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As I noted in my incredibly voluble original posting, the Bedework project has it raised our expectations and lifted our horizons. It reminds me very much of what I call the “Golden Age” of university computing, the 1980’s, when RPI was a member of the MTS (Michigan Terminal System) consortium, with about 10 other universities in the US, Canada, and the UK. We had the privilege of collaborating with and competing with talented software developers from other universities, and that too lifted our horizons. The Bedework experience has been very positive and rewarding in much the same way.

4. garyschwartz - october 22nd, 2007 at 1:26 pm

Pat Masson’s comments about the Bedework approach to building community and organizing our project may be over generous (but we thank him nonetheless) as it didn’t really occur to us to go about it another way.

We believed that to be successful our project needed to transcend local objectives and local requirements, be standards-based, and provide enough obvious value that institutions would be motivated to deploy it without having to be “sold”. This doesn’t mean that we thought the community would build itself, but we felt the community should select itself, albeit sometimes with our guidance.

5. ken udas - october 24th, 2007 at 4:51 am

Hello, Very interesting stuff, and really important insights. Where do we look within the “academy” to see what type of impact our activities in OSS and/or OER might have? It seems to me that the impact of projects like Bedework might ultimately be through creating community outside of the institution, to which the institution can later refer. For example the stated goal of the Rensselaer Center for Open Software (this link points to a PDF):

This is the primary goal of The Center: to provide a creative, intellectual and entrepreneurial outlet for students to use the latest open-source software platforms to develop applications that solve societal problems. Moreover, the Center expands upon our commitment in The Rensselaer Plan to provide “… an undergraduate experience that surpasses all others, combining theory and hands-on experience as the means to educate tomorrow’s leaders for technologically based careers.”

is predicated on the cumulative efforts (and occasional courage) of folks like you and many others to take up the lead on OSS projects in environments that might not see the inherent value of such efforts beyond the instrumental contributions it is making to their home institution. Obviously though, on some level, OSS activities strike at an important value within RPI in terms of the Centre’s mission, which ties together OSS and support of civil society.

The mission of the RCOS is to develop and adapt open software platforms for knowledge and information management in the context of promoting civil societies, both here at home and across the globe. (also from the Centre announcement)

Here is a sort of pragmatic question, has anybody, students or faculty, at RPI or outside, shown interest in contributing to the Bedework effort as part of their academic responsibilities (class, research agenda, internship, etc.)? Would that be seen positively by the Bedework project team at RPI? That is, I am wondering to what extend an “administrative” calendaring project (representing any OSS project) could also directly serve the academic mission of the host university.

6. garyschwartz - october 24th, 2007 at 3:40 pm

To Ken’s question of whether we would welcome the participation of RPI faculty or students in the Bedework project, the answer is a resounding “yes”. There are some barriers to participation, which I will address, but one of aspects of community we were looking to address with Bedework was reconnecting with our own local community at RPI.

As an administrative unit with responsibilities for running centralized services, we do not provide direct end user support. Consequently it is sometimes difficult to feel connected with the academic life of the university. We seek appropriate opportunities to work with students, such as on Bedework, as it draws us back in to the primary mission of the university. Working with students has been a very positive experience for us.

Impediments to wider academic participation in Bedework include administrative policies with respect to funding of graduate students, as well as a university –wide effort to provide additional opportunities for undergraduates to participate in faculty research programs, which are for credit.

In some respects our project might be less appealing to students than some other opportunities on campus. Bedework is an enterprise calendaring system in the J2EE environment. It is a little harder to make a contribution immediately in this environment than perhaps with a desktop application, for example.

There are other programming opportunities on campus which are less constraining than working on Bedework. Bedework, exists, has an architecture, an implementation, and an implementation team already in place. The Rensselaer Center for Open Software (RCOS) ask student to propose their own projects, and essentially to manage their projects themselves. The Rensselaer Union, which is student run, and the student government also initiate sprogramming projects for students which are student managed. Some students work for companies in our incubator program (http://www.rpi.edu/dept/incubator/homepage/), and others program as part of their co-op assignments.

Last year we just missed the deadline (our “bad”) for Goggle’s “Summer of Code”, which would have afforded us another opportunity to work with students, albeit not necessarily RPI students. We do have an undergraduate working with us now, for money, not academic credit, and we have been approached just recently by a graduate student who was interested in Bedework. As I noted previously, his participation would likely be informal.

As I reflect on our current situation, I think it is possible that we might have been more successful bringing people from our own campus into the project had we concentrated less on trying to build an external community for Bedework.

7. ken udas - october 27th, 2007 at 11:52 pm

Gary, This was a very enjoyable post. Although I have occasionally had overall responsibility for IT departments, I have never directly managed an IT service unit. As a general and program manager, have always been supported by IT groups and have depended on their ability to meet program and organizational needs. It sounds to me that the experience that you have had with Bedework (a successful OSS project) could improve ones ability to better support internal projects and work units. Thank you! Ken

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Source:  OpenStax, The impact of open source software on education. OpenStax CNX. Mar 30, 2009 Download for free at http://cnx.org/content/col10431/1.7
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