September 12, 2006

CodeYard is a playground for students of open source

Author: Tina Gasperson

Thanks to a handful of college professors, Dutch high school students interested in open source software development now have a community specifically designed to foster participation, learning, and useful code.

Bart Jacobs, a professor of security at the University of Nijmegen in the Netherlands, founded the CodeYard project as a way to get Dutch high school students more involved in open source, and to "entice them to study computer science as well," says Adriaan de Groot, one of the project leads who is also on staff at Nijmegen and is a KDE developer in his spare time. "There's already a number of projects that aim to promote the use of OSS, but production is new. We provide expertise, community, and infrastructure for student projects and for teachers who want to run software development projects in their computer classes." Infrastructure means disk space, Web hosting, a server that runs PHP and MySQL, and access to a CVS repository, as well as in-depth guidance from experienced programmers. "This is pretty new stuff within the school IT curriculum," de Groot says, "where up until this year mailing stuff around or keeping it on a floppy disk was still common."

Students can sign up individually and join an already existing project, or register as a group to begin a new project. The only requirement is that software projects must be open source. To participate, students need a computer running Linux, Windows, or Mac OS X, with a Web browser, a version control system like Subversion, and a text editor.

Some of the current projects at CodeYard include KPilot PDA software, CMS for Dummies, which calls itself a CMS for people who don't know how to program, and a Sudoku puzzle generator. CodeYard recently gave its Capgemini Open Source award to WebID, the "most promising project" from the past year. WebID is "a single-sign-on solution with provider-neutrality built in," de Groot wrote in a blog post. "Quite cool and innovative. And now we have drunk way too much beer with the winners (I do hope they were over 16) and are geeking out."

About 75 high school students from across the Netherlands have registered at CodeYard. "Response so far has been greater than [we predicted]," de Groot says, "but also very different that we thought. We expected lots of ... singleton developers to drift in. Instead, we reach teachers who are very enthusiastic about the concept, so we get students in bunches, working in one class on a bunch of projects. There seems to be less 'itch scratching' and more 'class project' work going on that we might have hoped, but we are still gathering examples and more course material so that it can expand next year. Hopefully students in grade 4 this year (16-year-olds) will come back next year for more. And then we will see the real value of open source, as students can build further on the programs and ideas created this year. That's the best way for education to work, in my opinion: passing knowledge on through example and explanation."

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