Making data more accessible and apparent within a school … from Open Source to ‘singing’ data

One potential avenue for our workshops is designing new ways that digital data can be made more accessible to everyone within a school.

In a literal sense this might involve working through ways of developing ‘open access’ to key data sets – in theory, this might allow more people (at least those with the requisite data skills) to engage with data which is otherwise closed to them.

For the majority of people without the technical skills (and/or time and inclination), then we might at least strive to make digital flows more manipulable – for example, through new interfaces and data tools that allow end-users to run different queries and calculations that address their needs.

At the same time, we might also explore ways of making data flows more visible within schools. Ideas here include the design of alternative data visualisations – new dashboards, plots, graphs and interfaces that present data in an expanded manner and/or in alternative visual forms. We might also include plug-ins to existing systems that warn users when personal data is being generated, or where personal data is being ‘shared’ (for example, in a similar manner to the Mozilla Lightbeam application).

Finally, however, we might also like to explore ways of making people more aware of the data flows within their school. Here we can explore ideas and approaches from public art and activism. Some of these interventions might be subversive – along the lines of efforts to draw attention to public surveillance infrastructures by putting party hats on CCTV cameras to mark George Orwell’s birthday.

Some of these interventions might be melodic and/or ambient. Drawing on developments (such as ‘sonification’ and ‘musicalgorithms’) to convert data processing into sound, perhaps we might develop a simple app that allows students and staff to hear the schools’ learning management system ‘sing’ its data?  Perhaps we might construct a simple installation like Brock Craft’s ‘Brockenspiel’ –  a musical swipe card reader that plays the numbers encoded on the magnetic stripe of credit and access cards – revealing “the invisibly encoded data on our pocketful’s of cards into something melodious and beautiful”.

These latter ideas might seem esoteric, but they all draw attention to data in ways that are a little bit different and provocative. Digital data is not something that we are confronted with, and that we are accustomed to think about. One of the main aims of our research is to find ways of breaking down this opaqueness.