We talk about the concepts of “open source” all the time, as they relate to technology: collaboration, openness, freedom, and community. But how do we explain these concepts to people who aren’t familiar with technology, much less something as abstract as “open source?” It’s a challenging problem, but one we must address if we want to ensure the growth of the open source ecosystem, and spread the word about how open source can benefit us all.
That’s why I was thrilled to be able to visit a unique space in Columbia, South Carolina called IT-oLogy, where seeing is believing. It’s a place where anyone can go to play with, experiment with, and learn about open source and technology. They make open source accessible to everyone! I had great the pleasure of speaking with Todd Lewis, from the IT-oLogy team.
IT-oLogy is a non-profit collaboration of businesses, academic institutions and organizations dedicated to growing the IT talent pipeline and advancing the IT profession. IT-oLogy has three main initiatives: Promote IT (K-12), Teach IT (Higher Education) and Grow IT (Professionals).
- * Promote IT: IT-oLogy works with K-12 schools to encourage the best and brightest young people and their parents to learn more about the IT profession.
- * Teach IT: In collaboration with IT-oLogy, companies work with colleges and universities on applied business research projects and experiential learning opportunities that strengthen and align classroom skills to current and future IT business needs.
- * Grow IT: IT-oLogy partners with IT professionals and their companies to provide innovative and life-long learning and professional development opportunities.
In February, IT-oLogy opened the doors of its newly renovated headquarters in downtown Columbia. IT-oLogy took 22,000 square feet of traditional office space and transformed it into a hub of technology. The venue boasts a 200 person theater, a distance learning classroom, The Portal (gaming development room), the Open IT Lab and more. The new space is being used as a hands-on place for students, educators and professionals to learn, test and develop IT skills.
Students, teachers, professors and IT professionals of all types are welcome to visit the Open IT Lab and learn more about open source and the general concept of ‘openness.’ Parents are also more than welcome to visit.
As far as the Open IT Lab is concerned, the biggest obstacle has surprisingly been deciding what the focus of the Lab will be. In addition to Awareness, Education and Research & Development, the concept of ‘open’ also applies to software, hardware and content (data and media). How to effectively address those areas, and developing the content around each of them once priorities have been determined, is a tough task.
The success story that immediately comes to mind are the many teachers that have visited the Lab, listened to a presentation on open source, and expressed a desire to take it back to the classroom. Many, many teachers have volunteered to even work on projects being run out of the Lab. When you can get educators excited about open source and the ‘open’ concept itâ€™s extremely rewarding.
Another is that of an educator (Ann Bryson-Eldrige) who came to POSSCON and a tour of IT-oLogy and realized the facility and skill set available was a great match with her upcoming graduate project. In less than a month we were able to put together a class of 25 middle school students that she taught all about Open Source on laptops we were able to provide with a full Open Source suite of tools.
Plans for the future include expanding the content being offered as well as the companies and individuals we work with. Weâ€™ve got a great core group now but weâ€™ll need many more involved to get the word out to the masses. Weâ€™d also love for many of these companies and individuals to open up offices or expand operations around the Lab. Many people donâ€™t know it, but South Carolina is a hub of IT activity and is incredibly progressive in this regard.
Content expansion includes a national outreach â€“ online courses, speaking engagements at national conferences and materials we will be making available to schools and businesses throughout the country.
There are one or two other open source labs around, the Oregon State University Open Source Lab comes to mind for example.
Todd, thanks again for giving me the opportunity to visit your awesome space and I highly encourage anyone who is in the area, or anyone who wants to help Todd and the rest of the team to reach out to them.