Free & Open Source Software (FOSS) is distributed without charge and with the underlying source code, so that anyone can fix defects, update documentation, add enhancements, or otherwise modify the software and share the changes with others. Thus FOSS is free as in free speech, not free beer. Although many people associate FOSS with software development and Internet infrastructure, there are FOSS projects for any area of interest, including audio editing (Audacity), image processing (GIMP), library subject guides (SubjectsPlus), mind mapping (FreeMind), music notation (MuseScore), and project management (OpenWorkbench). Furthermore, a wiki or content management system can be customized to support teaching and scholarship (or other activities) across a wide variety of disciplines.
The communities that develop and support FOSS can be represented as layered onions or pyramids (Jensen & Scacchi, 2007). Typically, the largest, outermost group is people who use or monitor the project, but do not contribute to it. Within this group are progressively more active but smaller groups, such as users who share ideas and defect reports, developers who work on specific sub-projects or supporting modules, leaders of sub-projects, and finally the overall project leaders and core developers. Thus, FOSS communities are communities of practice that leverage legitimate peripheral participation. Although many FOSS participants have technical backgrounds and skills, most FOSS projects also involve non-programming work – graphic design, testing, documentation – and the projects benefit from participation by a more diverse community of people.
Participating in FOSS helps students gain experience with professional reading and writing, diverse and distributed teams, and managing and prioritizing work in extended projects. FOSS can also help students shift from being reactive (complete assigned work) to more proactive (decide what is most important and take ownership). Thus, faculty at many institutions are working to involve students in FOSS (e.g. SoftHum; Teaching Open Source). At one recent NSF-sponsored workshop, a group of faculty, students, and other FOSS participants drafted a list of ~100 activities that could contribute to FOSS projects and provide useful experiences for students and faculty (50 Ways to be a FOSSer).
I envision this session as seeking to:
- Review and expand the list of FOSS activities.
- Identify activities of particular relevance and value to teachers, students, and other humanists.
- Develop descriptions, instructions, and supporting materials to make it easier to adapt and adopt these activities in a variety of courses and contexts.
- Jensen, C., and Scacchi, W. 2007. Role migration and advancement processes in OSSD projects: A comparative case study. In Proc of the 29th Int’l Conf on Software Engineering, 364-374. IEEE Computer Society.
- 50 Ways to be a FOSSer (activity list).
- SoftHum: Software for Humanity.
- Teaching Open Source.