Humanitarian Free and Open Source Software - The Benefits of "Doing Good" - DLS Talk by Heidi Ellis, Western New England University


Hugh Dempster Building (6245 Agronomy Rd), Room 110

Speaker:  Heidi J. C. Ellis,  Professor, Western New England University

Title: Humanitarian Free and Open Source Software - The Benefits of "Doing Good"

Hosts:  Meghan Allen & Steve Wolfman, UBC Computer Science


Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) is becoming widely accepted in industry with 85% of companies using FOSS and 65% of companies contributing to open source software. Humanitarian FOSS (HFOSS) is FOSS that somehow benefits the human condition. Examples include disaster management systems, open medical record systems accessibility applications and more. HFOSS provides rich opportunities for creativity and learning via a variety of different contributions that range from code to bug verification to testing to logo design. HFOSS is approachable to students and students have made contributions such as creating a volunteer management module for Sahana (disaster management), adding a keyboard to the Caribou on-screen keyboard, and adding color filters to software for users with visual disabilities.

Which HFOSS projects are appropriate for student participation? What sort of contributions can students make? How do you get involved in an HFOSS project? What can you expect when participating in an HFOSS project? How do you fit HFOSS participation into the classroom? This talk will address the answers to these questions from the dual perspectives of student and instructor. The talk will also outline the challenges to participation along with possible ways to address the challenges. The talk will be illustrated with real-life examples of student experiences in HFOSS.

The talk will also present data from a multi-year, multi-institutional, NSF-funded study on student opinion of learning via participation in an HFOSS project.


Heidi Ellis is a Professor at Western New England University and maintainer of the GNOME MouseTrap project. Heidi's research interests include software engineering education and learning in open source software projects. She is one of the founding members of the Humanitarian Free and Open Source Software project which focuses on involving students in FOSS projects that improve the human condition.  She has been involving students in HFOSS projects since 2006 and she is PI on several NSF projects related to student learning in HFOSS.  Heidi has been active in software engineering and computing education for over 20 years and has multiple publications and presentations related to student participation in HFOSS.

This talk is proudly sponsored by the Carl Wieman Science Education Initiative.

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