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