NUANCE – March 2014

#ScholarAfrica: Promoting the Discoverability of Africa Scholarship

By Michelle Willmers

Curate to participate! This was one of the central messages emerging from the ‘Discoverability of African Scholarship Online’ workshop hosted by the OpenUCT Initiative in Nairobi on 10–11 March 2014.

Sponsored by the Carnegie Corporation, the workshop brought together 25 representatives from African research agencies and higher education institutions (HEIs) to address practical strategies for improving the discoverability of African scholarship.

The rise of the open access movement has within recent years led to a situation in which the global North research policy environment is increasingly mandating open access for research outputs. Within this context it has become imperative for African research agencies and HEIs to address scholarly communication strategy, infrastructure and capacity in order to address not only visibility of scholarship but also put in place the requisite support structures that will enable African scholars to compete for grants and collaborate internationally.

Visibility and interoperability with other online platforms and databases is crucial in terms of boosting access to knowledge and facilitating new forms of digital and inter-disciplinary research. The imperative to ramp up curatorial capacity, address regional strategies for shared e-infrastructure and fall in line with international standards for interoperability and sharing were the core topics under conversation in Nairobi. The central thematic backdrop to the discussion being the need to reinvigorate the higher education libraries environment so that it can more effectively respond to new demands around supporting e-research and data curation.

Attention was also drawn to the need to more formally acknowledge and support the increasingly important intermediaries who constitute a fourth key stakeholder group (in addition to scholars, librarians and managers) in the scholarly communication activity system. The absence of clear professional paths and retention strategies for emerging professions straddling IT, academic, managerial and publishing functions was acknowledged as a key challenge in terms of professionalising scholarly communication in African HEIs.

Participants in the workshop were introduced to a range of free online tools to facilitate broader sharing of research as well as new Altmetric services that can be utilised to ascertain downstream impact of research and provide improved data for research management and reporting purposes. Attention was also drawn to international initiatives and e-infrastructures that could be utilised to overcome current resource and capacity deficits in the African context.

Research agencies represented in the workshop included: the Regional Universities Forum for Capacity Building in Agriculture (RUFORUM), TrustAfrica, the African Population and Health Research Center (APHRC), the African Leadership Center (ALC), the Council for the Development of Social Science Research in Africa (CODESRIA) and the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI). Representatives from the Kenya Education Network (KENET) also participated in the proceedings.

Read more here or follow the ongoing twitter conversation at #scholarAfrica.

ZAMREN rolls out eduroam
Zambia Research and Education Network (ZAMREN) has become the third Member NREN of UbuntuNet Alliance to roll out eduroam (education roaming), a service that allows users from participating institutions to gain secure access to wireless networks access using their standard username (email format)/ password credentials as they do at their home institution for wireless access at another participating institution.

The service is currently available at University of Zambia; Copperbelt University and Mulungushi University, the three public universities in Zambia.

What this means now is that “a student at the University of Zambia is who is participating in a joint research project at the Copperbelt University can use eduroam to connect to the wireless networks at both institutions, without any additional configuration being necessary”, reads a statement on the ZAMREN eduroam website (

ZAMREN has made tremendous progress over the past few years. In 2012, ZAMREN became the first NREN to eastablish a research and education cross-border link with Tertiary Education and Research Network for South Africa (TENET).

Kenya Education Network (KENET) and TENET have also successfully implemented eduroam in Kenya and South Africa respectively. eduroam is a world-wide roaming access service developed for the international research and education community. Having started in Europe, eduroam has gained momentum throughout the research and education community and is now available in 54 countries, the eduroam website notes.

Tool developed at CERN makes software citation easier

By Andrew Purcell

Research output amounts to much more than just academic papers. It is important that underlying datasets, and the software used to analyze them, are also properly cited and that the researchers behind these are given credit for their work. Fortunately, as of today, software citation has become significantly easier. Researchers working at CERN, near Geneva, Switzerland, have developed a tool that allows source code from the popular software development site GitHub to be preserved and cited through the CERN-hosted online repository Zenodo.

Launched almost one year ago, Zenodo, which was created through the European Commission’s OpenAIREplus project, facilitates sharing of research outputs from a wide variety of formats across all fields of science. Now, people working on software in GitHub will be able to ensure that their code is not only preserved through Zenodo, but is also provided with a unique digital object identifier (DOI), just like an academic paper.

“Open science is not only about open-access publications; it also means the publication of your data,” says Tim Smith, group leader for collaboration and information services within the CERN IT department. “For data to be reusable, you need to have the software alongside it that was used to read and interpret it.

” The citation tool was developed by Lars Holm Nielsen, a software engineer based at CERN, and Amit Kapadia, who now works at US-based company Mapbox. Kapadia previously worked at Zooniverse as part of the team behind Galaxy Zoo and other popular citizen science projects. He spent two weeks at CERN working with Nielsen to create the tool for Zenodo. “This is an exciting project,” says Kapadia. “As a software developer, I’m looking forward to using these features myself.”

“We want to give researchers the credit they deserve for creating great software, by making it citable and helping to preserve it,” explains Nielsen. “However, it’s not only about preservation and citability, but reproducibility as well. It’s important that you can find the software that was used behind the results reported in a paper, so that you can reproduce them if you wish.”

Nielsen and Kapadia also spent time working with the INSPIRE team, to prototype dedicated services for the high-energy physics community. “We want scientists in our community to be able to publish their data and software, and link this tightly back to the INSPIRE records that describe the analysis,” says Smith. Republished with permission from iSGTW

Call for NRENs: NSRC to offer direct capacity building to NRENs

UbuntuNet Alliance is happy to announce that the Network Startup Resource Center (NSRC), has agreed to provide funding grants to UbuntuNet Alliance which will enable NSRC to support capacity building activities of member NRENs according to need and demand.

NSRC, has over the last three years given intensive technical support to the UbuntuNet Alliance with the objective of building engineering capacity to enable the design and operation of advanced data networks, with specific focus on national research and education networks. As part of this, there is an underlying programme of building sustainable capacity building in sub-Saharan Africa through the training of trainers, combined with regional peer collaboration to deliver training down to university level. Contributions from International Network for the Availability of Scientific Publication (INASP) have reinforced this for the INASP target countries.

NRENs that have benefited are invited to write an article for NUANCE describing the support they have received and outcomes/impact on their operations. Let the story come from you, and NUANCE shall spread it far and wide.

In addition to such ongoing support, NSRC has agreed to provide cash grants disbursed through the Alliance for continuing support to capacity building needs and initiatives. The agreed key principles for the disbursement of these grants are in the document available here. The initiative will be administered by Joe Kimaili, UbuntuNet Alliance, Technical Manager who is also in charge of Capacity Building.

CEOs of NRENs that have needs that fit the guidelines are invited to submit applications for support. There is no specific format, but the application, in addition to having a clear budget, should demonstrate how it is responsive to the key principles. Grants for activities are unlikely to exceed $3,000.

WACREN held its first Annual Conference and second AGM in Lomé, Togo

 By Dr Boubakar Barry

WACREN has successfully held its first Annual Conference and second Annual General Meeting on 13 – 14 March 2014 in Lomé, Togo. They were preceded by a meeting of the Board of Directors of WACREN on 12 March 2014.

Approximately 60 participants participated in the event, including representatives of NRENs in West and Central Africa and members of the education and research community.

Delegates from continental and regional organizations such as the Association of African Universities, the African Development Bank, Economic Community Of West African States (ECOWAS) and West African Economic and Monetary Union (UEMOA) also participated in the events. WACREN partners (DANTE, IRD, NSRC and RENATER) were also present. UbuntuNet Alliance’s CEO sent a goodwill message.

The opening session of the conference was chaired by the Minister of Higher Education and Research of Togo, and high-level officials such as NREN Board Chairs, Permanent Secretaries and Special Advisers at Ministries of Higher Education and Research in the region also participated in the conference and AGM.

Important resolutions were passed during the Lomé events, including:

  •  All WACREN General Meetings to be public; all members of the larger community duly registered for participation can attend these meetings and contribute to the discussions; and
  • Minutes of Board Meetings and reports of General Meetings are to be made public on WACREN website for access by the community.

The discussions during the AGM have led to the revision of the WACREN membership structure, with the aim at allowing wider participation. WACREN membership categories are now: NREN Members, Associate Members, Corporate Members and Partner Members. There is a “Premium” option for the Associate and Corporate membership categories.

The next WACREN Annual Conference and AGM will be held on 11-13 March 2015. For more information, visit the WACREN website.

eI4Africa Workshop in Lagos features remote robotics and solar powered weather sensors

The eI4Africa (e-Infrastructures for Africa) project consortium held its 3rd thematic workshop on 19 March 2014 at University of Lagos in Nigeria under the theme “Leveraging Science Gateways & Virtual Research Communities in African e-Science.” Organised by the West and Central African Research and Education Network (WACREN) and UbuntuNet Alliance in collaboration with Sigma Orionis and all the eI4Africa consortium members, the workshop was co-hosted by the Center for Atmospheric Research (CAR), an activity centre of the Nigerian National Space Research and Development Agency (NASRDA), and the Eko-Konnect Research and Education Initiative.

The workshop presented an opportunity for the eI4Africa consortium and Eko-Konnect to showcase the Nigerian Research and Education Network (ngREN) identity provider (IdP) that Eko-Konnect developed in 2013 within the framework of the eI4Africa. The Eko-Konnect IdP is registered with the Africa-Grid Science Gateway and allows users registered with it to run demo applications available through the Science Gateway.

The programme for the workshop featured presentations, a panel discussion and demos. Solar powered sensors for recording weather parameters were demonstrated. Finch, a robot at Brunel University was also receiving commands from workshop participants via Twitter.

The Finch is a product of BirdBrain Technologies LLC. The Department of Computer Science at Brunel University uses it to support computer programming education. Dr Stasha Lauria has implemented an approach to remotely control a Finch via Twitter. Tweet @twitbot1 move forward and take a picture, Finch will do exactly that and send you a link to the photo. The photo you see above was taken after the first twitter command from Lagos.

Apart from moving in different directions, the Finches have a beak that can change colour, an accelerometer so the orientation is known, infrared sensors to detect obstacles, a light sensor, a thermocouple to determine temperature and a buzzer.

The workshop in Lagos was third in a series of workshops organized by the eI4Africa project. The first one was held in Lilongwe, Malawi on 2 May 2013; and the second one was jointly organized with CHAIN-REDS project and was held as a pre-conference workshop at UbuntuNet-Connect 2013 on 13 November 2013. The fourth workshop will be held in Dar es Salaam on 3 June 2014 ahead of the Technology Transfer Alliance (TTA) Conference, hosted by Dar es Salaam Institute of Technology (DIT).

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