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POSSE Homework: On Identifying FOSS projects - Jim Huggins
August 19th, 2015
06:04 pm
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POSSE Homework: On Identifying FOSS projects
To my regular blog readers ... I'm participating in a workshop in September (called POSSE) on the use of HFOSS (Humanitarian Free and Open Source Software) as a part of the undergraduate CS curriculum.   In preparation for that workshop, I'm given some assigned homework and asked to blog about it.   So, here's my required blog entry.

If you're not already a part of the POSSE, none of this will make sense to you.   So, I'll give you the chance to bail out now ...

Okay, here we go.

First, here's my assigned evaluation of the OpenMRS system: http://paws.kettering.edu/~jhuggins/openmrs.xlsx

For the "FOSS Field Trip" ... well, not being sure what to look for, I picked one of my favorite hobbies, geocaching.   It's an obscure hobby, so ... surprise, surprise, there weren't many projects available (about a dozen or so).  Still, the projects there seemed to cover the spectrum --- first ideas, beta development, mature, abandoned, whatever.

As to my intended use of (H)FOSS ... well, as long as we're in a blog posting and I can ramble on for awhile, I'll give you the whole story.

Kettering University is a strange place, for any number of reasons.   We only offer about 15 degree programs in STEM fields, and all of our students participate in co-op work experiences, alternating terms, year-round, beginning in the first year.   A typical Kettering student will spend three months in classes, then three months at work, then back in class, then back at work, and so on, nominally for 4.5 years.

This alternating period of work and study builds towards what we call the "Culminating Undergraduate Experience".   For most of our students, this is a capstone-like experience performed at their worksite, jointly supervised by their employer and a Kettering faculty member.   Students are asked to perform a real-world task of value to their employer that gives them the opportunity to show the range of skills they've acquired during their college years.

For some students, this sort of experience isn't possible (or desired).   In those situations, we try to develop alternative culminating experiences for them.   Students can work alongside a faculty member with their research projects, which is great ... if an agreeable match can be found between a faculty member and a student.   Some ambitious students start their own companies (this is CS, after all, where everyone wants to be the next Bill Gates) and can use that start-up experience as their culiminating experience.

So ... I'm thinking that a student looking for an alternative to the traditional workplace experience might be attracted to doing an (H)FOSS project.   Clearly working with this sort of project could satisfy all the usual touchstones we're seeking from the experience (real work, valued by the community, using real CS skills, scoped to an appropriate size).   So, I'm participating in POSSE to see what I can learn in order to perhaps facilitate some of these projects.

Oh, and I have a couple of students who are sort-of doing this thing already as independent projects, which I am "loosely" supervising.   One is developing a new phone app for the university which will be released as FOSS.   Another is developing software to help coordinate search & rescue teams in California responding to wildfire emergencies.   Both of these are one-person efforts, so not really integrated into huge multi-person efforts like these projects we've been studying.

So, that's my long story.   Hope you enjoyed it.

P.S. Catch me in Raleigh some evening ... I expect to be doing some time geocaching after-hours, though urban caching is a different experience entirely ...

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