FLOSSCOM – On-Campus event

On Thursday 13 September 2007, at 15:00 at the offices of the Software Engineering Group of A.U.Th. eleven people interested in FLOSS met to discuss in an on-campus event in the framework of the Summer University (SU) of the FLOSS.com project.

Main question of this on-campus workshop was “how to implement successful tools and practices from FLOSS to formal education settings: an applied paradigm of a course design”.

1. At the beginning all participants agreed that formal education has some prerequisites, which cannot be neglected and should be maintained in the proposed course as well:

  • There is always an educational scope, mostly analyzed in educational objectives.
  • There is always an instructor, even in a differentiated role, such as “mentor” or “facilitator”
  • There is always instructional material, such as books, URLs or other relevant resources.
  • There is always a kind of practice, may it be exercises, projects or other.
  • There is always a kind of assessment, may it be examinations, project based assessment, or other.

Participants concluded that any design model to be proposed should adhere to these principles.

2. The participants agreed to build upon a distinct and focused domain, to use it as an “applied paradigm of course design”. They decided to design a course on “Multimedia Design & Development”, minimized to three sub-domains “image digitalization and processing”, “sound digitalization and processing” and “multimedia authoring / programming”.
The profile of the students should be students on a relevant field (informatics, computer science, educational studies, electric & electronic engineers, journalistic and mass media, or other) in undergraduate level, maybe in the 6th, 7th or 8th semester, possessing basic skills in programming.

3. Two distinct directions emerged from the pending discussion from the beginning:

a. The first proposed the “blended learning” model, as it is known in the literature (e.g. Garrison and Cleveland-Innes, 2003, Garrison and Kanuka, 2004). It was described as:
“One starts with traditional education, normal lectures, because novice students could get lost in a FLOSS-like learning model, however, after developing a basic knowledge on the domain and acquiring a certain degree of skills, they are assigned FLOSS-like projects and continue their study this way…”

b. The second model proposed a FLOSS-like working model from the beginning. However, many parameters had to be discussed here, so discussion focused on following aspects:

  • Projects are assigned to the students from the beginning.
    • They (the projects) have to be small (at the beginning) and easy to fulfill. This prerequisite adheres to the “zone of proximal development” theory by Vygotsky (Vygotsky 1930/1978, Vygotsky 1981). In other words, the students should be able to complete the projects with a certain degree of study and scaffolding from the educational material (discussed in next point).
    • There was debate whether the students should work in (small) groups or separate. Main point of concern here was to confront lurkers in a group work. A proposal was to change the constitution of the groups, or to let them work on their own.
    • Every project has a strict deadline; the next project is assigned immediately and is (slightly or fair) harder.
  • Educational material is proposed to be studied. Participants agreed not to “deliver” but to “propose” it, in order to adhere to the FLOSS-like model.
    • This material could be (proposed) books, URLs, CDs, prior solved paradigms and/or exercises or other resources. This structure confronts the stated during the Summer University problem of the validity of the freely available and contributed material in any FLOSS project. In other words, we cannot guarantee the quality of the available learning resources in a FLOSS environment (see a flashmeeting at http://flashmeeting.open.ac.uk/fm/fmm.php?pwd=f93803-9743 for a discussion on this topic)
    • In addition forums and wikis could assist to establish a cooperative and interactive environment to facilitate the knowledge exchange between the participants.
  • Students should deliver the deliverable on deadline. At this point, a peer-assessment cycle should be initialized, where every group (or individual) should review and comment on the work of the others.
  • This procedure repeats, until all stated educational objectives are met. In our paradigm, projects could be: image nature, image digitalization, image processing, formats, basic sound theory, sound digitalization, sound processing, multimedia programming theory, authoring tools, use of a certain tool (e.g. Flash®), development.
  • After each step the MVC (Most Valuable Contributor) should be pinpointed. This confronts in a second level the problem of the lurkers. Also, a “star point system” was proposed, according to which every student gains “stars” for every contribution. In this way, one more assessment of every participant¢s performance can be made.
  • The instructor follows all activities, avoiding to interfere, unless it is necessary, e.g. in cases of misunderstandings, or great deviation from the educational objectives.

In summary, this proposed model bases on:

  1. Project-based learning in communities of practice (reported as important parameter for learning in FLOSS.com Phase 1 report)
  2. Cooperative learning in a networked environment (reported as important parameter for learning in FLOSS.com Phase 1 report)
  3. Peer-reviewing (reported as important parameter for learning in FLOSS.com Phase 1 report)
  4. A mentoring system close to known patterns in distance learning environments, where adequate evidence on its efficiency exists.
  5. Maintains prerequisites for typical education, such as educational scopes and objectives, clear structure, credible learning resources, student assessment and the presence of an instructor.

References

Garrison, D.R., and Cleveland-Innes, M. (2003). Critical factors in student satisfaction and success: Facilitating student role adjustment in online communities of inquiry. Invited paper presented to the Sloan Consortium Asynchronous Learning Network Invitational Workshop, Boston, MA.

Garrison, D.R. and Kanuka, H. (2004). Blended Learning: uncovering its transformative potential in higher education. Internet and Higher Education, 7, 95-105.

Vygotsky, L.S. (1930/1978). Mind in Society: The Development of Higher Psychological Processes. (1978 edition edited by Cole, M., John-Steiner, V., Scribner, S., and  Souberman, E.) Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press.

Vygotsky, L.S. (1981). The genesis of higher mental functions. In Wertsch, J.V. (ed.) The Concepts of Activity in Soviet Psychology. Armonk, NY: Sharpe.