Category Archives: Users

Dev8D: real achievements, fast

An iPhone app for conference schedules with augmented reality, a Firefox extension for browsing historic web pages, a widget to allow real time collaboration between VLE users, a mash-up of geo-located museum collection images: for a glimpse of how much a community of enthusiastic developers can achieve in just a few days, take a look at the list of projects produced in response to the challenges held at Dev8D. All these apps, widgets or websites were created by Dev8D developers in only three days. They are all tangible achievements: tools that can be used right now, or, in a more polished version, in the near future.

The majority of these new tools would not have existed without Dev8D, either because of a lack of time in developers’ pressurised day-to-day workflows or a knowledge or skills gap. Dev8D and the other developers at the event provided this space and filled those gaps. Some of the projects may remain as interesting proofs of concept and will be built on by others or used to spark off further ideas; many others will be developed into fully fledged applications for use in the higher and further education sector.

Take, for example, List8D, the winner of last year’s contest. This user-friendly reading list management system makes it easy for academic staff to create reading lists, for libraries to manage stock and make sure texts are available when needed, and for students to access the reading lists on a variety of devices. Following Dev8D, the project was picked up enthusiastically by the developer team’s university, Kent, was awarded extra grant money and is now in beta mode at Kent, with a full rollout planned for later this year.

“As a result of Dev8D we’re developing a system that’s hopefully going to massively improve the management of our reading lists. And without Dev8D that probably wouldn’t have happened,” says Ben Charlton, the project’s lead developer.

Splash URL is another success story of last year’s event. It’s a tool to create a short version of URL and display it in large type, so people can easily copy it from a projector to their laptop during lectures. Designed to solve the problem of getting an audience to quickly type in  long URLs during a live demo, it has proved itself in practice over the year to the extent that developers Chris Gutteridge and Tony Hirst have enhanced it with extra features.

Dev8D 2010 produced a host of new ideas. “A few developers, including myself, produced a set of web widgets to integrate with VLEs … People found new uses for existing public APIs. The Arduino workshops produced a storm of ideas for new electronic devices,” explains Mark Johnson, a young developer at the event.

Other projects on display included a low cost electronic whiteboard; an open source eco game; and RepRap, a self-replicating 3D printer with potentially huge implications for small-scale manufacturing in developing countries.

“When I heard about RepRap for the first time it was partly responsible for renewing my faith in the potential of technology to help us get us out of the mess we’re in, rather than just making it worse. I was pleased to see it in the flesh, and meet one of those responsible, ask some lingering questions, and get some reassurance that fine minds are at work on the home plastic recycling plant that it really needs to be sustainable,” says Ben Wheeler.

What Dev8D demonstrates beyond doubt is the cost-effectiveness of gathering a large group of developers together in one place to share and collaborate in an informal setting.

Mark Johnson again: “We learned programming languages, we built applications, we designed algorithms, we gave talks… While I was at Dev8D I achieved more in a day than I sometimes achieve in a week in my office (where I’m the only full time developer).”

The cross-institutional collaboration work on projects devised at Dev8D continues long after the event itself is over and, of course, the impact of the achievements of Dev8D extends far beyond the participants and their institutions. On a small scale this can be seen in the interest in the event while it was taking place – analysis made possible by a tool that developer Dave Challis created while at the event showed that while dev8D was attended by 150 or so people per day, it was mentioned by around 500 different people on Twitter.

The impact of the many innovative, time- and money-saving projects initiated and inspired by Dev8D participants will be far wider still.

I have an idea! Part 5

Julian ChealJulian Cheal
UKOLN at the University of Bath

My idea is called JISC Conferenceator. I came up with it yesterday as this week everyone has been aggregating all these different feeds together and having a conference backchannel using Twitter and creating friend graphs so, inspired by that, the JISC Conferenceator is a toolkit which would bring all this together on one site. You would create your conference on this site and bring together all the facilities like built-in support for surveys, an email address and do automatic RSVping and connect to open social networking sites and Flickr so users can connect to that, and all the data would be brought back into the JC site. It will also make it easy to capture delegate feedback – much better than having a long form. All the data will be in one place so after the event you can zip it up into one file to keep.

Five minute interview: Savas Parastatidis

Savas ParastatidisWho are you?

Savas Parastatidis. Until two months ago I worked for Microsoft research in the external research group and now I’m with Microsoft Live Search as an architect.

What are your areas of interest?

Distributed high performance computing. Web services, cloud computing, e-science, scholarly communications, repositories and my primary interest these days is semantic computing. I also travel a lot, and like skiing, music, festivals, and salsa dancing.

What idea are you working on here?

Coming from Microsoft, we usually don’t participate in this kind of competition. So I’m here to give a tutorial on the repository system that Microsoft has built, codename Famulus, which will be released soon as open source.

What’s the major challenge in education software right now?

Ease of use, stability and interoperability. I believe that, especially in institutional repository spaces, as the use of repositories expands and becomes more pervasive, users would like to see better interoperability with client tools and other repository systems. Those who are responsible for deploying repository systems would probably like to see better support for enterprise grade infrastructure which is the reason why Microsoft research has been investigating open source repository systems.

What are the most exciting developments in education software?

I don’t follow that space that closely. But, within semantic computing, doing it on a large scale like Google and Microsoft can and mine the entire web and give you instant answers to key words that you search, the next step is for the same engines, the same companies, to answer your questions in an intelligent way, for information to be pushed to users rather than them having to search for it. We need to build the infrastructure to do that.

What have you learnt so far / interesting things have you heard?

This is my first day, I’ve just arrived! But I’ve been to other events that David has organised and I love them. I love the informal nature of them and that you find people with a specific interest – developers – people who love what they do, you have to love that.

I have an idea! Part 3

Marcus RamsdenMarcus Ramsden, University of Southampton

I’m working on a small script plug-in for e-prints. The ultimate goal is for it to be a firefox extension so that whenever an e-print link is displayed on screen, it will display information about that e-print before you click on it. It will be basic meta info – title, authors, date it was added, basic statistical views. In future it could be extended and show things like how many people favourite that e-print etc. It would have been much trickier to do this without the JSON addition created here at dev8D by Chris.

Graham Klyne
Graham Klyne
I did have a possible idea for the Developer Decathlon which would involve some paper prototyping of an interface for capturing research data from small research groups. However, in the process of following that idea I had a discussion with another participant and he showed me a public service which does a lot of what I had in mind so it seems that we could use that service as a live prototype to discuss with researchers. So I regard that as a very positive outcome.

Stephen Vickers, University of Edinburgh
Michael Aherne, Strathclyde University

It’s a tool for using within VLEs that allows people to create things by plotting points on Google Maps and associating things with the points – it links spatial data with content. The original idea came out of a project on walking tours but the data wasn’t so easy to access and plot then. Now both staff and students can do it so we plan to use it for assignments, too. We’re looking at a history department and the impact of the urban landscape over time, putting things in the context of what happened over history. We can overlay historic maps onto the map and see how it has changed. It will help people to understand why things have changed. It doesn’t have to be a map, it could also be an image like a forensic site or archeological dig or a circuit board.

Vickers and Aherne

Five minute interview: Paul Walk

Paul WalkWho are you?

Paul Walk, technical manager at UKOLN and I supply technical advice to JISC as a critical friend.

What are your areas of interest?

At this event my interest is in finding ways to increase the capacity of the higher education sector to develop software on the principle that the people working in HE know what users need and if they use the right methodologies they can develop software that is fit for use.

I have professional interests in e-infrastructure to support teaching learning and research. And I've just made a sledge for my children.

What idea are you working on here?

I'm not, I'm a judge – and the Talkshow host last night!

So, what are you looking for as a Developer Decathlon judge?

I'm not looking so much for individuals' bright ideas and prototypes although I hope we get plenty of these. Rather, I'm looking to demonstrate that developers, especially when working directly with users, have much to offer the community. It's about giving developers a voice – some developers have had to take a day's leave to come here because there can be a lack of appreciation from managers of the value of allowing their developers to get together with other developers to share ideas.

I'm looking for evidence that that the developers are addressing a demonstrable need.

What's the major challenge in education software right now?

How do we satisfy the very real need for local management of users and resources within an institution while recognising the opportunities that the abundance of quality services available on the web at large offers to teaching, learning and research?

What are the most exciting developments in education software?

The opportunities which the web now offers the individual learner to assemble their own personal learning tools.

What have you learnt so far / interesting things have you heard?

The Agile development session was good and I was especially interested in the notion that Agile does not mean rapid. When I was learning my trade as a software developer the paradigm de jour was Rapid Application Development (RAD) which had an emphasis on speed using techniques such as “rapid prototyping”. In contrast, Agile development seems to emphasise a more risk-averse approach to development such that it guarantees that something will be delivered at the end of the development process. I've never quite seen it in this way before.

I have an idea!

Dev8D’s Developer Decathlon is all about developers talking to each other, talking to users and coming up with great software ideas that they can rapidly prototype. We’ve been been roaming the classrooms and bars here at Happiness Days and finding out what kinds of ideas are floating in the air.

Ross McFarlane, University of Liverpool

Ross McFarlaneI was thinking that in a bricks and mortar library, when you’re looking at content in a particular section you have the opportunity to chat to people who are browsing similar materials as related materials are located together. So my idea is to try to find a way to connect related materials by what people look at online and take out of the library and use that to connect users so that as someone is looking at an item online they can speak to people who have got similar interests as they are looking at similar materials. It’s about creating short term social networks based on the content they are looking at.

Peter Sefton, University of Southern Queensland

My idea comes from a lecturer who wants to be able to assemble powerpoints from resources he has fouPeter Seftonnd around the place – rich powerpoints including video and so forth. My idea is to have an add-on for your browser where if you’re looking at a resource you want to include on your course you can click a button and it will remember what you’re looking at and it will store those as tags in Delicious. Then, if you want to make a presentation for your course it will look at the things you’ve bookmarked and build them into a content package that you can extend, annotate, explain, reorder and publish to the virtual learning environment or the web.