Friday, November 6, 2009

Remote learning, graduate projects, and open source

Last week, an ex-colleague asked me if I could be a reviewer on a graduation project at National University where he is now a professor. Flattered, and finding myself with a little bit more time on my hands than usual, I accepted.

The goal of the project was to let a team of seven students build a real-life application as a learning experience about how software development is done in the industry, for a "real" customer. The task was to develop a tracking application for the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Sequoias.

There were several interesting aspects of this project: first of all, the end result was a working application that in quality and functionality exceeds a good portion of similar applications built by IT departments. Key to this was the use of off-the-shelf frameworks such as Spring MVC, Hibernate, BIRT, and jQuery. I'm glad that students are using frameworks like these rather than reinventing their own, although that might have been even more fun.

Another interesting aspect was that the project was done as an open source project on code.google.com. The practical advantages are the infrastructure is provided completely ready by the code forge (in this case code.google.com), so that little time needs to be spent on setting up an infrastructure. This is especially important for students that are remote and hence don't have a shared work environment (e.g. office). Of course there's a lot more work to be done to make it a successful open source project, but that's not important in the scope of the project. I'm glad universities expose students to an open source way of development.

Lastly, the presentation of the project was done using a tool called ClassLive Pro. This is a JNLP application that provides similar functionality to WebEx. Although I've developed a few JNLP applications myself, and I'm convinced of its great utility, I haven't encountered any other JNLP applications so I was glad I ran into this application.

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