December 10th launched national computer science education week, and in order to celebrate it, code.org is promoted
its program Hour of Code to help recruit and inspire students with a number of activities and coding projects. Coding and other facets of computer literacy are often overlooked in educational development for students of all ages. Programs like Hour of Code are a great place for students to start, but where can they go once they have had their interest piqued? The open source community provides students with a great place to get involved in coding and development. Furthermore, these opportunities often have very real prospects for the future.
What is the Open Source Community?
Although the practice of freely sharing partial and complete software code had been in use since the 1960s, it wasn’t until 2000 that a specific subset of this kind of software received a new name – open source software. The community that had rallied around non-commercial, freely shared and improved software became known as the open source community. Leaders within the community pioneered widening the consumer base while developers on the inside collaborated on a variety of projects, honing them into high-quality code that all could access, utilize, and
Commercial software giants like Microsoft observed the increasing drift towards and began to pursue open source projects of their own. Additionally, as open source code and web platforms were further refined, greater numbers of high profile clients such as large corporations, government agencies, and academic institutions began to transition their software and web development needs from commercial to open source software. This created a new market for experts in the field.
Why Should My Students Get Involved?
With this as a framework, the argument for promoting student involvement in open source projects practically creates itself. The open source community is a formidable force in the software development market, yet its roots as a community-driven experience are not forgotten by its guardians, making it a welcoming and non-competitive atmosphere for exploring coding. Facebook, which credits much of its creation of open source products, recently embarked on the project Open Academy in an effort to promote student interest in open source, with the possible underlying motive of recruiting in the future.
Additionally, more and more independent consulting firms are working to fill the demand for coders intimately familiar with open source projects. Open source projects like Drupal have received worldwide notoriety for being the platform du jour for websites like the Louvre, whitehouse.gov, and the IMF, and consulting firms specializing in development and support for open source platforms are on the lookout for experienced coders who are active in the community. By getting familiar with open source projects at an early age, students not only learn valuable coding skills, they also have the opportunity to work with and become future leaders in an industry that is experiencing incredible growth.
How Can My Students Get Involved?
You can begin to get your students involved by getting them familiar with the concept of open source products and code by integrating open source projects into your classroom. If you can, consider using open source alternatives to commercial software—word processing and image manipulation software like Paint are a good place to introduce these tools to students. In addition to saving your school money as they are freely accessible, you can teach your students about how tools like this are made—through code.
Programs like Hour of Code and Open Academy are wonderful ways to help your students build a foundation in coding. After familiarizing students with basic coding, instructors should encourage students to participate within the open source community first as a community member. Subscribing to a mailing list and getting active on a forum like opensource.com is a great way to build connections and gain guidance from other, more established members in the field. For students who feel confident in their coding abilities, learning about what projects they can contribute to while experimenting with available code on their own projects like personal websites can give them a great sandbox to gain experience in.
The importance of equipping students with computer science experience cannot be emphasized enough. The open source community is a great way to empower students to explore code while giving them a network of further opportunity to capitalize on, while not limiting their trajectory towards a specific commercial industry. What are your thoughts on open source integration in the classroom? I’d love to hear your comments.