Repository – differences between Open Source and OER and implications

@OpenKuroko is lucky enough to be attending OER18, which got off with a bang on Twitter last night. This brief bit of thinking out loud explores the differences in understanding of the word repository by two different, but related communities, open source software and Open Educational Resources. It’s sparked by a combination of some recent work that has me returning to my open source software use/development origins and this tweet from @OpenKuroko. The tweet reports a comment from #OER18

there are plenty of #OER repositories, but no one outside academia knows about them’

Based on the following, perhaps there are some lessons to be learned by the OER/OEP movement from the open source software community about how to re-conceptualise and redesign repositories so that they are actually not only known about, but actually actively used. One lesson appears to stop thinking about the repository as a place to store and share resources, but reframe it as an environment to help a community engage in relevant open (educational) practices. At some level it echoes the “A way forward” section in Albion, Jones, Jones and Campbell (2017)

Open Source software development is often cited as an inspiration for the OER movement. If you mention the term repository to anyone currently somewhat connected to using or developing open source software than their immediate association is almost certainly going to be of a GitHub repository, defined in that intro tutorial as “usually used to organise a single project”. i.e. a GitHub repository enables and encourages just about anyone who wants to, to engage in a range of OEP around software development.

GitHub is based on Git. An open source tool for version control. Version control is a standard practice for software developers. Git was designed by an expert (open source) software developer (Linus Torvalds, creator of Linux) to be used by an open source project (Linux). It was designed to solve a number of known problems with existing tools. Git was then used by GitHub to provide a hosting service for version control. GitHub added features to support this task to make it even easier for people to engage in open (and not open if they paid) software development. As explained on the Wikipedia page for GitHub, GitHub provided additional support for standard tasks such as “bug tracking, feature requests, task management, and wikis”.

This combination was so successful that Wikipedia cites sources that have GitHub hosting 57,000,000 repositories being used by almost 20,000,000 people. In the Open Source software community, people know about and tend to use git and GitHub. If you’ve looked at a recent computing technical book then chances are that book has a GitHub repository that hosts the support code for the book and provides an environment where readers can ask questions and share problems.

Echoing the #OER18 comment, but does anyone outside of open source software development know about Git and GitHub repositories?

There are signs. If you’re a researcher doing work in Data Science with R or perhaps Python. Then chances are you are using GitHub to share your code and work toward reproducibility of research. The idea of using GitHub to host course material is increasingly used by computer science educators, but is also spreading further.

But it’s not all techno-optimism. This blog post from Dan Meyer is titled “Why Secondary Teachers Don’t Want a GitHub for Lesson Plans” and outlines a range of reasons why. Many of these reasons will echo with reasons heard by folk involved with OER.

While there may be some value in other communities (e.g. open educators) using GitHub, perhaps the bigger point is not that they should use Github. Git and GitHub provide repositories for software development. Git and Github were designed and developed by software developers to make the practice of software development (open or not) more effective. More interesting questions might be

  1. What would an environment/tool/system designed by insert profession (e.g. school teachers, historians, accountants etc.) and for the open practice of insert profession look like?
  2. What would this mean for the nature of practice within that profession?
  3. Is it even possible or desirable?
  4. What would such an environment/tool/system for the producers of OER look like? Any different from existing OER repositories?

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