CCT490H5F LEC0101
Topics in Communication, Culture, and Information Technology

Understanding Open Source Software Production

Fall 2011

Click here to jump to the schedule.

The handout for the fact sheet is here.

Course Description

An in-depth examination of selected topics in communication, culture and information technology. Topics vary from year to year, and the content in any given year depends upon the instructor. [24S]

(This special topics course will apply a number of social science perspectives to the production of free / open source software.)

Prerequisite: Minimum 13.0 credits. (SSc)

Distribution Requirement: SSc

Only the Director of the CCIT program has the authority to give permission to waive course prerequisites. The UTM calendar states that students who lack the prerequisites for a course can be deregistered at any time.

Goals and Learning Objectives

Students will learn about free / open source software, becoming familiar with its current state, its history, and a number of alternative perspectives on how and why it works. The course will prepare them to make informed decisions related to use or production of free / open source software. Additionally, students they will gain exposure to ideas from economics of innovation, intellectual property law, as well sociology and anthropology of work and technology.

Required Materials

Most of the required readings are available as a course pack at the Copy Center, in Room 1132 of South Building (near the bookstore). The remaining ones are available from the Internet.

To facilitate the discussion or specific passages, students should always bring paper copies of the assigned readgings to class. (This means that in case of readings that are available online the students are expected to print them out.)

Assessment and Grading Policies

Type Description Due Date Weight
Quiz 4-5 quizzes   25%
Class Participation Participation during class and on the online Q&A site   25%
Assignment "Fact Sheet" November 2, 2010 10%
Presentations Final Presentation November 16, 2010 10%
Assignment Final Research Paper November 25, 2011
November 28, 2011

Requirements and Criteria

25% of the grade will be based on class participation, which will include two components: participation in the in-class discussion and participation in the online Q&A forum.

For both components of participation, your grade will depend on both consistency and quality of your contributions. A successful grade will require consistent participation in both components.

25% of the grade will come from quizzes. There will be a total of 4 or 5 quizzes, which will be administered in weeks 2-12. The quizzes may ask questions about readings assigned for the current week or the earlier weeks or about topics discussed in class up to that point. The day and time of quizzes will not be announced beforehand. Please come to each class prepared for a quiz.

10% of the grade will be based on a 2,000 word “fact sheet,” summarizing facts about an open source project. Each student will be asked to pick their project in the beginning of the semester from a list provided by the instructor. Students are advised to start collecting the information about their project early in the semester. The fact sheet is due on November 2, at the beginning of class.

40% of the grade will be based on a research project, which will relate a specific free / open source software project to the literature that we read in the course. (This should ideally be be the same open source project as covered by your "fact sheet", but you can pick a different one if you wish.) The project will involve two deliverables: a short in-class presentation on November 16 (10%) and a final paper of up to 5,000 words due at 5 pm on November 25. The project can be done either individually or in pairs.

Teaching Methods

The class will be taught in the form of a seminar. While the instructor will sometimes present material not covered in the readings, a substantial amount of time will be dedicated to talking about the readings to get a deeper understanding of the issues discussed in them. The students are expected to come to class having done the required readings and ready to talk about them.

The course will stress critical thinking. While we will take as our point of departure the stunning success of free / open source software in the recent years, we will not aim to rehearse the laundry list of arguments that has been offered for this approach to developing and licensing software. Rather, we will examine a variety of perspectives, looking to understand their strengths and weaknesses.

Procedures and Rules

Email Policy

Only student Utormail accounts should be used for course communication and all emails from students must include the course code in the subject line and should be signed with the full student name and student number.

Please expect a response within 2 business days. (If you do not hear back within 2 days, please resend your message.)

Questions involving the content of the class should be either brought to class or asked on the Q&A site (see above).

The instructor may send course-related announcements to the students by email. The students are responsible for making sure they receive those announcements and read them.

Late Arrival

Students are expected to arriving arrive to class before the beginning of class and to be seated and ready to start the discussion at 10:10 am. Students who arrive late will be asked to wait outside until invited to come in. (This is a matter of respect for the time of students in the classroom.)

Late Assignments and Extensions

You are expected to complete assignments on time. There will be a penalty for lateness of 10% deducted per day and work that is not handed in one week after the due date will not be accepted.

To clarify:

Missed Quizzes

As a general rule students will not be offered any opportunity to make up for missed quizzes. Students who miss a quiz will receive zero for that quiz. The cases of students who are not present in class at the time of a quiz for a truly valid reason will be considered on a one-off basis, provided that all of the following conditions are satisfied:

  1. The student had notified the instructor of the absence before the class.
  2. The student declares their absence on ROSI before the class.
  3. The student provides original supporting documentation (e.g. U of T medical certificate, accident report) and a Request for Special Consideration Form to Rose Antonio, Academic Advisor in CC3018 no later than one week after the day of the quiz. The documentation must specify exactly the period during which the student was unable to attend class or otherwise carry out academic work.

Students who arrive in class late at a time when a quiz is in progress will not be allowed to take the quiz.

Academic Integrity

From the Code of Behaviour on Academic Matters:

It shall be an offence for a student knowingly: (d) to represent as one's own any idea or expression of an idea or work of another in any academic examination or term test or in connection with any other form of academic work, i.e. to commit plagiarism. Wherever in the Code an offence is described as depending on “knowing,” the offence shall likewise be deemed to have been committed if the person ought reasonably to have known.

From the U of T Mississauga Academic Calendar:

Honesty and fairness are considered fundamental to the University's mission, and, as a result, all those who violate those principles are dealt with as if they were damaging the integrity of the University itself. The University of Toronto treats academic offences very seriously. Students should note that copying, plagiarizing, or other forms of academic misconduct will not be tolerated. Any student caught engaging in such activities will be subject to academic discipline ranging from a mark of zero on the assignment, test or examination to dismissal from the University as outlined in the UTM calendar. Any student abetting or otherwise assisting in such misconduct will also be subject to academic penalties.

Students are assumed to be informed about plagiarism and are expected to read the handout, How Not to Plagiarize written by Margaret Procter. It is a valuable and succinct source of information on the topic. You are also supposed to be familiar, and considered as being familiar, with the Code of Behaviour on Academic Matters (see UTM Calendar: Codes and Policies or Code of Behavior on Academic Mattes and Code of Student Conduct, which spell out your rights, your duties and provide all the details on grading regulations and academic offences at the University of Toronto.


Normally, students will be required to submit their course essays to TurnItIn for a review of textual similarity and detection of possible plagiarism. In doing so, students will allow their essays to be included as source documents in the reference database, where they will be used solely for the purpose of detecting plagiarism. The terms that apply to the University's use of the service are described on the web site.

To clarify: "course essays" in this case means your "fact sheet" and the final paper.

Students who do not wish to use TurnItIn for submitting their work should approach the instructor to discuss alternative ways to establish the originality of the paper. This discussion needs to happen before the student begins working on those assignments.

Expectations for Conduct in the Academic Setting

Students agree that by taking this course, they agree to adhere to the “ICCIT Expectations for Conduct in the Academic Setting.” See link for the Code:

Religious Observance

Information about the University’s Policy on Scheduling of Classes and Examinations and Other Accommodations for Religious Observances is at

Other Resources


The University accommodates students with disabilities who have registered with the AccessAbility Resource Centre. Please let me know in advance, preferable in the first week of class, if you will require any accommodation on these grounds. To schedule a registration appointment with a disability advisor, please call the centre at 905-569-4699 or e-mail

Robert Gillespie Academic Skills Centre

Students can visit the Academic Skills Centre to consult with one of its strategists about understanding learning style, developing study plans for upcoming tests/exams, or discussing papers. Special Diagnostic Assessments are also offered and are designed to help you learn exactly where you stand with respect to critical academic skills.

UTM Library (Hazel McCallion Academic Learning Centre)

The University of Toronto boasts the biggest academic library in Canada and the second biggest in North America. Various services are available to students at the UTM Library and across the U of T library system. Services including borrowing, interlibrary loans, online references, laptop loans and the RBC Learning Commons. For more information, visit


Readings marked with CP are available in the course pack. Readings marked with Web are available in the web.

Several readings come from the following books, which are shown in the schedule with abbreviations:

“FSFS”: Richard Stallman (2002). Free Software, Free Society: Selected Essays of Richard Stallman. Edited by Joshua Gay. Boston, MA: GNU Press. Articles from this book are included in the course pack, and are also available on the web at

“Open Sources”: Chris DiBona, ed. (1999). Open Sources: Voices from the Open Source Revolution. Sebastopol, CA: O’Reilly. Chapters from this book are included in the course pack, and are also available on the web at

“Producing OSS”: Karl Fogel (2006). Producing Open Source Software: How to Run a Successful Free Software Project. Sepastopol, CA: O’Reilly. Chapters from this book are included in the course pack, and are also available on the web at

“Perspectives”: Joseph Feller, Brian Fitzgerald, Scott A. Hissam and Karim R. Lakhani, eds. (2005). Perspectives on Free and Open Source Software. Boston, MA: The MIT Press. Articles form this book are not included in the course pack but are available at (You can use as a shortcut.) Students should download and print the required chapters.

Week 1 | September 7
An Introduction to Free and Open Source Software

What is free and open source software? Why do we care? (Who uses it anyway?) How will we go about understanding free and open source software in this course?

Week 2 | September 14
Early Software History

What is “software” and where did it come from?

Week 3 | September 21
Hackers: Software as a Culture

Who are “hackers”? Where did they come from? Do people write software "just for fun"?

Week 4 | September 28
Intellectual Property: Theory and History

What are “public goods”? (Specifically, what does it mean for something to be “nonrival” and “non-excludable”?) In what sense are ideas and software “public goods”? Why might it make sense to limit the use of information goods? What are some of the other ways of supporting production of such goods?

Week 5 | October 5
Software as Intellectual Property

How did software get to be protected by intellectual property laws? And where did the idea of selling software as a “product” come from?

Week 6 | October 12
The GNU Project: Software as a Social Movement

How did the free software movement arise in the 1980s? What is “copyleft”? In what sense is the free software movement a “movement”? How does it work? What is its ideology and why is it important? What is the role of non-profit foundations?

Week 7 | October 19
Open Source and “Peer Production”

Can production of free software be somehow more efficient? What is the difference between "free software" and "open source"?

Week 8 | October 26
Producing Open Source Software: Technical Infrastructure

How do free / open source software projects actually get things done? What are the different technical solutions they rely on?

Week 9 | November 2
Producing Open Source Software: Social and Political Infrastructure

Project Fact Sheet due at the beginning of class.

What are some of the elements of the social and political infrastructure that free / open source projects draw on?

Week 10 | November 9
Economics of Open Source

Why do people and companies contribute?

Week 11 | November 16
Student Presentations

In this class you get to present your work. No readings.

Week 12 | November 23
Wikipedia, Creative Commons, Open Science

An electronic submission of the paper is due through TurnItIn by midnight on Monday, November 28. (The original deadline was on Nov. 25, but it was extended.)

Can the idea of "open source" apply to domains other than software?

Every attempt will be made to follow this syllabus, but its contents are subject to change, according to the rules outlined in the UTM Instructor’s Handbook, section 3.2.2.

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