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Solving Real-World Problems With Open Source Software [June 13, 2013]

Submitted on
Thursday, June 13, 2013
,
High Tech High

Tim McNamara
High Tech High Chula Vista

Open source software (OSS) is generally defined as computer software that you or I can download, use, modify, and distribute. Although some OSS projects do receive support from corporations, any given product, in order to thrive, must nurture and grow a community of contributors and followers—people who write the source code, fix bugs, train users, argue about next steps, and spread the word.

This necessity of survival has at least two important consequences for high school teachers like me (and perhaps you): 1) OSS communities organize and host open, ongoing, and frequently free or low-cost interactive events and trainings; and 2) existing community members tend to be kind, generous, and welcoming to newcomers of all ages.

In what follows, I will explain how a recent project of mine benefitted from working with OSS and OSS professionals in the hope that other teachers can use the project as a springboard or framework for helping students develop professional connections and tackle complex problems.

Let me summarize the project as quickly as I can: in January 2012, my team of 17 high school seniors at High Tech High Chula Vista (HTHCV) set out to address the parking and congestion problem on their campus. Three months later, after investigating the scope and source of the problem, attending an OSS training camp, learning Drupal (open source website building software), and spending many hours designing, building, refining, testing, and marketing, the team launched a community rideshare website at the school’s Festival del Sol Exhibition. With over 100 current users, the site has helped reduce congestion and facilitate ridesharing. The expertise and generosity of Drupal community professionals played a large role in helping the students succeed.

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Erica Ligeski, Acquia U graduate, now full-time Marketing Engineer on the Acquia.com website is another of the many Drupalists with a non-technical background. Her path took her from performance and dance, to arts management, to total geekery! Just like me, at some point along the way she needed a website for an arts project and fell in love with Drupal. The rest is history.

From zero to standard platform: Drupal community at Stanford

Stanford University is home to a large and growing number of Drupal sites. Drupal’s qualities as a platform – flexibility, extensibility, and speed of development, to name a few – are part of this equation, of course. The other, vital component of this success is the efforts of a grassroots community of Drupal users at Stanford over the last few years. They have not only created great websites for the university, they’ve also dedicated time and effort to helping others succeed with Drupal and spread the word.

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Heather James, Acquia's Manager of Learning Services, has been in and around Drupal since the version 4 days. She says people new to Drupal "have an easier time at this stage coming to Drupal" than they did 6 years ago. Nonetheless, her early experiences learning how to use Drupal are still reflected by the questions people ask learning Drupal today. This, combined with her excitement about Drupal's potential and her background as an educator, motivated her to become a Drupal trainer. She is passionate about education ("When you're teaching, you're building a bridge from what people know to what they don't know.") and says about her job at Acquia, "I feel like I have a patron who helps me do the things I like to do, which is get out there and teach people."

Drupal Goes to College

Starting in September, I’ll be teaching a 10 week long course at Queen's University Belfast in their Open Learning Program. Register now for this course £110.00.

Acquia has been working closely with colleges to deliver Free student Drupal training on campus. But we're working to expand Drupal's reach into higher education by developing this 10 week course.

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Attending EDUCAUSE 2012? Be sure to visit the Acquia Booth #2126!

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Drupal is a major presence at Stanford University, one of the world's premiere educational and research institutions. Since the creation of Stanford Web Services and its in-house Drupal hosting platform in 2011, the number of Stanford Drupal sites has more than tripled and 2-3 Drupal sites are created there every day.

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