FOSS Background (Module)

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FOSS Background


This module introduces students to the philosophy and processes of Free and Open Source Software (FOSS). It is meant to align with CS Principles Learning Objectives 7.3.1 and 7.4.1.



Learning Objectives After successfully completing this activity, the learner should be able to:
  • Define what "free" means in terms of FOSS
  • Compare different software licenses and decide which to choose in a given situation
  • Explain how open source software is developed, maintained, and deployed (and how this differs from traditional software distribution)
  • Compare and contrast the benefits/drawbacks of different software licenses and distribution methods
Process Skills Practiced


Background reading for teachers
It might be helpful for teachers to complete the POSSE Intro to FOSS (Activity).
In particular, the readings in section 2 will give teachers some important background in the history and vocabulary of the FOSS community that can be used to help frame course discussions.
What is the expected knowledge level of the student?
This activity is appropriate for beginning level students
What is the rationale for this module?
This module is designed to meet the CS Principles essential knowledge tasks related to open source software using materials created by the FOSS community


A suggested sequence of activities is provided below with optional extensions. The timeline given assumes two days of class work, but the activities could be condensed into one class period if necessary.

Topic Activity Deliverable Length Notes
Pre-class work: Day 1 Reading from Origins of Free Libre Software Reading notes/answers to reflection questions ~30 minutes of at-home reading It is important that the students do the reading before coming to class. How they are held accountable can vary based on classroom norms. Students can bring reading notes, submit answers to reflection questions, write minute-papers, etc
In-class activity: Day 1 Discussion questions from Origins of Free Libre Software Answers (written or course discussion) 0.5 - 1 class period This activity contains a number of "quiz" questions. These can be presented as a traditional quiz, or can be used as in-class discussion questions. (Or a combination). One strategy might be to provide the questions as a reading guide, then give the students 5-10 minutes at the beginning of class to share answers in small groups and then have a larger class discussion following up on the questions and other areas of student interest.
Pre-class work: Day 2 * Video at: None ~20-30 minutes of at-home reading/watching video The readings/videos here are suggestions, there are other good sources/videos out there that could easily be substituted. You will want to selectively choose a few readings from each activity to avoid overloading the students.
In-class activity: Day 2 Questions from Choosing A License and Understanding Creative Commons Answers to the questions. (either written, or in-class discussion) 0.5-1 class periods

Potential Extensions

There are a number of possible additions and extensions to the materials here. Please use the Discussion tab on this page to share your experiences using the materials, to ask questions, or to offer additional activities. Here are a few examples:

  • Have students find and read a license for a piece of software they currently use regularly (e.g. Microsoft Word, iTunes, or Gmail). Then have them find a FOSS license for a similar product. Have the students read both licenses and compare the contents. Ask them to compare and contrast the benefits/drawbacks of both licenses from a user perspective and also from a corporate/programmer perspective.
  • Discuss different models for funding software development: donation, volunteer, purchase, subscription, in-app purchases, etc. Ask students which kinds of software they have purchased/used
  • Host an Open Vs Proprietary Mock Debate.
  • Have students find and install two pieces of software (one open source and one traditionally distributed). Ask them to compare the processes (finding the software, installing it, setting up the license, etc). If time allows you could have students complete Test Installation Instructions and contribute their observations back to a project. This can be a meaningful way for students with no/little programming background to contribute to a project.
  • Have students use a FOSS program similar to one they currently use (e.g. Open Office/Word, Photoshop/GIMP). Have the students compare the two software packages and discuss the pros and cons of choosing an open source alternative.


What should the instructor know before using this module?
It is important to note that teachers do not need to have any background in open source software in order to successfully lead these activities
It is very useful to test all the activities (installs, etc) that students are being asked to do
What are some likely difficulties that an instructor may encounter using this module?
Projects and links can change with little warning in FOSS. Teachers should be sure to check all the resources for availability every time the module is used
ACM Body of Knowledge
Area & Unit(s)
ACM Topic(s)
Level of Difficulty


Estimated Completion Time

1-3 class periods depending on whether extensions are used.

Environment / Materials

Internet access. For some activities students will need administrator privileges on their machines (the ability to install software).


Kate Lockwood


This module includes lessons created by a number of POSSE/TOS members - all linked lessons contain attribution.


This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License

CC license.png

Suggestions for Open Source Community:

Suggestions for an open source community member who is working in conjunction with the instructor.

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Learning Resources
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