Open Source Software Development, NYU, Klukowska

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Course Open Source Software Development (OSSD)
Institution Courant Institute of Mathematical Sciences, New York University
Instructor(s) Joanna Klukowska
Term Spring 2018, course website, 38 students
Course Overview This course prepares students to become active participants in open source projects. It begins with an overview of the philosophy and brief history of open source development, followed by an in-depth look at different types of open source projects and the study of various tools involved in open source development. In particular, it covers the collaborative nature of open source projects, community structure, version control systems, licensing, intellectual property, types of contributions (programming and non-programming) and the tool-chains that enable such contributions. The students are expected to contribute to existing open source projects.
Course Length 15-week semester
Student Characteristics This course is upper-level undergraduate elective.
The first time this class was offered, there were 38 students.
Prerequisites Familiarity with a programming language for the chosen FOSS project. Basic familiarity with command line tools and a version control system.
Formally: Computer Systems Organization course (required prerequisite for all electives).
Infrastructure The class meets twice a week for 75 minutes each time. In general, one of the class meetings will consist of discussions of the reading assignments and/or guest speakers, and the other class meeting that week will be for learning activities, project status updates, and presentations, or time to work on the project.

Use of specific software and technologies depends on the chosen FOSS projects.

The instructor should have a GitHub organization to which all students are added at the start of the semester. The students should have rights to create repositories within this organization.

Students should be able to bring their computers to the class meetings.

Learning Objectives

Students will gain experience in:

  1. understanding the origins and implications of open source development;
  2. interacting with a community of developers and users;
  3. managing code using a version control system;
  4. reading/modifying/testing within a substantial existing code base;
  5. recognizing the ethical, legal and social implications of computing.

Assessment Methods

Students are graded based on

  • participation (10%),
  • contributions to open source projects (40%),
  • quizzes and two exams (50%).

The types of graded activities are

  • Weekly blog posts. Students are required to make weekly blog posts containing answers to posed questions and reflections about readings and invited speakers. Counts towards participation.
  • Participation in class discussions. Students are expected to actively participate in class discussions about assigned readings, course activities, invited speakers' lectures, etc. Counts towards participation.
  • Small individual contributions. Students are expected to make a total of 20 small individual contributions. These include (but are not limited to) course website contributions, Wikipedia (and other Wiki projects) contributions, OpenMaps contributions, etc. The contributions to code projects can be in the form of comments on existing issues, reporting new issues, documentation edits, code fixes to reported issues. Counts towards contributions to open source projects.
  • Team project contributions. Students spend the last 6 weeks of the semester working on a team projects. Their individual contributions to the team effort count towards their own grade. Counts towards contributions to open source projects.
  • Quizzes. Students are given a couple of quizzes during the semester. Counts towards quizzes and two exams.
  • Midterm and final exams. Students take a midterm and a final exam. The two exams are open-computer. Students are expected to evaluate open source projects, understand bug reports, understand commit diffs, as well as be able to answer more theoretical questions. Counts towards quizzes and two exams.

Course Outline

The day by day outline for the Spring 2018 instance of this course.

Course materials (slides and activities) are available at OSSD materials repository.

Foss2Serve activities used:

Notes to Instructor

This course has been offered once so far. It will be revised before the next offering in spring 2019. The revisions will be based primarily on student feedback and instructor experience. (See the Moving Forward section for some directions of revisions.)

Feel free to contact me with any questions regarding the materials and the structure of this course.

Moving Forward

The course will be revised before its next offering in spring 2019. Some of the changes suggested by students and/or instructor:

  • start working on projects earlier in the semester (not necessarily "real" projects, but maybe another type of the website project)
  • create a list of "easy for beginners" projects
  • reorganize order in which topics are covered
  • go deeper into how version control works


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