SFD around the Commonwealth/Clayton Wright
OSS and the digital divide
Recently, I facilitated several in-depth workshops covering instructional design, editing, and the development of multimedia in a distance education context. During each of these sessions that were held in Bangladesh, India, Malaysia, Nigeria, and Sri Lanka, the discussion turned to the challenges of implementing educational technology in emerging nations. The use of open-source software was always listed as one of the solutions to overcoming the digital divide and making the acquisition of technology possible. Open-source software was listed because it would save money.
My reflections on using OSS for education
I acknowledge that open-source software has the potential to support quality instruction, but I am concerned that some who want to use it do not fully appreciate what is involved. Yes, one may save funds for the initial purchase of the software and this can be significant, but the software must be maintained, updated, and administered. If software bugs appear, if revisions need to be made in order for it to work in a particular setting, or if it needs to be adapted to take into account new instructional methods, hardware, and computing architectures, additional resources may be required. Sustaining software once obtained is a crucial issue facing educational decision makers and is often overlooked.
If the “free” open-source software does not have the features students and instructors need and must be adapted or if students and instructors must do without certain features, is the software really free? Is it worthwhile to obtain if it does not fit within the educational goals and plans of the organization? Good instructional software is flexible, reliable, capable, and scaleable, but most importantly is congruent with the educational goals of the institution and the needs of the learners and instructors.
Once obtained, whether it is open-source or proprietary, its installation must be carefully managed to ensure a successful implementation. The cost of implementing the software must be considered. One must be cognizant of the fact that the purchase price of software may only be 20% to 30% of the total cost of ownership.
Free, open-source software provides users with choice, but they must always remember that it requires planning and resources if it is to be implemented widely and maintained effectively.