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Improving Education, Impacting the World through Humanitarian Free and Open Source Software By Kerry Boland, Writer/Editor
College of Computing & Informatics

Undergraduate students at the College of Computing & Informatics (CCI) will soon have the chance to make a real-world impact in the classroom — while helping to improve computing education for all students — thanks to a grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF).

This September, CCI Professor and Senior Associate Dean for Academic Affairs Gregory Hislop received a three-year $348,000 NSF grant for his project titled “Open Path — Improving Student Pathways to Computing Professions via Humanitarian Free and Open Source Software,” in collaboration with Western New England University and Nassau Community College ($964,000 total).

Working in collaboration with one of the world’s leading open source companies, Red Hat, Inc., the project will provide significant professional development opportunities for faculty from a broad range of institutions.

The OpenPath project will better education for undergraduate computing students by defining a learning pathway through computing curricula that will help address the key challenges within computing education via student exposure to and participation in Humanitarian Free and Open Source Software (HFOSS) projects.

According to the project abstract, HFOSS is open source software that improves the human condition, addressing needs in areas such as health care, disaster management, education, economic development and accessibility.

Working in an HFOSS project helps students develop the technical and process skills needed to ensure a smooth pathway to the computing professions.

As students will be provided with opportunities to positively impact their communities or others, the project plans to engage and motivate traditionally underrepresented minorities and women to pursue careers in computing.

“Participation in HFOSS projects gives students an excellent opportunity to work on large-scale projects that have an active community of users and developers,” Hislop said. “Students also benefit from seeing the application of computing and especially the potential of computing to have positive societal impact.”

The project will collaborate with the Process Oriented Guided Inquiry Learning in Computer Science (CS-POGIL) project which, according to Hislop, promotes a particular active learning approach that has been extensively applied in natural sciences education, but only recently for computing. In this project, CS-POGIL will be used to scaffold early learning and help students develop team and process skills.

As a result, the OpenPath project aims to improve student learning and content retention, while helping students to develop professional skills and personal attributes.