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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.

Open Source Day at the Grace Hopper Celebration

July 19, 2012

Joanie Diggs and I have been working on a project for the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing.  Saturday is the Open Source Day and we have identified a series of contributions for our Making Applications Accessible project. This project contains a variety of contributions that people with a range of backgrounds can make to evaluate and improve the accessibility of applications used in the GNOME desktop. Come join us as I think we’re going to have a blast!!

In addition to the Open Source Day, I’m involved in a Birds of a Feather meeting on “Finding your Community and Changing the World” Thursday late afternoon which will focus on the kinds of contributions you can make to FOSS projects. I’m also on a panel titled “First Experiences in Open Source Software: How to get involved”that meets on Friday morning on getting started in FOSS. I’ve been looking at the schedule and it is jam packed with things that I’d like to see and so many activities for students. It is going to be really difficult to decide between so many attractive options! Will make for a busy conference!

Perhaps the most exciting part is that I am able to bring at least a couple of my female students with me to the conference. I’m working hard to bring a few more. Right now I’m working on contacting  students and figuring out financing. I see this as one step towards increasing the number of women in our CS and IT programs and I’m excited to give my students a peek at the possibilities that there are for them in computing. I also had the thought that it would be good to bring a few of my male students. It would be eye-opening for them to experience being in the minority and broaden their perspective on gender in their profession.

December 7, 2011

Tom “Spot” Callaway came to speak to our Software Engineering course on Thursday, December 1st. It was a meeting of friends as Sebastian Dziallas brought Ashley Guertin from Olin and Karl Wurst brought students from Worcester State. In addition to my nine students and the visitors, we also had a couple of folks from our Office of Information Technology, Kevin Gorman and Travis Brooks.

Tom spoke on the ways that FOSS projects can fail and how to avoid some common pitfalls that lead to failure based on his Fail Meter.  A the beginning of the semester, my students had a homework that asked them to use Tom’s Fail Meter to assess two open source projects. The results were all over the map as students spent effort figuring out the meaning of the various criteria and how to measure each item. It was affirming to see that by the end of the semester, students had a much better idea of the important aspects of a FOSS project. I noted nodding heads as students agreed with point based on their own experience with FOSS.

Tom’s talk again impressed me with how much success in FOSS is based on the community, not the code. That ideas for new software projects are easy to come by, but carrying out the product to produce a useful product requires a healthy community where users help each other and work to improve the project, not just the code. Things like documentation, planning for regular releases and creating distribution-friendly software are important and this takes effort beyond coding.

My only regret is that I didn’t take a picture. I need to figure out how to remind myself to use my camera! Thank you Tom for making the trip and for answering all our questions.  Your perspective from the foundation of broad experience provided wonderful illustrations and a much better perspective on FOSS development.

Next up: Final presentations, Tuesday December 13th

8th Day Without Power – and learning goes on

November 6, 2011

As some of you are aware, New England got hit with an early winter storm that dumped a bunch of snow on Connecticut and Massachusetts. Power lines and trees were and are down throughout the state. As a result, we are now on our eighth day without power. I should note that we have a generator and were in the process of getting it hooked into the house, but everyone appears to have had the same idea after Irene and parts were scarce.

The first day we stayed home with no heat, but waking up to a 50-degree house quickly convinced us that it would be good to decamp to my parents who have a wood stove. We spent the next four days at my parents. And while school has not been in session, I’ve learned a fair bit through this experience.

I’ve learned that my mother is a wicked Rumicub player! And I’ve been reminded that its fun to sit around and chat about what friends and family are doing.

I’ve learned that it is very quiet at night and you can see many stars when there are not lights to get in the way. I already knew this, but being reminded by being able to walk outside and look up and see the constellations was striking.

I’ve learned that a wood stove will heat to around 350 degrees and you can make a great spaghetti and meatballs on it. You can cook the meatballs in the sauce in a dutch oven on top of the stove. You can even make tasty toasted garlic bread by slicing a loaf of bread and placing the slices on a baking sheet on top of the stove. Flip and top with garlic butter and toast again. Tastes wonderful! (And yes there was a small fist pump at this triumph over adversity.)

On day six, the electrician got the parts to hook up our generator and we were able to move home. We’ve now got heat and hot water and can run some appliances. And we continue to learn.

We are learning the limits of a 5000 watt generator. We’ve learned that you can’t run the dishwasher and take a shower simultaneously, even if you turn most everything else off (I wasn’t the one who devised this test!). We’ve learned to create inventive meals. We’ve had steak and ham on the grill. And we’ve learned that if you’re careful, you can run the waffle iron. And we’ve learned to be patient. Kids have been out of school for over a week and I’ve been out for a week.

So this has been a break from the more traditional kind of learning that I usually discuss, but its also been fun and a reminder of how we can be resilient in adversity.