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First - if you're about to ask me to help with something TOS-specific, you may want to check out these other people who can do it better instead. This has been an effort from the Society To Un-Bottleneck TOS Stuff From The Mel. Thank you.

My name is Mel Chua, and this page describes the TOS-related projects I'm working on. Feel free to contact me with any comments, questions, or ideas you might have, or check and see if I'll be traveling near you sometime soon.

I'm a PhD student in the Engineering Education department at Purdue University, in West Lafayette, Indiana, USA. Prior to that, I worked on open source and education as part of Red Hat's Community Leadership team, hacking on the Fedora Project and getting POSSE and Teaching Open Source (hello!) off the ground. Before that, I was an engineer on the OLPC and Sugar Labs projects, where (among other things) I worked with groups of college students to start university chapters working on both projects. I did my undergrad in Electrical and Computer Engineering at Olin College and went to a public magnet math and science high school called the Illinois Math and Science Academy (IMSA), so I've been in quirky institutions experimenting with teaching and learning for... over a decade now.

One of my big goals (and interests, in general) is how professors can make students into catalysts - making sure you go back in the fall with everything you need to turn each kid in your class into an open-source community leader. I'm also hoping to work on followup and learn how to help your ideas and projects gain traction and credibility in the academic world as next school year goes along - do we need to publish journal articles on the impact of teaching the open-source way, should we hit up conferences, how can we help you get permission/resources/recognition from admins, what are the challenges re: working in open-source communities that are particular to universities (student turnover every semester, grades, etc.), what else should be on this list?

I'm new to seeing this side of academia which you all know very well, so I'm looking forward to having my assumptions challenged and my worldview of the ivory tower rewired.


  • /A Blogger Is You! - Spring 2012 project to redo an Inquiry course module; if this works, all incoming engineering education students at Purdue will start research blogs beginning next year (also my project for "Content, Assessment & Pedagogy" class)
  • /Olin Institutional Repository - Spring 2012 project for designing Olin's Institutional Repository Open Access policy (and a Purdue independent study)
  • /Programmabilities - Spring 2012 project for UNICEF (and my thesis paper for "Theories of Enginering Thinking and Development" class)
  • Translating German Sugar on a Stick news coverage into English (as my "German for Reading Knowledge" project -- I'm not allowed to get outside feedback on my translations until the final submission, so they will be posted at the end of April 2012.)
  • /Radical transparency researcher - Spring 2012 project for making my academic portfolio site (and my final project for "Art & Design Research Methods" class)
  • /Be Bold Meta - Sumana Harihareswara let me document her awesomeness (the creation of a keynote for Open Source Bridge) for a mini-research project for a qualitative methods class. Here it is.

Old projects

Woefully incomplete list.

Personal Learning Goals

For my Purdue portfolio, I need to write down my personal learning goals. Here they are, with the ones I'm attempting to complete in the next 12 months (spring, summer, and fall semester 2012) in bold.

Goal Actions needed to accomplish Metrics of success/quality Evidence/deliverables Target date Competencies addressed
Expand participation in the scholarly discipline of engineering education to those who do not typically take place in such work, particularly open source contributors who are not academics. Attempt to include at least one significant nonacademic collaborator in each project. Number of open source, nonacademic, and academic-but-not-engineering-edu coauthors/copresenters. CV of publications and presentation with open source, nonacademic, and non-engineering-edu coauthors highlighted, along with a short explanation of each nonacademic/non-engineering-edu coauthor's background and affiliation. Spring 2015 (Dissertation defense) Synthesize Knowledge, Create Knowledge, Communicate Knowledge, Think Critically and Reflectively,
Have all my scholarly publications open-licensed in an open-access repository. Identify (or start) a suitable open access repository to host my work. Get in the habit of using copyright addendums. Negotiate with publishers of already-published work to make that work more available. (Note that I'll be doing an independent study on open access in the spring that will facilitate some of this.) Percentage of scholarly publications that are open-licensed and in an open-access repository. My CV of publications; each item should be listed with licensing information and an open access URL where it can be downloaded. Spring 2015 (Dissertation defense) Communicate Knowledge, Professional Community, Policy
Teach "the open source way" (TOSW) at/near Purdue in a way that's transferable to other institutions. Organize and teach small workshops on various TOSW topics, both technical and nontechnical. Qualitative feedback from participants. A collection of writeups (likely reflective blog posts) chronicling these events. Spring 2015 (Dissertation defense) Create Knowledge, Communicate Knowledge, Apply Principles, Demonstrate Engineering Skills, Professional Community, Teach Engineering
Learn how engineering education administration functions. Attend and document Board of Trustees meetings at my alma mater (Olin College in Massachusetts). Qualitative feedback from administrators I deliver my writeups to. A series of "notes packets," one from each Board meeting documented. Summer 2013 (Immediately before data collection) Synthesize Knowledge, Think Critically and Reflectively, Apply Principles, Professional Development, Policy

Fall 2011 example

The goal example documented here is progress on the "Learn how engineering education administration functions" front.

My philosophy on school, work, competencies, grades, and lifein general: figure out what you want to do, then figure out where that fits into what you've got to do (and then, down the line, fill in the gaps).

One thing I wanted to do was to go back and watch what's happening at my alma mater (Olin College, -- a tiny 300-undergrad experimental engineering education college outside of Boston), so I decided to volunteer at board meetings. They said yes. I think this would fall into the "professional community" and "education policy" competencies, and may end up hitting others depending on how things go.

Here's some more detail chronicling what I've done this semester.

From an email to Olin's administration

Short version: would it be of any use to have somebody compiling, summarizing, and analyzing the Presidents' Council gatherings over the next few years? If so, I'd like to help.

Longer version: as part of my grad program in Engineering Education at Purdue, we've got competencies that we need to demonstrate for graduation. Among them are:

  • participate actively in professional community
  • explain and critique education policy

We're allowed to fulfil this requirement by serving on a university committee or writing a paper about a DepEd proclamation or something of the sort, but I'd like to take advantage of this to help Olin out for credit if I can, and also to get a better glimpse of the workings at a college in this sense -- how *does* a school run at the board level? What kinds of conversations do you have? I've only ever thought of the Council meetings as discrete and separate events in time, but I'm guessing they are really conversations at a higher level and over a longer timeframe than I'm used to listening to and I'd like to start trying to hear them as such. Also, I'm curious what happens with all the notes once we're done getting together. :)

Proposal: I can make it up to Olin once a term for the meetings, sit through the weekend compiling and analyzing responses to your white paper, and (probably the following weekend) sort through the collected conversation notes and come out with a summary to send to you, which you could then do what you wanted with (edit, share with the rest of the community, archive, etc). Confidentiality level would be whatever we agree on. That's a strawman proposal, but I'm open to other arrangements that would be more useful to you and Olin...

Another email, after a bit more conversation wherein permission was granted

I was planning on coming in Saturday and spending Sunday on campus helping with setup and reviewing whitepaper responses (I'm guessing the whitepaper will be coming out soon) before dinner, then doing the dinner and the all-day on Monday before flying back on Monday night so I can make my Tuesday classes. How does that sound?

I've also blocked out the weekend after the meeting to sit down and go through all the accumulated scribe notes, thoughts, reflections, and responses, and a chunk of Monday to do the writeup, with the goal of having a summary to you by the morning of Tuesday the 15th -- here's a strawman proposal for the final packet, but I'm totally up for alternative ideas for what you think would be most useful. Mostly putting these out here as ideas to make it easier to discuss.

  • The original pre-meeting whitepaper from President Miller (usually ~2 pages)
  • Either a one-page summary of pre-meeting responses to the whitepaper, or the text of President Miller's opening talk
  • A 2-page post-meeting summary of the breakout sessions (synthesized from student scribe notes)
  • A 2-page post-meeting summary of the closed-door Board of Trustees meeting
  • The full data dump organized into appendices
  • A 1-page "cheat sheet" summarizing/table-of-contentsing all of the above

Total: 8 pages plus appendices, in an attempt to be kind to busy board members who don't want to sit through thesis-length material.

What happened and what I learned

I attended and did notetaking for the Board meeting on November 7, 2011. I'm currently in the process of synthesizing the first set of notes, and metrics/quality will be assessed as per the deliverables in the table above. Some things I've learned and will be doing as a result:

  • Assuming I'd get all the data within a week of the event was ambitious. Even now, two weeks after the meeting, notes continue to trickle in to me.
  • Even if you don't have all the data, start writing. I've been waiting for things to "stop coming in," but they never will; I shouldn't let my own work block on it any longer.
  • Board meeting conversations have interesting political subtexts I can't yet decipher. There's a lot more going on in high-level conversations than the agenda being addressed. I'm not sure how I feel about this yet. (It's not exactly a revelation; I've been on boards myself and have attended parts of these Board of Trustees meetings at Olin before, but I think I see more of the subtext each time, and am more able to interpret it as I learn more in the world between meetings.)
  • I'll be doing more background research and reading on individual board members before next semester's meeting, and seeding initial conversations over email/notes. I know enough about engineering education's history to be slightly aware of the contributions some of these people have made to the field, but am not specifically aware of the things they've written and said on various topics, and may be able to engage in better conversations with them over dinner next round if I try to start these conversations beforehand ("would love to discuss X with you at the meeting").

Next 12 months

Standardize, document, and teach a procedure for capturing Olin Board meetings. By the end of the Fall 2012 semester, I'll have attended and documented at least two more Board of Trustees meetings at Olin, which is enough to have some sort of procedure for "what works" settled out. For the Fall 2012 meeting, I will see if it's possible to coach another student or alumni through the capture process instead of carrying all the work myself, which implies doing some documentation of the process in the Spring 2012 meeting. This goes towards my "Learn how engineering education administration functions" goal and the competencies listed along with it in the table above. I will be successful if I have taught someone else to capture an Olin board meeting.

Become comfortable using and advocating for accessibility services in the course of my scholarly work. I'm deaf, but have always mainstreamed and have generally been uncomfortable with asking for special accommodations, preferring to struggle through things on my own instead. I've recently come to the conclusion that that may not be a great idea and am trying out some of the available services at Purdue, specifically CART (transcription). I will be requesting CART for some of my classes next semester in order to see if it makes it easier for me to learn. This is not tied into any of the goals or competencies listed above, but is along the general lines of finding ways to enhance my own capabilities. I will be successful if I can confidently explain my access needs to every visiting speaker at the weekly ENE research seminar in the Fall 2012 semester.

Keep up a weekly self-directed exercise routine. Another "personal development" item, this is something I started this semester with the help of a personal trainer at TREC. I've never had a steady exercise routine before, and it does help me manage energy levels and have less typing-induced pain, which lets me be more productive. I'd like to learn how to do this independently without having to rely on a trainer all the time, so it's time for me to start plotting and planning (and executing) my own workouts. I will be successful if I have completed at least one workout every week classes are in session for the Spring 2012 semester.

Finish core courses. My course selections for the spring semester will be pretty straightforward: finish the core introductory sequence for my program (pedagogy, policy, and epistemology courses) along with a side project of learning German (more on this later). The assignments for the classes are likely to address some of the goals and competencies above, although I do not know which ones right now. I will be successful if I have a passing grade in all the ENE core courses by the end of spring semester 2012.

Learn German. I've been working with Purdue's German department to figure out a language-learning plan for a very self-motivated, self-directed, independent, informal, self-taught deaf language learner. (They've been very patient with me.) Fall 2011 was spent doing self-study, going to coffee hour on Mondays, and talking with grad students from the department. I'll be taking a graduate course in reading German in the spring of 2012, along with auditing an undergraduate course (GER 102) if there's room. I will be trying to test into either GER 201 or 202 at the start of Fall 2012, and will be using my success at that as a gauge on how well I'm doing in this goal. This in a way goes towards my goal to "Expand participation in the scholarly discipline of engineering education to those who do not typically take place in such work" since C-Base, a hackerspace in Berlin, is one of the places I would like to do my research on. I also think that language learning techniques may apply to engineering as well, since part of what engineering undergraduates learn is the "language" and "syntax" of technical work. I will be successful if the Purdue language placement test places me in the 200-level courses in Fall 2012.

Learn about business, particularly finance. I would like to look at economics and finance courses, management courses, and that sort of thing… because technical companies, technical projects, and learning institutions are institutions and I want to be a techie and an academic who can see and understand and shape the systems I’m working within. I had my painful “technical skill alone is not enough” moment of awakening at OLPC, I’ve watched Olin weather the economic downturn, I’ve listened to administrative conversations, and I’ve seen a difference between the people (in all of the overlapping circles of industry and academia and open source) who understand institutions from a business point of view and the ones who don’t. And if I’m thinking of becoming an ass-kicking, skateboard-riding college president someday, I’d better understand endowments; if I ever want to run an engineering team in industry, I need to know accounting; I don’t think “business” is ever likely to become my primary gig (I love the tech and teaching too much) but I think it’s a good language to be fluent in. Along these lines, I may be taking a class either over the summer or (more likely) in the fall on the topic. I'm also starting up my own consulting company right now, which will give me exposure to the business/legal/accounting side of things. I am not sure what competencies and goals this will address yet, but at the very least it will give me exposure to another professional community - the world of business. I will be successful if I have a running consultancy by Summer 2012 (that has legal standing and has successfully accepted contracts, executed them, and taken in payment).

Plan of Study

Committee members (proposed)

  • Robin Adams (advisor)
  • Ruth Streveler (communities of practice)
  • Alice Pawley (narratives)
  • Ideally, I'd like to have a faculty member who can speak to open source communities here, but I'm not sure who that would be yet.



Taught workshop, got ready for grad school, figured out new work arrangements, moved to Indiana, acquired an alarming quantity of new textbooks...


You'll note the pattern here of taking at least one class each semester just because I want to.

  • ENE 695A - Introduction fo Engineering Education (1 credit)
  • ENE 695M - History and Philosophy of Engineering Education (3 credits)
  • ENE 695 - Engineering Education Inquiry (3 credits, Research Preparation 3/9)
  • ETB ? - Form Follows Function (3 credits, just because.)


I finish my foundation classes in the spring of my first year.

  • ENE 695 - Theories of Development and Engineering Thinking (3 credits)
  • ENE 695 - Pedagogy, Content, and Assessment (3 credits)
  • ENE 695 - Leadership, Policy, and Change in STEM Education (3 credits)
  • GER ? - German for Reading Knowledge (3 credits, just because.)
  • ENE ? - Independent Study on Open Access Repositories (1 credit, ENE specialization 1/6)
  • Social Construction of Knowledge? (1 credit?)
  • Undergraduate German class? (3 credits, plus 1 credit of conversation for a total of 4?)

Side project: might be writing a book and doing some open source consulting on the side, we'll see.



Extremely tentative. Figuring this all out right now.

  • Taking Advanced Qualitative Research Methods in Education (EDCI 616) with Nadine Dolby.
  • Teaching the User:Mchua/A Blogger Is You! workshop during Maymester.
  • Road-tripping across the continental USA with my cousin, co-authoring a book on engineering school admissions visits.
  • Assorted consulting work for academic and open source projects and companies. Whoo!
  • I'm also trying to arrange to do the Coast-to-Coast, a walk from one end of the UK to the other. Just because.


The classes "for fun" this year may cohere into some sort of Engineering Education Specialization. If not, I'll handle them the following year when I'm doing fieldwork. I may also drop a class and only take 9 credits in one or both terms, in which case the courses wil get pushed to the 2014-2015 school year at latest.

I expect to take my readiness assessment during this semester.

  • ENGR ? - (3 credits, Secondary Engineering Expertise 3/9)
  • ENGR ? - (3 credits, Secondary Engineering Expertise 6/9)
  •  ? ? - Research methods of some sort (Research Preparation 6/9)
  •  ? ? - One for fun (3 credits, just because.) Possibly FLL 615.


  • ENGR ? - (3 credits, Secondary Engineering Expertise 9/9)
  •  ? ? - Social science statistical methods of some sort (Research Preparation 9/9)
  •  ? ? - (Research methods specialization elective II 3/3)
  •  ? ? - One for fun (3 credits, just because.)


I'm leaving this school year open for fieldwork away from Purdue's campus; a lot of the open source groups and faculty I work with and want to study are on either the West or East coast, and there are faculty in Massachusetts interested in potentially hosting me for a semester or a year to give me a homebase to do my research from.


Who knows? It should be fun!


I expect to do my preliminary assessment sometime during this semester.

Fieldwork goes here. Possibly some courses, either teaching or taking or both.


Fieldwork goes here. Possibly some courses, either teaching or taking or both.


I'll finish up any remaining course requirements here, in addition to analyzing, writing, and defending my dissertation.


Who knows? It should be fun!

Some preliminary thoughts:

  • I'll probably be doing a bunch of data analysis, because... I should be doing that at this point if I ever want to finish my thesis.
  • I'll probably be taking this data around to open source conferences, since a lot of them happen during the summer, and I'll be doing a grounded theory approach and will want to cyclically validate things with members of various open source communities.
  • I'll be traveling across Europe. Because it's awesome.


  • Something something finish thesis something something.
  • Will likely either teach or take a class (or both) in order to maintain my sanity, because I go nuts if all I do is work alone in a little room.


Expected thesis defense.

  • Something something finish thesis something something.
  • Will likely either teach or take a class (or both) in order to maintain my sanity, because I go nuts if all I do is work alone in a little room.
  • Graduate.
  • Celebrate my 29th birthday.
  • Go and explore the world!

Anticipated dissertation topic

I'm still exploring around this area, but here's the general set of twin stars I'm circling in on.

1. Exposing the discourse of engineering education - how does having narrative and ethnographic artifacts affect the internal and external dialogues of the field, and can these extend the engineering education conversation into informal learning communities like open source projects?

2. Engineering education in open {source, content, hardware}/maker/hacker communities - how can we talk about and analyze the learning practices that occur there, and do any transfer into academia?

Career objective

Honestly, right now, I don't know. I know what I think I don't want, though: I don't see myself going down the traditional tenure-track faculty route, in government work, or in a conventional ("respectable") industry job. I think I'll always be a bridger, and that I'll write my job descriptions for positions that'll only exist because I'm the first one to create them.

I just know that I want to look for the ones that aren't necessarily normal-shaped. A couple examples:

  • Perhaps I'll combine a part-time job in industry with an adjunct position, because I love teaching. This is the most "standard" combination I could imagine.
  • Start and run a center for engineering education for a consortium of small schools that want to do crazy things with their engineering programs.
  • Maybe I'll have my own consulting company and travel around the world giving workshops to a variety of institutions on how to apply open source techniques to accelerate learning at their institution.
  • Startups are fun. Could do that.
  • Work for a product design firm on improved methods of crowdsourcing their ideation processes.
  • Go off to hike El Camino de Santiago in Spain, the Coast-To-Coast in England, and ride the Trans-Siberian Express (then again, I might get to those before I graduate).

I'm not worried about this right now; it'll take shape as I go along, and opportunities will come up, and I'll find the ones I want to take, and take them.


Filling in later.

Some things I'm doing:

  • Actively speaking and publishing at conferences in both open source (OSCON, FUDCon, etc) and engineering education (Grace Hopper, FIE, etc)
  • Attending and producing reports for all Board of Trustees meetings for my undergraduate alma mater (Olin College) in order to learn more about school governance
  • Actively blogging my ongoing experiences in engineering education at, which has... I should someday count the number of readers I've got, but for a personal blog I've never promoted and have no plans to promote, it's not too bad.

Options I'm exploring

  • The Libresoft research group (in Madrid) is doing some work on open source communities, but I can't read most of their work because a good chunk is in Spanish...
  • Oregon State University (near Portland) has an active open source lab and programs designed to involve undergraduates in open source communites as a key part of their technical education. So does Seneca College (in Toronto) and RIT (in Rochester, NY). Doing things with these programs may be an option.
  • The Hassno Plattner Institute in Potsdam (near Berlin) has a Design Thinking program (based on and collaborating with Stanford's d-school) that overlaps with several e-learning subprojects; I got to talk with some of the grad students from this program at the Grace Hopper 2011 conference and it sounds like spending a summer or a term there might be a good match for my research interests. The school is conveniently located near C-Base, a major hackerspace I'd love to study. They do their work in English, but I'm also studying German, so language should be just fine.
  • Eventually, the POSSE summer workshop and school-year coaching may be adapted into an full-semester undergraduate-level course; I'd love to do several iterations of this, including at least one round that's not based around a physical campus.
  • I plan on continuing to keep one foot in active open source industry work, whether that's through consulting or some other means. At the very least, I plan on getting out to at least one hackathon or open source conference per semester. Gotta remember where I came from.

Researchers to watch

  • Jason Priem - altmetrics, alternative ways of measuring the impact of scholarly work. If I do teaching the open source way, he does scholarly communications the open source way.
  • Lori Byrd Phillips - bringing Wikipedia into museums (Wikipedian-in-residence of the Indianapolis Children's Museum)
  • Biella Coleman - the first anthropologist to study open source communities, as far as I know.
  • Eric Von Hippel - the economics of open source.
  • Mako Hill - Eric's student. Also, Mako. 'nuff said.
  • Lawrence Lessig - creator of Creative Commons.
  • Yochai Benkler - network-based peer production. In other words, Wikipedia.
  • James Howison - dissertation found that open source contributors work alone
  • Don Davis - LPP exhibited in FOSS communities
  • Martin Krafft - innovation diffusion in Debian
  • Jodi Schneider - Wikipedia and AcaWiki'
  • Andreas Schilling - recruition and retention in FOSS projects
  • Cormac Lawler - action research and IRB concerns, wikiversity
  • Seb Benthall - UC Berkeley Information PhD student working on quantitative-stuff like FOSS community health dashboards
  • Andrew Schofield