[TOS] a FOSS development textbook?

William Cohen wcohen at redhat.com
Thu May 7 23:34:57 UTC 2009

Greg Dekoenigsberg wrote:
> On Tue, 5 May 2009, tridge at samba.org wrote:
>> Hi All,
>> Has anyone looked at the possibility of creating a textbook for
>> teaching FOSS development? The 'Producing OSS' book by Karl Fogel is
>> good, but I didn't find it to be sufficient as a textbook for the ANU
>> course. It was a little too focussed on starting a project for what
>> Bob and I wanted to do.
> Funny you should mention this.  I also have cited Fogel as The Great Hope 
> in this space, and professors push back for exactly the reasons you cite.
> I love Dave Humphrey's quote, and I paraphrase it every chance I get: the 
> real goal for professors is to teach students to be "productively lost" in 
> a project, and Fogel's book is all about creating a new project, not 
> finding your way into one.

The strength of open source software projects is to recycle and reuse code. How
many university research groups have the manpower to write a compiler or
operating system from scratch? In many cases researcher have a very interesting
idea that they want to try out. Implementing that idea in an existing open
source project is often the most economical way of experimenting with that idea.
Spending a lot of time reimplementing mundane parts of code is not a good
investment in many cases. That was certainly the approach I used teaching an
open source software development course at North Carolina State University.

I am not to say there is never a reason to start a new software project.
However, there are many orphaned software projects in the world, and the world
might be a better place if people "adopted" some of those orphaned projects and
gave them some TLC.

> One of the reasons I'm excited by the prospect of open source 
> participation being taught in the classroom is precisely because most 
> students get *zero* opportunity to get lost in a huge codebase, and don't 
> develop those skills -- code analysis, finding the right person, etc. -- 
> until they're out in the real world and must sink or swim.

Yes, the open source project give the students experience with problems that
they don't encounter with toy projects, e.g. making sure that the code works on
various platforms, identify bugs that other people have reported, and seeing how
important good documentation can be.

>> One possibility is for us to collaborate via a site like 
>> http://cnx.org/, which has a reasonable structure for creating a 
>> creative commons textbook. It also has the advantage of being linked to 
>> a print on demand system, so lecturers can ask the university bookshop 
>> to pre-order a sufficient number of cheap hard copies before a course 
>> starts (on the assumption that many students will prefer a hard copy).
>> Perhaps this has been discussed already?
> I think this is a brilliant idea.  Of course, I'm not a professor.  :) 
> But it seems like having the One Great Book would be a huge shot in the 
> arm.

Question on mechanics of this book publishing. Is it possible to specify the
version of the book? Just thinking back to college when people had different
editions of the book and sometimes there were significant differences between
the editions.

> --g
> --
> Computer Science professors should be teaching open source.
> Help make it happen.   Visit http://teachingopensource.org.
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