~ Archive for Journal ~

H2O Release

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I’ve been bad about keeping this journal up to date lately because I’ve been neck deep in running through acceptance tests for the latest H2O release for the past few days. As important as testing is, it’s boring as all hell. We have a lot of unit tests for individual parts of the backend, but something has to test the overall processes from the user point of view. I’ve tried to script these sorts of tests in the past, but I’ve always ended up spending way more time writing those test and then keeping them up to date than it would take just to run them manually. So for H2O we decided just to write up the acceptance tests and run through them manually before each release. It’s been a good trade off, I think, since it only takes a few days every few months when we make a release. And it also gives all the developers a good opportunity to take a comprehensive tour of all the features each release. It’s still boring as hell, though.

After all the hard work, though, we’ve finally deployed the latest release. As always, kudos to Juliet Armstrong for doing the vast majority of the development work. Mostly we’ve just fixed a lot of small bugs, but we’ve added some features as well. Most importantly, the new project based routing feature allows the system to route posts within cross project rotisseries such that participants will always get a response from a user in a different project when possible. So with the Rotisserie Ring discussions, for example, we can now make a best effort to get students talking to students from classes other than their own (instead of just throwing all the students into a big pot and hoping they get mixed up well). We’ve also got about 75% of the work done for a SOAP API to the system, but we decided to go ahead and make this release now without the SOAP stuff functional so that we could get the project based routing stuff in before the Rotisserie Ring discussions start.

WebGUI ILAW site and H2O news

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We use WebGUI as our content management system here at the Berkman Center. It has been a great success so far, enabling us to easily build and manage not only our new main site, but increasingly lots of other project sites as well.

Recently, we reimplemented the ILAW site in webgui, which has made the site lots easier to manage (offloading almost all of the content work off of the tech folks and onto the content folks and making the user registration system a lot cleaner, for example). One of the great things about using a free software system like webgui is that if it doesn’t do exactly what I want, I can just fix it. For example, the ilaw coordinator spends a lot of time mucking around with the data about the registrants, and webgui doesn’t provide any way to manipulate (sort, filter, total, etc) the registrant data. So I wrote a quick registrant export function that shoots the registrant data to a spreadsheet. Problem solved, user and programmer happy. And today, I worked on some bits of that export functionality — I added the ability to specify a different order for the data fields in the export than on the registration screen and I fixed the date creation field to appear in a nice human readable format instead of the epoch format it was in. Code is good.

I also had some great news for H2O today. We got an agreement from another professor to serve as a core faculty member of our 2004 Internet and Society cluster of courses on H2O. I’m waiting until we have agreement from a couple more folks to describe the project in more detail (email me though if you want details) so that we can make a big splash when we announce publicly. But this project has the potential to demonstrate how we can use thoughtful, innovative technology like H2O to really change how people teach and learn rather than just to provide conveniences like online lecture notes and assignment submission boxes.

KEEP

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I spent most of the day fiddling around with WebGUI. I fixed a couple of display bugs that Mary noticed on her sites. I replaced some missing javascript files that were causing IE to throw a javascript error on some pages. I put together a sample sign up page for the Digital Media Project using the handy DataForm object. And I poked at some larger problems without much success.

I had a great phone conversation with Toru Iiyoshi about the great work they are doing with the KEEP project. KEEP is a set of tools that help teachers to reflect on their classroom experiences and to share those experiences through illustrative snapshots of their courses.

I also wrestled a bit with getting our wireless network in Baker House back up to snuff. The wireless access point has been periodically producing horrible latency (ping times of up to 1 second) for months now, but the networking folks are having trouble pin pointing and fixing whatever the problem is. They seem more focused on fixing the problem now, so hopefully they’ll get it cleaned up soon.

Lastly, we are in the early stages of gathering together a wide range of folks from different disciplines and countries to use H2O to exahcnge curricula and discussions next academic year. I did more work today on recruiting some core faculty to commit to participating in the project with us. Once we identify the core faculty, we can start publicizing the project more widely.

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