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Project proposals at RIT

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The third quarter of RIT’s Open Source Development class made their project pitches last night. As each one was made, there I was poo-pooing all the ideas.

It’s not that the ideas weren’t good, on the contrary, some were shockingly well thought out and could be the start of some very great projects. It’s just that my critiques, while trying to be helpful seemed to be continually negative in nature.

Regardless of how I came across, I was trying to give direction and allow the students to think a little further into development process while there’s still time to work out who’s working with whom and on what.

So besides pointing out that snowball fights might not go over well with children living in tropical climates and war, fighting, and demons can be very inappropriate in some cultures, we also had some good conversations about where to focus their energy right now.

The first focus is Research. What’s already out there? Is there anything similar being done?

The second, which ties into the research is my new favorite phrase “Begin with the finishing touches.” Is there anything “close enough” to what you want to do? If two or more components were coded together, would that get you to your goal faster?

The vibe I got last night was that the kids might still be transitioning their thinking about what’s appropriate to copy and build upon. After all, one of the things that makes this class unique is the whole plagiarism aspect. While we can’t disregard licenses and copyright completely, there’s a whole slew of great code out there just waiting for someone to modify.

It will be interesting to see what the kids end up working on. I’ll keep you updated on the progress.


Written by Karlie

December 16th, 2009 at 2:39 pm

6 Responses to 'Project proposals at RIT'

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  1. Oh man, do I feel your pain when it comes internal conflict over being overly critical on student proposals. If your willing to indulge me I have some advice on how to feel better about it.

    1) Delineate the roles of brainstorming facilitation, critic, project management consultant, and performance review. If you can't make these separate roles for different people and you have to do all of them.. make sure they are delineated as a completely different steps in the process and you don't put critique and brainstorming together into one session. It may help yourself feel more comfortable critiquing and being overtly critical if you also run an organized brainstorming session where you get to be overly supportive of completely wacky crap. Wacky crap is great…during brainstorming.

    2) Communicate your intent right up front when student project assignments are communicated. Don't sugar coat it. Tell them that at the critiquing part of the process its going to feel like a negative process for some but the point is to help them learn how to scope projects so that the end result is a success. Not all good ideas have good implementations and not all good implementations are good ideas. It is the narrowing process after brainstorming that helps find the most likely successes.


    Jef Spaleta

    16 Dec 09 at 5:31 PM

  2. You're totally right, Jef. Thanks for the pointers.

    I think the biggest issue I had was not having a plan for the class. I'm neither a student nor am I on staff at RIT, so most of the time, I'm simply bringing my opinion along for the ride.

    Karlie Robinson

    17 Dec 09 at 8:53 AM

  3. Karlie:

    Plans help… learning how to think in lesson plan chunks even if its a project oriented class..helps a lot.

    It's okay to be opinionated… as long as you are self-aware of when you are speaking opinion and you let the students know. The best thing you can hope for is having students make coherent challanges to your opinions..even if they are still axiomatically wrong.


    Jef Spaleta

    17 Dec 09 at 3:08 PM

  4. Also, look really really hard for things they're doing right, and if you find something – anything – praise them for it. They might not notice what they're doing right, either. 😉


    20 Dec 09 at 2:12 AM

  5. …although I also must add I've been TREMENDOUSLY impressed by the work RIT students are doing – every time I visit, the work and growth and learning that I see puts me into Super Turbocharged I-Am-Inspired mode, so clearly there is much that they are doing right:

    * taking the plunge into contributing to an open source community – an unfamiliar programming language, environment, entire way of working – and STICKING TO IT – takes a lot of guts and courage. I remember how tough it was for me when I started.

    * being productively lost together! People aren't working on isolation, and they seem to be rapidly learning the right balance between doing as much legwork as possible yourself and calling out for help – along with better tools/tricks for more easily solving problems yourself, and better ways of asking questions in a way that's likely to get assistance. Better yet, they seem to be conscious that this meta-skill is something they are learning and that they need to learn. It's a lifelong journey, this one.

    * RIT projects have some of the most gorgeous, up-to-date project wiki pages I've ever seen. Would that all projects would document themselves this well.

    Next step: I'd love to see all of their project blogs on Planet Sugar Labs.


    20 Dec 09 at 2:19 AM

  6. I also agree that there has been an impressive amount of work done at RIT.

    I know I'm productively lost with the class, I'm just finding trouble with my place in the class. Is it enough being the everlasting know-it-all (bonus points if you can name that movie)?

    Personally I don't know. I'm also not sure if this whole education thing is up my alley. My open source background, being a mom and having been a Red Cross instructor do not make me an expert in 4th grade math, College Level Software development coursework, or even make me comfortable with failing publicly.

    I will however mention to the class that they should register for the planet.

    PS, the Wiki pages are part of their grade. If docs are crap, the grade will reflect it. I've also mentioned to the prof, the info Fardad shared at TOSS about how easy it is to grade based on WIKI and GIT commits since it's easy to see who's been doing the work.

    Karlie Robinson

    21 Dec 09 at 11:27 AM

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