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The problem with FREE or the lighter side of open source

February 25, 2007


I have become a huge moodle.org (Open Source Content Management System) fan and convert. In the current school I am involved with it has just grown at an unbelievable pace but more interesting is the ingenuity and creativity the teachers facilitating the course have engaged in using the moodle.org tools and options with their students. We even called ours Stroodle (we are in the Czech Republic- a friend in Paris called his Poodle…now try having a say in the name of your Microsoft application :() ) The versatility and seamless transition many experienced integrating this moodle.org CMS (Content management system) is just fantastic. So big deal!…. and fair enough but for us behind the scenes, and me the facilitator of supporting a school with IT, Moodle provides a robust and rich tool at NO COST :), or a little, we actually spent $412 to have some one set it up on a server the first time, and then coach my team and I how to manage it….. interestingly enough in tandem with our positive experience in my region of the world Central and Eastern Europe there has been a remarkable growth and buy in by international schools of moodle.org. All of us are in regions or schools with somewhat smallish IT budgets. Moodle provided us with an accessible, easy, user friendly interface to move and encourage a virtual alternative to the traditional form of working with students and class courses….so what is the problem with free. None in my book, and the other day I was surfing and bumped into this new interesting desktop interface which to this date is free too: http://desktoptwo.com (Open source desktop interface) with this which might be more known is the new online applications by Google: http://docs.google.com (not open source but free at this stage) then there is the whole OpenOffice suite, again more evidence in my view of the power and rich options of free open source applications and programs available to us all. One could go on …see the following link and section on Open Source: Beyond Digital Newsletter …so what is the fuss?

Open source has gained over the years an immense growth in the market share of users globally think of Linux and Firefox and where they are today…. but somehow International Schools have been hesitant or ignored this growth and continue often to get caught in having to buy expensive application suites and licenses, which often limit and tie down their budgets. Why? I think partly due to a lack of understanding of what open source is, partly out of hesitation of how to switch their respective school cultures to adapt to these new applications……….. don’t forget we are at a stage where faculty and students have been spoon fed on Microsoft Office and Adobe programs for over a decade if not more… is it to late to switch?

If anything with the growth of the open source movement and the greater integration of the applications with non open source applications this might be an easier time to do this. Also as a philosophy if International Schools did not have to spend so much on software licenses, these monies would be available for other IT purchases. Easier said than done no doubt. moodle.org I feel provides an excellent role model of where open source can go, and also provide an excellent first introduction to schools to dabble with open source options.

I have a friend Christian B working at an International School in Latvia who has built his whole IT infrastructure on a very very limited budget all on open source…. everything from OS, to applications, anti-virus and utilities. He moved a small international school with a strapped archaic limiting set up to something that empowered both the students and faculty to use tools to excite them about the use of IT, and at the same time engaged them with the understanding of the power and user friendliness of Open Source…it is possible, there is no doubt with this option it is a new learning curve, but their are excellent resources out there Open Source Education Foundation Website
http://www.osef.org/index.html for example is good place to start.

At the end of the day the bottom line is more than about applications and operating systems, it is about empowering students, educators and schools to move forward with tools and applications accessible and easy to use, and not limiting options and possibilities because of corporate quarterly profits… education should be free and in many places it is……to often students and teachers are shut out of IT opportunities due to licensing fees and costs…. a component of the digital divide… open source movement provides a concrete global human face to a rich set of possibilities in engaging with IT tools….

and International Schools are a fantastic place to start exploring and exposing our communities to this critical component of ensuring everyone has access to these tools which have become a must in any learning experience…..

so maybe there is no problem things being free!

John@ISETS

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