I hate applying for things. Hate applying for things. It always felt like cranking through forms trying to guess at hidden expectations rather than really being able to share what I was hungry for, what I wanted to learn. Yet when I had to design an application process for POSSE, our workshop for professors who want to teach open source participation to their students, it was just as boring as the soul-numbing apps I complained about. I was... unsatisfied.
What did I actually want to learn about these professors? I wanted to get to know them. I wanted them to feel inspired after writing their application. I wanted to hear their dreams for the class, the story they want to be able to tell after teaching your class, and how can we could help them make that story happen. (It's not entirely coincidental that my alma mater, Olin, has been having its Candidates' Weekends lately - simultaneously the weirdest and best admissions process I've ever gone through for anything - so the admissions design experience is definitely on my mind.)
I've taken a stab at a... different sort of application. Take a look at the 3 questions below and see how you feel while reading them... does it make you want to apply? Does it energize you, inspire you? (If it doesn't - it's too long, too scary, too vague, anything like that - please let me know!) Timing on this is tight, as we need to open applications early next week - by Tuesday, March 8th, in order to hit SIGCSE on time.
Note that this is NOT the final POSSE application - this is a DRAFT under review, don't use it to apply yet! We'll holler when the final one is up, never fear.
Note that your application, except for the parts explicitly marked as "not shared" (which will remain private to the workshop team) will be posted publicly under a CC-BY-SA license. By submitting your application, you consent to these terms.
1. The present
Describe your class as it is currently taught, and what it's like for you to be there teaching it. Give us a picture - linking to or attaching the syllabus, listing learning objectives, and describing or providing sample assignments are helpful, but we're also looking for what it's like to be there, teaching where you are. How many students are in this class - are they sophomores, grad students, history majors, commuters, required to be there for graduation, or opting in? What kind of work do they do, and how - do they dutifully memorize, do they challenge you, struggle with the material, grind mechanically through it, breeze past it, come back later to thank you? What is your school itself like - urban, tiny, focused on global experiences, suburban, historic, state-of-the-art, isolated, running out of space? What about your colleagues - did you just get a new department chair who's open to change, do you frequently work with people outside your department, are you feeling the tenure crunch, are your fellow professors more research-minded? Feel free to use urls.
2. The future
Flash forward to Summer 2012. This was the best class you've ever taught. Hard but illuminating work - you can see it in your students' eyes. They get it, and they've done some truly amazing things that show how much they've grown. They can't stop talking about the class, and neither can you - you're inspired to reach out and see where this could go next, what it could mean for your institution... What happened? Tell this story as you would tell it to an old grad school friend who's now a professor somewhere else. Feel free to use urls.
Place yourself in the future, looking back - speak of the insights you've acquired and the milestones you've attained during the year as if these accomplishments were already in the past. Phrases such as "I hope," "I intend," or "I will" must not appear; this is not a binding commitment, but we want you to envision that future as strongly as you can, and share it with us. We are particularly interested in the sort of teacher you will have become, and the attitude, feelings, and worldview that you and your students will have as people who have done all they wished to do and become everything they wanted to be - at least in this one class, this one corner of your life.
(Adapted from The Art of Possibility by Roz and Benjamin Zander, Penguin Books, 2000)
3. Making the future
What will you need to make the future happen? Reread the two stories you wrote above, and think about what resources you have and what further resources you'll need to get there. Where are you now - what do you know, what do you know you don't know, what do you have, what do you know you don't have? What blockers do you see yourself running into that you'll need help clearing? Recall that being accepted to the program will give you, at minimum, the following:
- A real-world project - you can choose from thousands - for your students to work on
- Experienced engineers as dedicated project mentors for your students
- No NDA - everything you do can be used as a public portfolio for you, your students, and your institution
- Teaching materials to help your students get started on their projects
- Interactive tutorials for your students and TAs where Red Hat professionals teach the tools and practices that typically confuse newcomers on the job
- Turnkey infrastructure - ready-to-go build servers, repositories, etc. for hosting student work at no cost or hassle to your IT dept
- PR - interviews, videos, press releases, etc. for your class and institution throughout the 2011-2012 school year
- Your class experience - the curriculum, materials, and student work - to be covered in a print book published during the 2012-2013 school year
- Access to a supportive network of colleagues who have done these types of projects with their students in the past
- Up to $1600 in course funding for materials, travel, etc.
- A 2-day workshop in Summer 2011 to learn the basics of incorporating open source collaboration into your course
This is a wishlist - anything goes, thought it's helpful to delineate "want" from "need." What do you need to learn during the 2-day workshop - are there topics you already know you need us to cover, are there projects you want introductions to? Do you need a letter of support, advice for dealing with certain kinds of situations, suggestions on where to publish "teaching open source" work? If an item is time-sensitive ("I need a build server set up before August", "I'd like travel assistance for 2 students from the class to present their work at a conference in October", etc) note that as well. Feel free to include urls. Chances are that different professors will end up overlapping in similar wants and needs, and/or be able to trade advice and services, so this sort of need-finding is extremely useful.
Okay, what do you think?
The full draft contains a few questions about basic info (name, institution, etc) and a section where people can share things they don't want to be public, but those three questions were the heart of it. I'd love reactions, feedback, edits - go with your gut. A few specific questions, for starters:
- Does reading this application make you want to fill it out, or to send it to your favorite professor? (If it doesn't, how should it be written to inspire you to do so?)
- Is there a way to phrase the "most of your application will be public" thing so it sounds less terrifying? (It's so we can look at, welcome, etc. and have conversations with applicants.)
- Is this too long/weird/onerous? I'm honestly thinking it should take less than 30 minutes to write up - just sit down, talk out loud for 2 minutes about the question, then type up what you said... it's not a college application essay, it's not a grant proposal, we want to get to know people! Responses don't even have to be as long as the prompts!
- Would seeing an example app or two help considerably?
But really, I'd just love to hear thoughts of any sort - particularly ones that blast this apart. I'm not sure if this is just too crazy, but I thought it couldn't hurt to ask.