The Use of Open Source and Free Software in Education: November 6-26, 2006

Benefits of Open Source

Benefits of Open Source

by Christie Mason -
Number of replies: 28
Probably the biggest benefit of open source, that I rarely see discussed, is how it creates a community. Take a look at any popular open source application and you'll find a community.  The application provides a camp fire community for people to come together with a common interest.  If enough people are attracted, then a culture is created.  A culture that is dependent on and focused on keeping that application alive.

Some of the saddest forum entries I've ever read were in abandoned open source projects "is anyone there, why doesn't anyone reply?"

Christie Mason



In reply to Christie Mason

Re: Benefits of Open Source

by Christie Mason -
Another benefit of open source is that its presence provides a competitive pressure on fee based services and applications.
In reply to Christie Mason

Re: Benefits of Open Source

by Heather Ross -
That is an excellent point, Christie. I also think that this very reason will help keep open source products open source (and free products free). If Drupal started charging, there would be a mass exodus to something like Wordpress or Moodle or Joomla, depending on what people had used Drupal for.
In reply to Heather Ross

Re: Benefits of Open Source

by Christie Mason -
I don't think Drupal/Moodle/etc users would abandon Drupal/Moodle/etc if it charged something like $35.00.  That sense of community can be a very powerful incentive for paying to stay in the community.

I think in many ways I would be more comfortable if free open-source projects charged some type of fee.  Perhaps I'm just old and cynical, but I suspect there'd be less abandoning of OSS projects if there were some $ to be made.  Creating a community, being recognized by your peers, other non-monetary motivators; can go along way to "pay" for involvement but there comes a point where the mortgage needs to be paid and families need to be fed.

Christie Mason
In reply to Christie Mason

Re: Benefits of Open Source

by Salvor Gissurardottir -
I do think even a very small fee or any kind of fee for licencing  is a huge barrier for access, especially in the education world.  It makes the world much more complicated and not worth trying. Just to mention one example from my own teaching ... I asked the teach staff to install Camtasia in our computer lab, I was going to demostrate this to my students (they have to make screencast) I guess for 20 minutes. But they said our licence with Technsmith did not cover it ... and there is noway I can justify to ask my institution to buy and install software that will only be used once in a semester in a computer lab.

Some of my students download Camtasia (you can have 15 or 30 days trial program) but when the trial goes out they do not buy the program. It is much wicer for us to stick to free programs  such as camstudio. No paperwork and no licencing fees means you have more choice.
 
In reply to Salvor Gissurardottir

Camstudio?

by Derek Chirnside -
I checked out Google, and found this:
http://www.brothersoft.com/dvd_video/cam_tools/camstudio_3944.html

Is this comparale to Camtasia?
In reply to Derek Chirnside

Re: Camstudio?

by Salvor Gissurardottir -
yes, compares fine with Camtasia, especially if you only use tool to record the screen and it is ok to have only avi file. I prefer to let record it in small format (640x480) or smaller and output it as .avi file  and then edit it in  Windows Moviemaker (free tool). Most of my students already are familiar with Moviemaker so the learning curve is flat.

Here is my screencast about Camstudio (done in Camtasia)

http://fyrirlestrar.khi.is/salvor/camstudio-lexia/camstudio-lexia.html
Same in wmv format:
http://fyrirlestrar.khi.is/salvor/camstudio-lexia/camstudio-lexia.wmv

Here is a screencast done in Camstudio:
http://fyrirlestrar.khi.is/salvor/commons.wmv

I do think the sound quality is not as good as Camtasia and you dont have the fancy menus etc. but it is ok.



In reply to Derek Chirnside

Re: Camstudio?

by Susan Lister -
Hi Derek,
I believe the open source camstudio is found here:
http://sourceforge.net/projects/camstudio/ .The home page for the product is located here: http://www.camstudio.org/

The one you found may be from the same family though - I'm unsure - we'll have to get Salvor to clarify things for us.

Another freeware (not open source) screencasting product is wink (http://www.debugmode.com/wink/) - it does not allow sound yet though.

Sue

In reply to Susan Lister

Re: Camstudio?

by Rob Wall -
Actually the latest version of Wink, version 2.0, does allow sound recording and editing similar to Macrodobia Captivate. Version 2.0 is Windows only, while version 1.5 is available for Linux. Sadly, there is no Mac version.

rjw
In reply to Rob Wall

Re: Camstudio?

by Susan Lister -
Hey wink with audio!  this is great news. 

Rob or anyone else doing screencasts...could you provide a comparison between using the camstudio product and the wink one? 

I will be doing a screencasting workshop in Sri Lanka this Fall and want to recommend OSS products rather than camtasia or captivate.

Sue
In reply to Susan Lister

Kids tinkering . . . ??

by Derek Chirnside -
We seem to have introduced the related field of freeware/shareware that is not open source.  This is great.  How can I have missed Camstudio and Wink !!  ???  I am going to try Wink today.  I like stuff that ends up in Flash.

In this respect, I see things like this: when I want to do something (create a flash animation, record a sound) I am not wanting to customise, or get under the hood.  Kids in a class I teach may.  I just want to do it, and not worry about the technical details.
When I install my CMS I do.  That is my frustration with the commercial CMS I work with.  "No, you cannot touch this module" "No, it won't do this"

I had a memory.  Years ago I discovered the difference between scripting and compiled applications.  Scripting is in lines of instructions you run.  (PHP, the engine behind Moodle and wordpress is the classic example)  easy to tinker with even with limited understanding "To change the header, go to line 205 and change the image name to the one you want".  Scripts are written in geeky english.

Executables (like say audacity.exe) are different.  you need the code (which varies in understandability) and then compiled (into gibberish the machine can understand) and then run, a more complex process for most of us.

What does this mean?  Kids can do wonderful things.  (And not so wonderful, but that is another matter).  They can tinker with scripts, dabble around the fringes, modify and so on.  I guess one classic example of this is what kids are doing with the web - podcasting, youtubing, myspacing.  Open source can be fun in this respect.  Fun for some.  :-)  But Sally and Sue tinkering in the back row in your class can help a lot of other kids . . .  my musing for the day.
In reply to Derek Chirnside

Re: Kids tinkering . . . ??

by Christie Mason -
Oh, oh into our discussion of apples (opensource) and oranges (shareware/freeware) has now come some tomatoes (I don't think it has a catchy name beside free ASPs - Application Service Providers).

Many podcasting sites, some blog sites, some vlbogs sites, youtube.com, myspace.com are not open source, they're not shareware/freeware, so what are they?  They are services running on a proprietary framework that are offered for free.  You can't change the code, only the content.  Some of those content changes allow you to personalize your interactions, but you can't actually go in and copy/change the code and run it on a different site.

Another addition to the discussion would be mashups.  Those are open APIs (Application Programming Interface) that allow you to integrate content from external sites to display content on your site. The usual example is the mashup up Craigslist and Google maps http://news.com.com/2061-10803_3-5687691.html

Just as there are now free blog aggregator sites, like bloglines.com, I think that in the next couple of years we'll see the beginnings of mashup aggragator sites that offer services to integrate content from several sites to display rich information.  There are still some pesky security problems to overcome, but that's one of the promises of Web 2.0.

Christie Mason
In reply to Salvor Gissurardottir

Re: Benefits of Open Source - as a learning opportunity

by Susan Lister -
I think it's great you're using camstudio with your students, Salvor.  I have found students learn alot when they become the teachers!

Another example of young students doing screencasts is here:
http://www.tbflearn.com/WM/MaryMoore/2/
and another from Teacher Candidates in a B-Ed program:
http://faculty.uoit.ca/kay/courses/CURS4140/student/2005f/mc.html
(these examples use camtasia but it shows what is possible!).

Here is a video I found on the Camstudio Blog showing how to re-compress the camstudio AVI using Virtual Dub (another OSS product) -


The camstudio blog is interesting to read...gives a bit of insight into the OSS developer psyche - He's in a dilemma like the one we're kicking about here...He asks his blog readers in a post on Oct. 10th:

..... So, I want your advice … what would you do if you were in my shoes …?

  • Should I just out-and-out start selling it …?
  • Should I keep it free to download but sell it on a CD with some video tutorials …?
  • Should I keep it free and charge for support …?
  • Should I just ask users for a small donation every month, like $5 …?
  • All of the above …? Something else …?

WHAT SHOULD I DO …?

Sue
In reply to Christie Mason

Re: Benefits of Open Source

by Heather Ross -
There is another benefit to open source that I'd like to put out there for discussion. I think that open source has created opportunities for organizations to offer courses and other services that they may not have otherwise be able to do.

For example, would SCoPE exist without Moodle or another similar open source application?

Could the average K-12 classroom teacher make use blogs in their classroom if Wordpress or Drupal weren't free?

Schools can also make use of Open Office instead of spending money on a commercial product, or just having to go without.
In reply to Christie Mason

Re: Benefits of Open Source

by Christie Mason -
Another benefit of open source is that it provides a hub for fee based spokes of services.  I see a lot of fee based training, documentation, add-ons, customizations around the most popular open source projects.

That could become a negative if the OSS project team is also involved in developing fee based services because of the tempation to reduce free functionality as a way to potatoe chip people into using fee based services/products, similar to how fee based applications offer a "free" limited feature version to hook you into their fee based version.

Christie Mason
In reply to Christie Mason

Re: Benefits of Open Source

by Heather Ross -
I recognize that these are potential off-shoots of open source, but I'm not sure how many of these fee for services would get used. As has been mentioned earlier, many open source tools have existing support networks made up of users and contributors. Why pay for it when I can ask friends, colleagues and people on the tool's forum help?

If a tool doesn't have good support community, I am less likely to try it in the first place.
In reply to Christie Mason

Re: Benefits of Open Source - Free

by Christie Mason -
Free.  It's a magical word. But OSS isn't the only type of software that's free.  There are free PHP & ASP scripts all over the place, which by their nature include source code.  There is free shareware which may/may not include source code.

Christie Mason

In reply to Christie Mason

Re: Benefits of Open Source - Free

by Heather Ross -
That's true. Skype, Journler and Write Room are all free, but not open source. I wouldn't have started using any of them if they weren't free.

Free gives me the chance to try out a lot of different tools and decide which ones will be of good use to me and which ones will be the best tool for the learners in our programs.
In reply to Heather Ross

Re: Benefits of Open Source - Free

by Christie Mason -
Agreed and that's why I won't even consider buying a product unless there's a free trial of some type.  I'm amazed at how many large fee applications (especially in the training industry), are able to sell their product w/o offering free trial versions and their sites give less info about their products and  company than even the most bare bones OSS/free products.

Christie Mason
In reply to Christie Mason

Re: Benefits of Open Source - Free

by Chris Craft -
It's also worth noting that free software and open source software both have different philosophical backgrounds as well. Free software foundation folks tend to believe that all software should be free (warning: overgeneralization) while open source software proponents are more based around a community of developers.

Also on a side note, shareware that is totally free is traditionally called freeware. An important distinction because shareware typically requests a small donation to keep the project going.

Chris Craft  
In reply to Chris Craft

Re: Benefits of Open Source - Free

by Heather Ross -
Thanks for the definitions Chris. You're right, they do have different philosophical backgrounds, but they both offer educators and students a chance to use programs without spending money on MS, Macromedia/Adobe, etc.

This is just my opinion, but I do find that OSS, freeware and even many shareware applications that I've used seem to do a better job of keeping end-users in mind. From the user side (as opposed to the tech / installation side) they seem to be easier to use (warning: another overgeneralization). Perhaps it's because there is no major company behind them, these applications tend to be less grandiose.
In reply to Christie Mason

Now this I really like . . .

by Derek Chirnside -
I have been struggling with the concept of personal self-created learning spaces versus the formal course-constrained entities.

I've just finished a course where the aspiration was to give participants a chance to choose/design/follow their own learning pathway . . .  I think we achieved it, and I find out most of the course members are going to continue with more courses in the qualification.  But we struggled with some of the environment factors, how best to give power to participants within a decent structure.  We have actually tried to help them built it themselves.  In the process we have experimented with among other things a whole range of new free fun stuff: blogger, wordpress, shelfari, netvibes, flickr, vox, multiply, Moodle, meebo, delicious, tons of plugins for Firefox, Skype . . .

Some refs:
  • http://www.shelfari.com/ book/recommendations sharing
  • Meebo: integrates a whole bunch of instant messaging things into one.
  • Multiply and Vox: yet another social software personal space, blogging, collaboration space, each with a special flavour . . .

CANSA: Here is a nifty concept, which may help in the personalisation of the learning environment and may help with the creation of a genuinely personal learning pathway:
From: http://www.cansaware.com/node/14

The Context-aware Activity Notification System (CANS) Now Available

 I'm happy to announce that CANS is now available for download at  http://www.cansaware.com

CANS is a notification system for Sakai that is designed around the importance of a user´s social context and personal notification  preferences. It is designed to provide only the notification information users want and to allow users to choose where they want to receive that notification information. A few of the  "places" a user can receive notifications include: email, on mobile devices, on their personal desktop via desktop widgets, in Sakai itself, and  more. I've held tech demos for an older version of CANS at the last couple Sakai conferences and this original version has been in production at the University of Missouri since August 2005.

I've recently made several modifications and enhancements to CANS so  I don't consider this version ready for production use at this time.  It needs to be more thoroughly tested and beat on, but it is ready  for those who want to see what it can offer and it should be good to  go for the Spring semester.

A few of my recent enhancements to CANS include:

* It now uses Hibernate

* An administrative feature has been added to the CANS server so  people should now be able to write Sakai tools to administer CANS  from within Sakai

* I have a new (non-Sakai) Administrative Tool for CANS called the  CANS Wizard - this tool is written in Perl and needs to be converted into a real Sakai Tool

* I've added geographical awareness capabilities to CANS - this will  allow CANS to send geographically-based notifications (using the  user's home/work address, IP address, or latitude/longitude  coordinates) - I'll be making a Google Maps script available soon to demonstrate the lat/long feature. NOTE: this feature is not "on" by  default and a Sakai tool needs to be built to allow users to opt-in  for this service.

The biggest component missing in this version of CANS is a working  Sakai Service for sending Sakai events to CANS. I plan to start  working on this service very soon, but I'm sure one of you could  write this service quicker and better than I can. If you're interested in writing this service, or helping me write this service,  send me an email at chris@cansaware.com and I'll give you the needed  specs.

This seems really interesting.  It's a geeks paradise, but uses open standards, and so should work with other environments besides Sakai.
This is exciting for me, not so much because of this particular product (which we could hack about a bit) but because they are actually doing it, and have some challenging thinking and philosophy behind it.  This puts the learner in the centre of the learning experience.

In the CMS/PLE/LMS/VLE scene: I love open source!!

Hey, it's Friday here, :-) hope you all have a nice weekend.
-Derek
In reply to Derek Chirnside

Re: Now this I really like . . .

by Heather Ross -
Derek,

It sounds like you're working on some great stuff. I read Derek Wenmoth's blog and have been fascinated by his posts on PLEs. I would love to talk to you some more about what you're doing.

Heather
In reply to Heather Ross

Re: Now this I really like . . .

by Derek Chirnside -
This is a little outside the scope of OS - but I do think that without Open Source options we could not have tried some of the things we have done.  I could hypothesise here a bit: larger institutions tend to buy commercial locked down stuff - these places tend to need locked down learning environments and freedom is a bit restricted - these then go together, and commercial environments tend not to support self directed personal learning trajectories to the same extent since their main market doesn't want this.  This is in contrast to being able to think up something and try it quite quickly.

Derek W works down the road a CORE-Ed.  He came into our course that is just finishing as a guest for three weeks looking at some of these questions, and we finished up each week with a course teleconference.

Derek (W) and I had a chat yesterday as a bit of a debrief to see where to go from here.  His blog posts are very special.  Watch for another one soon on PLE's - Personal Learning Environment's.  :-)

Regarding more about our course - I have posted an overview somewhere here earlier this year in another discussion, but I cannot find it at the moment.   I'll be back later.
-D
In reply to Derek Chirnside

Re: Now this I really like . . .

by Nancy Riffer -
Derek,
I, too, am very interested in learning more about your experience in combining structure with a person-centered learning environment.  Can you give us more specifics?  How did you include the learners in designing the environment?  What structure did you decide was necessary for you (or your institution)?  Will your students be able to take the things they learned in your course with them into their other courses -- techniques? tools?

After your wonderful weekend, I'd love to hear more about what you did and what you learned. 
In reply to Nancy Riffer

Re: Now this I really like . . .

by Derek Chirnside -
Oh, I was going to head downstairs to face the domesticity of the day here when I saw this - so a quick response.

How did you include the learners in designing the environment?
We provided some structure: like some forums and a personal journal. (Which, by the way I will not use again)

Participants could then choose where they managed their learning.  At the click of a button we can give them a personal workspace with full admin functionality  in the closed course area, or in a public community area or in the world.  Two participants set up their own place outside the site using the same functionality I had as a course lecturer.
Or they set up their own space/blog/whatever.
Or they worked in word docs.

Last time through we gave the right to set up your own interest groups with no tutor input at all.

All this with lots of dialogue.  One key element was "see what you needed to learn in your work area - build on this" and "Have fun (lots of it) and experiment" and "reflect" and "Build resiliance - if you get a crashed browser, just lapse, but don't collapse"

What structure did you decide was necessary for you (or your institution)?
Ahh.  Good point.  This is defined as a Level 7 course, which has certain characteristics - this was communicated on day 1.
We used narrative assessment.

Here is the romantic view:
Two sides to the formal assessment part.  They provide the evidence of learning.  We help them learn to recognise this.

All the actual personal learning is done in real contexts.
We have three entities we call springboards that are in course, more formal and act as catalysts.  this accounts for about 30-34 % or the course.
Final artifact is a portfolio, some of which must be public to others in the course, and must contain links to on course activities, reflection and interaction, as well as any specific outputs.

Will your students be able to take the things they learned in your course with them into their other courses -- techniques?
Yes.  All the course interactions will remain there and accessible.  One place left open for interaction for probably a year or so.

The community area is probably going to be indefinitely open.

Our institution is shifting several courses more out of our normal CMS into this site.  This will give a portfolio of courses each with a closed space and a free ranging community area.  We are looking at how to manage the entities that emerge so we don't have the clutter of lots and lots of spaces.  How to manage leadership etc in each area.  etc.
That's why the CANS thing was of interest.

tools?
I have spent a lot of time thinking about this.  I can define the functionality we see as beneficial to start with.  I'll find a link to this at work next week.  I'm becoming more radical here.  "Give participants structure and freedom - a place to work, and the ability to make connections - in a real work context"

If you want to addle your brain a little in the best sense, track down elggspaces.  Derek told me about this yesterday, I have not followed it up yet, I think this is a new development for elgg just this week.  Open source + community + opportunity for real learning at it's best, at least at this time, and if you want to see the debate, just Google George Siemens.
More sometime, CU - Derek
In reply to Derek Chirnside

Re: Now this I really like . . .

by Eric Hoffer -
Perhaps this is the place I should have posed my question about an appropriate resource to use for collaboration - combining a wiki and captive or at least archived email.  (See my question under "Why Haven't You Tried Open Source Software?").

Would you describe elggspaces as being able to satisfy this need?
In reply to Derek Chirnside

Sakai space to play

by Sylvia Currie -
Derek mentioned Sakai and I thought I should let everyone know that we have a SCoPE worksite set up at the Sakai Project site.

A worksite is just the label put on the space. Mostly it's just for play. :-) If you'd like to poke around Sakai you're welcome to use the SCoPE worksite.
- Create an account at http://collab.sakaiproject.org/
- One in your workspace click on "membership" then the "joinable sites" link
- Scroll down to SCoPE (you may have to click the next button to get to there)
- Select SCoPE and click join

There hasn't been any activity in there for a long time so you'll find it a little bare! Let me know if you have difficulties finding your say to the SCoPE worksite. I think I have it set up properly but I'm not 100% sure.

As far as an education open source project Sakai sure has attracted a lot of attention. I've lost track of the latest developments, but it seemed they were using an interesting partnership model. Has it become a the "designed by educators" LMS everyone was hoping for?