Dr. Alan Rea receives Red Hat Award for teaching open source

Dr. Alan Rea, professor of business information systems, is one of eight international higher education instructors who are being honored this year by Red Hat for including open source technologies in their curriculum. Red Hat’s press release announcing the honorees states, “The efforts of these instructors both to integrate open source into their classrooms and to grow a community of like-minded educators are making a difference in the lives of students and making the world a more open and collaborative place.”

What is open source, and why is it important?

open-source [oh-puh n-sawrs, -sohrs], adj.
1. Computers. pertaining to or denoting software whose source code is available free of charge to the public to use, copy, modify, sublicense or distribute.
2. pertaining to or denoting a product or system whose origins, formula, design, etc., are freely accessible to the public. Dictionary.com Unabridged

For Rea, who has been an open source advocate for many years, teaching open source technologies and philosophies is essential. Rea emphasizes that open source is ubiquitous—companies of all sizes have access to open source, and we often use technology built on open source platforms without realizing it. When thinking about how open source is impacting technology and business, Rea is most excited about how it has enabled so many advancements.

A significant example is the rise of the internet. The web has transformed the way we do business and interact as a society. Today, artificial intelligence, machine learning and virtual reality are driven by people using open source tools. As an information systems professor, the platform is uniquely relevant for Rea’s students; however, the technologies created on those platforms and the open source philosophies of agility, teamwork and continuous improvement are relevant for everyone.

“Many open source projects never make it beyond the technologists because of the lack of business acumen and other skill sets not directly associated with technology,” says Rea. “Open source projects need more than technologists; they need editors, marketers, designers, writers, business managers and accountants. When working with open source technologies, you become a team member.” Students at the Haworth College of Business, no matter their major, all benefit from experience with team agility, collaboration, leadership and growth. Therefore, Rea encourages all students to become familiar with open source concepts and philosophies.

Making connections

Rea became involved with Red Hat via connections made through Professors Open Source Software Experience workshops, which are sponsored by the National Science Foundation and Red Hat. This community is made up of open source users and instructors who provide resources and support for teaching open source. Here, he was connected to Red Hat’s open source education support team. This team is devoted to collaborating with educators as they integrate open source into their curriculum. This unique support is what led Rea to work with Red Hat.

The project

In collaboration with Red Hat, Rea immersed his web architecture students in an open source project that involved working in teams to streamline the teachingopensource.org website. The site provides support and materials for educators interested in teaching open source. Before the project, TeachingOpenSource’s vast library of resources was difficult to navigate, and his students were tasked with proposing solutions for improving user experience.

The students benefitted by gaining experience in working as a team on an open source project and seeing real-life improvements as a result of their hard work. “I think I speak for everyone in our CIS 3900 class when I say this has been a tremendous experience that will benefit all of our careers,” says Kathleen Cotter, who was a senior electronic business marketing major at the time of the project. “Red Hat and Dr. Rea have provided a learning experience that goes beyond the classroom into the professional world. I learned the importance of time management, collaboration and cohesion. I am so grateful for this experience and value the opportunity to learn from not only Red Hat and Dr. Rea but also from my classmates whose unique skills have contributed to the success of this project.”

Teaching through collaboration

Through discussions within Professors Open Source Software Experience and TeachingOpenSource, Rea gleans many ideas and approaches for incorporating open source into the classroom. These discussions allow Rea to work in an open community to support faculty around the world as they implement open source in classrooms. When Rea first became involved in the open source community, he was the only information systems professor. The majority of participants were computer scientists who were curious as to why Rea would be involved with teaching open source. He recognized the relevance of the subject for himself and his students, and today, he enjoys the opportunity to mentor the growing number of information systems faculty who are getting involved. Using open source philosophies to create a community that works together to teach the technologies is the best part of the experience for Rea.