Sunday, July 8, 2012

Open Source, in education (#ioe12, week 2)

This second week of #ioe12 was all about open source. The materials included The Revolution OS, a video of Cory Doctorow at the 28th C3 conference, and a few readings about what open source is (including the Cathedral and the Bazaar). You can have a look over at the course website for get the actual materials.

The Revolution OS is now about ten years old (this was my second viewing, the first one being when it was released). It's not a bad movie, and as a documentary it's an interesting accounting on the early life of Linux. I just happened to find the movie a bit slanted (sometimes verging on the obsurd). For example, there is an apparent rant by Bill Gates in the Homebrew Computer Club newsletter about how paid software is necessary for quality's sake (and for other reasons, including that good software takes time and money to do it well). The reading-outloud of this letter was as if Bill was crazy or something. I don't think that Free Software is crazy, but I also don't think that commercial software is crazy. As a hobbyist it may be OK for something to not work, but when looking at the enterprise (or heck, some high school student working on a paper), if the computer does not work, there is a problem and you can't necessary divert your time from your important task at hand (a term paper) to fix code that is broken.

In the Revolution OS, there is a black and white setup for open source versus commercial - a false dichotomy in my mind. One of the "good things" about open source is (according to this film anyway) is that people involved with Open Source do not ask What's In It For Me (WIIFM). This, however, is, in a sense, rendered false by the Cathedral and the Bazaar (or at least the audio version) when Raymond writes that the users of linux are rewarded for contributing bugs and bug fixes in some way. Even if it's something small, like a mention in a Newsletter to community, there IS something in for the person who chooses to contribute. It may not be monetary (at least immediately) but one can't claim that there isn't nothing in it for the end user to contribute to a better product.

One thing that really stuck with me from the Cathedral and the Bazaar was that projects cannot start in Bazaar mode. In Cathedral mode, bugs are a priority requiring the resources of a QA team to find and remove. In Bazaar mode bugs are something you cal live with. End users find them, the community fixes them, and both parties get rewarded (both by better software and some recognition). This part-time relationship to the process and to the development product isn't conducive to starting a product; thus you can't start a product in Bazaar mode. Your project initiation stage, and up to a first working/functional draft needs to be in Cathedral mode - a managed process. Once you've work a working something, you can transition to a Bazaar mode.

So how does this fit into education? For me it fits in with open content, and OER, and even open research. If you want to work on a project, something that will be open (at least a Share-Alike license, or something that will be worked on collaboratively) you need to get a working draft started, and then people can pitch in and improve things. If you wait for a workgroup to get something started in Bazaar mode you may have death of project by committee (in my opinion anyway). Sure, this means that the initial creator of something open in education will have to be like Linus Torvalds, working on something on his own, but once something is working, it can be shared and improved upon.

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