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Education: Open Data in Schools

How Open Data can benefit educational purposes

Often, when Open Data is discussed, the focus lies most of the time on business opportunities and the various benefits that Open (Government) Data holds for the economy and government, in particular with regards to fostering business innovation and efficiency gains. Further benefits however have also been quantified on other dimensions, such as the environmental and societal ones. Concerning the latter, the focus lies here on the added value that Open Data brings for democracy by enhancing transparency of political processes as well as boosting participation of citizens in the decision-making at local, regional and/or national level. However, little attention is given on the use of Open Data in the field of education. More and more European countries have acknowledged this potential and have started some proof of concept projects to introduce Open Data in the school curriculum.

One example thereof is the Open Data for Education competition in Northern Ireland. In 2016, the government of Northern Ireland launched a competition for innovative ideas on how to use Open Data for Education (#ODNI4EDU). The objective was to use available Open Data provided via the public sector portal to assist with teaching in primary and secondary schools. The best two ideas were awarded £20,000 towards developing their prototypes into classroom-ready applications. One of the winners was "Our Raging Planet", a platform that helps pupils learn about the possible impact of natural disasters. The application allows teachers to demonstrate what could happen if a disaster, which occurred at the other side of the planet, would strike at home. At the same time, it enables pupils to get acquainted with the geographic implications of global warming and how data can help take informed decisions.

A further example comes from Germany where a collaborative Open Data school project was launched in Moers. In Moers, a town with approximately 100,000 inhabitants in Germany's federal state of North Rhine-Westphalia, the local administration and the Open Knowledge Foundation set out to explore the potential of Open Data in the classroom. The project -- DatenmachenSchule - aims to help develop of a series of software applications, together with the Adolfinum Gymnasium and the students of the Rhine-Whaal University of Applied Sciences. Like the Northern Irish project, the idea here as well is to make school lessons more interactive by employing Open Data.

The project showed how data can be used in the school curriculum in a variety of subjects. In mathematics or computer science lectures, data was used in assignments. In subjects such as politics or social studies, pupils were able to learn more about their local government, its budget and spending, by using Open Data publicly available on the open budget platform Other school lessons included data on the demographic development of Moers' districts. For example, in the case of the demographic development data, seventh graders were asked to analyse the statistics and compare the insights to their personal experiences. In groups, pupils were then tasked to identify good locations for a nursing home, a kindergarten and a supply store for young families. They then reflected which data was useful and which data might be missing, before discussing further potential use cases of publicly available data. Furthermore, data on energy consumption in schools was used in environmental science classes. It provided pupils with insights into their own school's energy use and enabled them to see their school's performance compared to other schools in the area. Pupils were able to understand how they can help save energy and contribute to a sustainable use of resources. Such examples and many more use cases of Open Data in the classroom, can be found in the published guidelines of the DatenMachenSchule project.

A similar initiative was launched in Switzerland as well, where steps have been taken to introduce Open Data in the school curriculum. Data analysis is part of the Lehrplan21 curriculum - a plan adopted in 2014 to harmonise the school curriculum in the 21 German-speaking and multi-lingual cantons. As part of the Media and Informatics curriculum of the Lehrplan21, pupils are introduced to the basics of working with data, from data structures, formats to inserting, maintaining and analysing data from databases. The idea is supported by the School of Data Switzerland - a project that aims to foster data literacy and enhance interest (amongst the young generation in particular) in working with and understanding data. A forum discussion on this topic was recently initiated on the School of Data Switzerland platform, seeking for further ideas on how Open Data can be embedded into the school curriculum.

These are only a few examples of the numerous initiatives undertaken across Europe that aim at boosting digital skills and creating new interactive learning and teaching resources, as well as strengthening the collaborative approach to knowledge development. With the degree of digitalisation of our society advancing, data literacy becomes imperative and such examples are a great step in this direction. Particularly the young generation of pupils and students need to develop such digital competences and learn how to work with data.

Are you also conducting an initiative to foster the use of Open Data in classrooms that you would like to share with us? Do not hesitate to drop us a line and tell us about it!