Free and Open in Education: ISTE and NETP 2010

Today I presented to a room of K-12 education professionals at NYSCATE on how FOSS, FOSS projects and Open Content can help them achieve the goals set forth in NETP 2010 and ISTE 21st Century Skills. When I look at the both sets of goals FOSS fits naturally with the goals in a way proprietary solutions just can not. The very DNA of FOSS communities and projects matches the detailed bits in ISTE and NETP 2010.

cprofitt starting his presentation

cprofitt starting his presentation

Several of the educators were excited with the ideas presented and said they would look for ways to weave FOSS in to their curriculum. Some took multiple live CDs to hand out to colleagues and friends. The lady who won the Fujitsu mini notebook said she would contact me to help her through installing Ubuntu on her new prize.

I have attached a PDF file here: Free and Open in Education: ISTE and NETP 2010

Hands-on Open Source Lab: Success

The hands-on open source lab I taught at NYSCATE 2010 was a resounding success. The technical staff at the school hosting the labs allowed Ubuntu to be loaded on the computers used. This allowed the attendees to experience Ubuntu and several open source applications.

Two of the attendees are considering switching their labs from Windows to Ubuntu after the lab and one is looking to upgrade their school from older Ubuntu installs to the most current LTS. All attendees were amazed with Blender and the sheer quality and quantity of available applications.

Tomorrow I get to present Free and Open in Education: ISTE 21st Century Skills and NETP 2010. I expect to have pack the 120 person capacity room. I will post and update on how that goes tomorrow.

The Journal: State Leaders Weigh In on Open Source Assessment

I opened my email today to find a headline of State Leaders Weigh In on Open Source Assessment; perhaps the time is truly now for getting schools and other governmental entities to consider open source. The article start off with a fairly positive opening.

Open source assessments have great potential for cost savings, collaboration, and standards adoption, but there are also some perception barriers that stand in the way of wider adoption in the immediate future, according to a new report exploring the attitudes of state assessment and technology leaders.

The barriers are detailed in a report entitled “A Report on Education Leaders’ Perceptions of Online Testing in an Open Source Environment,” completed by a marketing firm Grunwald Associates. I have to read the PDF download when I get the chance, but the article summed it up as follows:

Perceived benefits of open source assessment:

  • Potential cost savings based on absence of licensing fees;
  • Common formatting, data standards, and development standards improve/would improve adaptability and, subsequently, efficiency; and
  • Collaboration benefits, including shared resources, ideas, testing standards, and even risks

Concerns about open source assessment:

  1. Possible hidden costs, including maintenance, technical support (sometimes a cost when using an open source product), product development necessary to make modifications, and ongoing professional development for educators using original and modified versions;
  2. Perception of security risks to both source code and content; and
  3. The potential downsides to collaboration, including lack of leadership, lack of alignment in thinking among those recognized as experts for the purposes of development and modifications, and both inherent and unforeseeable inefficiencies.

Additional observations:

  1. The greater a state’s current investment in open source technology and its education leaders’ and educators’ awareness of what it offers, the greater the prevailing interest in increasing its use, in advancing its quality, and in becoming better educated about the technology and the content it propagates and has the potential to offer;
  2. Education leaders need to be better educated about both the benefits and risks of open source technology and its related issues;
  3. Quality, security, ease of use, and access to effective support are of far greater concern than cost savings to users and potential users of the technology;
  4. Because effective evaluation of students’ comprehension, progress, and potential requires more complex and in-depth assessment, in order for the education community to embrace the technology for the long term, it must evolve to include more than multiple-choice and short answer options; and
  5. Many of the prevailing issues surrounding the use of open source technology for assessment can be addressed with strong leadership, reliable structure, and a well organized approach.

As an advocate for open source the additional observations left me feeling good because I can assist with many of them. I currently present at educational technology conferences about FOSS and how it provides greater value to education than merely lowering costs. This addresses both items 2 and 3. One of the greatest pitfalls I have seen other advocates fall in to is focusing solely on the ‘cost’ portion of FOSS. You can see the slide deck from my latest presentation that talks about 21st Century Skills and FOSS on the New York Team Site. This presentation also included material from the new NETP 2010 recommendations from the US Department of Education that was released on March 5th. I am a strong believer that Canonical or another vendor of a Linux distro could work with the US DoE to meet some of their goals. I am glad to see that more mainstream educational media are picking up the stories about FOSS as it will increase awareness amongst education leaders.

EdTech Day 2010: Ithaca College

This Thursday (3/25) the New York State Ubuntu LoCo will converge on Ithaca and join the Ithaca Free Software Association at EdTech Day 2010 in Ithaca NY. The description that the organizers give the event is:

Educational Technology Day is a regional technology event that attracts over 1,600 people annually from the upstate New York region. It features local and national vendors such as Apple, Dell, Epson, Hewlett Packard, IBM, Microsoft, SunGard Higher Education, and many others.

While one of the primary audiences for the event is the higher education community, the event is open to all, and there is plenty of information of interest to the K-12 and business communities. You’ll be able to talk directly with major computer and technology vendors, explore educational applications, be dazzled by computer graphics and state of the art audio-visual systems, learn how technology is being used today in and outside of higher education, and see what can be expected in the coming years.

The Ubuntu LoCo team will have members four members from Rochester and two from Syracuse manning a booth on the main sales floor (a few booths over from Microsoft) and I will be giving a presentation on FOSS and 21st Century Skills. The presentation will focus on how working with an open sources project like Ubuntu will provide real world experience for students. Real projects for teachers to guide their students too. Real depth in their applications stack. Last year we gave out over 300 CDs in under two hours. This year we are bringing over 700 CDs to the event and hope this will be enough to make it through the day. I will be updating my blog from the event and after.

The time for FOSS in education is now and I am trying to get that message out.

Announcing: Ubuntu Educators

The Ubuntu Educators team is focused on producing open courseware related to Ubuntu and other FOSS applications. The team is currently using Moodle to both develop and publish courses. The courses will be published as CC-BY-SA and be free to take and available for download as well. The goal is to develop materials that are similar to those in the Open Course Library Project or MIT OpenCourseware Project but focused on helping users learn to use Ubuntu and FOSS applications as well as courses that can assist IT professionals support FOSS in their environment.

The Ubuntu Educators will work under the Ubuntu Learning umbrella with two other teams. One of the other teams is focused on the mechanics of actually teaching the courses in-person or using IRC and the other team is concerned with producing materials for courses. If you would like to know more about the Umbrella group you can visit its wiki page.

If you are interested in joining the team and assisting with course development please visit the teams LaunchPad page, wiki page or the Ubuntu Educators Ning site. The team also has an email list interested folks can join.

classroomtoolkit.net – The Case against Open Source

I recently read an article that made me shake my head. It was full of misinformation, uninformed conclusions, over generalizations, and red herrings. It was about how the argument for Open Source software is being detrimental to our schools. I am going to link to the original and comment on the article here, but I really would like to hear what your thoughts are.

The article starts off with a very insulting over-the-top paragraph:

“The Case against Open Source is really a case against the “Free and Cheap” mantra that some Open Source Advocates chant when they solicit action (and wrong-headed decisions) from school district leaders. This is a case against folks (who know little about instruction and even less about the needs of teachers); who, despite their lack of knowledge, pitch this “save-money fantasy (delusional) strategy” to school district executives (who should know better than to listen, but don’t).”

It becomes obvious from the opening salvo that the author either did not talk to an actual Open Source advocate or did not properly process the message. Open Source advocates are not about Free and Cheap (as in beer); they are about Free as in Liberty. It makes me think that the author is either more interested in a flame war than real discussion or they are of limited intelligence; neither is particularly good.

“These folks could even be school district employees, Techies, who have used Windows™ Open Source software (the most prevalent kind); but, most of these folks are “outsiders” that…”

I love the derisive “Techies” moniker that the author uses here. This term is usually used by the technically inept as a way of devaluing the skills of a technology professional. I recognize that I have no experience in a classroom and value the professional experience of teachers. Regardless of software and hardware choices there must be a synergy between professional IT and professional teaching staff for technology integration to work in schools.

This is followed by a quick sidebar which has several bullet points; I would like to address a few.

“Don’t understand what teacher want or need”

I agree I do not know what a teacher wants or needs. As a technician I view my roll as helping the teacher know what is available and to ‘cut through’ the sales pitch that companies often deliver. I can not tell you the number of times vendors represent their product as web based when it is, in fact, not web based.

“Don’t comprehend the compatibility issues that are associated with running software within a school district ‘technology ecosystem'”

For my part I do have an idea. I know that software and hardware compatibility happen regardless of platform. Even in a closed Apple ecosystem there are compatibility issues that plague school districts.

“Don’t realize that Technology Integration is a failed concept…unless an entire program is funded to an adequate level, with additional funding contingency funding”

I guess the author misses that Free and Open Source (FOSS) software can lower the cost of software which in turn makes it easier for available funding to be adequate. Certainly there still has to be funding for hardware and training.

“Don’t have a clue about how software costs add a minor (almost trivial) expense in the overall success of a technology program”

I think the author truly does not understand how much software costs. I would like to give an example of a typical windows based computer.

  • Computer:  ~$500
  • Windows Active Directory CAL: $8
  • Windows License (Enterprise or Professional): $54
  • Microsoft Office: $54
  • Photoshop Elements: $54
  • Antivirus License: $8
  • Altiris Management License: $8
  • A package of three ‘educational’ titles: $54

The balance is ~$500 for the hardware and ~$240 for the software for the ‘typical’ windows based instructional computer. There are other solutions that would raise the price for specific departments. This does not include the labor to install and support the systems, but I believe those costs would exist regardless of platform choice and are, thus, a red herring. With the numbers above the software cost 32% of the cost of the computing environment. Perhaps the author considers this amount trivial; I do not.

“Fail to recognize that Apple™ computers provide better solutions to their arguments for “Free and Cheap Open Source” than Open Source software does”

I am not even sure how to respond to this. Apple computers are nothing more than a hardware platform. They are PCs running OS X. The initial purchase of an Apple does come with some software included, but the higher cost of the computer pays for that software. Much of the software must be paid for if you upgrade it in the future.

“A second cost center, training and professional development, should be at least 30% of project cost.”

I would hope that reducing the cost of software would assist in making funding available for training.

“For example: If a project costs $30 million USD, then training and professional development costs should run about $10 million USD. But, school districts seldom allocate more than single-digit percentages to training and professional development…funds for stipends, trainers, follow-up support, release time, software and equipment for teachers to use at home, etc. School districts skimp and under fund in this area, and the results (as observed nation wide) is technology that is un used, under used and under utilized.”

“For example: For the $30 million project, $10 million for hardware, software and infrastructure, $10 million for training and professional development and $10 million for Back-End programming, interoperability, automation, development and support.”

In the scenario the author describes there would be 10 million spent on hardware and software. Given the numbers I gave this would result in a 3.2 million dollar savings. 3.2 million to put towards more training, more hardware or just reduce the total cost of the project.

Computer: $400
Installation: $60
Three Year Warranty: $125
Network Drop (to connect the computer to a Switch): $130
Cost of Port on the Network Switch: $125

Using the authors numbers, which may or may not be valid, the total cost of a computer with proprietary software would be $1080 and a completely open source computer would cost $840. While this reduces the cost of software to 22% of the computing environment; that cost is still far from trivial to me. The author makes no attempt to normalize these costs either. A network drop and switch will have a significantly longer life span than the computer or the software. Those two items might last as long as two or three computers depending on the replacement cycle set for computers. The author proposed a three year replacement cycle which would result in three computers and three software upgrades in the lifespan of the switch and drop. That alters the cost of software to 27% of the cost of the computing environment.

The author also specifically cited the issue of “software and equipment for teachers to use at home” while apparently not grasping that teachers must pay full retail cost for many of the titles schools pay very little for.

  • Office $149 w/o a database program or $419 w/ a database program
  • Antivirus $39
  • Photoshop $129

With open source adoption the teachers cost of applications to replace the core three listed above would be zero.

“Move to full SIF Compliance”

Having worked with several proprietary vendors in regards to SIF compliance I am shocked to see this brought up. Under SIF I have seen product A support a sub-set of data and product B support a different sub-set of data rendering the two products incapable of integration via SIF. Proprietary products and vendors tend to tie your data down in their format.

The article also ignores the fact that the world is moving more and more towards using open source. I agree that one can not just rip and replace all Windows or Apple computers, but it is foolish to not pick and choose quality open source applications for use in the educational arena. It is foolish to ignore the cost of ‘home use’ for both teachers and students if one wants to close the digital divide.

While I agree with the parts of the article that talk about ignored costs of technology integration such as infrastructure and training I can not understand how the author missed the fact that reducing software costs should increase available funding for those two areas. The other wrong-headed idea the author pushed was that the adoption of FOSS is an all or nothing game. It is not.

Link to original article

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