Development of a FOSS-based CSE Degree Program – Discussion Note # 1

i) The Background :
Our engineering education programs, including those in the CSE/IT areas, are designed and implemented under the assumption that every subject is taught by an expert teacher to a class small enough as to enable direct and regular personal level interactions between the teacher and the students.he students are also assumed to have chosen their particular program of study because of their interest, aptitude and passion for the subject. In this scenario, the transfer of knowledge and skills takes place directly from the teacher to the student with in the university or college premises, and books, laboratories and other material were to only supplement and enrich this process. In this ideal world, the students after graduation took up jobs in the industry that were directly related to, or derived from, what they had learned in the universities.

The regulations, curricula and syllabi used, methods of teaching-learning employed, types of examination and assessment processes used, etc. were commensurate with these assumptions and premises, and in form, they continue to be so. Situation on the ground in the field of engineering education have however undergone such profound changes that there is little in common with its present shape and the original assumptions and premises underlying it. The teachers mostly have very little knowledge or skills as they possess neither any industry experience nor any research experience of any sort. The classes and labs are so large and crowded that there is practically no direct interaction between the teacher and the students. Most often, the only reason that the students turn up in the class rooms and laboratories is because of the regulatory requirements that they obtain a minimum percentage of attendance in the classes held. The students themselves have no particular interest in or aptitude for the subjects being taught to them; they are mostly there because they need the degree to get a job. And finally, as and when they do land jobs, most of them have little resemblance to what they were supposed to have learned.

The irony however is that the system of admissions, curricula, syllabi, teaching and examination that the university administers itself has remained much the same as before even while the reality under its feet has totally changed! Even where IT and Internet tools and resources are brought into play to alleviate some of the problems, they are only marginally effective because the larger system design into which they are being introduced remain pretty much the same as before. Most glaringly, how well the student has assimilated the subject is decided largely based on a 3-hour closed book written examination at the end of the semester or the year!

The ultimate proof of the near-breakdown of our engineering education system is in the fact that upwards of two-thirds of the graduates of this system are considered “unemployable” by the industry! The economic, societal and human costs involved here are staggering, and the situation has got to be rectified in some manner at the earliest, at least in the CSE/IT areas which cover the bulk of higher technical education enrollment in India today.

ii) The Proposal :
In the field of CSE education at least, the approach and methodology of FOSS could have a substantial relevance to the above scene. The following are some of the well known aspects of FOSS that are relevant to the education scene --
1. Its learning-by-doing approach where practice goes hand in hand with theory is conducive to effective learning and skill development where the students' interest is retained and enhanced.
2. There is no sharp distinction between the 'class room world' and the 'real world'; what one learns is mostly what works 'out there', thus reducing the gap between the class room experience and the real world experience.
3. The incremental way in which FOSS tools and technologies are created and distributed gives great opportunity to students to learn the process itself, in addition to the product.
4. Mainstream software industry is increasingly relying on distributed and collaborative ways that emphasise reuse and conservation, and exposure to FOSS processes in the classroom itself prepares the students for such a world.
5. As industryy-quality FOSS software tools and resources are freely and openly available, much of learning can be done through building real-world applications and solutions using them.
6. The student can be evaluated continuously,transparently and meaningfully as he/she keeps learning through doing in a manner visible to all; unlike today where the limited methods available for examination and evaluation decide the process of teaching-learning itself.
7. Today there is great concern for the need to integrate some education on values and ethics into the main stream engineering curricula itself. A FOSS-based education system can address this at least partly due to its emphasis on freedom, sharing, collaboration, openness, common ownership, reuse and conservation, etc., as against total individualism, secretiveness, competition, etc.

If the CSE education process can be substantially grounded in FOSS, that should be good for producing both high quality SW engineers as well as better human beings.

For us in India, it is particularly relevant that many of the characteristics of the FOSS process enumerated above are quite similar to those that Mahatma Gandhi attempted to build into his own design of an educational system for the free India - such as the Nayee Taalim. Some of its key ideas were: (i) Learning and skill development should be a part of the social productive processes itself, and not abstracted and isolated out of it (ii) Learning should primarily emphasize and draw up on what is found in one's immediate real-life environment and context, and not a context that is remote, artificial and unconnected to one's living surroundings (iii) the principle is “learning through doing” and not “doing after learning” - and the doing that is a part of the learning itself should produces articles of economic and social value (iv) through its productive component, professional education should fund itself -- “an agricultural university that can not support itself through doing agriculture is not worth having”! Consequently, rural crafts and agriculture had a central place in the system of education envisaged by Gandhiji – pottery, carpentry, spinning, weaving, dyeing and cloth making, leather work, metal work,horticulture, gardening, agriculture, irrigation, animal husbandry, etc. He believed that much of the physics, chemistry, biology, technical skills etc could all be imparted through such a craft-based education. That a FOSS-based education would have many things in common with this approach should be of considerable significance and relevance to us in India.

Even in more recent times there have been similar efforts at implementing the concept of 'learning through- doing' in professional education. An example is the Madras Institute of Technology where the Electronics Graduates of the fifties, sixties and the seventies were mandatorily required to start assembling and testing a full super-heterodyne broadcast radio receiver right from the first year when of they would still not have been exposed to most of its theoretical foundations. By the time the theories of radio frequency stages, low-noise amplifiers, non-linear mixing, distortion, high power amplification, etc were taught to them in the classroom, they had already encountered the practical manifestations of the same in their radio-making exercise and therefore were able to fully comprehend and appreciate the theory --doing pretty much went hand-in-hand with learning. While we need to understand the reasons why such experiments were subsequently abandoned, it is possible that Internet and FOSS have made many of those reasons not valid any more, especially in a field like CS and IT education.

The proposal therefore is to get eminent educationists, university administrators, computer scientists, FOSS experts, industrialists etc to brain storm on this and come up with an alternative CSE curricula and syllabi based strongly on the philosophy, approach and methodology of the FOSS Movement. Such a program is meant ultimately to produce high quality SW/IT engineers and better citizens for the country – at the very least to make some contributions towards eliminating the monster of “ un-employability” of our CSE graduates.

iii ) The Problem Statement
The question that NRCFOSS/AU would like to ask is: "Can the unique features and strengths of the FOSS Movement/Experience help improve the CSE Education scene in India?"

Many of the constraints under which our CSE education system works now as outlined in para (i) above are not easy to remove quickly; one may have to learn to live with them for quite a bit longer. For example, the quality of CSE/IT teachers that we are likely to have in the majority of our colleges, or the level of preparedness and motivation of the students coming to these colleges, etc. The idea here therefore is that the effects of some of these constraints can perhaps be mitigated a bit by introducing certain well-defined and streamlined steps - Methods and Processes - that are inherently more suited to our educational environment. As is well known, the dependence on individuals' capabilities, particular contexts etc. can be somewhat nullified by having streamlined Methods and Processes which, if followed meticulously, is sure to produce some level of results irrespective of the specific talents of the individuals involved. The classic example is from the history of science in Europe itself- once the Methods and the Processes of doing modern Science were analysed, understood and abstracted, the was disseminated and deployed widely in the society so that, not just geniuses alone, even ordinary people with training in these Methods and the Processes could deliver decent quality science. How this step transformed the role and scope of science in European society and made it the engine of progress, is all history.

The suggestion therefore is to integrate into the learning environment some of the methods and processes underlying the FOSS Movement that are of relevance to the education context. This would not be possible to do in the existing educational structure as such; certain minimum modifications in the regulation, curricula, syllabi etc. would have to be made to enable this to be done. If this is done and if the integration is smooth and strong, then that itself could help improve the quality of CSE education some what, even if some of the other limitations of the present scene persist for longer. This in any case is the hypothesis behind this proposal. (In this context, it may be useful to recall that the NRCFOSS programs with Indian universities so far has only been to add some FOSS content with out in any manner touching the methods and processes. While this has given FOSS some level of acceptability and respectability in the academic circles, there is need to go further and introduce FOSS Methods and Processes also into the system – as proposed here).

iv) Some Initial Thoughts.
To kick start discussions, some preliminary thoughts are being shared to illustrate what could be attempted- Three topics that receive considerable attention in our CSE curricula are : Programming Languages, Operating Systems, Data Bases. There are often more than one theory and lab course for each of these topics, spread over many semesters. Instead of having them taught merely as Lectures and Labs as happens now with an examination at the end of the semester, can a large component of open collaborative/group work be included in each of these areas, running continuously over many semesters, through which the students learn and practice many aspects of the topics? While traditional lecture-exam component would still have some weight-age, bulk of the credit would be decided by how a student performs in, contributes to, the open collaborative work on the topic that would be well defined in the regulations and curricula. This component will be similar to how a FOSS community operates, and there would be an expert (mostly from outside the regular teaching staff) who will act as the mentor for it. While this is attempted in the three broad topics mentioned or more, the rest of the degree program can continue to run as now, and if the results look promising, then slowly the entire program can be migrated to this mode. Note that (i) the entire educational system need not be altered to start this experiment, (ii) this does not call for any substantially higher resources etc., and hence should be implementable in many places, though initially a few pilots alone will be attempted.

It is evident that lot of careful thinking and design by CS educationists and FOSS experts are needed to introduce even this level of FOSS method into the regulations and curriculum – an Expert Advisory Committee will be formed for this purpose as a part of the NRCFOSS/AU activities. Some UG level pilots will have to be run in a few universities/colleges that are willing to volunteer for it, and given the cooperation that NRCFOSS has been receiving so far, this may not be impossible to realise. Part of the costs the universities would have to bear towards this would be paid for from the NRCFOSS Project so that even if these experiments do not entirely succeed, the universities do not loose much. (While these trials will be in the traditional brick-and-mortar institutions to start with, it is conceivable that the idea can be extended to online educational programs as well at a later date.). If the pilot projects can demonstrate how the FOSS method leads to measurable improvements in the quality of the graduates, then the same can be scaled up through integration into the national technical education programs of the government applicable to the entire country.

Given that such an exercise would have to be carried out systematically over a period of some 3-5 years in a few campuses before its effects can be assessed, it is likely to need much larger funding and support than is available in the present phase of the NRCFOSS Project. The exercise right now is therefore to get the process launched and complete the preliminary works, while looking for larger support. It is also the fact that “FOSS -basing CS Education” has relevance even beyond the Indian context. For example, Europe has a strong FOSS Movement, and a number of universities there, particularly in France, have already started the process of FOSS-basing their PG programs. Preliminary contacts have already been established with a few key French players in this area, and a separate note will be presented to the Advisory Committee on the French scene outlining possible collaboration plans.

It is hoped that the sheer nature and size of the challenges associated with helping to transform the massive Indian CSE/IT educational scene would excite and motivate the Indian Academia and FOSS Community.

Development of a FOSS-based CSE Degree Program – Discussion Note # 2

A. Some basic facts about our CSE education
About 2% of the CSE graduates produced annually in India come from relatively well-endowed institutions whom we might call, in relative terms, ‘elite’ institutions. The following would typically be the case with the programs that produce the rest 98% of our country’s CSE graduates:

The 4-year CSE degree program would have about 175 credits, of which about 60% would be in the core CS discipline, and 40% would be in other allied disciplines. Of the total credits, about 75% credit would be for Theory and about 25% for Labs and Projects. Concepts and topics in the CS domain are first introduced to the students through the class room Lectures, and are then expected to be verified by them in the Lab classes, and finally applied by them in their Project work – in that sequence, and with weightages of typically 75%, 20% and 5% respectively. This is the primary process through which the CSE education is being imparted today to most students.

The final closed book 3-hour written examination for Theory papers typically carries 80% marks, 20% ‘internal/ sessional’ marks being what the teachers themselves award. Those who teach the students are different from those who set the papers, and those who evaluate the papers are neither of the above. About 90% of the courses are compulsory, and only 10% are left to the students' choice.

The theory classes taught by a teacher inside a class room and evaluated through a 3 hr final written examination constitute the core of our engineering education process. Other components are quite peripheral and secondary, as perceived by both the teachers and the taught. The essence of the above process can be captured as below:

  • Hear/see (Lecture) – verify/confirm (Lab) – use/do (Project) is the sequence through which concepts are taught/learned.
  • 75 – 20 – 5 is typically the importance given to the steps in the above learning sequence.
  • The student-learner goes through this process as an isolated individual -- learning in isolation and evaluated in isolation.
  • The environment, tools and processes used in education is completely different from what happens in ‘real life’.

Having characterized the bulk of our CSE education in rather unflattering terms as above, it must be stated immediately that, under the circumstances obtaining, such drastic ‘corner-cutting’ alone is what has made the scaling up (mass-basing) of the CSE education in the country possible – supplying the foot soldiers who in their large numbers helped India win a few global Software/IT battles.

The purpose of the present exercise is therefore only to see how things can be improved, rather than make a listing of what all are wrong with what is being done today.

B. The basic idea behind ‘FOSS-basing’ the CSE education
The four bullet-ed components of today’s large scale practice of our CSE education listed above can all be improved to some extent through what has been learned from the philosophy and practice of FOSS – and this can be done with out having to wait for the 98% to get as well- endowed as the elite 2%. The following are the key ideas:

  • The linear sequence of hear-verify-do (Lecture-Lab-Project) can be profitably modified by learning how the FOSS process operates – the process can be made helical instead of linear, ever rising as it keeps going back to the starting points continuously. While the three steps would still be there, they could be combined differently.
  • The available FOSS tools, resources and processes permit us to dramatically alter the relative roles and scope of the steps in this sequence – doing, and watching others doing, can be made to occupy the centre-stage of the learning process. The weightages can be selected to maximize the effectiveness of learning in a dynamic and context-dependent manner.
  • FOSS breaks the isolation of the learner; it makes it possible to learn in a group, as a community, watching others learn as one is learning oneself; thereby enhancing the overall efficiency of the learning process significantly. Also, how well one is learning and doing is no more a secret known only to the examiner; every one can see how every one else is doing. From being the most obscure and shadowy part of the education process, evaluation and assessment becomes as open and transparent as the learning process itself – it becomes an integral part of the learning process itself.
  • Given the free and open nature of all the FOSS tools, technologies and resources, the distinction between the learning environment and the real-life doing environment can be made as small as one desires -- one can do all one’s learning in the same environment as where all the doing happens. That kind of education and learning prepares one for the ‘world out there’ gradually and smoothly; moving from college to workplace need not be as traumatic and un-nerving (for both the parties!) as it is today.

These are very broad and general ideas, and the challenge is to integrate and incorporate them into the CSE Degree Programs in the country. The present proposal aims to attempt this in the form of a pilot program operated at a few locations for assessing the gross viability and feasibility of the idea under real life conditions. If the pilots prove successful, scalable and replicable, there would be a strong case for its large scale adoption in the country with suitable alterations and refinements etc.
The task before this Advisory Committee is to help realize this goal.

C. Some key points for discussion and decision making by the Advisory Committee
The success of our pilot would depend on a certain set of crucial decisions that we make concerning the operationalisation of the plan. These are listed below, and these would in fact constitute the agenda for the first meeting of the Committee. In some of the cases, certain suggestive responses have been provided, more to kick-start discussions than to preempt the answers.

1. Do we attempt the FOSS-basing at the UG level or at the PG level?
In a certain sense, this note and the earlier one has already spoken in terms of a 4-year UG Program as being where we want to try out the idea. It is however true that a PG program is much easier to ‘play with’ in most places, which also explains why similar efforts made elsewhere in the world (Europe for example) have been exclusively at the PG level and not UG. Many universities would be happy to start one more PG program – say a “FOSS-based M Tech in CSE”. Despite the added difficulties of dealing with the UG programs, it has been the feeling that PG level is too late to influence modes of thinking and learning, and one must attempt FOSS-basing CS education at the UG level itself – especially if the goal is to have an impact on the “un-employability” issue.

2. What is the extent to which FOSS-basing is to be attempted in the pilots?
The choices here are: (i) Make the entire UG program FOSS-based (ii) Make only some components of it alone FOSS-based (iii) Do it only at the Projects/Labs/Electives level.

(iii) above is what NRCFOSS has been involved in, and it is realized that the larger impact that FOSS is capable of having on Education can not be realized through it. It is necessarily of limited scope, though useful as an entry point into the formal academic space. Even though (i) is the ultimate goal, it requires some fundamental and large-scale reworking of the regulations, curricula and syllabi of the programs, availability of suitably trained teachers, background and preparedness of students, awareness on the side of potential employers etc. It may be difficult to mobilize the required levels of resources and support at the scale at which this component is executed by NRCFOSS. Successful culmination of the proposed pilots should lead us towards (i).

What appears reasonable there fore is to try this at (ii) to start with. The components themselves should be selected carefully, and this would necessarily be a compromise between practicality and impact. FOSS-basing should be attempted in a few topics that are key to the CSE profession – Operating Systems, Data Bases, Languages etc. have been cited as examples – and would impact on their employ-ability aspects in significant ways.

3. What exactly would be attempted in the selected components?
The selected components (say OS for illustration) would be taught/learned the FOSS way along the general lines stated in Section (B) above. How exactly this is to happen is for the Committee to advise and propose. While even this would need certain changes in the regulations, curricula and syllabi as far as these topics are concerned (relating to teaching methods, assessment methods, pass-fail criteria, etc), our goal should be not to disturb the rest of the UG process in any manner. Thus, the credits today given to OS- related topics would stay largely as it is; the number of hours students spend on the OS-related topics would largely remain the same; the way in which other (non FOSS-based) topics are taught and tested would not be changed, etc. With in these constraints, we would of course have full freedom to reconfigure and rework everything as far as our chosen topics are concerned – including their distribution across the semesters, introduction of distance learning components etc.

One issue to be addressed is concerning the extent to which the present components are kept or thrown away – especially as regards testing/evaluation/grading. There may be sense in keeping part of it as it is, such as an end-semester written exam, but with reduced weight-ages.

Detailed regulations, curricula, syllabi, teaching-learning methods, testing-grading procedures etc. have to be drawn up for the selected topics before the pilots can be kicked off.

It is most likely that the institutions where these pilots are tried don't have the faculty to teach the selected topics the way we want to. How is this to be addressed? One way is for NRCFOSS to arrange for external experts (from other institutions, industry, FOSS community etc) to take academic responsibility for handling these topics, in coordination with a local faculty assigned by the college who will take care of all the academic administrative aspects. The funds available with NRCFOSS for such support would be one of the constraints on the number and extent of pilots that can be attempted. The other way would be for NRCFOSS to train up the required faculty before launching the scheme.

4. Does the entire class take the FOSS-based program, or should it be an elective stream option that a part of the class alone may opt for?
Typically a class has 60-70 students, and this may be too large for our experiment in terms of effectiveness while we are ourselves 'learning-through-doing'. Our program can be an elective stream available to the batch, and we can limit the strength of the FOSS-based stream to what is manageable by us. It is not clear if this would be workable in terms of the students' readiness to make such a choice, the non-uniformity in the teaching-testing-grading that this would introduce, etc. It is to be kept in mind that finally the whole batch gets the same degree and have to go into the same job market.

In a purely management sense, it is easiest to put the entire batch through the same program, from the first semester onwards.

5. In which institutions do we run the pilot?
There are very many issues that go into this question, and the fate of our scheme itself would hinge on this choice. We will need to start with the issue of how do we motivate any institute to take up this scheme, and what do they gain by doing so? In terms of the class of institutions, there are a wide variety available who could be approached:

  • State University Departments
  • Autonomous Colleges attached to state universities
  • IIIT class of institutions that award their own degrees
  • Private Universities

Private colleges affiliated to universities would find it difficult to join the pilot program as they do not have the required academic autonomy or flexibility to implement this scheme. Ideally, a pilot should be run in each class of institutions, and also covering different regions in he country. But what is possible has to carefully ascertained. It should also be kept in mind that these pilots would need to be run for at least 3-4 years in an institution to assess its results. Location would also have to take into account the fact that many experts/teachers would have to come from outside frequently, and easy reach-ability would help a lot.

Development of a FOSS-based CSE Degree Program – Discussion Note # 3

Some university-level programs in FOSS Education.

A. Introduction

There are no FOSS-based CS programs at UG level being taught in any universities. One of the main reasons for this is the unwillingness of universities to take such a 'risk', as UG programs are core programs tightly controlled by the authorities, and are fairly frozen every where. The following are some types of university level programs in FOSS Education:

  • Regular 2 year Masters Level programs entirely based on FOSS conducted in universities.
  • Online Masters level programs for “Open Universities”(?)
  • Universities using FOSS Modules (Courses) developed by companies in their degree programs (mostly PG Programs) – with payment.
  • One year M Sc level programs emphasising policy/management aspects of FOSS, as against Technology aspects.
  • Private companies doing online teaching and certification on their own
  • Some isolated courses on FOSS being offered by some departments in universities (similar to NRFCOSS Electives)

B. Some examples, mostly from Europe

(I) 2 yr Masters in Open Source at Univ. of Littoral at Calais :

Contact: Dr. David Duvivier--H:\NRCFOSS-FOSS Curriculum making\FOSS Curricula incharge- Prof.David DUVIVIER.mht

Course supported by a set of external Partners who are strong players in FOSS space:
List of Partners Master I2L

24 students; 4 sem; 120 credits; 1000hrs (L=CM,T=TD,P=TP).
CURRICULUM (C=Lectures; TD= Tutorials; TP= Practicals)

1st Sem --Total hours: 273h

Operational Research C: 12 TD: 18h TP: 12h Credits: 4
Software Engineering II C: TD 15h: 15h TP: 12h Credits: 4
Advanced Databases C: 12 TD: 12h TP: 18h Credits: 4
Functional Programming C: 12 TD: 12h TP: 18h Credits: 4
Real Time Systems C: 12 TD: 12h TP: 18h Credits: 4
Living Language I - English TD: 25h Credits: 2
Living Language II - German / Spanish C: TD: 20h Credits: 2
Corporate life C: 4h TD: 14h Credits: 3

2nd semester
Total hours: 239H

Compilation C: 12 TD: 12h TP: 22h Credits: 4
XML Technologies C: TD 9am: 9am TP: 24h Credits: 4
Components and software architectures C: 12 TD: 12h TP: 18h Credits: 4
Distributed Systems I C: 12 TD: 12h TP: 18h Credits: 5
Living Language I - English TD: 25h Credits: 2
Living Language II - German / Spanish TD: 20h Credits: 2
Corporate life TD: 26h Credits: 2
Project Credits: 4
Internship (16 weeks) Credits: 3

Curriculum of the second year - 1st Sem :Total hours: 373h

System, Network and Security C: TD 21h: 12h TP: 54h Credits: 7
Web Application Development C: TD 29h: 12h TP: 57h Credits: 7
Development environment free C: 22h TP: 54h Credits: 6
Living Language I - English TD: 30h Credits: 4
Living Language II - German / Spanish or Latex TD: 20h Credits: 2
Innovative Economy CM: TD 12h: 20h Credits: 2
Conferences C: 30h Credits: 2

2nd semester :Total hours: 106H

The environment of free C: 18h TD: 3h Credits: 3
Management of free C: TD 11h: 8h Credits: 3
Migrating to the free and Open Integration C: 18h TP: 48h Credits: 6
Project Credits: 6
Internship (20 weeks)

Prepares and supplies Course Modules that Universities can use for their PGcredits
(5 credits per module typically)

FTA is supported by European Union SELF Project, and involves:

  • Free Knowledge Institute (FKI) - The Netherlands
  • Open Universiteit Nederland (OUNL) - The Netherlands
  • Universitat Oberta de Catalunya (UOC) - Spain

The Free Technology Academy starts to run in the last week of January 2010. The following courses are scheduled (fees don't include special discounts):

Module Start End Fee Registration
The concepts of Free Software and Open Standards 25/01 16/04 380 € OPEN
The GNU/Linux Operating System 25/01 16/04 380 € OPEN
Web applications development (*) 26/04 16/07 380 € SOON
Economical models (*) 26/04 16/07 380 € SOON
Software development (*) 26/04 16/07 380 € SOON
Legal aspects of the Information Society (**) Sept. 2010 Nov. 2010 380 € SOON
Network Technologies (**) Sept. 2010 Nov. 2010 380 € SOON
Case Studies (**) SOON

(III)Online Courses towards Master's Degree, Spain (open university?)
( About 80 credits @ 25 hrs/1 credit)

At Madrid (MoLOS program - Jesus Barahona ) and Catalunya campuses



(IV)One Year M.Sc level “Management of OSS” --Univ. of Pisa, Italy
Any graduate can take. Emphasizing the Policy/Management dimension, less of technology,
oriented towards E-Gov Applications. 60 credits.
Details : Susanna Paleghatti - Click here...

(IV)Open Source Certification Courses – EOF , France

University level on line Teaching of FOSS topics and issuing certificates – complete courses ( 6 months) on Linux, Open Office, Asterisk, etc.(charges 300 Euros per course). Number of students less than 25 to give personal attention.

Details: Olivier Ricou : Click here...

(IV)University levels Courses on FOSS - Philippines

Dominique Cimafranca:
IT 288 : Info Security
IT 312: Business Applications
CS 251 Operating Systems

C. Conclusion:
Almost all of them are doing this primarily to make quality FOSS-trained manpower available for industry, government etc. for their special requirements (such as e-gov). Masters Level is ideal for this, and also for the reason that departments have lots more freedom to experiment and play with Masters level programs.

Our program would be different from these in the following ways:

  • Our industry doesn't really need Masters level persons, their need is mostly UG level, and we have to work at this level to have an impact.
  • We have twin objectives: (i) to train students in FOSS Technologies and Products so that they can be of use to industry in this sphere (ii) to improve their “employability” through FOSS – basing the way they are taught – at least in a few subjects.
  • Whatever we attempt should be for large classes – 60 and above in one batch.

We can still benefit in many ways from the experiences of the programs listed above – especially as regards the use of on-line training techniques and resources. We should be able to collaborate with some of them in our work.

FOSS-basing the CSE Education:

Minutes of the Meeting of the Advisory Committee on - 9.30 AM to 5.00 PM, 4 Dec 2009,
AU-KBC Centre.
  • Discussion on the over all understanding behind this effort.
  • “FOSS-basing” -- at the UG level or at the PG level?
  • What is the extent to which FOSS-basing is to be attempted in the pilots?
  • What exactly would be attempted in the selected components?
  • Does the entire class take the FOSS-based program, or should it be an elective stream option that a part of the class alone may opt for?
  • In which institutions do we run the pilot?
  • Identifying specific tasks and assigning them to specific individuals.
Members present

The following members of the Advisory Committee were present --
  • Mr. Sitaram Chamarty, TCS, Hyderabad
  • Mr. Kenneth Gonsalves,NRCFOSS, Anna University Chennai
  • Prof. Sanjay Goel, JIIT Noida
  • Prof. D Janakiraman, IIT Madras
  • Prof. C N Krishnan, NRCFOSS, Anna University Chennai
  • Prof. M Kumaran, Jaya Engineering College,Chennai
  • Prof. Ranjini Parthasarathy, Anna University Chennai ----- In the Chair.
  • Dr. Mukul Sinha, Expert Consulting Services, Delhi
  • Prof. G Sivakumar, IIT Bombay
  • Mr. Bharathi Subramanian, Midas Communications, Chennai
  • Prof. S Thamaraiselvi, Anna University Chennai

Ms. P M Latha from NRCFOSS-AU participated as an invitee.
Prof. Rajeev Sangal, IIIT Hyderabad, could not be present in the meeting, but shared his thoughts telephonically.

Summary of Discussions

001. Initial remarks by C N Krishnan (CNK) highlighting that FOSS-basing the CSE Education is being examined here essentially from the point of view of improving the quality of education as well as enhancing the 'employability' of the graduates. The emphasis would hence be as much on the “FOSS Methods and Approaches ” as on the “FOSS Tools and Technologies”.

002. D. Janakiraman (DJ) - Use of FOSS for Software Engg. - Large systems available to understand concepts such as cohesion, coupling, version management etc.

003. G. Sivakumar (GS)- Why limit FOSS-basing to CSE ? Why not for other engg. Branches ? Lab should be part of the teaching- eg. First level courses at MIT(USA) on Robot building

004 S. Tamarai Selvi (STS) - It is to be brought as part of curriculum to be taken seriously by students.

005. DJ - Lab-integrated courses necessary

006. GS/DJ - can NRCFOSS do something like ACM ICPC, Google SoC, etc ?

007. Ranjani - Would that not restrict it to only a few students? We need to broad-base this.

008. Sitaram Chamarty (SC) – The key thing that we find missing in a graduate during the Placement Interview and subsequently is a huge lack of all-round awareness as to what exists and what can be done with them

009. Mukul Sinha (MS)- I would call it a lack of inquisitiveness. Today, at least in the SME scenario, it is not that we do the design first and then look for what tools and packages are needed for it ; we first look at what FOSS tools and packages are available and build the solution around it. Awareness and Inquisitiveness hence become the key requirement in the engineer.

010. Sanjay Goel (SG) – What we need is “FOSS-biasing” as opposed to “FOSS-basing” Experiences at his dept. in JIT, New Delhi - FOSS made part of Literature study - Final year project - emphasis on Use of FOSS in project - a report on what was used and what was tweaked - Python before C - only lab - All courses project based - mini project - senior UG s mentoring juniors - seniors rewarded (graded and credit given) for that. - reverse engg to learn s/w engg - student projects used to showcase concepts to juniors (GS - Can these projects done at JIT be made available for others to use as examples, resources, teaching tools etc.?)

011. DJ - FOSS-biasing may not be the right thing to do – what tools and products to use (FOSS or otherwise) should be left to the students' choice. FOSS-basing sounds neutral and more acceptable

012. Discussion on FOSS-biasing: most felt that greater bias towards use of FOSS tools and solutions is anyway happening increasingly in the academia, and NRCFOSS has also been doing it already. FOSS-basing (basing the education process itself on the Methods and Approaches of FOSS) is what is not happening, and that is what we are aiming here.

013. Discussion on “Employability”: In the note circulated earlier, enhancing the 'employability' of CSE graduates was stated to be one of the goals of FOSS-basing. NASSCOM' s Test in a way defined the considerations and criteria that went into defining this term. Prof. M Kumaran (MK) had also confirmed that introduction of FOSS in his college during the last 4-5 years has indeed helped his students to get placed and/or set up their own companies. There was however fair amount of discomfort about 'employability' being made a central criterion or goal of FOSS-basing. This arose from the fact that our Industry was far from uniform or homogenous in terms of what it is looking for in the graduates – what passes for 'employability' is the needs of some 10-20 SW/IT Services companies, and does not represent the entirety of our industry. Our society's needs for CSE graduates are very varied and can not be confined to NASSCOM' s definition. It was generally agreed that FOSS-basing should keep its aim as “improving the quality” of our CSE graduates, which would immediately enhance their employability as well.

Agenda Item 2 :
FOSS-basing at the UG level or PG level? Should FOSS-basing be attempted at the UG level or at the PG level? Arguments back and forth in favor of both : UG advantages - 'catch them young' is a must to mold their methods, approaches and values; 'unemployability” is really a UG issue; significant societal/ economic impact possible.

UG disadvantages - large classes, can we get enough mentors to handle them ? Less flexibility; acceptability to the institutions will be low.

PG advantages - smaller classes, less mentors and hence manageable by NRCFOSS; more flexibility available and hence higher acceptability to the institutions; those trained are likely to get back to teaching - so we are increasing our FOSS- trained teacher base which will have a long term multiplier effort.

PG disadvantages – PG programs in India are generally not taken too seriously by any one (institutions, industry, students etc); it is too late to try and mold their attitudes , approaches and work culture which are already fully formed; may be OK for FOSS-biasing and not for FOSS-basing. There was agreement on all the above positions, and the decision is to be based entirely on what can be successfully managed by NRCFOSS.

Prof Rajeev Sangal' s remarks :
We are already doing a fair bit of FOSS-basing through our “Workshop courses”already -- first semester: how to setup your machine; second sem: python ; third sem: GUI - setting up mail server, n/w server etc ; project: end-to-end system building. Practice-Theory-Practice is the philosophy. The real issue is choosing between “Science-based” education vs “Tinkering-based” education. Our elite institutions look down up on the latter. On specifics of the discussion: It should be done at the UG level, and it should be FOSS-basing.

Agenda Item 3 &4: The extent and process of FOSS-basing. It was agreed that, to start with, FOSS-basing would only be attempted in a few key threads of the CSE Education, leaving the rest of the regulations and curricula untouched. Even the effort to be put in by the students would also be kept at the same level as now, measured as being about 25-30 hours of a student's time to earn one credit – this could consist of listening to lectures, self-learning from books or online content, doing assignments and lab classes, doing projects, preparing for exams, etc.

The following subjects were found to the desirable threads from which a suitable number could be picked:

  • OS
  • Databases
  • S/W Engg
  • Networking

Details have to be worked out on the optimum mix of the different components of teaching-learning through which these threads would be handled: class room lectures, self-learning from books or online content, web-based learning and mentoring, assignments, lab classes, group (community) projects, examinations, etc.

Delivery Methods: For each course in a semester, there would be a faculty member from the department would be the interface with the department responsible for ensuring full compatibility with the academic processes and calendar of the dept. depending on his/her interest and expertise, this person would also be involved in the teaching tasks. The responsibility of actual delivery, performance assessment and grading would be assumed by NRCFOSS through one or more mentors drawn from NRCFOSS, the FOSS Community or Industry. It was also proposed to have one 'champion' per course who could typically be a faculty member conversant with that course (even retired persons) and would iron out all the wrinkles and smooth-en the interfaces. Efforts would also be made to create very structured and layered instructional material (instructor manual, student manual, lab manual and worked out examples, problem suggestions etc) which would be collaboratively compiled and enhanced in wiki-mode. Once the mentors are identified, there would a “mentor orientation camp” held to evolve a shared picture of how to implement the program, including process standardisation.

Scalability/sustainability issues - the number of mentors available will limit the scalability. In most cases (such as AU), there are typically about 300 UG students in a batch, and assuming one can mentor some 20-25 students, the need would be for 10-12 mentors per subject per institution! It was felt that, for each thread selected, teams of 20-30 mentors should be identifiable from with in India. The funds available with NRCFOSS for paying them would also limit the scale. The proposed pilot program would have to be run for at least three batches - how will we sustain the commitment level of mentors ? Regarding sustainability, it was stated that the DIT funding can only manage a pilot, and if the pilot is successful, MHRD would have to be approached for scaling and sustaining. Possibility of a large Indo-EU Program on “FOSS-basing CS Education” was also pointed out. Approaching corporates like TCS, HP etc for a formal tie up was also proposed so that their FOSS resources can be made available to support this program on a sustained basis.

Agenda Item 5 :Offered to the entire batch or as an Elective to the batch? It was felt desirable to limit it to those students in a batch who opt for it as that will make it more effective as well as manageable, especially for UG classes. But there would be serious difficulties as far as evaluation and grading is concerned which would not be uniform across the batch. This can be attempted only if the dept. takes full responsibility in addressing this problem. Other wise, and this is likely to be the case mostly, the entire batch would go through this method – focusing back on the scalability/effectiveness issues once again. Here again the decision is left to the operational team.

Agenda Item 6: Which institutions? It was agreed that only institutions with adequate autonomy can attempt this – university departments, autonomous colleges, deemed universities, etc. The choice would also depend on the UG/PG decision.

Agenda Item 7: Specific Tasks and Individuals While there were many suggestions on this, it was felt that this can be concretely addressed as soon as some of the larger issues were settled. The following options were seen to be open in front of us in terms of selecting the mode and manner of implementing the FOSS-basing:

  • Run it at the UG level largely as per the ideas spelt out in the Discussion Notes, and incorporating the different suggestions that have come up in this meeting – addressing the problems to the extent possible. (NRCFOSS takes full responsibility)
  • Run it at the PG level with in the limitations obtaining. (NRCFOSS takes full responsibility)
  • Implement it in strong collaboration with the willing Departments (UG or PG), sharing the actual work and responsibilities between NRCFOSS and the departments concerned (such as AU-C departments).
  • Introduce parts of the program with in the available free slots (such as mini project slots) in departments (such as JIIT). NRCFOSS is to weight these further and take a decision.

The meeting ended with CNK thanking the Chairperson and the members for the many constructive ideas and suggestions that have come up. The members will be kept informed about the progress of work and their advice and suggestions sought on an ongoing basis.