Allegheny first-years dive into Fedora

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This semester, a colleague and I have been running a parallel set of freshman seminar courses. Darren Miller (a photography professor in the Art Department) is teaching a course titled Art and Activism, and mine is titled Technology and Activism. These topical courses are part of an Allegheny student's introduction to writing and presentation skills—and we decided to take that to another level this semester. Over the course of fourteen weeks, we've introduced them to the Creative Commons, blogging, and open source software in the context of social change, trying to get them ready for their dive into the Fedora project.

Today, 42 first-year students at Allegheny College were thrown into the deep end of the pool on the Fedora project. Given that these are first-year students with no particular background in computing, we've worked closely with Mel Chua to get these students plugged into the Marketing and Design teams. This puts them in a context where their lack of experience as programmers is a benefit, as they are discussing and developing feature descriptions with developers with the explicit goal of making the end-result readable by people with no particular background in computing.

This exercise represents risk and opportunity in many ways. The community is nervous because they aren't accustomed to this kind of spontaneous/large-scale influx of volunteer effort. We're nervous because, if the students have negative experiences in this process, they'll take it out in our evaluations. That said, we think there is great value for our students as they interact with contributors from around the world to make positive change through a community-driven process. I personally think it is an invaluable experience for them to have in their first year of college.

I hope our students finish the semester feeling that they have made a contribution. I hope that some of them see that they can come back to this community throughout their four years of college, and add value to a massive ecosystem in a way that only they can do. I hope they realize that we have done our best to introduce them to an incredible, global social movement, and they can run as far and fast as they like in this community, and their excellence will be valued in  many wonderful ways.

(To FS102 students reading this: that was an example of the use of anaphora in writing.)

For now, we'll see where it takes us. At this point, all we can do is support the students as best we can, and see where this road takes us.

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Matt is passionate about the design and development of usable languages for embedded control. You can some of his work at, a rallying point for parallel programming on the popular Arduino platform. However, most of the time Matt keeps himself busy as a member of the faculty at Berea College.


I think what is going on here is <em>really</em> awesome. It's great to see a bunch of fresh faces in the project, both in design and marketing where we <strong>really</strong> need it. I hope that those who get involved in our community decide to stay past the end of the semester, their contributions to our community are more than welcomed :)


I have gone through the blogs from your community and posted responses where folks have been asking for help. Again, if you need any help in getting started with this effort, please feel free to email me: sundaram AT

Did you know that Meadville Public Library (and the county library system) are heavy users of Open Source? Maybe we could collaborate on a town & gown sort of project in the future.

Check out how we're using it at

Your course sounds like great real-world experience. Good luck!

I just have to say - it's been an absolute pleasure working with your students, Matt. One of the most valuable things they've brought to the table is their perspective as articulate and thoughtful newcomers - fresh eyes often catch things that experienced ones take for granted, and we're learning a lot about how to improve the new contributor experience for Fedora.

Looking forward to the rest of the semester, and to doing this again next year!

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