K-12 Open Source: Say Yes to New Digital Realities in Schools

You can read this article online via the ISTE web site or get my one sided response....

The following was accepted for publication in the September, 2005 issue of ISTE's publication, Learning and Leading with Technology.
Guiding Question: Is open source the right direction for schools/districts?
Yes to open knowledge sharing. As a Texas schoolteacher, I learned a lesson about sharing ideas--the more open we are about what we we do in our classrooms, the more significant the impact on teaching and learning is. Our planning period table-talks changed what we did in the classroom. In a similar manner, our children are transforming our attitudes regarding the role open knowledge and software plays in our schools. As they sit around a global table, it is our students' ideas that we would do well to heed.

Yes to open source software tools. Today's students are already using the Internet, writing programs and designing licensed as free, open source software. They collaborate with each other, relying on global experts, building systems that they can use in various settings. Through open knowledge sharing they create tools such as the following: graphic organizers, Office suites, instructional software, blogs, wikis, web/graphic design, web-enabled databases, and podcasts. Open knowledge sharing is quickly allowing these students to construct a digital reality.

Yes to a new digital reality. Students are using open-source software--compatible with proprietary tools--to create an online world outside the bounds of costly, proprietary software. For example, one urban school district pays as much as $75 for MS Office, $65 for Norton Anti-Virus, $120 for Macromedia Studio MX 2004 software per seat. Contrast the cost of these proprietary software titles with the free, open source software titles such as OpenOffice, ClamWin Antivirus, NVU Web Design, and //THE Graphics Image Manipulation Program//, all Windows compatible. A potential savings of $410 per computer or in a district with 18,000 workstations, a total of $7,380,000. Or, consider another combination of software tools: MS Office, Norton AntiVirus, and Inspiration (let's say $14.00 for a large district purchase) for a total of $212. Savings would be $2.7 million if you went with the free OpenOffice, ClamWin, and //Cmap Tools// (alternative graphic organizer software). Couldn't we do something else with a couple million?

We all must ask, "How does this expensive software support me as I learn, teach and communicate in a global economy?" Locked into a cycle of increasingly expensive software purchases and licensing...shouldn't American school districts seeking to heighten problem-solving, collaboration, as well as decrease costs, use open source software?

Yes to rigor and relevance. As the world changes, we seek to prepare our students to think critically and solve problems collaboratively. Yet, those who abandoned the factory model approach to schooling need software tools. Educators require tools that enhance rigor and heighten relevance within the curriculum. We are educators striving, not to make our pupils, software developers, but rather, enable them with software they can use without fear of becoming digital pirates.

Yes to collaborative problem-solving. If our students have the courage to use open source software solutions, then we, as educators, must also. If we do not, we will fail those who will face the competitive nations of a world that has already capitalized on the open source software development process. America will have been defined by its failure to reach out and tap into the digital partnerships, the creative power it ushered in.

Yes to ambiguity and flexibility. In business, we look for rock-steady environments. In education, we seek out opportunities that will force us to think different, thrive amidst ambiguity, and foster flexibility. Advocating Open source in K-12 goes to the heart of what it means to be educated in the 21st Century, as well as how we can no longer fund proprietary software companies at the expense of our education systems.