Being a student of Open Source I wanted insight on how Open Source gets integrated in the educational process. So I choose to follow the Teaching Open Source stream of the conference. I will summarize, analyze and compare The Student and Professors Perspective talks during the conference.
The Students Perspective: A Summary
The talk was about students’ interaction to Open Source from the community to the technology and how it ties in to their educational experience. Getting involved in open source is a challenge, and the students’ talk about the means they accomplish the challenge either by going alone or institutions (like Seneca) as a means to network. Bringing the open source project community in the classroom is an important component when learning open source. When students get involved and start getting help from the community, there is a sense of altruism that the students gain and they begin to help each other. The students form a community within the community. The open source social network/community dynamic was touched upon by one of the panel members. The panel member also mentioned something about how there is little study done on how these communities function. Knowing the characteristics of open source communities would be beneficial to students and teachers who want to get involved. They also mentioned how open source education differs from your traditional way of learning how to code. It was said that it took a while getting use to using other peoples code in order to accomplish a goal. The panel members felt that Open Source education in the classroom provided them with something more tangible. The old way of just doing an assignment in a sandbox did not hold as much value. Some hurdles that were apparent in an open source education setting were the professor not knowing all the answers to their projects. However, it enables a student to push their limit of understanding and pushes them to get involved in the community. The immense diversity when working in open source makes everything that a student works feel like an outlier however, an open source community thrives on outliers. A student may contribute something back into the community that may feel like that it resides in the fringes of the project and find someone benefiting from their contributions. Having positive feedback during the learning experience is very important. Improving the student experience was a topic that was discussed. The panel mentions that having an established network of people to count on is very important. Having the opportunity to innovate is a way for students to get more out of the learning experience. Overall there is a level of uncertainty when a student enters an open source learning experience. A student should not wait to be ready to learning open source because apparently they are never ready.
The Students Perspective: An Analysis
The overall story I got was very positive from the students’ point of view. Learning Open Source however, is an epic story that encompasses both positive and negative aspects. The panel did touch on it when the moderator asked them on ways to improve the learning experience. The panel considered learning open source development a much better way to learn as opposed to the traditional way of having a self-contained sandbox. However, the sandbox in reality was moved to a garden where students can grow. Seneca has such a great relationship with open source projects like Mozilla and Fedora that it creates this garden that is conducive to the learning experience. There was a student that mentioned that the open source class he took at Seneca removed all the lazy people. However, sometimes there are cases where the material is just not as accessible to the student(s). Everyone learns differently and have various strengths. In some cases open source enables a student to discover what those strengths are and in other cases they get stuck and are unable to cope. It would have been nice to have a current student in the panel since all the views that were provided were in retrospect and everything looks better in retrospect.
The Teachers Perspective: A Summary
The panel speakers spoke about the challenges that they face when trying to teach in open source, picking the right projects key, making open source accessible in the classroom and grading. What made it very apparent to teachers who want to get involved in open source are the language barriers. All the documentation and code is written in english and it becomes very difficult to decipher. Also entering a community when everyone speaks only english is a challenge for teachers who do not speak english. Location is very important being in the hot bed of open source development will enhance the learning experience in the classroom. Having the ability to have open source contributors speak in the classroom. Finding these speakers means finding a way to network with these open source projects. Picking a project that the community is interested in will make it easier and mentors readily available. Also making sure that the projects are not blocker bugs. Quantifying a student’s work or contribution comes from wikis/blogs etc.. Defining success is a challenge in an open source project that is very diverse. The panel also spoke about getting funding to teach open source in a classroom. There seems to be a catch 22 when teaching open source. Open source projects want to invest into educating in open source development however, there needs to be a model on teaching and Seneca is working towards that.
The Professors Perspective: An Analysis.
The focus of the panel was basically how to get started if you want to teach open source in the classroom. There are many hurdles when it comes to teaching open source. The topic of teaching techniques on how to make learning open source more accessible to students was not covered in depth. It is understandable since right now the current challenges are trying to find a way to get involved in open source projects and making them education friendly. It seems a “one of us and one of them” dynamic, one professor and one open source developer working together to develop the learning experience. Techniques and characteristics to making projects more accessible to the students need to be developed. This will take time and a willing developer and willing professor in order for things to work. Professors need to be more involved with their students since the overhead to get started is high. Professors’ teaching their students how to cope in an open source environment is very important. A topic that was not talked about was the time challenges. How do the professors cope with the schedule of the open source project and the schedule of the school? But that might be part of how do you pick the right projects. I would have wanted more information on how professors start to develop lesson plans on a topic as large as open source.
There is a need for interaction between the open source community and the world of education. The views are similar except in that they were both involved in the education. I really want to focus on accessibility for students and how they over come the overhead of learning in open source. It is important to for students to be taught how to cope and deal with the uncertainties of open source. The key theme seems to be communication and community more than the actual open source project. Coding is almost secondary in Open Source, which is very interesting.
Overall there needs to be a model for learning open source, and in the end everyone agreed that there needs to be a Consortium an Open Source Consortium (OSC) where Open Source and Educational institutions can set standards for Education and Project Collaboration. There needs to be a way to market it and make it more accessible to students, teacher, institutions and Open Source projects. These talks challenge me to find ways to make open source more accessible to others. I felt the enthusiasm of the group to get involved in education, but there are hurdles that need to be over come. I wish to contribute in overcoming those hurdles in the future.