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Open Science

June 11th, 2021

Transparent research at the IPN

As of May 2020, Open Access, Open Data and Open Education have been combined in an Open Science Policy at the IPN. In this interview, the three Open Science coordinators, Barbara Senkbeil-Stoffels (Open Access), Tim Höffler (Open Data) and Silke Rönnebeck (Open Education), explain the reasons for the development of this policy and what prospects they hope to see for Open Science.

Let's start with a very timely question: Covid-19 and the pandemic containment measures are affecting the way we communicate in many ways. Data and its analysis, for example, play a whole new and central role for citizens in the daily press. What impact does the Covid-19 pandemic have on our understanding of Open Science?

Tim Höffler: It's interesting to see that the perceived transparency of science in the press has increased as a result of the scientists' clarification of Covid-19. Science and its work practices are presented to the public in a clearer and more conscious way - no more research and proclamation from the ivory tower, but rather comprehensibility and responsibility. The weeks of the pandemic have also shown, however, that there is still a certain amount of catching up to do in terms of understanding science. Fortunately, science still enjoys a certain degree of trust, at least here in Germany. At the same time, however, there is obviously no fundamental understanding of the fact that science is not magic, that it is always subject to uncertainties and that, especially in the case of a pandemic, the situation and thus the assessments and evaluations can change on a daily basis. And even scientists may not always be in agreement; that is part of the scientific process. It would be nice to see how Open Science, for example through OER, or Open Educational Resources, could contribute to an increased understanding of science in public.

Silke Rönnebeck: The area of Open Education has become increasingly visible due to the Corona-related closure of schools. Teachers needed digital materials to be able to teach. The necessary infrastructure was created in a very short time at schools - including those that had previously been little prepared for digital work - to use materials similar to those we make available in our OER project "OER@IPN", for example. A second important aspect in this context, in my opinion, is the current relevance that Open Educational Resources essentially offer. If you imagine, for example, that a textbook deals with the topic of a pandemic, and the book would be OER, then you could very quickly make it up-to-date and thus relevant for students, because you could include something that is happening right now. An important concern for us in this project, but also in many other projects, is bringing current science into schools, and this has become even more important as a result of what has happened in recent weeks.

Barbara Senkbeil-Stoffels: Digitization naturally plays a significant role in all of this. It is a central pillar of Open Science. It enables a cultural change in both scientific working methods and communication and thus also promotes the interdisciplinary exchange of information within science, the transfer to society and the critical examination of current scientific findings, both nationally and internationally. The current restrictions due to the pandemic and the enormous digitalization push it has triggered will, in the long term, change digital communication and collaboration enormously and thus also have a measurable influence on the further development of Open Science. In terms of publications, I hope that this will provide an impetus for smaller, subject-specific publishers to embrace OA and offer more digital services. An improved digital infrastructure is an important building block for the expansion of digital library services.

The Institute's Open Access Policy, which has been in place since 2015, was recently expanded to include a policy on Open Data and Open Educational Resources, making it an Open Science Policy. Why was this done?

Tim Höffler: Over the past five years, the concept of Open Science has continued to develop and broaden in science and also in the public. Our preceding document was limited to the area of Open Access, but the IPN does much more: It generates an enormous amount of scientific data and develops educational materials. And we want to circulate these in the spirit of the Open Science idea! Therefore, it was high time to revise this outdated policy and expand it to include Open Data and OER.

Barbara Senkbeil-Stoffels: Open access to scientific publications written at the IPN has been actively promoted and supported for more than five years. During this time, the institute has continued to progress towards digital, Open Science. First talks were held last year on topics such as open licenses, metadata standards in the context of OER, and the possible bundling of Open Science services such as information and consulting services, complemented by joint participation in committees dealing with Open Access and Open Science throughout the institute. In dealing with what were initially very practical issues, we very quickly realized, on the basis of the IPN's existing Open Access Policy, that there was a great deal of overlap in the areas of Open Access, Open Data and OER relevant to research here at the Institute, which led to a collaborative initiative among the three of us to bundle these into a joint policy. The institute's management has been very supportive in this. Similarly, the Leibniz Association supports the development of Open Science. The IPN's Open Science Policy is based on the Leibniz Association's guidelines regarding Open Access. Open Science is sometimes understood in very different ways, and the use of the term is not always clear. It was therefore important for us to define the term more precisely, at least for the institute, to describe the sub-areas included, to point out commonalities, but also to distinguish them from each other.

Fostering the teaching of science and mathematics is a central goal of the IPN's research in teaching and educational science. How much potential does Open Science have for the further development of teaching, but also for the further development of research in educational science?

Silke Rönnebeck: As stated earlier, we believe that OERs offer great opportunities for the transfer of scientific findings into teaching practice. However, the term transfer is almost too one-sided. In the long term, we would like to use OER to engage in an exchange with teachers and jointly develop teaching materials. To achieve this, we make teaching materials developed in the context of the OER@IPN project available on our OER platform and develop them further in so-called communities of practice consisting of teachers and professionals. Even though we involve teachers in the development process of materials, it is only when they are in use that we can really tell how a material works in practice, what adjustments are necessary, and what might be missing. Teachers can determine this much better in their daily teaching and provide feedback. This tangible feedback allows us researchers to rethink certain things. OER thus really offer opportunities for sustainable collaboration between research and teaching practice.

Tim Höffler: With regard to Open Data, we must admit that the IPN still has a lot of catching up to do. Structures and standardized procedures still need to be established, both of which are currently under development. On the one hand, research data must be stored clearly and comprehensibly in internal structures for the future, and on the other hand, it must also be prepared for publicly accessible repositories such as the Research Data Center Education. The great advantage of a good open data structure is, above all, that the data or research results generated in the IPN's numerous projects are made visible and usable for other researchers in-house, but of course also beyond that on a national and international level. Unnecessary redundant work is still relatively common: Questionnaires and test procedures on related questions are repeatedly redeveloped by different researchers. Many more opportunities for synergy exist here that have not yet been exploited. In addition, we have a responsibility to disclose our data transparently to the outside world. This is also simply to be verifiable and to make it clear that we are not inventing the data:  These are legitimate research results. And anyone can check them, can replicate them, and can then use our data to conduct further research and investigate their own research questions. This has definitely become a benchmark for good scientific practice.

Open Science as a process and a "culture of sharing": Where should we go from here, where do you see opportunities and potential for further collaboration?

Silke Rönnebeck: As I mentioned earlier, open education is an active process. It thrives on the fact that material is not only downloaded, but adapted for one's own teaching and "shared", i.e. uploaded again and redistributed. Such a culture of sharing is not yet a given everywhere and for everyone. Evidence of this can also be found in the literature on OER. While downloading materials mostly still works quite well, re-uploading does not happen for the most part. There are various reasons for this: lack of time resources, lack of trust, people do not immediately see the direct personal benefit, etc. In fact, such processes do not run smoothly.  Such processes do not just happen on their own. You can't just put up a platform with good material and think that works. Hence, our project has the idea to combine the concept of OER with the approach of communities of practice, which is well known from implementation research. In these communities of practice, teachers work together with experts, they discuss materials, adapt them, try them out in the classroom and further develop them together. We hope to initiate the process of Open Education, the further development and sharing of materials, on the one hand by having these teachers act as multipliers later on, and on the other hand by showing first examples of collaborative further development of materials. Finally, we hope to gain insights from the collaboration into how teachers engage with, use, and adapt OER. All of these are research questions that have received little attention to date.

When you look back on the development of the policy, what aspects come to mind?

Barbara Senkbeil-Stoffels: From my point of view, the dynamic, results-oriented and open communication was very positive, leading all of us to a more explicit understanding of our mutual open-science responsibilities and thus productively influencing the strategic work among us. Bringing this understanding to life will be one of our subsequent tasks. A personal insight was the wealth of competences in the field of Open Science here at the institute, which we can now bundle, but also expand. With this policy, we have the opportunity to send a clear signal to the scientific community, especially to young researchers, with regard to Open Science, to reduce possible fears, to point out advantages, to convey legal certainty, e.g. in the form of service, information and consulting offers, but also with the establishment of supporting process flows. Outside the Institute, we will continue to contribute the experience gained in this context to the discussion and further development of Open Science within the Leibniz Association, but also in regional and thematic committees.

Interview: Mareike Müller-Krey

Barbara Senkbeil-Stoffels is Head of the IPN Library, Research Information Manager and Open Access/Open Science Officer at the IPN.

Dr. Tim N. Höffler is the contact person for Open Data at the IPN and is also the Data Protection Officer and Research Data Management and Research Ethics Officer.

Dr. Silke Rönnebeck is the contact person for Open Education at the IPN. As a research associate at the IPN, the materials researcher, who holds a doctorate in materials science, is primarily concerned with issues relating to Open Education Resources, research-based learning and research-based training for teachers.