Sunday, May 04, 2008

Open Source and Schools

As Chris Pirillo says in a recent blog post and show, "The future of software is open source." I couldn't agree more...

We hear about budget cuts in schools practically every day. School budget cuts affect some of the most important aspects of schools, including fine arts and physical education. Yet many of these very same schools who are cutting some of the most important programs for our children continue to pump tens of thousands of dollars into closed, proprietary software systems (in large districts we are probably talking six figures). Unfortunately many of our schools and districts are so "lock, stock and barrel" with closed systems that they feel as though they can't make a change because they've already invested so much in proprietary systems.

Our kids need exposure to the world of open source. Not only in terms of an end user experience, but also in the development of these tools. Why? Because the rest of the world is moving away from using closed, proprietary and expensive software solutions. How does one make money off of developing software and giving its underbelly away for free? Read this article for a glimpse at how the open source service and software add-on industry is creating opportunities for people all over the planet.

Alex Inman is doing some pretty amazing things in terms of leveraging open source software solutions on an enterprise level at the Whitfield School in St. Louis, MO USA. He has reduced the organization's software licensing budget significantly, freeing up funds to be used for much more important purposes in their school program. Alex was interviewed on the 21st Century Learning webcast last year about Whitfield's move to the Linux operating system on student laptops. Listen to the interview online here.

Leveraging open source solutions schools has value on many levels. First off, it exposes kids to the world of open source software development. This is something they need to know about and have experience with for their future. Secondly, open source democratizes the school experience and helps conquer the digital divide. Closed and proprietary software systems increase the digital divide, even when the software companies offer "academic" discounts for students, teachers and educational institutions. Lucie deLaBruere wrote a wonderful post recently over at the Infinite Thinking Machine on promoting digital equity through the use of open source and web2.0 tools. Steve Hargadon wrote a post on FOSS (Free and Open Source Software) in schools over at the Tech learning blog a few months back. Think about what our schools could do with the cash savings from using open source tools.

At the end of the day, it really doesn't matter much what you and I think about the world of open source software and the impact that it will have on schools. Open source will eventually crush proprietary based software models and we'll all be better off when it does.

Just a few open source resources available on the web:
Open Office

*Image courtesy of Matthias Mehldau on flickr (Creative Commons-Attribution)

No comments:

Post a Comment