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[K12OSN] OT: phpwiki, twiki, and attribution



Sorry this is rather long.

In the article about FOSS.IN that appeared on lwn.net (thanks for the link Sudev), and in the follow-up comments, there was mention of non-programmers contributing to projects by working on documentation. Everyone always thinks this is a good idea, and it is. It has always seemed to me that while only a small subset of people have the skills to contribute code, just about anyone should be able to contribute documentation, and therefore there ought to be an abundance of it. And I think the K12LTSP wiki is a testament to that. But I think there is a greater opportunity here that we, like most projects, are missing because of one deficiency: attribution. The articles listed on our wiki don't identify who wrote what. One of the great motivators in FOSS is bragging rights, the ability to say "See what I contributed". In the source code, you will usually find credits for who contributed what; but there is no such information in our documentation, and I think that means we've lost an unconscious motivator. I say unconscious because I think most everyone on this list contributes because we all believe in this project, and not because we're looking for fame. But knowing who contributed what is part of the lore that helps build a community, and I think we need to find a way to incorporate that. And I think most people like to be recognized for their contributions.

There's another aspect: When I talk to teachers, administrators and others about why FOSS should be used in schools, one thing I always mention is that it provides the kids a way to build and do things they can put on a resume. High school students don't have much experience that they can list on a resume; it's a chicken-and-egg problem, in that they aren't old enough to have had many, if any, jobs, and to get a job it helps to have experience, and so on. With FOSS, regardless of their age, they can build something that is public, say a website, that they can list as experience, one that has had some public scrutiny even (if the website is publicly accessible). "Create your own experience" as one teacher likes to say. That's great for the students who like programming, but what about others? This is where a project's documentation comes in: Wouldn't it be great in a class that teaches kids word processing, spreadsheets, presentations, etc.--the standard OOo stuff--to assign the kids a project of writing a short document about, say, how to format an article. Or pick something the kids are into, say, Gaim. The kids have to use what they just learned which reinforces what they just learned, and they have to explain it which also reinforces it. Then those articles are posted to that project's documentation website, which helps that community; plus, with attribution, the students now have something they can cite on a resume: "I have written documentation for the OOo project, which is publicly available at http://whatever.address.com";. This would be more impressive to a potential employer than "I wrote papers for English class" not because of the subject matter--papers for English class ARE important--but because the employer can see an example of the student's work, work that has been vetted not just by the teacher but by the whole world, and is perhaps even used by the world. The documents don't have to be long, and the quality will no doubt vary. But the potential quantity would compensate for that. In short, there are many benefits to such projects. But many, perhaps most, projects don't have attribution, and often make contributing documentation cumbersome.

Back to our wiki. The K12LTSP phpwiki-based wiki doesn't show who wrote what. The (newer) twiki-based LTSP wiki does appear to display who wrote what when. I don't know the particulars, but I assume this feature, or its lack, is a function of the wiki being used. If I'm correct, the question I want to raise is what would it take to move our wiki to a wiki system that does automatically give attribution? I don't envision many students contributing to our wiki (although I know some people on the list do have student administrators). But as an educational community I think we should practice what we preach. (I think I'll mention this idea to the OOo people, too.) Plus, people on this list will change jobs from time to time; the benefits of having your name publicly listed in contributing to FOSS projects--"resume fodder" as a friend of mine calls it--are not limited to just students. ;-)

So, can we build a better system?  Anyone have any opinions about wikis?

Petre


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