Teaching Open Source at Purdue University

by Shauna October 31st, 2013

Students at OSCTC Purdue

On Sunday, September 22nd we ran our thirteenth Open Source Comes to Campus event, at Purdue University. Thanks to the Computer Science Women’s Network for hosting! Check out the photo gallery.

Lauren Stuart, Mel Chua, Ed Finkler, Shauna Gordon-McKeon, Asheesh Laroia

Selected Contributions

  • A pair of students were interested in tackling bugs in Octave, a language for data manipulation, computation and visualization. Setting up a development environment in Windows, which both of the students were using, proved difficult – so they focused instead on setting up linux virtual machines on their computers.
  • One advanced attendee, who had previously worked on BioPython, dived into the project and looked at two different bugs. She improved project documentation and contributed to a discussion about how to implement a new feature. She also contributed to MediaGoblin by creating a patch for a configuration error.
  • When people picture themselves contributing to open source projects, they don’t usually see themselves testing other people’s patches, but it’s a very useful contribution.  One student confirmed that a patch worked and contributed to an ongoing discussion about what the final fix should be.
  • Another attendee found that a bug in svg-edit had been fixed but not released, so that users were still having trouble.  He left a comment to this effect.
  • One student worked remotely with a maintainer of PsychoPy to set up the development environment and become more familiar with the project.
  • Another attendee worked on D3, a Javascript library for visualizing data, and submitted a patch to fix a documentation issue.
  • A group of students tried to fix what seemed like a straightforward bug in Privly but had a lot of difficulty getting the development environment set up.  See the ‘Errata’ section for more on this.


  • You can see the group who worked on the Privly bug in the photo at the top of the page.  Their description of the issues they encountered: “lots of downloads, need an approved account to have access… had to create own database on localhost… tears clouding vision”.  While they still had a great time, this experience made it clear to us that we need to do a much better job of picking projects to work on, and make sure that we’ve vetted the development environment setup process thoroughly.  Since the Purdue event we’ve focused on having a smaller number of high quality/highly prepped projects, and we think it’s showing major benefits.
  • We had 25 attendees at the event, many of whom were non-CS majors thanks to our efforts to improve outreach to science majors. Part of that effort involves identifying and publicizing to potential attendees the many amazing open source science projects out there. You can help us with that.
  • We introduced two major changes to our curriculum at this event:

    We hope to have longer posts up soon which will elaborate on these curriculum changes and why we made them.

  • To continue the trend of ‘recommended reading lists’ a few mentors and students got into a discussion on good readings for women in technology and science:
  • And to continue another trend: the phrase of this event was “rubber ducking” – the practice of asking your questions to a rubber duck or other inanimate object in the hopes that the process of clearly defining your question will help you answer it.

One comment

  1. Britta says:

    The Privly group looks so happy despite their difficulty with setting up the project! I love it.

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