Broadening Part. through Authentic, Collaborative Engagement with Computing for the Greater Good

Heidi Ellis
Western New England University

Need: In order for the U. S. to remain competitive in a global economy, the number of STEM graduates must be increased to fill the projected 3.5 million STEM jobs that need to be staffed by 2025. Addressing this shortfall will require improving the overall quality, appeal, and student success rate in STEM education. Women and other groups are underrepresented in STEM fields in general, with larger gaps in computing. Computing educators must improve the appeal, quality, and student success rate in computing education while also broadening participation by women and other underrepresented groups. The OpenPace project expands the community of faculty addressing this challenge by incorporating Humanitarian Free and Open Source Software (HFOSS) into computing education. HFOSS education provides a complex, authentic environment that supports collaborative, active learning with genuine tasks. Students learn contemporary software engineering and develop professional skills while gaining first-hand experience with the positive impact of computing for the greater good. HFOSS motivates the study of computing by including elements known to attract women and other underrepresented groups. Guiding Questions: The key research questions guiding this work include: R1: How does HFOSS education affect student learning, engagement, retention, and diversity in computing degree programs?R2: How does HFOSS education impact the role and identity of students?R3: How does HFOSS education impact the role and identity of instructors?R4: Can incremental HFOSS education increase adoption by instructors of computing for the greater good in STEM education?Outcomes: The project has made progress in answering several of these questions. (R1) Initial research into the motivation of “doing good” indicates that women and underrepresented groups are more strongly motivated by the humanitarian nature of projects. (R4) A prototype HFOSS kit has been developed that contains an operational copy of a real-world HFOSS project bundled into a container, learning activities that interact with the HFOSS project, and an instructor’s guide on how to use the kit in the classroom. Kits provide students an authentic computing context, but in a more controlled fashion than having students work directly with a live open source project. (R4) In addition, several educational HFOSS projects that address a humanitarian need for real clients are actively being developed and used in courses across a variety of educational institutions. These projects have considerable scale and complexity, but are designed and managed with the intent to support multi-institutional student and faculty participation. Broader Impact: OpenPace is designed to have broader impact in the following areas: a) OpenPace pedagogy is designed to improve student retention, and incorporate elements to increase appeal of computing to women and underrepresented populations. b) The use of complex, authentic environments and the opportunity to develop professional skills prepares students for professional practice. c) OpenPace is advancing knowledge of HFOSS education, effects of particular pedagogies, and impact of these approaches on instructor and student role and identity. d) HFOSS education benefits society by direct humanitarian contributions and by increasing student awareness of professional responsibility and the potential of computing to address humanitarian needs.


Stoney Jackson, Western New England University, Springfield, MA; Greg Hislop, Drexel University, Philadelphia, PA; Darci Burdge, Lori Postner, Nassau Community College, Garden City, NY; Karl Wurst, Worcester State University, Worcester, MA; Grant Braught, Dickinson College, Carlisle, PA