Saturday, January 24, 2009

Open Source

Some comments on "How the Open Source Movement Has Changed Education: 10 Success Stories" March 2007:
The article reviews and commends various open source initiatives and applications that are changing the rules of how we learn and share our learning.

I liked the section below which commends the efforts of teachers of all levels who are "jumping on the train" and learning how to use and apply these online resources effectively in their institutions. I think that real change in education comes from the ground up. It's the educators who take the initiative to research and reflect that lead us to discover better ways to teach and reach our students. And, of course, the teachers can only do so much. While teachers still have some autonomy in their classroom, their efforts go only as far as allowed and assisted by their administration and support from colleagues. Do I go too far here? What other factors contribute to effective change in schools?

Instructors: Instructors, along with their educational institutions, have made the decision that open source venues supply the economic solution to problems defined by school budgets. Although the learning curve is not easy at times, instructors from preschool to Ph.D. levels have found resources that help them to decide what to use, when to use it, and how it's all done. These resources are often delineated by subjects, countries, and languages, but all can find resources on the Internet — like through the EduResources Portal — that can lead to solutions for open source questions.

I also liked the commendation for students. While we don't know what their futures will be like, they certainly don't either. The students who take the risks to experiment with new opportunities certainly must have an advantage in these changing times. I have a student this year who used his Senior Exhibit to start an initiative at our 1:1 laptop school to test the functionality of Linux in our classes. He and several other students took the risk to experiment with this open OS without the support of our tech coordinator, who doesn't have the time in her busy schedule of assisting students when needed to learn how to support them. While he has faced some frustrations throughout the year from unexpected challenges, taking this risk has allowed him to explore an area of interest and learn real world problem solving strategies.
Students: Although some students feel that programs like the OCW deprive a student of the bond that often comes from a student/instructor relationship, most students have embraced open sources and open access with a budget-minded joy and with a skeptical eye toward college programs. An MIT survey of users showed that about a third of freshmen who were aware of MIT's OCW site before attending the university said it made a significant impact on their decision to enroll.

Other student benefits to using open source and open access include:

  • An increase in educational opportunities for those who can't access a classroom. [or outside of the regularly scheduled school day]
  • The ability to see the value and quality of courses offered before making an application to a college.
  • Access to supplemental learning materials. [and supplemental learning applications]

I find that the most exciting applications of Internet resources are those discovered by the students themselves which they use to assist in their own learning, not the ones directed by me. A class of students maintaining blogs to record their reactions to readings is not nearly as exciting as a student who uses a blog to discover new ideas about literature through her own questions and the comments of others.

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