Jun 152017
 

OER Logo
The Worcester State University Library has called for proposals for Open Educational Resources Initiative (OERI) mini-grants to support Fall 2017 courses to the use of Open Educational Resources.

I have submitted a proposal to support the use of OER in CS 343 Software Construction, Design, and Architecture. This is the first required course in our Software Development Concentration in the Computer Science Major, and is taken by students in the concentration in the Fall of their Junior year.

Rather than repeat material from my mini-grant proposal, I’m just going to reproduce my submission here. Whether I receive the mini-grant or not, I will still be doing this with my course, and I will blog about it here as I work on it.


Course Number

CS 343

Course Title

Software Construction, Design, and Architecture

What type of course is this?

LASC
Check Box Noun project 10759Required course in the major
Elective course in the major

Number of Students

Please estimate the enrollment of the course, either using data from previous semesters (average or aggregate), exact enrollment from the last time the course was taught, or, if proposing a new course, an estimate of anticipated enrollment.

Currently 33 registered for Fall 2017. (Another 5-10 are likely when transfer students register.)

(There were 26 students in the last offering in Fall 2016.)

(This course is a first-semester junior-year course required of all Software Development Concentration students in the CS Major, offered every Fall semester.)

Current Textbook(s) or Anticipated Textbook(s) that will be replaced

If more than one, please list all

Flexible, Reliable Software: Using Patterns and Agile Development, Henrik B. Christensen, CRC Press, 2010 (was used in Fall 2016)

Clean Code: A Handbook of Agile Craftsmanship, Robert C. Martin, Prentice Hall, 2008 (I will likely require this book for Fall 2017 in addition to any OER materials – although if I can find equivalent OER material, I will not require it. This book will be used in all 4 courses of the Software Development Concentration – CS 343, CS 348, CS 443, CS 448.)

New Cost of Current Textbook(s) or Anticipated Textbook(s)

Please list the current price on Amazon for a new version

Christensen – $79.49

Martin – $36.59

Used Cost of Current Textbook(s) or Anticipated Textbook(s)

Please list the current price on Amazon for a used version

Christensen – $51.30

Martin – $29.99

What are your goals regarding this initiative? What are your intended outcomes for your students’ learning?

I am redesigning this course from scratch and there is no single textbook that covers the range of material that I want to include in this course.

My plan is for this course to cover the design of software systems, as represented by design patterns and software architectures. The students will design software systems, and construct some of them from those designs, in some cases using available software frameworks. The unifying theme for these three design topics (design patterns, software architectures, and software frameworks) will be the concept of modeling these designs using the Unified Modeling Language (UML) as a representation.

To implement this plan, I will need to find resources covering four areas:

  1. Learning the most commonly used diagrams in the UML and learning to use a modeling tool to create the models and diagrams.
  2. Learning about the most commonly used design patterns, and to what types of problems they should be applied.
  3. Learning about a number of commonly used software architectures, to what types of problems they should be applied, and how to design with them.
  4. Learning about a number of commonly used software frameworks that correspond to some of the architectures, and how to implement a design/system with them.

By using OER materials for:

  1. The UML – I will be able to pick and choose which diagrams we cover, and to what level of detail. Students will not need a textbook that is larger than needed. In addition, we will have access to instructions for using the most recent version of the modeling tool, and students will not have to translate from a different tool that might be used in a textbook.
  2. Design Patterns – I will be able to pick and choose which patterns we cover, and to what level of detail. Students will not need a textbook that is larger than needed. In addition, I will be able to find more relevant examples of the design patterns for the students.
  3. Software Architectures – I will be able to pick and choose which architectures we cover, and to what level of detail. Students will not need a textbook that is larger than needed. In addition, I will be able to find more relevant examples of the architectures for the students.
  4. Software Frameworks – I will be able to pick and choose which frameworks we cover, and to what level of detail. Software frameworks are not typically covered in textbooks. In addition, we will be able to use the most up-to-date versions of appropriate frameworks, which change quite frequently.

Finally, it will be easier to have the course materials reflect the current state of software design for future semesters, as a textbook would go out of date quickly and not be updated as frequently.

Please give a brief description of the plan for which you seek support. This might include how you will go about identifying or creating resources to replace the materials used in your course, how students will access the assigned content (e.g., via laptop, mobile device or smartphone), how you will make your educational resources openly available, etc.

There are literally hundreds of online tutorials and blog posts about the four areas I want the course to cover. There may be some materials in some of the open content and open textbook databases, but I am not having as much luck with those. The difficulty will be determining which of the materials are of high enough quality and at the right level for the students. The bulk of my effort will be put into finding and reviewing the materials. Once the materials have been identified, compiling them into lessons and background reading for assignments will not be too difficult.

As the materials I am looking at are mostly Web resources, the students will most likely be accessing them on their laptops, although access through a mobile device will be possible.

All materials that I produce myself (syllabus, lists of readings and resources, lessons, assignments, project specifications, and tutorials) will be licensed CC-BY-SA (which I have been doing for years) and will be available on the GitHub repository for the course. I will look into which of the OER sites is the most appropriate for posting to as a directory to link to my materials.

What challenges do you anticipate in implementing your goals? (e.g., time constraints, technology barriers, etc.) How do you plan to address those challenges?

The biggest challenge will be having enough time to review the large quantity of web materials. Another challenge will be the fact that I am still designing the course, as I am researching materials.

I plan to address those challenges by adopting a “good-enough” approach and finding something good enough for each topic first, and then when additional time is available, looking for better materials before the topic is covered (or after the course has ended to prepare for the next offering.)

What library or other support will your project require?

I have not spent any significant time investigating library resources, particularly database and ebook offerings. Spending some time with one of the librarians to look at what is available will be helpful.

How do you plan to assess the effectiveness of this initiative? Will you be able to participate in library assessment?

I will blog about my efforts to design the course and select materials. I will survey the students on the materials themselves. I plan to have the students spend time looking for materials themselves and blogging about them as part of the course, in service of our program outcome:

“Learn new models, techniques, and technologies as they emerge and appreciate the necessity of such continuing professional development.”

I will give the students both the Pre-Test and Post-Test that the Library develops to assess the OER Initiative.

May 252017
 

I am preparing for a new (for me) course for the Fall 2017 semester: CS 343 Software Construction, Design, and Architecture. My intention is for this to be a course primarily about software design and I want to approach it through design patterns, software architectures, and modern software frameworks. These are all topics that I have read a little about, but not enough to really teach. So, I am spending my summer reading a lot about them.

For other courses, I’ve learned little bits of UML (mostly class diagrams, with a very small amount of use-case diagrams, sequence diagrams, activity diagrams, and state diagrams) and all very informal. So, I decided that, if I’m going to teach design, I need a representation for those design patterns and architectures and it’s time that I finally learned UML more formally.

Standardized Structural and Behavioral Modeling for System DesignI am currently working my way through the video series UML Fundamentals, Standardized Structural and Behavioral Modeling for System Design by Simon Bennett from O’Reilly Media (6 hours, 12 minutes). So far, it’s pretty good, although it seems almost more about how to create the diagrams in Enterprise Architect (a commercial product) than about UML itself. I’m going to have to read some books about UML also to supplement the videos, but it’s a good introduction.

The commercial tool he uses looks nice, but I would like to find a FOSS alternative to use, both for myself, and for the students to use in class. I’ve played around a little bit with some of the Eclipse tools for modeling, but I’ve not found them very easy to use. So, I’m still looking. If you have any suggestions, please let me know.

Jun 182014
 

I have been lurking in the OpenMRS project for the last 6 months or so. I have read wiki pages, installed the development environment, cloned the repository and built the code, and listened in on a number of OpenMRS weekly developer meetings.

As I begin my sabbatical, I realized that it was time to finally introduce myself to the project members. So here’s what I posted to the OpenMRS Developers mailing list, and to OpenMRS Talk:

My name is Karl Wurst and I am a Professor of Computer Science at Worcester State University in Worcester, MA, USA (about 80 km west of Boston.)

Our university has recently created a concentration in Software Development for our Computer Science majors, and I am one of the primary instructors for the courses in this concentration. I am currently on sabbatical (no teaching responsibilities) from June through December 2014 and my plan is to participate in OpenMRS to improve my somewhat outdated Software Engineering skills.

I have installed the development environment, built the openmrs-core code, and now I will begin looking for tickets that I can work on. I am excited that the 1.10 beta release is imminent, and hope that I can be of some help in that sprint. I am also very interested in the development, testing, integration, and release processes as a way of seeing “real-life” examples of many of the tools and technologies that I have been reading about, but not had any hands-on experience with.

I am also part of the Foss2Serve/POSSE (foss2serve.org) group that is encouraging faculty to have students participate in Humanitarian FOSS projects as part of their coursework, and have been doing that primarily with our senior project course with varying amounts of success. I would like to have my students participate in OpenMRS beginning with the Spring 2015 semester (January through May 2015.) I want to get familiar with the project myself, first, so that I can direct them.

I also want to use OpenMRS for examples in our courses on software process and management, and testing and QA. We also have an installed server instance that we hope to use for the Health Informatics course that we teach for our Nursing students so that they can get some hands-on time with an EMR system.

I’ve already learned a lot just by exploring and listening. I’m looking
forward to learning even more by contributing.

A note to my students: Introducing yourself to a new group of people is hard, even for faculty members! I have put this introduction off for a while. I may be a Professor, but these people are real experts – they do this stuff all the time, and many of them do it for a living! But, as I’ve often found, once I forced myself to write my introduction and pressed the send button, I’ve gotten back only helpful, welcoming responses. Open Source communities really are welcoming groups that are genuinely happy to have you join, want your help, and will help you succeed. You’ll see…

Dec 132013
 

Downloading student assignment files from Blackboard as a single zip file saves a lot of time — you don’t have to individually open each “attempt”, download the file (renaming it in the process, so you don’t keep overwriting the previous file, since they are all named “Homework1.pdf” 😉 ), and then move on to the next one. Instead you get one convenient .zip file that contains all of the assignment files.

Unfortunately, Blackboard does some other things that make your life a bit more difficult. Once you unzip the file, you will find:

  1. The student files are renamed from filename.ext to assignmentname_username_attempt_datetime_filename.ext
  2. A text file is created for each student named assignmentname_username_attempt_datetime.txt even if the student has not entered any text data or comments.

Checking all of the text files to see if they really contain a comment and deleting those that don’t, and renaming all of the assignment files to username.ext so that I can start grading them 1 This process takes 15 minutes or more per assignment, which certainly lowers my enthusiasm for grading.

Today, I decided that I should write some code to automate this task. The time it would take to write the script would be recouped in only a few assignments. I decided to write the script in Python because I could easily see how to do the string manipulations. My shell scripting string manipulations are not as good. I would have to learn how to do the file system manipulations in Python, but I figured that would be relatively simple.

The first step is getting a list of all the files in the directory (leaving out all of the subdirectories)2:

onlyfiles = [ f for f in os.listdir(dir) if os.path.isfile(os.path.join(os.curdir,f)) ]

The next step is filtering that list to get just the .txt files:

txtfiles = [ f for f in onlyfiles if '.txt' in f ]

Then you can search the contents of the textfiles. You’ll notice that there are two characteristic phrases that indicate no text data and no comments. You can just delete the files that contain both of those:

for f in txtfiles:
    file = open(f)
    contents = file.read()
    file.close()
    if 'There are no student comments for this assignment' in contents and \
       'There is no student submission text data for this assignment.' in contents:
        os.remove(f)
        print('Deleted', f)

After refreshing the list of files to be just the remaining files, you can go about renaming the files. They all have _attempt_ embedded in their filename. Then you want to strip off everything up-to-and-including the first underscore, and from the second underscore up to the file extension. Then rename the file.

for f in onlyfiles:
    if '_attempt_' in f:
        first = f.find('_') # location of first underscore
        second = f.find('_',first+1) # location of second underscore
        extension = f[f.rfind('.'):] # get file extension
        newf = f[first+1:second] + extension
        os.rename(f, newf)
        print('Renamed', f, 'to', newf)

There are probably other features I can add, but this works well enough for now. Back to grading…

Full code is on GitHub here.

  1. I may still have to convert some of them to PDFs, if the students have not followed instructions, since I grade them by marking up the PDFs on my iPad. But that’s something I’ll tackle later. For my programming classes, I do that with my grading scripts which are still a work-in-progress.
  2. http://stackoverflow.com/a/3207973
Dec 102013
 

Chad Day recently completed the installation of our new GitLab server (read about it here and here.) This project was precipitated by some issues I had been having in trying to teach the use of git earlier in our curriculum. I had been having the CS-401 Software Development Process students use git and github in their FOSS projects, but it was difficult for them seeing git for the first time and expecting them to use it intensively in a project in the same semester. They had asked a number of times, “Why don’t you teach this in an earlier course?”

So, I decided to try using it in the first programming course – CS-140 Introduction to Programming. While they don’t do any large projects in CS-140, they do work on their weekly labs as Pair Programming. Using git for the collaboration aspect (so they don’t have to keep emailing versions back-and-forth to each other) and as a way to submit their completed lab assignments to me (so I only have to receive one copy of the assignment per pair) seemed to make a lot of sense. In addition, I had attended a workshop at CCSCNE 2013 entitled “Git on the Cloud” which provided a methodology to do just that, which had encouraged me further.

The “Git on the Cloud” workshop suggested using Bitbucket, since it allows an unlimited number of private repositories.1 I’m very willing (in fact, I often require) students to make their code for senior-level projects public with an open source license. But private is important for coursework at the freshman level.

On the other hand, the “Git on the Cloud” methodology involved using a single repository per student, and a different branch for each assignment(!)  In other words, whenever you change branches/assignments, all of your other code goes away, and is replaced with the code for the current assignment.

After discussing this with Chad and Dillon Murphy, we decided that this was too confusing, and gives students an incorrect idea of how git should be used. Also, it would only work in pairs if the students worked in the same pair throughout the semester, and I like to have my students switch partners for each lab. So, I wrote my lab instructions using Bitbucket, but one repository per assignment, per pair.

I tried it out during my summer 2013 section of CS-140. It was a nice testbed — with only 6 students it was not too difficult to work out the bugs in the procedures. In another post I’ll explain how I had the students use the repository, and how I processed the repositories for grading (including the scripts that I wrote with some help from Stoney Jackson on a train ride from Providence to Philadelphia.)

The problem came when I decided to try it with my CS-135 Programming for Non-CS Majors class in Fall 2014. Soon after we started the first lab — the git lab — the student who had also been in the summer class could not add her lab partner as a collaborator to her Bitbucket repository. After a bit of investigation, we determined that while Bitbucket allows unlimited private repositories, you can have at most 5 collaborators — per account, not per repository — without paying. That had not been a constraint with a class of 6, but it certainly was with a class of 24, and it would just get worse as the students progressed to other courses.

At this point, I gave up on git for the semester and started looking for alternatives. I had used Gitolite in the past, which had worked well but had no web interface. I wanted something more like Github, and came across GitLab. I added installing GitLab to Chad and Dillon’s project of building a number of new servers for the department (see here and here.)

Once Chad had finished the GitLab install and worked out the kinks, we decided to test it by running through the CS-140 Lab 1 using the new server. I quickly updated the lab assignment to refer to a repository on our GitLab server, set up the repository on the new server, and had Dillon and Chad work their way through the lab to look for problems. They found a few typos, and a number of places where I had not replaced all the references to Bitbucket with GitLab, but otherwise it worked.

We had only one puzzling issue — Dillon was able to push changes to a repository he should not have had sufficient privileges to modify. It turns out that (not surprisingly) if you are a GitLab adminstrator, you have the ability to push to any repository on the server.

I’m looking forward to testing the server on a larger scale with 48 students in CS-140 starting in January.

  1. I’m aware that students can get multiple private repositories from GitHub, but that requires contacting GitHub and asking. The Bitbucket option just seemed easier.
Nov 302011
 

The Worcester State University CS Department now has its own blog at http://cs.worcester.edu/blog. It was set up to act as an aggregator, so that faculty and students in the department can contribute posts.

I had it set up primarily for the students in my CS 401 class to blog about their Open Source project work, but anyone in the department can submit posts about their classes, projects, or research. It is my hope that it will serve to build a community within the department, so that we can all learn about the cool and interesting things that the members of the department are doing.

The blog is running as a WordPress instance, with the FeedWordPress plugin doing the aggregation. Erin McLaughlin, who is helping me with preparation for my Spring 2011 CS 401 class, did the grunt work of the WordPress install. Thanks Erin!

Jun 102010
 

I spent most of POSSE Day 3 being lost – and not necessarily “productively”.

After spinning my wheels for a while and aimlessly looking at the code for Measure, Aparna and I finally decided to try to add a tool tip to the slider in the sound tools. By lunch we had broken Measure. We finally discovered that the issue is that, while the buttons are Sugar graphics elements, the slider is a GTK element. (Or maybe Kristina told us that – I can’t remember.) So I spent some time looking for where the toolbarbutton is defined. (The Sugar graphics elements are at /usr/lib/python*/site-packages/sugar/graphics – Google knows all…)

After looking at that code, I decided that the “best” fix would be to create a Sugar-based graphics element. I haven’t started on that because it would require changes to Sugar code, not just Measure code, and that seemed like a much bigger task – both coding-wise and process-wise. I may take a look at it later.

I have to do some thinking about how “unproductive” a day this was. It was certainly unproductive in terms of code. However, it was probably productive in terms of realizing what my students may go through while trying to do this next semester. I’ll have to think about what I’ve learned while doing this that I may want to help them with. Even harder will be trying to decide how much to help them. Is there something important for them to learn in spending a stretch of time being “unproductive”?