I’ve been toying with the notion of encouraging faculty that teach our “welcome to the IT major” courses to include information on FOSS and the FOSS community. Specifically, I’d like to see students exposed to IRC, blogs, wikis, etc., earlier on so that they can tap into the wealth of knowledge available out there and (hopefully) give back to the community.
I discussed this idea with some folks from TOS and they’re all for it. Unfortunately, after discussing it with a professor in the IST department here (at RIT), he opened my eyes to the flip-side of what may occur when pushing students to access these resources: the “cheating” aspect. This certainly poses a challenge because, as I was talking to Mel about this, I was able to clarify that there are some hardships that students need to go through in academia to genuinely grasp some of the material they need to learn. Having access to the various FOSS resources, like IRC, may allow them to skip the hardship that would detriment the learning process. The example I made was how in our Computer Science department, students need to code different data structures by hand while students in Information Sciences and Technology department don’t need to code data structures by hand. Being an IT student myself, I still don’t necessarily know which data structure might be best for certain situations (regardless of how much I’ve read up on them), while some of my friends who went through the CS curriculum know it like the back of their hand. My point is that directing freshmen to access to different FOSS resources might cause them to skip the ‘hardship’ of learning how something genuinely works.
The primary solution I see to this conundrum would be introducing students to the FOSS resources and community later on in their academic career. (say…sophomore or junior year). The reason I feel this would be more effective is because students have gone through the initial learning experiences/hardships and may be a little more independent when solving problems without automatically falling back on the community as a crutch. I feel that this would also allow them to be more effective in giving back to the community.
Mel pointed out that by having students blog about their experiences with an academic hardship and how they fell back on the community may also be a solution, but I still feel there might be some loss in the educational value of some content if students are readily able to fall back on a community resource to solve their problem.
Thoughts? Please comment and give me feedback! I’m hoping to get some other perspectives and thoughts on this so I can find the best way to help the FOSS community and resources penetrate into our curriculum earlier.