Open Source Software (OSS) communities are homogenous and their lack of diversity is of concern to many within this field. This problem is becoming more pronounced as it is the practice of many technology companies to use OSS participation as a factor in the hiring process, disadvantaging those who are not a part of this community. We should expect that any field would have a population that reflects the general population given no constraints. The constraints within OSS are documented as being a hostile environment for women and minorities to participate in. Additionally OSS communities rely predominately on volunteers to create and maintain source code, documentation, and user interface as well as the organizational structure of the project. The volunteer nature of OSS projects creates a need for an ongoing pool of participants.
This research addresses the lack of diversity along with the continual need for new members by developing a pedagogical paradigm that uses a collaborative environment to promote participation in an OSS project by diverse students. This collaborative environment used a Communities of Practice (CoP) framework to design the course, the indicators of which were used to operationalize the collaboration. The outcomes of this course not only benefit the students by providing them with skills necessary to continue participation and experience for getting a job, but also provide a diverse pool of volunteers for the OSS community. This diverse pool shows promise of creating a more diverse culture within OSS.
In the development of this pedagogical paradigm this research looked primarily at student’s perception of the importance of their group members and mentors provided to guide their participation in and contribution to an OSS community. These elements were used to facilitate the formation of a CoP. Self-efficacy was also used as a measure; an increase in self-efficacy is associated with the successful formation of a CoP. Finally the intent to continue, as reported by students, was measured to determine the potential contribution to the OSS community overall.
This research was designed to use collaboration to support the formation of a CoP within the groups formed between students based on common interests in the OSS project. Additionally students were provided with a mentor from the community to assist in finding paths to contribute. The Ubuntu project was chosen for its commitment to diversity and its reputation for being a welcoming environment to newcomers, reducing the risk of negative community interactions for students. Written reflections were gathered at mid and end of term and used in conjunction with transcripts or reports of group meetings as well as emails between mentors and mentees. Additionally self-efficacy was measured at the beginning and end of the term.
The results of this study show that this pedagogical paradigm supports student contribution. Contribution levels were found to be associated with the level of the formation of a CoP within each group and the use of mentors, as well as attending a live, hands-on bug triage demo and the Global Jam, to gather resources. It was also evident that students intend to continue participating at a rate higher than the average rate for newcomers trying to contribute without the type of support offered by this class. Further research into the examination of the use of reflective dialogue with mentors is recommended. It is also recommended that the results from the operationalization of the indicators of the formation of a CoP be used to assist in a more consistent formation of this important resource across more groups within the class.
The results of this research point to the effectiveness of this paradigm to promote contributions to an OSS community. These contributions provide the skills students need to improve their attractiveness to future employers. This class also produced a number of students who intend to continue participating in OSS, providing a diverse pool of potential volunteers to the OSS community.