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Open Source on the Agenda

A special thanks to Paul Hyland, the chief technology officer for edweek.org, for this guest blog post about open-source tech issues.

Open-source technology displayed a growing presence at the National Educational Computing Conference last week. Presentations and handouts touted numerous open-source alternatives to traditional software, the best collected in a handout listing the Top 10 Free and Open Source Software in Education. Oft-mentioned open-source software packages that can save school districts money include office suite OpenOffice.org, photo/image editor The GIMP, and audio editor Audacity.

A top choice for operating system software is Ubuntu Linux, with distributions (or versions) available for workstations or servers, and specialized distributions customized for netbooks and for the education market. Sponsoring organization Revolution Linux set up a clustered server running 60 thin-client workstations, and Benoit St-Andre, Revolution’s Educational Services Director, told me of much larger thin client deployments they have carried out for school districts--covering up to 10,000 workstations and 40,000 students (which can cut both hardware and power costs in half). For more detail on its history and options read the Ubuntu Linux Wikipedia entry.

Open Education Resources--free and freely-sharable curriculum materials--were a big hit at the conference as well, particularly in the wake of California’s announced move in favor of free, online textbooks. Curriki was an exhibitor, and their blogger and evangelist Anna Batchelder gave a talk covering Curriki as well as other offerings such as MIT OpenCourseWare, FreeReading, Connexions, and OER Commons; the latter can be searched directly from our Teacher Magazine home page.

Curriki Executive Director Barbara “Bobbi” Kurshan touted the value and cost savings Curriki makes possible at a meeting that also featured Chicago Public Schools technology administrators outlining how open-source infrastructure from Sun Microsystems helped them leverage E-Rate funds to enjoy $1 million per year in network operations cost savings. (Sun initially launched Curriki, and then spun it off as an independent nonprofit organization.)

It is clear from the growing presence of open-source technologies at conferences such as NECC and in the education press that these alternatives have reached a level of maturity at which they can be credibly considered--especially given the budgetary constraints so prevalent today.

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