South Africa welcomes POSSE


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Next week, we'll be live blogging from POSSE South Africa on opensource.com, and you'll get to witness some of the bridge-building between academia and open source.  You and others like you can take away lessons that help universities evolve in a world where open source is a major focus and enabler of the future.

As Ian discussed in his article, Can academia "release early, release often?", the Teaching Open Source community is building the scaffolding to help educators teach open source participation.  In order to do that, educators need to learn how to participate in free and open source software (FOSS) themselves.  Once professors experience open source participation, even from a weeklong bootcamp, they can more easily bring their students along and into FOSS communities.

One of the most important programs at Teaching Open Source is the Professors' Open Source Summer Experience (POSSE). POSSE is a weeklong bootcamp that gets professors and POSSE instructors productively lost.  The idea is to help educators understand how to include being productively lost in their curriculum.

Being lost is a special state in open source projects.  Although we discuss the open source way of doing things and most of us seem to practice similar techniques, the actual navigation within a project is always unique. Getting a first patch accepted for even a small bug involves the issue/bug tracker, coding practices, patch submission processes, and at least a few rounds of human interaction with people in different roles and different timezones.  The same is true for any contribution, from documentation to translation.

If you are working with a project that has good architecture and scaffolding, the process of finding yourself teaches you much more than if you had been given explicit directions. As you learn your way around, you rely upon the guidance of and trails left by others, and you reinforce or blaze new trails that help those who come after you. And once you contribute for the first time, subsequent efforts (even in different projects) are easier.

The POSSE curriculum is an educational tool that balances "what to do and how to do it" learning with unexpected but useful sessions of being productively lost.

For more in-depth information about POSSE--including a video with POSSE instructors Chris Tyler (Seneca College) and Mel Chua (Red Hat)--read An open source education--for educators.

Next week, Mel will join organizer Michael Adeyeye (CPUT), fellow instructor Jan Wildeboer (Red Hat), and technical guru Pierros Papadeas (Fedora Project) to run the POSSE in South Africa.

This is the first POSSE to be held in Africa. According to Fedora Project statistics[1], Africa is the most under-represented continent for contributors. It will be interesting to look for ways to track the effect of the POSSE on growing contributors in South Africa and beyond.  At the very least, we hope that having POSSE alumni in South Africa may make it easier to start other POSSEs regionally and across the continent.

 



Footnote 1:

Looking at the heat maps for Fedora 13, 12, 11, 10, and so forth it is clear where most users are coming from; you can also see the growth in geographic regions.  Because of recent anthropological work done on the Fedora Project, we know that 74% of contributors started as users of Fedora ("An Exploration of Fedora’s Online Open Source Development Community" PDF, page 1.)  That means we can use the MirrorManager download heat maps as approximate measures of quantity and location of contributors.

What is also interesting is the map for rawhideRawhide is the very tip of development--the very latest code, built daily, with no promise that a package (or the whole distribution) will install, boot, run, or stay running.  Presumably, these users are much more likely to be contributors or represent pools of participants.  The heat map shows very low rawhide usage in Africa, and a likely conclusion is that Africa has the smallest number of contributors per continent.

Our analysis, of course, is quite basic.  For it to be complete (and completely accurate), we would need to account for population differences, geography and population density, economy, and other factors.  In addition, we need to get better data resolution around South Africa; using global heat maps doesn't provide the resolution needed for analysis.  The best we can say here is that Africa appears to have the lowest number of contributors on any continent.

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