Eclipse WTP – Productive Student Developers

As a reflective practitioner, I have begun to ask a question: How can the Eclipse-WTP community (and the Eclipse ecosystem in general) make the process of fixing bugs more productive for student-developers? I was inspired by David Carver’s recent blog posting: Architecture Council: Bugzilla Best Practices. My interaction with the Summer Student Team at Seneca College has provided me with a concrete life context for reflection.

Since January 2009, as a teacher-researcher, I have interacted with Eclipse WTP student-developers at Seneca College. A question has gradually emerged in my mind: What types of contributions can the students (i.e. student-developers) make to an open-source community such as Eclipse-WTP? We can give an easy answer that is merely based on the number of bugs fixed. However, what if we take a wider perspective – the process of fixing the bugs? How can we have a productive process of investigating the (system) behaviour of a bug, locating the source code and modifying the source code? When I read the blogs of some students, the process of fixing bugs is not straightforward or mechanical in all occasions. In order to fix some bugs, they have encountered issues that are related to design and architecture. Here are the quotes I have taken from the blogs of two students:
1. Dropping Bug# 236976
“After my presentation last week, it seems that there are different opinions of what is the best way to fix this bug… it would take a lot more time to do survey than fixing the bug itself.”

2. Unable to go further with Bug 254831
“I’m still at the same par that I was for a few weeks now. Debug points are being hit, except at the exact location before the error. I am unable to determine where exactly the error coming from, and will be selecting a new bug to work on due to the complexity of this bug, following Jordan’s advice.”

“There is also a similar bug Bug 251637, which gives basically the same problem.”

As Russell Pangborn, a computer studies professor at Seneca College, said, “It is great to see students tackling real world projects. This always revs up the level of excitement for a subject.” As college professors, Jordan and I will agree with him 100%. Indeed, I have found that these senior semester students dare to spend lots of time and energy on fixing bugs. Paradoxically, they are also afraid of wasting their limited time and energy on things that lead them to deadends. These student-developers can be very productive in fixing bugs if both the students and the open-source community interact well. My advice to the students is that they should share their experiences promptly by blogging. They should post concise summaries of their investigation to Bugzilla too. My wish for the community is that the professional developers will comment on the blog postings of the student-developers and respond to their comments on Bugzilla. It will be wonderful if the professional developers can tag the bugs as “student-project” as it’s happening with the Mozilla community.

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5 Responses to “Eclipse WTP – Productive Student Developers”

  1. David Carver Says:

    One thing that would greatly help, is if the students could hook their blogs up the the Planet Eclipse blog feed. In many cases the developer’s don’t know the students are even blogging. The Planet Eclipse feed is the best way to get those blogs out to the entire Eclipse community.

    I’ve always been a proponent of developers treating bug fixes and community contributions before feature enhancements.

  2. Jordan Says:

    Thanks Peter,

    Had we known how to work with open-source concepts, it would have been easier for students and instructions. We all need to become reflective practitioners to understand better how to contribute to open-source communities.

    Jordan

  3. Peter Says:

    Hi, Dave and Jordan.

    Thank you very much for your suggestions and encouragement.

    Peter.

  4. Davoud Says:

    Hi Peter,

    Thanks for the useful post and as always great insight.

    In fact, the design and architecture, and lack of response (or perhaps care) to questions, obstacles or comments, are the 2 major problems in the way of “Productive Student Development”.

    I wonder when the suggestion for marking bugs as “student-project” and the need for student support is going to be heard by the Eclipse “Ecosystem”!

    As a student who has worked in the Eclipse-WTP community, I am sure that a lot more could be accomplished. But after all, Eclipse is Open Source; so could more be expected?

    Best,
    Davoud

  5. Peter Liu Says:

    Hi, Davoud.

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts. As an educator, I’m interested in observing to that extent that open source communities would include student-developers. At least it seems that the Mozilla community is heading toward that direction.

    Peter.

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