Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Wondering how to teach students about teamwork? Try "Software for a Cause!"

It all started after a call between IBM Rational Marketing and IBM Researchers Li-Te Cheng and John Patterson of the Center for Social Software. The topic of the call? How to get people to notice and try out IBM® Rational® Jazz®.

What is Rational Jazz? A new software development technology platform co-conceived by Rational and Research. The platform is designed for distributed teams, which is the way most of the world works. The idea behind Jazz is to transform how people work together on a project by integrating and synchronizing the people, processes, and assets associated with that project.

Back to the call...Li-Te and John's call got them thinking about how to engage students using Jazz itself. So afterwards they continued discussing what might encourage people to write code in teams. They believed Jazz might be a great tool to teach Computer Science students the fundamentals of distributed software teamwork.

Getting students from different universities to co-develop something in a class, using Jazz in a distributed manner, would be an ideal setting. They believed they could harness the prevalent open-source hacker ethos and get a group of students to do it for a cause. And, because social software has enabled people to become more active and connected than in the past, it's easier to get involved in social good. Li-Te decided that this type of project was perfect for a summer internship at the Center in Cambridge, MA. The next steps were finding a "cause" to work with, students to work on it, and - most critically - the right summer intern to design the project.

Li-Te convinced colleagues at McGill University in Montreal and the University of British Columbia in Vancouver to run their second year computer science courses together. He made arrangements using IBM's Open Collaborative Research Program, which enables IBM Researchers to work together with university faculty on joint projects. His colleagues were enthusiastic, but had two concerns: they did not want to host and manage a Jazz server, and they wanted to work with a Canadian cause.

Rational helped put Li-Te in contact with Marist College in Poughkeepsie, NY. Marist was setting up server hosting of various IBM products for academic users as part of its Enterprise Computing Community initiative. They offered to host a Jazz server, and Software for a Cause became one of their first customers.

IBM Corporate Citizenship helped Li-Te make contact with the Canadian Cystic Fibrosis Foundation and he approached them about doing the project. This foundation serves a community of about 3000 people who, because of their compromised physical condition, need to avoid face-to-face contact. Tools such as Facebook and Skype have made a huge difference in their lives. The Foundation agreed to work with IBM, as the "customer" for Software for a Cause.

So, with help from various IBM resources, Li-Te had participants and a proposal. Now he needed to find a summer intern to create the tools for the course. He had to get just the right person to design the tools, develop and assist with teaching the course, and work with us as it all unfolded. In our next post on this topic, we'll meet that person. Tristan Ratchford, a graduate student at McGill, is spending his summer designing this project for the Computer Science class he'll be teaching this Fall semester.

Stay tuned.

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