DataDive brings together schools, students in information-based event

Sidney Krandall/Daily
School of Public Health alums James Warila and Chad Bailey collaborate with a2:Datadive organizer Nikki Ruda. Buy this photo

By K.C. Wassman, Daily Staff Reporter
Published February 12, 2012

Science united with service this weekend when the School of Information partnered with Open.Michigan, a University organization dedicated to globally sharing information, to host the a2DataDive — the University’s first ever DataDive.

At the DataDive, non-profit organizations presented their data, along with problems they have encountered within their organizations, to students from the School of Information and other data scientists from the community. The participants then spent the weekend analyzing the data and coming up with solutions to the problems presented.

About 50 people attended the three-day event, where participants work together to benefit two philanthropic organizations — Focus: HOPE and African Health Open Educational Resources Network.

Focus: HOPE is a non-profit organization based in Detroit that was created in 1968 to overcome racism, poverty and injustice in southeast Michigan. The problems and data Focus: HOPE presented to the a2DataDive participants concerned its HOPE Village Initiative, a program dedicated to creating a stable and safe neighborhood for families in Detroit and a section of Highland Park.

Patrick Cooper-McCann, a representative of Focus: HOPE, said the a2DataDive gave the organization a clearer picture of the people it helps by creating a map that organizes participants not only by where they live, but also by income level and level of involvement.

“Data scientists here have been able to look at (our data) and been able to develop an in-depth picture of who’s in the HOPE Village versus the rest of the city of Detroit, and what kind of programs need to be developed to respond to their needs," Cooper-McCann said.

Cooper-McCann added that apart from the demographic map, one group studied traffic and safety around Focus: HOPE’s location, which will help make it easier for people to travel to the program locations.

“Maybe some people are inhibited from getting involved simply because it’s difficult to walk across the expressway,” Cooper-McCann said. “We’ll be able to use the information that came out of this event to help negotiate for improvement for pedestrian traffic.”

The other beneficiary of the a2DataDive was African Health OER Network, which is part of OER Africa, an initiative established by the South African Institute for Distance Education.

According to a handout at the a2DataDive, African Health OER Network aims to enhance health education throughout Africa by “creating and promoting free, openly licensed teaching materials created by Africans to share knowledge, address curriculum gaps, and support health education communities.”

Participants who worked with the African Health OER Network focused on two aspects of the organization — the people who are involved in the network and the content generated by the network.

Kathleen Omollo, project manager for the African Health OER Network, said the information analyzed during the a2DataDive will help the organization see who is active within the Health OER Network.

“What I think will be most valuable is seeing the people who haven’t been connected as much and try to get them more involved in events and reach out to them more often,” Omollo said.

The second group that worked with the African OER Health Network analyzed educational YouTube videos that the network generates. Omollo said the analysis of the comments on the videos was particularly interesting.

“Just that graphic they had showing the frequency of words ‘thank’ and ‘thank you’ and ‘grateful’ and ‘very’ being among the highest is amazing,” Omollo said. “… I can already think of so many people who will be excited to see that particular graphic."

Apart from collaborating to help Focus: HOPE and the African Health OER Network, participants took part in three information coding workshops and hear from keynote speaker David Burke, a professor of human genetics at the University Medical School.

In an interview after his speech, Burke said he felt the a2DataDive is centered around showing participants how they can best utilize what they learn.

“(The DataDive) is important and useful, and you can feel that when you talk to these people,” Burke said. “They feel like they’ve spent their time on something that really has value and that is a good part of what you have to do at a university.”

The a2DataDive was inspired by the original DataDive created by Data without Borders. Nikki Roda, a first year masters student in the School of Information and one of the coordinators of a2DataDive, attended the original event in New York last October.

Roda said she, along with the other coordinators of the event, is already planning next year’s a2DataDive, and hopes this year’s success will allow the event to expand.

“There’s enough excitement that maybe we can transition (the a2DataDive) in such a way that it will be easier for us to find non-profits and it will be easier for us to find participants,” Roda said.

Correction Appended: A previous version of this article misidentified Nikki Road's masters program and misstated Focus: HOPE representative Patrick Cooper-McCann's full name.