Reflections on POSSE – applying open source methods to teaching

Remy asked that we closeout the week by reflecting on three questions:
1) How does the “The Opensource Way” apply to your course?
2) How will you incorporate what you learned here in your course work?
3) Any feedback/comments on POSSE RIT itself you would like to add?
 
During the week there were many sidebar discussions on how many of the open source collaboration tools could be applied to the broader teaching environment. I’ll mention just a few. Certainly the community developed and supported Wiki is a good tool for many types of classes. The IRC chat tools may be useful for intense project sessions or work sessions.
 
But for me, it was one of the open source communication patterns that really stuck out. In particular how a newbie can effectively ask a question on the forum. The challenge is that a newbie doesn’t know what is reasonable to ask, and if they ask the wrong way, they can get put down and flamed by certain ornery types on the channel. The trick is in how the newbie forms the question. For example, ‘ I’m trying to do x with y, and I’ve tried using this method and this method, but it gives me this which is not what I wanted. I’ve read the forum posts on this and that but those seem to be different, is there another way?’ Asking this way is much better than ‘ I’m trying to do a homework assignment where I do blah. How do I do that?’
 
In this class, I was the newbie, not a computer science person, not even a coder, so it was hard for me to feel comfortable asking questions. That experience really helped reinvigorate my sense of empathy for my students on how hard it is to ask a question. In my teaching, this is one thing that I’ll take back to my teaching and try a few different, low stakes ways for students to ask questions.
 
My feedback to the POSSE instructors would be that it was a very useful session for me, and that the unexpected unexpecteds (to paraphrase a certain public figure) were quite enjoyable. Also, I really appreciated instructors sharing their knowledge and insights. I felt they had a lot of depth of experience to draw from in responding to the questions that came up in class. Good job, and thank you.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Leave a comment

Filed under POSSE

Deep Dive – Open Hardware Battery Cycler

For our POSSE deep dive, we kicked around two good project ideas.

 The first dealt with the need for a printed circuit board aggregation service at RIT that would lower the cost of getting hobbyist circuit boards fabricated. There is likely enough demand among hobbyists at RIT to support at least one PCB panel every few days. By purchasing on a panel basis, costs go down. We outlined the process flow for requesting a portion of the PCB and the online support tools to support this.

The second project was an existing open hardware, open software system for performing battery life cycle experiments. It uses Arduinos and PCs along with some dedicated printed circuit board designs. We decided to deep dive on this project and look at how it was structured, and how to use some the tools discussed in the POSSE class to expand the number of people working on the project.

At first we looked at the repository of hardware design files, user manual documentation, software code for the embedded Arduino and the PC side software in JAVA.  We realized the repository had included many files that weren’t needed (e.g. backup of temporary files) so we went about cleaning it up.

Then we looked at what supporting document files were in there and determined that we needed to use links to web resources rather than posting copies of the files.  For example, the datasheet for the intergrated circuits – posting a pdf copy might raise concerns about copyright, but posting a link would not. This is one of those things to be watched out for in the hardware side of open source – whereas the software you create, you can post your open documentation and GPL license its use, the same many not apply to datasheets for the hardware you use. We also looked at hardware open source licenses and added some guiding documentation on that subject.

On the good news side, the user manual documentation was fairly complete, and all the design files appeared in the repository. In the future, more of an overview needs to be added to the wiki, so that someone just browsing the project can get a quick feel for what it does. Assuming that development often occurs in fits and spurts, using IRC chats will help during times of rapid development. The idea of a hackfest to get folks together for an intense push seems to also be a good tool to use.

Reflecting on the week, it was interesting to go back and look at the open hardware battery cycler with a new set of eyes — eyes that are tuned into the practices of the open software community.

Leave a comment

Filed under POSSE

Making a change that works, without understand 99.999% of the code

Day 3: POSSE: Several students in the class were able to modify the code of firefox, build it, and launch it as a new browser with a new feature. Pretty nifty. Chris pointed out that without knowing 99.999% of the code, and without understanding the overall architecture, you, as a coder are able to make a useful, noticeable change.

The open source mindset

Contributing to open source code requires a different mindset, one where you are comfortable modifying code without understanding the overall architecture and without reading through/understanding a large portion of the code.

Leave a comment

Filed under POSSE

quirks of dxr.mozilla.org

While working on modifying the open source firefox code so that a new tab would be inserted to the left of the current working tab, a quirk was discovered in the code search tool dxr.mozilla.org/mozilla. When you search using dxr Internet Explorer, it doesn’t respond with anything other than a blank stare. However if you search using dxr in Firefox, your search results are happily displayed.

Leave a comment

Filed under POSSE

Analysis of Open Source project – GNU Octave

day 2: We are analyzing the open source project GNU Octave. Octave is an open source version of Matlab.

Ohloh.net has a nice set of analytical tools. For example, you can see a world map of where developers are located.

Details on the project can be found on Steve’s blog, linked here.

StevesBlogLink

Leave a comment

Filed under POSSE

first day of POSSE – a new set of vocabulary words

The first day of POSSE started with a discussion of copyright practices and how that resulted in some 120+ different licensing arrangements for open source software.

The afternoon dove into a dizzying array of communication tools – IRC, planets, blogs, etc. One of my favorites was zodbot that somehow allowed a chat session to be turned into a neat set of minutes and action items.

Leave a comment

Filed under POSSE

With the POSSE

First day, getting communications working.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized