Open Source Festival Reflection

Open Source Festival 2013 Reflection

On Thursday, April 25th, the University at Albany’s student chapter of the Association for Information Science and Technology (ASIST) hosted its 3rd annual Open Source Festival. Being an officer of ASIST, as the Chair of Publicity & Membership, a member of the festival’s planning committee, and also a presenter in the festival, allowed me to experience the festival from many perspectives.

So why have an Open Source Festival? To begin, what is open source exactly? Open source generally refers to the idea that the source code of computer software is freely available to the public. Today the initiative to promote open source software is growing as well as its importance and significance in the technological industry. Not only is open source software growing in industry, it is also becoming popular in computer science and information technology education. With open source as a major influence to our future technical industry, why not have a festival to share and educate the various aspects of it.

The title of the presentation that I gave was titled, “Teaching Databases and Web Development with Open Source Tools.” I presented with a fellow classmate and one of my professors, as well as receive assistance from another professor to put the presentation together. The basis of the presentation was to provide feedback and opinions on the teaching and learning experience of an introduction to Databases class and an intermediate Web Development class in both the instructors’ and students’ perspectives. Both classes taught database and web development skills using open source tools in a Team Based Learning (TBL) style. In our Database class, we were introduced to different type so databases, covering topics in PostgreSQL, MongoDB, XML, New4J, M, RDF and SPARQL. In our Web Development class we learned web coding languages such as HTML5, Javascript, and PHP. We also learned the basics on various frameworks such as Web2py, ExtJS, Sencha Touch and EWD. When working with these tools we logged onto Linux servers, used the command line and text editor to write and edit the code. During the presentation my instructor gave the instructor’s experience with teaching databases and web development with open source tools, the methods and issues. For the students’ perspectives, my classmate and I conducted a survey, with the assistance of our instructors, to get opinions of the students. We wanted to see how students felt about the methods that were used to teach the classes, their experience with the tools and the overall structure of the classes.

Created in 2006 by professors of the University of Cambridge, the intent of Raspberry Pi hardware was to promote Computer Science in schools. The presentation, “Raspberry Pi in a Hackspace” by Tim Fake and Luis Ibanez, has helped grow the idea of wanting to learn about how computer hardware works and how they can modify it. They spoke about Hackspaces that provided a way for people to get together to work and learn. They ended by proposing to eventually start a Hackspace here at UAlbany, allowing the students to get a chance to work with electronics and learn the hardware aspect of computers.

Another open source hardware was introduced in Hsiang-Cheng Meng’s presentation “Introduction to Beagleboard.” Hsiang-Cheng Meng explained how to set up the Beagleboard and went through the building process of the Angstrom. Next Meng explained the framework called OpenEmbedded and finally discussed how to debug any issues present.

The next presentation I attended, similar to the “Raspberry Pi in a Hackspace”, was by UAlbany’s Student ACM (Association for Computing Machinery) Chapter. The student organization demonstrated open source hardware through a game that they set up on it. The hardware runs around $35 making it an affordable way to learn and get hands on experience with basic computer hardware. I am looking forward to purchasing my own Raspberry Pi to work with.

The final presentation that I attended was “The M Revolution: Stuff that Matters” by Luis Ibanez. Mr. Ibanez discusses how as a country we are spending a lot in healthcare and aren’t number 1 in the medical care that Americans receive. He explains that because we do not take advantage of Electronic Health Record (EHR) systems our country won’t progress in healthcare. EHR systems using M support millions of medical information. He stresses the importance of introducing M into colleges and universities. Mr. Ibanez then describes how OSEHRA (Open Source EHR Agent) and the University at Albany’s College of Computing and Information have goals to introduce M so that our future software developers can further the idea of bringing more open source Electronic Health Record systems to the IT aspect of healthcare.

As someone who was fully involved in the festival, I found that although there was much work involved in each part, overall it was very enjoyable and beneficial, in both an educational and influential way. Posted by Kirstine Jessamy

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