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Can I recommend Open Source? March 22, 2008

Posted by Ed 831 Ken in Uncategorized.

Could I suggest a school division switch to open source software?  At this point, I could not for two main reasons. 

Reason #1. 

I remember my first open source experience at a convention in about 1996.  Open source has come a long way since then.  I could see myself using many of the programs successfully in a classroom environment.  Having said that, I have evolved through technology.  I know it will be frustrating at times. Is it fair to expose non-technology teachers to the expectation that open source is the way to go?  I think this would be a recipe for disaster (at the present time). 

I hear teachers reflecting about open source with comments like “it’s almost as good”, “it almost does everything you need it to do”.  This isn’t good enough.  For open source to take hold of the market share, it has to be equal or better than the competition. 

Reason #2 

I have been trained by Cisco.  They are the largest networking company in the world.  The training was about learning the standards of networking.  Cisco was a proprietary product.  The products they sell are expensive.  When it came to the school division upgrading, a cheaper product was used.  A few years have gone by, and the school division is switching to Cisco products, primarily due to their reliability and consistent platform.  Enough said about Cisco.  I don’t want to get too technical. 

Open source would be awesome, if there was a certain standard incorporated into the products.  Until this occurs, I’m not convinced that open source will grab a huge market share, even though the price is right. If these big companies like Cisco, Microsoft and Apple were smart (although they are way smarter than me) they would cater to the education field.  Chances kids use their product early in their life, they would tend to buy it as an adult (that’s when the $ skyrockets).



1. Todd Volk - March 22, 2008

I agree Ken that Open Source would have trouble getting into the educational market. I think the biggest problem would actually fall in the area of support. I make my opinion without being very familiar with Open Source, but all teachers and students want is for their computers and programs to work. If it doesn’t there are some troubleshooting things that can be done on-site. If that fails then the call goes out to tech support. Are there enough “techies” out there that are “fluent” and proficient with Open Source? I’ve noticed the techies we have in our division (and we are having trouble hiring and keeping them) have trouble with the systems we currently run. Some things they know, others they don’t. I beleive this problem would be compounded by the us eof Open Source across the board. Think this would cause further frustration in schools?

2. Robert Rowe - March 23, 2008

The best Open Source products are the ones you don’t immediately recognize as Open Source. I’ve used Open Office instead of Microsoft Office for almost 6 years now, and nobody has noticed. I’ve used Audacity for all my sound recording/editing, and Gimp has replaced my illegal copy of Photoshop.
I think Open Source options need to be taught/addressed because students cannot afford $600+ software suites, so they’ll take one of 2 routes: acquire it illegally or substitute it with FOSS apps (legally). If we teach/use the latter option, we are setting a good example to our students.

3. Nate Lowell - March 23, 2008

I live by open source.

I use linux on my laptop and linux on my desktop. My servers are linux.

Where I’m *forced* to use windows (there are a few places), I use OpenOffice, the GIMP, NVU, and Firefox.

My rationale is simple.

It does *everything* I need to have done. It does it for free. Every dollar I do not have to spend on software, I can spend on salaries and services to support students who are blind, deaf, or severely disabled.

I realize that not everybody has my view. I realize that the decisions are made by people who do not understand the issues and therefore make decisions which cost them hundreds of thousands of dollars every year that they could spend supporting students and teachers instead of Microsoft and Adobe and Apple. As long as those companies continue to pay salesmen and buy advertising, I don’t expect OpenSource to be a decision. As long as the value of the department is based on the size of the budget, I don’t see IT departments willingly give up their power base. As long as we continue to place the institution above the student, we’ll continue to block, filter, and censor to prevent the knowledge from becoming common.

I’m teaching my own kids to use the tools. They’ll not be bound by their wallets when it comes to utility. The tools they’ll *need* to be effective participants in the global economy will give them the economic edge over those who have to amortize thousands of dollars worth of software on a regular basis.

As a parent, it’s my duty. Particularly since the institutions which should be providing the skills, knowledge, and attitudes are bound up in making sure the digital divide is maintained and enforced.

Just my opinion. Your mileage may vary.

4. rdrunner - March 23, 2008

Alec may be surprised by my response but here goes.

First, I think it’s important to consider where standards are most important. Teachers say that when they turn it on they want it to work. Well, much of what “makes it work” is the lower layers where standards are critical – in the network, the switching gear, the operating system and, to a certain extent, the browser (even FireFox has a standard platform you can count on).

Second, we need to be clear about what we mean when we say “open source”. There is lots of open source software that IT departments know well and do support. Often written in PHP, IT staff learn and support these environments in much the same way they support Visual C and Basic. Moodle and Drupal fall into this category. That’s one kind of open source.

The other kind of open source I would prefer to call open tools. This would include things like VoiceThread, Ning, Googledocs and Wikispaces. These are tools that have a free version available for use, and often an ad-free version for K-12. Open tools are provided as long as the provider chooses to do so, usually as long as the business model continues to be profitable (they’re supported by ads on the “free” versions and paying customers on enhanced services). Open tools typically have a simple user interface that is designed for a novice user.

So does open source have a place in education? Absolutely, in my opinion. I recommend using commercial components at the lower layers (network, switches, OS, browser) where standards provide a stable reliable platform. At the application layer, choose open source or proprietary software (or a mix) on the basis of the functionality and total cost effectiveness for your situation. (Looking at the total cost of ownership, the district size may be a determinant in choosing where open source or proprietary is the right choice. A mix is always possible.) Then use open tools to support personalized learning models for your students. One way to create reliability/availability of the tool is to put the code on your own servers (wordpress, for example) and this has the added benefit of keeping the student data inside the district wall as well. It’s still an open tool even if you run it yourself.

We also must remember that even proprietary software is subject to change, often significant (as the change to Office 2007 and Vista), and we must all learn to adapt to an ever-changing technology landscape. Part of using the technology today is learning how to be adaptive.

Finally, I often think that Google wouldn’t exist without the proliferation of Windows laptops on which to run it. It’s not an either/or, it’s a both/and.

5. Shaun Loeppky - March 26, 2008

I remember when Apple did cater exclusively to education. However, the push to Microsoft in education was powered by those that perceived that the platform in school should mimic business.

I have always believed that our OS should not matter, it is how our students can adapt to change. In the end for many divisions, money will be the decision maker, and there are many products that can offer access to web based services/open source without proprietary licensing costs. Microsoft and Apple are the answer for some, if you are willing to invest the cash. I am thinking in the world of web 2.0, linux platforms with a browser is more than enough for today’s students needs.

6. Dan Schellenberg - March 26, 2008

I’ve got two gripes with your post, Ken.
Reason #1 suggests that open source software is worse than proprietary. I agree that this is true for some software, but certainly false for others. For example, the Firefox browser is completely open source, and is a much more secure and reliable web browser than its main competitor (Internet Explorer) which is proprietary. The key is to judge each application on its own, not toss out a blanket statement that open source isn’t ready.

Reason #2 doesn’t refer to open source at all. I completely agree with your idea of spending cash up front to get the best hardware you can. However, open source deals with software. One great benefit of using open source when appropriate is that you free up budget dollars to spend on the hardware infrastructure.

7. Kimberly Brown - April 6, 2008

I rely on many opensource tools for my classroom. I have begun to use wikispaces to host all of my teaching resources and units. I use classblogmeister for my writing program. I also use schoolnotes for my home to school communication. I’ve recently begun to use VoiceThread for digital stoytelling and project reflection. Our school system is also supporting the use of open source online versions of Inspiration, ComicLife and Imovie. The system is also close to introducing Google Documents to all students in our system. The system has received Google Apps Education Edition free of charge for use in our school.
I think we’re going to see a move towards more opensource software and use the money saved to purchase more hardware.

8. Laurie - April 7, 2008

I see the opensource tools as a huge benefit. I use them myself and my students can use them also and they can use them even if they use a MAC in school and a windows machine at home.
I am currently using many of these tools in classes that I teach. Each unit utilizes more of the tools. I sure do want more machines available to students in my school and if the opensource tools means we spend less money on software, then perhaps this will happen.

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