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[K12OSN] Suggestions for joining the community

As part of our new Web site about open source in K-12, we've offered some
suggestions for joining the open source community. This advice is based on
interviews with current educators.

What do you think? Did we miss anything important? Did we get anything



The open source community is welcoming, lively, and helpful. People skills
are important to joining the community: humility, patience, a cool temper,
and a sense of humor about technology. Educators need to be able to describe
their problems clearly, and sometimes they have to learn enough to make
sense of the answers.

A community of mutual aid is very different than a vendor-client
relationship. The community thrives on the initiative and creativity of
programmers. Members respect hard work and ingenuity, and vocally despise
lazy, stupid, or ungrateful people. Current users explain that many open
source proponents want to help schools and the subpopulation of educators is
growing. So it can be easy and rewarding to find help. The community is more
than an ideal: most members strive to "share and share alike" and "pay it

Some other tips:

Share information. Every person brings a unique perspective, so you may know
of a Web site, article, or solution that other people are interested in.
Let the community know who you are and what you're doing. Any use of open
source in schools is exciting to the community.
Say "thank you." You're getting something for nothing.
Use meaningful subject lines. Advanced users may delete messages just based
on the subject.
Many people in the community go home for the weekend. Questions on Friday
might not be answered until Monday.
Laud the help you get. The community even has formal systems for gratitude
and building prestige. (See: http://www.affero.com/ and
Programmers like interesting and challenging problems.
If your problem isn't interesting or challenging, explain why it's important
(e.g. improving the education of children).
An answer may be too technical. Try to demonstrate what you do understand to
get a clearer explanation.
You may have to study. The community answers intelligent questions
voluntarily but can't always shelter novices.
An answer may be condescending (e.g. "read the f***ing manual"). Try to find
email lists populated by educators and other sensible, helpful people.
Ignore stupid and/or angry people. Remember your goals and pick your


Kym Buchanan, Research Specialist
Northwest Regional Educational Laboratory (NWREL)
Northwest Educational Technology Consortium (NETC)
101 SW Main, Suite 500, Portland, Oregon 97204
Telephone: (503) 275-9605
Fax: (503) 275-0449
Email: buchanak nwrel org
Web: http://www.netc.org
Photo: http://www.netc.org/oss/kym.html

Do you use Linux or other open source software in K-12? Please take our
survey: http://www.netc.org/surveys/oss/oss.asp

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