Overview of the OSS and OER in Education Series

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Direction

The resource that follows is a product from some papers that I have been crafting on the themes generated from the Series posting and dialog. It is currently formatted as a paper, so there is lots of opportunity to take advantage of Wiki capabilities. In addition, this is a great opportunity for Series authors, contributors, and readers to improve on the themes, restructure it so it makes more sense, add things that I missed, etc. In addition, it is also an opportunity to add new thoughts and pose some questions that might inspire future authors. So, please feel free to jump right in and edit it to improve its readability, its content, and how it connects to resources. For example, in a traditional paper, the ability to reference parts of posts, multiple posts, and resources is a real challenge, while in this environment it is easy.

Overview of the OSS and OER in Education Series Working Documents

Abstract: In March 2007 a group of authors wrote short articles about the impact of Open Educational Resources and Open Source Software on education and engaged in dialog on the topic. The articles were posted on Terra Incognita. Several themes surfaced from the 11 articles, which included the roles of common-based peer production as an emerging economic and social model, organizational enablers and challenges, the critical nature of localization for reuse, and Learning Design as a form of Open Source Teaching.

Background

Open Educational Resources (OER) including Free/Libre and Open Source Software (FLOSS) is a social phenomenon that changes some of the core relationships among content and software developers and users, including teachers, learners, program managers, learning designers, and technology managers. The growing influence of both OER and OSS on the thinking of academics and academic administrators is something that is now having an impact on the operations of colleges and universities. Given the importance of this trend the Terra Incognita team felt that a forum dedicated to exploring OER and OSS should be initiated through a presentation series hosted by the Penn State World Campus and supported by contributions from numerous leaders in education. Although many of the contributors were invited, a number also initiated contact and recommended a topic. All contributors volunteered their time.

Beginning on March 12, 2007, Terra Incognita launched the Impact of Open Source Software and Open Educational Resources on Education series, comprising biweekly postings from a collection of international authors sharing their perspectives on the impact of OER and OSS on education . In addition, the authors each spent two weeks after their initial postings responding to questions and engaging in dialog. Each topic included a brief author introduction and welcome, the author’s posting, and brief summaries of the posting and subsequent two-week dialog. The series was managed on WikiEducator , where series resources and a schedule were provided to prospective authors and readers.

The goal of the Impact series was to provide multiple insights from educators on the impact of OER and OSS on educational practice in an open forum in which interested participants could comment on the posting and receive feedback from the author and other readers. In addition, the materials created throughout the series were made available as open resources for any purpose including integration into courses.

Although this paper will focus on the Impact series from its launch in March 2007 through August 2007, the series remains active today. All content continues to be available on Terra Incognita and linked on WikiEducator under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 license.

Creators organized the Impact of Open Source Software on Education series to elicit a variety of international perspectives from authors living in numerous countries including but not limited to the U.S., Canada, New Zealand, Australia, the West Indies, South Africa, Kenya, and Iran. Topics presented and discussed have ranged from how OER and FLOSS has affected pedagogy, the cost of eLearning, access and the digital divide, lifelong learning, and learning design, while also pointing to national policy decisions, software evaluation challenges, training, institutional collaboration, resource sharing, and faculty development. Themes that have emerged across postings have included the nature of “freedom” as applied to information assets; the construction and impact of commons-based peer production; design for localization; and the role of OER and OSS on operational sustainability.

This paper will integrate a number of themes that roughly describe “open education.” It will explore through multiple perspectives some of the ways that Open Education challenges the traditional university, how it operates, and its relevance in the context of a global community of educators meeting learner and societal needs across economic conditions. In this context the focus will be on how OER, FLOSS, and the notion of “Open Source Teaching,”—which joins open content, learning sequences, and software—impacts education.

Themes

The Impact series included a relatively diverse group of 11 presenters writing from a number of perspectives. Some of the postings were about particular topics such as usability and technology, while others described specific OSS or OER projects, and others represented proposals for new projects. The only real direction provided to the authors was the series theme of “Impact on Education” and the expectation that they should be available to engage in dialog for two weeks after their posting. Not surprisingly, many of the themes that emerged came from the two-week exchange of responses and questions. The focus quickly included Open Education Resources, with OSS and OER frequently being discussed in the same postings. Generally speaking, the overarching theme from the posts was that OSS and OER have impact within the context of relevance to local needs, improved accessibility, and organizational change, with the postings focusing on the level of educational resources (software and educational materials), organizations (universities, schools, and other educational environments), or greater society. There also are postings that addressed a number of themes on different levels.

Series themes have been grouped into larger sections addressing the opportunities, impact, and challenges of OSS and OER on a) commons-based peer production , b) organizations, c) localization, and d) learning design. It is important to note that different themes and groupings could have been identified and that the ones identified were not exhaustive. Because the themes and groupings were developed from bits and pieces of postings, I avoided providing direct references to individual contributions in postings; instead, I am making a general attribution to all of the authors, whose names, affiliations, and article titles are included at the end of this paper. In addition, a more detailed version of this paper has been made available on WikiEducator on the series support site, for open editing and further development.

Commons-Based Peer Production

First introduced to this discussion by Kim Tucker, Commons Based Peer Production (CBPP) was a recurring topic, expressed directly and in other terms, such as OSS ecosystem, community development, or community sharing. CBPP is essentially the model that describes why OSS and OER work. It accounts for why individuals forming groups of varying sizes will create information and cultural assets with a net common-good impact for non-monetary rewards. The model is based on the assertion that information resources are truly public-good resources in that they are non-rival; that is, the use of an information resource by an additional individual does not reduce the source of information, unlike physical resources. The model helps explain the nature of motivation and incentives that would normally be provided by restrictive licensing, and identifies the circumstances under which CBPP is more efficient than other forms of organization. Thinking in terms of CBPP opens opportunities to discuss accessibility, affordability, and relevance of libre and open resources used in education with the benefit of a well-developed and -articulated economic and social model.

It is here, in our treatment of CBPP, where the distinction between Open Source Software and Free/Libre Software becomes important. Free software is necessarily open source according to the definition but the focus is on users' freedom to use, copy, adapt and share the source code. Open source software is not necessarily free according to this definition (see also the Open source definition and Why “Open Source” misses the point of Free Software). I will try to use the terms as they were intended in the original postings.

Motivation for CBPP

The opportunity and challenge that every OER project has is to identify a sustainable model. On the supply side, some individual institutional OER projects have taken the shape of marketing efforts rather than projects developed to produce truly free open fit for purpose courseware developments. In addition, licensing is a source of concern, particularly around the impact of restriction to modify content and restriction on commercial use. On the demand side, there has been evidence of slow uptake on use of content. There is a challenge to identify the value proposition at the individual educator level. The “costs” of remixing in terms of time, ego (psychological ownership) etc. must be less than the real and perceived benefits.”

Part of the problem is that the cost of course materials is more often than not borne by the student in the form of text-books or course fees when digital library resources come into play. The academic writes the text, gets kudos and small returns while the publishing house receives the profit. In this scenario, the educator is rewarded for being published certainly in terms of their research credentials. Open Journals are on the rise but it still doesn’t solve the problem. In the music industry remixes (in essence mash-ups) are well established and musicians are credited with that skill. To gain momentum, leading institutions need to start publishing research and commissioning courseware in open formats and provide the recognition.

However, the development of eLearning courses is a cost addition in most face-to-face institutions. Sometimes this is not recognized because the costs are hidden or not accounted for. In many traditional settings the academic time used to develop eLearning materials instead of doing something else like research or teaching is not recognized or assigned as a cost to course development. This being the case there is conceptually an economic motivation to share development costs but in the early phases of generating a culture that sustains OER the motivation will be at the personal level of the individual contributor. One problem that is becoming recognized, if not addressed, is that typically institutional reward and incentive systems do not recognize time spent authoring materials.

In single-mode distance education institutions the value proposition for participating in collaborative development and sharing of OERs is quite strong. About 80% of the costs of producing distance education materials is academic authoring time or contracting to an external subject matter expert, learning design professionals, editors, and other production expense. So it makes economic sense to share.

There are a number of countries in the Commonwealth and elsewhere where authors are commissioned to develop educational resources and numerous public universities that develop courseware - unfortunately under closed copyright. Public funding of free content development is a classic win-win scenario. Authors earn a living and can pay their bills. The funder gets the educational resources and over the medium term costs will be reduced through mass collaboration. The use of a free content license provides the freedom for local adaptations. Revisions are easier and content can be updated more frequently. This same model applies to the development and use of software as an educational resource.

Sharing Materials & Collaborative Development

Most of the benefits that were cited by authors and other contributors during the Series related to sharing digital resources such as software and educational content and the potential benefits of collaborative or community-based code development. The focus of the dialog turned to the conditions that would promote a healthy ecosystem supporting CBPP. Topics such as licensing, open standards compliance, low barrier access, and open file formats.

From the perspective of one author the whole point of Learning Design is to try to capture the educational processes used in online courses so that these can be made explicit, and then shared, localized and adapted. For this to happen there has to be a community of use and development that can fuel and sustain CBPP. The effective sharing of Learning Designs requires the development of standards that enhance sharing, reuse, and localization of learning designs that can be authored and edited across Learning Design Systems and implemented across a variety of CMS.

The Learning Activity Management System (LAMS) project provides an example of some of the issues encountered in an early effort at establishing a CBPP community. From the history of the LAMS community to date there has yet to be much direct adaptation and sharing back - most sequences are new contributions, rather than modifications of existing sequences. This may be just part of an evolutionary process (perhaps we need a large body of original work before adaptation becomes common), but when I’ve talked to educators about this issue, many have noted that they like reviewing other people’s sequences for ideas and tips, but that they tend to start a fresh sequence that is “informed” by their review of other sequences, rather than direct adaptation. If this proves to be a persistent issue, it might limit the potential benefits of using open source style development processes to improve the quality of Learning Design through peer collaboration.

Having made the educational process shareable, Learning Design could support different kinds of peer production. It could be a course team within a single institution where different individuals with different skills work together to create online courses. In other cases, the focus may be more “global”, in the sense that individual educators share resources with the world in the hope that others will be able to use, adapt and improve these resources, but without this being part of any specific local team effort. As it is difficult to harness the collective development effort without clear freedoms to use and adapt, the more global approach will likely require free content licenses to work, while desirable, an open license may not necessarily be a requirement for local team production.

Challenges and Enablers to CBPP

A number of factors were identified and discussed that could act as barriers to CBPP and negatively impact the larger objectives of organizations with a commitment to FLOSS and OER, not to mention individuals who adopt FLOSS or OER anticipating the benefits of CBPP.

  • Organizational and personal workflows were seen as both an enabler and challenge to CBPP. Frequently OER and FLOSS participation is an unintended consequence of an organization’s or individual’s regular workflow. Materials or software is created and then made openly available as FLOSS or OER. Unfortunately, because open distribution, sharing, and co-development are not part of the workflow design, the materials are frequently not designed or stored for easy sharing and reuse.
  • There are also technical and social capacity issues that pose challenges to mass participation in OER and OSS. For example, although many communities in developing regions have need for OER and FLOSS and have a strong culture supporting collaboration and sharing, there are capacity issues such as basic literacy, computer literacy, and lack of necessary infrastructure for collaboration, development, and sharing of digital assets.
  • Licensing of both FLOSS and OER is subject to intense debate, which was reflected throughout the series. For some contributors anything more restrictive than a license requiring attribution and re-licensing under the same terms (share alike) does not quality as “Free” and will have a net negative impact practically on CBPP and the culture of freedom, particularly in the academy. On the other hand, the idea was expressed that although it would be preferable to license OER under as nonrestrictive license as possible, accepting and even encouraging the non-commercial restriction or other restrictions might be an important step in building a large enough pool of OERs to support CBPP.

Organizational Workflows

Frequently OER and FLOSS participation is an unintended consequence of an organization’s or individual’s regular workflow. For example, an institution develops online courses and then decides to make them available as open educational resources. Educational resources are developed in a particular context with a reasonably specific audience of learners in mind. The materials are not designed with sharing and reuse in mind. In addition, they many be embedded in a FLOSS system such as Moodle. To get them out for reuse there is considerable effort and cost required to reconfigure those resources for another environment.

Facilitating mass-collaboration, or even inter-institutional collaboration, using the principles of self-organization in a LMS environment is not possible because LMSs were not designed for collaborative authoring and they have not been adopted by organizations for that purpose. They were designed for teaching and are used for teaching. This poses a barrier to sustained CBPP. Applications such as Wikis were designed for collaborative authoring and are the most mature technologies to achieve this aim, but have not been typically been adopted as part of the development and production workflow in many organizations that develop educational content for use in their own teaching.

Technical and Social Capacity

Developing countries seem to have less CBPP activity in FLOSS and OER than developed countries. Most of the population in developing countries does not have access to the facilities that enable peer-production (personal computers, the Internet and high bandwidth). However, the cultures seem well disposed towards collaborative knowledge production. Developing countries are generally not entrenched in set ways of using ICT in education. Because there are fewer use and production patterns solidified, there is an opportunity to develop, adopt, and adapt new and contextually appropriate approaches to supporting educational capacity development, and to build innovative supporting software infrastructures to address local and regional needs. FLOSS, OER, open standards, and free file formats permit freedom to innovate and feed into CBPP. By addressing the issues where they can be addressed, we will be better prepared to service new areas and people when they become connected. For example, if software and learning resources are designed to be easily localized, adoption of those educational resources will happen more rapidly as more people get connected and local capacity develops, fueling the development of a CBPP ecosystem.

The challenges for many institutions and communities to FLOSS and OER adoption and production were discussed throughout the series. The challenges were framed in terms similar to those outlined above for organizations, but generalized to apply to of participation in the knowledge society and its relationship to technology, communication, economic development, and education. There are several building blocks, which reflect part of the challenge that is faced while trying to achieve maximum impact through participation and engagement:

  • Basic literacy – The ability to read and write, ideally in one’s own language.
  • Computer literacy – The ability to use computers and other communication, collaboration, and presentation devices.
  • Using office software – The ability to use technology for employability and establishing workflows that support a knowledge society.
  • Having access to content and participating in co-creation for localization of multimedia knowledge resources.
  • Sharing resources – establishing infrastructure of distributed and mass sharing of digital resources.
  • Engagement in decision making processes at higher levels within organizations, communities, and society.

Licensing

Licensing of both Open Source Software and Open Educational Resources is subject to intense debate, which was reflected in the Series. For some contributors anything more restrictive than a license requiring attribution and re-licensing under the same terms does not quality as “Free” and will have a net negative impact practically on CBPP and the culture of freedom, particularly in the academy. Although not explicitly discussed, it seems that allowing derivative works is a basic feature of FLOSS and OER. The most debated feature of OER licensing was the non-commercial restriction, which limits the commercial use of content without seeking permission from the copyright holder. Contributors to the Series have expressed an interesting tension. On the one hand, it appears as if some potential individual and institutional contributors of open content are reluctant to make their content available with out the Noncommercial restriction (NCR), while others suggest that the Noncommercial restriction will impede optimal distribution provided that the license employees a share-like component ensuring that derivative works are also licensed in a non-restrictive fashion.

The idea that although it would be preferable to license OER under as nonrestrictive license as possible, accepting and even encouraging the non-commercial restriction might be a an important step in building a large enough pool of OERs to support CBPP. The Non-commercial restriction may be based on;

  • lack of trust in much of the academy of commercial activity,
  • a rationale associated with the feeling that reinvestment from commercial activity should be applied directly back into education rather than different commercial activities,
  • commercial activity is counter to intrinsic motivators,
  • self-interest and an inflated notion of the commercial potential of ones own work, content and learning designs.

It is thought that the NCR might provide the condition under which academics will be willing to contribute and over time some will recognize that the restriction is counterproductive to the larger effort.

An additional dialog developed around the idea that although the fundamental legal mechanisms are in place to protect FLOSS and OER, the application of the law opens those assumptions to question. Although copyright and patenting of “Learning Designs” and more generally other forms of FLOSS and OER for open source teaching should be significantly restricted by appropriate application of creative commons licensing and the principles of “novelty” and “obviousness” and the fact that there are OSS implementations of learning design applications (so there is prior art), there is always legitimate concern that the law will not be applied reasonably. Having said all this, it is worth noting that the systems for granting and litigating patents have become deeply flawed in certain countries, especially the US, so that despite all of the above, inappropriate patents can and are sometimes used against the public good, even in education.

Because there is no guarantee that a patent fight could not erupt - only that there are good grounds to believe that such an attempt to take something beneficial away from the common good, and to then give a monopoly right to a commercial endeavor based on restricted use of a previously common good, would fail, the use, production, and sharing of FLOSS and free/open resources carries some risk. This risk has a net negative impact on establishing sustainable CBPP.

CBPP Summary

Economic and Social Model

Commons-Based Peer Production serves as a descriptive model that explains how FLOSS and OER work from an economic and social perspective, when traditional theories of the market and firm cannot account for the growth and sustainability of FLOSS and OER. CBPP provides opportunities to discuss accessibility, affordability, and relevance of Free/Open Resources used in education with the benefit of a well-developed and -articulated economic and social model.

Motivation that Sustains OER and FLOSS

Contributors to CBPP systems such as FLOSS and OER require some forms of motivation. In higher education, the challenge is creating a viable connection between the supply-and-demand components of the economic model. The barriers to CBPP seem to develop at the institutional level, where production mechanisms for textbooks and other educational materials are either facilitated through traditional publishing or through hiding real and opportunity costs of course production by increasing workload of teaching staff. Although there is promise for CBPP when individuals are willing to contribute OERs for personal non-financial reasons, governments are willing to subsidize the development of OERs, and institutions that have developed learning-design and course-development capacity develop hundreds of courses and thousands of resources; unfortunately, all three will frequently license their products in a closed manner. Closed licenses reduce the ability to form a commons and sustain CBPP. This is where arguments for FLOSS are made, because fewer restrictions on software and educational resources enhance the likelihood of supporting CBPP. Licensing was a recurring issue throughout many series themes.

Sharing Materials and Collaborative Development

The ability to share educational resources including software and content was expressed throughout the Impact series, while collaborative development was much more of a factor for FLOSS than OER. Topics such as licensing, open standards compliance, low barrier access, and open file formats were identified as essential factors in highly sharable and useful FLOSS and OER.

Challenges and Enablers to CBPP

A number of factors were identified and discussed that could act as barriers to CBPP and negatively impact the larger objectives of organizations with a commitment to FLOSS and OER, not to mention individuals who adopt FLOSS or OER anticipating the benefits of CBPP.

  • Organizational and personal workflows were seen as both an enabler and challenge to CBPP. Frequently OER and FLOSS participation is an unintended consequence of an organization’s or individual’s regular workflow. Materials or software is created and then made openly available as FLOSS or OER. Unfortunately, because open distribution, sharing, and co-development are not part of the workflow design, the materials are frequently not designed or stored for easy sharing and reuse.
  • There are also technical and social capacity issues that pose challenges to mass participation in OER and OSS. For example, although many communities in developing regions have need for OER and FLOSS and have a strong culture supporting collaboration and sharing, there are capacity issues such as basic literacy, computer literacy, and lack of necessary infrastructure for collaboration, development, and sharing of digital assets.
  • Licensing of both FLOSS and OER is subject to intense debate, which was reflected throughout the series. For some contributors anything more restrictive than a license requiring attribution and re-licensing under the same terms (share alike) does not quality as “Free” and will have a net negative impact practically on CBPP and the culture of freedom, particularly in the academy. On the other hand, the idea was expressed that although it would be preferable to license OER under as nonrestrictive license as possible, accepting and even encouraging the non-commercial restriction or other restrictions might be an important step in building a large enough pool of OERs to support CBPP.

Organizational Focus

From an organizational perspective FLOSS and OER provide a number of potential benefits relating to affordability, relevance, and risk management. Taken together, the benefits of FLOSS increase accessibility to technology-enhanced educational programming and activities through lowering the barriers to participation. Although a vast majority of educationally underserved learners are located in economically developing regions of the world, financially fragile institutions exist in developed as well as developing countries. The use of Free, Libre, and Open Source Software offers a cost-effective solution that is customizable to the special local needs of a country, institution, and learner. The use of FLOSS also has a potentially liberating effect on creativity and imaginative solution development within local contexts, impacting organizational culture.

These benefits could be magnified with the development of a complete stack of FLOSS systems and applications capable of supporting the educational enterprise. Some of the Series authors are proposing the development of an integrated solution, while others are integrating existing applications into their organization based on immediate and local need. In either case, there is a move toward using more FLOSS across the enterprise. Some of the principal benefits of a complete FLOSS stack from an organizational perspective include:

  • Economic feasibility (affordability)
  • Reduced complexity (coherent framework achievable though open standards)
  • Increased functionality (and increased number of tools in stack)
  • Increased usefulness through flexibility (customizability, localization)
  • Decreased risk associated with vendor lock-in
  • Decreased risk during the software evaluation and selection process, which increases the likelihood that the FLOSS product will meet institutional requirements in the long-term.

Impact

Reducing Barriers to Entry

Ultimately, reducing barriers to entry allows more education providers to engage with various forms of eLearning. ELearning in turn is seen as a way to cost effectively introduce education into many developing areas of the world. The impact of low-barrier eLearning is seen as more than simply a way of delivering educational services by introducing computer technology into education. It is seen as a part of a compelling societal change agenda resulting in improved overall performance throughout university teaching, administration, student information administration, allowing for more effective implementation of open and flexible distance learning. Although the same teaching, management, and administrative improvement can be anticipated in schools as well as universities, introducing computer technologies into schools is necessary:

  • so all students become familiar with computer technologies at school as a tool for everyday use, thus “demystifying” technology for them;
  • for better access to current underserved job markets and to help develop basic capacity that does not exist;
  • as a pedagogical support and development tool – computer technology assists the teaching-learning process and enhance the instruction of traditional subjects in the curriculum;
  • for improvement of in-service teacher education.

Culture of Creativity

A culture of creativity is developed and supported through empowerment to realize the expression of self-identity. Free, libre, and open source software empowers actors to behave creatively through the enabling localization and cost control, while the community aspect of FLOSS provides the context in which the risk of creative problem solving can be effectively anticipated and managed, which is in itself liberating.

A healthy, active and supportive development and user community that supports a FLOSS application allows information technology support units to behave more flexibly and creatively than they would otherwise be able to while supporting a typical proprietary software application. The combination of code transparency, community involvement, and no licensing fees reduces the limiting and distracting impact associated with a) increasing significant software license burden, b) long procurement periods, c) context-laden vendor presentations, and d) internal political jockeying with other units for scarce institutional resources, which are all factors that reduce an institution’s ability to develop a creative culture. Reducing the distractions allows the support units to increase responsiveness to other units in the organization creating political goodwill and higher level of trust, allowing for creative problem solving. The resulting feeling of control and empowerment impacts the ability of the organization to meet local challenges and use educational technologies to meet a dynamic organization’s evolving needs, based on local contexts.

Localization is an important way of expressing self-identify and being empowered to create local solutions to meet local needs. It is empowering because it allows faculty and administrators at schools and universities to imagine what they need and approach it from a position of power, rather than as a small customer that is culturally dislocated from the vendor. Because most proprietary educational software is designed around requirements supporting the needs of a rather focused market it tends to codify and formalize particular workflows and pedagogical approaches. Adoption of the closed software artifact will potentially impose and reinforce particular methods of education and the underlying values, resulting in reduction of diversity and opportunities for creative expression. FLOSS is an important way of allowing for localization and increasing the likelihood of maintaining the unique qualities that separate institutions from each other. It balances some of the efficiencies achieved through community-developed software with the ability to in-source. These “customer” facing functions are what will allow one institution to differentiate itself from others, and a variety of educational approaches rooted in local need and preference to thrive.

Developing Internal Capacity

Probably for all institutions of higher education, but especially for those with tightly constrained budgets, it is critical to find existing open-source applications to build on to get the maximum impact from in-house developers’ time and energy. In the long term then, acceptance of FLOSS in the Academy is essential to support innovation in teaching and learning. FLOSS allows technology general managers to give their staff interesting work to do and allows them to be creative in developing both deep technical skills and client relationship skills that will serve them well wherever in IT they choose to work.

Challenges

The impact of FLOSS on education will depend on a number of factors that relate to preexisting organizational capacity. For many organizations in many communities developing preexisting conditions will pose a challenge. For example:

  • A FLOSS Education Solution is dependent on a robust IT infrastructure. The benefits of eLearning are significantly sub-optimized by being primarily offline. Institutions must be prepared to attract and apply financial resources to establish a reliable hardware and network infrastructure, and continue to support the ongoing maintainance costs of repairs and updates to equipment.
  • The potential benefits derived from a FLOSS education solution are also dependent on the availability of teaching content, such as open educational resources. The software solution should include flexible courseware design tools that should be easily understood by a fairly non-technical audience.
  • Through pre-service and in-service education and training university and school staff should acquire the necessary skills for using the tools provided in FLOSS Education Solutions.

In addition, there are issues associated with organizational cultural fit and general misconceptions about adopting FLOSS. There is general confusion about the difference between simply adopting FLOSS and committing to contributing code to the community. It seems that many academic administrators assume that they will need coders if their organization adopts FLOSS. FLOSS appeared to be a credible option within the data center for technical services but apparently not for systems that end-users touch. When confronted with FLOSS, academic administrators and some technology managers engage in a technical discussion about stability, sustainability, support, etc, while when confronted with a proprietary options they will more frequently talk about features. The things that matter to end users. So advocating for a FLOSS application requires re-litigating things that are assumed of proprietary vendors. A technology-centric dialog biases against a whole raft of issues critically important to teaching and learning. While focusing of technical issues, rather than functionality issues, the dialog excludes stakeholders who will use applications to make a difference for learners.

The ways that we approach software evaluation and selection and the ways that we introduce FLOSS to communities in meetings and other events also creates challenges. For example, one of the Series contributors shared an experience during a recent educational technology meeting in New York, USA. A session about introducing FLOSS to the organization was devoted to technical issues and presented by a PHP developer who was introduced as, “someone you really needed to have if you are going to run an open source LMS.” The topics discussed were; setting up a server (both hardware and software), downloading and installing Moodle and MySQL, development tools, working with the Moodle community in development and finding support, and even examples of both their customizations and supporting PHP code. This prompted our contributor to ask, why would these issues be of concern for faculty, instructional technologists and others evaluating the functionality and usability of learning management systems? If this had been a presentation on migrating to Angel from Blackboard, would the second half of the presentation be seen as important, even relevant, with issues like; how to set up IIS, SQL Server, using Visual Studio, Nuggets development and .NET? In all likelihood most in the crowd would have assumed that their campus’ IT department would just set it up and support it. This points to a larger set of assumptions and misconceptions about the inherent difficulty of maintaining a FLOSS application.

The myths and assumptions that end users and administrators hold about FLOSS and the dialog that sometimes surrounds FLOSS adoption tends to create an environment in which the push back on FLOSS is no longer coming from IT departments, but instead comes from other campus administrators such as finance (where is the service agreement), faculty (help desk, training issues), etc. Basically if you found a great tool for teaching and learning, you don’t need to convince the information technology managers that FLOSS is a viable option, it is probably your department chair, Dean, Provost or President. So the existing debate has to evolve that really discusses the value an application (open source or not) can deliver.

In addition, traditional Requests for Information (RFI) and Request for Proposal (RFP) processes tend to bias against FLOSS. They are designed for response from a vendor rather than a FLOSS community. The bias continues if unchecked throughout the evaluation process, with quality metrics developed specifically under assumption of proprietary closed code and vendor control over licensing, development pathways, and localization options.

The traditional academy does not have a good track record in educational innovation. There are deep-seated patterns based on tradition of property ownership. The notion of a free and open curriculum is contentious and will most likely be lead from outside of the academy. For example regarding OER most of the big university icons that have pioneered the Open Education Resources movement have adopted what some consider non-free content licenses. This prompted the question for some Series authors about the impact of OERs that regulate the very freedom they are supposed to encourage. Noting this is a contradiction in terms, and asserting its importance as academic freedom depends on it.

Organizational Focus Summary

Code Transparency Leading to Better Evaluation

The impact of OSS is the ability to really understand the quality of the software code so organizational stakeholders can make truly informed decisions that will influence the teaching, learning, and administrative experience. Code transparency also supports due diligence throughout the software evaluation and selection process. It provides an important additional opportunity for analysis and risk reduction for the organization.

Culture Development

Development of a larger sense of community is a cultural manifestation of involvement in a FLOSS technology or OER development community. There is a real organizational and personal opportunity and benefit from working with a global community on an Open project. Participants in developed and developing countries expressed that they have little interest in being tied to large commercial vendors who are guided by larger market forces that have little to do with local teaching, learning, and collaboration needs. It is a belief that other individuals and institutions that gravitate to Free/Open Source communities will share some common set of values.

Cultural Change Agent

In many academic organizations there is a streak of independent self-concept at every level—as individuals, departments, schools, and divisions. It is part of the academic culture and has served the academy, its learners, and society well. The university sees independence as fundamental to innovation. Collaboration within a FLOSS or OER community will nurture a culture of sharing that could bridge the impulse toward independence with the benefit of diversity, reducing institutional limitations and acting as a catalyst for creativity.

Values Associated with Localization

FLOSS and OER allow for the benefits of collaboration and sharing to enable customization to meet contextual needs through localizing software, content, learning designs, and other educational resources.

Develop New Capacity

Becoming active members of a FLOSS or OER community requires the development of certain technical skills and processes, in addition to developing capacity supporting a culture of collaboration and community leadership. It also forces an organization to evaluate its commitment and understanding to the nature of freedom, property, and local identity.

Reduced Risk and Cost

If an appropriate evaluation and selection process is conducted, many of the potential risks associated with FLOSS can be minimized and managed, while also taking advantage of the risk- and cost-reduction potential associated with code transparency, minimal to no license fees, community, and freedom to reuse. The net positive impact of free-of-charge FLOSS as a means of reducing barriers to entry into online and distance education was repeated throughout the Impact series.

Challenges: Preexisting Capacity

The impact of FLOSS on education will depend on a number of factors that relate to preexisting organizational capacity. This will pose a challenge for many organizations in many communities developing the capacity to take advantage of the benefits of FLOSS and OER. For example, a FLOSS education solution is dependent on a robust IT infrastructure as is the use of digital OER designed for online or blended education, while both FLOSS and OER require educators knowledgeable in their use and techniques necessary for localization.

Challenges: Cultural Fit and Myths

There is general confusion about the difference between simply adopting FLOSS and committing to contributing code to the community. It seems that many academic administrators assume they will need coders if their organization adopts FLOSS. When considering a FLOSS application, non-technical stakeholders will often be brought into technical and support-related discussions; in all likelihood this will not happen when considering a proprietary option because it would be assumed that the campus IT department would work with the third-party vendor, set-up the application, and support it. This points to a larger set of assumptions and misconceptions about the inherent difficulty of maintaining a FLOSS application. Traditional Requests for Information (RFI) and Request for Proposal (RFP) processes tend to bias against FLOSS. They are designed for response from a vendor rather than a FLOSS community. The bias continues if unchecked throughout the evaluation process, with quality metrics developed specifically under an assumption of proprietary closed code and vendor control over licensing, development pathways, and localization options. The traditional academy does not have a good track record in educational innovation. There are deep-seated patterns based on the tradition of property ownership. The notion of a free and open curriculum is contentious and will most likely be led from outside of the academy.

Relevance to Local Needs

Meeting local needs places a premium of ease of customization for localization. The notion of customization and localization was a pervasive theme through most of the Series postings. In fact, localization was cited several times as being a critical feature for adoption and essential for use in developing countries. Localization was also at the very center of other themes such as reuse, licensing, and empowerment. Throughout the Series localization was treated from a number pf perspectives. Some of the most well developed themes on localization follow.

Localization for Business Needs

At Learndirect, FLOSS provides opportunities to localize software through modification at short notice due to changing core business rules that underpin something like funding. FLOSS helps provide the ability, flexibility, and low cost associated with FLOSS that enables us to prototype and understand the implications of these ‘environmental changes’ very quickly and at a relatively low cost. As many organizations will, Learndirect has mandated the use of specific open-source operating systems and applications within their technology strategy where we can see cost and risk reduction. It’s worth saying that if our service was totally outsourced then performance requirements and the use of specific software applications would not be our choices to make, other than at the time of contracting and its very dangerous form to tell a supplier both what you want and how to do it.

Localization and Software Usability

There is a tension that exists between the opportunities for localization that FLOSS provides and the need to develop educational software that is highly usable. While the ability to customize software to meet local needs is a driver for some institutions to adopt FLOSS, usability is one major criterion for software quality. Given the reliance that online learners and faculty have on application software, software quality is a critical factor in user experience, and educational outcomes. There is a tension that exists between the flexibility that FLOSS offers for potential modification of code to meet local needs and the coherence that impacts a learner’s experience while using a system. That is, one of the largest benefits of open source software can also be a sizable user experience challenge. The ability to easily localize and change the code means that often development teams and users don’t have a common or consistent experience and it is difficult to conduct user testing to improve usability.

At least conceptually, the transparency of open source projects in higher education could help development and instructional support teams engage faculty and students in the process of creating the online environment that they need. Educational institutions are uniquely situated in the middle of our own usability lab. There are few commercial or open source environments that can count themselves as this lucky. One of the biggest barriers to implementing a user centered design process in the private sector is their inability to gain consistent access to their users. The potential benefits of having flexibility and access to software users to support user-centered design, need to be assessed in cognisance of the challenges of distributed tool-based development, the composition of FLOSS development teams, and the variability of pedagogical needs in an educational environment.

There are challenges associated with delivering potential usability and user experience benefits that could be derived from FLOSS. One of the huge benefits of developing open source products is that development can happen anywhere. Frameworks are created to facilitate development of loosely coupled tools, allowing open source teams to work efficiently while distributed tool development also tends to promote architectural flexibility. Distributed teams also introduce several user experience challenges. Requirements developed in the silo of a remote team tend to focus on the needs and business rules as expressed in that environment. In addition, contributors that are working in semi-autonomous teams on loosely coupled tools are frequently driven by enlightened self-interest. They have a vested interest to ensure that the needs of their local users are met with the local resources that are being invested in the project. However, producing a tool that only creates interactions based on the primacy of local business rules often effectively lowers the ability for other schools to leverage the tools and increases the total cost of adoption. This in turn strikes at some advantages of open code in terms of reuse, community, and iterative improvement, while it also potentially negatively impacts the FLOSS ecosystem that benefits from a common code-base. In addition, working in tool development silos can make it difficult to create a coherent, “holistic” environment for the end-user. While distributed tool developers are designing with local needs in mind for a particular tool, system users frequently experience the system as a cohort workflow that integrates tool sets.

Developers, frequently creating applications to be used by developers, have historically populated open source software development teams. FLOSS development teams often include no roles associated with enhancing user experience such as documentation writers user interface designers, or usability testers who generally don’t produce code. In an environment where software code is the currency of value, limited rewards are available for individuals with other critical skills to participate. Do we even have the right ecosystem in which for them to engage them in the first place?

Another challenge in creating highly usable software applications for academia is that many of the user goals are embedded in pedagogical methods that may be discipline specific or not easily expressed in a generalizable way. Teachers and learning design professionals are typically not part of the software development team, which creates an even larger gap between the learners and faculty using the software and the development team. Expanding the extended design and development team to include learning designers provides an opportunity to translate requirements from learners and teachers to usability experts who can in turn translate for application developers, which at lease indirectly connects end-users with developers in dialog about usability. Expanding and extending the team in this way would also help tease out the software related usability factors for the impact that teaching materials have on learner experience and better understanding the connections between teaching, learning, and software. The Fluid Project (http://fluidproject.org/) has taken on this challenge.

Localization as a Form of Empowerment

The ability to localize educational resources such as software and content is an important enabler. Localization empowers individuals and organizations to create environments and educational experiences that are economically and culturally coherent with local operational contexts, cultural preferences, and organizational goals for which the resources were not originally designed. It recognizes and validates diversity and liberates the ability to express self-identity.

Localization for General Relevance and Reuse

Reusability is one of the principal and most commonly cited potential benefits of OER. Because educational and learning needs vary across contexts, for reusability in education to become a major benefit of OER, localization and recontextualisation is critical.

In many schools, the priorities are for buildings, water supply, electricity, and nutrition for the learner’s health, which mirror the needs of the communities. If ICT is an enabler for meeting development needs, then the priority software and knowledge resources are those that facilitate access to knowledge on sustainable agriculture, primary health care, technical vocational capacity, entrepreneurial skills, and survival in the relevant context. The impact of FLOSS and OER on education and communities will relate to enhanced access and relevance given the local context.

In many developing areas where there is a lack of teachers and community elders, FLOSS and OER, if localizable, may relieve lack of these human resources, and facilitate the local creation of educational content as well as reuse of content. In addition, localization facilitates internationalization of resources through sharing on the global level. FLOSS and open content show great promise towards the “Education for All” goal (UNESCO and others), and are key enablers towards achieving the Millennium Development Goals.

Relevance to Local Needs Summary

Localization for Business Needs

FLOSS has become an important asset in many organizations and supports mission-critical inward- and outward-facing functions. As business rules change the organization will need to localize applications to meet those needs. Open licensing of code can make customization less expensive and timelier than working with a proprietary application.

Localization and Software Usability

There is a tension that exists between the opportunities for localization provided by localization and the need to develop highly usable educational software. While the ability to customize software to meet local needs is a driver for some institutions in adopting FLOSS, usability is one major criterion for software quality. Given the reliance that online learners and faculty have on application software, software quality is a critical factor in user experience and educational outcomes. There is a tension that exists between the flexibility that FLOSS offers for potential modification of code to meet local needs and the coherence that impacts a learner’s experience while using a system; that is, one of the largest benefits of Open Source Software can also be a sizable user-experience challenge. The ability to easily localize and change the code means that development teams and users often don’t have a common or consistent experience, making it difficult to conduct user testing to improve usability.

Localization as a Form of Empowerment

The ability to localize educational resources such as software and content is an important enabler for educators and service providers (e.g., IT departments) supporting education. Localization empowers individuals and organizations to create environments and educational experiences that are economically and culturally coherent with local operational contexts, cultural preferences, and organizational goals for which the resources were not originally designed. It recognizes and validates diversity and liberates the ability to express self-identity and achieve self-determination.

Localization for General Relevance and Reuse

Reusability is one of the principal and most commonly cited potential benefits of OER. Because educational and learning needs vary across contexts, for reusability in education to become a major benefit of OER, localization and recontextualisation is critical.

Learning Design as FLOSS and OER Mash up

Many of the benefits and challenges identified specifically with FLOSS and OER have similar roots and can be conceptually and logically linked. For example, the benefits of localization, community development, and cost reduction can be applied to FLOSS and OER. This is not entirely surprising because both of these phenomena have common roots based in the economic model now known as Commons-Based Peer Production. Both education and software development are subject to similar influences. Technology enables connections among people with common interests and learning needs, as does Open Education. The whole context that FLOSS and Open Education create is mutually reinforcing; together they contribute to an ecosystem that is positively reinforcing. Educators and learners enjoy the benefits of engagement and connectedness that FLOSS communities have enabled for over a decade, inspiring OER communities, which in turn has streamlined and promoted FLOSS adoption. Many FLOSS applications used in education have been pedagogically inspired, while others have been oriented toward educational administrative processes; in either case, they support a larger environment that is supportive of Open Education.

The notion of “Open Source Teaching” points to a practical relationship between FLOSS and OER. Open Source Teaching links FLOSS and OER through a relatively restricted definition of Learning Design. As treated within the context of Open Source Teaching “Learning Design” refers to a specific body of quite recent technical work that attempts to describe how software can “run” a sequence of learning activities. The ability to run the activities is based on a run-time system executing a machine-readable “design” document.

The core elements of a Learning Design are a series of activities that include details for each activity about who is involved and their roles, what is to be done, and how it is done; together with some overarching description of the “flow” of these activities, and potentially the reason for this Learning Design. Because this notion of learning design could be applied to a well structured lesson plan, Learning Design’s unique contribution in our context is to provide a machine-readable “formal language” that allows the lesson plan to be “run” in software. Additional qualification for Learning Design include a) the design document can be created independently of the run-time environment making it shareable, and b) the application must support collaborative activities within the design. The benefit of Learning Design is that it provides educators with a way to describe and conveniently share an educational process as well as content. By fostering sharing, we not only improve education through open dissemination, but as educators can adapt and improve the Learning Designs they receive, and share the improved version back with a global audience of educators. This could lead to improved educational outcomes while at the same time reducing preparation time.

If Learning Designs capture the heart of the education process, then could we, by analogy, call them the “source code” of teaching. If teachers then share their Learning Designs with each other under open content licenses, this might represent the birth of open source teaching. Furthermore, associating open educational resources with a Learning Design, couples OSS and OER in a meaningful and contextually relevant way. To achieve Open Source Teaching through the application of Learning design a number of basic challenges will have to be overcome including:

  • Teachers have built patterns relative to how they think about eLearning and how they practice eLearning. The cornerstone application supporting many online programs is the CMS. A typical Course Management System (CMS) is mostly used to support existing practice and e-administration, rather than transform the pedagogy of a course. There is resistance to changing patterns around the use of CMS and the teaching approach it supports.
  • Learning Design systems have not tried to add all the traditional CMS features to their core “workflow” features. This means that frequently a CRM and a LDS will be needed and in many cases technical restrictions make this difficult or impossible. Due to lack of effective standards, it is difficult to effectively integrate the Learning Design System and CRM. Open standards for Learning Design are very important, but challenging to get right, at both the “flow” and “tools” level.
  • Learning Design systems are still in their infancy and have had some important limitations that made them seem too rigid for some instructors. Needs such as sophisticated branching, nesting, parallel and multiple workflows, multi-party authoring and editing, etc. are real, but solutions are difficult to implement.

Technology can and does have an impact on pedagogy, and to the extent that FLOSS and OER reduce access barriers, it enables new pedagogies to develop.

Learning Design Mash-up Summary

Learning Design

The core elements of a learning design are a series of activities that include details about whom is involved in each activity and their roles; what is to be done and how to do it; an overarching description of the “flow” of these activities; and potentially the reason for this learning design.

Specific Meaning of Learning Design

Learning design, as treated in dialog about the Learning Activity Management System (LAMS) takes a relatively restricted definition of learning design. As treated within the context of Open Source Teaching, “learning design” refers to a specific body of recent technical work that attempts to describe how software can “run” a sequence of learning activities. The ability to run the activities is based on a run-time system executing a machine-readable “design” document.

Open Source Teaching

If learning designs capture the heart of the education process, then could we, by analogy, call them the “source code” of teaching? If teachers then share their learning designs with each other under Open Content licenses, this might represent the birth of Open Source Teaching. Furthermore, associating Open Educational Resources with a learning design, couples OSS and OER in a meaningful and contextually relevant way.

Challenges

Teachers have built patterns relative to how they think about and practice eLearning. The cornerstone application supporting many online programs is the Course Management System (CMS). Learning design systems have not tried to add all the traditional CMS features to their core “workflow” features. This means that frequently a CRM and a Learning Design System (LDS) will be needed; in many cases, technical restrictions make this difficult or impossible. Learning Design Systems are still in their infancy and have had some important limitations that have made them seem too rigid for some instructors.

Themes and Projects

The notion of understanding the FLOSS and OER “ecosystem” is critical. Developing a theoretical and practical understanding of why some FLOSS and OER communities flourish and identifying those characteristics that seem to have the most significant impact on education is an important step. Commons Based Peer Production is a economic and social model that helps describe how and why FLOSS and OER projects and communities succeed.

FLOSS and OER can have profound impact on educational institutions and the ability of institutions to provide distance and online learning, support a wide curriculum, and participate in a larger knowledge-based society. The adoption of FLOSS and OER is contextually driven, which means that customization supporting localization is an essential feature for applications and resources to be used across institutions, countries, and societies. The larger societal impact should be closing the gap in the digital divide and helping to create an environment where access to educational materials and the potential for development is a bit more equal.

Although there are obvious differences between computer code and content, the link between free software and free content is very important. The FLOSS and OER community in education and development seem to share a lot of common identity and membership, a common vocabulary, similar goals, common challenges, and a descriptive economic model. It is felt that the OER community has benefited greatly from the success and experience of FLOSS. The creation of OERs will be prompted through easy access and inexpensive tools to help facilitate the creation and distribution of content. OSS, as far as it reduces cost and access barriers, could promote the creation of OER.

Some of the connections and potential of FLOSS and OER to impact education is captured in three of the projects described in the Series.

  • UNESCO development of a FOSS online learning enterprise: FOSS liberates educational opportunities because it is cost effective, customizable, and reduces a number of limitations because it is easier to ensure that native file formats will comply with open standards where they exist. One of the major challenges is having a complete suite of FOSS tools to support the entire online learning enterprise, and this is the vision of UNESCO.
  • COL development of an OER Curriculum by 2015: WikiEducator is a community intended to support development of a free curriculum by 2015. WikiEducator has a strong commitment to the developing world in making sure that all citizens can engage as equal participants in the development of free content.
  • The development of the Learning Activity Management System (LAMS): LAMS is an Open Source Learning Design system and community that support Open Source Teaching.

The UNESCO proposal for a FLOSS application stack for the educational enterprise lowers barriers to entry for institutions, but relies on open standards. The Commonwealth of Learning project, WikiEducator, striving to develop an open curriculum by 2015 illustrates the connection between the use of FLOSS o support mass collaboration and OER development, while LAMS borrows from the conceptual principles from OSS and OER pointing to the notion of “Open Source Teaching.

Attributions

I want to recognize all of the contributors to the Impact of OSS and OER on Education Series that ran from March 2007 though July 2007. We had 11 great postings and a lot of excellent comments leading to some very nice dialog. Our guest authors included:

  • Ruth Sabean, UCLA’s College of Letters and Science - UCLA Selects Open Source Solution, Part 1, Interview with Ruth Sabean, and Part 2
  • Richard Wyles, Flexible Learning Network, Eduforge.org - Innovation for Education - OSS and Infrastructure for NZ’s Education System
  • Wayne Mackintosh, Commonwealth of Learning - WikiEducator: Memoirs, myths, misrepresentations and the magic
  • Patrick Masson, SUNY College of Technology at Delhi - Barriers to the Adoption of Open Source: Personal and Professional Observations
  • Kim Tucker, Meraka Institute, CSIR - FLOSS, OER, Equality and Digital Inclusion
  • James Dalziel, LAMS Foundation & MELCOE - Learning Design and Open Source Teaching
  • Farideh Mashayekh (Bazargan) , Pedagogy.ir - Lifelong Learning in Knowledge Society
  • Craig A. Perue, eLearning@UWI - Not IT, not Business Processes, but Organizational Culture
  • Jean-Claude Dauphin, UNESCO - UNESCO’s Activities in FOSS For Education, Past, Current and Future Activities
  • Mara Hancock, UC at Berkeley - Open Source Software and the User Experience in Higher Education
  • Dick Moore, Ufi - Running a Service Not a System

I also want to thank Shelby Thayer from Penn Sate World Campus, who did a great job supporting the Series and the blog. Thanks too to the Commonwealth of Learning (COL) for supporting WikiEducator, where you can find the Series project site.

Much of the dialog related to the work of Yochai Benkler and seminal articles referenced below. Benkler, Y. (2002). Coase’s penguin, Linux and the nature of the firm. Yale Law Journal. 112 (04.3). pp 1-73. http://www.benkler.org/CoasesPenguin.PDF. Last visited August 15, 2007.

Benkler, Y. (2005). Common Wizdom: Peer Production of Educational Materials. COSL Monograph Series. http://cosl.usu.edu/stuff/publications/. Last visited August 15, 2007.

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