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:
- 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;
- Perception of security risks to both source code and content; and
- 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.
- 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;
- Education leaders need to be better educated about both the benefits and risks of open source technology and its related issues;
- 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;
- 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
- 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.