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Re: [Osdc-edu-authors] ARTICLE READY: What percentage of time should students expect to spend "on-task"?
- From: David Nalley <david gnsa us>
- To: Mel Chua <mel redhat com>
- Cc: OSDC Education authors <osdc-edu-authors redhat com>
- Subject: Re: [Osdc-edu-authors] ARTICLE READY: What percentage of time should students expect to spend "on-task"?
- Date: Wed, 13 Apr 2011 13:42:11 -0400
Whatever you and Ruth work out is fine with me.
On Wed, Apr 13, 2011 at 1:34 PM, Mel Chua <mel redhat com> wrote:
> Turns out that both Ruth and I wrote an article on your POSSCON talk. (Yep,
> it was that good. ;-) Merged now - text below - if it looks good to you,
> shoot it back to the list and Mary et al can get it edited and pushed out.
> Experiential learning using open source is fraught with opportunities
> for disaster.
> Open source is unfamiliar ground for professors. Not the software,
> which is well-known at this point. But professors aren't accustomed to
> open development. They treat open source projects like busy work or an
> easy way to assign homework. Participating in FOSS projects takes work
> and time, maybe even six months, which is a big commitment for someone
> who wants to use it in a one-semester course. A student being sent in
> to a project without involvement from a professor is a recipe for
> First, professors need to choose the right projects for their
> students--not all projects are suited or equipped for an influx of
> students. And some simply don't want to. Some are not welcoming to
> newcomers--the kernel is a good example. Projects that have
> participated in a program for the purpose of welcoming students and
> newcomers, like Google Summer of Code or OpenHatch, are a good place
> to start. They're the ones who know how to accept inexperienced
> Ironically, sometimes the problem is that open source communities are
> <em>too</em> helpful. We understand failure as part of the learning
> process, and give inexperienced contributors the benefit of the doubt.
> In a meritocracy, people don't stop you from doing things--they
> support individuals in their pursuit of a goal, regardless of how wise
> that end goal might be. If a student says "I want to shoot myself in
> the foot!" the community is likely to say "Ok! We'll help you aim!"
> Newcomers have a hard time discerning how much work and skill a
> project will take, and how big an impact it's likely to have on the
> users of their code, and helping them constrain themselves to workable
> problems is particularly important within the tight constraints of a
> semester schedule.
> The second common problem is that professors frequently err by dumping
> their students into projects as core participants, when by their
> nature, students should be involved peripherally--which is not the
> same as invaluable or unimportant ways. Many students don't come with
> the knowledge of how to make commits to something like the kernel or a
> major database, nor are they often ready to commit to long-term
> maintenance. The tasks they work on should be things that are not
> critical path blockers, but they should improve life for core
> contributors; ask community mentors what itches they would scratch
> themselves but are just too busy to do. Then ask if they would teach
> you how to do that work for them.
> Third, students should work on things they already how to do, to some
> extent. If students pick tasks that require them to learn a large
> number of new skills, getting them up to speed on that task may take a
> long time, which again is a problem if you need to start and stop a
> project during the course of one semester. Students might spend 12
> weeks in a class, 12 hours a week on that class, and half their class
> time on your project; that's 72 hours total, or less than two weeks of
> full-time work; think about what an intern or a new employee could do
> in that timeframe. If you start with something too ambitious, you run
> into <a
> shaving</a>. I remember one student group who wanted to fix a
> project's webpage. Great, we said! <em>But first...</em> they had to
> learn HTML. No problem. Wait - <em>but first...</em> to check out the
> webpage's HTML, they needed to learn git. <em>But first...</em> to
> understand git, they had to learn about version control systems... and
> so on down a long chain of material seemingly unrelated to their
> original task. With all that startup cost, students often wonder when
> they're going to "get around to real work."
> Fourth, tell students that the responsibility is on them to understand
> the level of communication required. Because FOSS projects are widely
> distributed, they operate only when communication is flowing.
> Contributors may never meet in person, and if they do, it might only
> be by chance or once a year at a conference. If communication stops,
> the project stops. The model students are accustomed to--complete
> project, submit project, walk away--isn't successful in open source.
> Look at Mike McGrath's guide on <a
> to become a successful contributor</a>, which focuses almost entirely
> about communication and culture rather than "technical skill."
> Learning tools and practices and communicating with a project
> community <em>is</em> real work - as it is in the "real world." Expect
> that communication will take 50% or more of your time, and that the
> actual task you're trying to do will take 33-50%. (Afterwards, <a
> href="http://wiki.sugarlabs.org/go/User:Walter">Walter Bender</a> said
> he'd thought these figures were optimistic for seasoned FOSS
> contributors - after a year or so, you might get somewhere between
> 30-50%. A newcomer, Bender predicted, would be ambitious to aim for
> 10%.) So if you're a professor, tell your students that they'll be
> reading a mailing list every day and keeping an eye on IRC. They
> should know that merely accomplishing the actual task is a very small
> part of the overall assignment of interacting with an open source
> Finally, professors need to get involved in the project they want
> their students to work on at least six months before a student shows
> up, and they should be up-front about their plans. That will then give
> them the opportunity to choose a limited subset of projects that are
> appropriate to the situation and the class, that have suitable tasks,
> and that have a community where mentors can be found for the students.
> Getting involved can be tricky, so if you're a professor new to open
> source, you might look at </li><li><a
> href="http://redhat.com/posse">Red Hat's POSSE (Professors' Open
> Source Summer Experience) workshop</a> which introduces faculty to
> open source communities so they can then introduce their students
> during the next school year.
> There are several additional resources of dedicated people to help you
> get started:
> <ul><li><a href="http://www.teachingopensource.org">Teaching Open
> </li><li>The IRC channels and mailing lists of projects you're
> interested in</li></ul>
> Good luck!
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