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Free and Open-Source Software Course πŸ•Š

This repository provides a university course template to teach about Free and Open-Source Software (FOSS). The course is broadly structured as follows:

  1. Initial phase: kick-off event for interested students. Advertise the course at your faculty and ask students to submit a letter of motivation.
  2. Select students and plan the semester. Send selected students an e-mail to select a project. Get in touch with guest speakers.
  3. Start of the semester, theory part (3-4 weeks): students will learn and discuss theoretical aspects of FOSS .
  4. Preliminary report: students submit a preliminary report about their community of choice and hold a brief presentation.
  5. Practical part (~12 weeks): students will contribute to their project of choice. They meet bi-weekly with their supervisors to report on their progress and problems.
  6. Final report: students submit their final report, reflecting on their experiences and hold a brief presentation.

We highly recommend to invite guest speakers from industry and academia to supplement the course content. You should evenly schedule them throughout the practical part of the course. This way, there's a regular place for students to meet and discuss their experiences.

Why Teach FOSS πŸ€”

Here is a great post answering that question. Besides what is said there, computer scientists have an incredibly strong impact on the development of our society by controlling the technology empowering it. We believe that it is our duty to shed light on the different means of engaging with artefacts created by computer scientists and their sociological as well as moral ramifications.

How to Use This❓

The template files are provided as markdown files. You can transpile them to, for example, HTML using pandoc.

Note: At TU Munich, we used Hakyll to automate this process, including a custom navbar-template: templates/navbar.html property to render the shared navigation bar. Simply change/remove this property and use whatever fits your purpose.

You will then have to:

  1. Clone the repository
  2. Fill in the TODOs in each file according to your plan
  3. Run the course and contribute back to this repository :)

Tips for Guest Speakers πŸ—£

The course covers most aspects to practically work with FOSS projects. It also covers some theoretical, legal, and moral aspects, but to a way smaller extent. We hence highly recommend you to invite guest speakers that are able to talk about some of these aspects. Here are some possible questions you can try to address by means of a guest speaker:

  1. (Philosophy, Politics, Social Sciences) Are we ought to work on FOSS projects? What are the moral, historical, and sociological implications of a world run by FOSS or proprietary software? Can we employ principles of FOSS outside the world of software development in politics and social sciences?
    • Invite scientists, philosophers, and politicans to talk about their experiences and judgements
  2. (Economics) How to build a profitable business around FOSS projects? Are there alternatives to exponential-growth capitalism founded on proprietary software?
    • Invite successful entrepreneurs whose business is radically based on FOSS projects.
  3. (Practical Experience) How to motivate an open-source community? How to find new maintainers and make them flourish?
    • Invite maintainers of large FOSS projects to talk about their motivation strategy and insights.

Ideas to find guest speakers:

  1. GNU and Free Software Speakers
  2. Contact maintainers of well-known FOSS projects
  3. Personal contact: do you know anyone in your area working on FOSS software? Local speakers create a tangible atmosphere!
  4. Check the speakers list of FOSS conferences.
  5. Contact authors of books dealing with FOSS.

Tips for Communication πŸ”€

We learnt that students love to share and discuss their knowledge and ideas during the semester. We hence highly recommend you to make use of some sort of communication platform for your course, e.g. Zulip or Mattermost.

Known Iterations πŸ‘©β€πŸ«πŸ‘¨β€πŸ«

Below you can find some known iterations of this course to get inspired. Gonna run this course as well? Make a pull-request to add your course to the list! :)

10.2020 to 03.2021 at TU Munich

The course hosted 7 students. You can check out the students' reports on the course website. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, it was held online. Here are some of our insights:

  1. It was easy to invite guest speakers from all over the world (no travel time, no travel expenses), and we highly recommend doing so: our students liked the diversity of our speakers. For future editions of this course, it might be favourable to use a mixture of online and offline meetings. The talks and follow-up discussions were not recorded but one can imagine to do this for future iterations.
  2. The course size of 7 students was well-suited for generating a stimulating learning experience and fruitful discussion. A slightly larger cohort would have worked too. As the course is heavily based on discussions, a great increase in students should, however, lead to multiple, parallel sessions to guarantee a good learning experience.
  3. We used multiple short breakout room sessions to let students talk about their experiences and challenges they are facing as part of the project. This tightened the bonds between all participants and increased knowledge-sharing.
  4. We asked students to have their webcams switched on at all times (also during guest speaker presentations). This not only made for a more social atmosphere but also made guest speakers blend into the group: they were not in the spotlight but just one of many (virtual) faces. Due to that, the atmosphere during presentation seemed very relaxed. It is difficult to establish such an egalitarian atmosphere in a traditional course room where guest speakers are holding their presentation in front of the audience.
  5. Virtual meetings sped up the preliminary and final presentations as no time was lost in setting up different laptops during the session.

What Our Students Say πŸ‘©β€πŸŽ“πŸ‘¨β€πŸŽ“

Highly relevant to any computer scientist!
Covering theoretical, practical, and moral aspects of software development.
The course offers many paths to success and individuality for everyone.
Students feel valued and actually learn how to work with real world projects.
Extremely well-organised course. My friends got envious when I told them about it.

Contributing πŸ‘₯

If you run this course, you surely have ideas to further improve it. Please let your ideas flow back into this repository so that everyone in this world can benefit it!

Acknowledgements πŸ™Œ

This course was developed by

  1. Kevin Kappelmann,
  2. Lukas Stevens, and
  3. Maximilian Haslbeck

at the Chair for Logic and Verification at the Technical University of Munich. Special thanks to Simon Wimmer that supported the initiation of this project.

The course structure was inspired by the FOSS development course at the Australian National University.


A university course template to teach about Free and Open-Source Software (FOSS)







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