Thanks to Christine and Technology & Learning for their support of free, open source software!
Tech Forum Southwest Report
November 7, 2008
By T&L Managing Editor Christine Weiser
Tech Forum SW in Austin was another exciting day of sharing the energy, passion, and ideas that happen when you bring together tech integrators at all levels. The event began with an inspiring keynote from Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach, who discussed how technology can unleash the passion of the 21st century learner—where school is just one node in a 2.0 world where learning opportunities exist everywhere.
I had the pleasure of moderating the session, “Open Source Goes to School,” with Miguel Guhlin, director of ITS at San Antonio, TX, Michael Gras, Chief of Tech and Scott Floyd, IT, of White Oak ISD.
Before I introduced our speakers, I asked the audience how many were using open source. Two tentative hands rose, both said their schools were in the exploratory phases of investigating open source.
Miguel began with a reference to Chris Marshal’s HEAT theory (Higher order thinking; Engaged learning, Authentic learning; Technology use), and explained that open source can be a free solution that schools can use to achieve this goal.
He admitted that many school applications won’t work with a Linux OS, however, if these tools are online, they are options (such as PLATO and Accelerated Reader that have Web-based versions). Miguel also said that training is an important part of effective open-source integration. (Although this is true of paid programs as well.)
Miguel told the story about a school that received donated computers. Once that school starts adding up all of the software that needs to be uploaded onto that donated computer, the gift began to seem less generous.
He sites the following statistics for a large urban district that has for 18,000 machines that need the following software for each machine:
$75 MS office
$65 Norton AntiVirus
The cost to this district is $3.2 million. Miguel asks, what could your district do with that money if they choose to use open source instead?
The speakers offered a helpful list of open-source programs that they are using effectively in their schools:
Audacity: A free, open source software for recording and editing sounds in Linux, Mac OS X , and other operating systems.
Joomla: the district used this for their Web site. Scott said they spent $38, found a template that was quickly approved by the superintendent, and for just $8/month they have a user-friendly Web site with quality support.
osTube: this open source YouTube lets the district not only upload videos, but photos, and documents to let students share all kinds of resources. It does require a dedicated server, but the school has been glad for the opportunity to share work with family and community. Their goal is to have kids post their eportfolios here, so when he sits down with a college admissions person, they have one link to show that college or that potential employer all of his vast work.
WordPress mu: This blogging tool can be loaded anywhere; users can set up their own server for a $7/mt account that includes Internet hosting. The school hosts all kinds of blogs, including a grant site that shows grantors how the school is using the grants, and the differences those grants made.
Moodle: This popular open source content management system lets teachers share lessons and courses.
OpenOffice 3.0: Scott called the latest release “awesome.” For example, a user can click one button to convert a file to pdf or link to Joomla to the content to the school site.
Firefox: Scott recommended this as a good web browser great for Twitter, delicious tags—and the browser does not eat up as much bandwidth.
Zooomr.com: created by a 17-yr old using free open source tools (competes with flickr).
Kidpub.org: A place where kids can practice and publish their learning.
Michael Gras spoke about his use of Moodle, which not only saved valuable network space at his district, but allowed Texas schools to establish the Supernet, a consortium of Moodle-based online coursework that reaches 25 school districts.
He warned the audience: “The It director is your enemy.” He said he knows this because he is one. IT Directors spend many hours and many dollars keeping the network and data secure, Michael said. He pointed out that even secure networks get breached, but felt that using open-source would not equal anarchy in schools. He pointed out that learning can’t stop in the classroom, and it requires the kind of access that open source allows. It needs to be part of the cloud that includes parents, teachers, students, and the community.
Open source seems like an obvious choice for cash-strapped schools, and yet I still sensed some resistance in the room. Security seemed to be the biggest concern, and some had had some negative open source experience when they had tried it years ago when open source was still a clunky newborn. I thought about what Sheryl had said in her keynote: “How do you teach your kids with the end in mind when you don’t know what the end will be?” That is certainly our challenge as educators.
For a sneak peek into other Tech Forum conversations, from Web 2.0 to great ESL programs to video snapshots of fascinating roundtable discussions, click HERE.
While I generally agreed with Christine’s notes, there are some areas that bear slight modification if not correction…those are listed below: