Lowering education’s cost through free or open source tech


Research on implementing free or open source software

In 2011 a study was conducted on the implementation of free or open source software in a school setting by Paul McKimmy of the University of Hawaii-Monoa. It was supported by the Mathematics and Culture in Micronesia: Integrating Societal Experiences Project (MACIMISE). The participants were math teachers and their K-12 students. They were provided with laptops loaded with Ubuntu Linux as the operating system. Other free or open source software was also installed, such as Open Office.org, Firefox, and a variety of mathematical-oriented software (PSPP, Freemind and Kig).

During the course of six months of using the laptop, a survey on user experience was given to the participants using a 7-point Likert scale ranging from 1 (Extremely Dissatisfied) to 7 (Extremely Satisfied). The survey showed that respondents reported 60 percent positive experiences, 20 percent were neutral, and 20 percent reported negative experiences. It was found that their positive experiences centered on the wide range of available free software, ease of peripheral device setup, computing speed, and available features of the computers. Their negative reflections centered on the incompatibility of Windows or OSX software, difficulty with some peripheral devices, and lack of experienced technical support. The respondents were generally positive about recommending Ubuntu Linux to family and friends or to schools (McKimmy, 2012).

Conclusion

Free or Open Source Software applications are free–free to redistribute and free to modify. The current financial threats to education could push schools to investigate the possibilities of implementing the technology. Findings suggest that implementing FOSS technologies alleviates the cost and the unequal access to technology. The nonrestrictive licenses encourage teachers to share their FOSS lesson packages or materials with their colleagues, and with the teaching community to further modify and improve. Being an active learner of free or open source software could improve decision making skills on choosing software. Free or open source software could free schools and students from a heavy dependency on commercial software.

However, many schools are still not aware of the free technologies they can use as an alternative to their commercial infrastructure. Many free tools have been developed, but are failing to reach their audience. Especially in public education, data-driven research on the effectiveness of FOSS is needed before schools will widely adopt the technology. free or open source software evangelists and organizations should disseminate more information on what they can offer.

Arthur Beltran is currently pursuing an Ed.D in Curriculum and Instruction, specializing in Instructional Technology, at the University of Houston. His research focus is on technological applications and systems that enrich classroom instruction and school administration. He is a former educational technology college instructor of and a former high school computer education teacher at the University of Santo Tomas, Manila, Philippines.

References

McKimmy, P. (2012). Free(dom) Software in the Pacific: Student Experiences with
Ubuntu Linux. In T. Amiel & B. Wilson (Eds.), Proceedings of World Conference on
Educational Multimedia, Hypermedia and Telecommunications 2012 (pp. 216-222).
Chesapeake, VA: AACE.

Pfaffman, J. (2008). Transforming High School Classrooms with Free/Open Source
Software: “It’s Time for an Open Source Software Revolution.” High School Journal,
91(3), 25–31.

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