Open Source for Education
I’ve been a long time advocate for open source software. It’s not just that it is freely available, but that it can be added to, modified, improved, or further developed and passed on for others that makes it appealing. In a sense, it is like education and knowledge; we pass it on to others, adding to it, developing it, and using it for our own uses, however and whenever we need to. In New Zealand, public education is free (though there is obviously a cost for this), and so following an open-source model for school technology is actually not too far removed from a possibility.
One factor that often holds schools back is the cost of technology. Usually this is related to devices and hardware, networks and infrastructure. Adding software to this cost is often unavoidable, but one way that schools can avoid paying more is by committing to using only open source software.
Much of today’s software is license based, and while there are various schemes to make things more affordable for schools and education institutes, paying for multiple licenses for different workstations and devices quickly adds up. Open-source software on the other hand is readily available, and is free to distribute throughout the school devices without the need for licenses or subscriptions.
GNU.org even goes so far as to suggest that schools and education institutes have the moral obligation to exclusively use Open Source software. “The deepest reason for using free software in schools is for moral education. We expect schools to teach students basic facts and useful skills, but that is only part of their job. The most fundamental task of schools is to teach good citizenship, including the habit of helping others. In the area of computing, this means teaching people to share software. Schools, starting from nursery school, should tell their students, “If you bring software to school, you must share it with the other students. You must show the source code to the class, in case someone wants to learn. Therefore bringing nonfree software to class is not permitted, unless it is for reverse-engineering work.”
You can read the entire article here: Why Schools Should Exclusively Use Free Software.
There are a variety of lists out there of open source software suitable for teaching and learning. I’m not going to go into detail on all of them, but instead, begin to list some that you’re probably already using without knowing or realising it.
Many of you will already be using Google Apps for Education. GMail, Google Docs, Google Drive, and Google Classroom are all becoming more and more popular and widespread throughout schools. Google have made this suite free for schools to use, with bumped up space and data for education purposes. Originally, all of these have been developed as open source software. The Google Apps API is still publically available for developers to utilise and build third-party apps on. Add to this the myriad of Apps available for free in the Google Webstore which can be added to user accounts for them to use online with Chromebooks or any Internet browser alike.
WordPress is becoming more and more widespread as the CMS of choice for websites. Many schools use WordPress as the basis for their website, and with WordPress.com offering free accounts, classes and students are even developing their own blogs and sites as well. WordPress is, of course, open source, and is developed regularly, and added to through the use of plugins and other tools.
Shipped with all TELA laptops these days is the little browser known as Firefox. It’s a lightweight version of Mozilla browser, which is open-source, but Firefox seems to have taken off a lot more than its predecessor.
Much like Google Apps for Education, Chrome is Google as well as open source, and is fast becoming the most preferred browser for users around the world.
Moodle is the industry standard in LMS (Learning Management System) for schools. It is proudly open-source, and provides users with all the flexibility that comes with that.
VLC is a well renowned media player, and is open source. The main reason I use VLC over anything else is because it’s just about guaranteed to be able to play every different kind of format there is. Videos with different codecs, DVD’s, audio; you name it, and VLC will play it. There’s nothing worse than opening up a video in front of the class and then it not work because a codec won’t load or the file won’t play. VLC seems to get around that.
With it’s ridiculous prices, even the Education suite of Photoshop is out of reach for most schools. GIMP is THE open source version of Photoshop, and it does most, if not all, the major functions that you’ll need for editing images and photos in the classroom.
There are numerous others out there. Wikipedia has an extensive list that you might want to check out. For now though, thats all from me!