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The Open Source Software Movement and Its Effects on Education Ondalee A. Moore Regis University

OPEN SOURCE SOFTWARE AND EDUCATION Abstract Open Source Software has changed the development and availability of software programs. Since the establishment of the Open Source Initiative, Open Source Software production has increased exponentially and continues to do so. The benefits of such software are the ability for the user to modify the program to meet his/her needs, legal redistribution, and no cost to the user. Open Source Software is viewed under the theory

of Social Constructivism because of its ability to allow the users the share knowledge and learn from each other. Education has adopted Open Source Software due to the Social Constructivism aspects, which enhance the ability to create 21st Century Learners. Education continues to use and has expanded its use of this software not only because it aids in student learning, but also because it is a free option to essential software in tough economic times. Although there are great benefits to the use of Open Source Software in Education, some teachers skill avoid it due to the rise of cyber bullying.


It has always been that only the very intellectual, very technology savvy computer programmers are the only people who can create computer programs and if you want to use them you must purchase them at high costs. I remember when I purchased my MacBook; the basic software of Microsoft Office was not included. It cost me an additional one hundred fifty dollars. I could not believe that with the outrageous amount of money I had just spend on my new MacBook, that I had to spend that much more just to be able to type a simple paper. The days like this are now over, or at least they will soon be. This is all possible due to the Open Source Movement. The Open Source Movement as defined by R.E. Wyllys (2000) is: A world-wide movement composed, both formally and informally, of many people who feel that the best way to produce software that will be sophisticated, robust, and (relatively) bug-free is to enlist the cooperation of interested, skilled, altruistic programmers who are willing to work for free, inspired by the twin goals of producing high-quality programs and of working cooperatively with other similarly minded people. It is because of this movement that there is now a variety of free open source software available. When IBM released the first computer in the 1960s, it contained what we would now call Open Source Software. It included software that was free and could be modified using the included source code and shared with others. It wasnt until the late 1960s that IBM no longer included software with their computers. At this time they began charging for it and no longer allowed for modification or redistribution by the user (Gonzalez-

OPEN SOURCE SOFTWARE AND EDUCATION Barahona, 2000). This gave way to the rise of what is widely known as proprietary software, or software that is not free and owned by a company or individual. This trend continued for years in fact, this type of software is the most commonly used software to this day. It was not until the late 1970s that two groups challenged the idea of proprietary software. Richard Stallman who worked at a programmer at MIT created the GNU project. The mission of the GNU project was to build a free operating system. After creating this, the GNU designed the GNU General Public License. This move was made to ensure that their software would always be free and to encourage others to create free software as well (Open Source Movement-Wikipedia). Stallmans project, with move development from others, later became known a Linux, which creates competition for Windows and Mac OS. At nearly the same time, the Computer Science Research Group (CSRG) of the

University of California at Berkeley was working to improve the Unix system, which is a multiuser operating system. Their efforts did not produce the expected results that Stallams did. While these two groups were huge contributors to the Open Source Movement, at the time their software and source codes were limited to a very small group. In 1997, Eric Raymond published a paper entitled; The Cathedral and the Bazaar that changed the thinking of many in regards to the Open Source Software development. His central theme in regards to software development was given enough eyeballs, all bugs are shallow (Raymond 2010). This article gave way to the forming of what is now know as the Open Source Movement or the Open Source Initiative.


The Open Source Initiative is a non-profit corporation with global scope formed to educate about and advocate for the benefits of open source and to build bridges among different constituencies in the open source community (Mission: Open Source Initiative). Since the formation of this initiative, Open Source Software production has increased dramatically and continues to grow exponentially. Many now link the Open Source Software to the idea of Social Constructivism because of the social nature and collaborative learning involved in the creation of Open Source Software. In Miles Berrys 2010 lecture at Roehampton University entitled, Social Constructivism and Open Source Software he speaks to a group of primary teachers pursuing their degrees in ICT about how Open Source Software and Social Constructivism are connected. Social Constructivism is the theory that learning is what one brings from their culture and experiences, as well as from communication with others. The thought behind this theory is that the more communication and connections with his/her community one has, the more he/she can learn. He states that because of the use of the Internet ones community has grown and thus, he/she is able to learn more. (Berry 2010) A group via the Internet creates Open Source Software. This group would be considered the community by which the programmers are learning. Each time a person or programmer evaluates the software, he/she is sharing his/her knowledge and contributing ideas, which are built on the knowledge and ideas of others. Each time this happens the final work becomes better. It is with that same notion that educators can use Open Source Software in their classrooms. Berry speaks of a program called Scratch where students create interactive

OPEN SOURCE SOFTWARE AND EDUCATION stories or games. I would relate this program to the widely known, proprietary version that is PowerPoint. Scratch is not the only Open Source Software that can be used in the classroom. There are so many that I cannot name them all and more are being created al the time.

Open Source Software programs have many benefits for educational use. It seems that every year the school districts are faced with more and more budget cuts that reach into the millions. With that said, many school districts are making cuts in all areas of which technology is not excluded. This year my school had to eliminate three proprietary software subscriptions due to cuts. Open Source Software circumvents this problem because it is free. Schools do not have to worry about not being able to keep their subscriptions. The fact that Open Source Software is free provides another benefit to schools. Since it is free and able to be distributed, schools can share their software with students and their families. Because of budget cuts and the movement toward creating 21st Century Learners school are relying more upon technology and moving toward paperless means. With the ability for students to access the same programs at home as they do at school, teachers are able to assign homework that is not in the form of paper. If families have access to the programs at home they are able to be more involved in their students academics. Parents are able to work with their child at home, which is essential to their success. Another great benefit to Open Source Software is that it is used to create 21st Century Learners. While the definition of 21st Century Skills is a working definition, The Partnership for 21st Century Skills defines them as, critical thinking and problem

OPEN SOURCE SOFTWARE AND EDUCATION solving; communication, collaboration; and creativity and innovation. Open Source Software aides teachers in teaching students these skills. By using Open Source Software students are able to create projects rather than papers. They create movies, slideshows, games, and many other presentations. Students are able to use their imagination much more than if required to do a pencil and paper report. By creating projects using the software students are also learning and practicing necessary computer skills. When students finish projects using Open Source Software, they are able to upload them to the Internet. Many of the programs allow for feedback from readers. Students can take that feedback and improve their project. If an in-class report waere assigned, students would only be able to receive feedback from the teacher and the other students in their class. Now students can get feedback from an infinite number of people

from all over the world each bringing a different perspective and more knowledge. Even on sites where students do not publish anything they are still able to gain the knowledge of others. Sites like Wikipedia allow students to gain knowledge from anyone. And with the ability for Open Source Software to be updated frequently, the content from the sources is considered up-to-date and thus more relevant. Open Source Software such as Wikis allow students to communicate with anyone about topics of interest. Not only allowing for communication between two people who are not in the same place, but also collaboration of ideas. When I was in school, I remember how difficult it was to coordinate everyones schedules when group projects were assigned. Now, this problem is eliminated by the use of Open Source Software. Group members can use Goggle Docs or Wikis to collaborate,

OPEN SOURCE SOFTWARE AND EDUCATION communicate, create, and work together since programs like this allow the appointed users to add and edit works. Each member of the group can add his/her ideas or part of

the project when his/her schedule allows. And because such software is free, all members will have equal access. There are many benefits to Open Source Software usage in school and it seems as tough every teacher should be implementing it into their classrooms. However, with anything in life there are always pros and cons. One of the biggest drawbacks of Open Source Software is that anyone can contribute to the contents. This is especially prevalent in the case of Wikipedia. Students often see Wikipedia as an online encyclopedia, and while this is true, it is not as reliable as other proprietary versions of the encyclopedia. In fact, I can go on Wikipedia right now and change some of the information. Someone can then come along, read, and believe the non-factual information I posted. Teachers often steer clear of Internet software and programs for the fear of cyber bullying. The interconnectedness of the world has lead way to a new, more detrimental type of bullying. Students all of the world are posting untrue or embarrassing information about others for everyone to see and we all know that once something is posted on the internet, it is impossible to completely erase it. Teachers do not want to encourage this behavior and sometimes avoid Internet based programs for classroom use. Software production and usage has come a long way since the invention of the first computer. The creation of Open Source Software has created more advantages than disadvantages in our society. I now know that the next time a purchase an overpriced laptop, I do not need to purchase the overprice software to complete even the simplest of


tasks. Everyone can benefit from gaining free software that does the same thing and even more than its costly counter part. Everyone except those who design software for a living.



Berry, M. (2010, January 22). Social Constructivism and Open Source Software | Schools World. Educational Videos | Classroom Videos | Schools World. Retrieved August 30, 2011, from Gonzalez-Barahona, J. (2000, April 24). A brief history of open source software. EU. Retrieved August 30, 2011, from Mission | Open Source Initiative. (n.d.). Mission | Open Source Initiative. Retrieved August 30, 2011, from Open source movement - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. (n.d.). Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Retrieved August 30, 2011, from Raymond, E. (2010, February 18). The Cathedral and the Bazaar. The Cathedral and the Bazaar. Retrieved August 30, 2011, from The Partnership for 21st Century Skills - Our Mission. (n.d.). The Partnership for 21st Century Skills - Home. Retrieved August 31, 2011, from iew

OPEN SOURCE SOFTWARE AND EDUCATION Wyllys, R. E. (n.d.). Overview of the Open-Source Movement. UT School of Information- Home Page. Retrieved August 30, 2011, from