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Building a Pathway to HFOSS Contribution

February 14, 2016

Our most recent NSF proposal was funded! In September we heard that our project, “OpenPath – Improving Student Pathways to Computing Professions via Humanitarian Free and Open Source Software”, had been funded. This is a collaborative grant with Nassau Community College, Drexel University and Muhlenberg College. The focus of the grant is to create a pathway of course materials and activities that involve students in HFOSS. The activities span from freshman through senior year with the goal of producing open-source-ready students upon graduation. The effort builds on collaborative relationships with the Red Hat University Outreach team , the GNOME Accessibility team, and the OpenHatch project.


Most recently we had a meeting of the minds between FOSS community members and academics to start to figure out what knowledge and skills students need to gain during their academic career in order to be productive FOSS community members. Participants included:

  • Devin Balkind – President, Sahana Software Foundation
  • Saptarshi Purkayastha – Visiting Assistant Professor at IUPUI and contributor to OpenMRS API and web core
  • Mel Chua – Ph.D. candidate in Engineering Education at Purdue University and former member of the Red Hat Education Outreach team
  • Sara Terp – Data Scientist at ThoughtWorks and contributor to Ushahidi
  • Avni Khatri – Program Manager, Knowledge and Learning Technologies, Lab of Computer Science at Massachusetts General Hospital and President of Kids On Computers
  • Gina Likins – University Outreach, Open Source & Standards Team at Red Hat
  • Karl Wurst – Professor at Worcester State University
  • Team members Greg Hislop  from Drexel University and Darci Burdge and Lori Postner from Nassau Community College

While the need for students to gain technical skills such as version control and coding were obvious, I found it interesting that one of the main themes that occurred during the meeting was the need for students to gain soft skills. The need for students to become proficient in communication, problem solving, and critical thinking became apparent throughout the meeting. Another observation was the need for students to understand open source communities in general and to have the skills to navigate individual communities. Thank you to everyone who participated and we will continue to build on what we learned from the meeting.

Summer opportunities in FOSS

March 18, 2015

Two opportunities for summer internships in FOSS:

Google Summer of Code is a global program that offers students stipends to write code for projects from 137 participating FOSS organizations. Applicants must be able to make the project their primary focus during the summer. Participants work remotely from home, while getting guidance from an assigned mentor and collaborating within their project’s community. The application deadline for Google Summer of Code is March 27 and the program dates are May 25 to August 21. The stipend for the program is $5,500 (USD).

The Software Freedom Conservancy has an effort to improve diversity in FOSS. The Outreachy program involves a number of organizations offering remote and mentored internships. These internships are open to women (cis and trans), trans men, and genderqueer people. Applicants must be available for full-time, 40-hours a week, internships. The application deadline for Outreachy is March 24 and the program dates are May 25 to August 25. The stipend for the program is also $5,500 (USD). Unlike in Google Summer of Code, participants do not need to be students and non-coding projects are available. In addition to coding, projects include such tasks as graphic design, user experience design, documentation, bug triage and community engagement.

To apply for either program, you need to connect with a participating organization early, select a project you want to work on, create a project plan, and make a few relevant contributions. I encourage you to apply, even if you haven’t had the chance to make contributions.

Mentorship opportunities are also available throughout the year for anyone interested in getting started contributing to FOSS outside of the internship program.

Join me at the Open Source track at Hopper 2015

January 29, 2015

I’m already looking forward to attending the 2015 Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing, October 12-14, 2015. In Houston no less! Stormy Peters and I are co-chairing an Open Source track and we’re really excited to hear about the new things happening in the open source world. I encourage all of my open source friends and colleagues to submit to the track. Formats include presentations, lightning talks, panels, workshops, and birds of a feather. We’re looking for quality presentations that report on advancements in FOSS development and use. Workshops that help folks get started in or advance understanding of FOSS and tools are also desired.

The last time I attended Hopper was in 2012 and I took two female students.  They returned to Western New England University changed; excited by the possibility of a technical career and overjoyed to see so many women in technology. Coincidentally I have been reading “Grace Hopper and the Invention of the Information Age” by Kurt Beyer. I’ve been fascinated to read about her contributions to computing and to the war effort. So please join us in Houston for Hopper 2015 by submitting something to the Open Source track!

Looking Forward to Another POSSE!

August 31, 2014

Are you an instructor at a college or university who wants to know more about how to get students involved in Humanitarian Free and Open Source Software? Join us at the NSF-funded workshop November 13-15, 2014 at Red Hat in Raleigh, NC.  The learning opportunities are not limited to programming and we encourage instructors teaching CS1, CS2, Data Structures, Databases, and other courses to apply.

What:     Professors Open Source Software Experience workshop
When:    November 13-15, 2014 (online interaction required and starts Oct. 1st)
Where:  Red Hat Headquarters, Raleigh, NC
Why:      Because student participation in humanitarian open source software is way cool!
Who:     You! We encourage multiple applications from the same institution

Details and link to application at:

POSSE Lives!!!

April 4, 2014

I’ve been struck by how much I’ve been participating in open source communities in the past few months.  My research in the area of student involvement in HFOSS draws my focus to open source, but this year has brought new and fun activities.

I’m super excited to be starting another POSSE!!   We are hoping to expand the community of instructors involving  students in open source software via the TeachingOpenSource community. The online portion starts this week and the face-to-face meeting is May 28-30. Folks start the online activities this week and we’re looking forward to learning how student involvement in HFOSS can work in some new academic institutions.

I’ve also been exploring new FOSS venues in the past few weeks. On March 9th I went to an “Open Source Comes To Campus” event hosted by Open Hatch’s Shauna Gordon-McKeon.  Karl Wurst and I worked with students from UMass Amherst and Mt. Holyoke to learn about FOSS and to hack on the MouseTrap project. Karl and I are hoping to bring OSCTC to either Worcester State or WNE at some point.

And two weeks ago I went to LibrePlanet 2014. Friday evening included a visit to the Free Software Foundation offices where I got a peek at the 3D printer that was being raffled off and met some of the folks from the FSF. On Saturday I met Karen Sandler and got to thank her in person for providing an impromptu tutorial on licensing to my students at the Montreal Gnome Summit. I also found it very interesting to hear from people from a wide variety of disciplines (e.g., art, theater) and how they’re using, developing, and promoting free software.

And now I’m looking forward to the Hackfest at CCSCNE 2014.  Karl, Stoney Jackson, and I are hosting a hack on the GNOME MouseTrap project on Friday April 25th. The CCSCNE conference hosts a programming contest that draws around 75-100 students. Many of these student stay for some or all of the conference and we are hoping that they’ll be interested in hacking when the programming contest is over. Pizza will be had by all!

MouseTrap is Underway!

October 24, 2013

I can’t believe that it has been months since I posted! I’ve been trying to get this post up for weeks now and I’m just going to put it out there and give updates when I can.

Some of the foss2serve  group have been working to bring the MouseTrap project to be current with GNOME. MouseTrap uses a low-cost webcam to interpret a user’s head movement to control the cursor. The project has only had language updates since mid-2010 and needs to be updated to GNOME 3 and Python 3.

Several Western New England University, Drexel University, and Nassau Community College students and professors started working on the project at the end of 2012. This fall, six CS seniors in my CS 490 Software Engineering course are working towards getting the code current. If you want to join us, we’re using the gnome3-wip branch.   We’d love company on our adventure into cursor movement via the webcam!

Our approach is to do some development in parallel with building documentation infrastructure for the project. We’ve got a set of requirements up and are working on design which we’ll post in a couple of weeks. We’ve also been fixing and filing bugs as we go.

Stoney Jackson and I are managing the project together and Stoney  has been chronicling his learning. He has become a git expert and we’ve both learned loads about how to manage bugs and enhancements in Bugzilla and how git works. We’re also learning about how to better operate within the GNOME A11y community.

In related exciting news, the Software Engineering students from Western New England University went to GNOME Summit in Montreal. They spent time hacking and learning. Many thanks to Joanie Diggs, Karen Sandler  and Ryan Lortie. Joanie and Ryan helped hugely in helping push MouseTrap code along and Karen provided insight into licensing and open source culter. There also appeared to be some time for fun as well!

CS 490 students enjoying the GNOME Summit!

CS 490 students enjoying the GNOME Summit!

Another Successful POSSE!

June 6, 2013

I’ve just returned from another successful POSSE  (Professor’s Open Source Summer Experience). I’ve attended something like 20 different workshops and have organized around eight in my career and by far this was the best I’ve ever attended. (Transparency notice: I was one of the organizers of this workshop.)

POSSE Participants and Organizers

POSSE Participants and Organizers

I’m involved with a Foss2serve  team that has NSF funding to promote faculty and student learning within HFOSS projects. We’ve been building on Red Hat’s POSSE format to ease the onramp for faculty members who want to get involved in and get students involved in HFOSS. We’ve modified the original POSSE format to include six weeks of online activities  that provide instructors with learning about FOSS tools and culture while forming community. We have a 2+day face-to-face meeting (this week ) where we built on the online activities and got into actually working with HFOSS projects. We are following up with a stage where participants continue to interact in small groups, providing support for each other while they incorporate HFOSS activities in their institutions.

POSSE Participants Working

POSSE Participants Working

Highlights of the meeting included Ruth Suehle from Red Hat who gave a great talk on how to tell non-FOSSers about FOSS and also spoke about Joanie Diggs, co-team lead from the GNOME Assistive Team also joined us to provide much needed guidance in how FOSS projects really work. Michael Brennan from SecondMuse talked about extracurricular involvement in HFOSS and Tim Siftar from the Special Libraries Association talked about libraries as resources for disaster response.

But the best part of the POSSE is how we all formed a cohesive group and worked together. The energy was visible, the laughter pervasive, and the ideas frequent and fun. I’m proud of the efforts that every one of us put into figuring out how to support student participation in HFOSS. So kudos to all POSSE participants and I’m looking forward to both working with you and seeing what you’re doing!

POSSE Dinner

Dinner with POSSE

Thanks to Sam Rebelsky, you can follow along in what we did. Sam did a remarkable job of documenting what we did. We are planning on running another POSSE and if you’re interested in joining us next time around, please contact me. I’ll add you to the list!