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Internet, Policy & Politics 2014: Crowdsourcing for Politics and Policy

Internet, Policy & Politics 2014: Crowdsourcing for Politics and Policy

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In a fairly new field such as Crowdsourcing (coined in 2005), having so many researchers presenting their papers enabled attendees to ask questions on topics similar to their area of research interest as well as share their findings on the same topicLast week, I presented at The Internet, Policy & Politics Conference to debate whether or not MOOCs will satisfy learning effectiveness, satisfaction, and overall quality. I took note of the opening keynote speech by Dr. Chris Lintott, an astrophysicist and Citizen Science project lead in the Department of Physics at the University of Oxford. Dr. Lintott is the principal investigator of Zooniverse and is also the cofounder of Galaxy Zoo, an online crowdsourcing project where the public can volunteer to classify more than a million galaxies.

Within 24 hours of its launch, Galaxy Zoo received more than 70,000 classifications an hour. During its first year, more than 50 million classifications were received from more than 150,000 people. Sharing his extensive experience utilizing the Internet to receive assistance from citizens, Dr. Lintott advised the conferees to make sure that “the first engagement in a project is meaningful” and that considering the composition of the volunteers is important in interpreting the results. A simple explanation of the latter advice is the finding that some volunteers consistently provide the wrong answers. Knowing that fact, can be more valuable in data interpretations than the responses of volunteers whose answers are right about half of the time.

The conference, which was sponsored by The Policy Studies Organization (PSO is a publisher of academic journals and book series, sponsor of conferences, and producer of programs), featured four unique tracks: Harnessing the Crowd, Policy and Government, Engaging the Crowd, and Networked Politics. In a fairly new field such as Crowdsourcing (coined in 2005), having so many researchers presenting their papers enabled attendees to ask questions on topics similar to their area of research interest as well as share their findings on the same topic.

Professor Helen Margretts is Chair of the Oxford Internet Institute, the conference sponsor. She is also editor-in-chief of the Policy and Internet Journal. She and I discussed the social science approach to the department’s initiatives as well as the cross-departmental interest in some of the classes and research projects. Currently, the department accepts only master’s students and doctoral students and is no longer the smallest at Oxford University.

The theme of the 2012 conference that I also attended was Big Data and, clearly, many of the social science oriented research projects discussed at this year’s event required the knowledge and utilization of sophisticated data analysis tools. For example, one project examined 34 million tweets over a certain period of time and required identification and assessment of key emotional words in both English and Arabic tweets. It’s not surprising that some of the cross-departmental projects utilize astrophysicists who are familiar with the analysis of large data sets.

One of the last panels of the conference discussed modeling and prediction. This is another area where social scientists and scientists collaborate to analyze the data. A criminologist on that panel discussed a research project that evaluated the increase in hate crimes after a series of events occurred in a geographical area(s). Another researcher discussed the utilization of a database of geo-referenced events assigned to more than 300 categories that can be used to evaluate tweets.

Most, if not all, of the research papers presented at the conference are part of an expanding area of social science with potential to change our understanding of human behavior. The open discussion of these projects with the public is important also because of the potential for projects initiated by governments and corporations that may never otherwise be publicized or discussed. I am intellectually curious to continue monitoring the progress of this area of research and am grateful that the Oxford Internet Institute has initiated this biennial conference. I look forward to continuing to collaborate with my colleague Dr. Paul Rich at PSO.

Reader’s note: Please see the following related blog posts on MOOCs by Wally Boston:

Another Conversation About MOOCs

Pilot Program Forces Discussion of Online Learning, MOOCs, Student Retention, and the Future of Higher Education

 

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Wally Boston Dr. Wallace E. Boston was appointed President and Chief Executive Officer of American Public University System (APUS) and its parent company, American Public Education, Inc. (APEI) in July 2004. He joined APUS as its Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer in 2002. In July 2016, he retired as APUS president and continued as CEO of APEI. In September 2017, he was reappointed APUS president after the resignation of Dr. Karan Powell. In September 2019, Angela Selden was named CEO of APEI, succeeding Dr. Boston who will remain APUS president until his planned retirement in June 2020. Dr. Boston guided APUS through its successful initial accreditation with the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association in 2006 and ten-year reaccreditation in 2011. In November 2007, he led APEI to an initial public offering on the NASDAQ Exchange. During his tenure, APUS grew to over 100,000 students, 200 degree and certificate programs, and approximately 90,000 alumni. In addition to his service as a board member of APUS and APEI, Dr. Boston is a member of the Board of Advisors of the National Institute for Learning Outcomes Assessment (NILOA), a member of the Board of Overseers of the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education, a board member of the Presidents’ Forum, and a board member of Hondros College of Nursing and Fidelis, Inc. He has authored and co-authored papers on the topic of online post-secondary student retention, and is a frequent speaker on the impact of technology on higher education. Dr. Boston is a past Treasurer of the Board of Trustees of the McDonogh School, a private K-12 school in Baltimore. In his career prior to APEI and APUS, Dr. Boston served as either CFO, COO, or CEO of Meridian Healthcare, Manor Healthcare, Neighborcare Pharmacies, and Sun Healthcare Group. Dr. Boston is a Certified Public Accountant, Certified Management Accountant, and Chartered Global Management Accountant. He earned an A.B. degree in History from Duke University, an MBA in Marketing and Accounting from Tulane University’s Freeman School of Business Administration, and a Doctorate in Higher Education Management from the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education. In 2008, the Board of Trustees of APUS awarded him a Doctorate in Business Administration, honoris causa, and, in April 2017, also bestowed him with the title President Emeritus. Dr. Boston lives in Owings Mills, MD with his wife Sharon and their two daughters.

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