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A HYBRID APPROACH TO COMPUTER SCIENCE EDUCATION

A HYBRID APPROACH TO COMPUTER SCIENCE EDUCATION

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Published by Andreas Meiszner
A HYBRID APPROACH TO COMPUTER SCIENCE EDUCATION - A CASE STUDY: SOFTWARE ENGINEERING AT ARISTOTLE UNIVERSITY

Traditionally one characterization of formal education has been that it is ‘closed’, resulting in the fact that learning spaces with their educational materials, and individual students’ learning processes and outcomes remain unavailable for the general public. The hybrid approach to Software Engineering piloted at Aristotle University during the winter semester 2008 / 2009 on the other hand builds upon the way learning and knowledge creation at the participatory web takes place, in particular within the Free / Libre Open Source Software (FLOSS) communities. This is to say that on the hand the learning environment used at this course is open for participation of any individual interested at the subject (inviting in), and on the other hand Aristotle’s software engineering students are engaging at students driven small scale learning projects, with each of those learning projects being associated to an open source project (sending out). This combination of ‘inviting in’ and ‘sending out’ is what we like to call a hybrid approach. One objective of the hybrid approach is to provide the foundation required for an evolutionary growing learning ecosystem where learning processes and outcomes have the potential to become learning resources for future students and therefore connecting content to discourse.
A HYBRID APPROACH TO COMPUTER SCIENCE EDUCATION - A CASE STUDY: SOFTWARE ENGINEERING AT ARISTOTLE UNIVERSITY

Traditionally one characterization of formal education has been that it is ‘closed’, resulting in the fact that learning spaces with their educational materials, and individual students’ learning processes and outcomes remain unavailable for the general public. The hybrid approach to Software Engineering piloted at Aristotle University during the winter semester 2008 / 2009 on the other hand builds upon the way learning and knowledge creation at the participatory web takes place, in particular within the Free / Libre Open Source Software (FLOSS) communities. This is to say that on the hand the learning environment used at this course is open for participation of any individual interested at the subject (inviting in), and on the other hand Aristotle’s software engineering students are engaging at students driven small scale learning projects, with each of those learning projects being associated to an open source project (sending out). This combination of ‘inviting in’ and ‘sending out’ is what we like to call a hybrid approach. One objective of the hybrid approach is to provide the foundation required for an evolutionary growing learning ecosystem where learning processes and outcomes have the potential to become learning resources for future students and therefore connecting content to discourse.

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Published by: Andreas Meiszner on Jan 19, 2009
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07/21/2013

 
A HYBRID APPROACH TO COMPUTER SCIENCE EDUCATION
 A CASE STUDY: SOFTWARE ENGINEERING AT ARISTOTLE UNIVERSITY 
Andreas Meiszner, Katerina Moustaka
 Institute of Educational Technology, The Open University, MK7 6BJ Walton Hall, UK  Department of Informatics, Aristotle University, 54124 Thessaloniki, Greecea.meiszner@open.ac.uk, katerinamus@yahoo.gr 
Ioannis Stamelos
 Department of Informatics, Aristotle University, 54124 Thessaloniki, Greecestamelos@csd.auth.gr 
DRAFT VERSION FOR CSEDU2009 CONFERENCEDATE: 10
TH
OF DECEMBER 2008
Keywords: Open source, software engineering, open learning environment, participatory learning, open participatorylearning ecosystemAbstract: Traditionally one characterization of formal education has been that it is ‘closed’, resulting in the fact thatlearning spaces with their educational materials, and individual students’ learning processes and outcomesremain unavailable for the general public. The hybrid approach to Software Engineering piloted at AristotleUniversity during the winter semester 2008 / 2009 on the other hand builds upon the way learning andknowledge creation at the participatory web takes place, in particular within the Free / Libre Open SourceSoftware (FLOSS) communities. This is to say that on the hand the learning environment used at this courseis open for participation of any individual interested at the subject (inviting in), and on the other handAristotle’s software engineering students are engaging at students driven small scale learning projects, witheach of those learning projects being associated to an open source project (sending out). This combinationof ‘inviting in’ and ‘sending out’ is what we like to call a hybrid approach. One objective of the hybridapproach is to provide the foundation required for an evolutionary growing learning ecosystem wherelearning processes and outcomes have the potential to become learning resources for future students andtherefore connecting content to discourse.
1 INTRODUCTION
There are a number of challenges for formaleducation to fully explore the benefits theparticipatory web provides for education. Withregards to collaborative learning and knowledgeproduction the main challenges might relate to thetraditional ‘closed’ and ‘semester based’ structuresof educational systems.Closed structures on the one hand prevent thatstudents at one institution could engage andcollaborate at the web in a semi-structured way withpeers from fellow universities or the wider world.This closedness also prevents that the learningresources of the institution might be improved by theoutside world, or enhanced through external sourcesthat are brought in by individuals or throughtechnology.Semester based structures on the other handprovide a challenge to establish a learning ecosystemthat would allow for continuous and evolutionarygrowth; as well on a community level, including thefull spectrum of participants ranging from newbiesover advanced learners to old foxes, as on a learningresource level. Such a learning ecosystem would onthe other hand be desirable as it connects learning
 
 resources to learning processes (and relateddiscourse) or the possibility to establish peersupport, correction, development or even assessmentsystems.A third challenge to education, though notnecessarily related to ‘closed’ or ‘semester based’structures, is the question how to provide studentswith meaningful and motivational learningopportunities that would allow them to develop theirprofessional skills within a real world scenario andimpart them as well subject matter skills as also keyand soft skills, such as ICT literacy, critical andanalytical thinking skills, project and timemanagement skills, or presentation, negotiation andconflict management skills. To respond to this thirdchallenge web based communities in general, andFLOSS communities for computer science educationin particular, might be an adequate equivalent totraditional physical internships, placements ortrainings-on-the-job.So how to address those challenges that preventseducation within its traditional structures to fullytake advantage of the collaborative learning andknowledge production opportunities the web and theFLOSS paradigm provides?
2 FLOSS COMMUNITIES AS ANEXAMPLE FOR OPENPARTICIPATORY LEARNINGECOSYSTEMS
To deepen our understanding how collaborativelearning and knowledge production takes place atthe web we first reviewed at the EU fundedFLOSSCom project (FLOSSCom 2008) one of thelikely most mature open participatory learningecosystem: the FLOSS communities.Surprisingly the underlying technology used bymost FLOSS projects is relatively simple, yetmature, usually including versioning systems,mailing lists, chats, forums, wikis or similarknowledge bases. Additionally free web basedservices such as Sourceforge provide each FLOSSproject with an initial working and communityenvironment therefore facilitating the take off of new projects (Meiszner 2007).The way learning takes place in FLOSS isusually a mixture of more than one approach andunlike in formal education learning materials areusually selected by the learner and not the educator,but more importantly, those learning materials arecommonly generated by the community itself andalso include the code and dialogues betweencontributors. Further on students are not acting inisolation from previous cohorts of students, but thehistory of other learners and contributors, and theirremaining availability for follow up contacts,constitutes a vital element of the learning materials(Weller & Meiszner 2008). FLOSS participants alsotake on tasks such as knowledge brokering (Sowe, etal. 2006) therefore taking information andknowledge forward and backward between groups,communities or even language domains.From a pedagogical perspective learning inFLOSS is characterized by self-studying, project-based learning, problem-based learning, inquiry-based learning, collaborative learning, reflectivepractice or social learning. It is not assumed thatthose pedagogies were deliberately set out, butrather that due to the structure, approach andgovernance of FLOSS communities certainpedagogies have emerged (Glott et al. 2007, Weller& Meiszner 2008).Although institutional education might be seentoday as the prevalent way of learning, self-education and practical knowledge have theirhistorical foundations long before the institutionalformal knowledge. Therefore, communities of common interest like the FLOSS communities, showhow exchange and creation of knowledge can besupported by the web in a not institutional way.As described by Glott et al. (2007) one of theFLOSS characteristic is usually known as‘openness’ or ‘inclusivity’ of the FLOSScommunity. FLOSS communities, like any othersocial formation, have established specific culturaland social patterns and norms that require fromanyone who wants to join a certain degree of assimilation. Openness and inclusivity doestherefore only mean that those who want to join thecommunity do not have to pass enrolmentprocedures or have to pass formal performanceassessments. Openness also fosters transparentstructures as the FLOSS ecosystem is openlyaccessible, including not only code anddocumentations, but also communications,discussions and interactions of any kind, e.g.through forums, mailing lists or chats sessions.A second characteristic relates to ‘volunteering’and ‘volatility’ since FLOSS participants voluntarilydecide which role(s) they want to play or whichresponsibilities to take on. As a consequence, rolesand responsibilities (or capacities) of communitymembers can change over time but also at the verysame time depending on the different contexts. This
 
 
results in a very vivid and volatile internal structureand dynamics of the community.A third characteristic is the ‘use of large-scalenetworks’ and the way they are established andmaintained. Besides the individual motivationalaspects that must be addressed to attract participants,and to which we will refer later, FLOSScommunities enable ‘re-experience’, which is afundamental mechanism for online learning andknowledge-building (Hemetsberger & Reinhardt2006) and also facilitates new member integration.Enabling re-experience and the availability of large-scale networks are also pre-conditions for theFLOSS volunteering support model.The fourth characteristics relates to ‘content-richness’ and ‘specialisation’. FLOSS communities,though revolving on software development, offer arange of opportunities to participate that by farexceed the scope that is closely related to software.Content in FLOSS communities provides users withvarious types of learning resources includingmanuals, tutorials, or wikis, but also resources thatmight not be at first recognized as learning resourceslike e.g. communications, discussions or interactionsat mailing lists, forums or chats. One commonaspect of the different types of content is that theyare jointly generated by users and developers andafter generation are overall continuously updatedand improved. This however is not limited to a givenFLOSS community, but also includes the re-use of artifacts that were produced by other FLOSScommunities, or artifacts that are in general freelyavailable through the web. Those external sourcesare usually brought into the community byindividuals that act as information and knowledgebrokers (Sowe, et al. 2006).A fifth characteristic is the aspect of ‘modularity’, which for the FLOSS case reducessystemic interdependencies between different filesof the same product, allowing a higher level of task partitioning and a lower level of explicitcoordination and interaction among programmers.Modularity might be achieved through a cleardivision of labour between the core product andmore ‘external’ features such as modules, add-ons orplug-ins (Mockus et al. 2000). Within an educationalcontext modularity might be translated toorganizational aspects of learning, e.g. to allowparticipation at a lower entrance barrier, at lowerinitial skills, or with less time commitment or moreefficient usage of time available, or to organizationalaspects with regards to modular course design,including resources created by educators andlearners.Learning in FLOSS appears to be comparablewith traditional educational settings regarding theunderlying technology and pedagogical approachesapplied, with one of the main differences residingperhaps on the conceptual and organizational side.
3 POSSIBLE ADOPTION OFFLOSS APPROACHES INEDUCATIONAL SETTINGS
We suggest three different scenarios on the adoptionof FLOSS approaches within educational settings(Weller & Meiszner 2008, Meiszner et al. 2008),with each of them having a different level of complexity and a different degree of benefits:1. The ‘inside approach’ refers to the practice of taking the principles found in FLOSS communitiesand applying them within the higher educationcontext. In line with Fischer’s work (2007), thisapproach involves mapping the key principles ontoeducation, including an evolutionary growth of thecourse and its environment. This is to say thatcurrent students would build upon the work of earlier students developing course and contentfurther year by year, therefore improving contentquality and richness and providing regular feedback.Such feedback might refer to course structure,material, processes and tools. The inside approachthus takes the sort of characteristics and tools foundin FLOSS as its inspiration. The ‘meta-design’ and‘courses as seeds’ process model (Fischer 2007) isone example for a structured attempt of the insideapproach aimed at supporting self-directed learnerswithin virtual learning communities by creatingsocio-technical environments that support new formsof collaborative design. Fischer talks of userscreating socio-technical environments and has acontinuum of participation ranging from passiveconsumer to meta-designer. This mirrors some of theroles of engagement in FLOSS communities whichrange from passive users to core developers.Within the ‘inside approach’ institutions mightalso decide to ‘open up’ their virtual learningenvironments to fellow universities or the generalpublic to view what is going on within theenvironment. Within the inside scenario aninstitution might even allow those outside groups toparticipate and engage at this environment, in thecase doing so, this likely would be a first steptowards a hybrid approach.A general limitation of the inside approach isthat the outside world remains largely or totallydisconnected, depending on the degree of openness(e.g. open to view, open to participate, etc.). An

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