“The opposite of ‘open’ isn’t closed. The opposite of open is broken.” This quote, by the open-access advocate John Wilbanks, isn’t just applicable to the realm of data – it’s relevant to education, too.
By Steven Blum
Open source curriculums lower the barriers to entry for schools interested in eLearning. By combining free learning platforms, like Moodle, with open textbooks, schools can dramatically lower the price of online education.
John Iglar, who will be speaking at the 2015 eLearning Africa conference , uses open-source software extensively in his role as Technology Director at the International Community School (ICS) in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
“The philosophy of freedom, openness and sharing is one that resonates with our school culture, and should appeal to any educational institution,” he told eLearning Africa.
Iglar started his career as a math teacher “Back in those days the attitude was, ‘You know how to work a computer? Great! Teach the classes,’” he said. He wound up teaching at different levels, from three year-olds to adults.
Over time, he rose to the level of technology director. “It’s an exciting area in which to work, as it really helps schools be more relevant and dynamic, which helps reach and stretch our students.”
At ICS, Iglar uses Moodle, an open source system to run the school’s eLearning system; Mahara, to manage the school’s e-portfolio system; and Ubuntu, an open source operating system, to allow teachers and students to use a variety of open source applications like LibreOffice, Inkscape and GIMP.
He likes open-source software because it empowers students to create their own lesson plans.
“We want our students to be in charge of the technology, “ he said. “We want them to be creators and not just users. If you’re able to build and create applications for computers, you’re in charge.”
Open Educational Resources (OER) can be combined with open software to create robust curriculums with minimum investment. Many of these resources have been available to students and teachers for over a decade. In 2001, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) faculty decided to allow anyone to use their course content. Since then, over 100 million people have accessed MIT’s materials.
Applying open licenses to educational materials allow for collaboration amongst educators. For example, an English teacher might acquire open-licensed word problems for students but re-write the exercises to include language that is culturally-relevant. That teacher can then share this material with others.
Not all open-source resources are aesthetically pleasing, or easy-to-use, but that’s the price many adoptees are willing to pay for platforms that are free, endlessly adaptable and future-proof.
“Open source software isn’t easy. It can be ugly. It might need tweaks. But with that comes freedom and the ability to change things,” Iglar said.
You can read more about what free teaching software Iglar recommends on his blog, as well as at: opensource.com/education.
You can also hear more about John Iglar’s OER approaches at the eLearning Africa conference, May 20 – 22, 2015, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.