Twelve computer science students played an integral role during two semesters that helped complete a Processing.js 1.0 project started by Mozilla. Why a hybrid curriculum model works and what this means for students like Anna Sobiepanek

Seneca students work with Mozilla to build a 3D Web

A group of students at Seneca College spent two semesters working with Mozilla Corp. on a real-world project to build three-dimensional capabilities into the Processing programming language for Web developers.

Having such a technology project embedded into the curriculum was very motivating to students, for whom the benefits were clear and real, said Dave Humphrey, school of computer studies professor at Seneca.
 

“When done, they’ve got a real amazing piece for their resume and they can say, ‘I built this technology that’s now shipping and people are using all over the world,’” said Humphrey, who teaches Firefox Web development and other browser work at the Toronto-based college.

The project, Processing.js 1.0, was originally started by Mozilla Corp. employee John Resig, then handed over to Seneca students to help work on the 3D capabilities. Processing.js 1.0 is the sister project of the Processing visual language for Web developers.

The project was perfect given Seneca’s prior experience in 3D in the browser. Moreover, Processing.js 1.0 built upon a six-year relationship with Mozilla that included live research projects and modifications to Firefox.

“It’s been interesting for us as a hybrid model where we can feed research and start projects in a curriculum setting but then grow it out,” said Humphrey.

Anna Sobiepanek formed part of the Processing.js 12-student team during her final year of a bachelor of software development degree at the college. The two-semester project, which spanned from September 2009 to April 2010, proved very beneficial to the 27-year-old, who was able to showcase her school work beyond the classroom.

“Before people would ask, ‘Can I see some of your work?’ and I would say, ‘I can’t because the semester finished and the server’s gone,’” said Sobieanek.

Moreover, the experience with a real organization such as Mozilla looks great on the resume, she added.

But it went beyond just developing for Sobiepanek. Half-way through the project, she assumed release manager duties on top of coding, which worked nicely, considering one career goal of hers is project management.

“So it’s nice I get to manage those projects for Seneca and Mozilla,” said Sobiepanek.

Although many of these hybrid projects have been successful, the hybrid model hasn’t been without challenges. Humphrey said some projects have proved too easy or not difficult enough for students, but the established relationship with Mozilla has always made fixing that on the fly rather easy.

Regardless, the acquired skills are valuable and transferrable. After the completion of the Processing.js project, which carried on without a hitch, several students were hired full-time by Seneca to apply their Processing programming skills to Popcorn.js, another Mozilla project to allow filmmakers to link Web, data and video without coding skills.

Sobiepanek, who was among those hired full time, regards this continued opportunity as paid programmer as a satisfying conclusion. “It’s great because I got hired just before I graduated so it came hand in hand rather nicely,” said Sobiepanek.

Follow Kathleen Lau on Twitter: @KathleenLau

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