I’m excited to be teaching my course Mixing and Remixing Information (MRI) for the fifth time from January-May 2010.   I would like to retain the spirit of earlier iterations while making some fundamental improvements.  As in previous years, MRI 2010 will be a project-driven course focused on combining information from disparate sources to create applications that solve specific problems.

However, I’d to provide a deeper support for students to work together, not only in their own project group, but also course-wide and even with people working with us outside of the class.  By working together and pooling our efforts, we will be be able to tackle a set of projects that are more ambitious than in previous years.

In previous years, I’ve asked students to design their own project, which could take on almost any subject matter as long as the project  involved mashing up two or more APIs or data sources.  Although that arrangement resulted in a fun and eclectic mix of projects, the diversity of topics made it difficult for students to follow all the projects in the class.  It’s enough for most of us to be learning the techniques and technologies of APIs in the context of a single subject area, let alone in many divergent subject areas.

For MRI 2010, I’ve decided to unify the course around an overarching theme (open government) and one specific problem for us to tackle:  making sense of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) and its impact on the country.  Deciphering the Recovery (aka the Stimulus) is a large enough playing field to encompass many techniques and perspectives while narrow enough for us to  wrap our collective minds around and make substantial progress in studying:

  • By many accounts, much of the 2010 mid-term American elections will be fought on whether the Stimulus worked.  Is ARRA creating jobs as promised or is a big waste of money?  Should the US be spending even more money for further economic stimulus?  Did the spending accomplish what was intended?
  • Since the Stimulus touches a broad cross-section of the US, studying it is a good introduction to understanding government in the US as a whole.
  • Not surprisingly, there’s already been tons of interpretation/narrative/spin around ARRA — and we can count on a lot more!  How do we enable and encourage people to back those narratives with data in a transparent and easy way?
  • As Jon Udell wrote, “The knowledge [of what’s actually being done with the money] is held collectively by the many people who are involved in the projects funded by these awards.” Can we then “materialize a view of that collective knowledge” by using the data coming from recovery.gov — and the techniques of using APIs, visualization, social networking, crowd-sourcing, and large scale computation?
  • Even with the hype, the transparency of ARRA is unprecedented.  Does ARRA represent the future of government openness or will it prove to be an aberration?  What happens with ARRA will have a lot to say about the future of open government/government transparency/open data/gov 2.0 in the US.
  • How have parallel economic stimulus packages worked in Canada?  in Australia?  What type of transparency is involved internationally?

A detailed syllabus is in the works, but here are some aspects I envision for the course:

  • The technical content of the course will remain largely the same as in previous installments of MRI.  I’ll be covering how to program APIs to create mashups, create APIs of our own,  and understand, use and promote good data standards.  In fact, I plan to boost the support I provide for programming efforts in the course.
  • Participants will work on tangible projects related to the overall theme.  They can select from a list of projects I design or they can propose other projects of comparable scope and intent.   However, we will find ways for the projects to combine together into a larger super-project.
  • Participants will be heavily involved in learning from and teaching each other, depending on each other for the course’s collective success.
  • We will open source our software and data and work towards long term sustainability for our projects.
  • To ensure that our projects remain grounded in the “real world,” we’ll be working to engage outside users for our projects from the outset.
  • The course will be  designed to enable the larger community to participate.