Facilitating the Integration of Free Software into Academic Courses (was Re: Questions for the board election candidates)

I hope no one minds the new subject. But I started out innocently enough
answering Richard's question. But at the end had an essay plus a
proposal. I hate when I do that, but what's done is done, so I wanted to
separate it out from the Board Candidacy discussion.

On 05/22/2012 10:56 PM, Richard Stallman wrote:


> GNOME's usefulness as a software package is independent of how we talk
> about it.  However, the use of GNOME provides an opportunity to
> educate the users about this issue, in philosophical and political
> terms -- to teach them the idealism of the free software movement.

Exactly. Hence my statement in my candidacy announcement [1]:

    "... I would like to see GNOME working actively with
    colleges and universities to facilitate the integration
    of Free Software development and philosophies into their

We (GNOME Accessibility Team) have already done some work with
Dr. Heidi Ellis at Western New England University. She has been
introducing her students to Free Software through HFOSS (the H standing
for Humanitarian). This work has included coordinating with her, guest
lecturing in her course, finding GNOME projects towards which her
students can contribute, answering questions as needed, and so on.

What we (GNOME Accessibility, Heidi, and Heidi's students) have learned
in the process is that the idea is sound. We just need to iron out the
wrinkles. We can build upon our experiences, find more professors, and
get more GNOME teams involved in supporting this effort.

My reasons for why GNOME should (IMHO) get behind this approach very
much includes the need and desire to build support in the community for
free software and the freedom it provides. But it is by no means limited
to that. Far from it, in fact.

Having been an educator for 15 years, not to mention a graduate student
for two degrees prior, it's beyond obvious to me that there is no better
teaching/learning tool than real-world experience. I see GNOME being a
great way for college and university students to get this experience.
And I believe it benefits all parties involved:

* Students:
  - Learn about Free Software, not just what it is, but WHY it is.
  - Gain re-world work experience. And not just in terms of coding.
    Sure, the Computer Science students would. But why stop there?
    We could work with Technical Writing students, Art students,
    Marketing students, HCI students, Foreign Language students.
    Maybe even Law students and Philosophy students; Sociology
    students if we're clever.

* Professors and Academic Institutions:
  - Give their students skills they'll need upon graduation.
  - Be seen as cool and innovative.

* Companies Contributing to GNOME:
  - More, and more-qualified, applicants from which to choose.
  - The opportunity to get to know, and get to be known by, future
    potential employees.

  - More users (for those who aren't already users).
  - More contributors.
  - More people who know about Free Software and what we, as a
    Foundation, stand for.

This, at least in my mind, makes a heck of a lot of sense. And as a Free
Software community, we're already quite used to and very well-equipped
to support people showing up and saying "Hi, I want to help." So we just
need to get the professors on board, how hard could that be?


I had a couple of weeks off before I joined Igalia and I used some of
that time to visit a few computer science professors. Turns out getting
them on board may be a tad harder than I imagined.

* They are not familiar with -- and thus not comfortable teaching --
  all the tools we use.
* They want certainty in terms of assignments and projects.
* They want predictability with respect to a schedule.
* They want a curriculum they can follow.
* They do not want to be pioneers.

BUT, they seem to truly dig the idea other than that.

And, yes, that sounds like snark; I don't mean it that way. They really
were excited and enthusiastic about the idea. But then they started
thinking it through in terms of their actual courses and the doubts came
pouring in.

So my more specific response to this question:

> Thus, my question: how does each candidate propose to make use
> of GNOME and its communication to build support in the user
> community for free software and the freedom it provides?

is the following proposal:

GNOME Outreach Program for Professors

This would be an ongoing, largely self-sustaining program in which we:

* Introduce professors to GNOME and Free Software.
* Show them what we have to offer (the practical benefits listed above)
* Pair them with a GNOME mentor who would help them:
  - become familiar with the tools we use; the modules we have; our
    culture, both GNOME-wide and team-specific; and relevant community
  - find a suitable project
  - provide support (iron out wrinkles, answer questions, etc.)

Suitable project types:

* Existing GNOME work (i.e. full integration)
* A new project (i.e. partial integration)

With respect to the new project/partial integration: The idea is to
address the concerns and doubts I mentioned above and, for lack of a
better word, shelter professors and their students from those things
which can totally ruin someone's semester.

So how would that work? I think it would be quite similar to what we've
done for GSoC and similar student projects when the project is the
creation of something new rather than the contribution to an existing
effort. In other words, we provide the professor with relevant
infrastructure (wiki, mailing list, bugzilla, git account). The
professor creates and maintains the project, with the mentor serving as

Such an approach has, I think, more advantages than just protecting
professors from unexpected, semester-ruining, experiences:

* It gives the professors a project upon which to build semester after
  semester after semester. No need to start from scratch with a new
  project for each class.

* A group of professors could collaborate on a single module. For
  instance the CS class does the development, the Art class does
  all the graphics, the Tech Writing class does the documentation,
  the French class does French localization, and so on. Such a
  collaboration could be within a university; but ideally would
  involve universities from all over the country -- and better still
  from all over the world.

* Could serve as a tool which facilitates the professors taking on the
  role of mentor, mentoring new professors who join the project. (It's
  like human cloning, only legal!)

* Could potentially form the basis of an official curriculum used
  all over the world whereby students of many disciplines learn about
  the philosophy, methodologies, and development of Free Software.

And in some cases we might also get a really awesome module we wish to
include in GNOME. Wouldn't that be cool?

Once that is all in place, and running smoothly for a few years, I shall
propose GNOME Outreach Program for High School Teachers.
(Yes really. Professors from Phase 1 serving as the mentors.)


Take care.


[Date Prev][Date Next]   [Thread Prev][Thread Next]   [Thread Index] [Date Index] [Author Index]