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responsibilities) from June through December 2014 and my plan is to participate in OpenMRS to improve my somewhat outdated Software Engineering skills.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…

Jun 062014
 

I am spending the Fall 2014 semester on sabbatical1. This is the proposal I submitted to request my sabbatical leave:

I will use my sabbatical to become more expert in the area of Software Development/Software Engineering. The Computer Science Department recently created a Concentration in Software Development, which has expanded our course offerings in this area from two courses to four courses. This expansion does not simply expand the number of hours we spend on Software Development topics, but adds many topics that we have not been covering at all. Many of these topics are outside the expertise of any of the faculty in the department.

I am the only member of the Computer Science Department who has worked as a professional software developer, but have not worked professionally in that field for over 20 years. Many of the current processes, techniques, and tools were not in use at that time. The members of the department have worked to learn these new skills so that we can teach them to our students, but have only an academic/theoretical knowledge of many of them – we lack the practical experience of using these skills in a professional environment.

During my sabbatical, I will learn the processes, techniques, and tools of modern software development, and apply them in a professional context by working as a full-time (but unpaid) developer within an open source software project. I will work with Dr. Heidi Ellis at Western New England University and Dr. Gregory Hislop at Drexel University to get the academic perspective on how to teach these skills to undergraduate students, and to take advantage of their experience working with, and their contacts within, open source projects.

Drs. Ellis and Hislop are both well-known software engineering researchers and software engineering education researchers. They have been on the forefront of work to help students develop professional software engineering skills by working with open source software projects. They have a particular interest in having students work within projects with a humanitarian aspect. I have done some work with them in this area over the last 4 years, but have not had the time to work exclusively and intensively on developing these skills myself. In addition, Dr. Hislop served on the committee that developed the SE 2004 software engineering curriculum for the ACM and IEEE, and is currently serving on the committee that is updating those standards. I have already tapped his expertise in developing our new curriculum, and plan to do so again as we develop the new courses in the curriculum.

Proposal
  1. Develop a list of processes, techniques, skills, and tools that are necessary for modern software development. Thislistwill bedevelopedin consultationwithDrs. EllisandHislop, by reviewingtheSLOs of our newly approved Software Development Concentration courses, and by reviewing the SE 2004 Curriculum and any publicly released drafts of the new ACM/IEEE Software Engineering curriculum. This list will include,atminimum:
    • Agile development processes
    • Automated build environments
    • Automated test environments
    • Version control systems
    • Software architectures
    • Design patterns
    • Requirements elicitation
    • Software licensing and intellectual property
    • Project planning and estimation
    • Risk management
    • Analysis techniques
    • Test planning, strategies and techniques
    • Test coverage
    • Code reviews
    • Quality assurance
    • Project and team management
  2. Select an appropriate humanitarian open source project to participate in. The project will be one which
    • Allows me to experience the full range of processes, techniques, skills and tools from the list above. (Or as many as possible.)
    • Allows me to use tool and language skills I already possess to minimize the number of new tools and languages I need to learn.
    • I can continue to use with students in the Software Development Capstone course, and with other courses in the concentration.
    • At this point, the two projects that seem most likely for my participation are:
      OpenMRS (http://openmrs.org/)
      “The global OpenMRS community works together to build the world’s leading open source enterprise electronic medical record system platform.
      We’ve come together to specifically respond to those actively building and managing health systems in the developing world, where AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria afflict the lives of millions of people.
      Our mission is to improve health care delivery in resource-constrained environments by coordinating a global community to create and support this software.”
      Ushahidi (http://www.ushahidi.com/)
      “We are a non-profit tech company that specializes in developing free and open source software for information collection, visualization and interactive mapping. We build tools for democratizing information, increasing transparency and lowering the barriers for individuals to share their stories.
      “Ushahidi”, which means “testimony” in Swahili, was a website that was initially developed to map reports of violence in Kenya after the post-election fallout at the beginning of 2008. Since then, the name “Ushahidi” has come to represent the people behind the “Ushahidi Platform”. Our roots are in the collaboration of Kenyan citizen journalists during a time of crisis. The original website was used to map incidents of violence and peace efforts throughout the country based on reports submitted via the web and mobile phones. This website had 45,000 users in Kenya, and was the catalyst for us realizing there was a need for a platform based on it, which could be used by others around the world.”
  3. Participate in the selected project. Iwillparticipate in the selected project on a full-time (unpaid) basis, contributing to the project in whatever ways I can including:
    • Participation in planning and design meetings
    • Writing code
    • Testing
    • Writing documentation
    • Helping with support
  4. Participate in Western New England University course. I would like to observe or help teach a software engineering course at WNEU so that I can see what pedagogy is used in the course, and adapt it to our own courses.
  5. Blog about my experiences. I will write about my sabbatical experiences on my blog (http://blog.karl.w-sts.com/). This will allow me to document and reflect on what I am learning and how I can use it in our own courses.
Preparation for this Sabbatical
  • Participant in POSSE (Professors’ Open Source Summer Experience) in 2010, 2011, and 2013 – A workshop designed to prepare faculty to support students working within open source software projects. The summer 2013 workshop group is continuing to work together over the 2013-2014 academic year.
  • Participant in SoftHum (Software for Humanity) workshop in 2011 – A workshop with faculty working to design materials for use in their courses.
  • One of the organizers of Teaching Open Source Symposium in 2012
  • Participant in OpenFE Materials Sprint in 2013 – A workshop to develop materials for teaching POSSE workshops
Relevant Courses
  • Introduction to Programming
  • Software Construction, Design and Architecture
  • Software Process Management
  • Software Quality Assurance and Testing
  • Software Development Capstone
  • Software Development Process
Benefits to the Computer Science Department and to the University

The department will benefit by having a faculty member who has relevant professional experience in software development, with contacts within at least one open source software project, and with the academic experience of applying that experience to courses. I will be able to use that experience and those contacts in order to give students the opportunity to gain valuable practical experience working within a large software project on the same types of tasks and using the same kinds of skills that they will be expected to use in their professional careers.

The University will benefit through a strengthened Computer Science program, by having a higher profile in the software development world, and being recognized as an organization that has donated a semester’s-worth of work of a full-time faculty member to further the mission of a humanitarian project.

There have been some changes since I wrote the proposal and it was approved:

  1. IchoseOpenMRS as the project that I will be working within.WhileUshahidi seems like a very interesting project,OpenMRS seemed to fit better with my goals for the following reasons:
    • It is written primarily in Java, which is the language that we use most in our Computer Science courses. (Ushahidi is written primarily in PHP, which we do not teach at all.)
    • OpenMRS seems to have a more “formal” software development process and tooling, which I think covers more of the topics on the list of what I want to learn.
    • We can use OpenMRS as a tool in the Health Informatics course that we teach for the Nursing majors, to provide an Electronic Medical Record system for the Nursing students to try out.
  2. I participated in the Teaching Open Source Symposium at SIGCSE 2014 and in POSSE 2014.
  3. I increased my use of Open Source tools both in my own work, and introduced them in our first-year courses.
  4. Students in my Spring 2014 capstone course did some work within the OpenMRS project.
  5. I started attending OpenMRS online meetings to familiarize myself with the project.

I will be writing more about sabbatical as the summer and the semester move along.

  1. For those not familiar with the ways of academia, a sabbatical is a paid leave awarded every 7 years to allow a faculty member time for research or updating skills.
Oct 312013
 

Some of you will remember the post My Year of Open Source from 1 January 2011 – almost 3 years ago – where I made a New Year’s resolution to participate more in FOSS. Here are the goals I listed for myself for that year:

I have four main goals (at this point):

  1. Learn the tools and processes myself by participating in a FOSS project.
  2. Figure out what FOSS tools and processes I can begin to introduce my students to in earlier courses.
  3. Figure out what FOSS experience(s) I can provide my non-CS students.
  4. Find a project (or projects) to place my Senior CS students into in Spring 2012.

Well, it was as successful as most New Year’s resolutions – meaning, not very. Or maybe, not completely. I was (partially) successful at some of those goals, although almost none were completed within the year that I so rashly promised.

Figure out what FOSS tools and processes I can begin to introduce my students to in earlier courses.

This one was somewhat successful, although not until this past June (2013) when I managed to have my summer Introduction to Programming class (all six students!) use git and Bitbucket to collaborate with their lab partners and to submit their work to me for grading. Fresh from that (small-scale) success, I tried to have my Programming for Non-CS Majors class do the same, and ran into some scaling issues. We’re working on the solution for that right now – more in a future post.

My Spring 2013 capstone project course did use git and GitHub for our project developing an app for a Worcester Art Museum exhibit. But my understanding of git was not a good as it could have been and the student use of git was spotty. We also planned to use Pivotal Tracker, but didn’t get very far. We did successfully use IRC, however.

Find a project (or projects) to place my Senior CS students into in Spring 2012.

My Spring 2012 capstone project course worked with Eucalyptus, and had some pretty strong interaction with some of the members of the community, but I think that both the students and I felt we weren’t as successful as we could have been due to some technical issues early on in the course. For Spring 2013, I abandoned working in an existing FOSS project in favor of new development when the Worcester Art Museum opportunity presented itself. We did, however, make our code freely available (https://github.com/CS-Worcester/JILOA)

Figure out what FOSS experience(s) I can provide my non-CS students.

This goal got very little attention, other than my abortive attempt at using git in the Programming for Non-CS Majors course.

Learn the tools and processes myself by participating in a FOSS project.

And I still have not made any real progress in my own participation in a FOSS project.

However, that’s all going to change. Stay tuned for My Year of Open Source v2…

 

Oct 302013
 

Our CS 401 Software Development class was canceled on Monday, 11 February 2013 due to ongoing snow removal and cleanup on campus from the Nemo blizzard. (Worcester received 28.5 inches of snow in just about 24 hours.) This is a problem for a class that meets only on Mondays, especially with the next Monday being a holiday.

As soon as the campus closing was announced on Sunday afternoon, I emailed the students to announce that we would replace class the next day with an IRC (Internet Relay Chat) meeting. (Actually, that’s a lie. The first thing I did was panic, then I screamed, then I ranted to my family about the injustice of cancelling my Monday-only class. Then I thought about holding class on IRC…) Here is the message I sent the students on our class listserv:

Campus is closed tomorrow, so we will not have class. We will not have class next week either due to the President’s Day holiday.

This is going to seriously mess up our schedule. I’ll think about how we can carry on in the two weeks.

Let’s try to hold an IRC chat tomorrow during class time (2:00pm-4:30pm). I’ll send out instructions on installing (optional) and using an IRC client later tonight. I have instructions already written up, I just have to find them, possibly update them, and send them out.

Holding class on IRC would be a little bit of a challenge since the students had not used IRC yet, so this would have to serve as both an IRC familiarization exercise and a useful meeting. I sent them the following message to prepare them:

We are going to meet today on IRC (Internet Relay Chat) at 2:00pm.

You should read through this in advance so that you are prepared. Especially if you are going to install an IRC client – you will need time to set it up. I suggest trying this out at least 1/2 hour in advance to make sure you get the connection working. I’ll stay on IRC all day so you can try out chatting.

You have two choices for connecting to the IRC server:

  1. Install an IRC client. There are many available, you may want to try a few to see which you like the best. Some are standalone applications, and some are browser plugins (like Chatzilla for Firefox.) I’ve heard that mIRC is the most popular for Windows, I use Colloquy on the Mac.
    Here are some of the most important settings you will need. How you set these will depend on your client. You will want to install your client and do the setup in advance of our meeting, so you aren’t late.

    1. Server: irc.freenode.net
    2. If you can set a port, you may want to use 7000 since it can be used for an SSL connection.
    3. Nickname: Choose your own*
    4. Channel: ##WSU-CS401
  2. Use the webchat page on freenode: https://webchat.freenode.net
    1. Nickname: Choose your own*
    2. Channels: ##WSU-CS401
    3. Complete the reCAPTCHA
    4. Connect

* You may want to register your nickname, so that no one else can use it. That way we can all get used to looking for a specific nickname for you. See the instructions: http://freenode.net/faq.shtml#registering

IRC Resources

The most important commands which chatting:

  • /SERVER new-server-hostname
  • /NICK new-nickname
  • /QUIT
  • /JOIN #channelname
  • /ME does something
    This command is used for saying that you are doing something like:
    /ME is looking for that information in my email
  • /LEAVE

Chatting:

  • If you want to address your comments to everybody, just type your comment and hit return.
  • If you want to address your comments to a specific person, type their nickname followed by a colon, then your message. E.g.

         kwurst: I have the answer to your question

I had created a course-specific channel on freenode last spring, so we could use that channel, but to hold a useful meeting, felt that it would be vital to have a MeetBot running to take minutes. I could have used used the #teachingopensource channel, which has zodbot installed, but then the minutes would be saved on Fedora’s website, rather than ours. So I decided to install Supybot with the MeetBot plugin on our own server here.

I managed to get MeetBot installed (mostly – gives me an error message for every meeting command I give, but then does it anyway) and we had a very successful meeting for a class of IRC newbies: http://cs.worcester.edu/kwurst/wsu-cs401/2013/wsu-cs401.2013-02-11-21.13.html

Feb 082013
 

My CS 401 Software Development class for Spring 2013 at Worcester State University is developing an iPad app for the Worcester Art Museum (more on that in another post.)

Because few of the students have Macs the development environment was going to be a problem. There was the option of using either WSU’s or WAM’s Mac labs, but I figured that the students would want to work outside of the normal hours of the labs. Fortunately, Stoney Jackson at Western New England University suggested that I look into PhoneGap, a free and open source framework for developing cross-platform apps using the web technologies HTML, CSS, and JavaScript. PhoneGap will take a site developed using those technologies and compile it into a native app on a number of platforms, including iOS.

Even better, Adobe, which now owns PhoneGap, has set up a build server. That means that we can just have their site do the build, rather than having to rely on the few students in the class who do have Macs to do the building. To use it for free, your code does have to be in a public GitHub repo, but we were going that route anyway.

Last night I decided to do some more reading on PhoneGap, and discovered that it’s really simple to build a working Hello World app using their Getting Started documentation and GitHub respository of code. I forked the code, and submitted it to the build server, then downloaded the working app to an Android tablet. I wanted to download it onto my iPad as well, but it seems that I’ll have to go through the Apple developer provisioning setup to get a key. I’ve done that before to work on a native iOS app, but I’ve got to go dig through all my notes to get back up to speed on that process.

I decided to write up this post so that my students can see the steps I took, and get the example working on their own systems. This is pretty much just what is posted in the Getting Started page on the PhoneGap Build site.

  1. Fork the https://github.com/phonegap/phonegap-start repo. The fork button is in the upper-right hand corner of the page (https://github.com/phonegap/phonegap-start/fork_select).
  2. Go to your own GitHub page to see the repository you just created.
  3. You can clone that repo to your local machine if you want, but that is not necessary at this point, unless you want to make changes. I decided to leave making changes until later.
  4. You will need the http URI for the repository, so either copy it or leave the page/tab open.
  5. Go to the https://build.phonegap.com/ build site, and choose the Completely Free plan.
  6. Sign in through your GitHub account.
  7. Click the +new app button.
  8. Make sure you’ve clicked the open-source tab.
  9. Paste the URI from your fork of the GitHub repo.
  10. Click Ready to Build.
  11. When it’s done, click the appropriate device icon to download it to your device.

Next steps for me:

  1. Make some changes to my fork, build, and download again.
  2. Figure out the iOS provisioning so I can build and download to my iPad.

We’ll have to figure out how to set up the provisioning for the class after we determine which iPads we have available (student- and/or museum-owned) for testing.

Apr 122012
 

Following on Trevor Hodde‘s post First Commit!, it’s time to mention our First Merge!

First Nate Doe, and then Trevor, made commits to our class’ fork of the Eutester repository on GitHub. I submitted a pull request, which has now been merged into the master branch of the repository.

We’re looking forward to more commits, and having them merged into the project. I know that Nate and Trevor have issues assigned to them, and I think that Matt Morrisey will soon.

Feb 012012
 

My Spring 2012 course is well underway (into the second week), and going well. But, as I was putting up the latest assignments and resources for the class, it struck me: I’m defaulting to CLOSED!

Many of the materials that I’m using are coming from Heidi Ellis‘ course at Western New England University, and from other open, online sources. Yet, here I am, posting them in our Blackboard CMS, where only my students have access to them! And this really is a default action — it’s just what I’m used to doing, so I’ve done it without thinking.

This is a somewhat minor at this point, since Heidi has already made these materials available. But, I’m starting to develop new exercises and assignments that others may want to use. And, just as I borrowed some of the course organization from Heidi’s course, someone else might find my “remix” of her organization useful or inspiring.

So, I’m starting to think about where I want to post my course materials to make them open. (Licensing is not the issue, as I’ve been CC-licensing my course materials for years.) Unfortunately, our school is not good about giving faculty web space that they can easily edit for themselves (our default is Microsoft SharePoint.) But, we have our own departmental server, where we are hosting our departmental blog (acting as a planet), our Git and Subversion servers, and our Wiki. I have a vestigial web site there (that just redirects to my Sharepoint page), so I can probably press that into service as the home for the course.

It may take a bit more work, because it won’t be the default. I’ll have to move all the materials I’ve already posted and remember to post the new ones I’m writing to this more open location.

And, I’ll have to work on making open my new default.

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!

Jan 012011
 

I’ve been inspired by Mel Chua‘s post, Join Nicholas: chronicle the start of your own FOSS adventures, which, in turn, was inspired by Nicholas Whittier‘s post, New Year’s Resolution: More open source participation.

Nicholas has made a New Year’s resolution to participate more in Free Open Source Software (FOSS), not just evangelize for its use. Mel has encouraged him to write about it to help document the process of a newbie joining an open source project. Mel very eloquently explains why this is important:

I’m very much looking forward to reading these posts, and have encouraged Nicholas to tag them so they’ll show up on Planet TOS – he’s a keen writer with the ability to reflect on his mental processes while learning something as a novice, which is something that will be incredibly valuable for any open source project trying to get insights into how the participation process looks like from the newbie side, and also to newcomers looking to read about the thoughts of someone going through the process they’re about to launch into.

I hope that more newcomers join Nicholas in writing down their thoughts as they begin their own FOSS journeys. It’s actually the sort of thinking and contribution that we typically lack the most – and something that experienced contributors cannot do. I have some of my own thoughts in this blog from several years ago when I began actively contributing to open source, but they’re faded and fuzzy and I wish I’d done more (I was confident that nobody would care, but as it turns out, I wish I had written more down).

Too often we’re only publicly reflective only when we’re confident and experienced with something – so I applaud (and admire!) the courage being demonstrated here. Good luck, Nicholas – please keep writing, and let us know if we can help you with your adventures in any way.

I felt this lack of documentation for newbies in a FOSS project myself — twice in the last six months. The first was in June when I participated in POSSE Worcester State to learn about teaching students about FOSS participation, and had a very difficult time getting involved in a FOSS project myself (despite having three instructors who all have high-level leadership positions in the project). The second was this past semester, when I required the students in my CS 401 software development class to participate in an FOSS project. The students learned a lot, but it was clear to me that I need to know much more about the process to be able to give them a better learning experience.

So, inspired by Mel and Nicholas, I am going to make a big push this year in FOSS participation myself. I have an entire year until I will be teaching CS 401 again, and in that time, I want to become someone who has participated in a FOSS project. I want to document my experience so that I can help my students more effectively when I throw them off the deep end again in Spring 2012.

I have four main goals (at this point):

  1. Learn the tools and processes myself by participating in a FOSS project.
  2. Figure out what FOSS tools and processes I can begin to introduce my students to in earlier courses.
  3. Figure out what FOSS experience(s) I can provide my non-CS students.
  4. Find a project (or projects) to place my Senior CS students into in Spring 2012.

I’ll write more about each of these goals in future posts. (An unrelated goal is to become more comfortable with blogging — I find this process to be a relatively scary one. As an academic, I find it difficult to discuss the process, rather than the finished product.)

And, with that, I hit Publish

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”?