At Dangerously Irrelevant, we have been challenged to express wants, desires, and concerns to school leaders regarding technology. After thinking about so many ideas revolving around technology and education, one thing kept coming to mind – Open Source Software.
School districts spends millions of dollars on software licenses and packages for their students in order to help them be productive. From operating systems, to spreadsheet and document editors, course management systems, attendance programs, electronic grade books and the like, a lot of money is necessary to set up good software solutions for the school environment.
Or is it? Open Source Software is becoming a large force in this day and age, but I fear too many of our leaders are unaware of the options, potential, and cost savings involved.
Open Source Software is generally free and in addition to the code involved, users are able to manipulate and change the code to meet their individual needs. This new code or version of the software may then be redistributed. So you can use the software as is or customize it to suit your individual needs.
Today, school budgets are being cut in response to the slowing economy. Now more than ever we need solutions like Open Source Software to expose our students to a wide range of software tools and applications. Why pay for software when we can find similar solutions with no cost involved?
Last year, I decided to reinvent my class web page. The previous year’s site was okay, but it looked too professional and not quite fun enough for my sixth grade science classroom. Also, I did not use a content management system to run the site and manually updated the site in html every day. It was time consuming, and I was looking for a shortcut. I decided to use WordPress as my content management system as it is a great blog platform/content management system and free to use even when hosted on your own site. I then began to think about the redesign aspect of the site. I came up with several ideas and finally narrowed it down to its final incarnation. I created all of the images and gradients myself using a program called Inkscape, an open source vector graphics editor. This program is similar to Adobe Illustrator. If I wanted to an photo imaging program, instead of the expensive Adobe Photoshop, I would recommend the Gimp.
These are just three examples of software options that allowed me to create a website free of charge. The only out of pocket expense I had was the hosting fee. Besides Open Source Software, there are other options that allow productivity on a budget. Google has an impressive spreadsheet and document editing in Google Docs. It also allows collaboration and the ability to edit from any machine connected to the Internet.
I don’t claim to be an expert in the options available for Open Source Software, but I do want you to come away with one thing: look for alternative solutions. Even when there is no money in the budget for a piece of software that may do wonders for your students or faculty, don’t give up, research your options, and you may just be surprised by a free, open source alternative.