Teaching Contribution

There are a lot of wonderful challenges in open source: opportunities to learn, to make a difference and to impact the world in a positive way.  There are good difficulties learning in open source: hard problems we need to solve-for, but usually we’re OK with that- we’re problem solvers, fixers, inventors, builders… we invest in challenge for causes we care about.

But for technical contributors, the potential impact of an individual person weighs heavily on their ability to survive on-boarding. The not-so-good difficulty:  Navigating wikis, understanding communication tools, getting  a local environment up & running – understanding how to ask for help; how to find tasks that match interests + skillset.  It’s can be too hard – too discouraging, and so drop-off occurs. But when you are successful :  pride, accomplishment, impact,  community, repeat.

Knowing this is why I’m such a fan of Lukas Blakk’s Ascend Project, and  Open Hatch Comes to Campus, an initiative of Open Hatch.  OHCTC brings curriculum covering the practical skills students need to contribute to open source projects to university campuses as  1-day mentor-lead events. If you think students are already learning about open source participation in higher education, you would (mostly) be wrong.

I ran an Open Hatch Comes to Campus event back in October, focused on contributing to the Webmaker Code base.  That experience inspired me to create this online course focused on the tools & social norms of contributing, which lead me to do a bit more thinking about how curriculum can be developed for project-specific on-boarding.  I’m thinking a LOT about this actually.

The results of my online and offline events were super-encouraging, and pointed out just how important it is to create deliberate ‘learning by doing’ opportunities around project on-boarding.  ‘Ask us in IRC’  is not a direction people necessarily understand and the problem is magnified: ‘How do get help for asking for help in IRC ‘?  And this is true for experienced engineers as well.

This year I hope to grow this experiment a bit more, through deliberately themed ‘Mozilla contribution + Open Hatch . To that end, I spent a bit of time scheming with Shauna of Open Hatch today as to what that could look like.  We decided that perhaps:  some requests from Universities for events could be run by Reps, or on the flip side, Reps would have support of OHCTC for outreach in their region.  Learning opportunities though focused on events, could also be provided online, or  as self-study

Mozilla Reps can run events (very well) and with curriculum designed specifically for on-boarding Mozilla projects we think there’s huge potential. And I’ll stop here to acknowledge all of those people who might be skeptical about growing contributors via learning events like this.  We talked about that as well, more soon on some themes that emerged.

As a side-note, it’s also a goal of mine to help Reps find better ways to work with other open project partners (vrs taking on all aspects of events alone), and so feeling optimistic the win can cover several needs.

For the next little while Shauna and I, mapped out some action items:

  • Create curriculum focused on one coding & one non-coding Mozilla activity.  Complimented by Open Hatch curriculum (or my own online version) for getting started.
  • Introduce the idea to Reps / Feedback.
  • Run one online version of this curriculum (work out the bugs)
  • Run one USA/North America event (Pilot)
  • Run one European or Asian event (Pilot)

I know Open Hatch has additional goals  outside of universities (libraries for example), and to expand beyond the 1-time workshop, which coincidentally aligns with some of the things Webmaker Code Clubs are hoping to do.  I feel this will be a fantastic year for partnering with other open projects like Open Hatch.  Excited for the potential and…will keep you updated.  If you are interested in helping – I’ll provide a bit more info on that soon as well.

Photo credit:   Clay Shonkwilder