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Introduction: Open Source

In 1997, software developers ensured perpetual free access to useful computer code by codifying their previously informal development model. That model, now known as Open Source, supplies ample direction for how writers, researchers, and educators can harness the tools of the electronic age toward a method for collaborative work. Eric Raymond, the mouthpiece for the Open Source movement, explains that "open-source software [is] the process of systematically harnessing open development and decentralized peer review to lower costs and improve software quality" (2001, p. xi). Open Source projects are generally proposed by a single developer or group of core developers who make the code available to the public and use a system of peer review to test and refine the application. The system depends on the connectivity of the Internet and the multitude of developers who volunteer to work on Open Source projects. The Open Source development model takes an initial project and, by means of a wide number of halo developers, undergoes "massively parallel peer-review" which leads to quick debugging and more stable code:

OSS development communities exploit the power of peer review to facilitate the debugging process of feature enhancement. OSS projects are generally characterized by rapid, incremental release schedules, in which limited extra functionality is added in each release. (Feller & Fitzgerald, 2002, p. 24).

Peer review and rapid release schedules make Open Source a robust method for writing and maintaining software, but the fuel that keeps the Open Source engine running is the GNU Public License (GPL). In short, the GPL is a "terms and conditions" license that accompanies any piece of Open Source software. The license stipulates that anyone may copy, modify, and redistribute the software as long as they follow two rules: they must retain the GPL license and author notices in the original code and they may not restrict others from redistributing code they received. The GPL uses copyright law to maintain the freedom valued by Open Source developers. Developers call their anti-restrictive use of copyright copyleft. because of its collaborative nature and its ability to quickly produce effective, scalable, adaptive products.

Open Source falls under the rubric of the larger idea of Open Systems. Tom Wheeler defines Open Systems as "hardware and software implementations that conform to the body of standards that permit free and easy access to multiple vendor solutions" (1992, p. 3). This means that Open Systems rely on shared standards that everyone may use to develop interoperable programs. While Open Systems relate directly to computing, in a larger sense documentation methods and markup are examples of Open Systems. For instance, the MLA and APA documentation styles and English grammar can be seen as Open Systems that aid communication and allow others to share information through these shared systems. Wheeler notes how open systems aid development: "The modularity of open systems permits an effective partitioning for application development" (1992, p. 22). Because Open Systems make standards available to all, dividing the work becomes simpler. Open Source is more than an addition to Open Systems; it is a radical extension of Open Systems that allows for the shared creation and use of software under a rubric that emphasizes collaborative work and large scale peer review to create robust software within short release cycles.

Because Open Systems and Open Source predicate on shared standards and common use, they provide an ideal space to start thinking about pedagogy. The connections between Open Systems and Open Source also provide an excellent method for the evolution of current academic publishing and pedagogical methods. This method can assist academia in encouraging a pedagogy that emphasizes both product and process, while also offering alternatives to the current problems in academic publishing. In "The Future of Scholarly Skywriting, Steven Harnad notes the importance of Open Access (based on Open Systems): "Every self-archived paper on the web is like a piece of skywriting, visible to one and all, today and forever more. Still more important, skywriting is there to have further skywriting appended to it" (1999). Despite Harnad's impassioned and intelligent pleas for Open Access scholarship, many impediments remain because of issues of attribution. Open Systems, and more particularly Open Source, provide a model by which academics can publish through Open Access while retaining acknowledgement for their work.

The difficulty in adapting pedagogy to Open Systems stems from the need for a concrete method that implements Open Systems ideology. The Open Source development model provides a method to bridge that gap. Open Source provides a pedagogical method precisely because its method emphasizes composition and collaboration. Feller and Fitzgerald note that the Open Source model:

  • is parallel, rather than linear;
  • involves large communities of globally distributed developers;
  • utilizes truly independent peer review;
  • provides prompt feedback to user and developer contributions;
  • includes the participation of highly talented, highly motivated developers;
  • includes increased levels of user involvement;
  • makes use of extremely rapid release schedules (2002, p. 84).

Each of these elements makes the Open Source developmental model more robust than traditional models. In particular, the collaborative developer base and the emphasis on peer review establishes a community of development and innovation. Tim O'Reilly suggests:

Perhaps even more importantly, the open-source process reflects a powerful global trend toward networked collaboration[...] And what is open source then but open, public discourse that has always led to the advancement of human knowledge. (1999, p. 35)

O'Reilly's arguments for Open Source as a powerful global trend connect Open Source to developments in pedagogy. Many scholars and programmers have noted that the Open Source development model parallels the academic research model. For instance, Charlie Lowe has suggested that Open Source makes an ideal model for a different kind of academic publishing (2001), while in "Educational Models and Open Source: Resisting the Proprietary University" Brenton Faber urges instructors to model classroom practice on the Open Source process (2002). Open Source researchers have also noted the connections between Open Source and academia (Feller & Fitzgerald, 2002).

Many scholars, researchers, and Open Source developers note these connections, and others have begun the process of operating based on these with exemplary projects like MIT's OpenCourseWare initiative which seeks to publish all course materials online. Our paper combines and expands upon these models to create a pedagogical methodology for the composition classroom. Doing so will create a classroom practice that encompasses all aspects of the Open Source development model. This pedagogy, then, focuses on production and distribution, asking students to use peer review and parallel development as well as open publication and revision models.

In the following sections, we detail how this practice will work for classroom production and for scholarly research. Academic Research distinguishes the Open Source model from the more traditional academic publication model, explaining how the traditional research model produces knowledge in accord with the Open Source philosophy, but the publication model works at cross purposes due to financial constraints. This section also addresses the problems that stem from the notion of individual authorship. The third section, Pedagogy, adapts the Open Source research method explained in Academic Research to classroom practice. Pedagogy also connects the Open Source model for attribution to the frequent problems with plagiarism in composition classrooms, offering a needed model for further discussion of attribution and plagiarism within collaborative production. Lessons summarizes the project, connecting elements of Open Source development with their analogues in scholarly production and classroom instruction; it clarifies the lessons open source software teaches academia. It also suggests that scholars can extrapolate from already-popular process methods to incorporate Open Source as production guide and publication practice. Finally, we conclude with sample assignments for implementing the Open Source model within the composition classroom, a database that we hope will grow with syllabi from other teachers and other courses in-line with the open access aspect of Open Source.

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