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Teaching open source at UMass Amherst

by Shauna April 9th, 2014


Students working at Open Source Comes to Campus - UMass.

On Sunday, March 9th, we ran another Open Source Comes to Campus event at UMass Amherst.  We ran a first event at UMass last April, and hope to run another next year!  Many thanks to our wonderful in-person mentors Heidi Ellis, Karl Wurst, and Terri Yu, and to our remote mentors Marina Zhurakhinskaya, Sean Lip, Yana Malysheva, and Jacob Davis.


  • The first contribution of the day came during the first hour!  One student noticed a mistake in our bug tracker activity and, with our encouragement, filed a bug.
  • During the contributions workshop, two students worked on issues in the Open Science Collaboration blog.  Both involved adding plug-ins to the blogging framework Pelican so the students were able to help each other with the process.  One student gave readers the ability to share individual blog posts via email and social media with the click of a button. Another student gave authors the ability to place parts of articles behind a cut.  Both enhancements have been merged into the project and are being used by the community.
  • One student attempted to work on the Open Science Collaboration blog, but had difficulty setting up Pelican on Windows.  Not to be deterred, she stayed an hour after the event was technically over working with a remote mentor to fix the problem.
  • Mentor Heidi Ellis led a small group of students interested in Mousetrap, a GNOME application that allows users with physical disabilities to move a mouse cursor.  Working together on a single machine, they found and reported a bug that was causing the program to crash.
  • Another student contributed to WelcomeBot, a small OpenHatch project which aims to welcome newcomers to our IRC channel even when no one else is there.  He implemented a vast improvement in how the bot recognizes when it’s being greeted or asked for help.


  • With deadlines for the Outreach Program for Women and Google Summer of Code coming up, we spent a lot of time talk about opportunities for students and how to pursue them. OPW organizer Marina Zhurakhinskaya talked with students over video chat during our career panel and mentored student applicants during the contributions workshop.  Several students remarked on how much they appreciated her help.  Although the focus we give to internships will vary based on proximity to application deadlines, we plan on highlighting these kinds of opportunities more prominently, and have made a wiki page on the topic to help us do so.
  • We tried out a new version of the Practicing Git activity. We aimed to retain the interactive elements of our typical activity while allowing the tutorial to be lead by a single presenter. The new activity also had the benefit of being not entirely a toy project.  The activity was generally well received, making it a good option for events where only a single mentor is comfortable teaching git.
  • The Contributions Workshop continues to improve.  All but one student stayed through the entirety of the workshop, with more than a third of students continuing past the official ending time.  Two student submitted pull requests to projects later that night.  At the same time, we did have some difficulty connecting students with our remote mentors.  We received a ton of useful feedback from the maintainers of our first OpenHatch-Affiliated Project, Oppia.  We hope that by introducing students to projects before the event, arranging for video-based introductions, and pairing remote mentors with local mentors, we can continue making the Contributions Workshop even more enjoyable.
  • UMass once again opened itself up to students from other schools, and once again Mt Holyoke was well represented.  Given the interest in open source from Mt Holyoke, we hope to run an event there soon!

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