Accelerating Open Health Training Against COVID-19

In the last month the Open Science Lab at TIB has fast tracked its book sprint and Open Education Resources (OER) technology research to meet the needs of employees in the public health service in the fight against COVID-19 by helping to provide them with up-to-the minute training resources. This week sees the release of an Open Access Crisis Management book alongside a MOOC course built on top of the book’s content. TIB’s contribution, alongside its research partner from the German Academy for Public Health in Düsseldorf, has been the open-source automation of the publishing process and connecting Open Science information services to the workflow.

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Crisis Management book

The Open Science Lab at TIB has pushed forward its R&D programme on book sprints and open education resources to meet the challenges of the COVID-19 epidemic by releasing the first textbook ‘Crisis Management’ in a series of eight books as textbooks for the public health service. With another book being released shortly on the topic of ‘the public health service’ (Öffentlichen Gesundheitsdienst). 

This first book will immediately go into service as training material for newly recruited medical students into the public health sector. The publication is produced as a multi-format book on GitHub and is technically designed for automated publishing and speedy production — in online digital formats and as digital print-on-demand.

For the last year the Open Science Lab has worked with the Academy for Public Health to rapid prototype an open-source toolchains and pipelines to innovate digital health training, combining: book sprints, GitHub/Lab, Infrastructure-as-code, and online learning platforms like Moodle. TIB colleagues Lambert Heller and Anna Eckhardt have worked on the co-design and upscaling the Academy’s book sprint programme. With the most recent sprints running at full capacity, with sprints happening back-to-back and reaching a maximum capacity of twelve medical doctors and other public health experts on the most recent ‘outbreak management’ sprint which took place in the last days before lock-down. My contribution has been to bootstrap the alpha publishing pipeline, bringing together a number of open-source partners and platforms: Fidus Writer for the editor, with Jakob Schumaker for the Akademy on configuring GitHub to use its infrastructure as a publishing platform, with strategic assistance from Endocode AG in Berlin on modern cloud deployment, as well as support from Vivliostyle in Japan on using their automated typesetting software — which uses CSS typesetting (see example).

Our mission and research question has been: how to use open-source tool chains and open science digital services to free up health knowledge held by professionals and workforce in the public health system. Our response to this question has two parts. Firstly, to experiment with book sprints as a way to bring together health professionals and have them collaboratively author textbooks. Secondly, to design a technical framework called ADA to connect together existing open-source initiatives in: publishing, open science, and learning. Down the line ADA can enhance the publishing and learning experience by automatically connecting users to Open Science services for authors and readers. For example using TIBs knowledge graph Open Research Knowledge Graph (ORKG), the TIB AV portal or tapping into the wide array of open services such as outbreak-related Preprints service PreReview or openVirus for data mining research papers — for example on ventilator innovation or PPE use.

The current (March/April 2020) focus of our work is on the automation of the pipeline between the editor Fidus Writer and GitHub. Once completed this will fully automate the multi-format output and enable content reuse by other publishing and learning platforms — say Manubot for scientific publishing or Moodle for MOOCs — as currently used manually by the project on the provider OnCampus

Currently the work is in the middle of a speedily paced bootstrap phase to rush the publications out for use by health employees and we are having to play catchup on our technology ‘roadmap’. Putting together the automated workflows at speed means we have to encounter lots of problems and had to find working solutions — fast. This means that a lot of detail has been added to our roadmap, which has increased the workload, but at least this means we know exactly where we’re going. 

As well as our technical foundations there are also the questions about how to ensure the training resources maintain a high quality, are trusted and gain participation by health workers — in these aspects we are looking to learn from the Open Science community, which at its core is about the improvement of the quality of knowledge production. The interesting models that come to mind that combine publishing and learning are the Turing Way resource and the Carpentries movement. Both of the projects create open communities around their content to ensure its quality and employ a number of novel strategies and innovations. The Turing Way is a collaboratively authored resource providing a guide to ‘FAIR data use’ and in a certain sense condenses many lessons from Open Science and open-source worlds about community building. The Carpentries employs a membership model of ‘train-the-trainer’ which means an individual has to be certified to deliver the Carpentries digital skilling learning packages. 

The Open Science Lab has been able to fast track the health textbook Open Access and OER programme because of TIBs embracing of open-source and Open Science. The knowledge retained by its staff and departments of — knowledge systems (the library), platforms, underlying technologies, and methods — can then be harnessed by using open-source as it’s free to adapt the software and importantly knows how to. This can be seen in TIBs engagement with other open networks and services — VIVO, ORCID, DataCite, Open Research Knowledge Graph, and TIB AV Portal, to name a few. A critical examination of the value of open-source is quickly needed by funders, institutions and publishers — for too long compliancy has taken hold in leadership, policy and decision making. Funders and leaders should be mandating open-source for all systems. Even if a service is outsourced to a third party provider it still needs to be open-source, that way as an organisation you can innovate and improve these knowledge systems. Many voices have been advocating the importance of public sector innovation for a long time, for example the economist Mariana Mazzucato has put this forward her book ‘The Entrepreneurial State: debunking public vs. private sector myths’ and in her European Commission report Mission-Oriented Research & Innovation in the European Union — but now it needs to be put into action without delay. 


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... is the Editor-in-Chief at Generation R an editorial platform for open scholarship for the Leibniz Association Research Alliance Open Science and is based in R&D at the Open Science Lab, TIB – German National Library of Science and Technology.