[80c] FLOSS in academia (was Re: Across the great divide)

Aymeric Mansoux am-80c at kuri.mu
Thu Dec 13 19:38:28 CET 2012

Another late reply...

Dave Britton said :
>> On 10/15/2012 05:26 PM, Aymeric Mansoux wrote:
>> One of my job right now is to help define the general direction of
>> the new BA curriculum at the Willem de Kooning Academie in Rotterdam.
>> Starting next year there will be a fourth of the minors that will
>> fall under the theme "open source."
>> It's exciting, challenging and complicated at the same time as there
>> is no way that all the BAs start to use only FLOSS. In practice I can
>> foresee that some students will likely be only interested in the
>> remix culture aspect of free culture and open content, ...  Other
>> students may end using FLOSS from a DIY perspective, ...  . Others
>> might work with the idea of public data (from open data to scraping)
>> ...  Last but not least a last group could only be concerned with the
>> social implication of collaborative problem solving in the context of
>> open design.
>> There might be, I hope a few students who will be interesting into a
>> more complete switch and not just cherry picking, but that's most
>> likely to be the exception than the rule.
>> I am trying to figure out how to approach the problem.  ... Or would
>> have some experience to share in the way FLOSS can be integrated in
>> mixed model of proprietary/free toolkit in education?
> You have a wonderful opportunity here, Aymeric, and your students and
> institution are lucky to have someone as skilled and thoughtful as
> yourself involved. I am struck by your description of the situation,
> that you frame it in a paradigm of the student/user as a consumer. I
> think the deep heart of FLOSS is the transformation from consumer to
> participant. This is what is subversive, the shifting from our
> commercial culture/economy of postindustrial capitalism, moving into a
> gift economy of empowered diversely endowed participants. I suggest
> incorporating "giving back" or contributing as an essential dimension
> of the FLOSS paradigm, making it integral to the academic involvement
> that everyone is encouraged and supported to become engaged in FLOSS
> projects as participants, giving what they can. Documentation,
> critique of functionality and suggestions for improvements, quality
> assurance testing, evangelizing and training, even project
> presentation (e.g. web site appearance) are needed for almost every
> FLOSS project, and none of these require technical computer
> programming expertise, but each requires product knowledge and domain
> skills that students are learning and therefore can contribute. 

That's a very good point Dave, and it is one of the aspect I am trying
to develop. Because of the reasons mentioned in my other mail to
Geoffroy, it is also the most difficult aspect to approach. For
instance, it is in fact not so difficult to replace a Photoshop with an
open source library for datavis. Both are perceived as tools and if one
is more relevant and efficient than the other, then it is not hard to
convince people to switch, even better if what you are suggesting is
directly or indirectly backed up by familiar corporations who have been
present in academia since the early 90s. Even easier if what you suggest
does not require the installation of new operating system but can plug
right into existing, proprietary, infrastructures.

It is however, much more difficult to build a course around some of the
values that are often associated with free software and that you summed
up perfectly. The idea of participation beyond copypasta and plagiarism
in art and design education is difficult to approach. If I can put it
crudely, you do not join a community because a teacher told you so.

This is why ...

> What would it be like to be in an academic program that overtly
> discards the model of the student as user, and replaces it with the
> student as contributing participant?

... for this to work, the course you offer must be built on this model
already, so that the culture of sharing is not a component for which you
can get ECTS points but is in fact the starting point and a shared ethos
amongst staff.

I know that this can work, at least for small groups already familiar
with the issue. When I started to work at the Media Design Master of the
Piet Zwart Institute four years ago, all the staff of that time were
active and interested in free culture at various levels. This had a
massive impact on the course structure and the way we have been working
with the students until now. For instance there was already a public
bulletin board for staff and students to exchange and discuss topics,
tech or not. Next to that Michael Murtaugh, one of core tutors, was
using his own wiki to make course outlines and share it with the
students. Myself coming from GOTO10 and having developed a certain
addiction for wikis, code repos and issue trackers to manage anything
but code, I suggested to make the wiki an official platform for all the
aspects of the course and not just Michael's "tech days" of the time. It
was immediately accepted without a doubt, everyone "got it." Today the
bulletin board has been replaced with a mailing list and the wiki is the
central element of all things related to the Master... and really
developed a life of its own.


Because this "culture of sharing" is the essence, there is no need to be
explicit about it, some might not be convinced, or deal with it
differently, but there is no need to enforce it, because everyone is
immersed into it.

But how do you scale and port such a bottom-up process that concerns a
handful of staff and roughly 20 students to the context of an academy
with hundreds staff and something like 2000 students? Of course, in the
end these three minors will affect 150-200 students only, spread over 4
years, but they are part of an environment where everything is dealt
with a top-down approach and where is not much rooms for staffers to 
experiment if they do not plan it well in advance. 

Scale and growth impacts the administrative topology and the
relationship between staff and students. The good news however is that
everyone in these three minors are convinced that these courses must
also encourage the students to engage with net culture. Today I'm glad
to say that after a few months of mandatory paperwork that the
responsible of these minors had to go through, we're now moving into
curriculum design/outline/draft and we will be doing that on a public
wiki after xmas. We hope and want that this wiki become the home for
many staff and student ideas and documentation and provide the catalyst
necessary to go beyond the utilitarian understanding of openness.

To be continued...

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