Forging a software development community

September 28, 2008 – 6:38 am

Mitchell Charity, prosthesis a long-time OLPC volunteer, side effects recently posted some interesting thoughts on our development community. I quote:

This wiki should be replaced. Groups of pages need to be owned by individual people. Only they can write to them. If you wish to contribute, you should email them patches. If you wish to create your own pages, you should fill out a form, and email it to the wiki administrator. What? You what? You think this profoundly misguided? Disastrous? Sure to stop wiki development dead in its tracks? Certain to dissipate and prevent formation of a wiki development community? Well, yes. Of course. That’s exactly what it’s done for the activity development community.

Seth asked for specific descriptions of what Mitchell would like to see. He responded “gforge.” I’m curious what others have to say about Mitchell’s description of the volunteer development situation as well as the proposed toolfix.

Here’s how I’d phrase the question as it stands: How can we optimize a system – technical and social – that gives us the largest and most varied pool of stable, volunteer-maintained, open-source, kid-hackable educational Activities possible? Gforge, workshops, bounties, documentation, toolchains, access… through any means possible, how would you maximize the number of Activites that meet the above criteria?*

Secondary: There are always reasons why things are the way they are. The question is whether those reasons and tradeoffs, deliberate or happenstance, still make sense given the current situation and the (always) limited resources available. Is this what we should be optimizing for, and how high-priority compared to other goals should this optimization be to whom?

*Note: I wanted to post a link to Walter’s criteria for good Activities here, but couldn’t find it – does anybody know the URL?

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  1. 5 Responses to “Forging a software development community”

  2. I agree with Mitchell, and I suggested the same a long time ago – with no avail. ;-(


    By Joe on Sep 28, 2008

  3. I disagree.

    I believe that great educational software needs contributions from a lot of people, each with expertise in different things.

    Wikipedia has found that the lower the barriers to entry the faster you will accumulate useful edits and additions. They have found that low barriers to entry also leads to high levels of useless and vandalising additions. The solution they found is to improve the tools for ensuring useless edits are quickly deleted. This has proved highly effective.

    The areas with the big highly publicised problems are subjects which are inherently controversial with strongly diverging views. Even there they have managed to achieve astonishing levels of consensus by having a clear goal against which all contributions can be measured.

    Less controversial areas have ended up being owned, in practice, by a small group of editors who groom and tend their area. Even there however the principal of being open to all seems to have been useful.

    Similar tools should work for an educational materials development wiki.

    I can see a role for education authorities to fork this wiki to produce a static version – this years curriculum – but I believe the static versions will grow more slowly and they will regularly be updated from the more open version.

    Looking at MELs post again I see it is about software development, not learning materials development. Maybe different rules apply – I’m afraid I don’t know enough about software development to comment. Remember however that some (high level scripting) software will effectively become learning materials – any code the students are asked to edit – and should be treated as learning materials.

    By Another Joe on Sep 28, 2008

  4. Strongly agree with Mitchell.

    With the greatest of respect, developing educational curriculum bears as much resemblance to writing Wikipedia articles as developing real software bears to writing spreadsheet macros.

    – a

    By Antoine on Sep 29, 2008

  5. Antoine, would you mind giving a few examples of what you think the biggest differences between writing articles and developing curriculum are?

    I agree that they’re different things, but can’t articulate exactly why very well yet, beyond the “curriculums need measurable learning objectives, articles don’t” one.

    By Mel on Oct 6, 2008

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