Introduction to Information Literacy in the K12 Classroom/Chapter 6.2
Free Open Source Software (F/OSS) are applications where the user can download the entire program free of charge. In general, the definition provides for your freedom to use, modify and redistribute the software in any way you wish. There are no licensing fees to pay, and any costs associated with open source software typically are for staff training or specialized support from a third-party company for implementation assistance (Hirsch, 2009, para.6).
F/OSS has become a new movement in recent years. Imagine replacing Microsoft Windows, Internet Explorer, Microsoft Office, or Blackboard with free alternatives to this proprietary software. This is entirely possible in today’s Web 2.0 world with F/OSS. Supporters of F/OSS believe that, “the source code for programs should be available for anyone else to study, use, enhance, and distribute” (Solomon & Schrum, 2007, p. 50). Many countries outside of the United States are already using F/OSS and have already been using it for years as an alternative to expensive proprietary software (Hirsch, 2009, para. 5). F/OSS should be considered in educational settings for its customization, immediacy, cost effectiveness, and unlimited possibilities for students and teachers.
F/OSS is free to a certain extent, but schools can control the costs associated with it. The cost of traditionally distributed software is static and determined by someone else, who puts a price tag on the manuals, marketing, support, programmers, dividends and shareholders (Pfaffman, 2007, p.39). However, with F/OSS the school can determine who and how much to pay. Usually a school will need to use an already existing IT staff or hire a third party for implementation assistance; however, this cost is minimal to the normal licensing fees a school must pay per desktop computer (Hirsch, para.6). It is estimated that a school district can save about $60,000 to $200,000 or more a year by switching to F/OSS alternatives (Derringer, 2009, para. 9). Another possibility could be for a school to partner with a university where IT students help implement and edit F/OSS for the schools. “By the time they graduate, the students are professionals” at using and implementing F/OSS (Derringer, para. 23). This would give the IT students real-world hands on practice working with F/OSS while also cutting costs for local school districts.
Another advantage to F/OSS is the customization and immediacy it allows users. Users can work closely with the programmers in their schools to add new features to programs specific to that particular school’s needs. Because people can always add to the source code, bugs are usually fixed within a couple of hours and updates are released immediately (Pfaffman, p.39). There are also many sites that have general hosting where thousands of programmers fix bugs in the code all the time (Pfaffman, p.39). Several have thriving development communities with a large body of contributors and a motivated group offering ideas, along with comprehensive documentation providing a clear path for implementation (Hirsch, para.9). F/OSS has become much easier to implement within schools over the past couple of years to provide for more customization and ease of use.
Possibilities of F/OSS for Teachers and Students
There are several possibilities for schools and students once they begin using F/OSS in place of or in addition to proprietary software. There are many schools leading the way with F/OSS and are teaching students not only how to use F/OSS programs, but also how to write their own F/OSS programs (Derringer, para.16). For students in Michigan City, Indiana they have already instated a full program using F/OSS and it is extremely streamlined. The principal claims getting software is as easy as “withdrawing money from an ATM machine” (Derringer, para. 18). The students visit a central command center and select one or more open-source applications from a touch screen, insert a CD, and burn the software onto the disk to install on their computers (Derringer, para. 16). The best part of the whole system is that because it is F/OSS, there are no copyright infringements or licensing problems when students install the same programs that they use at school onto their home computers. With F/OSS it allows students who are disadvantaged or living in poverty the option of having software applications available to them at home. Maybe even with the money saved on licensing by schools they can issue laptops for students, so every student can have a computer at home too. Also allowing students to gain a variety of experiences with various interfaces is important in today’s Web 2.0 world.
For teachers there are many possibilities of using F/OSS as a way to get additional instructional resources. There is an open source literacy program called Free-Reading, that was adopted by the state of Florida for use in its schools (O’Hanlon, 2008, p.26). Bobbi Kurhsan, created Curriki.org where educators can contribute, edit, or download content based on their particular classroom needs (O’Hanlon, p.24). Educators are able to use content that aligns to state standards, rather than receiving pre-packaged programs from a national generic source (O’Hanlon, p. 26). F/OSS allows localizing content to a specific school system’s needs. Imagine the possibilities of software developed for education, with educators, and by educators.
The Future: Once Free Always Free
Once something is licensed as F/OSS it will always be completely free to the user. Even if the host site falls, the source code is still open and available. Schools can always hire someone or work in partnership with an organization to upgrade, maintain or migrate the software for continued use (Pfaffman, p.40). It will be hard to change attitudes at first for people to consider using F/OSS, because it is the norm in most schools, business, and homes to use proprietary software. However, there are now alternative F/OSS applications that are near equal to or better than their proprietary counterparts (Pfaffman, p.43). Schools should consider using F/OSS because of the many options that it allows users. Simply imagine the possibilities of software developed for education, with educators, and by educators.
Examples of Sites that Offer F/OSS Alternatives
Commercial Example: Internet Explorer, Netscape
Free Alternative: Mozilla Fire Fox
Commercial Example: Various Applications
Free Alternative: Various Google Apps Google Maps, Google Docs, Google Sketch
Commercial Example: Microsoft Office Suite
Free Alternative: OpenOffice
Commercial Example: Adobe Audition, Sony Sound Forge
Free Alternative: Audacity
Commercial Example: Kid Pix
Free Alternative: TuxPaint
Commercial Example: Blackboard
Free Alternative: Moodle
A guide to the World of Open Source for K-12 Educators - http://k-12.pisd.edu/open/
Advancing K-12 Technology Leadership - http://www.k12opentech.org/
Open Source Initiative - http://www.opensource.org/
Derringer, P. (2009, April). When Free Isn’t Free. Technology & Learning 29(9), 28-32. Retrieved September 18, 2009, from Wilson Education Database.
Hirsch, J. (2009, May). Opening Up Options for School Software. School Administrator, 66(5), 7-7. Retrieved September 18, 2009, from Education Research Complete database.
O'Hanlon, C. (2008, May). Content, Anyone?. T.H.E. Journal, 35(5), 24-26. Retrieved September 18, 2009, from Education Research Complete database.
Pfaffman, J. (2007, May). It’s Time to Consider Open Source Software. TechTrends: Linking Research & Practice to Improve Learning, pp. 38,43. Retrieved September 18, 2009, doi:10.1007/s11528-007-0040-x
Solomon, G., & Schrum, L. (2007). Web 2.0: New tools, new schools. Washington D.C.: International Society for Technology in Education.