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Open Source Education

Open source or software freedom isn’t simply another way of procuring software, it’s more a state of mind, a particular attitude to technology. Of course, you can just treat it as a cheap way of getting high quality, robust code, and there’s certainly no requirement to grow a beard, wear sandals or drink real ale in order to install open source applications. However, the philosophies that lie at the core of open source as a movement are important, and, I think have much to offer to education more generally; furthermore, open source approaches to development can apply to things even more important than software, such as curriculum resources, school policies and even the curriculum itself. This brief paper seeks to explore some of these areas.

There are strong parallels between an open source approach to software development and some educational theory. Piaget, Montessouri, Froebel and Dewey all placed emphases, to varying extents, on the importance of play, exploration and direct experience; qualities which will not be unfamiliar to those developing open source software. Vygotsky’s social constructivism argues that meaning is something developed through conversation with others, anticipating the importance of efficient and effective communication in the development of open source projects involving more than a sole developer. Papert’s notion of constructionism, in which knowledge comes to be embodied in the development of shared, public artifacts continues to be of importance in computing education, and is the pedagogic approach that has underpinned Moodle’s phenomenal development as an open source VLE.

So what does an open source approach to education look like? ‘Access to the source code’ surely implies a willingness to adopt transparent approaches in education, in which freedom of information requests about school curricula, schemes of work and policies are never needed, as these, and perhaps other, documents are shared as a matter of routine with all of a school’s stakeholders – thus not only is collaborative planning made possible amongst the teaching team, but pupils and parents too have access to lesson plans, enabling them to read ahead and to become something closer to partners in the educational process. Similarly, such openness would suggest, as a default position, a willingness to share pupils’ work and pupils’ data as widely as appropriate, with children’s work on the school website or blog and an enthusiastic approach to the parental engagement agenda. Continue reading.

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