How do we grow the Seneca teaching model?

October 23, 2008 § 7 Comments

Frank, Humph and I had a good brainstorm yesterday growing the Seneca open source education model. For those who don’t know: Humph teaches a course where students learn software development by actively working on projects and bugs in the Mozilla community. Many people would like to see this model spread to more colleges and more students, but doing this is easier said than done.

Up to now, the assumption has been that we ‘need more profs like Hump’ if we want more Mozilla courses in colleges and universities. The breakthrough yesterday was that there may be other ways to grow the model:

  1. Find More Profs Like Humph. Humph is an experienced Firefox contributor AND a full time computer studies prof at Seneca. The most straightforward way to grow the Mozilla@Seneca effort is to find other profs with both of these attributes. This is straightforward, but finding these people who is hard.
  2. Lend Seneca’s (and Humph’s) Brain to Others. Professors at other colleges have expressed interest in teaching Mozilla, but they don’t have the Mozilla community experience or skills to do so. These profs could have their students participate in Seneca’s Mozilla course or could even attend themselves as a way to build up skills. Similarly, Seneca students who want to study things like Open Office could do so remotely with profs experienced in that community who teach at other universities (Eric Bachard is a prof in France already doing this).
  3. Embed Mozilla Contributors in the Classroom. A Mozilla contributor with an interest in education could teach a course on the Seneca model alongside an existing computer studies prof. This hasn’t been tried yet, but it seems like a way that we might be able to build the combination of skills and connections that Humph has.
  4. Find Mozilla Contributors Who Can Teach. It might also be worth looking for colleges that want to do open source courses, and then find Mozilla contributors who would be willing to work as a sessional prof (teaching just one course). This course could be run on the Seneca model.

This is very much fresh, unbaked thinking. Today’s Teaching Open Source track at the FSOSS conference in Toronto will help us poke at whether there is any there there. I just wanted to get them down quickly while there were on the tip of my tongue. David, Frank and I will likely be back soon with more reflections.

§ 7 Responses to How do we grow the Seneca teaching model?

  • Jigar Shah says:

    Some course like MIT courseware would be great. Material + exercise + project. Lookin for someone from India takes an initiative. I will talk to some IITB prof. here. But again issue is the same. Experience in Mozilla tech. Just document and code is really not enough.

  • Mike Shaver says:

    Humph wasn’t an experienced Mozilla contributor when he started, though he started with a project that was smaller in scope than the DPS work. He _was_, and remains, very good at helping people be comfortable when they don’t know quite what to do, and helping them become comfortable without complete knowledge, which I think is a more important attribute. Also, the willingness to run himself ragged getting it stood up. 🙂

    Another key element was that David and Evan and Cindy and LauraJo and so forth right up to Dr. Rick Miner were gradually able to be recruited and recruit support for this work. It takes a fair bit of organizational gymnastics to get a school comfortable with giving credit for students doing each other’s work, not finishing in spite of doing a great job, and working on problems that may not have solutions.

    Definitely worth doing, though; my work with Seneca has been one of the highlights of my career, and I wouldn’t trade it for the world.

  • Boris says:

    I’d be pretty interested in items 3 and 4!

  • A starting point would be launching a Mozilla Education site with all the material that has been used at Seneca, including planning, number of hours, curriculum, audience, evaluation, labs, workshops and most everything a teacher may need to speed things up and focus on learning the technology and how to deliver it to his students.

    When I was in college (, there were a few classes that were very open (software engineering, software topics, and couple more) that just varied from teacher to teacher each semester. And they would usually pick whatever they thought relevant (data warehousing, auditing, security, some programming language) and made a course out of it.

    Making this material accessible from a single place would certainly help. From here, campus reps (Sfx) could also have an easier time approaching their professors for creating a Mozilla course.

    It would also be great if Mozilla could deliver these courses itself as 40h bootcamps or 16h weekend fast tracks and schedule them in several cities in the US and the rest of the world.

    The cost would basically be the venue, material and Internet connection. As long as it is not ridiculously expensive as many other IT trainings people would love to attend them.

    Glaxstar’s takes an elearning/distance learning approach which Mozilla could also get involved with if not yet.

  • […] This post is Singapore-centric, a partial response to Mark Surman’s, and is timed to coincide with the open source track at Seneca, due to school commitments, […]

  • Gary Kwong says:

    Hi Mark,

    What started off as a reply on your blog ended up as a 1,200 word blog post on The Rumbling Edge. It’s here:

    and I hope it will end up being useful in some way or another, for the open source track in Seneca.

  • […] personal learning: Riffing on a comment Shaver made on yesterday’s post, Humph and I got into a discussion about what’s made him successful, which then rolled into […]

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