The Internet Society ran a successful new program this summer aimed at increasing the participation of computer science and engineering students at the IETF meeting in Berlin.
Dubbed the IETF University Outreach Pilot Programme, the effort included outreach to German and Austrian faculty, the creation of materials to help students prepare for the meeting, and daily student-focused events at the meeting.
The results were impressive: the number of paid student registrations at IETF 87 reached 144, more than triple the number at previous meetings.
To attract these students, an ISOC team contacted 15 German and Austrian universities and asked them to share information about the IETF 87 meeting in Berlin with their students and encourage them to attend. Two professors—Matthias Wählisch of Freie Universität Berlin and Thomas Schmidt of Hamburg University of Applied Sciences—were particularly supportive of the effort, having both attended IETF meetings in the past.
Students who attended the meeting were invited to a German-language orientation delivered by ISOC Germany chapter leader and long-time IETF participant Hans Peter Dittler. During the meeting, students were invited to briefings with guest speakers such as Axel Clauberg, who discussed why Deutsche Telekom supports the work of the IETF, and Steve Conte, who discussed remote participation in the IETF.
ISOC’s goal was to attract between 50 and 75 student registrations, and it clearly surpassed that goal. Indeed, the percentage of paid students among all registrants rose from 3 percent at previous meetings to more than 10 percent at IETF 87.
A post-meeting survey of the Freie Universität Berlin and Hamburg University students showed promise for the students’ continued engagement in IETF work. Nearly 100 percent of survey respondents subscribed to working group elists prior to the meeting and planned to continue tracking Internet Drafts after the meeting. In addition, 85 percent said they had a better understanding of the Internet standards development process after attending the meeting.
Hamburg University sent 10 students to the IETF meeting in Berlin, and half of them plan to continue their involvement with particular working groups, Prof. Schmidt said.
“Following working group meetings and having first-hand questions [and] discussions with those who lead protocol design processes offered valuable insight in the thinking behind” the documents, Prof. Schmidt said. He added that “the open discussion and review process offered a unique chance to see how critical feedback can happen in a constructive way, and that…it is professional redoing and improving work in a discursive process.”
Freie Universität Berlin also had 10 students attend the meeting, including bachelor’s, master’s and PhD candidates.
“Following the complete IETF process is a perfect exercise to deepen your understanding of protocol engineering,” Prof. Wählisch said. “Students see that you can start with a good idea, but that most good ideas need refinement. You can achieve much better solutions in collaboration with open-minded people such as the IETF folks. The open discussion culture of the IETF is very important but unfortunately not very often practiced in the research community.”
Wählisch said it was important to prepare computer science students for an IETF meeting. “It is helpful to limit the topics per student, otherwise the students can easily get lost in the IETF space,” he said. “First-time attendees cannot easily follow on-site discussions without high involvement in advance.”
ISOC's Toral Cowieson and her team will use the remainder of 2013 to fine-tune the University Outreach Programme and roll it out again in conjunction with 2014–15 IETF meetings held in cities with sufficient computer science and engineering student populations.
London, Toronto and Honolulu area faculty sought for IETF University Outreach in 2014
The Internet Society is seeking computer science and engineering faculty to participate in University Outreach programmes for IETF 89, 90 and 91. If you teach at a college or university in or near one of next year's IETF host cities and you wish to provide your students with exposure to the standards development process, please contact Kevin Craemer at firstname.lastname@example.org.