UU Open Source Investigations Lab (OSINT Lab)

14 April 2022

Educational project

UU Open Source Investigations Lab (OSINT Lab)

Working together with societal partners across disciplines and levels, this project combines digital innovation with new media literacy in order to train students to identify, document, verify, analyse, evaluate, and report on human rights and environmental abuses to drive Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) progress.


Open-source information is defined as publicly available information that anyone can observe, purchase or request without requiring special legal status or authorized access. Globalization and the growth of digital technology has meant that knowledge and information can spread like never before. Individual citizens can now gather, share, and analyse publicly available online data including satellite imagery, videos, photographs, social media posts, and other material. This means that disinformation and fake news can also spread like never before.

With disinformation and fake news on the rise, it is more important than ever that students develop skills of critical inquiry that cross disciplinary boundaries and learn to work effectively together with societal partners. Proficiency in open-source investigations has become a critical skill that is highly sought after by employers and relevant for all students. UU students will need appropriate training in this area.

Goal and set-up

Working together with societal partners across disciplines, this project seeks to establish an Open Source Investigations Lab here at Utrecht University, making it one of the first universities establishing such a lab on the European continent.

The project will be arranged in 5 work packages (WPs) carried out over a 3-year period:

Includes overall coordination, funding acquisition, and regular progress reports. It also includes the more practical side of ensuring that students across the university and educational levels can enrol in the Lab. Specific programmes where the Lab could be ‘anchored’ will be identified. Our team members have a good overview of specific programmes to target. For example, the MA in applied data science or sustainable citizenship, or BA minor programmes such as new minor in media and digital cultures.
The team will spend approximately 5 months learning from experienced OSINT educators before the courses will be set-up and designed. Training of the teachers is an important part this WP. We want teachers who are trained in both the technological side/skills as well as the social/analytical side.

During months 6-12, the course’s learning objectives, activities, and means of assessment will be finalized. Working with O&T, these objectives, activities, and assessment methods will be tailored to the project and level of the participating students.

After O&T consultations, our selection procedures and workshop and seminar planning will also be established.

In year 2, the first iteration of the pilot courses will start. The aim is to include between 15-25 students across faculties and BA/MA levels. The student and teacher expectations and experiences will be monitored through baseline, midline and endline surveys. In year 3, the second iteration of the pilot courses will start and grow to 30-50 students, and look to include LLL. The team will also collaborate for scale and impact with other projects and programs across the university.
While our evaluations will be finalized in the final year of the project, carrying out research and data collection will start in year 1. Three joint academic publications will be submitted.

For the publication (1) evaluating the project in light of the role of universities in addressing specific SDGs, the work of UGlobe and the mapping of SDG work at UU will be drawn on, positioning this project accordingly.

For the publication (2) evaluating the project in light of interdisciplinarity, we will use data from the baseline, midline, and endline student and teacher surveys will be used and Repko’s steps to interdisciplinarity will be used as a measure to evaluate whether integration takes shape (and in what forms) on specific projects.

For the final publication (3) evaluating the project in light of international community engaged learning (CEL), we will draw from literature on CEL and global citizenship education will be drawn on and again the data gathered from the student and teacher surveys will be used, as well as our own lived experiences.

These publications will provide insights into the use of digital tools in interdisciplinary, international CEL classroom environments.

Internal and external dissemination plans will be drafted in year 1 and implemented in years 2 and 3. In addition to the academic publications (WP4), blogs/op-eds and teaching tools will be published to share our experiences, present the findings at conferences/workshops, and engage with potential funders.

Intended results

The project will experiment and inspire through the piloting of new university-wide course offerings for BA, MA, and LLL students. The project will also collaborate for scale and impact by working with partners such as the CEL Program Team, Utrecht Data School and UGlobe to spread knowledge across programmes and curricula. A key aspect of the project will be promoting knowledge exchange within and beyond the university. As such, in addition to blogs/op-eds and teaching tools, the project will result in three joint, academic publications: (1) evaluating the project in light of the role of universities in addressing key SDGs; (2) evaluating the project in light of interdisciplinarity and (3) evaluating the project in light of community engaged learning. Finally, the plan is to deliver three (inter)national talks to inspire other universities and teachers to take up similar projects. Together, these outputs will result in both scholarly and societal impact.


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