Landing : Athabascau University

Surviving on open source - an AU course?

Even more than three decades after open source seeds were planted,  it is still not well understood how can one make a living out of a code that is given away for free. If it wasn't for Red Hat, or Mozilla, or so many others we could conclude that there is no business model that can use free software and that open source is all good for teaching but nothing else. Even worse open source can lead to a collapse of the IT industry. Not good.

The cyberspace isn't lacking material that those interested can learn from. The keyword here is "learn". Learning properly and effectively. Where? Well, right here at AU. I've looked up the SCIS Undergrad and Grad courses, as well as FB Undergrad list so if I didn't miss anything here we are, the question in the title. Thoughts?


  • Dmitry Makovey March 15, 2015 - 10:43pm

    I think AU is a perfect place to be OpenSource and not just in IT domain. Everything about us screams OpenSource.

    I have brought the subject in AUFA mailing lists to find very little action - there was suport "in principle", but nothing happened.

    What AU needs is a full-out OpenSoure approach that other institutions *cannot* offer. We could be leades again carving niche not ocupied by anybody.

    So my proposal was:

    • make courses themselves "OpenSource"
    • assignments in the course would be incorporated back into the course (well some of them
    • an example: Computer Sceince course building new Moodle module or improving existing one, with criteria of upstream acceptance of code.
    • another example: English course where students from one year virtually create assignments for students that will come later

    make experience "OpenSource"

    • students contributing assignments that are publicly visible build portfolios of existing work/experience that they need. Our students are people seeking to change line of work etc. and they are not youngsters who have infinite time to go through bootstrap process of career building. If AU can give them 2 for the price of one - education AND experience - well that would be something we can claim as AU
    • utilizing huge pool of students we have a chance to compensate for our own lack of resources which is all well within OpenSource mindset

    Above is just what I could remember from the old post - I shall dig for more. Taking OpenSource to IT sphere would be great too. My old proposals still have gained no traction:

    • central github/sourceforge - like structure for *all* AU code developed with ability of various departments to collaborate and enhance things
    • demand from vendors that modules provided to AU be accepted upstream with respective communities or at least pass the certification with those communities. Huge bonus here - our code becomes "alive" and we keep on ripping benefits well into the future.

    You look at countries accepting OpenSource as a new way of operating - India "OpenSourced" their seed genome etc. Countries keep of stating that government procurement shall prefer OpenSource systems wherever possible, groups building OpenSource engines, phones, prostetics etc. With AU's mission of being Open University - we can't afford not to do any of that.



  • Jon Dron March 16, 2015 - 10:55am

    Yes to all that! I strongly support the open-sourcing of all of our courses rather than just the few static OERs and occasional MOOC that we have done already. Some people have used Github that way and there are a few developments that are more focused on courses such as (who have, of course, open-sourced the tools on Github).

    This also lends itself well to an idea that occurred to me a few years back of alpha and beta courses

    We do have (or have had) an open-oriented culture at AU, and proudly proclaim that we are the first OER university in Canada but we could do so much more. 

    The Landing makes a cooperative co-creation model possible too. This is about emergent rather than pre-engineered design. It is complementary to an open sourced design of full course, allowing the form and content to emerge from the bottom-up while the course is in progress, rather than through the more typical design-and-deliver methods of course design that emerged from the correspondence days of distance learning. I try to build courses that way as much as I can, with students being teachers of one another, contributing bookmarks, wikis, etc, adding to knowledge bases and, on the whole, creating or at least having a lot of control over their own assignments: technically, the way I usually do that is use shared portfolios in which the students themselves choose what evidence to present of having met the learning outcomes, with varying amounts of structure depending on the course (subject matter and academic level make a difference - it is sometimes hard to avoid being slightly more prescriptive).  And, of course, the Landing allows this to be persistent so alumni contribute to the learning of new students quite a lot. But, apart from where students choose to make things open, they are still stuck behind authorization barriers. To be fair, it is important to allow students flexibility to choose how much they reveal or hide, to what extent they engage, and how open they wish to be. Also, there are some effective pedagogies in which it is helpful to have closed communities where people can learn to trust one another. But I would much prefer to start with a default of fully open rather than fully closed, as things are now and to make being closed a positive choice rather than the system default.

    On a related note, I've lately been wondering whether it would be worth creating a Landing group as a repository of our own open source software: as a way of collecting together and showcasing software we have developed, as distinct from use of Github etc to support the process. As far as I know, we have nothing like that but we have collectively produced a great deal - the Landing alone is responsible for over 50 open plugins, not to mention our substantial Moodle work and countless other apps and utilities produced by our staff, as well as countless open source developments done by our students (I have supervised several open source projects myself). Gathering all that together would be a gigantic task for an individual - this would be one of those 6-figure projects if we went through the usual project development process for such a thing - but, if we simply create a space where authors can share their work, it might be a great deal easier. It might be quite good for the university, I think, to benefit from the social capital we gain through sharing!


  • Dmitry Makovey March 16, 2015 - 2:56pm is as close as we've got to a list of our public OSS projects as it goes. There are other items scattered around, but some time ago we moved most of the stuff from personal repos over to the central AthabascaUniversity one.

  • Colin Elliott March 16, 2015 - 4:32pm

    So how about an open course on open source?  Required components could be contributing to open source projects.  This gets back to another good idea that Dmitry about harnessing some of the creative power of our students to contribute back to AU.  This seems like a perfect fit for AU and open source and engaging students are two strong ways forward towards sustainability.

  • Viorel Tabara March 20, 2015 - 5:36am

    Came across The Origins of Ansible and realized that a course as the one we envision here can't be complete without a history of open source projects. The new keyword here is "research". As Michael DeHaan describes:

    Ansible owes much of it's origins to time I spent at Red Hat's Emerging Technologies group, which was an R&D unit under Red Hat's CTO -- this was back around 2006. Emerging Tech was a fantastic place where a large group of people at Red Hat were able to work on basically whatever they thought people needed. It was beautiful and taught me most of what I know about Open Source. Google's 80/20 time? This was basically 100%, provided it was good for the end user.

    So researching open source solutions can benefit an organization. Take Xen as another example.