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2.3 Urban Data School

A photograph of four young children at school sat on the floor looking at tablets.
Figure 7 Digital literacy from a young age.

The Urban Data School [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] is a smart city education initiative undertaken by The Open University that aims to transform the teaching of data skills in primary and secondary schools.

Data literacy is:

  • the ability to use data as part of complex reasoning
  • the ability accurately to critique and interpret data in order to ask and answer meaningful questions.

It’s a key civic skill that forms the foundation of an innovative knowledge economy. The Urban Data School helps school children to acquire critical data literacy skills at an early age, and provides teachers and schools with tools to teach data skills in an effective way. Its key innovation lies in the use of smart city data for educational purposes.

As you’ve witnessed in the course, smart city initiatives around the world are acquiring and making available an increasing amount of data that offers deep insights into city dynamics – data about car traffic, use of public transportation, energy and water consumption, air pollution, and so on. You’ve observed how many of these datasets are collected in real time by sensors. In the past these types of data resource have not been available to teachers and schools, and have not been used for educational purposes. Now for the first time, the Urban Data School is making smart city data available for school education across four dimensions:

  1. datasets – giving teachers and schools access to curated urban datasets
  2. data skills – teaching pupils to handle, manage, question and interrogate urban data
  3. data stories – teaching pupils to tell engaging and effective stories with data
  4. innovation with data – teaching students to use data to design and evaluate urban innovation projects.

The Urban Data School is developing an online learning platform that combines teaching materials with curated datasets as well as tools and tutorials for exploring the data. Teaching materials are designed to support students in answering and asking their own questions from data through active exploration. Lesson resources are focused around a particular smart city topic, such as home energy consumption or the use of solar panels, so that students learn to use the data in a real-world context.

The Urban Data School is currently focusing on Milton Keynes in the UK as a test-bed for new educational approaches. Researchers at The Open University are working in close collaboration with local schools and Milton Keynes Council to develop and trial data educational resources. Students in these schools have participated in sessions using data from smart meters to answer questions about home energy consumption, and to discover how generation of energy from solar panels is affected by weather and seasonal variations. They have been creative in designing their own smart city apps and drawing artistic visualisations of their own home energy consumption.

The key findings to date are that teachers recognise the importance of data education and are keen to have access to smart city data for teaching across different parts of the curriculum (including mathematics, science and geography). Findings also demonstrate that tools and methods developed by the Urban Data School help teachers to deliver effective data education.

The current focus is to scale up the approach to a larger number of cities in the UK. And the long-term vision is to reach every child in the country, to give them the necessary skills to play an important role in defining and implementing smart city initiatives for their local communities.