When Will They Ever Learn?

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Here's some news from Red Hat:

We’ve partnered with Seneca College, one of the leaders in instituting open source software into its coursework, to bring Fedora to the classroom. Members of the Fedora Project team also went on the road last spring to talk to students and faculty at top computer science schools during the 2008 North America University Tour. A little closer to home, Red Hat’s Raleigh, N.C. neighbor, North Carolina State University, recently turned to Will Cohen, one of our performance tools engineers, to teach its first open source software class.

A graduate-level computer science course, Open Source Software Communications debuted at NC State during the spring 2008 semester as part of the initiative of the NC State Center for Open Software Engineering. Students jumped right in to the open source community as a large portion of their class grade was based on their work throughout the semester with a FOSS project of their choice. Their selections included projects such as ArgoUML, KeePassX, Collabtive and SQLite. Throughout the semester, each student worked with the respective project’s bug-tracking system to fix bugs, participated in testing and proposed and added new features, among other activities.

What's remarkable about this is that Red Hat considers it remarkable. And, sadly, it *is* remarkable, because it's still relatively rare to see open source being embraced by universities in this way. And yet the fit between free software and education could hardly be better: all the code is available for students to look at and learn from; the only restrictions as to what you can do with it are the ones imposed by your imagination. Moreover, open source engineers are increasingly in demand, so anyone taking such a course will find themselves popular when they graduate.

So why aren't more such courses being run? It seems yet another example of institutional inertia: since most of the business world is still using Windows, there is an assumption that the next generation of engineers should be trained in that. But that's just lazy thinking: universities should be training future coders for the future, and from current trends it's clear that open source will play a huge role there. Unfortunately, it seems that the university authorities are still stuck in old mindsets, and are unwilling to take even small steps - like the one Red Hat announced away - from the tried and tested paths.

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