[TOS] Teaching materials, or textbook?

Ross Gardler ross.gardler at oucs.ox.ac.uk
Wed May 13 20:01:02 UTC 2009

2009/5/12 Chris Tyler <chris at tylers.info>:
> On Mon, 2009-05-11 at 13:21 -0400, Greg Dekoenigsberg wrote:
>> The basic conclusion I've come to, and I'd like to hear everyone's
>> thoughts:
>> A list of resources about teaching open source development is good.
>> A textbook about teaching open source development is better.
>> Given limited resources, I'd rather focus on the latter.
> I'm of two minds on this! (I've written two books for O'Reilly that have
> been well received and are used as texts, but I don't teach from a text
> myself).
> For me and my teaching style, individual teaching resources are much
> more useful than a text, because I tend to mix and match resources and
> to adjust the mix as a course evolves (and man, there are few courses
> that evolve as quickly and steadily as those on Open Source). In fact, I
> tend to treat a textbook as a mixable resource too, and intermix pieces
> (readings, exercies) from the text with other resources rather than have
> the students work through the text linearly.

As an ex-lecturer, I agree with your observations about the utility of
textbooks. However, when I was called on to teach courses I was less
familiar with I found the existence of a practical text very, very
useful. For this reason I am in support of a textbook supported by an
extensive community generated set of supporting resources.

> I also feel that the guidance of someone already deeply involved in a
> particular community will trump any text almost every time, and I
> wouldn't want a prof who is detached from the community trying to teach
> community-based open source from a text.

I agree wholeheartedly with this. Mentoring is a critical part of
teaching open source. At the EduCamp a few of us discussed what could
be taught from a textbook and what could not. My summary of this
breakout can be found at

> That said, a great textbook can be very helpful both to the prof and to
> the student, and good tool in the right hands. Double good if the text
> itself is easily remixable because of its format and licensing.

Creating a remixable text is much harder than creating a fixed text
intended to be read as a whole. Any learning experience is an
incremental development of expertise, each learning objective building
on previous ones. This in my opinion, makes it almost impossible to
build a truly mix-n-match resource.

I agree it would be great if we managed to get to that place at some
point in the future, but personally I'm not interested in trying to
reach that goal as a first step as I believe it will end up as little
more than some glue text and a list of resources (pretty much what
already exists in a number of existing taught courses).

>> Seventh, we take it to O'Reilly and use the proceeds to fund the further
>> development of TOS.  :)
> We should probably talk to O'Reilly early, because they can provide good
> editorial support; getting their input into the format and structure
> will be important.

+1 (just reiterating my own overlapping comment of this nature)


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