Semester of Code: Involving students in free and open source software

Last month we officially kicked off a new EU project aimed at getting students involved in free and open source software projects.

Inspired by Google Summer of Code, the idea is to enable students to obtain academic recognition for their contributions to open software communities.

Tux, a friendly penguin

The project itself is called VALS, and will be running the first pilot Semester of Code programme in 2014, and will be using the same Melange platform used to run GSoC.

For this to work in practice we need to have an effective model for co-mentoring, with communication between the student, their academic supervisor, and mentors from the software community.

We also need to put in place assessment and curriculum changes at universities to support experiential learning by students in open development. For example, universities need to  recognise and assess not just what students produce in terms of contributed artefacts (such as code and documentation) but also the processes of engagement and communication with the community, and developing their experiences in using issue tracking and source control systems.

Some of the common problems we’ve seen with other mentoring programmes have been a lack of commitment from students in actually completing their contribution, and breakdowns of communications between students and mentors, and these are some of the things we need to look at in how the programme is designed. For example, we need to make it clear how issues can be resolved, and also to ensure that all parties involved have appropriate expectations.

I think for open source communities its also critical that we look at how engagement by students can be sustained beyond a single contribution to become an ongoing part of their professional development, at university and beyond.

The project team includes OSS Watch, OpenDirective, RayCom, MindShock, and the universities of Salamanca, Udine, Bolton and Cyprus, though the programme itself is going to be open.

As the project has only just started we don’t have a website yet,  but If your community or university is interested in participating in the pilot programme next year, let us know at info@oss-watch.ac.uk.