Scissors
  • Pliers
  • Wire cutters
  • Laptop or computer with speakers
  1. Download the Soundplant software. Soundplant is a digital audio performance tool that lets you map sounds to keys on the keyboard by dragging and dropping files.  You can map a wide variety of sounds; for this project we are using bird songs.
  2. Download sound files for each bird song that you want to use.  For this project bird sounds from Tony Phillips Bird Songs website at SUNY Stony Brook were used.  These files are released under a CC-BY-NC license which means they can be freely used in non-commercial situations as long as credit is given.
  3. Map the sounds to the keyboard in Soundplant using keys that can be mapped to the MaKey MaKey ie. W,A,S,D,G,F, up, down, left, and right arrows.
  4. Connect the MaKey MaKey to computer.  Connect the ground wire then connect the  wires for the keys that you have mapped to bird sounds.  Test that the sounds work by holding the ground wire and the wire for each of the keys.
  5. Create birds for each bird sound.  Birds should contain a large percentage of conductive materials.  If you don’t want to create 3-dimensional birds, you can make 2-dimensional models of birds from wire or use drawings with a lot of graphite on paper.
  6. Connect the birds to the appropriately mapped key on the MaKey MaKey.

To listen to your bird chorus, hold the ground wire in one hand and touch a bird with the other hand.  You can have more that one bird singing at the same time.

Hacking Book APIs

This year on the first day of the Ontario Library Association Super Conference there was a morning hackfest.  Several map based projects (Toronto poetry, Edmonton library events, conference delegates homes) were suggested along with a few others that focused on data sets.

Cover of novel, Landing GearThe project our group tackled was looking at a book API to see what might be done with it. An API is an Application Programming Interface – a way to allow web applications to interact with one another. A book API gives other programmes on the web the ability to talk to the contents of the book and use that content in new ways. Kate Pullinger, Governor-General prize-winner, and her publisher, Random House Canada, have released an API for an excerpt of her most-recent book, Landing Gear.

Although we lacked a programmer in our group and did not develop a project, we had plenty of discussion about what we might want to do with this API and book APIs in general.  Our ideas fell into two broad categories.

API Uses

Some ideas included:

  • Character bios
  • Mapping origins and journeys of characters
  • Serializing books by releasing sections at a time
  • Using quotes to have characters speak on Twitter
  • Analyzing relationships between authors different works
  • Generate Bitstrip comics with dialogue
  • School projects
  • Creating family trees

Role of the Library in Creating APIs

We also discussed what the role of the Library might be in creating APIs and making patrons aware of API enhanced aspects of books.  Libraries might be involved in the following:

  • Creating APIs for public domain books
  • Working on establishing standards for book APIs
  • Linking physical books to extended API content via QR codes
  • Democratizing digital humanities
  • Integration of API with accessibility software

A more complete picture of our thoughts can be seen in the image below.


Notes and diagram from Hackfest session on Book APIs

The members of the book API group were: Dana Thomas (Ryerson), Helen Kula (UTM), Pat Gracey (TPL), Lisa Smith (Chatham-Kent PL), Erica Heesen (Glengary-Stormont), Linda (school library), Sally Wilson (Ryerson)

For a quick overview of the other Hackfest projects, check out Jacqueline Whyte-Appleby’s Slideshare deck: