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School Improvement RFP of the Week (1)

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Supporting Open Source Software

From Monday's issue of K-12Leads and Youth Service Markets Report

Announcement: Technology Initiatives Due May 27 (May 14), State Department of Education, Alabama

Their Description: The Alabama Department of Education (SDE) is seeking responses to this RFP for the hosting and management of the Moodle open source learning management system. We are looking for this to be fully hosted at vendor facilities and include comprehensive support and quality service at the lowest competitive cost. The length of the resulting contract for the services requested will be for a period of one (1) year with options to renew for one (1) additional year....

Moodle is a free, open source course management system that includes learner tools that enable the delivery of online learning. All proposals will offer full features of Moodle and the capability of interfacing with a student records system such as the statewide STI student management system in place....

The SDE expects to use Moodle initially for three groups: students, teachers, and administrators. One group is estimated to be approximately 8000 with an increasing number of users in any subsequent year of the contract. The other two groups will consist of an estimated 2000 users (combined). It should be understood that the SDE cannot guarantee the number of users in any given year. The SDE will need sufficient server space to manage all three of these groups with the option to add more if needed.

Wikepedia on Moodle

Moodle (Modular Object-Oriented Dynamic Learning Environment) is a free software e-learning platform (also known as a Course Management System (CMS), or Learning Management Systems (LMS), or Virtual Learning Environment (VLE)). It has a significant user base with 38,896 registered sites with 16,927,590 users in 1,713,438 courses (as of January, 2008) .

Moodle is designed to help educators create online courses with opportunities for rich interaction. Its open source license and modular design means that people can develop additional functionality. Development is undertaken by a globally diffused network of commercial and non-commercial users, streamlined by the Moodle company based in Perth, Western Australia.

Moodle was created by Martin Dougiamas, a WebCT administrator at Curtin University, Australia... His Ph.D. examined “The use of Open Source software to support a social constructionist epistemology of teaching and learning within Internet-based communities of reflective inquiry”.... The stated philosophy of Moodle includes a constructivist and social constructionist approach to education, emphasizing that learners (and not just teachers) can contribute to the educational experience in many ways....

Having said this, Moodle is flexible enough to allow for a full range of modes of teaching... and does not necessitate a constructivist teaching approach.

Constructivism is sometimes seen as at odds with accountability-focused ideas about education, such as the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) in the United States.... but Moodle is also useful in an outcomes-oriented classroom environment because of its flexibility.

My Thoughts: Open source software is not free and it has its security vulnerabilities. On the other hand, it is inherently more flexible, and the security of proprietary software is not always air-tight either.

It is also interesting to note that process-oriented software is no less influenced by educational philosophy than textbooks or professional development.

I would venture to guess that the support of open source software is likely to result in a far more fragmented market structure than support of proprietary software systems. In principle, that should exercise a downward pressure on fees. What this fragmentation of systems/support means for cross district/state information sharing and compatibility is another matter.

K-12Leads and Youth Service Markets Report is a comprehensive weekly web-enabled report delivered by email on Monday. It covers grant and contract RFPs issued by every federal and state education and social services agency and every school district over the internet. K-12Leads is for school improvement providers who understand that their offerings are not commodities, rarely displayed as such, and so easily missed by traditional computer-based “word search” systems.

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Open source software is free, both in terms of cost and freedoms granted to the user. Support has a cost, of course, but in my opinion it is more accurate to say that the software is free than to say it is not.

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