Brief Proposal Narrative Open Source Database for Students. Ryan Fennell Overview of the Proposed Project For the senior project of my Web Design and Interactive Media curriculum I have chosen to make a database that features links and descriptions to open-source alternatives to the software that students will be required to use for school. It will cater towards students and those that know little about software and serve as a simple way for students to find alternative software, share their thoughts on the programs and help others find and use the software. It will be an open database that allows students to make their own accounts, keep track of software they have downloaded and share their thoughts on the open source software with other interested students. The database will be tested on my peers and be designed and coded by myself. Overview of Specific Aims The specific aim of this project is to provide an easy way for students to research possible software alternatives, even if they are not the most proficient in understanding technology and using a lot of programs. The database used by the site will allow students to help one another out and form a community around using open source software. This project will help spread awareness of open source alternatives and help students become more flexible with different technology and using different programs. The community of students sharing their thoughts on the software will help others join up and become more comfortable with free alternatives that not only saves them money but teach them about adapting to different styles of programs. Potential Impact The significance for the application of this project is that it could lead more people to discover and use open source software in the future, which will naturally let the open source companies benefit from increased use. Besides their name getting out 1
to the public there will be increased ad revenue for the companies that will allow them to fund larger, more cohesive projects in the future. Because the open source projects rely on ad revenue rather than payment for their software it is of the utmost importance that people at least check out their web sites and increase the number of visitors that the companies receive. Just by getting the word out on these companies my project will help the open source gain more revenue for future endeavors. It is important to note how useful the open source technology is for all students, regardless of how computer-savvy they might be as the site is intended for all students, regardless of age or how much their major might use technology. As computer technology site “TechJaws” points out: Students notoriously have limited resources that often force them to live on a shoestring. That’s why they share books, eat cheap noodles, and pack into shared accommodations. Fortunately, students don’t need to worry about purchasing high dollar office suites and other applications they need for school (2010). The site goes on to list twenty different open source software alternatives that are important for many different fields. What is even more exciting is that these twenty examples are only scratching the surface. Exciting as free software is, the idea of it being free is only scratching the surface of why it is so important. One great example is web hosting software, and a huge portion of the web is already run professionally using open source software. According to research enacted by Forrester Consulting (2007), the majority of the companies that have considered OSS ended up adopting it, and more than half of them have adopted OSS for mission-critical applications. Apache, an Open Sourceweb server program, runs on 49.5% of the 176 million websites surveyed by NetCraft in August 2008 (Ju Long, 2009)”. In layman’s terms almost half of the surveyed websites are run by open source, free software that is continuing to gain popularity and shows no signs of slowing down. Student knowledge of open source software is clearly a boon to the graduate looking for a job. What all this shows that not only is open source software a viable alternative to expensive software, it’s already become a driving force in 2
the actual workforce. Many companies rely on open source software and even prefer it, and, most importantly, the more students understand how to use open source software the more knowledge they will have upon entering the workforce. This is especially true for the Information Technology career paths, as research has shown: (Ju Long, 2009). So not only do students get a cheaper alternative to expensive software, they get extra work experience on top of that. In the end, the greatest problem is often either that the students do not know about the free alternatives to software, or that they see open source software as a cheap, useless alternative to software that has been proven to work. My site will be reaching to eliminate this stigma with a community of people that use, rate and help link to software in an attempt to win over students to the software alternatives. Whatâ€™s more the site will be set up to specifically help those help others, as well as provide a concise, clear layout for students to find their way directly to the areas of interest they might have. Easy navigation is a top priority so that students will not feel intimidated when attempting to find open source software for the first time, and will hopefully win them over so that they will come back for more. Vision Ultimately the most poignant benefits of the project would be felt by the students that us it. This project is sensitive to the idea of assuming that those that use the software may know very little about software compatibility. The site is made to cater to both the experienced software user and the novice that has never used open source software in his or her life. It is designed to bridge the gap between the intellectuals that have always known the pros and cons of open source software and the novices that have assumed they would not be able to comprehend software that is not taught to them by a teacher or a professor. The meat and bones of this project is to provide the students with free software and a simple database featuring a community of other students to help them find what they need. Software, as most students know, can be incredibly high priced. Writer and
reviewer for “Consumer Tips, Software” at TechJaws.com Frank Jovine neatly sums up the importance of open source software being available: Students notoriously have limited resources that often force them to live on a shoestring. That’s why they share books, eat cheap noodles, and pack into shared accommodations. Fortunately, students don’t need to worry about purchasing high dollar office suites and other applications they need for school. Simply put, software is an expense that students, who are often already in debt, do not need and open source software is an alternative that may give them what they need for free. My project is to make the transition into finding and using open source software easier. As the database would be set up to provide a simple way for single students to find and use open source software, one of the greatest benefits of it is that the advantages of open source software would be spread to those outside of the initial community. In short, as more students learn about the benefits of open source software they will spread their realizations of the benefits of the software to other students and so on. It will help push software that only people in a fringe group recognize towards the mainstream where it can become common knowledge to people that may not have initially been in the community of open source software users. It should also be stressed that the open source movement is not just benefiting majors that have to include technology, but pretty much everyone in the student body. For instance, the site JobProfiles.com (2008) has assembled a list of no less than 50 resources for writing majors. They explain by saying: With the popularity of blogging and online journals, writers working in the online realm have a growing number of opportunities all the time to practice and refine their craft, and maybe even get paid for it. And if you're a writing major, why not take advantage of all the opportunities to get great free and open source resources that can help you to write, edit and organize your work?
This is just scratching the surface of who can be impacted; if a major as old and as writing can have so many helpful free software packages the potential impact of the open source software among the entire student body should become obvious. To elaborate further on what JobProfiles.com(2008) is saying, there is an almost criminal absence of open source software used in schools nationwide. Instead there is a cycle of students having to buy and purchase materials that are far beyond the limits of the average poor college student. Instead of software that is cheap and compatible with other freeware there is a virtual monopoly of companies that produce software solely for themselves, with full compatibility limited only to what that company puts out. Naturally the software is expensive in itself, but to be fully compatible with other software the student must in turn buy other products the same company offers. The student is spending even more money on software that they are learning simply for compatibility issues. Combine that with new editions that companies are constantly pushing out and the studentâ€™s are looking at spending thousands of dollars on software if they want to remain completely up to date. Free and open source alternatives can help break this cycle of payment that many universities have gotten their students into (Benefits, 2010.) Should the database help recognition of open source software, it may even get to the point where professors are recommending free software and students go into their field with the knowledge of what software will be free for them to use and just as useful as the expensive counterparts. Students would only be limited by their effort into learning the software, no longer by the staggering cost of it. It could change the way students think about school software by creating communities where they share information and support free software instead of either illegally pirating software or shelling out money for software they may not be in the best position to afford, especially in the recent economy and with the excess of student depts.
Technical approach To briefly repeat what was said earlier in the paper, the database will be designed to cater to people of many experience levels. Because of the different 5
usability levels, which can vary greatly depending on the level of skill the user has with computers and technology, there will be usability testing to examine how people of different levels can navigate the site and find the software that they want. It will also test how more experienced users are able to figure out how to join the site and contribute content. Users of every level will be catered to, and testing will be used to prepare for that. The testing will involve a basic version of the site and use people of various skill levels to try and do specific tasks. These tasks will include creating an account, writing a review, finding specific software and regurgitating information that they will be asked to find. It will also test how well the site flows and how apparent and easy the information is to find. Testing will be commenced as early as possible, which as Usability.gov (2010) explains: You should test early and test often. Usability testing lets the design and development teams identify problems before they get coded (i.e., "set in concrete). The earlier those problems are found and fixed, the less expensive the fixes are. By finding these problems early on it will be easier to correct them as I design the site rather than having to go back much later and redo code that could have been correct the first time. For testing people SurveyMonkey.com will be used, with a few short questions and answers about how the person felt when they were navigating the site. The questions will be direct, but open so that the users do not feel pressured to answer one way or another. The information will then be collected and compared by myself in order to facilitate concerns made about the site. This way of surveying people online will make use of available software, SurveyMonkey.com, and allow people to experience an actual version of the site rather than a Photoshop mockup or something fake and static. The process of using the online software will allow me to get immediate results, as well as use the softwareâ€™s built in functions of comparing and contrasting results. If need be I will also be able to cater questions specifically towards people of different skill levels. Also, one of the best things about a survey such as this is that the user involved will not feel persuaded or 6
intimidated by my presence to give an honest answer; they will feel much more open to saying how they really feel when answering a form online. One project that was similar, though admittedly more extensive, was undertaken by the company Sigmer for the company British Sky Broadcasting. Sigmer was hired to undertake a user-centered testing scenario where they got feedback from individual people who were testing the database. Due to being a more robust company they were able to use the software â€œScribeâ€?, but the overall results were the same as the ones this project is going for. Individual people were consulted about the project and were able to give their input quickly and efficiently during the design of the actual database. The results were great and the project has seen few hiccups since (Sigmer Technologies, 2010). The testing scenario I am creating will be an efficient way to get information as I create the database. It will start with putting the content on a site in a manner that I assume is good. From there I will test people of various professions and skill levels and get their input towards what they like, dislike and found confusing. Afterwards I will redesign the site with their input in mind, and hold another testing session before creating the final project. This way there will be input every step of the way and the site will be designed to cater to people who have various sorts of computer knowledge. As far as running the database once everything is in place people will be allowed to create accounts, submit their own ideas and comment on others. An administration of users will have to be present to moderate the actual content that people submit, and there will be tools to help users contact admins in the case where other users are abusing their privileges. Posts made by other users will be able to be deleted by the admin, as well as accounts if the need arises. Ideas for new software links will have to be approved by the admins before they are put in place, and filters will be put in to ignore suggestions that have already been made as well as sort data for the administrator. Qualifications of the team The team required for this project will consist of none other than me, Ryan Fennell. While there are those that will be interviewed they will not be involved in the 7
actual building of the project, and serve as information rather than co-workers. I am qualified for this project as I have two years of web design training; this includes design aesthetics as well as XHTML, CSS, PHP and MYSQL database knowledge. I have collaborated with other peers and students in previous projects in past classes, most notably â€œUsability Testingâ€?, where I have had to rely on the input of others to flesh out and my project and make sure it is understandable by the target audience. I have access to the materials needed to complete such a project, mainly a computer with access to the internet as well as the program Dreamweaver, which I will be using to code and organize the database. I am qualified to design and oversee this project as I have lain out and look forward to doing so.
References 50 Awesome Open Source Resources for Writers and Writing Majors. (April 29th , 2008). Job Profiles. Received November 24th , 2010, from http://www.jobprofiles.org/library/students/50_awesome_open_source_resource s_for_online_writers.htm Benefits of Using Open Source Software. (2001). Gbdirect. Received November 25th, 2010, from http://open-source.gbdirect.co.uk/migration/benefit.html The Client: British Sky Broadcasting. (2010). Sigmer Technologies. Retrieved November 21st, 2010, from http://www.sigmer.com/clients/bskyb.php Gordon, Jill. 69 Free or Open Source Tools For Students. (January 22nd, 2009.) OnlineCollege.org. Retrieved November 22nd from http://www.onlinecollege.org/2009/01/22/free-or-open-source-tools-for-students/ Jovine, Frank. 20 Open Source Tools Every Student Should Have. (October 20th, 2010). Retrieved November 24th, 2010, from http://www.techjaws.com/20-open-sourcetools-every-student-should-have/ Long, Ju .(2009). Open Source Software Development Experiences on the Studentsâ€™ Resumes: Do They Count? - Insights from the Employersâ€™ Perspectives. Journal of Information Technology Education. Retrieved November 24th, 2010, from http://jite.org/documents/Vol8/JITEv8p229-242Long694.pdf Usability Methods. (2010) Retrieved November 23 rd, 2010, from http://www.usability.gov/methods/index.html Waters, John K. Google 'Code-In' Calls on K-12 Students To Become Open Source Developers. (November 10th, 2010). The Journal. Retrieved November 22nd, 2010, from http://thejournal.com/articles/2010/10/20/google-code-in-calls-on-k 12-students-to-become-open-source-developers.aspx 9
Why should open source software be used in schools? (December 24, 2007). Retrieved November 23rd, 2010, from http://edge-op.org/grouch/schools.html