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Open Source Comes to Campus

by Shauna December 10th, 2013

A little less than a year ago, I was asked to direct OpenHatch‘s Open Source Comes to Campus event series. Open Source Comes to Campus is a workshop designed to introduce college students to open source, to teach them how to use tools like version control and issue trackers, and to guide them through making their first contributions.  When I joined, OpenHatch was averaging two events a year.  I was asked, hopefully, if I could run seven events in 2013.

2013

The year did not begin auspiciously. I accidentally scheduled the first event for Presidents’ Day Weekend. We had less than a dozen people show up that snowy morning. Nevertheless, we had a lot of fun, and the day seemed like a success when one of our attendees, Jane, grinned widely and said: “Today has been very empowering for me regarding my computer and the ways I can manipulate it.” I scribbled it down on a napkin so I wouldn’t forget it.

Since then, we’ve run twelve more events, nearly doubling our goal from the start of the year. We’ve been to big cities like New York, San Francisco and Chicago, as well as small college towns like Wellesley, Amherst, Lafayette and Morris, Minnesota. We’ve taught hundreds of students, and thanks to the generosity of our hosts at Northeastern, UMass-Amherst, CCSF, and UIC, who opened their door to students from other local schools, we’ve been able to reach students we would have missed otherwise. We’ve met some amazing people, gotten some thought-provoking questions, and seen some… interesting creations. Through trial and error we’ve been able to make some big improvements to our process and our curriculum. It’s been a great year.

But for every event we’ve successfully run, there’s been another we couldn’t get to.  Aside from one part-time staff member (me), OpenHatch is made up of volunteers. We don’t have the time or the money to run events in all of the places we’ve been asked to run them, whether that’s in faraway places like Alaska, India or Australia, or closer to home.

Scaling our events

Our solution? Open Source Comes to Campus In a Box. We’re carefully documenting every part of our events, from the materials we present to the way we build our publicity websites, from food and space checklists to templates of all the emails we send. Our hope is that local organizers will be able to use our materials to run their own events, as has happened with our Python Workshops.

We’ve already had one success story. In late November, an enthusiastic group of students from Princeton’s Women in Computer Science pulled off a great event with over thirty attendees, the first accomplishment of their newly-created open source club. They’ve given us some valuable feedback about how to improve both our events and how we document them. We’re excited to keep going! Boston University will be running a similar event in the spring, and we’re looking for more schools who are interested.

Our efforts to improve and scale Open Source Comes to Campus have paid off in other ways as well. Because our materials are now online, we can tell students who will be arriving late to check out a lecture or activity ahead of time. We can also use the activities on their own at other events: I gave our open source communications tools presentation at AdaCamp, and ran our hands-on git activity at BarCamp Boston. Thinking hard about how to improve the contributions workshop led to a (still in beta) guide for open source projects on how to become more accessible. It also led to a carefully curated set of first tasks, supplied by OpenHatch-affiliated projects. These tasks are ideal for attendees at our events, as well as for newcomers who reach out to us online.

Contributing

We’re always looking for help with Open Source Comes to Campus. How can you get involved? If you’re affiliated with a college or university, you can host an event. If you’re an open source aficionado who’d like to volunteer as a mentor, you can sign up to be notified when there’s an event in your area. If you have an open source project you’d like to welcome newcomers to, you can become an OpenHatch affiliated project. You can help us with the issues in our issue tracker, give us feedback on our materials, and you can always, always join us on IRC.

If you’re financially able, you can donate to support us, too. Your contributions, sponsorships from companies like Puppet Labs, Github and Google, and the effort of dozens of volunteers have made it possible for us to reach more than 200 students this year.

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