Sebastian Dziallas

wrangler of learning tools

A Piece on Open Source and Faculty Motivation.

When I spent some time going around North Carolina over the past couple of days visiting POSSE professors, I had a realization: we encourage professors to be productively lost (see here), to go out and feel immersed in a community, admit that they can’t solve all of the problems themselves and act more as a facilitator in the classroom that helps identify to ask the right questions in the right place online.

This is admittedly a big step. But there’s more to it: it’s not just sufficient to be interested in open source in general. There needs to be some tangible goal. Participating in open source communities, as Greg puts it, needs to be rewarding. And here’s the interesting part: I have come to believe that this applies to the students (“participating in open source communities means that your work will be publicly available, so you can point future employers to it”) as well as to the instructor.

Think about Heidi Ellis and Matt Jadud. Heidi has been working on the HFOSS – the H stands for humanitarian. Her students have been successfully contributing to Caribou, the GNOME onscreen keyboard and are now on-track looking at Cheese and others. Matt spent time introducing students to a variety of parts of the Fedora project. For his interface design class, he called out for projects in a blog post, which was picked up by Mo just a day later.

We have seen many successful contributions through classrooms to open source projects like these. But one thing the instructors had in common was that they were excited about the prospect of having students contribute to this or that project. Mel made an interesting analogy just now: “you don’t see you’re interested in ‘learning languages’ – you’re learning one specific language”.

So, I’m curious: what are the projects you’ve been looking at – and why? Is there something we can do to help? Let us know!