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Education GNU is Not Unix

How Open Source Is Changing Education 70

ftblguy writes "MIT's Open CourseWare program provides a great example of how the open source movement is impacting education. The Online Education Database also lists Project Gutenberg, Wikipedia, Linux, Firefox, and Google (?) as some of the other open source in education success stories. Open source and open access resources have changed how colleges, organizations, instructors, and prospective students use software, operating systems, and online documents for educational purposes. Each success story has served as a springboard to create more open source successes."
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How Open Source Is Changing Education

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  • The best education open-source software out there!
    • by MattPat ( 852615 )

      I know it's configuration, not the software, and I've heard Moodle can be pretty good, but...

      I know of quite a few people who want to pull their hair out because of Moodle's constant annoying email notifications. :P For them, using Moodle feels like punishment for a crime.

      • All of which, as a participant/student, you can turn off on a per forum per course etc. basis. Unless the facilitator of the course has mandated it, but then it's them you should be miffed with.
  • Open Source? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by owlnation ( 858981 ) on Tuesday March 06, 2007 @06:57AM (#18248136)
    I'm puzzled. In what way is Google open source? Yes, there are some open elements, but...

    And Wikipedia's success is far from proven, nor is it entirely truly open either. If anything the area where it fails the most is in Education, since the information it contains is unreliable.
    • Re:Open Source? (Score:4, Informative)

      by L4m3rthanyou ( 1015323 ) on Tuesday March 06, 2007 @07:00AM (#18248148)
      Wikipedia can be unreliable, yes, and that's why students here are told not to use it directly. However, it's still an incredibly useful tool when used as a "launch pad" for finding other sources (via google or whatever else).
    • And everything your teachers told you was true?
      Just look at something like chemistry or physics, when you leave one school to go to a higher one they practically tell you to forget everything you've learned up until that point as it was not accurate.
    • I'm puzzled. In what way is Google open source?

      Yes, I am puzzled too. TFA seems to use 'open source' in a way that I, at least, am not familiar with. Basically they call 'open source' something that includes the open access movement (mentioned recently on Slashdot - duped, even) and related things. This is very close to what Eben Moglen (of the FSF, etc.) calls 'free culture'. Freedom as a whole would include FOSS, but FOSS is just one part of it; another is free sharing of information and culture, which
    • Re:Open Source? (Score:5, Informative)

      by mgiuca ( 1040724 ) on Tuesday March 06, 2007 @08:58AM (#18248602)

      I'm puzzled. In what way is Google open source? Yes, there are some open elements, but...
      Google is a huge promoter and funder of open source software. But I agree, their core software is not, which is kinda hypocritical.

      And Wikipedia's success is far from proven, nor is it entirely truly open either. If anything the area where it fails the most is in Education, since the information it contains is unreliable.
      Wikipedia is as open as anything possibly could be. (Short of them giving everyone root access on their web servers).
      • The software it runs on (MediaWiki) was written specifically for Wikipedia. It's open source and GPL. I use it for my personal and professional (education) uses all the time.
      • The other software on their web servers is Apache and MySQL. Both open source.
      • All text which gets placed on Wikipedia is automatically released under the GFDL, so the text is "open source" (or "open text") too. This means anyone is free to copy the text and use it, but they must continue to release under the GFDL, similar to the GPL.
      • Finally, it's open in the sense that anyone can edit it!
      Therefore I am baffled at this statement that Wikipedia is "not entirely truly open".
      • by griffjon ( 14945 )
        ...they let people using Windows edit it? ... uh... yeah, it's open.
      • I think they're running lighttpd: another open source web server. :)
        • by gkhan1 ( 886823 )
          No, wikipedia most certainly runs on Apache. See this diagram [] for a layout of wikipedia servers (it might not be completely current). The master databases are MySQL, the web-servers are Apache running mediawiki and all pages are cached by a huge bunch of squids. And, of course, they all run linux :)
    • And Wikipedia's success is far from proven, nor is it entirely truly open either. If anything the area where it fails the most is in Education, since the information it contains is unreliable.

      The fact that Wikipedia can be unreliable is not necessarily a bad thing for education, if you approach it properly. It can be a good starting point, but not always a good authoritative source. So I teach my students to be careful in accepting what it says without question. In other words, I teach them to think cri

    • by Lobais ( 743851 ) on Tuesday March 06, 2007 @09:58AM (#18248974)
      Well, I think Wikipeida's success is rather proven. Just look at the google trafic: []
      And the reliability studies show that Wikipedia is just about as reliable as Britannica: []
      Furthermore it puts light on the fact, that you always have to cross test your informations, no matter the source.

      How can that not be success?
      • Parent is correct. And as a man known for his Wikipedia-esque intelligence once said, "You forgot about Poland!"
      • That's exactly the point: it's only as accurate (and as complete) as the Encyclopedia Britannica.

        The Encyclopedia Britannica should never be cited in real research; neither should Wikipedia.
      • And the reliability studies show that Wikipedia is just about as reliable as Britannica: []
        Yeah, but how reliable is that reliability study? I mean, c'mon, Their domain name doesn't even make sense, and we're supposed to trust their data?
        • by jc42 ( 318812 )
          Yeah, but how reliable is that reliability study? I mean, c'mon, Their domain name doesn't even make sense, and we're supposed to trust their data?

          Interesting comment, considering that you posted it on a site called "". ;-)

    • Do you only squat-on and post-to "/.", and who financially donates to your living standard.

      Over the past year alone there has been many postings of articles, comments, and URL/Links related to Wikipedia, Google, Novel, Edu content and resources, OSS developers ... on "/.".

      I am perplexed that anyone who keeps up with current technology events on /., 2600, Wired, Technology Review, San Jose Mercury a/o ... would not consider your questions as having the intent to fain ignorance with obvious prevarication to o
  • Where's Moodle? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Flambergius ( 55153 )
    If the story is about "Open Source in education success stories" and it does not even mention Moodle ( []), I won't hesitate to consider it worthless. Moodle is the biggest Open Source success in education. To be completely ignorant about it is to be ignorant about Open Source in education.
    • Re:Where's Moodle? (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Adhemar ( 679794 ) on Tuesday March 06, 2007 @08:13AM (#18248410)

      Moodle ( []) is great, but so is that other Free Software e-learning and course management web application Dokeos ( []). (A fork of ex-Claroline [], by the original authors, who are no longer employed by the UCL who owns the trademark Claroline.)

      Which one is the best, Moodle or Dokeos, ultimately comes down to personal preferences. In general Dokeos is more Blackboard-like, and I know several institutions who choose Dokeos because of the lower learning curve, having used Blackboard before.

      Also worth noting is another free software package, a project funded by the (Mark) Shuttleworth Foundation: SchoolTool ( []), including SchoolBell. It's not an e-learning and course management web application, but rather a school infrastructure administration tool.

      • Re:Where's Moodle? (Score:4, Insightful)

        by Flambergius ( 55153 ) on Tuesday March 06, 2007 @09:09AM (#18248650)
        Moodle is used by around 21000 organizations (URL: while Dokeos main page reports "over 1000". Number of users (students or organizations) is of course not an clear indicator of how good the systems are, but it most definitely is the indicator of success.

        There are many worthy Open Source tools and systems for education. Some of them probably technically better than Moodle (I work with Moodle daily), but in terms of success I don't know anything that can be mentioned in the same sentience. For example, the much heralded Sakai is used by some tens organizations ("over 70" according to the Sakai Wikipedia page).

        Some of my favorites:
        Elgg, []
        LAMS, []
        DSpace, []

        Btw, I fail to see how my original post merits a Flamebait, Score: 0. Its strongly worded, sure, but it is my honest assessment of the article linked to. The assessment is based on a single issue, I'll grant even that, but it is still correct. If you don't know enough about Open Source in education to know to include Moodle into your list of successes in that field then you don't know enough to write an article about Open Source in education.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by quixote9 ( 999874 )
        I second the question. Serious omission not listing Moodle. I've used it in classes, as well as WebCt. I know other profs who've used Moodle, Blackboard, and WebCT.

        Blackboard was recently bought by WebCT. The license to use WebCt runs into the tens of thousands of dollars. Blackboard (not so much WebCT) had some very attractive ease-of-use features not found in Moodle (or WebCT at the time), but I can't say they were $60,000 per year better than Moodle.

        Several comparisons of the main packages are
        • Fairly important to be aware that Moodle is GPL, written in PHP and mainly uses PHP but also can use Postgresql. I have used both Blackboard and Moodle and even discounting the significant price difference (grins), I much much prefer Moodle.
          • Yes, indeed. And, since it's written in php, anyone who knows php can--and does--write scripts to do new or improved modules every day. (Or not so improved, as the case may be.)
        • by Jaegs ( 645749 )
          I too believe that Moodle should be included; however, there are some issues in your post I'd like to address:

          Blackboard was recently bought by WebCT.

          Actually, it was the other way around [], though they officially refer to it as a merger [].

          Blackboard (not so much WebCT) had some very attractive ease-of-use features not found in Moodle (or WebCT at the time), but I can't say they were $60,000 per year better than Moodle.

          While Moodle is very feature-rich--we use it in a limited fashion on our campus--the easy thing to forget here is what that additional $60,000 (far less at our institution) gets you: 24/7 support. While I am a huge support of OSS and encourage the use of it on campus, the LMS/CMS is mission critical:

          • You have a few options if you want 24/7 commercial support for Moodle. They have a "Moodle Partner" program specifically for this reason.

            partners list []

            "What if development stops"? Well, if it's a commercial product you probably have support still, but no new features, and no where to go but migrate to a new provider. If it's GPL, then you still have support options (as shown above), in fact more options that commercial often, can support it yourself if you decide to, can take on development yourself or w

            • Sandcastle took the words out of my mouth in reply to the comment re Moodle support. Even without going to the formal Moodle Partners program, moodle has very active forums with some knowledgeable people participating. If you need an answer instantly, then, no, you probably won't get it. It usually takes between a few hours to a couple of days. In my experience, that's the best you can hope for from commercial tech support, too, but maybe others have better luck.

              The other question I've had is why, i
  • Thank You! (Score:1, Insightful)

    by 7bit ( 1031746 )
    Thank you for posting this story!

    I wasn't aware of the "Open Courseware Consortium" before this. My next few years will probably be spent exploring and learning/ relearning from this resource!

    Not only will people in the workforce be able to even more easily explore and research areas of interest and value to them from home at night to help them further their developement, but kids of any age capable of using it and having a library card will be able to further themselves and prepare for college/SAT as far i
  • I dont know how open source is it?
  • Sakai Project (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Hobbo ( 127877 )
    OK, so we've already had Moodle posted as another success story of Opensource in Education, so it's only right that the Sakai Project [] gets a mention as another big winner. Not only is it used widely in Higher Education, it is gaining admiration and suport from the commercial sector, as Thomson's adoption of the opensource collaboration and learning environment goes to show. From the recent press release []:

    Thomson Learning will work closely with the Sakai team and other commercial affiliates, including Unico

  • Another important contribution of Wikipedia has been to beat down MediaWiki as a pretty powerful program for educational uses, as well as inspire other wiki software.

    Savvy teachers in wired schools are finding a lot of success with smaller classroom wikis. The students aren't generating "new" content, really, but are building a repository of what they've learned together. I've seen good examples of building history timelines or evolutionary hierarchies, or foreign-language dictionaries (each student adds
  • While trying to think of alternatives to reducing text book costs, I remembered I had heard about a project spear headed by UGA and now, the University of Denver ( While this project is geared towards the developing world, in talking with Dr. Rick Watson, that is for two reasons: Their need is even greater than ours and with a focus on competing in the United States, it may provoke American publishing companies. It has been featured on Slashdot before.

    Educational institutio
  • From TFA:

    The entire catalogue of information from 1,800 courses at the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) will be available free online by the end of the year. Once uploaded, it will represent one of the internet's most important resources.

    It might come in handy, but this claim is completely out there. It sounds like someone is tooting their own horn a little too loudly. That's like saying, my new search engine ${name here} will have great impact on how we do searching today.

  • by Dr. Spork ( 142693 ) on Tuesday March 06, 2007 @10:18AM (#18249138)
    Being a college instructor, I think about this sort of thing all the time: If there were an interactive multimedia project to capture the content of a college course onto a DVD, and I could help with this in some way, I most certainly would.

    What I'm picturing is this: Some benefactor, perhaps a national government somewhere, pays a group of programmers, artists and professors to produce an open source college course on (say) mechanics. On the DVD is an interactive textbook with hyperlinks for people who need further explanation, but there's also video of a series of lectures and demonstrations. Then there is an interactive element that simulates (albeit abstractly) the common lab experiments that are embedded in a 3D virtual environment and really responds to students' input. Finally, there would be many pactice problems that the program could grade and explain immediately. Step by step. Bayesian algorithms could diagnose students' problems and try to correct them.

    We have the technology and the brainpower to do all this now, and if we did it, the education one would get from a disk like this would be better than today's typical online course. The point of it would be, of course, that this would be a supplement in a real course where you have access to a professor to ask questions, and hopefully even get some experience in a real lab. But I have no doubt that a well-designed inteactive DVD like this would by itself do an excellent job in teaching you the material. And once it was made, it would only need occasional updates. After all, mechanics doesn't change that much. Of course, interactive applications constantly get better, so these could be improved on each year, and any physics professor in the world could submit exercises. There would even be a mechanism for profs to merge in their own exercises and make a custom DVD just for their students, so long as they abided by the open source license.

    But most importantly, owning this DVD would cost students $0.20, the cost of the media. They wouldn't have to wait until college to start learning from it. They wouldn't need to be near a university. They could go at their own pace. They could localize the material to their native language. If they don't have internet at home, they could ask their library to burn the DVD for them and pay them $1 for the media and labor. If they did have the internet, they could discuss the problems together on a volunteer-moderated discussion forum. That sounds to me like a whole lot of education for the price of one well-designed DVD. It's absolutely crucial that this be open source. Sure these things would sell, but then they'd just be one textbook among others. Only if they were arbitrarily tradable, burnable and alterable would they become the gold standard, and then volunteers would make them awesome. That's not to say that whoever made them would have to be poor. There could be some sort of a foundation that might sell extra services, provide paid support ot universities, etc. This thing might not need public funding at all, just a big initial investment. (Of course it wouldn't be just one course...). And don't underestimate the willingness of competent volunteers to help with this. I can tell you I work my ass off to publish journal articles for the benefit of my fellow researchers, and I get paid nothing (except prestige). I've also reviewed articles for journals. Again, I got paid nothing for this. In academics, high-level volunteer work is par for the course. I think it would be a pretty desireable line on a vita that you were invited by the responsible foundation to serve as an editor and review contributions for the (say) interactive history of WWI DVD course. If this were as big as I'm sure it would be, top profs would be fighting to volunteer, including me (though I'm no top prof).

    So because I can picture very easily this sort of thing, and I don't see it happening, I think that open source is failing in education. What's succeeding right now are agressive book publishers that keep pimping glossy desk copies of their textbooks without telling me that for a crappy b/w paperback, my students will pay $90. That's seriously fucked up. Education is crying out for open source!

    • I think that is what Curriki is doing. [] Except that the courses don't have to be on DVD. They are also concentrating on K-12 at this time. You still might want to take a look. They are specifically trying to replace text books with open source multimedia lessons. Please consider becoming a contributing member.
    • You might want to take a look at these projects:

      Wikibooks []
      Wikiversity []
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by morgret ( 1072856 )
      You're right about "tradable, burnable and alterable". Currently there are learning materials that have the distinction called "open" and are meant for use and even re-use by everyone. A new site, OER Commons, [], aims to impact teaching and learning with an open source network of open resource pointers, social networking, and collaborative spaces to bring people together with open materials. Some materials carry a Creative Commons license, and you can search on the type of license a
  • One Laptop Per Child (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Maximum Prophet ( 716608 ) on Tuesday March 06, 2007 @11:15AM (#18249720)
    No-one's mentioned it yet, but most of the successes here, can be used by the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) project as well. When free textbooks are written by students, they can be shared, and OLPC will have the infrastructure to do the sharing.

    What's needed is a slashdot or google style moderation system so that the best percolates to the top and replaces the not so good. Meta-wiki anyone?
  • books (Score:5, Interesting)

    by bcrowell ( 177657 ) on Tuesday March 06, 2007 @12:09PM (#18250378) Homepage
    See my sig for a catalog of free books (books that have intentionally been set free by their authors, not old public domain ones like Project Gutenberg collects). Some professors at MIT write textbooks and put them up for free on their OCW pages, which is great. However, I've noticed that a lot of these tend to evaporate quickly. I have a feature in my catalog's web interface where users can click on a button to report that a link is broken. A lot of the time when this happens, I find that it was a link to an OCW page, which has disappeared, and google searching doesn't show the book existing at any new home, either. Maybe that professor didn't get tenure, and left, or maybe he got a publishing contract, and his publisher wouldn't let him keep the book on the web for free. As with software, this is always a concern with any book that isn't under a copyleft license; it can become unfree at any time. In general, I like the spirit of OCW, but I think it gets hyped waaay out of proportion to what it actually is. Having access to a professor's web page isn't unusual; it's the norm. And having access to professors' web pages isn't the same as getting a free college education.
  • by GerardM ( 535367 ) on Tuesday March 06, 2007 @01:02PM (#18251168)
    Given that Citizendium is not available for public viewing, it is inappropriate to list it as a relevant resource. When it gets its first public airing, there will be only some 1000 articles. This is hardly going to make an effect. There are many other public wikis that provide a resource that is certainly more relevant at this time for education; Wikieducator comes to mind.

    The only thing that we have heard from Dr Sanger is his insistence that it is going to do better.

  • MIT's Open CourseWare program is not "open source" in the sense that the free/libre/open-source software community understands the term. In particular, MIT's courses are made available under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.5 license ( []), which is not an open-source license.

    To put this in practical terms, most of MIT's courseware is written using, say, PowerPoint and a word processor. MIT does not make the "source" (PowerPoint an

  • MIT's OpenCourseWare has been amazing for myself.
    Having taken a few courses on philosophy, poitics and western literature, I have learnt as much (or more) than I have been in my concurrently enrolled university lectures.

    Having chosen to do law and commerce didn't do much for my love of philosophy, so I decided to, (rather than a triple-degree) study a few philosophy courses on OpenCourseWare in my spare time.
    I find out, when talking to a friend of mine who did philosophy, that some of the courses are so sim

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