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Why schools should seriously consider open source alternatives
Schools that #GoOpen should #GoOpenSource
School administrators know that traditional proprietary textbooks are expensive. Teachers in budget-strapped schools often face shortages of textbooks. Worse, print content is usually out-of-date as soon as the ink dries on the page. There has to be something better than students hauling bulbous backpacks loaded with dead knowledge stamped on dead trees.
In the fall of 2015, the U.S. Department of Education launched the #GoOpen campaign, an initiative encouraging public schools to adopt openly-licensed digital educational materials to transform teaching and learning, and perhaps lighten both backpacks and textbook bills. The Department recently published the #GoOpen District Launch Packet, a useful step-by-step implementation guide for schools planning a transition from traditional textbooks to Open Educational Resources (OER).
We should applaud the Department of Education's efforts to promote affordable, equitable, and quality educational materials for all schools. Their initiative empowers educators to curate, shape, and share educational content at a local level. No longer is the written word of proprietary publishers like Pearson the fountain of all classroom knowledge. Districts that choose to #GoOpen opt to honor teacher expertise, empower them to build communities of shared practice, and encourage collaboration with colleagues across counties and states. Given unfettered permission to revise, remix, and redistribute curriculum material, teachers are trusted to become active agents in the creation of high-quality learning materials.
The #GoOpen campaign is a terrific first step toward open education. It raises awareness of alternatives to costly and inflexible textbooks and provokes conversations about the nature of curriculum platforms and vendors. But to #GoOpen is to go only part way. Schools with the courage to embrace OER materials can amplify cost savings and student learning when they #GoOpenSource.
At Penn Manor School District in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, Linux and open source software are the foundations for more than 4000 student laptops, classroom computers, and district servers. We've saved hundreds of thousands of dollars by going open source in both the server room and the classroom. However, schools don’t have to take the plunge into desktop Linux all at once. Choosing even one open source upgrade to proprietary software can provide dramatic budget relief. Here are four open source software platforms that saved our district from resorting to bake sales:
Koha: The first free and open library automation program powers all ten of our school libraries. In use since 2010, Koha replaced closed source systems like Follett's Destiny Library Management System. More on Koha.
Moodle: The Learning Management Systems (LMS) built on open learning principles and open software. Moodle has been our district LMS since 2004. It replaces expensive closed systems like Blackboard and Schoology. More on Moodle.
WordPress: Penn Manor uses WordPress for more than 200 school building, teacher, and classroom websites. It is the core of our student-led online news magazine, PennPoints. WordPress dismissed pricey propriety school website platforms like SchoolDesk and Schoolwires. More on Wordpress.
To #GoOpenSource means more than simple cost savings for underfunded schools. Like openly-licensed education material, open source values invite collaborative and participatory learning. When a school culture honors learning by doing, students become active agents in their education, and they contribute to the school community in innovative new ways.
Students write the book
Why not trust students to write a classroom textbook? Over the past two years, Penn Manor High School student technology apprentices created and revised an internal training handbook and customer service guide for students who are new to the one-to-one laptop program help desk.
Students write the code
Penn Manor students used open source tools to write sophisticated laptop imaging, classroom file sharing, and device inventory software for our high school one-to-one laptop learning program. Working alongside my team and motivated by authentic real-world use cases, the young programmers developed the software used by their peers every day.
Students write the score
Open source programs like Audacity and MuseScore are excellent software tools for music composition and creation. A recent graduate used MuseScore to composed a new vocal arrangement of the Penn Manor High School alma mater. His work debuted in front of thousands of family and friends during the 2016 commencement ceremony.
The most direct route to preparing future ready students is to equip them with the tools to invent the future today. Talk with your child’s teacher, the school principal, your school’s leadership and board of directors. Let them know to #GoOpen is to take back local control of teaching and learning. And then explain the opportunity to go further, to realize the full open education vision, to #GoOpenSource, and to empower students to make something that changes their school and their world.