Chris Tyler, you are the man.
Now we’ve got a great bit of infrastructure for educators who are trying to teach open source to their students. What are we going to do with it?
Funny, I just spent a day with friends in Chattanooga at SIGSCE. A room full of professors and industry folks, all of whom care about exposing students to open source. We had some amazing discussions. My agenda was to find out why, exactly, more professors aren’t already engaging their students in open source. Some big obstacles, and some ideas about what we might be able to do about them:
1. Tenure. Wow, is this a big one. The way tenure works at universities really makes it difficult for junior professors to engage in any open source activities at all, and I’ve heard enough excited professors hammer this point, again and again, over and over, that it’s starting to sink in. We really need to figure out how to help profs solve this problem.
Some ideas here, briefly. One, create an academic-oriented open source conference with peer-reviewed, juried papers. Two, create an academic-oriented open source journal with peer-reviewed, juried papers. Three, work to convince professors that “peers” in computer science don’t have to be professors — that when Alan Cox says “yes, this paper at OLS is good,” it should have as much clout as the opinion of any professor. Four, focus on bringing research money to the actual creation of open source projects; nothing sells tenure boards like cash in the university’s hands.
2. Having bite-sized projects. This is a huge problem. Every time a professor thinks “gee, I’d like to find a project suitable to have my kids work on” and then goes to Sourceforge to find this project, a kitten dies and a professor loses his/her mind.
This is actually a very broad problem. Every sizeable open source project faces this problem — the problem of identifying on-ramp mini-projects that (a) are not so critical that they will harm the project if they Do It Wrong, (b) are small enough to be easily handled in several weekends of hard work, and (c) have artifacts like, oh, use cases — artifacts that professors need because they’re trying to teach this stuff.
Google Summer of Code does the open source community the great favor of *forcing* open source projects to articulate these kinds of mini-projects. For every project that Google approves, they turn down two. (More or less.) Figuring out how to leverage this work so that professors can pick up the projects that Google leaves on the table could be *tremendously* useful — and Leslie is thinking about it, so that’s good. 🙂
3. Having course materials. Lots of professors are doing lots of good stuff, but it’s spread out all over creation. Identifying all the CC-licensed CS curriculum stuff in the world and aggregating it somewhere would be great. Like, say, at teachingopensource.org. That would be awesome.
So. A productive couple of days, and lots of good ideas. Now comes the hard work of turning these ideas into reality — but the establishment of TeachingOpenSource.org is an important step down this road.