I wrote this back in October, and for some silly reason I forgot to post it. Better late than never, I say.
It seems that every couple of weeks I’m at some kind of FLOSS-related event. You just can’t keep me away from them! They may require a lot of work, but it certainly feels rewarding to get the word out. This is especially so in regards to the educational sector. Children are our future, and they are generally more willing than your average adult to learn new and different things. It is an educator’s job to impart knowledge, and it is the duty of any respectable educational institution to facilitate a free and open flow of knowledge. What better way to achieve this than with free software?
This concept was not lost on the eduactors, parents and students at the Sydney Education Expo in June, and I’m proud to say that we managed to replicate that success at the Sydney Moodle Conference on October 14–15 (Saturday and Sunday). Once again, I manned the Linux Australia/SLUG stand, joining Pia Waugh, Lindsay Holmwood and Andreas Fischer. The SLUG Committee stopped by for a while, too.
Whereas most people at the Education Expo were unfamiliar with FLOSS, many of the attendees of the Moodle Conference had some idea about it. Moodle itself is available under the terms of the GPL, and many companies and schools have become part of its user/development/support community. All we had to do was to remind them that we represent the underlying FLOSS concepts that have made Moodle so great, and that Moodle functions in concert with other FLOSS projects such as Linux, Apache, MySQL and PHP.
The response was overwhelming. We were prepared to hand out a truckload of Ubuntu CDs, only to discover that most attendees had already been supplied with one as part of their official conference kit. That didn’t stop us from distributing many more, though. We had one fellow so excited about FLOSS on Saturday that he brought along his laptop the next day for an impromptu Ubuntu installfest. We demonstrated a range of technologies, including Compiz and Inkscape. Visitors were impressed with the ease of the Ubuntu LiveCD installer, and with how Moodle can be installed (complete with dependencies) in only a few clicks via Synaptic.
Most interesting for me was the Live Online Event, which was a panel discussion on-stage in front of about 150 people. Pia was slated to represent the LA/OSIA point of view, but was forced to bow out due to other commitments. Much to my surprise, she asked me to fill in for her. So there I was, on-stage, in front of well over 100 people, fielding questions while being recorded and streamed live over the Internet. I had never done anything like that before, but I think I went reasonably well. Public speaking and general spoken communication are certainly skills that I would like to further exercise in the future. Thanks for your support, Pia!
The topic which dominated the panel discussion, and one which I had been previously unaware of, concerned how far software patents had intruded into the realm of educational software. Moodle-competitor Blackboard has been issued an appalling patent “for technology used for internet-based education support systems and methods.” I was somewhat relieved to see that Martin Dougiamas, Moodle’s founder and project leader, was not concerned at all by this event, at least as far as Moodle was concerned. Nevertheless, the spectre of software patents has been looming over FLOSS for some time now, and it is still very unclear if/how the situation will ever be resolved.