Educational Institutions Doing Homework on Open Source Software

by Ostatic Staff - Jan. 26, 2009

Maybe it's personal bias, but a few of us here at OStatic have wondered why using open source software isn't a foregone conclusion in education.

The BBC has posted an insightful piece on open source software in schools that not only touches on the strengths of the software, but also the complexities of deploying it in these environments.

It's not always about cost, upfront or long-term. And while the "new software learning curve" is always mentioned, it's not necessarily learning the software that throws the wrench in plans. It's often the sheer act of timing, planning, and learning enough to make the right choice for schools.

The BBC article quotes John Spencer, the head of business development at Sirius IT:

... [Educators] don't want to move away from what they know, not just to Linux but equally to Vista and Office 2007 as well. Good teachers will always be looking to move forward but they are so busy that they are often conservative.

It's a good point, and one I've seen in my travels through libraries. Upgrading can be painful. I had a librarian ask me at one point (because Linux was working well on the library's public computers) what would be involved in migrating the staff machines to Linux. He'd become rather attached to the Linux systems, but his impetus for asking centered on the heftier hardware requirements and learning curve that moving to Vista would involve.

The important matter to highlight here is that he was considering it seriously, prior to needing to sign contracts, prior to anything becoming a crisis situation. The BBC article emphasizes that the key to success is making an informed choice, and realizing that any solution (free or proprietary) has its costs.

I might add that it's beneficial to let go of the ever-intimidating learning curve spectre. Education is about exploration, it's about taking things apart and putting them back together, and then applying what was discovered in one situation to a different situation. Technology -- hardware, software, on a local computer or on a remote server somewhere -- is in flux, it's ever-changing. Educating students with open source software doesn't mean they'll be lost when using proprietary applications -- it could very well mean they're more likely to click a menu option to see what it really does.