Last summer, the Google Summer of Code 2005 debuted as a project designed “to introduce students to the world of open source software development.” Programmers from dozens of open-source software projects signed up as mentors, and students from all over the world turned out a really impressive depth and breadth of projects. The project was so successful that it’s being repeated with an even longer list of organizations and projects.
What I find really fantastic:
~The Summer of Code places importance not on the end product, or on knowledge flowing from the mentor to the student, but on making sure the students learn what they want, how they want, when they want, with the mentor providing guidance along the way. Education is the key; useful working code is a bonus.
~Although the organizations are under no obligation to use the new code, the projects are not dummy tasks created to fill time. They’re real projects that, if done well, could make a real (if invisible) impact on the way who-knows-how-many people live and work on- and off-line. Some examples:
- – a translation coordination system for Debian Linux
– improved Unicode support in Apache and Bricolage, an “open-source enterprise-class” CMS)
– support for text messaging with Skype users within Adium, and adding MSN Messenger protocols to Gaim
– refining OpenRecord, a wiki engine geared towards databases and spreadsheets (instead of pages of text, for which MediaWiki is built)
– an automated method for collecting “high-quality Creative Commons-licensed [educational] content” for redistribution with the One Laptop Per Child project
~Although many of these projects can and will affect the classroom in one way or another, some students have the opportunity to help directly shape their own learning and that of their peers regardless of discipline. Several organizations specializing in classroom software (Moodle, Drupal, Daisy CMS, and Joomla, among others) are supplying mentors. Brilliant – who could more appropriately tweak, poke, break, fix, extend, and enhance than the target audience? Involving students offers no guarantee that the end-product will be any more useful for education – it can’t make up for limitations inherent in CMS/LMS software – but they’re trying, and that’s more than one can say about most technology companies.