Open Source in Education

Page of information and resources related to my workshop "Breaking down barriers with Free/Open Source Software in Education".

Here are the slides in PDF (or click here for both PDF and ODP versions):

Other resources from the workshop can be found below, but please look at the "Why" part as well.

Free/Open Source Software in Education

Why use Free/Open Source Software? Here's why:
  • Clay Shirky - Perl as a work of love
    Note: Perl is an Open Source programming language
  • As a teacher, choosing to use Free/Open Source Software empowers you in several ways:
    • Improving student access: F/OSS applications can be installed on as many computers as wanted. Students can install it on their laptops and on other computers at their homes, which may be more powerful. Malfunctioning computers are not a barrier to completion of projects.
    • Closer to "YES" with the IT Department: Many of the reasons that may stop you from getting the software you requested simply disappear: license costs, potential viruses, cumbersome online activation processes, overloading of internet access (internet bandwidth is limited and shared among the whole school, and using local applications doesn't increase the load on the line).
      F/OSS applications easily make most of these arguments irrelevant!
    • Simplifying software requests: At your school, you can usually(!) request software products to install on school-owned computers.
      When you request a commercial product at a financial cost, it needs to involve the business department, it affects the school-wide or divisional budget, and needs to follow a multi-stage approval process that can take significant time, and involve multiple (busy!) people.
      With F/OSS applications, your request can stay within the IT department. Hopefully a much shorter waiting time for you and your students.
    • Future-proofing your work: For the reasons above, when you base your assignments, projects or lesson plans on an open source application, you can be more confident that they will remain feasible the next time you want to use them: the application will still be available, or can be made available easily. No need to rewrite or recreate from scratch due to external factors! (see reason 2 above)
    • Sleeping better at night: Students are sometimes incredibly proficient in obtaining costly software from dubious sources (i.e. software piracy). Working with F/OSS applications ensures that you are not inadvertently putting pressure on students to go in that direction. It opens the door to important conversations on closing the Digital Divide and making connections with Creative Commons. F/OSS applications can also be used to great advantage in "Creativity, Action, Service" initiatives that respect copyright and intellectual property.
  • At BIS, from a school-wide long term perspective, we have the following reasons:
    • No License issues – With Free Software, there are no worries about expiry dates or costs of the licenses. Free Software is free and stays free in every sense. There is no risk to mislead any user to use an illegal copy.
    • Equality at home - With Free Software, teachers can give a copy to each student, and parents are not forced to make a financial decision.
    • Learning to use software - It is not enough to know how to use a certain office programs. Students need the capability to adapt to any software. It's important to understand the concepts underlying a whole category or type of software (such as a spreadsheet or a word-processor), not merely how to use a particular application. The variety of Free Software products teaches exactly this.
    • Dependency - If students learn to do things a certain way in school, the easiest way for them to do that thing in their adult life is to continue to do it the same way. If we teach students to rely on proprietary software, we are giving the child a dependency on something which they have to pay for and which generally discourages sharing and good will in society.However, if we teach children to rely on Free Software, the software can never be taken away from the student (even in the student's adult life) and the student can continue using this software while helping others by sharing it.
  • The arguments above were found on this page, that I heavily recommend:

Free/Open Source Evaluation Criteria

Here are the criteria, as recommended on the slides, for selecting Free/Open Source software for your school, your classroom, your students, and yourself:
  • Is it alive?
    • Is the webpage actively maintained?
    • When was the last version released?
  • Does it have good documentation?
  • Is it popular? How many blogs, tweets, YouTube videos can you find about it?
  • Is there an active and healthy community?
    • Look for forums, mailing lists, chat channels, other communities.
  • Can you learn it? Someone else in your school?
    • Maybe you won't have the time or resources available, but others around you might if you 'nudge' them.
    • Students could enjoy learning something new and delivering workshops. It could count towards CAS, as they are helping the community.
    • IT support staff, Tech Coaches, teaching assistants... Could learning this add value to their careers? Make them more valuable to their schools?
    • Teachers could see this as Professional Development. Consider the advantages described above to promote this idea. The school could consider additional incentives.

Useful Links

Some of the links can be found on the slides, but here I will be adding more, and keeping them up to date.

I use "software A", what is the alternative?

When you already know a commercial program that does a particular function, these websites help you to find Open Source alternatives.
Small specific lists for Windows and Mac (but please use your brain and the criteria above while using these):

Media creation workflows based around Free/Open Source

Multimedia and graphic work has long been considered one of the weak spots of FOSS, but this is not necessarily the case any more:

Information specific to what we currently use at BIS

Beyond the cross-platform desktop software mentioned below, we use these two systems when it makes sense to have a full Free/Open Source system:
  • – The customized education-oriented system that we have been using for our Primary and Middle School students. Very recommended! Lots of software pre-installed, and very successfully deployed across multiple school districts in the U.S.
  • - The most popular Linux distribution right now. If you are not sure which version of Linux to try when you are getting started, you can't go wrong with this one.

FOSS products that we have used with success

Desktop tools:
Server tools:


If you have some feedback about the workshop, please send it to me!

Twitter: @urkomasse