Friday, August 10, 2007

Hitting the Rubber Chicken Circuit to Talk About Free Software

Miguel writes:

Yesterday, a brochure arrived for the T&L Conference taking place in October. David is speaking on open source software.

Why is he the only one?

Well, whose job would it be to give talks on open source software at the endless circuit of ed-tech conferences?

I'm one of the handful of people in the US who makes his living managing and writing free software for K-12 schools, and I can't justify spending Mark Shuttleworth's money to fly down to fly down to Nashville for T+L. Plus, they wouldn't want me to just give a talk on SchoolTool; that'd be too much like an annoying product-centered talk, but if I'm not promoting SchoolTool, how would I justify the cost?

Most school districts that are implementing open source software are doing it to save money; they probably don't have money lying around to send staff to give talks at conferences either. If volunteers working on free software products have some money to travel to conferences, they are going to go to free software conferences where they can work on and learn about free software.

Plus, we've already gone through at least one generation of open source advocates in K-12. Eric Harrison, Paul Nelson and others were flying the flag a decade or so ago. They just got tired of it and "retired" to continue their work locally (I think that's a fair assessment -- they continue to do lots of important work within the community).

Given the importance of conferences in setting the ed-tech agenda, this is a real problem for free software advocacy. The only solution I can see (well, in addition to Steve Hardagon's tireless work, but that's not sufficient) is for Novell, Red Hat, IBM and some of the other large corporations with a potential stake in the K-12 enterprise market to pool a few hundred thousand dollars a year and pay a few people to do general free/open source advocacy on the K-12 circuit. It would be a sound investment.

I am grateful that David Thornburg is willing to hit the road for open source.

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