I spent weeks going back and forth with Hanne Paine, a student and open source enthusiast at SUNY Stony Brook. For every date she suggested, we already had an event planned. Finally, we decided to wait until the fall to hold a full workshop.  I felt badly, though. I knew I’d be passing through New York City in April, right around the dates she’d been pushing for. “How about I just stop by for a couple hours on a week night and do a short intro presentation?”

It was a low muss, low fuss affair. Hanne arranged for a room and some pizza. I asked OpenHatch volunteer and Wikimedian Sumana Harihareswara to attend the event with me, and we figured out the curriculum on the train ride over. Hanne greeted us when we got to campus about ten minutes before the event was scheduled to start. “How’s it looking?” we asked.

Hanne smiled. “We have over 90 sign ups.”

a large crowd of attendees at Stony Brook event

Of the 90 signups, 75+ attended. This was more than we had seats for, and many students ended up sitting in the aisles and on the floor in the front of the room.  It was also a 40 to 1 student to mentor ratio – by far the highest we’ve ever had.

I wasn’t worried. We’ve designed the OpenHatch curriculum to work well with any size group. Many of the small group activities can easily be turned into pair programming (or pair brainstorming, or pair researching) exercises. I presented our “Intro to Free and Open Source Software” and our “Communications Tools” activities to students, who worked together and helped each other. Thanks to the Software Carpentry sticky-note method, Sumana and I were able to more easily find students who were really stuck.

two students work on an activity at Stony Brook event

After the communications tools activities, Sumana presented on learning styles. Drawing on the work of Mel Chua, she talked about the different ways that people learn and how certain kinds of learners might have special difficulty contributing to open source. Both Sumana and I have seen many a newcomer to open source assume that it’s their fault they’re not able to complete a task or understand a concept. Sumana discussed ways to overcome these issues, and the need for a diversity of learners in open source.

The final element of the evening was a career panel, where students asked question of Sumana, Red Hat’s Marina Zhurakhinskaya, and Mozilla’s Gregg Lind. Due to technical difficulties, it ended up being an IRC-based chat instead of a video discussion. Students asked a variety of questions, both expected (“How do you get paid?”) and unexpected (“How does open licensing work?”).

students at Stony Brook event

Takeaways

  • It’s not clear whether SUNY Stony Brook is an unusually great place for open source outreach, or if the nature of the shorter event attracted more people. Regardless, it was definitely the most impact we’ve had for the least amount of effort. We’re hoping to use this model for schools that can’t support a longer workshop, or as a “teaser” for communities that are not yet ready for a full Open Source Comes to Campus event.
  • Although these events can run with a small number of volunteers, it’s clear that those volunteers need to be trained and prepared. If you’re interested in leading a short event at a college – or other community group – near you, please contact us, and we’ll give you the support and training you’ll need to pull this off.
  • The difficulty scheduling a weekend event at Stony Brook has also pushed us to try running simultaneous events. This has by and large been successful, and something we’re planning to adopt going forward. More in a later post!

Thanks to Hanne Paine for organizing this event, to Sumana Harihareswara for helping present, and to Marina Zhurakhinskaya and Gregg Lind for joining us on the career panel. We can’t wait to return to Stony Brook in the fall!

laughing student at Stony Brook event

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