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Teaching Open Source at Wellesley College

by Shauna April 16th, 2013

On Saturday, April 6th, we ran our eighth Open Source Comes to Campus event, at Wellesley College. Many thanks to Kristian Tran and the Wellesley Department of Computer Science.


  • Introductions & laptop setup
  • Ethics & history of free software
  • Intro to open source communications tools
  • Intro to version control
  • Lunch!
  • Github group demo
  • Contributions workshop
  • Wrap up

Contributions by students

  • One attendee attempted to reproduce a four-year-old bug in WordPress’ redirect-processing logic. She couldn’t reproduce the issue and updated the ticket to say so. The same attendee also updated a bug in svg-edit, which reported that rectangles drawn while zoomed in were misplaced. While investigating the issue, she discovered that the direction and degree of misplacement were correlated with where the user attempted to place the rectangle on the canvas.
  • We encouraged one attendee, who had an interest in musical composition, to browse around the bug trackers for various music-related open source projects. She found a seemingly straightforward bug in MuseScore where template files of the wrong length were being generated. Because she wasn’t searching by language, however, she found herself debugging a project written in C++, which she was unfamiliar with. She spent the rest of the afternoon learning basic C++ syntax as she looked through the code and read the documentation.
  • Another attendee worked on patching the official Python documentation to mention that the `imp’ module was noted as being deprecated by the `importlib’ module. This change involved learning about how to produce a patch using mercurial, learning a bit about Python contribution guidelines and how to use the Python bug tracking system.
  • Several attendees attempted this JMonkeyEngine bug, and by and large they ran into the same problem: that subversion does not come pre-installed on their Macs. The two attendees who stuck with the problem spent nearly half an hour downloading XCode, then familiarizing themselves with subversion. They also had to find where in the code the feature that was buggy was specified. By the time they located the problem, it was time to say goodbye.
  • One attendee had a laptop running Windows, so she got to work looking into a GNOME issue where the main font does not render properly on Windows browsers. She found that while had been fixed by adding Javascript to detect Windows and CSS to remove the special font on Windows, had not been fixed. By testing in the browser, she confirmed that adding the same Javascript to would fix the issue there. She left a comment on the bug, and we hope GNOME websites will now look better for visitors running Windows!


  • We had very good retention throughout the workshop. Only one person left before the start of the contributions workshop at 2:30, and she was leaving for a preplanned event. During the workshop period, only three people left early, two of whom actively asked for follow up emails.
  • During the version control tutorial we demonstrated the concept of version control by looking at host Wellesley College’s wikipedia page. Our attendees had a blast engaging in a minor edit battle. We’re adding this to our list of demos which lighten the atmosphere, along with the group git demo and logging onto IRC. (At this event, our attendees were so interested in IRC that they decided to create their own #Wellesley channel on Freenode!)
  • People continue to love our t-shirts, which can occasionally be found on staff and volunteers. We should really bring extra to our events to give to attendees!
  • At the end of the event, we tried a new format for wrapping up. We found it worked on a number of levels. It gave attendees who worked on a single bug all workshop a sense of the variety of possible contributions; it gave staff with relevant expertise a chance to offer help; and it let attendees celebrate their accomplishments. This is another change that we’ll be keeping.
  • Attendees again expressed strong interest in follow up events. We’re hoping to make an alumni mailing list where students across OSCTC campuses can meet and network with each other. We’re also going to host a few informal project nights with alumni in Boston, and perhaps other areas where OpenHatch mentors are located.

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