Why Education Needs to be Open Source

If you stop and consider a world where we adopted open source across all facets of life…. who know what could happen? I just read about new efficiencies in solar panels reached by Panasonic… that technology will remain with them (for them to profit off of) until made redundant by another. But what would happen if the tech behind it was open source? I have a feeling ideation would indeed accelerate to crazy levels. Sorry… I digress….

Economically, open source just makes sense, particularly in education. I just finished teaching a class in graphic design, wherein I used Inkscape. The choice was obvious: here was a powerful tool with great online tutorials, and I can download it ad nauseum on computers owned both by the school and my students. How much did it cost the school? Aside from some tech support for an hour to install it on the computer lab computers, nothing. The same goes for Libreoffice, and for the adventurous kids… Linux. As I live in a developing nation, computer users have three choices… go without food for a year and buy a macbook, pirate a copy of windows for the cheap laptops available, or install a completely legitinate and free copy of Linux (which more than likely comes in their own language).

Beyond software, you can see great horizons with open source hardware as well. I would like to work on an automated watering system which takes into account rainfall using a controller called an Arduino. I know next to nothing about them, but the kids get into them really quickly, and with some solid guiding questions you see them produce meaningful and impactful applications of technology. This is at the core a fundamental part of the Maker movement, an area where I believe educational technology will progress faster than any other in the coming years. 

And politically… this statement from (Mackenzie 2011) said it best:

Open source is a process of promoting inclusive participation, individual freedom and public knowledge. It is against closed source that enshrines exclusive participation, economic profits and private knowledge.

When I look back to what makes a good educator, it is one who equips their students for the world of tomorrow. The three assets mentioned above sound like tomorrowspeak to me. Geez, it may be todayspeak… to reference recent (somewhat) news events as evidence: the Occupy Movement (inclusive participation), Gay Rights (individual freedom), and Edward Snowden (public knowledge).

We still have a ways to go… this LMS has a cute button above to do this: © and this: ™

but it takes a bit of legwork to get one of these at the bottom of your page:
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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

Mira as an Educational Ecosystem


As a biologist, I am continually in awe of how nature has managed to find solutions for such a great variety of problems. Need to get ants out of a hole? A long tongue could do the trick, or perhaps a long claw. Both exist in nature. How about a bigger hole and bigger prey? The snake looks like one of many solutions for this.

Mira as an educational organization could take another of nature’s great lessons… bio-mimicry. Is it possible to create an educational structure that mimics an ecosystem, complete with niches that take advantage of the ever changing group of resources and stakeholders?

What traditionally constituted a school could in fact be the ecosystem. Within it there would be several groups that compete for resources against one another, but also work in a variety of symbiotic relationships to further their needs and best address those of their stake holders.

This form of system would allow for a diversity of pedagogies to exist in one learning center, addressing a variety of needs their students may have. Each unit of the school could also expand and contract to accommodate the interests and needs of the community. In this way, the learning center could do two things: adapt to the every changing needs of students and experiment with different forms of education with integrity.

School as a Cultural Nexus

This article resonated strongly with me, regarding the experience of a child brought up in a nomadic lifestyle. In the article, they describe the creative impetus that comes from this type of life, but also the adaptability and need to blend into cultures in which these students move. The article highlights how sub-cultures, such as skateboarders, are open to outsiders and welcome them in readily.

What if a school could partake in this role? With Place based education being one of my most loved concepts, how great would it be to combine the benefits that a transient lifestyle allows for with the deep roots that a culture can provide. As I see it, a balance needs to be struck in order to make this happen.

The school needs a resident population who has invested time and effort into creating a community which reflects the local place. Having exclusively locals, however, means that there is a missed opportunity to integrate the creative spirit and experience of the nomadic students. Therefore an ideal would be somewhere in the middle, a place where a healthy proportion of the student body identified with the place and culture, and the other group moves in and out of the system,  carrying along with them their experience and creative perspective.

Green School, where I currently work, does have this mix, although I have learned much from my experience here. The local students are far outnumbered by foreigners, and rather than maintaining the culture at the forefront of the school it plays a more superficial role. However, I often get glimpses of the magic that occurs when students share their experiences and creative perspectives.

Creating a school that serves as a cultural nexus, a place where people go for culture, would be a great feat. It could also extend the scope of school as a place for young learners to a place that is inclusive of all learners.

eLearning – Intro to Marine Biology Course Introduction

I decided to create a digital story using a platform which I have used in the past for active presentations. I was curious how several of the actions would translate to to a digital story. That platform was Prezi… originally introduced to me via students, this tool became a quick and effective way for students (and their facilitator) to present information. I have used it in multiple conferences as a means to present, and thought it may be a good tool to use for the digital story.

My story focuses on the “Why Marine Biology” part of my course… I offer a personal story about each module, as well as lay out the various components of the course. My objective was to create a bit more interactive of an overview to the various components of the class, and render them in a story based format.

Prezi to me had many advantages for a story format. You could add voice overs, aside videos, and links to content that was being discussed. It also was user driven, with each click advancing the story as the user wants it. The only issue I had was that I could not create a time delay on various parts of the story popping up… it created a bit of a glitch to the flow in my opinion.

I also had to use Audacity to create the audio files, and learned about the advantages of a OGG format versus MP3. It fits in great with the copyright unit in our course, as the Mp3 encryption is not public whereas the OGG is (and therefore was readily usable). As for content, I read through Prezi’s disclaimers and found that the images they return in their search are open for use, and since they are all linked to their original source there is no problems (or so I understood at least… this stuff is definitely a challenge to fully wrap my head around).

As part of our new exploration of the Middle School at Green School, we are exploring a way to provide ongoing qualitative reports that involve the teacher, the student, and the parents. Ideally, we would like the student to provide weekly reflections, which can then be compared to the mentor’s reflections on that student. However, this is a pretty high task to achieve. Our current reporting system is traditional, involving a summary report at the end of a term or semester.

My first concept was to build a spreadsheet that could collate the information entered by the student and teacher (maybe using a form?) and then provide a summary document to the parents. The idea here would be to have up to date comments by the relevant teachers, as well as diagnostics that show progress over time.

Following this, I explored a bit more. Here were some interesting articles on the subject:

I was in particular intrigued by this application called Freshgrade. This may be what a colleague of mine, Lucy, described as the perfect way to share learning in a Kindergarten setting. Could this work for more complex courses?