Open source and faculty motivation

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Open source and faculty motivation

When I spent some time going around North Carolina recently visiting POSSE professors, I had a realization: We encourage professors to be productively lost, 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 them identify the right questions to ask--and the right places to ask them--online.

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

Think about Heidi Ellis and Matt Jadud. Heidi has been working on 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 Chua 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!

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