Schools and FLOSS/Australian schools and FLOSS
- 1 Challenges with using technology in schools
- 2 Opportunities with free software
- 3 Choosing technology for learning
- 4 Technology support
- 5 Resources
Challenges with using technology in schools
- School technology systems are frequently broadcast structured.
- Read/write internet spaces are often blocked. It can be difficult for teachers to use resources which may then be blocked.
- Bandwidth and technology purchases are often delivered from a centralised source. Despite this bandwidth costs can be high in schools. Costs of uploading can be passed on to specific students/parents and connections can be for restricted lengths of time. The choices are made centrally but costs are experienced locally.
- There is little room for teacher or student responsibility or ability to pull value for specific learning at the fingertip end of the system.
- It has been difficult to secure support staff in schools and to find opportunities for professional development.
- Buildings may not be designed for adaptive work with technology.
- Timetables may not be structured for experimentation.
- Assessments are ultimately geared for standardised testing.
- What kinds of assessment encourage and record excellence in constructivist education and student leadership.
Opportunities with free software
Some aspects of the openness of free software may help directly with these issues.
- If technology in schools can be supported in ways which enable local choice, experimentation, and constructivist or connectivist pedagogy would fit better. eg. It is legal to 'look under the bonnet' of open source software.
- If students and teachers are able to make their own choices and experiments with choosing technologies they can be more adaptive. Some schools do these things now.
- Offline storage of software and resources. Software can be taken home and shared with friends legally.
- burning runs of OpenCD(OpenDisc) software
- recycling computers as a community service and learning project
- building networks with student participation
- Education systems development could be a part of the shared responsibility and development process which applies to other aspects of education.
- Teachers, curriculum, students and increasingly parents and other education providers are potential partners in these systems.
- Software which complies to open standards makes it possible to share information between a range of tools.
- Open source tools can be adapted to suit specific requirements.
Choosing technology for learning
Stallman suggests open source technology offers particular opportunities in education contexts.
Free software permits students to learn how software works. When students reach their teens, some of them want to learn everything there is to know about their computer system and its software. That is the age when people who will be good programmers should learn it. To learn to write software well, students need to read a lot of code and write a lot of code. They need to read and understand real programs that people really use. They will be intensely curious to read the source code of the programs that they use every day. Proprietary software rejects their thirst for knowledge: it says, “The knowledge you want is a secret—learning is forbidden!” Free software encourages everyone to learn.
Hall J has also written and spoken about the way that open code adds dimension to tools in education.
Free Software teaches you twice; once when you use it as a tool, and once when you view the source code to see how the tool works.
Open licences permit software users to look under the bonnet, to find out how things work: Their curiosity is not scoped by concerns about whether it is legal to know how something works. Open source software can be used in contexts where the learning is student led because there is no question they may not ask. As a result FOSS people engage with information and technology as makers and participants rather than consumers. This difference in relationship creates opportunities for teachng and learning. Students and teachers are able to choose between using a tool or engaging with the tool and its community as participants in the project community.
Free access to the tools for learning beyond educational institutions encourages learners to see that learning at school is a starting point. The ideal is that homework is not set but students want to do 'homework' because they are inspired and have a need to master. FOSS provides them with the freedom to take their learning further and explore and customise the tools they use.
Tools like wikis can be structured to enable parallel truths and negotiated outcomes. Some topics in the campaigns wikia were structured this way to try and explore the wiki as an expression of contrasting perspectives around an idea. An example of the structure (but not the process at this stage) is at the Digital Rights topic. http://campaigns.wikia.com/wiki/Digital_Rights
Tools that grow with you
The olpc project has been working towards a fully open source laptop. Their reasons for choosing open source solutions are described by Mako Hill
The Laptop will bring children technology as means to freedom and empowerment. The success of the project in the face of overwhelming global diversity will only be possible by embracing openness and by providing the laptop's users and developers a profound level of freedom. As the children grow and pursue new ideas, the software and the tools should be able to grow with them and provide a gateway to other technology.
Technology for innovation
In a classroom context a community of students engaging in contention and negotiation in diverse activities without precedent or finite scope is less system friendly. It does offer opportunities for students to learn by trying and to be inquisitive and experiment freely. Making technical and social mistakes is possible. Learning from them is also possible. The systems which support and govern a classroom engaged in experimental or participative practice may need to think differently about kinds of space, time and ways of valuing which scope the opportunity if they are to keep the flexibility which makes it possible for students to be innovative.
If there are different needs in a class context, there are also different opportunities when the student is at home. If open software used and the technology projects or communities are open online it is possible for them to participate when they are at home, in hospital, or relocating interstate.
This poses different questions about access which relate more to whether students have access to facilities outside of school which make open participation possible. Again our education systems are more closely tied to the industrial entity of school and do not generally think of learning as something which a student might need independent access to regardless of institutional affiliation. These questions all pivot around being able to see what is valuable from the student's perspective and what is valuable from the wider community perspective and having some connection between those two conversations.
OReilly 2000 describes the negotiation and innovation which are a part of the challenge and reward of open source participation:
I'd like to argue that open source is the "natural language" of a networked community, that the growth of the Internet and the growth of open source are interconnected by more than happenstance. As individuals found ways to communicate through highly leveraged network channels, they were able to share information at a new pace and a new level. Just as the spread of literacy in the late middle ages disenfranchised old power structures and led to the flowering of the Renaissance, it's been the ability of individuals to share knowledge outside the normal channels that has led to our current explosion of innovation. Just as ease of travel helped new ideas to spread, wide area networking has allowed ideas to spread and take root in new ways. Open source is ultimately about communication.
System wide tools
There may be some aspects of school technologies which need to be systemic in approach. There are many good free open source technologies which are built on the system wide model. Many of the underlying internet technologies are open source. Free open source software customisation can occur in Australia, in a state or to suit the needs of a school or region. Open licences ensure the technology will always be accessible and editable.
Saving bandwidth and finding local value
Bandwidth costs are often a scoping factor for schools. Internet costs are often experienced in a classroom context as an intermittent connection, limited access to some kinds of services eg video or sound, or as a pay to play cost for the school or for parents. Australia's decision to manage internet access in this way in a school context has a very strong message that students are consumers who must pay to access centrally held knowledge. Australia's high bandwidth costs are based around traffic over a connection. Other nations structure their connections around the provision of connectivity as the traffic component is an artificial cost. It would be useful to review bandwidth cost models and to assess whether there may be better ways to provide good connectivity.
Perhaps schools could peer or mirror information to reduce bandwidth costs. School networks could share information between schools directly as peer nodes on a network to reduce bandwidth costs. This kind of local WAN information sharing could also encourage opportunities to promote local content and collaboration. Students and teachers are the primary creators of information directly related to their curriculum. Our ability to see value in our own Australian participation could be reflected in the ways that we structure these networks for student and teacher content as well as for connections with wider communities of interest.
For example a teacher may use a podcast to enable students to call in with questions around a biology program. The questions could relate to the course or to local community experience. Other students might call and ask too. That podcast might be useful in other schools. How can those kinds of connections be effectively sponsored in the wider system.
Taking on board the implications of distribtued publishing provides very different opportunities and also suggests that we should choose to reconsider the ways that we structure internet connectivity both in a logical routing sense and as a financial tollway on learning.
It is also important to look for ways to support choice in the classroom wherever possible because the 'room to move' provided to teachers and students is important for initiative and creativity and responding to individual opportunities and challenges.
Building support capacity with student partners
Local adaptation and maintenance are important for flexibility in the school context. Students/cadets studying part time in VET or highered could be employed as trainee technical support on school networks. Mentoring from VET/highered courses and from internal mentors as well as from external open communities would be a nice way for students to find their feet in networking technologies. As with many of the other student led processes there would need to be a different overall philosophy operating around the network. A section of network which is not critical and which is able to be used as a testing ground would be useful. Sometimes breaking things might be a part of the process of making the network and the students more useful/skilled.
Standards based technologies
Real open standards for protocols and document formats are frequently a priority in FOSS projects because the open standards are a meeting point for the diverse community of different tools. These standards also make it possible for software to be integrated with other solutions and for the school communities to have data security into the future. Choosing tools which use open standards so that data can be imported and exported makes the choice of tool a softer decision because the data will be accessible regardless of the prior choices made.
Some kinds of information would be more accessible on local cd drives or usb sticks for take home use. Making sure that materials and tools are able to e used in situations where students or schools may not have a working connection provides better resilience.
Free and open source software fostering careers
Use of FOSS in education sectors means that;
- the projects can become opportunities for further community participation, education, research or employment.
- skills in negotiation around project criteria are vital in innovative practice where there may not be an existing correct answer.
- long term participation in FOSS projects provides a public record of dialogue and contributions which technology companies are increasingly using as indicators of skill and commitment when looking for new hires.