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Open Educational Resources

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What are they? They are part of the whole ‘open’ movement. So far I have mentioned open source, where a program developer or writer allows the source code (the blueprint, let’s say) of their program to be freely available for anyone to use or modify. Well, open educational resources (OER) adhere to the same ideals, they are resources for education – everything from whole courses to lesson plans, to handouts and more – that are made freely available by their creators or developers. All in all, very cool for educators!

If you want a snazzier definition, here is one from the OER Commons, found via Doug Belshaw and the OER infoKit:

Open Educational Resources (OER) are teaching and learning materials that are freely available online for everyone to use, whether you are an instructor, student or self-learner. Examples of OER include: full courses, course modules, syllabi, lectures, homework assignments, quizzes, lab and classroom activities, pedagogical materials, games, simulations, and many more resources contained in digital media collections from around the world.

The aim of the infoKit seems to be as a guide for people who want to be or who are involved in using OER. My personal favourite page is this one – the guide to finding OERs πŸ™‚

The OER infoKit is aimed at sites of higher education. There are OER for us in lower educational contexts πŸ˜‰ A future post will collect some information and links about those.

Ubuntu in Education: benefits of open source in the classroom

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As you probably know by now, I use Ubuntu πŸ™‚ You can read about why I choose to use Ubuntu in my introductory post, for now I will focus on some of its benefits in educational settings.

No need to worry about outdated programs and compatibility issues

Compatibility Issues

One of the more frustrating aspects of teaching within a Microsoft world happened last year with the introduction of the docx file extension default in Windows Vista. As a way of getting customers to upgrade to (ie – buy) their new operating system, Microsoft created a brand new file extension for Vista that is not compatible with any earlier versions of Microsoft world. There is a way to save a document as a regular .doc document but most students just click save and the default gives them a docx. It’s so much fun when a student comes into class prepared to present a project or continue working on one they began at home and they can’t because none of the school machines can deal with docx documents.

There are ways around it – I’m sure zoho.com or google docs can open docx documents by now but one of the reasons why students still save their work to usb is because we can not always rely on the Internet being up and running in our classroom (admittedly that is improving – yay!).

The best way around it though is to have a teacher with OpenOffice on her laptop. OpenOffice is Ubuntu’s default Office-type program suite. OpenOffice can open all kinds of documents, including docx and pptx. So no worries. Heck, if you insist on using Windows you can still install OpenOffice. Won’t you feel better about using a program that has been built by a community, new versions can be upgraded free of charge because it is free and open source software, and is compatible with other programs?

Outdated programs

Programs don’t need to be outdated with Ubuntu. Ubuntu’s Update Manager, which comes with Ubuntu, notifies me of any software updates/upgrades that are available. Easy as pie. No need to purchase new software and go through removing the old and installing the new. My system does it for me and since I use free (as in freedom) and open source software, there is no need to purchase anything (or to have to think of any moral or criminal implications of illegal downloads).

Easy access to educational software

Ubuntu has a few different ways of finding out about and installing software. Two of the easiest ways are Synaptic Package Manager, which comes installed on Ubuntu, and Ubuntu Software Centre, also automatically included in Ubuntu for the past 2 releases. With both programs, you open them up, do a search for what you want (type in education and browse through the findings), find out more about it, then click install. The software automatically installs to your system in the right place (for example, if it is a video program you will be able to find it in the menu under ‘sound and video’, 9 times out of 10 there is no need to restart your computer in order for it to appear either).

Look how easy it is to find programs via Software Centre! (click on the image to actually be able to see it without a microscope)
Software Centre Home Screen

And this is what I get when I click on Education. Note that there is a scroll bar, there are many more below the bottom of the screen πŸ™‚ (again, click on the image to actually be able to see it without a microscope)
Software Centre Educational Software

Remember, all of these programs are free and open source. You are free to download them and use them and even tinker with the source code if you like in order to tweak them or create your own programs.

Edubuntu

Ubuntu also provides a complete operating system for educational purposes. Edubuntu can be installed on a school server.

Think of the financial implications of this –> there are no licensing fees. None.

Along with the no licensing fees (why more schools don’t use this I don’t know!) (Actually, I do know. Fear of linux.), you automatically have access to a plethora of free and open source educational programs that are included in the basic operating system. My school uses windows. Though our program (I work in an alternative program within the school) has a collection of its own mini-laptops. I am working on convincing our head teacher to allow me to play with Ubuntu on a few of the laptops, with a plan to gradually ubuntu-ize our program πŸ™‚

You can also install it directly on your own computer, without using the server version. If you look closely at the second image above (click on it to make it bigger) you will see this:

educational desktop for Ubuntu

Installing the educational desktop will give you a version of Ubuntu that automatically comes with educational software, without the need to add them on your own.

There are other benefits. Those are some to start. If you can think of some that I haven’t mentioned, please add them as comments for all of us to benefit from.

Open Source & Education

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One of the reasons I am so drawn to Ubuntu and an open source philosophy is that it reflects my own philosophy of education. That learning is a shared experience, it is collaborative and it happens in relationship. Because of that it makes sense for me to use Ubuntu and open source software as opposed to other operating systems and software that are not collaborative.

In open source, people who develop software and programs allow and expect other people to see the code that was used to create them as well as to make changes to it.

Anyone can use open source program code to make their own ‘new’ programs or just to tweak it to be more to their liking.

With companies like Microsoft and Apple, they don’t allow access to their program code precisely because they don’t want people to make their own programs based on it. If the code for itunes was made publicly available then Apple’s fear is that they will make less money as others began to make itunes-like applications.

Open resources are free, of course donations are always welcome :). This makes technology resources more accessible to more people, thus leveling the playing field for students and schools with different access to funding. If you are teaching a photography class you do not need to spend hundreds, even thousands of dollars on obtaining site licenses for programs like photoshop. You can get similar programs for free. I use the GIMP. Heck, if you want you can even challenge your students to download the GIMP source code and try to make it better! Talk about being creative!

In my classroom I encourage sharing, borrowing, creating, supporting, collaborating, and questioning. All aspects of open source philosophy. So it makes sense for me to use open resources in my classroom, in my home.

But what does that look like?

The next few posts will be about answering that question:

In the meantime, take a look at these sites to learn more about open resources and education.

SchoolForge.net – Education software for schools: free software, open source

CanOpenER – Canadian Open Source Education and Research.

How the Open Source Movement Has Changed Education: 10 Success Stories

Edubuntu– Ubuntu’s solution for students, teachers, classrooms, and schools