Benthall - Open Collaboration (Proposal)

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A proposal for foss2serve Funding Support for Instructors from Seb Benthall



The applicant will teach a course on "Open Collaboration and Peer Production," in which students approach and contribute to an existing open collaborative project (including but not limited to HFOSS). Coupled with literature from management science and business, this course aims to teach students to think comprehensively about open collaboration and learn how to do it hands-on. Assignments will require direct links to mailing list archives, issue trackers, and so on indicating constructive participation in target communities. Students will also openly collaborate on an evaluation of their experience with these communities, in light of the literature. This final report will be prepared for publication, and will serve as an assessment of the course and the implicated open projects.

Course Target

Roughly 15 Masters students at UC Berkeley's School of Information. These students are from diverse backgrounds. Many of these students go on to become IT product managers, interaction designers, and software engineers. Our course will not have a technical focus in order to avoid alienating technical students. However, there will be an emphasis on learning the tools of on-line collaboration.

Learning Activities

  • Project involvement: Students will select in small groups an open collaborative project related to humanitarian causes or open access research according to the criteria presented in the POSSE workshop and with the guidance of the instructor. They will attempt to make a small contribution according to their skills and professional interest. In the classroom and through readings, we will prepare students for these encounters and to use the tools of the trade.
  • Reading and discussion: Complementing their hands-on activity, students will read and discuss literature from management science and business, as well as practical manuals in open source participation and writings of open source thought leaders. The goal of this work is to provide context and a theoretical lens through which to interpret and discuss their practical experience.
  • Open collaborative assessment: Students will be responsible for submitting descriptions of their experience in open collaborative communities with links to the digital artifacts they create in the process (email archives, issue trackers, source code commits.) These assignments will culminate in a collaboratively written research paper that compares experiences across a range of projects and backgrounds in light of the literature. These assignments will be handed in using Markdown format via Github pull requests to the course website, which will be statically built using the Pelican framework. A regular IRC-based 'section' will be used to discuss issues with this project.

Learning Outcomes

We expect students to come away from the course with confidence in their ability to participate in and network with open collaborative projects. This includes competence using the tools of the trade (version control, wikis, Github, IRC), as well as a social understanding of open collaboration. Lastly, we hope that the final research project will be something we can publish in order to disseminate our assessment, giving students a unique portfolio piece.


In addition to the conventional course evaluation forms, which we will summarize and make available to the community, the class is self-assessing in that the students will be regularly reporting on their experiences with outside communities with what they are learning in the course. We see the final collaborative report of the course to be the best marker of course success. At minimum, we will present this final work to the foss2serve community. We hope to submit this work to a relevant workshop or conference as well.

End Products

As far as materials for teaching the class go, we hope to have completed the following:

  • A Pelican configuration suitable for building a course website with documentation on how to use it with Github as a framework for open collaborative assignments.
  • Slides with instructor notes on topics related to social issues of open collaboration and open source management
  • As instructors/researchers, our own contributions to the course's collaborative report, which may include additional framing for relevance to the foss2serve community.


This course will take place in the Fall semester of 2013. [| Syllabus]


I request full funding for the preparation and dissemination of the results of this course.

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