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FOSS – A Brief History of FOSS

A Brief History of FOSS@MAGIC: Building an Open-Source Experiential Program Brick by Brick

OLPC was the Trojan Horse to Open Source for Professor Stephen Jacobs, director of RIT’s Lab for Technological Literacy (LTL), the entity in which the FOSS@MAGIC (previously FOSS@RIT) was originally born. Intrigued by the OLPC Jacobs acquired three OLPC XO 1.0 laptops in 2007 via the first “Give One, Get One” program. His intent was to make them available to students for experimentation and to possibly create a seminar course in developing games for the platform.

The LTL also ran a campus OLPC Users Group with then lab associate Eric Grace from January to June 2008. Frederick Grose, an active OLPC community volunteer, joined the LTL campus users group meetings and worked with an RIT usability class to assess OLPC usability in 2008. He also made a generous donation to the lab to fund some early OLPC work.

The first OLPC seminar course was scheduled for the spring quarter of the 2008-2009 academic year through the RIT Honor’s program. To support the class, Jacobs and Grace decided to create a community wide users’ group in January 2009 around the OLPC to support the class. Key members of the group were Grace, Grose and Karlie Robinson, an entrepreneur who runs the Open Source distribution site OnDisk.com.

Robinson, a long-time Open Source advocate, connected the class to Sugar Labs’ Math 4 initiative and David Nalley in the Fedora Community, which donated 25 XO laptops to Jacobs for use in Sugar development in general, and Math software and games to support 4th grade curricula in specific.

The course was offered in March 2009, with Jacobs and Grace co-teaching and developing the materials and Grose and Robinson as FOSS community representatives who visited the class regularly; roles they reprised in the next two iterations of the course. Mel Chua(then Community Engineer for Red Hat), guest lectured for us, beginning a long relationship with RIT’s FOSS folk. The class also attended regular user group meetings to meet with community members and discuss projects and techniques. David Farning dropped by RIT during the summer to meet with us. After the first course we moved to RIT’s Student Innovation Hall.

With the second iteration of the seminar course Red Hat paid their first official visit by sending Greg DeKoenigsberg (then Senior Community Architect for Red Hat), Mel, Luke Macken (an RIT alum) and Macken’s former college roommate, Remy Decausemaker, who tagged along for the visit. In Winter Quarter, 2009, DeCausemaker, also an RIT alum, joined RIT as an Alumni Fellow. In February of 2010 Richard Stallman came to speak and Walter Bender paid us the first of his two visits that May. That Spring we paid our first visit to Boston to visit OLPC and Red Hat’s Westford offices.

But what was most important in the academic year of 2009-2010 was that the second offering of the seminar is what began the true heart of our program. One of the games developed in the course was Fortune Hunter. At the end of the Winter quarter course members of the team asked to have a co-op created for them to continue working on it. These students who were pursuing their co-op in Spring of 2010 also came to the third class offering, on their own time, to mentor students and recruit them to join Fortune Hunter. Thus began what we call the “Course to Co-Op Lifecycle”; students who become proficient in Open Source through our classes then become eligible for part-time or co-op work when opportunities become available. That summer we offered the first of three POSSE sessions we would run in ’10, ’11 and ’12.

In August of 2010 we began talking with Tom Callaway of Red Hat, (then Fedora Engineering Manager, now University Outreach and Fedora Special Projects) about formal sponsorship from Red Hat for our program. Through his hard work and the generosity of Brian Stevens, FOSS@MAGIC has been sponsored by Red Hat since 2011, allowing RIT to hire Remy full-time as our Open Source Research Coordinator and FOSS evangelist (though he prefers to be known as our “Open Sourcer”). We added a second course, Project in FOSS Development in 2011 and will be offering the first interdisciplinary minor in Free and Open Source Software and Free Culture in Fall of 2014.

For a full timeline of our efforts, visit the activity report.