Fire and emergency management/About Open Source Learning Project

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Open Source Development: It’s not just about software anymore[edit]

By Michael D. Finney


“…given enough eyeballs, all bugs are shallow. Given a large enough beta-tester and co-developer base, almost every problem will be characterized quickly and the fix obvious to someone.”

-Linus Torvalds, Creator of Linux Operating System


What if I told you that your training materials could be standards based? What if I told you that your curriculum could be comprehensive, yet customizable to your departmental needs? What if I told you curriculum and training materials could be free? Yes, I said free. One of the key areas I am passionate about is the untapped capabilities of the internet and online learning communities to create effective education and training resources for our fire service. Ironically, the technology is present, available, and in many cases, are easily implemented. Unfortunately, many departments and training academies do not capitalize on the benefits of the World Wide Web.


Effective use of the internet can create a portal for learning and educational exchange unparalleled by anything fire service training has yet to produce. It opens doors for communication, permits training resources to be evaluated and updated in real time, and connects all interested stakeholders with the click of a mouse. What I am proposing is the ability to collaborate on curriculum and training materials in ways we historically have not been allowed. Utilizing not only the technology, but some of the development methodologies, training materials can become comprehensive, evolutionary, and self validating. The launching point of this new approach to developing training materials for the fire service is what has been dubbed the “Open Source Learning Project”. Coined from the Open Source Software Initiatives, the Open Source Learning Project adopts the tradition of Instructional Systems Design with the efficiency and quality of software development.


However, before explaining how the Open Source Learning Project work, we must first provide a foundation.


Instructional Systems Design[edit]

Instructional Systems Design (ISD) is foundational in fire service training. It has its roots in the military, but has long been considered a standard development process for fire service professionals. ISD has many variations, but typically is divided into five phases according to the ADDIE model:


Assessment: The developer takes the topic and researches the industry need in relation to the topic. The Assessment may include surveys, task analysis, and job tasks review.

Design: Based on the Assessment, the developer will begin to create a plan for developing the curriculum. The planning stage, as it is sometimes called, is where the objectives are developed and the framework for the development process is determined.

Development: The developer actually creates or assembles the materials. The instructional outlines developed, the audio/visual materials, support material, and evaluation instruments.

Implementation: Once the curriculum is developed, the course must be tested (or piloted) to confirm delivery accuracy, validation, and reliability.

Evaluation: To determine the relevancy of a curriculum, evaluation must take place. Materials must be reviewed and adjustments made. Most importantly, does the course fill the void determined by the Assessment.


Instructional Systems Design is a methodical process for developing effective, comprehensive curriculum. Providing a structure ensures necessary components were created and information is thoroughly covered.

What is Open Source[edit]

|Open Source, while applied to many areas today, has primarily been associated with software development. Under the Open Source Definition, software must meet ten criteria to be considered open source:


1.Free Redistribution: the software can be freely given away or sold.

2.Source Code: the source code must either be included or freely obtainable.

3.Derived Works: redistribution of modifications must be allowed.

4.Integrity of The Author's Source Code: licenses may require that modifications are redistributed only as patches.

5.No Discrimination Against Persons or Groups: no-one can be locked out.

6.No Discrimination Against Fields of Endeavor: commercial users cannot be excluded.

7.Distribution of License: The rights attached to the program must apply to all to whom the program is redistributed without the need for execution of an additional license by those parties.

8.License Must Not Be Specific to a Product: the program cannot be licensed only as part of a larger distribution.

9.License Must Not Restrict Other Software: the license cannot insist that any other software it is distributed with must also be open source.

10.License Must Be Technology-Neutral: no click-wrap licenses or other medium-specific ways of accepting the license must be required.


Related to the Open Source Definition is the |Free Software definition by the |Free Software Foundation, which attempts to capture what is required for a program license to qualify as being free-libre software. In practice, licenses meet the open source definition almost always also meet the Free software definition. All licenses reported to meet the free software definition as of 2005 also meet the open source definition.


According to Stallman and the Free Software Foundation (FSF), "free" software licenses grant:


· the freedom to run the program for any purpose (called "freedom 0")

· the freedom to study and modify the program ("freedom 1")

· the freedom to copy the program so you can help your neighbor ("freedom 2")

· the freedom to improve the program, and release your improvements to the public, so that the whole community benefits ("freedom 3")


Freedoms 1 and 3 require source code access, because studying and modifying software without source code is extremely difficult and highly inefficient compared to modifying annotated source code.


Open Source software development is initiated with a core program or kernel. The kernel becomes the foundation that makes the software functional. The person who develops the kernel posts the program in a location accessible to others. Other people can then add to the kernel. The end result becomes a mature program that benefits all users. One of the elements of open source is the accessibility to all, typically free. Open Source software creates a community of developers and users that build off of each others needs and specialties.


There are four critical roles within the Open Source development process:

· Project Manager: Oversees the project. Directs and coordinates the overall project.

· Developers: Introduces and oversees components of the project.

· Co-Developers: creates and develops components of the project.

· End Users and Focus Groups: Provides feedback for improvement and software bugs.

Open Source Curriculum Development[edit]

Considering what is discussed thus far, how does it apply to curriculum development. Working with the assumption that one is working within the context of the Instructional Systems Design, applying the principles of Open Source development can be innovative. Consider the following approach:


1. The developer determines the need to develop a new curriculum.

2. The developer develops the framework of the course. Such considerations are the learning objectives and an outline of the curriculum.

3. The curriculum is then posted to a common place for review, comments, and expansion of content.

4. Other subject matter experts begin to add components, add support material, evaluation instruments, and comment on other posts.

5. The course begins to evolve and develop as the community of subject matter experts and developers join the community.

6. The end result is an evolving curriculum that grows with the industry needs, self updates, and changes with industry demands.


One of the benefits to the approach is the community approach creates a validation and reliability component to the development process. Errors, misinformation, and false statements have a greater opportunity to be addressed early on. As well, controversial material or conflicting information can be resolved by the group rather than the individual.


How the Open Source Learning Project Works[edit]

The Open Source Learning Project is designed for the fire service, by the fire service and projects are developed in accordance with current, applicable NFPA standards. Course "kernels" will contain the learning objectives and the basic course outlines. Once completed, a project facilitator will be assigned and the course posted for comments. Anyone can post to the curriculum as long as the ground rules are maintained. As well, organizations and individuals creating support materials (i.e., PowerPoint presentations, student guides, skill sheets, test questions/banks, and so forth) can be posted as well. Courses will remain on the website for continuous development and ongoing updates. In the spirit of Open Source, courses can be downloaded at no cost to the individual or the organization. The individual or organization accepts responsibility for ensuring the course meets their local needs as the Authority Having Jurisdiction. Equally, contributors accept that the information they provide is open to comments, edits, downloads, and use. The best explanation is to quote Wikibooks with, "If you don't want your writing to be edited mercilessly and redistributed at will, then don't submit it here."

Finally, the purpose is to create a community of fire service developers, experts, and users, that will create the most comprehensive curriculum possible for the referenced NFPA standards. In the end, the most critical component of training benefits- the student. Knowing the end result, the fire service is improved and at the end of the day the philosophy of "everyone is safe and everyone goes home" becomes a reality.


Ground Rules[edit]

In order to maintain the integrity of the curriculum, but to allow for the ongoing evolution of the curriculum, the rules are somewhat simple:

1. All material and contributions must be original... do not use someone else's material or it will be deleted and the contributor potentially banned from the project.

2. All content must be consistent with the applicable NFPA standard.

3. SAFETY FIRST... all practices and information must not be or suggest unsafe acts.

4. Conflicting or controversial material will be resolved by the community of developers and subject matter experts. In situations where no resolution or compromise can be obtained, the project facilitator has the final word.

5. All information must be relevant and focused on the topic at hand. Information irrelevant or off the mark will be deleted.

6. Finally, we want to develop and grow safer and well trained fire personnel. The courses and information must constantly reflect such.

Our attempt is to create a framework or parameters for development. We do not want to squash the creative mind or the flow of information, we simply want to keep it relevant, applicable, and focused.

Final Thoughts[edit]

The opportunities as a result of the Open Source Learning Project are endless. It provides the capabilities for curriculum development, online course, collaboration, and research. When I look at the benefits of this type of project, I think of the National Fire Academy. While I am always impressed with the courses and content, one of golden nuggets I cherish is the ability to network and share ideas with department personnel across the country. Imagine having that same ability to share information and collaboration at anytime, any place, and any level. There are typically two types of positive change processes that take place. The first is innovative change which is an improved or better way of doing a skill or process. The second, disruptive change, is a change in the organizational landscape. With disruptive change, we are not just improving the process, we are creating a new process all together. Disruptive change will be the result of the Open Source Learning Project as we will be able to change the landscape of fire training and academics. Collectively, as a fire service, we will create some of the most comprehensive ways to train our personnel. We will break down the barriers that have prevented effective training and collectively, we will create a safer fire service.