Donna Ben­jamin roun­ded a small group of us togeth­er to write a let­ter to Julia Gil­lard, Deputy Prime Min­is­ter and Min­is­ter for Edu­ca­tion. The res­ult was widely syn­dic­ated, hope­fully build­ing some mind­share in the pro­cess. The Edu­ca­tion Expo proved to me more than any­thing else that FOSS is quickly becom­ing accept­able to the gen­er­al pub­lic — the trick is in how you pro­mote it.

So where to from here? How can we cap­it­al­ise upon the gains we have made?

Per­haps our greatest single weak­ness is the per­ceived lack of pro­fes­sion­al sup­port. I think OSIA should be doing more to address this (note: I’m not imply­ing that OSIA isn’t tak­ing this ser­i­ously). Here’s an e-mail I wrote to the osia-dis­cuss mail­ing list (which is unfor­tu­nately subscriber-only):

The best thing OSIA can do is fight the pop­u­lar notion that there’s no
pro­fes­sion­al sup­port avail­able for FOSS. We can beat the TCO and Freedom
drums as hard as we want, but few organ­isa­tions are will­ing to entrust their
com­put­ing to ‘com­munity’ support.

I man­aged the Linux Aus­tralia stand at the Edu­ca­tion Expo a few weeks ago, and
my impres­sion is that FOSS is on the cusp of main­stream acceptance:

http://​www​.dhanap​a​lan​.com/​b​l​o​g​/​2008​/​06​/​29​/​e​d​u​c​a​t​i​o​n​-​e​x​p​o​-​r​e​p​o​rt/

Schools are cry­ing out for ways to get bet­ter value for their dol­lar, but they
aren’t going to even think about FOSS if they can’t get pro­fes­sion­al support.

If I run the stand again next year, I’d like to see some involve­ment from
OSIA. At the very least, we should have avail­able some leaf­lets show­ing that
yes indeed there is qual­ity, paid sup­port for FOSS.

Also note that FOSS isn’t Linux. We got the most interest in the
OpenE­duca­tionDisc, a com­pil­a­tion of FOSS for Windows.

On the com­munity side, we can con­tin­ue to make FOSS more accept­able to school admin­is­tra­tions, bur­eau­crats and politi­cians. Here’s my idea:

My sug­ges­tion is for us to build a Web site focused on open edu­ca­tion in
Aus­tralia. We already have the per­fect vehicle: http://​opene​duca​tion​.org​.au.
How­ever, at present it’s just a messy wiki more suit­able for our own
brain­storm­ing than for being a pub­lic-facing resource.

The wiki should of course remain, but I pro­pose that we build a proper,
present­able Web site that is dir­ectly access­ible via the
http://​opene​duca​tion​.org​.au address.

Why do this when we already have http://​linux​.org​.au/​e​d​u​c​a​t​ion? Open Education
is much big­ger than Linux, and cer­tainly should not be anchored to it. Here’s
a short list of what it can include:

  • FOSS
  • (GNU/)Linux OS — on servers
  • (GNU/)Linux OS — on clients/​desktops
  • open stand­ards
  • open languages/​libraries/​APIs
  • free content/​culture
  • open learn­ing
  • open cur­riculum

To be hon­est, I fear that we might be only hurt­ing ourselves by tying open
edu­ca­tion to a com­pletely Free com­put­ing envir­on­ment. That might be a worthy
aim, but few insti­tu­tions are going to switch over all in one go. By offering
a migra­tion path (or paths), a school can migrate more com­fort­ably at its own
pace. We ought to be provid­ing real choice, not just a bin­ary ‘with us or
with the terrists’.

FOSS (Fire­fox, Open​Of​fice​.org, Scribus, etc.) can run on oper­at­ing systems
oth­er than Linux. To use the recent Edu­ca­tion Expo as an example, we got a
lot of buy-in through the OpenE­duca­tionDisc, a com­pil­a­tion of FOSS for
Windows.

Also note how I split Linux cli­ents from serv­ers. Linux’s place in the server
realm is very sol­id, but con­vin­cing an insti­tu­tion to accept a Linux client
solu­tion is tough­er. And by ‘cli­ent’, I mean either tra­di­tion­al desktops or
thin cli­ents. The lat­ter are often cost-effect­ive and rep­res­ent a real
strength of Linux, but are often over­looked or even have reg­u­la­tions working
against their adop­tion. On the serv­er side, we have some great educational
tools such as Moodle and LAMS.

Open stand­ards obvi­ously include things like file formats and pro­to­cols, which
will become even more rel­ev­ant as we see more applic­a­tions (pro­pri­et­ary or
oth­er­wise) pick up stand­ard­ised meth­ods of inform­a­tion exchange such as ODF
and PDF. This should also ease the integ­ra­tion of FOSS into pre-existing
envir­on­ments. It also can include lan­guages and all things related. Why are
schools still teach­ing Visu­al Basic when they could be teach­ing Python?

The final three points all link togeth­er. Most not­ably, they are not dependent
upon tech­no­logy at all. Your aver­age teach­er isn’t a tech­no­lo­gist, and
shouldn’t have to be. Know­ledge can be shared and organ­ised openly just like
code. Wiki­pe­dia has proven that great things can be built if ordin­ary people
are giv­en easy to use tools.

Where to from this point? I sug­gest that we work towards get­ting a CMS running
at opene​duca​tion​.org​.au. We’ll have to agree upon a design and the message
that we want to pur­vey. Con­tent cre­ation should be sep­ar­ate from technical
abil­ity, so the CMS should be simple enough for any­body to contribute.

Here is some inspir­a­tion from the UK:

The UK edu­ca­tion sec­tor appears to be much fur­ther ahead of us in terms of
embra­cing open­ness, and I think we can take some les­sons from their efforts.

To cla­ri­fy one thing in the above, I wrote the text for http://​linux​.org​.au/​e​d​u​c​a​t​ion, but I nev­er felt com­fort­able with it being there. So much of open edu­ca­tion has noth­ing to do with Linux and Linux Aus­tralia shouldn’t be divert­ing its focus to dwell on it dir­ectly. With a more inde­pend­ent Web pres­ence (in col­lab­or­a­tion with Linux Aus­tralia), I feel that we can be much more effective.

LotD:   Open sourcing Aus­tralia: OpenAus​tralia​.org goes live

%d bloggers like this: