Lowering education’s cost through free or open source tech

Origins of free or open source software

Free or open source software is based on the principles of freedom and cost. Many of these applications were conceived in order to break free from the difficulty of repairing technical errors of propriety applications and the expensive licensing fees on large scale implementations. With its origins in the Free Software movement founded by Richard Stallman and the Open Source Initiative, this concept has expanded beyond the availability of source code to include the freedom to run, modify, and distribute copies of a program.

To clarify the technology, below are some examples of free or open source software applications that are commonly used by public and private organizations:

  • Linux. Linux is an operating system developed by Linus Torvalds in 1991. It is a modification of the UNIX operating system and is typically used for managing computer servers. But Torvalds modified it to be usable for managing desktop systems. While he was developing the system, he shared its codes in order for other developers to modify and distribute. As a result, the system evolved into several variants such as Ubuntu, Debian, and Fedora operating systems. All of these are free to use and free to redistribute. Presently, Ubuntu is the most popular Linux variant that is being used by educational institutions.
  • OpenOffice.Org. OpenOffice.Org is a software suite similar to Microsoft Office. Many organizations and public institutions that cannot purchase large scale Microsoft Office licenses choose this software suite to accomplish daily office processing tasks.
  • Moodle. Moodle is a free and open source online learning management system. Similar to Blackboard, Moodle performs as a tool for managing classroom based tasks such as quizzes, distribution of activities, and online discussions. Some schools and higher education institutions that do not have enough money for commercial learning management systems opt for this application.

Benefits of free or open source software

Experts say that the average school district can realize substantial savings by switching to free or open source software alternatives. For example, free or open source software operating systems such as Ubuntu can perform functions similar to those of Microsoft Windows at a fraction of the cost. It comes bundled with an office suite, a web browser, and other productivity programs that would fit the daily needs of the institution. At the same time, administrators, teachers, staffs, and students could also install the software on their own personal machines.

Schools decide for their students what technology they should use to successfully accomplish school related activities that require computers (Pfaffman, 2008). Because free or open source software can be distributed freely, schools could provide the same software packages to students. This assures an equal opportunity for students to use the same software from school to home.

Students can develop solid decision-making skills in choosing technology with the use of free or open source software applications. Teaching concepts and giving activities while using FOSS applications will broaden students’ range of decisions on choosing or buying software. By refining that skill, they will be free from dependency on commercial software that is often not within their financial reach. Also, knowing how to use alternative FOSS applications will discourage students from pirating programs and violating propriety licenses (Pfaffman, 2008).

(Next page: What does research say?)

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