Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Where is the Information? Part 1:Academia

I am really excited today because I just came across a great blogging website, Appfrica.net and they are officially my number one website for technology news in Africa (2nd overall after Techcrunch).

I'm so excited that I am suddenly fired up to blog. Fortunately an article at Appfrica about "web presence" ranking of universities in the world has provided me food for thought.

My reason for this post will not be self evident so let me state it, Access to Information. Yes, access to information. Justin (my co-contributor and partner) has been asking the question, Where is the Information? I am attempting to find out why it is so difficult to find information in Ghana, by doing posts on lack of information conscious mentality in academia,business and the blogosphere.

This is why this particular ranking which seeks to measure the visibilty and substance of academic material available through the web presence of the academic institutions worldwide appeals to me.

The "Webometrics Ranking of World Universities" as it is called is conducted by Cybermetrics Lab, part of the CINDOC - CSIC, a research body in Spain, which is

".....devoted to the quantitative analysis of the Internet and Web content especially those related to the processes of generation and scholarly communication of scientific knowledge."
The rankings are intended

"... to motivate both institutions and scholars to have a web
presence that reflect accurately their activities. If the web
performance of an institution is below the expected position according
to their academic excellence, university authorities should reconsider
their web policy, promoting substantial increases of the volume and
quality of their electronic publications
Plain English, they want to encourage the academic community to put more academic publication and research material ('stuff') on the web.

I like the rankings because the methodology is based on extracting data using the citadel on which our internet existence is built, the 'search engine'.

For the purposes of the ranking four (4) search engines (Google, YahooSearch, Live (MSN) Search, Exalead) and the specialist scientific database of Google Scholar were used primarily because their API's are publicly available.

Four indicators were obtained from the quantitative results provided by the main search engines as follows:

Size (S). Number of pages recovered from four engines: Google, Yahoo, Live Search and Exalead.

Visibility (V). The total number of unique external linksreceived (inlinks) by a site can be only confidently obtained from Yahoo Search, Live Search and Exalead.

Rich Files (R). After evaluation of their relevance to academic and publication activities and considering the volume of the different file formats, the following were selected: Adobe Acrobat (.pdf), Adobe PostScript (.ps), Microsoft Word (.doc) and Microsoft Powerpoint
(.ppt). This data was extracted using Google.

Scholar (Sc). Google Scholar provides the number of papers and
citations for each academic domain. These results from the Scholar database represent papers, reports and other academic items. "

Another assumption in the process is that internet access exists and is available to the institutions and therefore financial constraints were not factored into the ranking, a point which may or may not significantly affect the ranking (what do you think?)

My focus is on the ranking of African universities and it is immediately noticeable that plenty of South African universities are in the upper tier of the rankings and although I was not
surprised, I wished my alma-matter was in the first 20 institutions.

Now comes the interesting part. Where are the Ghanaian universities?

And the winners in Ghana are.............

1. University of Ghana - Africa 46, World 6657

2. KNUST - Africa 50, World 6758

3. Asheshi - Africa 95, World 8860

Now I must say I was really surprised that UG beat KNUST. It seems their recent revamp of the website and a creation of a Management Information Systems (MIS) directorate was in the right direction. I will do a thorough comparision in a later post.

What does this mean:

I beleive that if this was a straight comparision of availability of information and functionality of academic websites, Ghanaian institutions may have placed higher in the ranking. However, in terms of the websites being a repository of academic publications and research, we will mostly definately not gain a whole lot of points.I think ultimately this was the undoing of the Ghanaian websites.

This means although the major universities have started on the right track in order to avoid the 'Business Card Syndrome' and become a repository of knowledge and information, it is time to dust off all the wonderful research sitting on shelves and start making an electronic archive. This will benefit both students and increase international presence of the institutions. Although this may require some investment, I do not think PDF and other rich document media formats require a server farm akin to that of facebook and it can be done.

Ultimately for me the whole process is excellent because it seeks to say that merely having a .edu domain name whether in Ghana, the US or India is not enough. the domain must support all activities of the institutions, creating awareness, boosting the presence of the institution worldwide and YES, dissemination of INFORMATION.

Since the rankings are done half yearly, I am preparing a PDF document yo give to the three Ghanaian institutions so they can work their way up.

So, where is the information? On the shelves of academic institutions where with a little effort they can move from and become worldwide knowledge!