Monday, February 18, 2008

The Rejection of Open Source by the (US) Learning Sciences Community

Kudos to Doug Holton for assembling an "Open Education Scorecard" for software written by the learning sciences community. I've written about many of these projects over the years in individual posts, but it is very helpful to get a nice summary of the state of play.

Ten years after the coining of the term "open source," long after open source software has become mainstream throughout industry, there is very little open source software for K-12 education being written by (US learning sciences) academics. And there is only one thing that will change that: if grant-making institutions change the terms of their funding.

The good news is, they could do that at any time and turn the whole community on a dime. The bad news is, there is no sign they will.

Later... Stephen questions how broadly true my generalization applies. I'm thinking US learning sciences academia here.

11 comments:

Downes said...

The 'trend' cited (that there is very little open source software for K-12 education being written by academics.) may reflect his lack of breadth rather than and state of affairs in the world. Witness, as just one example (thre are others), the 217 projects listed in eduforge. https://eduforge.org/softwaremap/trove_list.php

Tom Hoffman said...

I forgot to include the "US" disclaimer in my generalization.

Rob said...

"The bad news is, there is no sign they will."

Doesn't this upcoming symposium on OER and the Learning Sciences count for something? http://www.cmu.edu/oli/symposium2008/index.shtml

Doug Holton said...

Yeah I'm not as aware of educational software specifically developed in Europe, for example. Simquest is developed the Netherlands, it is free but not open source.

Eduforge is great, but much of it is not so educational, and many of the projects are not really active on the site (yet, including my own circuit simulation tool).

Tom Hoffman said...

Just off the top of my head, Fle is a longstanding example of open source learning science-y software from Europe.

Tom Hoffman said...

Rob,
Well, that's what got this whole thread going. If you have a conference like that, and you can power through the cognitive dissonance of it all, that's really a sign you aren't going to change. And if you look at the people speaking, I don't see anyone there who is really going to forcefully advocate for free and open source software.

matthewboh said...

Is there a list of projects somewhere? Is there someway to figure out what projects need help / support over others? I would be willing to approach some of our local universities - see if anyone would be interested. Also some of the local high schools. Maryland students have to do some community work - and this would be acceptable.

Tom Hoffman said...

Matthew,
Well, my concern here is not that academics don't contribute to open source projects in general, but that they don't open source the software they write as part of their research.

Doug Holton said...

"I don't see anyone there who is really going to forcefully advocate for free and open source software."

I think there are 2 sides to it. First, by their very presence there is means they either support open education or want to learn more about it. You're being overly pessimistic. Second, the other side is that open education designers can learn more about the nature of learning and the design of more effective learning environments. I'm kind of tired of all the typing tutors and hangman games and content repositories and drill and kill games that always seem to popup when you associate "linux" and "education". Moodle and other administrative and management software drown out what few high quality content-specific learning software tools there are out there too. Scratch and Squeak and a few others are the rare exceptions, but even those aren't the be all and end all to educational software that kids could benefit from. I would like to see more simulations, interactive learning tools, higher level science/math/history/reading specific software, etc. Edubuntu, Eee PC, and the XO are great, for example, but they could be so much better.

Rob said...

"I don't see anyone there who is really going to forcefully advocate for free and open source software."

In the latest issue of educause, John Seely Brown was certainly advocating pretty strongly for OER. He also wrote the foreword to a book coming out in April called "Opening Up Education: The Collective Advancement of Education through Open Technology, Open Content, and Open Knowledge." He's not a movement open source guy, I suppose, but a pretty good bridge.

I've been reading a bunch of Lave and Wenger stuff that Brown was also involved in at the Institute for Research on Learning, and the resonance with FOSS/OER is striking. Especially Wenger's work on the importance of transparent knowledge and artifacts to legitimate peripheral participation...which I'll write about one of these days. I think it's the best substantive link between openness and the learning sciences.

Rob said...

TH: "And there is only one thing that will change that: if grant-making institutions change the terms of their funding."

You're right about this. Steven Harnad notes that in surveys, faculty express strong support for Open Access publishing, but participation in self-archiving is pretty minimal because people are busy trying to satisfy funders and employers. But when university and funder mandates are in place, participation is strong.