Open Vs Proprietary Mock Debate

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Title Open Vs Proprietary Mock Debate
Overview A teacher holds a mock debate in-class around which software paradigm is superior, Open Source, Proprietary, or It Depends. Initially the students prepare for it through research and argument structuring. Afterwards, they hold the in-class debate, allowing each side to talk and rebut. The event could also beneficially take place on IRC chat.
Prerequisite Knowledge Basic software and source code contextual knowledge is needed in order to hasten the research into open and proprietary.
Learning Objectives The student should be able to tell the differences, pro's, and con's of open and proprietary software and development methods. They should understand it well enough to discuss the topic freely amongst others. Crafting of an argument and discussion skills can also be primary objectives, if the instructor chooses this to be a focus.

Debate Overview:

 Which is superior "Open Source", "Proprietary", or "It Depends"?
 Each side says "Mine is better, here's why".
 The others rebut.


How to Conduct a Class Debate

Both students and teachers should familiarize themselves with debate formats and how it transcribes to the classroom. The teacher will choose a style, and/or define their own format and rules clearly to the class.

Below is a selection of resources that explain how you might hold a classroom debate. Read and use the top item if none-other.

(from Best to Worst)

Is there background reading material? Are there other activities the student should have done first? What is the rational for this activity? Include helpful hints to faculty here.


  1. Divide Class Into Groups
  2. Research Your Topic and Argument
  3. Fill Out Argument Forms
  4. Hold In-Class Debate

1) Divide Class Into Groups

Each group will argue for a particular side that answers the question:

Which is superior "Open Source", "Proprietary", or "It Depends"?


  • Open Source is superior
  • Proprietary is superior
  • It Depends on the circumstances

Despite their being groups, students will also be graded individually, and everyone is expected to debate.

2) Research Your Topic

Student groups will be given 1 week to do ample RESEARCH around the topic. Below are suggested actions.

Read the following articles and research:

Additional Research Required:

  • Assure that you grasp multiple Pro's and Con's from all sides
  • You will need to not only support and defend your own side, but rebut others arguments as well.

3) Fill Out Argument Form

Read through these completely before filling out. If not, you will miss some context and pointers that will give you a higher grade.



4) Hold In-Class Debate

Afterwards, they hold the in-class debate, allowing each side to talk and rebut. The event could also beneficially take place on IRC chat.

  • Which is superior "Open Source", "Proprietary", or "It Depends"?
  • Each side says "Mine is better, here's why".
  • The others rebut.

What sub-topics might be raised?

For Open Source

As Software Design

 The design methodology and practices that many open source projects use is very different both in structure and in culture. 
 The structure is more agile (able to change), free-flowing, and distributed.
 The culture is meritocratic, egalitarian and communal. More power can be given to the individual, and there is a pervasive sharing culture.
 Each of these aspects can be studied and defined and looked into as to their traits and differences and benefits over proprietarty software creation.

As Software Consumption

 When a person or company decides to use a new piece of software, they will have different factors at play working for them  in open source.
 Support can work differently - instead of paying a company, you often support it yourself with help from the community.
 This is changing though, as vendors are starting to formally support open source software, so its a doubly good point for open source. Both communities and vendors support OSS. You have a choice, whereas proprietary may not offer this choice, or not as in-depth on the community side.
 Customization of the software to fit business and person needs or desires is increased drastically. You have the source code, so you can understand how it works, and add to it. 
 More often, open source is created in Service Oriented Architecture (SOA) type structures, so that modular design is a goal. This means that pieces can be swapped in and out easier, and that software components can be reused and/or called by another part of a seperate system. 
 Integration into a customized and very competitively differentiated (it will beat out your competitors, because it is different than them) functionality is enabled because you can tweak the code to talk to other systems in unique ways. For example, you might modify what your customer see's by adding in a new field showing recommended items of interest based on their latest purchases. With a proprietary piece of software owned by another entity, that did not have that functionality, it would be very hard to convince them to add this complex functionality. They have dozens of hundreds of customers that they balance changes on. If its your #1 priority, you can take your own resources, modify the source, send it back upstream (to the open source project) and "tada", you get customers to shift their purchases to you, which helps you beat out your competition.
For Proprietary
For It Depends


  • Each student will hand-in their research
  • Each student will talk during the in-class debate
    • Talk for at least 2 minutes
    • Everyone will be given a turn
    • Comments need to be relevant and in-context with the wider discussion


How will the activity be graded? How will learning will be measured? Include sample assessment questions/rubrics.


What should the instructor know before using this activity?

  • Instructor should spend a bit of time defining and writing out a structure and rules to the in-class debate, and going over them with the students in-person, well before the debate.
  • Will all students get a turn?
  • Will there be interruptions allowed?
  • Do students respond to arguments made, or make their own?
  • Can students read from pre-prepared material, or must they discuss more openly?

What are some likely difficulties that an instructor may encounter using this activity?

  • Some students will not be inclined to talk or take part in the debate. Many students are shy, do not feel they understand the content (even once researched), or are inexperienced / fearful of formal discussions.
  • Students may tend to want to read from paper a pre-written statement. Instructor may want to disallow this, as the real world punishes this. Students drastically need professional discussion skills.
  • Motivation: Grading and Personal.
    • How students are graded, will likely encourage the type of in-class event you want to see. Motivate them by grading up or down on specific actions you want to see.
    • Encourage them personally, one on one or even in-class focus on students who need a push to talk. Tell them why its important to them to do this.

Additional Information:

Knowledge Area/Knowledge Unit What ACM Computing Curricula 2013 knowledge area and units does this activity cover? ACM_Body_of_Knowledge
Topic What specific topics are addressed? The Computing Curriucula 2013 provides a list of topics -
Level of Difficulty Medium; The topic is easy, the debate and argument structure is more difficult
Estimated Time to Completion 2-3 partial classes; 1+ week for research; 1 partial class for check-in of argument structure; 1 class for debate
Materials/Environment Internet access
Author Nick Yeates
Source Requiring students to use copyrighted content at ; Email has been sent off asking for linkage use
License Under which license is this material made available? (

Suggestions for the Open Source Project:

Suggestions for an open source community member who is working in conjunction with the instructor.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License

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