Open Source Systems – Enablers and barriers to the use of open educational resources in Africa

Posted on September 14th, 2012

Jean-Paul van Belle

Jean-Paul outlined a number of barriers to the adoption of open educational resources (OERs) in Africa, and the body of research he and his team had done to validate this. They concluded that;

  • Technology – Internet access is still an issue in many parts of Africa. OERs are difficult to use if internet access is not available. However, only the teacher in a group needs internet access; s/he can then teach his/her students once the OER materials are downloaded.
  • Copyright – Creative Commons license has not been tested in court very much
  • Politics and culture – An anti-Western cultural bias was found; people were suspicious of materials from the West, and also in English. There were a lack of materials in other languages.
  • Quality – People equivocate the free nature of OERs with poor quality; because it’s low cost it’s assumed to be poor quality
  • Discovery and meta data – there is no SourceForge for OER, making resources difficult to find. This was the second highest barrier.
  • Context – many OERs lack metadata, making them hard to find. It’s also hard to align them with learning objectives without this meta data.

The research also showed the need for communication, advertising, training and awareness, and that there was a lack of OERs suitable for use by Arabic and French language academics.

Open Source Systems – Keynote #6 – Carol Smith on Google’s Summer of Code programme

Posted on September 14th, 2012

Carol Smith opened her keynote talk by providing a brief history of her life with Google; she started as a journalism graduate, and now runs the Google Open Source Programs office, which oversees all open source code used internally at Google, ensuring compliance with the relevant open source licenses. Part of this role is to undertake outreach programs to open source and student communities, and to maintain a relationship with the open source software organisations external to Google; of which there are many.

She is very interested in open source software and the motivations that drive people to contribute to the open source community. She walked the audience through a number of concepts from Daniel Pink’s book ‘Drive: The surprising truth about what motivates us‘. As she explained, Pink has analysed motivations around the world, with the conclusion that for tasks that are straightforward or repeatable, money is an appropriate motivator. Pay people more, and they will work harder or better. However,  for tasks that are conceptually oriented (like programming, let’s say), money is not an effective extrinsic motivator. So, what drives us?

  • Autonomy – our desire to work independently on a task and to feel ownership of it
  • Mastery – our urge to get better at things. This is why people have hobbies
  • Purpose – in CS opinion, is a sense of making a contribution to a cause – humans want to feel part of a bigger cause

If you pay people enough that they’re not worried about paying their bills and feeding themselves, they work to do the things that enrich them and that they enjoy. As Smith explained, open source software development lines up really well with these motivations. People are even willing to work for free on open source software because it enriches their lives.

Carol explained that universities are where students get lessons on independence; tools that enrich them for the rest of their lives – where they learn to feel ownership of their work – often in collaborative environments and through group work; but whether they pass or fail is their own responsibility. This is a lot like what motivates us; and a lot like open source.

However, we aren’t teaching open source in universities.

Some students are getting introduced to open source software in their university, but we could be doing a lot better. teachingopensource.org only lists 15 universities with programs in open source. Enter the Google Summer of Code program.

GSOC is a fully online, international program encouraging uni student participation in open source development. Interestingly, around half of students who participated in GSOC in 2012 listed something other than computer science as their major. To me this indicated the wide use of open source software in many fields – from graphics to humanitarian FOSS, astronomy, science and gaming. GSO inspires students to begin participating in open source development while providing an attractive alternative to other menial summer jobs  and also yields critical workplace experience. There are also benefits for the open source community and larger society in general through having more contributors to open source, and having more code released under open source licenses.

Carol encouraged other organisations to adopt the GSOC model, even if they could not be part of the program as a mentoring organisation. She also encouraged us to help get our universities to teach open source as part of the computer science curriculum.  She also noted that GSOC has around 12-13% female participation, and this is a statistic that she would like to change in the future.

Open Source Systems – Keynote #4 – Mark Gayer on Microsoft’s Open Source Initiative

Posted on September 12th, 2012

Mark Gayer opened his keynote by stating that it was unusual for Microsoft to be at an open source conference; he then went through a number of slides outlining how Microsoft is engaging with the open source community. Mark’s job is to travel the world, speaking and helping people understand how to use Microsoft technologies with open source and other non-Microsoft systems.

Mark took the audience on a tour of where Microsoft has contributed to the open source community;

  • They have made significant contirbutions to the Linux 3.0 kernel (a later audience question queried which areas of the kernel Microsoft were contributing in; it’s mainly around drivers). They are the 5th large corporate contributor to the Linux kernel.
  • They have done a lot of work in getting open source software such as WordPress and Joomla to work well under Windows – one of my key frustrations with the LAMP stack was that the WAMP stack used to be such an inferior cousin. Mark stated that there had been 400% growth in pen source applications running on Windows – and that 23 of the top 25 most downloaded OSS projects run on Windows. This is facilitated by tools such as WebMatrix.
  • Microsoft is also investing in standards – and they are a member of more than 150 standards organisations. Interestingly, they are a platinum sponsor of the Apache foundation.
  • Mark talked us through other contributions M$ have made – particularly in the VM space, and with Java on Azure, support for node.js, and in the PHP community.

Generally, his key takeaway was;

‘across the technology stack, Microsoft is working hard to make sure our products work will with government, education and enterprise’

Mark advocated that Microsoft was strong in the research, academic and scientific community, and attempted to make their code base available under open source licenses wherever possible here.

  • Zentity – allows data mashups across research databases
  • f # is a new development language
  • Chronozoom – was a very interesting tool developed jointly between Microsoft, Berkely and University of Moscow that shows the history of all time. This was an amazing product – with lots of potential in education.

Mark also demonstrated the work Microsoft had done with the Open Government Data Initiative and how this was being used to foster transparency and openness of government in countries such as Colombia. The source is available on GitHub.

Full disclosure: Microsoft Research were a main sponsor of the OSS2012 conference, a fact that the audience were reminded of before Mark began his keynote. I interpreted this as a hint to ‘go easy’.

I did however ask Mark about Microsoft’s position on UEFI secure boot; he stated he would follow up with a blog post – I will post it here when received.

UPDATE: Mark has blogged about his experience in Tunisia here;
http://blogs.technet.com/b/openness/archive/2012/09/14/oss-2012-tunisia-microsoft-open-source-and-the-cloud.aspx
however it does not mention UEFI secure boot at all.

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