Student online IT communities

Linux.conf.au 2008
Education Mini-conf

Links to the conference


Where and When

  • 29th January 2008
  • 4:40pm
  • Somehow via Second Life


Session Notes


The problem

  • Currently we are seeing declining numbers of students studying IT in senior secondary. There is however still a need for people who have specialist IT skills - Alan Noble of Google Inc made that point at the IT Teachers National Summit, October 4th and 5th 2007
  • Class sizes in this subject, particularly in rural and regional schools, are declining. Teachers are doing things like combining classes in various ways
    • vertical grouping by running the year 11 and 12 class together
    • horizontal grouping by running with another subject in the year level,
    • grouping with other schools - one teacher for several schools
    • or teaching an extra line to enable this subject to continue to be offered.
    • This is all extra work for these teachers in a climate where resources are shrinking and their capacity to work harder is not existent.
    • Students in small classes do not have sufficient peers to compete and collaborate with. The students who tend to get the very high results collaborate extensively in and out of class and then compete heavily at assessment time.
  • Teaching and Learning methods are adapting to optimise on the collaborative technologies available
  • Creativity needs to have a greater focus in education vs learning the content
  • There is a skills shortage in the IT industry, particularly higher level skills

Questions that need answers

What are the contributing factors causing the decline in people engaging in an IT Career, especially the higher skills levels occupations?
Fear that the IT industry is volatile
  • after the dot com bust?
  • and that jobs will be outsourced to places like India?
Perceptions about careers in this area
  • its a nerdy back room job?
  • for boys?

What is the cause/s of the decline in student numbers attempting the higher level subjects like 'Information Technology Studies'?
  • Too hard?
  • Not needed to do IT at Uni?
  • Not fashionable like CSI?
  • Perceived unstable future for people who go into this industry?


Solutions that will help anyway

Collaboration via student online community

  • Make use of the collective intelligence and resources that students bring
  • Collaboration important for learning
  • Provides more options for students vs teacher dependence
  • Issues
    • Cheating
    • Bad behaviour
    • Should it be moderated? By peers?


Stronger focus on Open Technologies

NZ Ministry of Justice discussion paper
Two of the quotes from this paper are of particular interest

  • The Ministry has stated its commitment to be an 'employer of choice' for skilled technical professionals. Adopting OSS in development and deployment is consistent with such a commitment. (Put bluntly, technical professionals want to keep their skills sharp and current; in 2007, working with open source tools and contributing to OSS projects are the way that's done.)


  • Broader issues within NZ government related to economic development. More widespread adoption of OSS is a form of 'Buying Kiwi' by means of encouraging growth of NZ-based software and service providers.


Could it be that a contributing factor to the high level skills shortage that we are facing is government sector preference for the use of proprietary solutions where the high level skills are effectively imported?

Closer links between students and the IT Industry

  • The Google Highly Open Participation Contest students take on projects offered by various Open Source projects. Excellent idea for getting students involved and connected with people in industry.
  • Would industry people find it workable to be involved in a student online community?
    • Fine line between industry self promotion (marketing) and providing students with information about how things work
    • Safety and security for all involved (adults need to be very careful with their interaction with minors) (minors need to be protected)
  • Involve industry via organisations like AIIA, Linux SA, ACER, ACS, ...
  • How could we engage people in the IT industry?

Closer links between secondary and tertiary education groups

  • Universities and TAFE find it difficult to reach secondary students and their student numbers are in decline
  • Tertiary institutions - Uni SA, for example, has been asking how they could improve their profile and so attract more students. They could be involved by answering student questions and being one of the tertiary sector stakeholders. (Care needs to be taken here - a typical interaction could end up being - students asks question, maybe a couple of students respond, the industry expert responds, all further discussion dies. When should an industry expert or a teacher respond? How should they respond?)
  • could pre-service teachers/tertiary IT students be involved as an interest or part of their practicum?

Self managed group

  • there are numerous students who have skills and experience with moderating online communities. Lets have the community moderated by students
  • past students may well want to continue to contribute and help
  • retired teachers may also want to 'keep their hand in'
  • a few interested teachers could support these student moderators and keep a watchful eye on the community. A great way to learn where students are having difficulty. Good intelligence for those teachers. It is also something that might contribute to teachers career path.
  • encourage our students to do things like set tests and challenges for others - others do them and rate them maybe (this is more aligned with modern learning methods anyway). We know that the best way to learn is to teach others. Setting a good test requires a good understanding of the topic and being able to ask good questions, both attributes of good students.
  • what about a student developed wiki based encyclopedia for IT Studies organised using the SSABSA curriculum statement
  • encourage a culture of collaboration in our classes and schools
  • encourage a culture of being critical in the spirit of continuous improvement
  • Child protection - how do we ensure that students are protected but that the adults trying to make it work are also protected?