Friday, May 9, 2014

Back in the office - Introduction to Timeful

So I am back in the office. For good; or for at least one month (the next trip is planned for early June). That sounds like a relief after spending almost three weeks in a row out of office, participating in various events namely:

  1. The CIARD/GODAN 1st Consulatation Meeting (22-24/4/2014, Rome, Italy);
  2. The Organic.Lingua 3rd (and final) review meeting (28-30/5/2014, Luxembourg);
  3. The ARIADNE Foundation General Assembly (5/5/2014, Athens, Greece);
  4. The EdReNe 11th Conference (6/5/2014, Athens, Greece);
  5. The LRE Subcommittee meeting (7/5/2014, Athens, Greece).
My contribution in each one of these events significantly varied; in one of them I was invited to participate as an external observer, in another one I had a small presentation and contribution to discussions, in another I was responsible (among others) to formulate the agenda of the Conference and also make presentations and for the first two ones in the list I had to allocate a significant amount of time and effort for preparing my slides, the sessions I was responsible for and for making the presentations (among other types of contributions).

While I was out of office, new tasks were added to the list, old ones needed to be finalized and shared with colleagues and on top of that, urgent tasks came out of nowhere and required special attention in a short notice. Despite the fact that I tried to plan my activities carefully and take care of the ones that could be handled during (or even before) these fully packed days, it was not possible to keep my schedule under control. In addition, I found it rather hard to focus on the office routine during the first hours, so I decided to spend some time on preparing myself and doing less demanding stuff.

Some days are more demanding than the others...

This is when I found out about Timeful; it is an app which promises to help you keep things under control, even under hard days, acting as an "intelligent time manager". This sounds like a thing that I could surely make good use of, so I decided to take the online quiz and see where I stand. After I replied to the simple 10 questions of the quiz, I got the following result, which is really close to the impression I also had.

I was also provided with some useful recommendations on improving my situation:

Improving balance:
  1. As you plan your day, make sure to give yourself a bit of buffer time. Unexpected things are the norm, not the exception, and stress is often caused by not allowing time for the unexpected. In fact this is a thing that I already apply to my schedule, but sometimes even buffering is not enough...
  2. Start each day by naming one MGD ("Must Get Done") for that day, and put it on your calendar. Then get to it first thing in the morning. I am also doing this more or less; prioritization of tasks is a key to accomplishing them on time. However, I admit that I prefer to send my emails early in the morning, so I will (or at least I hope so) get my responses before the end of the day; in the meantime, I can allocate time in urgent tasks.
  3. In the battle for your time, things that get scheduled will win over things that aren’t scheduled. Book plans with your friends and family right into your calendar, then protect them as you would a business meeting. This is something that I will need to work on; it seems that putting focus only on business tasks and neglecting the personal/family ones acts as a boomerang and in the end it effects the business planning.
  4. Make sure to schedule "me time." Eating well, sleeping, and working out make us human and happy. By the way, even if you don't care about being happy or human, it actually makes us more productive at work! This is also a point to take into consideration; it's easy to neglect everything and focus on work...

Improve your productivity 
  1. The hardest part of a task is usually starting it. You can avoid procrastinating by making the start more enjoyable. Pour yourself a cup of coffee or cocoa and sip it during the first five minutes of the task. By the time the coffee is done, you’ll be well on your way. 
  2. Checking off little to-dos and responding to emails can give us the short-term illusion of being productive, but it’s the important, tough, and time-consuming stuff that makes us feel accomplished in the long run. 
  3. Break your important projects into subtasks and give yourself a pat on the back each time you finish one. Then check it off your list. 
  4. Knowledge is often best disseminated through informal interactions. When you need to learn something, don’t call a meeting, but ask someone to get a quick cup of coffee. 
  5. When you have important tasks, mark off blocks of your calendar as “busy,” so your time can’t be hijacked by co-workers. If “busy” doesn’t stop them, use important-sounding fake meetings.

It all has to do with time management but not only, and the Timeful app got it right; time is limited and we need to see how we can get the best out of it. Some things will stay in the agenda, while others will have to be delegated or even declined. In any case, I am really anxious to start using the Timeful app as soon as it becomes available, hoping that it will (at least partially) help.

LRE Subcommittee meeting

The LRE Subcommittee meeting took place at the premises of CTI "Diophantus" on 7/5/2014, following the 11th EdReNe Conference. This allowed a number of the LRE Subcommittee members to attend the EdReNe Conference, combining the trip and creating opportunities. The meeting is closed and limited to the Subcommittee members; however, I was invited to participate as an external observer, along with other members of the Agro-Know team. I quote a text from the LRE website, in order to provide some information on the LRE initiative:

"Learning Resource Exchange (LRE) Operations
European Schoolnet (EUN) is at the forefront of global initiatives related to the exchange and interoperability of digital learning resources. With the commitment of its participating Ministries of Education and support from European Commission research programmes, European Schoolnet is continuing to build a Learning Resource Exchange (LRE) service for schools that enables teachers and learners to access and use educational content from many different countries and providers.
The Learning Resource Exchange was developed by European Schoolnet and its supporting Ministries of Education as a result of work in a number of EC-funded projects (particularly CELEBRATE, CALIBRATE and MELT). This resulted in the launch of the LRE as a publicly available service in December 2008.
At the European Schoolnet Steering Committee meeting in November 2009, Ministries recognized that, while the LRE had initially been designed as a service primarily for MoE, regional authorities and other organisations were also active LRE partners. In this context, Ministries in the EUN Steering Committee agreed that a new LRE governance mechanism should be put in place to allow for the fact that increasingly regions, municipalities and other educational content and tools’ providers (from both the public and private sectors) might wish to join the LRE.
At its meeting on 26 May 2010, the EUN Steering Committee duly created a LRE Subcommittee to define the strategy and operational rules of the LRE and to manage its ongoing development."

Indeed, we identified some aspects of the ongoing LRE work that we could provide some feedback, even solutions in some cases. Apart from that, there were interesting discussions on the next steps of the LRE activities and the approaches to be followed. Despite that fact that I had to leave before the end of the meeting, I felt glad to be able to participate and see the current status and the future steps of LRE.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

EdReNe 11th Conference

The 11th EdReNe Conference took place on 6/5/2014 at the premises of the Computer Technology Institute and Press "Diophantus" in Athens, Greece. It was co-organized by Agro-Know and CTI, while Angeliki has put a significant amount of time and effort in finalizing the agenda of the meeting, taking care of all the practicalities/logistics ensuring that everything will flow smoothly. It was my 3rd participation in a row in an EdReNe Conference and this time I had the honor to make the introduction and welcoming (short) speech!

Introduction to the 11th EdReNe Conference

Despite the fact that traditionally EdReNe takes place by the end of each year, this time we explored the opportunity to host it a little bit earlier; this would allow us to collocate it with other events and also to investigate funding opportunities in the context of the Horizon 2020 programme. Indeed, the EdReNe 11th Conference took place a day after the ARIADNE foundation General Assembly for 2014 and a day before the LRE Sub-committee meeting, a fact which allowed members of the two networks to attend the EdReNe Conference as well, actively contributing to the agenda of the event and bringing an alternative approach to it.

This time the EdReNe Conference consisted of the following sessions:

  1. Learning Resource Exchange panel 
  2. Social Data & Analytics: Social Data aggregation for learning recommenders and analytics
  3. Linked Data in Educational Repositories
  4. Exploiting Data for Educational Purposes
  5. Training Academy for Content Providers: An Open Discovery Space session aiming to provide the basic principles to people who wish to create and operate their own repository/metadata aggregator
  6. News from Members
Partial view of the 11th EdReNe Conference participants

You may find more information about each session in the agenda of the Conference. What I liked in this Conference is that it included (as usually) a wide variety of topics related to learning resources and repositories within each session; 
  • ongoing EU projects, 
  • linked data for repository managers (e.g. ARIADNE linked data exposure) and applications of linked data (e.g. Europeana Judaica), 
  • social data, platforms and tools (e.g. the demo of the AgLR tool), 
  • presentations aiming at repository managers, 
  • presentations aiming at content providers, 
  • initiatives at national level (e.g. Photodentro) and at international level (e.g. Terena OER aggregator), 
  • presentations through Skype (Enayat Rajabi/UAH) and Webex (Karin Whooley), 
  • portals (Scoilnet & Green Learning Network / Organic.Edunet), 
  • visualization of metadata management workflows (elastic search / Kibana), 
  • discussions, panels etc. 

All these in just one day - from 09.00 to 19.30! It is obvious that the day was full and the agenda was packed with presentations, demonstrations and discussions; in order to stick to the program we needed to make several adaptations on the fly and in the end we managed to finish only 30 mins later than planned; however, the discussions were so interesting that noone complained. The day ended with a dinner at Scholarheio restaurant, only a few minutes from the meeting place.

I was really glad to see friends from the previous EdReNe meetings (Henk, Elena, David, Manon), meet new people (such as Elina Megalou, our hostess) as well as to be able to participate among friends and colleagues; it was this collaborative work that brought the nice results of the Conference. Big thanks also to Enayat and Karin for their remote participation! It is nice to see this dedication from the network members to EdReNe, especially taking into consideration that there is no funding for traveling and participation to the events. Overall, the meeting was a success, managing to bring together people from different networks, initiatives and projects, both old EdReNe members and new potential ones, blending the experiences with new ideas.

There was no discussion about the hosting of the next EdReNe Conference; however, there is an opportunity for Italy (which was not represented in this event) to host it - more information to be available soon.

Monday, May 5, 2014

ARIADNE General Assembly 2014

The ARIADNE Foundation General Assembly for 2014 took place on 5/5/2014 and was hosted by Agro-Know at the Agro-Know offices. The ARIADNE General Assembly is a private meeting restricted to the ARIADNE members and considers the new status of current projects, opportunities and general ideas so there is not much to say here. Some of the discussions included the role of networks such as EdReNe (Educational Repositories Network) and GLOBE (Global Learning Objects Brokered Exchange); in this context, I was invited to make a presentation regarding my participation in the previous two EdReNe Seminars (9th and 10th respectively), as well as to provide some information about the upcoming 11th EdReNe Conference which takes place in Athens, Greece on 6/5/2014, co-organized by Agro-Know and 
the Computer Technology Institute and Press "Diophantus".

Nikos Manouselis makes an introduction to the meeting

I was really glad to meet some of the ARIADNE members participating in the meeting, like the current president Frans van Assche (with whom we have met in the previous EdReNe Conference in Brussels), Manon Haartsen from Kennisnet (with whom we have met twice in the previous EdReNe Conferences) and Julien Broisin who has a long background of involvement with ARIADNE. He was also the one who pointed out that ARIADNE is in fact an acronym which stands for "Alliance of Remote Instructional Authoring and Distribution Networks for Europe" - as you know I love such trivia information! Apart from that, Kostas Vogias was representing GRNET, Miguel-Angel Sicilia represented UAH and Enayat Rajabi (UAH) participated through Skype.

During the short lunch break

Apart from that, ARIADNE has developed a software infrastructure, including the widely used ARIADNE harvester, which has been reused by several projects in several cases. If all go well, we should expect more advancements and developments from ARIADNE in the near future ;-)

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Organic.Lingua 3rd Review Meeting

The Organic.Lingua project officially ended on 28/2/2014, after 36 months of effort towards re-engineering the Organic.Edunet Web portal and enhancing it with multilingual functionalities, among several other outcomes. A consortium bringing together language technology experts, domain and ontology experts, content providers, developers etc. worked towards the development and integration of automatic metadata translation functionalities in the Organic.Edunet Web portal and other tools, a multilingual metadata authoring tool, a revised ontology and metadata application profile and a well-defined sustainability and exploitation plan, just to name a few of the project's outcomes.

I personally have a special connection to the Organic.Lingua project; you see, the first project I got involved in when I started working with EU projects back in 2009 was Organic.Edunet. I spent numerous hours manually creating metadata records for the project (specific collections), providing Greek translations of metadata and then reviewing the quality of metadata records from other content providers of the consortium. In the context of the Organic.Edunet project I made my first project-related presentation (at the 5th Pan Hellenic Conference of Ecology, Patra) presenting the Organic.Edunet Web portal, and I also ran an autumn training school as a trainer by the end of the project, collocated with the Organic.Edunet Final Conference and Final Review Meeting in Budapest, Hungary in September 2010. Since then, I have spend several months on the Organic.Edunet Web portal and the collections, checking the integrity and quality of metadata and searching for new content providers. The end of the Organic.Lingua project does not mean that this effort will stop; instead, we plan to work intensively on the expansion of the portal and integrate additional revisions. However, it looks like a circle has closed and we will move forward with other projects.

Promoting Organic.Edunet, 22/10/2010

The project's 3rd (and final) review meeting took place between 28-30/4/2014 at Luxembourg. In fact, the first two days were dedicated to the preparation of the presentation to be delivered during the actual Review Meeting on the 30th of April, the preparation of the scripts for the demos of the Organic.Lingua tools etc. In this direction, the whole Organic.Lingua project consortium had the opportunity to meet for the last time and work collaboratively in order to ensure that all achievements of the project would be properly presented and attributed during the review meeting.

These have been three days of intensive work, working long-hours and spending more time together with the project partners. The UAH team, coordinating the project (and not only) during these three years, was populated by Salvador Sanchez, Giannis StoitsisDavid Martin MoncunillMeritxell Mallona Ponce and me while the Agro-Know team was proudly represented by Nikos Marianos.

Organic.Lingua review meeting
Coffee break during the review meeting

The review meeting took place at the EuroForum building of the European Commission. All consortium members were present (at least one representative from each project partner) along with Aleksandra Wesolowska, the project officer of the project and the two reviewers: Dr. Phillip Cimiano from the University of Bielefeld, Germany and Dr. Piek Vossen from Vrije University, the Netherlands. As usual, the presentation included an overview of the outcomes per Work Package according to the project's DoW and based on the feedback received during the previous review meeting as well as a demo during which project partners used the outcomes of the tool (e.g. the MoKi tool for the management of the ontology, the Organic.Edunet Web portal and its multilinguality features as well as the AgLR tool and the agriMoodle platform for the multilingual management of educational resources and courses respectively. During the meeting there were long discussions focusing on specific aspects of the project, such as the exploitation of the outcomes, the sustainability and of course the application of the approaches selected by the project in other contexts.

Even though it is way too early to extract precise outcomes from the meeting, the first impressions were positive; it was obvious that the consortium has taken into consideration all the feedback received during the previous review meeting, additional deliverables were provided when necessary and effort was focused on the aspects of the project which needed revisions etc. The reviewers had a deep knowledge in the technologies used by the project, which led to fruitful discussions during the meeting, and at the same time it was obvious that the exploitation of the outcomes and their sustainability through business models etc. were of special interest. However, the consolidated report which is expected within the next months , should provide more detailed and accurate feedback, as well as the final mark of the project.

Apart from that, it was nice for the consortium to have the opportunity to meet for the last time and have some time together; apart from the intensive work during these three days, we had the opportunity to see a little bit of the city of Luxembourg, try the local dishes and enjoy the Champions' League matches of Spanish teams (Real and Atletico Madrid respectively, both of which did a great job btw!) while enjoying a glass of beer and snacks. After these three years of excellent collaboration between the consortium members, this was something that came out naturally. I really hope that we will have the opportunity to join our efforts in the near future, too!

Salvador leading the social event
Apart from that, it was a nice trip to Luxembourg, among good friends and colleagues and we certainly had some fun as well during these three days. Luxembourg is an expensive city but having a good company and a good mood can make up for that!

Friday, May 2, 2014

Some thoughts on the joint CIARD/GODAN consultation meeting

The 1st joint CIARD/GODAN Consultation meeting took place between 22-24/4/2014 at the FAO Headquarters at Rome, Italy. This was an invitation-only meeting, aiming to bring together people from the CIARD initiative as well as the GODAN (Global Open Data for Agriculture and Nutrition) representatives in order to investigate the opportunities for close collaboration. In this context, having three members of the Agro-Know team participating (Nikos Manouselis, Effie Tsiflidou and me) was a significant privilege and we tried to make the most out of it.
In my opinion, one of the biggest success of the meeting was the fact that it managed to bring together so many policy and decision makers, initiative and community leaders etc., who sat at the same table and tried to explore  ways of collaboration between these two large-scale initiatives. The list of participants included people from (among others):

as well as our good friends from FAO (Johannes Keizer, Imma Subirats, Caterina Caracciolo and Thembani Malapela), INRA (Odile Hologne and Esther Dzale), WUR (Hugo Besemer and Sander Janssen) etc. - I hope that I have not forgotten anyone but it seems impossible to fit everyone in a short blog post. There were participants from Europe, USA & Latin America, Asia and Africa, covering almost all regions.
Johannes Keizer (FAO) during a session of the meeting

The main objective of this joint meeting was for the participants to identify the ways which would enable the seamless collaboration between these two initiatives, minimizing the effort and time needed for common work and eliminating the duplication of effort. The sessions showed that there is common ground for that and that the collaboration of CIARD with its large user base, technical expertise and connection with numerous user groups (from farmers to ICT experts in agriculture) and GODAN with its highly political-level profile and involvement of policy and decision makers would significantly lead things forward towards opening up agriculture and nutrition data and making them available to all stakeholders. Apart from that, there were sessions showing advances in the area of open agricultural data; for example, I really enjoyed the joint presentation of Johannes Keizer (FAO), Simon Liu (NAL USDA) and Martin Parr (CABI) about the Global Agricultural Concept System (GACS), an effort for aligning the three major vocabularies used in the agricultural sector, namely AGROVOC (FAO), NAL Thesaurus and CABI Thesaurus.
During one of the Plenary Sessions of the meeting
The agenda included presentations, lectures, workshops, plenary sessions & parallel ones, remote participation of speakers, discussions and exchange of information, interactive sessions etc.; the latter e.g. provided the opportunity to the participants to indicate what they could bring to the community in terms of contributions (e.g. tools, policies, collaborations, standards etc.) while at the same time stating what they are currently missing and would appreciate receiving from other partners.
Agro-Know had its part in the meeting;

    CIARD-GODAN Joint Consultation Meeting

  • I led a session titled "Communication: how do we best facilitate information exchange amongst partners in the current absence of a Secretariat?", during which I proposed some ideas which would facilitate the communication among CIARD and GODAN participants, as well as the exposure and dissemination of the outcomes of these joint activities.
  • I was one of the social media facilitators for several sessions, mostly tweeting about the discussions in each session.
Effie presenting the GFSP initiative
In addition, we had the opportunity to get to meet and have extremely interesting conversations with several people, like Kevin Gamble from the Michigan State University, Laura Meggiolaro from Land Portal, Kim Mallalieu from the Caribbean Open Institute and Federico Sancho from the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA). Of course the list is much longer but it is hard to mention everyone here...
The meeting achieved its goals; however, more solid outcomes should be expected in the next months, and presented in the next joint consultation meeting of CIARD & GODAN, which is expected to take place by the end of this year with the exact date and location not yet defined. By then, it is expected that issues such as the definition and operation of a common Secretariat for the two initiatives (coordinating the joint activities), the formulation of the processes through which the joint activities will take place as well as the definition of the role of each initiative in this common framework, will be defined and described in details, allowing the full potential of these initiatives to be unleashed. Agro-Know will surely be there, supporting both the organization of the event, as well as actively contributing to the discussions.
You can find photos from the event at the Agro-Know Flickr photostream.