50 Ways to be a FOSSer

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50 Ways to be a FOSSer

was: http://piratenpad.de/softhum-workshop

To Do

  • revise/refine list for conciseness & clarity – add links to supporting info, examples, etc.
  • put people to review, comment, clarify, vote for tasks they'd use if well documented


The following terms are used below to make the list more concise and avoid duplication.

  • Contributor - anyone who contributes to FOSS – code, design, docs, feedback, ideas, etc.
  • FOSS - free & open source software. “a FOSS”: a project; “FOSS”: the broader culture.
  • Forge - web site containing many FOSS – e.g. Sourceforge
  • Lead - anyone who coordinates or directs other contributors
  • Planet - blog aggregator for a FOSS or topic

Possible categories / dimensions for tags / taxonomy

  • ACM curricular areas & outcomes
  • relevant courses
  • prereq tools/skills
  • time/effort required – for instructor prep, student work, elapsed calendar time
  • requires input / effort from FOSS community - how much, what kind
  • produces sometime useful to FOSS project - what, how useful
  • unreviewed (doc) vs. reviewed (code) contribution

50 Ways by Category


  • A FOSS could be specified by instructor, selected from a set of choices, or chosen by student, depending on student experience, time available, etc.
  • Documentation tasks could apply to:
  • Tasks could be done alone, in pairs, teams, etc.
  • Tasks could result in:
    • blog posts, podcasts, vlogs, wiki pages, etc.
    • articles for magazines, newspapers, web sites, etc.
  • Results could be:
    • Submitted to instructor for evaluation.
    • Posted or shared for peer review (with other students in course).
    • Presented in class.
    • Discussed in class or online, etc.
  • See: http://piratenpad.de/softhum-workshop-template-writing

Use & Evaluate

 - Search forge(s) or the Internet for FOSS that interests you.
 - Use & evaluate a FOSS that has been installed.
 - Download, install, use, & evaluate FOSS.
   - http://piratenpad.de/softhum-workshop-analysis
 - Read review(s) of FOSS, then download a "good" one, based on different criteria 
   - e.g. community, features, ease of maintenance
 - Evaluate how good a FOSS would be to { use | contribute to} based on:
   - Size, maturity, level of activity, size of community, etc.
   - Features described in documentation or demos.
   - How easy it is to set up for use:  e.g., download, install, customize, apply updates.
 - Compare and contrast 2+ FOSS to determine which to { use | contribute to }.
   - criteria from instructor, student, or target user
 - Install (help others install) one or more FOSS and/or FOSS plugins.
 - Install PortableApps on a flash drive, along with several portable FOSS for later use.
   - http://portableapps.com
 - Install FOSS operating system on a flash drive.
   - http://www.pendrivelinux.com/
   - http://unetbootin.sourceforge.net/


 - Read recent article(s) and { answer questions | summarize | critique | present material }.
   - e.g. product reviews, culture of writing software, use within some environment, etc.
   - sites: opensource.com,teachingopensource.org
   - print: Linux Journal, Linux Magazine
 - Write an article about a topic related to FOSS and submit to a FOSS news blog/web site.
   - Good blogs/sites for publication?
 - Write a { review | tutorial | comparison }  of { a | several } FOSS.
   - Good blogs/sites for publication?
 - Write an article on “what I wish I knew” - about FOSS; before starting a project or course.
 - Add a personal project blog to an appropriate planet (blog aggregator).

Individual Perspectives

 - Interview a FOSS user and find out why they use FOSS, benefits/drawbacks, etc.
 - Study a FOSS contributor’s activities over time { week | month | semester } to understand the level of engagement and the type of interactions/contributions the person has made.
 - Interview a FOSS contributor to find out how they got involved, their role(s), their background, etc.
 - Shadow a FOSS contributor over time to see what they do, & summarize.

FOSS History

 - Research the history of a FOSS & summarize. 
   - When did it start?  How many releases?  How many users? 
   - Reading history on the site, talk to people involved, etc.
 - Review an archived discussion of a { chat | thread | forum | list } over a { day | week | month } and { summarize | categorize | reflect on } the content.
   - e.g. developer list, support list,
 - Study a completed defect or feature proposal, and create a concise summary, including details, people involved & their roles, steps taken.

Communication & Tools

 - Choose, investigate, and report on a forge. //what is the motivation or LO?//
 - View newest FOSS on a forge, then see how many new FOSS are created in a { day | week }.
 - Choose a (FOSS) RSS client, subscribe to RSS feeds for FOSS, read, and summarize.
   - RSS clients: Google Reader, RSSOwl
   - RSS feeds: any planet (feed aggregator), FOSS
 - Define IRC, determine why IRC is an appropriate means of communication within a community - what are the benefits, drawbacks?
 - Subscribe to an IRC channel, listen to a meeting, write summary of the content of the meeting and any observations about the mode of communication/type of communication.
 - Study IRC meetings: lurk; participate; write minutes or summary; plan agenda; run meeting.
 - Work remotely (using IRC, email, twitter, whatever) with another student to develop profiles for each other. (a web-page about you and your tech skills and interests).
 - Ask, comment on, answer, respond to question (on web forum, mailing list, IRC).
 - Study the social norms of communication within a FOSS community. (i.e. how to ask questions, respond, etc.)
 - Become familiar with public/private keys. //what is the motivation or LO?//
   - Generate public and private keys for use with SSH.
   - Install public key on remote server for passwordless access via SSH.
   - Exchange public keys with another student.
   - Use exchanged keys to send signs and/or encrypted messages.
   - Sign another student's public key.
   - Get your public key signed by another student.
 - Sign a Contributors License Agreement (CLA) for a FOSS. //what is the motivation or LO?//
   - see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Contributor_License_Agreement
 - [meta] Learn to interact with the community by using various tools such as blogs, wiki changesets, ticketing systems, etc. // expand to specific tasks with specific tools //
 - [meta] Learn a tool, and teach others how to use it.
 - [meta] Learn that a text editor is a text editor, regardless of what it is. //how to do this?//
 - [meta] Learn how to choose a set of tools to use for a FOSS.

Culture, Intellectual Property

See: http://piratenpad.de/softhum-workshop-template-culture

 - Research how a FOSS is organized, summarize findings, & reflect.
   - How many people are employed, who is employed, how they get paid.
   - Business model - how is the project funded, who is in charge, etc.
 - Select a FOSS, identity primary contributors (no more than 10), find their educational and work experiences, and summarize.
 - Understand why a major company (like IBM for example) contributes to FOSS.  
   - What are the market pressures involved from an economic point of view?  
   - Why would a for-profit company give away intellectual property?
 - Study software licensing (in general) and then discuss FOSS intellectual property issues.  
   - Why is it OK to download & install some software but not other?  
   - Why would developers give up their rights?
 - Compare & contrast 2+ FOSS licenses (e.g. in a matrix).

Philosophy / Politics

 - Study why people choose to use FOSS as opposed to other software.
 - Read "Little Brother" (by Cory Doctorow) //what is the motivation or LO?//
 - Study the international influence in FOSS projects, both as contributors and consumers.
   - cultural perspectives – freedom from multinationals companies (e.g. China, India)
 - Study cultural/policy implications of CC, GPL, etc.
   - Implications for pre-health, pre-law, etc.
 - Explore implications of philosophy/culture of FOSS for public policy.
   - Uber database of FOSS public policy decisions. Linked from Mel's blog.

Privacy / Security

 - Evaluate security for a FOSS: how many intrusions, severity, etc.
   - Compare with commercial products, industry practices
 - Write privacy policy //need more detail//
 - Develop security guidelines //need more detail//
 - Write about implications of software choice for security. //need more detail//
   - Diaspora (Facebook clone) and problems w.r.t. privacy/security
   - FOSS DBs, etc. (OpenMRS) -- issues, privacy, etc.

Advocacy (see also Writing)

 - Organize & conduct a { installation festival | tutorial session } for a { FOSS | feature }.
 - { Observe | participate in | support | organize } a hackathon.
 - Raise money or other resources for an open source project.
 - [meta] Promote a project of interest using multiple tools/channels. //other examples?//


 - Review a page and summarize problems found.
   - for existing pages, or proposed changes/additions by other students
 - Find & improve a page that could benefit from editing / rewriting / improvement.
   - Find references (to other pages or resources) and add them (with appropriate links).
 - Find a "stub" page and expand it with research and related references.
 - Create a new page with appropriate research & related references.
 - “Garden” a site or other documentation – prune, restructure, etc.
   - Instructor could clone or create a sandbox area for this.
   - Major restructuring might require advance planning.
 - Test documentation (e.g. installation instructions) and summarize problems found.
 - Rewrite & simplify installation instructions for typical (non-technical) computer users.
 - Write concise and helpful instructions to install and configure FOSS on a specific system.
   - Specify version or date when install instructions become obsolete.
 - Create or update a glossary or vocabulary list for a FOSS.
 - Translate a page to a different language using { automated tools | expert knowledge }.
 - Convert written docs to video docs.
 - Convert video docs to written docs.

Visual Design

 - Create a storyboard or paper prototype, evaluate with users, revise, & summarize.
   - Clif has paper prototyping references, workshop slides, etc.
 - Create instructional comics.
 - Create a font or icon set.
 - [meta] Become a design ninja //expand / clarify - how does a student do this?//

Quality & Testing

see http://piratenpad.de/softhum-workshop-template-testsets see http://piratenpad.de/softhum-workshop-write-feature-description

 - Choose a fixed defect or feature, research its history (when & how reported, when & how fixed), and summarize in a 5 min format (in  tracker, wiki, blog post, podcast, vlog, etc).
 - Choose an open defect or feature request from { mailing list | tracker | wiki }, verify that it exists, and expand & improve formal report (in tracker or wiki).
   - Create a new defect report from mailing list or personal experience.
   - Find a "bad" report and make it a "good" report.
 - Brainstorm list of possible enhancements for project, choose a few to document (see above).
 - Evaluate usability of a specified { feature | screen } and summarize results & conclusions (in tracker or wiki).
   - using formal guidelines or rubric
   - using heuristic evaluation http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heuristic_evaluation
 - Role play / evaluate from other (non-student) perspectives.
 - Test documentation.
   - Evaluate (and improve) installation instructions.
 - Verify (and fix) development environment.
 - Develop an { automated test suite | repeatable test script }, contribute code, summarize results.

Coding & Style

 - Given coding standard & sample code, list the changes needed for code to meet standard.
 - Given sample code, infer and document coding standard.
 - Analyze existing code to understand what it does and how it works.
 - Reformat, document, & refactor existing (others') code to make it more readable & consistent.
 - Analyze the sequence of function calls that produces a specified { feature | page | screen }.
   - http://piratenpad.de/softhum-workshop-analysis
 - Identify examples of a given { coding construct | data structure | pattern } in a FOSS.
   - could provide teachers with examples to use in other courses
 - Given specification & code, provide an itemized list of tasks and describe how each was met.
 - Given a problem and 2+ solutions to a problem, compare, summarize, & present.
   - naming conventions, coding style, efficiency, etc...
 - Given a problem, find 2+ solutions (to same or similar problem) and summarize the differences between the solutions.
 - Determine how well a { FOSS | component } meets its specifications.
 - Develop a code walkthrough
   - http://piratenpad.de/softhum-workshop-template-walkthrough
 - Given a comment, defect, or feature request, study & fix it, and submit as patch.
   - FOSS with plugins may be easier for this:
     - Drupal (e.g. shopping cart), Firefox, GreaseMonkey, Moodle
     - wiki formatting plugins
 - Develop UML diagram(s) for a FOSS.
   - FOSS UML tool: http://argouml.tigris.org/
 - Study code & docs, diagram system architecture, evaluate, summarize.
   - using guidelines supplied by instructor
   - PC Clements, & DL Parnas. 1986. “A rational design process: How and why to fake it.” IEEE Transactions on Software Engineering 12 (2): 251-257.


 - Create a lecture that provides a tour of the application domain landscape of FOSS.  
   - Show market segment leaders (Apache, MySQL), tools (Eclipse, Notepad++), games (game engine), humanitarian, industry specific (e.g., ERP), etc. - this may be a pre/post-scavenger hunt lecture
   - Video it, Keep it short & modular for remixing.
   - Create a list of wanted topics, get community to contribute.
   - See examples from entrepreneurship education
     - http://www.prendismo.com/collection/ (was Cornell eClips)
     - http://ecorner.stanford.edu/
 - Configure FOSS according to given criteria or specification.
   - What are good examples of configurable FOSS - Drupal, wiki, 
   - design & create a custom distribution
   - Share custom distribution with the FOSS community.
 - Maintain a build host. //needs more detail//
 - Understand and identify installation and IT support needs. //needs more detail//

Sequences or Strands of 4-5 Assignments


 - FOSS scavenger hunt: Study a FOSS to answer a set of questions (overview about project and product features)  
   - Could also look at a forge (# of projects, what application domains, what languages, # added recently)
 - Find/study examples of well & poorly written code - style wise (layout, variable names) 
   - Look at coding standard for an open source project (Java, Python)
   - Reformat code, rename variables, etc. (possibly commit back depending on project)
 - Add comments to a piece of code that has no or poor comments.
   - Generate and review JavaDoc.
 - Test (perhaps a project that does JUnit testing).
 - Trace the execution of some piece of code.


 - A different, more advanced scavenger hunt using different projects.
 - Develop UML diagram from an existing project. (argouml)
 - Explore a new feature for an existing project
   - Discuss how it might be implemented
   - Show actual code and implementation
 - Identify data structures used in a project.
Personal tools
Learning Resources
HFOSS Projects