Musings of a dark overlord: Leveraging 21st-century education with open source

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Leveraging 21st-century education with open source

When I first went to the dark side, I lamented that I was trading my noble teaching role for that of a dark overlord administrator. Much of the time, this characterization remains true. But as I mature as an educational leader, I find that I am in a more complicated teaching role--not only retaining my former group of students, but also expanding my responsibilities to include teaching teachers.

Someone once told me that teachers make the worst students. In some ways, this may be true, but I am starting to understand what this means. Teachers are prepared to identify bad teaching. Let's face it, they have been poked and prodded, observed, scolded, and coached. For the most part, they get it. What this means is that they will not tolerate a hack when it comes to their own professional development.

As we attempt to embed 21st-century skill sets into modern education, we are challenged by educational technologies that are stuck in the paper and pencil stage. While most people today would not appreciate being fobbed with an ancient TI-99, it would still be an advancement over the technology that is available to many teachers.

Our school techs get incredibly excited about advanced and just-out-of-the-box technologies. As an administrator, I am often happy just to have teachers who can correctly send e-mail. When a new hire reveals they have the ability to embed media and use other advanced technologies to engage students--well, that is when I begin plotting ways to keep them in the classroom.

These are the teachers that will spark the next generation of education progress. We need them in the classroom. They make THE difference.

I won't debate whether open source is an avenue to providing advanced technology within a classroom at a fraction of the cost. I am a dark lord. I say it is so. Most teachers–the great teachers--see these resources and cannot wait to find a way to incorporate them in the classroom. But some teachers need a boost. They are good people. Most of them are good teachers. And almost every one of them wants to use those engaging technologies--they just don't know how.

Traditional avenues to technology literacy are prohibitively expensive, especially when you consider the ever-shrinking classroom dollar. But this is where open source can really make a difference.

If, as administrators, we learn to leverage professional development with open source resources, we achieve exponentially. First, when we use open source technologies to help professionally develop our teachers, we introduce them to the ever-expanding resources that exist in the open source community. Second, by experiencing education through open source, teachers begin to include it into their
pedagogy and practice. Their exploration of open source begins in
the more protected role of student. Third, while we are teaching our
teachers about open source technologies by utilizing open source
technologies, we can teach them about those other equally important education topics that will also contribute to their success as teachers.

Here are a few examples that demonstrate how open source education contributes to a teacher's knowledge of open source technology while extending their craft in other

  • Using Moodle (an open source virtual learning environment) to walk teachers through a Positive Behavior Supports course
  • Using Elgg (open source social networking software) to provide teachers with a safe and secure environment to discuss student learning issues
  • Using Mahara (an open source portfolio and social networking tool) to manage teacher evaluation portfolios.

The possibilities are endless with the many resources available through open source.

I do have one warning for my dark side cohorts: Before initiating the use of open source technologies to advance a PD focus, you had better make sure you understand and master the technologies.

As I said earlier, the most unforgiving students are teachers. They expect outstanding and engaging work. Administrators MUST become incredibly savvy in the uses and opportunities presented by open source technology and education offerings. It is, however, well worth the time--all in the hope that we can provide teachers with the skills that give students educational encounters that both engage and inspire.

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David Gerber is a high school principal and an avid supporter of Open Source technologies and resources. He holds a bachelors in Education from the University of Missouri, an MA in English from Northwest Missouri State University, and an Educational Specialist degree in Educational Leadership from the University of Arizona.

1 Comment

Thanks for a great article. I got administrative certificates in NYS lately. Been working as technology director/teacher for 25 years. Open Source is a largely untapped source of extreme good in schools. We use Moodle and have used Drupal in the past. No experience with Elgg or Mahara. We had a Linux terminal server thin client lab for several years. Prepping students with open source skills in LInux, Apache, MySQL and PHP gives them marketable skills right out of high school. Open Educational Resources and CK12 Flexbooks in particular are great resources as I'm sure you are aware.

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