Last week-end I attended FOSDEM for the 7th time. It's kinda strange to say and think - if someone tells me they've been going to this or that open-source conference for 7 years I tend to assume they're hardcore and totally know what they're doing. I go to hang out with cool folks and learn new things. This year's FOSDEM didn't disappoint in that regard!

As usual, the conference was packed and most rooms filled up quickly, but I was happily surprised to see it was still possible to squeeze in some of the more popular rooms regardless. I think many devrooms organisers are well aware of the frustration with not being able to get in and they did a great job at encouraging/demanding folks use all seats rather than leave spaces in the middle, which really helped (special kudos to the Legal devroom, which was in a smaller room in H). Also the main conference organisers appear quite good at trying to adjust the room size based on popularity year to year (e.g. the Mozilla room used to be utterly impossible to get into).

Some of the conference highlights from my perspective:

Identity Crisis: Are we who we say we are?

This was the first keynote on Saturday morning, which I think did a good job of bringing up many possible ambiguities hidden in the "we" we use when contributing to a project. One of the strengths of open-source is that we're quick to say "we" and include everyone, but sometimes it bears more thinking or clarification of who we actually mean with "we" - sometimes two "we" can describe different subgroups of contributors even in the same sentence. Taking the time to think explicitly about who we mean, and avoid unintended conflicts of interests is important.


Fog of War - The GNOME Trademark Battle

The story of what was happening in the background during the Gnome battle for their trademark with Groupon last year, told by a Gnome board member and the lawyer that helped them on the case. Interesting insights thanks to the lawyer's perspective particularly, who also took a guess at what possibly happened in the Groupon lawyers' mind during their risk analysis and the consequences (e.g. "Groupon was dealing with an animal they'd never seen before." A charitable org not willing to be silenced or take a big donation.) Not a kind reflection on Groupon.


Why Samba moved to GPLv3: Why we moved, what we gained, what we lost.

Emboldened by having managed to get a seat in the Legal devroom, I decided to also stick around for the next talk. I hadn't attended a talk on GPLv3 in a few years and I wasn't to be disappointed. It was a very honest and funny talk - I knew of Jeremy Allison aka the Samba guy, but I didn't know he was such an entertaining speaker. Overall Samba seems very happy with the move to GPLv3, it simplified a lot of things for them especially in terms of copyright managenent (some companies are just nasty), and most of the contributors and users they initially lost ended up returning (multiple closed-source vendors being bought out and leaving their customers in the cold likely helped). They felt really let down that the FSF didn't force their own projects to move as well (though I understand that is not the case anymore) and of course the Linux kernel being GPLv2-only is hurtful too. The speaker is convinced that all the scary stuff around GPLv3 is FUD and everyone should switch to using GPLv3+ right now if they don't have to link to v2 stuff. An audience member did raise an issue/unclear point with the v3 licence, for when a company rents a device to a customer (that the user doesn't actually own and thus perhaps? shouldn't be allowed to modify).


Participation metrics at Mozilla: A story of systems and data

For projects that depend so heavily on volunteer contributions as Mozilla does, understanding who the community is made of and where/when people are being lost or leave is really important. The speaker started by showing us some of the ways they tried and failed to measure participation and what they ended up with. They defined what "participation" means by formalising paths a contributor might take across their systems (e.g. file a bug, comment on a bug, translate a string, etc) and they extract and map the data they have to these paths. This enables them to also deduplicate contributor information: for instance it's not because you have 100 translators and 300 developers that you have 400 contributors, people can do more than one thing, and it also lets them identify more clearly whether someone is leaving the project altogether or simply moving to another area. Very interesting stuff!

This is work in progress but their current results and reports are available at Are we a million yet.


Maintaining & growing a technical community: Mozilla Developer Network

The other Mozilla talk I attended explored the meaning of community and the motivations behind why people start contributing, why they continue to contribute and how to help folks feel involved and want to contribute. The speaker made some really good points, one that really stuck with me being that contributors ≠ community. It's really important to connect contributors to your community or they will not stick around! The example she used was getting people to contribute at hackathons-like events, but then disappear - as someone who's run such events that certainly rang true, simply showing folks they can make a positive impact easily is not enough to make them come back or feel part of the community.


Retooling Fedora: A Retrospective on Fedora 21 (and looking to 22)

I knew Fedora had been changing their model since the past release but I hadn't been following closely. This clarified the goals and the why, and I was very impressed with the beginning of the talk where the speaker (Matthew Miller, the current Fedora Project Leader) took a really hard look at where distributions are today and why they appear to be becoming less relevant - for instance looking at the contrast between the number of open-source projects available on platforms like Github compared to what is actually packaged in the distro. People used to care about getting their software into the major distributions but it doesn't seem to matter as much nowadays. In that light the "ring" graph showed toward the end, explaining that perhaps the apps at the outer layer don't need as strict and stringent criterias for inclusion than the more core OS components, totally makes sense and the future looks interesting.



I continue to be hugely impressed by how much Mozilla cares about improving the experience for new and existing contributors (impressed but not surprised! Their "Get Involved" page remains excellent, letting you get in touch with real people while showing at one glance all the different ways you can help, and having a mentored bugs process for new contributors is an awesome step-up from simply tagging easy bugs. Keep rocking and showing us all how it's done Mozilla!)

Videos of the talks should be available in time on the FOSDEM website.

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PyCon Ireland 2014

Together with a couple of colleagues, I wrote a short report about PyCon Ireland 2014. Once again the conference was a lot of fun and I'm looking forward to the 2015 edition! :)

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Evolving Open-Source Night Open-Source Night - June

The monthly Open-Source night experiment continues. On Wednesday, June 19th we had the June edition of Open-Source Night. Rory gave us a slightly-longer-than-15-minutes talk on OpenStreetMap, and the kind of contributions the project welcomes (data data data, really!). I was the only one to volunteer for a lightning talk, in stark contrast with the last event where we had multiple ones both by people attending open-source night and network people who happened to be visiting the hackerspace at the time.

Rather than doing an on-topic talk about an open-source project, I did a meta-talk about Open-Source Night itself and different ways in which it could evolve.

I make no secret that I don't think open-source night works very well in its current format. My goal (and measure for success) is to help people actually get started contributing.

Note: if you were at my deep dive on contributing to open-source and planning on attending the next open-source night, please do come!! This all just means that I think there are things that can be improved :)

Reminder: The current format

We're currently meeting on the 3rd Wednesday of the month. The event usually starts with two 15 minutes talk, ideally one on the life of open-source (e.g. licences, version control, IRC, using the command-line...) and one on how to contribute to a specific project. Then there's a number of 5-minutes-long-or-less lightning talks where people can introduce the project they will be working on during the evening. Then people break into groups or independently work on an open-source project of their choice.

Or that's the idea anyway. The talks usually work well and are inspiring, though they tend to run overtime and then people have trouble sitting at a table and doing things.

The future

These are my thoughts and ideas as to where open-source night might go in the future. These are not plans. I would like to hear feedback from interested people - attendees, would-be attendees, other organisers and thoughtful passerbys.

Topics: General open-source vs Project-specific

I see value in both topics, but perhaps attendees and would-be attendees favour one or the other, both, or neither? I haven't really heard much on this, what people find most useful. I think the project specific talks at least are interesting for both newcomers and established contributors, to see how other projects do things.

I believe 15 minutes is a good amount of time to get an overview, get inspired and get ideas. And not get too bored if already familiar with the topic.

I could see the value and how efficient it would be to focus on one project for a full session and guide people through contributing to it. However I can also see how it could be offputting to people not particularly interested in the project (e.g. "I don't use that distro, why should I bother attending?"). Perhaps as separate, off-shoot events if people are interested in leading that kind of session (get in touch!).

Topics: All kind of contributions vs Focusing on code

At the moment, I try really hard to emphasise (and encourage speakers to do the same) all the kinds of contributions that can be made - and are well needed! - even though my own experience lies in code-based contributions. Maybe I should give up on being inclusive and focus on what I know best, rather than try to be all things to all people? Code-focused open-source events could go from learning to program to fixing a bug.

Initially I was hoping people would step up to talk and encourage people to join their area of interest (I think we have e.g. experienced open-source translators around...) but that hasn't happened.

This is actually a point where someone came up to me after the talk and said straight off they really liked the breadth of contributions demoed during the talks, in particular mentioning last month's talk by Guilherme on OpenMandriva that did a great job showing how someone can help, in a multitude of ways, even if they're not all that confident in their coding skills.

Format: More course-like?

A couple of days before the June OSS Night I was pointed to this article on a really, really interesting summer course on learning to program the open-source way. That's a really cool concept. Should we entertain the thought of doing something similar during open-source night? e.g. A session on learning how to use version control with exercises, very workshop like, one month, some other topic the next one, etc.?

Probably not, but something to consider as a separate course with a shorter timeline. A course with one session a month will lose people and have little momentum. Is this the kind of things people have an interest in learning?

Format: Doing vs Listening/Talking

My goal with this event is still to get people started contributing. I'm not interested in organising a monthly night of talks. Finding speakers is stressful. If the talks aren't followed by some contributing action, to me the event is failing and I'm not interested in continuing to organise it. There are plenty of events around Dublin already where people can meet, talk tech and shoot the breeze.

With regard to open-source related talks, I think that's already handled well by the ILUG folks, who are now keen to set them up regularly again under the new chairmanship :) And we can join forces if that's the most attractive part of the event to folks. If your main interest is in having a regular night of open-source talks, get in touch and I'll be happy to help you have this in Tog. I'd attend with pleasure anyway, I'm just not interested in organising it and go speaker-hunting every 3 weeks.

I still believe we can make something really cool happen by putting in the same room people experienced in open-source together with newcomers interested in contributing. So I'm not giving up yet!

There's of course also the timeframe issue: with or without talks, an evening of maybe 3 hours is not a lot of time to accomplish something. Maybe we could (also/instead?) have events on Saturdays? And/or week-end workshops, Friday eve to Sunday?

HOWEVER, in any case an evening is still enough time to accomplish something, get started, get the momentum going, get unblocked and finish your contribution later at the week-end, in your own time.

You: Why are you here anyway*? ;)

* Or why weren't you? :) I'm just as interested in the answer to that!

Are you interested in learning how to contribute? Interested in helping and mentoring newcomers? What were you hoping this evening would be about?

I then invited people to have a productive discussion with me about this should they wish to, somewhat contradicting my own doing vs talking rant :-)

Please feel free and welcome to continue the discussion in the comments or by email, I would love to pick more brains and exchange ideas about this.

Django challenge

To avoid the talk being entirely meta (and in case people didn't care that much about all the blah blah blah and more about the doing!), I issued a challenge to attendees as well: this evening, run the Django unit tests suite. If that's something you're set up for, it'll take 2 minutes. If you're familiar with the concept but don't have all the dependencies set up yet it'll take 20 minutes. If this is all new to you it might take 2 hours, but what you learn you'll be able to reuse when you start working on a project you care about in the future, and it means it'll take less long then.

One person took me up on it and it took them 10 minutes. This shows how possible it is to actually get the ball rolling during open-source night, get people to realise they're not that far away from a first contribution.

I feel I should give the disclaimer that since the last time I talked about how to contribute to Django, the Django folks added to their docs a tutorial on how to make your first contribution, which just makes the project that little bit more awesome (and this challenge, easier to solve!)

Next Open-Source Night: July

So next month. That'll be on the 17th of July. Are you interested in giving a talk? :)

If no one volunteers we'll have a session similar to the first event except with more lightning talks. Lightning talks don't have to be prepared, there's no need for slides or anything you don't fancy. It's as simple as chatting about what you plan on doing or would like to do during the evening, inviting others to join you if they'd like.

It can be like:

"Hello, I'm Chris, a contributor to AwesomeProject which is a project that does this and that and also that thing. At the moment we're looking for help in $area1, $area2, $area41, if you think that's cool and you'd like to help, I'll be sitting at that table over here, come and chat with me. Maybe I can help you find a good first task. Otherwise I'll be working on the defroglirnator for the project -- er if you have any experience in that area I'd love to chat to you too."

or maybe

"Hey, I'm J. Bloggs, I've been using Wordpress for a few years, I think it's an awesome project and I'd like to start giving back. Tonight my plan is to figure out the new contributor process - if you're interested too, we can do this together. Come and chat with me."

It doesn't matter if there is no existing contributor to the specific project in the room. Since there are people familiar with the way open-source projects and communities usually tick, they will be able to help you if you get stuck.

Ok, that's it! I'm hoping to also have the time to find a few good first tasks in a new project, maybe LibreOffice. If not, then we can figure it out together on the day :)

I'm very much looking forward to hearing your thoughts, suggestions and ideas about all this, and perhaps also see you on the 17th.

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Open-Source Night #2: March 2013

On Wednesday the 20th, we had the 2nd edition of Open-Source Night in Tog. I think it went well. Once again there was about a dozen attendees, many of whom have never contributed to open-source before. A third of them were also in Tog for the first time. It might be too early to matter but there was also very little overlap with the audience from last time.


We started the evening with 2 talks, meant to be about 15 minutes long each. Mark started the evening telling us about open-source licences and the philosophy they encapsulate/were born from. Then I walked through how one would go about contributing to Django, basically clicking through the Django website and explaining different tasks the project needs help with, particularly for bug fixing contributions.

After this, we had 2 lightning talks that were meant to last 2 to 5 minutes, to give people a chance to talk about a project they contribute to and get people to join in. This time the talks were more about ideas, which is fine, but both also ran overtime, which is less cool. I'm not sure if either found additional contributors/would-be contributors out of it for the evening.


The second part of the evening, the part that should be hands-on, didn't go so well. After the talks (which lasted for 1h30 instead of 45mins) and a tour of the hackerspace for the new people, most continued chatting instead of sitting down and getting things done. This especially saddened me for the ones who had never contributed before. The goal of the event is to help newcomers get started contributing, when they have experienced people at hand to ask questions to.

Next time

I'm not sure how to improve this next time and help attendees get started actually doing stuff. Running overtime for the talks really hurt for the rest of the evening, which is already such a short time to accomplish something. An idea: after my talk I was asked "How long would it take for someone to start from nothing to being able to run the Django unit test suite?" and maybe this kind of well-defined, self-contained task would be good to help people get started. It's not a contribution yet, but it's a first, necessary step toward it (for code contributions in any case), and it could be fun to try and mix this with some sort of open badge.

Somewhat related announcement: open-source night won't happen on April 17th next month but probably on April 24th instead. Check the calendar for confirmation. If you're interested in speaking on a topic relating to the life of open-source or a project in particular, please get in touch :)

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Open-Source Night: Event #1 February 20th

On Wednesday, Tog hosted the first monthly Open-Source Night.

It's an event I'd been wanting to organise for a while, with an eye on it being hands-on and slanted toward helping interested people get started in open-source, but I wasn't sure what format would work best. I'm still not sure, but in the spirit of release early, release often, I thought I'd give it a shot for a few months and iterate.

For the first event, about a dozen people showed up. About 7-9 of them had already made some kind of contribution, most people had a clear idea of the project they wanted to contribute to for the evening, and 3 were hesitant and not sure what they wanted to do.

Blackboard with project names

We started with 2 super short talks, an ill-prepared one from myself about what to do tonight: basically find the contributor's guidelines for the project you're interested in and speak to the person next to you for help, since we had such a skewed ratio of experienced contributors. Triona followed with a talk on what she planned to do in the evening with Free Penguin, an open-source sewing pattern for Tux plushes. The maintainer hasn't updated nor responded to emails in years, so it seems it will need to be forked in order to start improving the documentation. Open-source projects aren't all about code! :)

I directed the hesitant project-less people toward Cheryl and the Dreamwidth project, which has an excellent reputation for being friendly to newcomers. Even without an experienced contributor around, I thought figuring things out together would be a fun learning experience. It may not have been that effective though, people were interested and looked around but nothing got accomplished (perhaps that is to be expected for a first couple of hours getting acquainted with a project and open-source?). Then further efforts were thwarted by technical problems (bugzilla down). Cheryl's thoughts abut this is that it's difficult to get into a project one doesn't feel strongly about (a similar downside applies to projects discovered via OpenHatch, as someone else mentioned to me).

There were a couple of serendipitous meetings, like the person wanting to get started with Debian packaging who happened to be sitting besides a Debian Developer.

But overall, I think having encouraged people to come along already having a project in mind made it difficult to form groups and encourage collaboration, because people ended up working on the project they had planned to alone. It may not have been a great experience, particularly for people who didn't know anyone or hadn't been in Tog before.

I also need to become more familiar with projects who have good, specific non-programming-related tasks for newcomers. I had a general idea but wasted time trying to find the details. We had a graphic designer interested in either contributing his design skills, translating or participating in testing efforts but I wasn't able to quickly find a good "Here's a concrete task you can do now" for some of the better known projects. He did discover InkScape and became eager to learn it, so I hope to see him again in Tog in a few weeks for teaching an intro workshop to InkScape :-) (Thanks Borud!!)

Ideas on how to evolve the format for next time:

Choose one project and make it the main focus of the evening, at least at the start. Meaning only one presentation, that is a bit longer (ideally 20 minutes, max 30 -- we still need time to actually do stuff!) and give specific, step-by-step instructions on "this is where you go to find something to work on, this is how you choose a task" and afterwards have the people interested in working on the project do so together - several people to one task can work, to encourage learning together and avoid getting stuck. People are still welcome to work on whatever else they want to of course. This was suggested by Ulrich based on the recent Debian Bug Squashing Parties he attended.

Becky said there was an interest in a GitHub pair programming type of exercise. People upload code on GitHub they never touch again. Working on someone else's code with the help of the author could turn into an instructive experience. It would also be cool to see what a pull request looks like from both sides.

I think we can try both these things for next time, the GitHub pair programming could start after the presentation for people not interested in working on the highlighted project.

Now. The next step is to find a project to highlight and a willing contributor who'd like to present and guide, for the next session on March 20th. Ideas, volunteers? :)

Feedback and general thoughts on evolving the format are warmly welcome as well.

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"Making your First Open-Source Contribution" Ireland Girl Geek Dinners

Hello good people who attended my talk on "making your first open-source contribution" for the January edition of the Girl Geek Dinners in Dublin. I hope you enjoyed it!

The slides are available on Slideshare - this version is actually missing a couple of recent updates, the main one being the mention of the Open-Source Night starting in Tog on Wednesday, February 20th. Come make your first contribution or help others get there!

If you're looking for a copy of the hand-out, you can download it here.

I'll be posting a transcript of the talk in the next couple of days. It still needs a bit of proof-reading :-) (It's posted now)

Many thanks to Christina for organising GGD!

Picture of the talk
(Thanks to @Imisaninja for the picture)

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Interested in open-source? Come to Tog!

Are you an experienced open-source contributor interested in recruiting new people for your project?

Are you a fan of open-source who would be interested in contributing at any level but isn't sure how to?

Come to Tog's first Open-Source Night on February 20th!

These hands-on sessions aim to bring together experienced open-source contributors with people who would like to get started but aren’t sure where to start or would generally benefit from having someone to ask questions to.
Every month we will start with a couple of people speaking for 5-10 minutes, to introduce the project they are working on, what is the usual path for contributing and where they are currently looking for help. Then we will form groups and work on making a contribution for the rest of the evening.

I'm hoping to make this into a regular monthly event. The current plan is to try it for a few months and see what it becomes. This will heavily depends on who attends so, help me recruit lots of interested people from both side of the contributor spectrum in Dublin :)

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Python meet-up, November 2012: DevOps 101 DevOps 101

Shame on me for not blogging about PyCon Ireland this year, another success where I happily spent a big chunk of time greeting attendees at the registration desk and attended some interesting talks.

The stylish volunteers:

PyCon Ireland 2012 Volunteers

In the meantime, I took better notes at the November Python Ireland meet-up, where Ulrich took us through DevOps 101, going from the basics of what it is and all sort of related tools to help, mostly Python-based.

I thought interesting that Ulrich worked from a specific definition of DevOps that differs from the ones I heard. There was a time when I used to call myself "a devop" because in addition to development work I was also maintaining production and test servers and handling deployments, etc. However at the time I learnt from other sources that "a devop" was actually a system admin who also writes code to make their job easier... so I just stopped using the word ;) Ulrich based his talk on the premise  of development and operations working together.

Development tends to move fast while operations are more stable and conservative, why would you put these groups together?

The need to scale is an important one. You need the knowledge that the developers have of the application itself, but you also need to understand infrastructure. For instance if you deploy something and suddenly the number of requests spikes, you want devs and ops to be close together to solve the problem.

Following a "release early, release often" principle where you might deploy several times a day makes that collaboration important.

Environments are complicated and it's important for people to integrate ; if the departments remain separate people tend to stick only with the same group of people.

Devops enable better communication and understanding. Developers can move fast and deploy faster as they know what ops need. This also helps mitigate risk thanks to the regular deployments: fewer changes are deployed at once (helpful to determine what breaks) and it becomes easier to do.

The talk then moved on to tools, including advice on how to create a simple django app to keep track of which versions of software are deployed where -- very simple and yet usually enough.

Some of the projects that were mentioned:

  • Using Sword instead of puppet (...which is still best, apparently) if you want to stick to Python, though it's a very young project. Using such tools you can start versioning your configuration and environment, and store reasons for changes in commit messages.
  • Fabric for ssh the Python way :)
  • Virtualenv to isolate Python and manage dependencies
  • Buildout is like Maven for Python projects. It's used to maintain dependencies and deploy, though it can be overkill for many projects...
  • Augeas is not Python specific and supports many configuration formats

Ulrich then went through some of Martin Fowler's principles for refactoring among other things, and also talked about Jenkins, not Python but known as the "Wordpress of Continuous Integration" because it has so many plugins. Sonar can be used for code quality.

We tried something different for the second part of the evening and watched a video of a Pyramid talk. I don't think it quite worked, even at 30 minutes it felt too long. Perhaps we should try again with a video more likely to appeal to a wider range of people, or simply shorter talks. Fair play to Diarmuid for standing up and taking the heat of answering questions afterwards ;)

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EuroPython 2012 Let's go

I'm very happy to be going to EuroPython again this year :) Once more the talks I'm most looking forward to are mainly related to scalability, perhaps with a dash of internationalisation/encoding on the side. The tutorial on Django testing with Selenium should be interesting too.

Say hi if you see me! :)

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Python meetup, June 2012: Message brokers & Python ActiveMQ

Last Wednesday was June's monthly Python Ireland meet-up, this time with a talk by Fernando Ciciliati about message brokers and Python.

After a general  introduction on the advantages and concepts behind messaging, the main part of the talk was about ActiveMQ, a message broker under the Apache umbrella. Fernando explained that this was a broker mostly used by Java people and required a bit of work on their part to get it to play nicely with Python. They had to make significant changes and improvements to the existing libraries.

ActiveMQ is written in Java and designed for high-performance as opposed to reliability, and the default configuration reflects this. If you want your messages to persist after reboot and never be dropped, you will have to tweak the default setup.

The community is very active... which also means lots of bugs! Fernando recommends reading the tracker, as there will certainly be a couple of bugs that are relevant to your situation.

Thanks to the provided binaries, ActiveMQ is easy to install. You get a nice web interface to manage and monitor your queues and messages.

By default, STOMP is not installed and ActiveMQ is only configured to talk to Java via OpenWire. Enabling STOMP support is simply a matter of adding one line to an XML configuration file, and is the easiest way to communicate with Python.

There are several Python libraries available:, stompy, Twisted also supports it... They selected

To test your ActiveMQ setup, you can simply telnet into the port and send messages, while using the web interface to see what's happening. The protocol is similar to SMTP.

The terminology used by ActiveMQ differs a bit from other message brokers, be careful when comparing them. (I wonder if this is due to using STOMP vs. using AMQP?). For instance, "topics" seem to be a way to broadcast in ActiveMQ, rather than a way to filter interesting messages.

As usual, the technical talks continued in the pub afterwards :)

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CESI 2012 "TEACHnology: Merging teaching and technology in schools"

Last Saturday I attended CESI 2012, a conference organised by the Computers in Education Society of Ireland. It's a conference aimed at teachers and this was the first time I attended. Even though as an IT professional I wasn't really the target audience, I really enjoyed the talks and left the day with my head full of ideas and really happy with the interesting conversations I had.

Random highlights and talk summaries from the day...

Opening talks

As part of the opening talks, Gerard McHugh told us that the lack of engaging content explains failing western schools. Even though many things in life have become more engaging over the decades, school hasn't: we need it to be more interactive, more collaborative and encourage participatory active learning.

For the keynote, Stephen Howell animately encouraged school teachers to do the PR for third-level courses :-) and help students find that spark to discover if they would enjoy a career in IT. The "3 Ds" should be taught in school: Design, Develop and Debug -- not all of them require computers or knowing how to code. Using software such as Scratch, students can be moved to a producer role as opposed to what they do with most wonderful modern devices such as the iPad or xBox, that are slanted toward consuming content. The goal is to get them to make their own games. The Scratch + Kinect demo was quite impressive :)

A brief history of the near future

John Hefferman looked at what technologies are currently being created, citing an interesting quote: "The future is already there, it's just not evenly distributed." If we look at what R&D departments are working on right now, there will be less of a surprise when it arrives into the classroom in 10 or 20 years. "The Horizon Report" relates technological innovations that are coming up. John ended the talk by telling us examples of how all this will affect history teaching and the classroom in general.

One of the questions was about how to bring some of the tools to the classroom, when there are school and curriculum constraints. The answer was that it's better to ask for forgiveness that permission, and start under the radar initially.

Game-based learning in Irish education

Patrick Felicia is doing research on the impact of games in education. His surveys indicate that most teachers agree games are a good learning tool, that improves plenty of skills (with a bit of hesitation regarding social skills, which is likely due to people having different types of game in mind). However despite agreeing on the benefits, only a tiny percentage have actually used any in their classroom. Most of the talk took the form of a conversation with the audience, aiming to figure out why this is and people's thoughts about it.

The main problems and constraints strongly relate to the curriculum and time constraints. There is not a lot of content tailored for the Irish market. Teachers suggested a portal of suitable games, and bringing workshops on how to use them to the schools to make sure people attend and learn about it.

Someone suggested, inspired by Stephen Howell's keynote, to have children develop the content :-) This way they get to use their creativity, meaningful content is created and they are taking responsibility for it. Teach to create!

The iGBL is an Irish conference on game-based learning.

The LiveScribe pen in action

Adrienne Webb explained to us what the LiveScribe pen is, how it can be used and how she uses it to provide additional resources to her students. The pen is a very interesting piece of technology that records what you're writing and your voice, which you can then upload or send as a video. There are cool additional little features, such as clicking an element of the video to listen to the playback of what was said when that particular element was drawn.

She used it to provide sample exam answers, so the students can focus on what they want and ask questions only on what they are having difficulty with. This worked better and more efficiently that trying to cover every question for everyone over 40 minutes. The students - in an exam year - really took to it.

Social networking with our students

Catherine Cronin related her very interesting experience on using social media such as Twitter and Google Plus to interact with students for a third-level module, touching on themes such as digital identity, privacy and authenticity.

Currently there is a tension between the current model of delivering education, standardised, static and stale versus a student-centred model. Meaningful learning occurs with knowledge construction, not knowledge reproduction.

There are 5 stages to go through:

  • Awareness (of what is going on)
  • Commitment (which requires time and learning)
  • Access (to the appropriate technology)
  • Authority (to change things, which is easier at the 3rd level since you can do what you want for the modules you teach)
  • Design

This is about challenging students while still honouring who they are and how they work.

The Google Plus experiment was leaky (in that G+ makes it easy to re-share stuff that was submitted privately to a circle), though this accidentally made the conversation more authentic by allowing the author of a book they were studying, Jeff Jarvis, to join in.

There is of course a dilemma between being graded and having an authentic discussion. From the student's point of view, there was a wide spectrum of opinions with regard to the usefulness of social networks, thoughts on privacy and comfort expressing opinions in public.

Student comments covered a wide range in terms of appreciation of the experiment. The general opinion seems to be that it was useful, but/and messy!

The talk Q&A reflected on the dangers of having students participate in that kind of public discussions, at a stage where they're likely still trying on different identities to find themselves. This is going to happen anyway, so it might as well be within the context of a class with someone to offer guidance.

Moodle in the classroom

Declan Donnelly gave a nice introduction to Moodle by explaining to us how his primary school uses it -- all of which is also applicable to the secondary level.

The presentation mainly focused on the possibilities offered by interactive exercises, notably by linking with SCORM compatible software like Hot Potatoes, which is better than the basic Moodle quizzes.

Thanks to Moodle it's easier to share resources and do grading and assessment. It acts as a digital link between home and school, both to do the work (including drafts) and show off accomplishments to the family.

This link also applies to staff, as the school they use Moodle to publish policies and meeting notes, in a section only accessible by the staff.

Enhanced Learning Futures

After a full day of listening to tremendously interesting talks coming straight from the classroom trenches, I felt the "capstone address" resonated a bit hollow -- it was an excellent presentation but it nearly felt too polished!

Still Steve Wheeler brought up plenty of good ideas and food for thought, regarding the direction society, technology and education are going toward. Tools shape our behaviour, the more we use them.

Some examples of societal shifts: Amazon now sells more Kindle books than paper books. 1.5 billion mobile phones have been sold. Girls are catching up in terms of gaming trends. The gamification of learning can lead to deeper learning because we want to repeat the experience.

Learners need to acquire "digital wisdom". Lovely new term: darwikinism! The survival of the fittest content.

Looking forward to next year's event :-)

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Electro-sewing workshop in Tog

Cheryl will be teaching the first electro-sewing workshop in Tog, on October 21st! Have a look at the Tog post to learn more, including how to sign up. This will likely be followed by more electro-fashion workshops in the future, keep an eye out for them. I'm really looking forward to it, combining technology with artistic fields is bound to result in wonderful projects.

Come along and sign up to the workshop, learn how to use conductive thread and create a small circuit to make your very own LED flower :)

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Do you work on something cool, in open-source or open culture or general tech? Would you like to teach a workshop about it, give people a taste of why it is cool and interesting? Please get in touch!

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PyCon Ireland 2011 Another successful event!

Congratulations to Python Ireland and the PyCon Ireland committee for the successful 2nd edition of the conference! If you weren't there, you should feel sad. I would be.

Lots of interesting talks and just like last year, a whole bunch of very friendly and knowledgeable attendees to talk to and share a meal with (or a drink, for lucky people who won several raffles... :o)) (hehe) (I did!)

I sadly missed the first keynote, which I look forward to catching up on on video. I was busy helping out at the registration desk, and discovered I really enjoyed welcoming attendees to the conference. A new hobby!

I don't know how productive in general Sunday was, sprint-wise and code-output wise. The open space format seemed to work well on the other hand! I attended the RSI talk and the buildout tutorial (must look more into Buildout) and spent the rest of the day PRing for Tog, distributing Berocca and talking shop. On Sunday afternoon, together with a fellow Tog member we stealthily stole away a dozen attendees to go and visit the hackerspace, conveniently located right behind the venue. Delegates were returned to the conference unharmed and inspired (I hope!).

And because one cannot ever have enough Python, the usual monthly meetup is on this Wednesday!

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PyCon Ireland 2011: BEGIN!

PyCon Ireland 2011 starts tomorrow! If you haven't got your ticket yet, that's tough because we sold out a few days ago! Congratulations, organisers, for what promises to be a fantastic event.

I also seem to have inherited a yellow staff tee-shirt so... Feel free to find me and say hi if you're lost (or not!). I'll hand wave and do my best to be helpful. :)

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LaTeX workshop in Tog

I'm back for more enabling! (Mwahaha) Seeing there was some interest in LaTeX, the very awesome Triona kindly offered to teach an evening workshop on the topic on September 21st, in Tog. Whether you're interested in starting out with LaTeX, or would like a refresher, join us! The registration information is available on Tog's blog.

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Hello you! Do you know about something cool, relating to open-source or open culture or technology? Would you like to teach a workshop about it? Please get in touch!

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