A big welcome to Monica Cardella's "Informal Learning Environments" graduate class here at Purdue's Engineering Education department. Here... is your mission for two weeks from now. We're going to dive into my informal learning environment, the world of open source.

Reading 0: What's open source?

In order to talk about open source, we've got to have a background understanding of what it is. We likely won't discuss these readings much; they're for giving you a quick overview of what "open source" encompasses (probably more than you think!) so feel free to skim whatever catches your interest and see which links you're intrigued to follow down into.

  • Wikipedia: open source - you may want to focus on the Applications section, and others of you might be interested in open design. This is for a quick overview and perspective-broadening on what open source is, so don't spend more than 15 minutes here.
  • Opensource.com - pick a channel and read 1-2 articles from it -- again, this is for perspective-broadening on what the possibilities are, so set a 15 minute cap again. My guess is that life and education will be popular with this crowd; work on teaching open source can mostly be found under the posse tag.

Also note that you'll see a couple terms used to refer to "open source" other than... well, open source. Multiple variants on "(Free) (Libre) and Open Source (Software)" frequently appear as acronyms, so whenever you see...

  • OSS
  • FOSS

...consider them to all refer to the same thing for our purposes. (There are subtle differences between the terms that some people care about deeply, but we'll save that discussion for another day if folks are interested.)

Reading 1: IRC chat

Read this chat log from a conversation taking place between a first-year liberal arts student new to an open source community and two experienced project participants who catch her question and try to step in. An informal analysis by the student's professor follows

It's important to note that all of this was remote and spontaneous; the student didn't preschedule the meeting with community members, she simply showed up online and started asking questions, and one person answered, and eventually a second one began to chime in.

For those who want more, the chat transcript spawned a mailing list conversation between faculty members (Jadud and Morelli) and FOSS participants (Chua and Wade) but this reading is optional.

Questions to consider: who can you empathize with, and why? What would you have done differently in this situation if you were the student? Community members? Professor? For others considering this sort of immersion (students diving into a real-world project environment without explicit scaffolding or defined mentorship engagements), what sort of preparation would be useful to provide each of the three groups (students, community, and faculty)

Reading 2: Planet CDOT

A Planet is an aggregation of blogs -- a sort of metablog that collects and publishes posts from many people who have individual blogs on their own sites. For instance, many contributors to the desktop software GNOME are featured on http://planet.gnome.org, many contributors to the Fedora Linux distribution are on http://planet.fedoraproject.org, contributors to the Sugar Learning Environment (which runs on the One Laptop Per Child XO computer) are at http://planet.sugarlabs.org... take a quick look at each of these (5 minutes each at most) and get a sense for what a Planet is. It's a gigantic realtime look at the design notebooks of hundreds of (mostly) engineers, or at least that's how I think about it.

You may notice posts on many topics and in many languages. That's normal around here. The content posted is not moderated; the only moderation takes place in deciding whose blog is going to feed into the big Planet, but once you're "in," anything you write goes out there - also note that these folks aren't necessarily in formal project roles. In fact, nearly all of them are volunteers with no predefined commitments; they self-identify with these projects, work on them, and simply Do Stuff.

And schools have started using it as well. Go to Planet CDOT, which comes from the Center for the Development of Open Technologies at Seneca College in Toronto, Ontario. Spend about 20 minutes looking around and reading; pick 3 posts from 3 different people to hone in on and see what you can find about the people who wrote them.

You'll see a stream of posts from students (at all levels), staff, and faculty (they may be initially hard to identify, but David Humphrey and Chris Tyler are both professors) talking about their work. It's informal, like the sorts of conversations you might overhear if you plonk down in the cafe outside the CDOT space... except you don't have to fly to Toronto in order to do it.

Questions for discussion: What information can you glean from 20 minutes of looking through this website?  What projects do people talk about (coursework, research, etc?) Do they identify themselves as members of an academic community, members of an open source community, or both? How would this sort of resource be useful to the following audiences:

  • A prospective student
  • A new student in the department
  • A graduating senior in the department
  • A faculty member in the department
  • A potential industry/academic partner that wants to work with or recruit students from the department

How does this compare to the "sense" of the department you think you'd get from visiting CDOT in person for an afternoon, and how does it compare to the "sense" you can get of another department remotely... for instance, pick an engineering school at Purdue you're not involved with and check out their site; what can you find in comparison?

That's it.

I know this is a lot of web stuff, so if you're really pressed for time, do reading 0 and pick either 1 or 2 to dive deeper into. We'll talk about all this on the 21st of October. This is the world I come from, and I'm curious what you make of it -- what's confusing, what's difficult, what warts do you see that we've gotten used to? What's surprising? What aspects fascinate you most?

FOSS folks, feel free to chime in... what do you wish faculty knew about us?

Looking forward to the discussion!