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Graduate students in Finland solve real problems with open source software
Graduate students in Finland solve real problems beyond the classroom
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The School of Business and Information Management at Oulu University of Applied Sciences (OUAS) created an open source project management software named OpixProject. The objective was not to create something that would compete with the current project management software, but to place students in realistic problem-solving environments in order to reduce the gap between the concepts covered in the classroom and real-world experiences.
Before creating the OpixProject, the students did real assignments in cooperation with ICT companies. But these assignements had some flaws. They were set-up to be done with proprietary software and complicated methods. In addition, some of the assignments are complex or, on the contrary, too simple. These flaws contributed to the students' lack of understanding and knowledge acquired in classroom and their poor attitude towards learning.
The OpixProject corrects these flaws. The teachers define the assignments with the right level of complexity—not too simple nor too complex—in order to keep students motivated. And the technology needed to do all of the assignements is open source.
The OpixProject also gives students the opportunity to acquire social and technical skills. Social skills from working with a team—it's very important for students to learn how to work together, how to have their voices heard, how to ask questions, and how to react to criticism. Technical skills are acquired first, by getting constructive feedback from the members of the team—who are generally, in an open source project, very passionate and come from different backgrounds and levels of expertise. In addition, the students learn how to use essential tools, such as automated build tools, control version systems, and configurations and packaging tools.
An open source project like OpixProject, besides being an ideal tool for learning, is also beneficial to the university in which it lives. It is a means for creating partnerships with other educational establishments, and the software produced can be improved on and customized by an international community, giving the contributors a broader reach. Moreover, an open source project is interesting in a marketing sense because it is a mean to attract students to the university.
If OpixProject continues to do well, we expect to have a useful code base ready in the near future to attract contributors to the project. If it produces a large user base, postgraduate students, as well as other contributors, will need to offer their assistance—teachers, students, and people of other backgrounds with interest in the project. For now, however, it is all hands on deck from members of the School of Business and Information Management.
Liisa Auer, Jouni Juntunen, and Pekka Ojala. 2011. Open source project as a pedagogical tool in higher education. http://doi.acm.org/10.1145/2181037.2181073
Phyllis C. Blumenfeld, Elliot Soloway, Ronald W. Marx, Joseph S. Krajcik, Mark Guzdial, Annemarie Palincsar. Motivating Project-Based Learning: Sustaining the Doing, Supporting the Learning. Educational Psychologist, Vol. 26, No. 3. (1991), pp. 369-398