Openness in Higher Education: Municipal Data as Inspiration for Openness

One of the themes of working at Inigral and trying to innovate in Education is Data Interoperability.  I was once shooting pool with Dustin Moskovitz, co-founder of Facebook, and we spent a half hour commiserating on the pain of scraping course catalogs in order to just connect people in the same class.

How about total Data Openness?  Seriously, if NYC and SF can do it, so can an IT team in Higher Ed.

San Francisco is following a NYC in making their municipal data sets open.  Completely.  As in there’s an RDF in XML that you can sync an application to.  So, my pal Wilson Miner over at Everyblock and his awesome team (as well as their less awesome competitors, Outside.in) can bring you meaning and elegance out of what otherwise would be ugly and unusable.

Here’s Everyblock’s explanation of the NYC data they use and how they use it.  Here’s a profile of NYC BigApps by the Open Municipal Geodata Standard Blog (OMG!)

Have you ever tried to crawl a course catalog?  It’s such a pain.  Shoot, the HTML isn’t consistent most of the time.  Rarely do you get intelligent CSS, and I never once saw elegant use of XML.

Facebook did away with their courses feature, largely because they didn’t want to go through the headache of maintaining it.  We replaced it and had to scrape catalogs at Berkeley, MSU, Penn State, and other large networks on Facebook.  We’re done with scraping now, we actually sign contracts, deliver an enterprise Facebook app, and have serious next-generation interoperability stuff going down between Schools on Facebook and SIS.

So, here’s a challenge.  I want to see a school that puts their course catalog and offerings up on their website in XML format that’s easy to scrape and crawl, then make an App Challenge for their students to make something cool out of it.  Harvey Mudd?  Carnegie Mellon?  MIT?  Stanford?  Who’s game?  The only thing that can happen is innovation.