[TOS] choosing projects for students to contribute to

tridge at samba.org tridge at samba.org
Sat May 2 02:45:35 UTC 2009

Hi All,

While trawling through the TOS archives, one of topics that I saw was
a discussion on choosing FOSS projects for the students to contribute
to. I think it is really important that the students get a taste of
participating in a real project, not just an artificial one created
for the course, so Bob and I spent quite a bit of time thinking about

We initially thought we should select a list of projects, and ask the
students to choose one. At the time we thought this would be the best
approach as it would ensure that the projects met some reasonable
parameters that made them suitable for students to get involved with.

However after thinking about it for a while, we decided that the
students should select their own projects, but we would provide a set
of criterion that the projects should meet. As it turns out, we are
very glad we took that approach, as the students came up with a much
wider range of really interesting projects to work on than Bob or I
could ever have imagined.

The criterion we chose was:

    * The project is moderately active. 
    * The project must use a FOSS license.
    * We suggest choosing a project that is at least 3 years old. 
    * The project should have produced a usable release.
    * The project should be welcoming to new contributors. 
    * The project should have several active contributors
    * The project should be usable on the Ubuntu systems in the DCS lab 

You can see more details on these criterion at

As you might imagine, we were concerned that the students might ignore
these criterion and choose something completely inappropriate. To
combat that we did two things:

  1) the students needed to "claim" the project on a course discussion
  forum. When a couple of students claimed inappropriate projects we
  then discussed it with them and helped them choose better ones.

  2) The students needed to give a 10 minute presentation on their
  project at the end of the 5 day intensive part of the course. This
  was only worth a small number of marks, but ensured that the
  students had all chosen a project for their main assignment which
  lent itself to study within the course.

The other surprise to Bob and I was the number of students who took
the course with very little programming experience (some had none at
all). Some of the students had also never used a free OS. It still
worked very well though, as those students just chose to contribute to
projects in ways other than sending code patches. A number of them
chose to help with translations, and other helped with
documentation. The joy on one students face when during a lab he saw
that he'd been accepted as the official translator for his native
language for a well known FOSS project was marvelous.

Cheers, Tridge

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