With this course we are trying to investigate what can be described as distributed open-source teaching. The idea in this case mimics the open-source concept that stems from the hacker culture. The idea of software source code shared for free is probably best known in connection with the Linux operating system. After Linus Torvalds developed its core and released it to software programmers world wide, Linux became a product of joint efforts of many people, who contributed code, bug reports, fixes, enhancements, and plug-ins. The idea gained momentum when Netscape released the source code of its Navigator, the popular Internet browser program in 1998. That is when the term "open source" was coined and when the open source definition was derived.
The most important part of the open source license is probably that it allows modifications and derived works, but all of them must be distributed under the same terms as the license of the original software. Therefore unlike simply free code that could be borrowed and then used in copyrighted commercial distributions, the open source definition and licensing effectively makes sure that the derivatives stay in the open source domain, extending and enhancing it. The open source community started to grow very quickly. The open source paradigm has become the only viable alternative to the copyrighted, closed and restricted corporate software. (Click here to read an article about open source and check out a sample of open source license agreement called Design Science License - copyright (sic!) by Nichael Stutz. Or click here to read a copy of that article on the local server. )
A web-based course like the one presented here could serve as a core for some joint efforts of many researchers, programmers, educators and students. Researchers could describe the findings that are appropriate for the course theme. Educators could organize the modules in subsets and sequences that would best match the requirements of particular programs and curricula. Programmers could contribute software tools for visualization, interpretation and communication. Students would be there to test the materials offered and to contribute their feedback and questions, which is essential for improvements of both the content and the form of representation.
Borrowing from the open source experience of material development, we could also envision a community of educators who would participate in teaching a web-based course, logging in into the virtual classroom to contribute to the discussions with students, to answer their questions, to grade their exercises. With a sufficient number of qualified volunteers involved, this kind of education can become a free alternative to the increasingly expensive university education. In compliance with the open source definition the students educated for free would be expected to contribute in the future to this kind of free virtual education, further enhancing the community of educators.
A web page to organize the community of volunteers interested in teaching applied simulation modeling is currently under development. However one could easily envision an Open Network for Education (ONE) set up in a way similar to the Open Source Development Network (OSDN) to promote and organize free open source education in a variety of disciplines.
If you wish to join the ONE community for this course, register for the course and then check out the Teachers Domain at the bottom of the entry page. However first you might want to check out some of the course pages to have a better idea of what's it all about.
Check out a short paper describing this concept and the modeling course:
Voinov, A. 2002. Teaching and learning ecological modeling over the web: a collaborative approach. Conservation Ecology 6(1): 10. [online] URL: http://www.consecol.org/vol6/iss1/art10