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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!

More Faculty Teaching HFOSS! Please!

January 6, 2013

I’ve just come back from our first face-to-face OpenFE team meeting and I’m really excited! OpenFE is an NSF-funded effort to help develop faculty expertise in participating in HFOSS projects as well as creating and evaluating learning materials needed to apply the HFOSS approach (see previous post). We’ve got a really cohesive group that generated lots of interesting ideas in the one-plus day meeting. (Thank you Darci Burdge and Lori Postner for your very congenial hosting of the event).

OpenFE Team

The OpenFE Team –  (Stoney Jackson (WNE), Darci Burdge (NCC), Lori Postner (NCC), Sean Goggins (Drexel), Heidi Ellis (WNE), Greg Hislop (Drexel), John Sener (Evaluator))

During the meeting we spent a lot of time talking about how to get more faculty members involved in supporting student participation in Humanitarian FOSS (HFOSS) projects. Faculty members have many things on their plate and getting started in HFOSS can have a learning curve related to learning the culture, tools, etc. In addition, teaching within a FOSS project can have elements of unpredictability. We talked about approaches to providing an on-ramp to help faculty along this learning curve, including a workshop a la POSSE.

I’ve attended faculty development workshops in the past. These have generally been very good and I have learned a lot. However, when I return home after the workshop, in many cases (with Clif Kussmaul‘s CS-POGIL effort being one exception), I end up only applying a small portion of the workshop content in my classroom. Reasons include not having the time to create new materials for my classes based on workshop content, not being entirely sure how to apply workshop content, and lack of support for learning more about the workshop content.

To address this hurdle, the OpenFE team has proposed an approach that includes a face-to-face workshop combined with providing entrance to two communities to support faculty learning before, during and after the workshop event. One community is the Teaching Open Source community which is made up of instructors and FOSS community members who are interested in supporting student learning within FOSS projects. I have found this community very helpful as I have involved students in HFOSS projects.

The second community will be organized around a particular HFOSS project (e.g., GNOME’s MouseTrap project) and this community will provide support to faculty members as they involve students in particular projects. One of the most frequent questions that I’ve heard from faculty members wanting to involve students in HFOSS projects is “How do I pick a project?” followed by “How do I get started?”  Small learning groups organized around projects will help faculty members with these issues.

The OpenFE team is planning our first initiative to start in May with a face-to-face workshop in June. Initial learning will involve joining communities combined with online modules to get faculty familiar with some of the communication tools used by HFOSS communities including IRC, wikis and more. We’ve also planned virtual meetings using IRC with workshop participants before the actual workshop. During these meetings, we’ll talk about how faculty members can involve students in HFOSS within their own classes and to answer questions faculty may have as they get ready for the face-to-face meeting.

The face-to-face meeting is planned for early June and will be lead by both experienced Teaching Open Source members and FOSS representatives. Workshop content is based on Red Hat’s POSSE curriculum which aims to provide an immersive experience involving professors in the culture, tools and practices of open source communities.  During the face-to-face workshop, attendees will experience hands-on the process of contributing to an HFOSS project.  The workshop will also cover how to involve students in an HFOSS project within a class including assignments, grading, etc.

I’m excited about adding more faculty to the Teaching Open Source community. I’m also really excited to see more faculty and students involved in more HFOSS projects.  Please join us by joining Teaching Open Source and drop me an email (ellis at wne dot edu)  if you are a faculty member interested in attending a workshop.

Building on POSSE

October 26, 2012

A group of colleagues (Stoney Jackson (Western New England University), Sean Goggins (Drexel University), Darci Burdge (Nassau Community College), Lori Postner (Nassau Community College)  and Greg Hislop (Drexel University) and I have recently been awarded an NSF TUES Type 2 grant we’re calling OpenFE for Open Faculty Expertise. The expertise that we’re trying to build here is in the area of supporting student learning via participation in humanitarian FOSS (HFOSS) projects.

One primary way that we’re aiming to build faculty expertise is via workshop experiences, building on Red Hat‘s  POSSE curriculum.  The aim is to create an exerpience that starts a month or so before the actual POSSE, includes a 2+ day face-to-face POSSE meeting, and continues via online small group activities well after the POSSE meeting. The time before the actual POSSE will involve starting to learn FOSS tools and the time after the POSSE will focus on working in the small groups to use the knowledge gained during POSSE to involve students in HFOSS projects, thereby expanding the TeachingOpenSource community.

So what about that ‘H’?  We’re focusing our work on humanitarian FOSS projects for several reasons.
* Humanitarian FOSS projects can motivate students (and faculty) by allowing them to improve the human condition within a class
* HFOSS groups tend to be very welcoming due to their altruistic nature
* HFOSS projects frequently are well aligned with college and university missions which include “doing good”
* Many (most?) HFOSS projects are international, providing a diverse learning experience for students

Currently we’re working on setting up the infrastructure for the group and getting organized. We have just started to look at the POSSE curriculum and see how to adapt that to the extended 2+ day format. I’m really excited by the idea of expanding the group of faculty, students and FOSS community members who are supporting student learning via participation in HFOSS projects! Please join us by joining TeachingOpenSource and drop me an email (ellis at wne dot edu)  if you are a faculty member interested in attending a workshop. The first workshop will be held in spring 2013.

Hacking at Hopper!

October 6, 2012

I’m in the airport on my way back from the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing and it was an incredible experience. This is my second Hopper and this time around, “FOSS” was a hot topic. Overall there was an overall air of excitement about FOSS that was demonstrated at the several panels on FOSS and at the Open Source Day
on Saturday. Open Source Day was a hackathon for about 200 people to work on 10 different projects, mostly with a humanitarian focus. These projects ranged from Google Crisis Response to the Wikimedia Foundation to The Women’s Peer-to-Peer Network.

I was able to bring Elise Duquette and Isabel Velazquesz,  two of my students from the Computer Science program at Western New England University. They had a blast!!!

Isabel Velazquez and Elise Duquette at Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing

The organizations behind the Open Source Day projects had a Free and  Open Source Software (FOSS) booth. I got to talk with many cool FOSS folks including Leslie Hawthorne from Red Hat , Sumana Harihareswara from the Wikimedia Foundation, Christie Koehler from Mozilla and Rachel Leventhal from the Women’s Peer-to-Peer Network. I spent many hours at the FOSS booth Wednesday through Friday, talking to students, faculty, FOSS folks, and industry people. The booth had a non-stop stream of people asking about FOSS, and was inundated even during the closing minutes of the booth.

FOSS Booth at Hopper

Busy FOSS Booth!

Several interesting things impressed me as I spoke with so many people over the three days:

  • The number one question asked was “How do I get started.” This question was asked over and over and over again by people with absolutely no coding background to experienced developers.
  • It is very obvious that FOSS is attractive to women and many women were interested in the social good that can be accomplished with FOSS.
  • Women seem to come into FOSS with an attitude of “how can I do good with this”? The actual “coolness” of the technology takes a back seat to the goodness that can be accomplished via that technology.
  • Socks with the Mozilla Fox logo are an incredible marketing tool. About half the people who visited the booth asked about the socks.

Today during Open Source Day, Joanie Diggs from GNOME Accessibilty graciously set up an environment for 17 newbies to FOSS to hack on GNOME A11y bugs and guided us throught the process. I’m so very proud of the women who jumped in and learned about Linux, VirtualBox, GNOME, Orca, Bugzilla, and Accercisor all at once! You guys are awesome!

Hacking at Hopper

Hacking on GNOME A11y Bugs!

We actually triaged a number of Orca-realted bugs and had a great time doing so. Thank you also to Aravind Narayanan from Facebook who helped answer questions and debug the dev environment.