Open-source students get mentoring help

Students to work on real open-source projects

Junior programmers are to get mentoring help, following the granting of nearly $600,000 in funding to set up an Open Source Learning Laboratory.

The Tertiary Education Commission has provided the money, but the organisation behind the initiative is Eduforge, an open source community for the education sector.

The learning centre will use an online mentoring model, where senior programmers mentor juniors in a structured way, within a pedagogical framework, says Richard Wyles, director of the Open Source Learning Laboratory project.

Wyles also works for the Flexible Learning Network, which specialises in e-learning services, and provides project-management services to the Open Polytechnic.

The centre will cater for students wanting to learn, for example, the Perl, PHP and Python coding languages, as well as MySQL and PostGres database administration, and open-source project management, says Wyles.

Credentials will be available through the Open Polytechnic, he adds.

The online learning model is not constrained by geography — a developer in Canada could mentor someone in New Zealand, or the other way around, says Wyles.

He says the new learning centre will leverage existing infrastructure. He used the example of the Moodle management system, as well as existing systems, an example of which is the e-portfolio system Mahara.

Last year, the Open Polytechnic project team, led by Wyles, won a US$100,000 award from the US-based Andrew W. Mellon Foundation for its

e-learning project.

The project, supported by $1.5 million in funding from the TEC, used the open source e-learning system, Moodle, and made improvements to it. It then released it for widespread use.

Eleven polytechnics, three universities, several government departments and a growing number of schools are now using the Moodle system, says Wyles.

Students at the new learning centre will use open-source infrastructure to learn open-source technologies and will then work on real open-source projects, says Wyles.

Eduforge recently conducted a survey aimed at investigating the availability of skilled open-source developers, as well as the availability of open-source training, and companies’ attitudes to open source.

Anecdotal evidence from software developers indicates developers are not trained in open-source technologies, says Wyles. Developers who are proficient in the area are often self-taught, online, he says.

The lack of trained open-source developers also make it hard for companies to find people with skills in this area, he says.

Eduforge asked a wide range of companies about the challenges they faced sourcing open-source talent, and whether they were planning to use open-source technology more in the future. The survey also asked open-source programmers and a number of students if the online mentoring model made sense.

“The results of the survey validated our assumptions,” says Wyles.

Wyles is representing the Open Polytechnic at the IMS Global Learning Impact Awards to be held in Austin, Texas, in May.

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