Bryant Patten on open source education (LinuxCon session recap) |

Bryant Patten on open source education (LinuxCon session recap)

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In LinuxCon's education mini-summit, Bryant Patten of the National Center for Open Source and Education gave a presentation titled "Can open source save the world?" He noted a quote from Mary Lange, Educational Technology Resource Teacher at San Diego Unified School District. She says that we often assume students know how to use computers and that they are really good at it. But the truth is, they know how to use technology for personal reasons but not necessarily for education. They will say "I know how to do that," but when it comes to reality, they don't.

It doesn't help that we don't teach technology. We take a whole year--or even two--to teach physics or chemistry. Let's look at 2016 employment projections:

  • 18,000 physics jobs
  • 91,000 chemistry jobs
  • 4,006,000 technology jobs

Perhaps teaching technology has some merit, after all.

The good news for both technology and open source is that the myths that have kept open source out of schools--that it's hard to use, can't be good if it's free--are going away. Schools are discovering the amazing options that are available now. OpenOfice. Audacity. Scratch. Stellarium. Firefox. They're all state-of-the-art.

Patten also commented on and recommended the following open source/education books and movies:

  • Waiting for Superman is a movie by the team that did An Inconvenient Truth. It covers educational issues, particularly under-resourced urban schools, which are of course a perpetual problem. But the concern is that those schools are less than a fifth of the education space. (This is a failing of No Child Left Behind as well.) So a lot of people see it and think, "Oh that's bad, but it's not my school."
  • Two Million Minutes is named for the amount of time you spend in high school. A venture capitalist followed high school students in the US, India, and China, recording how they each spent their two million minutes. It gives a good overview of the problem, but does not focus on under-resourced schools. In fact, the US story is a fairly well-off school in the midwest.
  • The Global Achievement Gap: Why Even Our Best Schools Don't Teach the New Survival Skills Our Children Need--And What We Can Do About It is a book written by Tony Wagner, who talked to Fortune 100 companies and universities about what they're looking for in K-12 students. The book explains seven survival skills, from critical thinking and initiative to curiosity and imagination--none of which are being fundamentally taught today.
  • Related to this book, Patten commented on the constant tug-of-war between content and skills that has been taking place for decades. He offered the following as a meme for adoption:

                                            &&  !   | |

    To translate, "and, not or." Let's not talk about content or skills. It's about both.

  • Nicholas Carr wrote a popularly discussed story for Atlantic Monthly called “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” He followed it with a book, The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains in which he talks about how we're losing our ability to concentrate on long-term projects because of the way our focusing skills are changing because of Internet usage.

Slides from the LinuxCon education talks will soon be available at

About the author

Ruth Suehle - Ruth Suehle is the community leadership manager for Red Hat's Open Source and Standards team. She's co-author of Raspberry Pi Hacks (O'Reilly, December 2013) and a senior editor at GeekMom, a site for those who find their joy in both geekery and...