On ramps to participation: what open education can learn from open source communities

slow exposure photo of a freeway with two on-ramps that go off in different directions
High Five Ramps by SETShot

As a newcomer to the open education community I observed that there is a core group of smart and passionate people who were doing their thing. At first the opportunities for where and how I could participate were not obvious or clear to me. I don’t think I’m the only person who has been puzzled by how to become an active participant, instead of a bystander, in this community.

I’m completely inspired by the idea of a Z-degree, or a degree program where there is no cost for textbooks for any of the classes, but feel that’s a daunting goal from where most of our institutions are at currently. I’m excited about how some faculty are moving away from disposable assignments to assignments that further knowledge creation and sharing, but I don’t regularly teach so this isn’t something¬†that connects with me either.

While the open education community is much more decentralized and open source communities have some additional structures (like feature road maps and release dates) there are still some valuable lessons that can be learned.

Continue reading On ramps to participation: what open education can learn from open source communities

Get your FOSS on: Wellington library geeks

Wellington has a vibrant open source development community. There are some fantastic open source projects happening in libraries in Wellington and the surrounding area. Here’s more about the projects and people doing neat things in libraries, most of which are open source. This is part two of a three part series on the open source and library tech communities in Wellington.

Chris Cormack is the original Koha developer. Koha was the first open source integrated library system (ILS) in the world. An ILS is the system that you use when you search a library’s online catalogue, check out books, and that library staff use to catalogue items, run management reports and often track their book orders. In 2007 he won a New Zealand Open Source Award for his contributions to Koha. Like many of the active community minded geeks in Wellington, Chris also works at Catalyst. He is the current translation manager for Koha. I’ve learned a lot from him about Koha, the open source community here in New Zealand, and the Koha community around the world. We’ve had great conversations about software, community, politics, and how these things are connected.

Kete is an open source project that allows you to “create online areas for collaboration for your community. Write topics and upload images, audio, video, documents. Discuss them all. Link them together”. It was developed by Horowhenua Library Trust and Katipo Communications, the same team that started Koha. I had a great meeting with the core developer, Walter McGinnis, who works for Katipo Communications. I got to see a sneak peak of the next release. Walter is smart and passionate about the work he does. He’s had the most interesting jobs including being a “gas station attendant” and janitor in Antarctica, as well as doing some casual film projection on the side, in trade for coffee. He answered all the questions I had about using Kete as a platform for a community archive project, like QueerHistoryProject.com.

Aotearoa People’s Network is “about providing free access to broadband internet services in public libraries so that all New Zealanders can benefit from creating, accessing and experiencing digital content”. Many of the APN sites have a local Kete where people from that community can upload their stories, images, and other content. My only criticism about this amazing program is their decision to use internet filters on the whole system. Yay APN! Boo filtering!

Horowhenua Library Trust is the little library that could. Jo Ransom, the Deputy Head of Libraries, is an innovative and gutsy leader who is a strong and loud advocate for libraries and their users. HLT is the birthplace of Koha and Kete. In 1999, HLT was forced to find a new ILS that could deal with a change in millenium. Proprietary ILS vendors didn’t have a system that could manage on dial up speeds and cope with the interference from the electric fences on local farms. They worked with Katipo and funded the original Koha development. Recently they funded the development of Kete, a community digital repository. I also admire Jo’s guts in standing up to her council to fight against the introduction of revenue targets (which would mean user fees) for HLT. Jo is one rad librarian, and HLT is one rad library system.

Brenda Chawner is finishing her PhD thesis that looks at factors influencing satisfaction with open source software in libraries. She was also the head of the library school at Victoria University and is organizing free software prophet Richard Stallman’s next visit to New Zealand. Stallman will be one of the keynote speakers at the LIANZA conference. Brenda describes him as “one of the most influential people the audience has never heard of.” I really enjoyed all of our conversations about open source and libraries, and how different projects develop different cultures. She’s a great teacher, and I’ve learned a lot from her.

Part 3 in this series will look at upcoming conferences and companies in Wellington.

Get your FOSS on: Wellington’s regular geeky events

OLPC testing at the Southern Cross by mangee

I was surprised to learn about all the regular tech events that happen in Wellington, especially for the size of the town. Wellington’s open source communities are especially vibrant and welcoming. This is part one in a three part series on the open source and library technology communities in Wellington.

OLPC WellyNZTesters Every Saturday morning a group of 4-15 people meet to test software for the One Laptop Per Child program. Currently the group meets at the Southern Cross, from about 11am to 1pm. It’s a diverse group of people including programmers, educators, usability, and open source folks ranging in age from early 20s to late 50s. Sometimes people bring their kids. It’s lots of fun to see how kid friendly both the hardware and software are. Tabitha Rodger does a great job of organizing the hardware, testing plans, and sending feedback to the developers. When she’s not there we mostly eat breakfast, fiddle around and play. I think this is one of the only regular OLPC testing groups in the world.

Thursday night curry According to legend, and the website: “Once upon a time there was a gathering of engineers, sysadmins, programmers and other technical people. They came together in New Zealand’s capital city, Wellington, with curry and beer. Often, quite a lot of beer. They decided to continue this consumption each week, and thus Thursday Night Curry was born.” A few people told me that it was a core group of uber nerdy SysAdmins, but the one time I went I found it to be a really friendly and eclectic mix of programmers, policy people, open source enthusiasts, and out of town visitors. I’m not a big fan of Indian food, so I’ve only been once. If you are new to Wellington I’d definately recommend showing up for curry night.

Linuxchix I like the explicitly feminist statements on their website: “Women make up approximately 42% of NZ’s IT Industry (Stats NZ), but once data entry and unskilled work is excluded this drops to somewhere nearer 15%. Linuxchix and the New Zealand chapter of Linuxchix exist to connect women working in the IT industry, contributing to FOSS, as well as female users of the Linux operating system looking for support and community.” The people I met at the meetup I went to were really friendly and helpful. I met a grad student who had to zip off to monitor something in her lab, a punky looking mobile phone tester, a lawyer who is part of the organizing committee for the Linux conference that will be happening here next year, and Brenda Wallace. Brenda is a open source programmer, geek and organizer. I like that she just rolls up her sleeves and gets stuff done.

WellyLUG hosts regular monthly meetings/presentations and mailing list. While I didn’t make it to any of the presentations, people on the list were really helpful with my newbie linux questions.

Geek Girl Dinners are organized several times a year. They are networking events for techie women that happen over drinks and dinner, and include presentations on geeky topics. I am so disappointed that I’ll miss the next one.

Webstock This is the conference for web folks. Unfortunately I just missed the conference, but was here to attend their 3rd birthday event. There was a large bar tab, cupcakes, and a bunch of 5 minute lightning presentations.A   The Webstock folks run the Onya web awards. They also co-sponsor Full Code Press, a competition where a Kiwi and Aussie teams have 24 hours to build a website for a non-profit organization. This year the Code Blacks won them bragging rights for their site for Rainbow Youth, a queer youth group based in Auckland.

Pecha Kucha These seem to happen about once or twice a year in Wellington. The last one happened on a cold and rainy night and I didn’t go.

Super Happy Dev House is a “monthly hackathon, combining serious and not-so-serious productivity with a fun and exciting party atmosphere.” This also takes place at the legendary Southern Cross, which is my favourite place for breakfast, an afternoon coffee meeting, or late night jumbo Jenga on the back patio.

Wellington is a very geeky and community minded place. I can’t think of a city that, per capita, runs as many regular events. If I missed one of your events, please add them in the comments.

Part two of this series will look at the some of the open source projects and techy people in libraries, in and around Wellington.